Tuesday, December 29, 2009

All-Aught Indians--The Tribe Team of the Decade

With the end of the decade only a day away, it's time to take a look back over the past ten years and the Cleveland Indians' players that helped shape it. Bringing Back Boudreau will take a look at the top player at each position, including the key infield and outfield backups, as well as the top five starters and relievers.

Ten years ago, the Indians were a veteran club who had played in two World Series in the previous five years. The Tribe had all-stars at nearly every position, a fairly deep rotation, and still had dreams of ending the 52-year championship drought. John Hart had stripped the minor leagues searching for the right mix of players to bring a title to Cleveland, but you could sense the end was near. Contracts were coming to an end, and the sands in the hourglass were quickly trickling away.

It's Funny how different ten years makes.

Today, the Indians major league club is far from a title contender, having been dismantled in yet another rebuilding effort. The minor league system is stocked full after several trades involving their best major league players, but the Tribe is far from able to contend with the moneyed giants in Boston and New York. The Indians have entered the new realm of the baseball world that pays off for big market clubs and leaves the rest in the dust.

It's hard to know where the Indians will go over the next ten years. Will the window open up long enough for a perfect storm of talent to hit, allowing the Indians to return to the playoffs, or will the money-laden teams strip the Tribe barren before their time?

The All-Aught Indians will paint a picture of a roller coaster ride over the past ten years, winding up to nearly the highest heights, and down to the lowest of lows. It will show you the foundation for why it was and will be extremely difficult for the Indians to compete for any length of time.

Tomorrow, we'll start with the man behind the plate, as our quest for the Tribe Team of the Decade begins with the catcher.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Mitch Talbot makes sense for the Cleveland Indians

Sure, I could start this off by bringing up what went wrong with regards to the Indians acquiring Mitch Talbot as the PTBNL from the Rays. I'd start with why the Indians should have dealt Kelly Shoppach after the 2008 season. I'd follow up with the abundance of teams that needed catchers THIS offseason. I'd mention that Talbot doesn't have any waivers left, so he'd have to stick with the roster all last season. I'd end by discussing how Talbot has been nothing but a quad-A starter. All would be valid points. It's not the only way to view this trade.

First and foremost, hindsight is 20/20 with regards to Kelly Shoppach. Was it really smart to trade Shoppach with Victor Martinez coming off a lost season and entering the catching age when most catcher's production begins dropping off (age 30)? Of course, now, sitting in the warmth of your home after one of the worst seasons in recent Cleveland Indians memory, it's easy to say yeah, it was a good move. It's also easy to throw out the I told you so's. The decision wasn't so easy at the end of last season with the Indians still believing they could compete. Victor turned in a solid season, and was dealt to the Red Sox when it was apparent that the Indians were finished for the year, and Shoppach had a sub-par season.

Enter this offseason, with several teams looking for catchers and the Indians sitting with one available in Kelly Shoppach. The biggest factor in dealing Shoppach was the common knowledge that the Tribe was going to non-tender the catcher to save the Indians from having to pay his likely $3 million dollar contract thanks to arbitration. Sure, you'd like to think that if teams are signing Ivan Rodriguez, Gregg Zaun and Jason Kendall, that there would be a market for Shoppach. Even if there was, what would anyone expect in return? Perhaps if you're lucky, you can nab a low-level, high-ceiling prospect, but that's assuming there were several suitors for the slugging catcher. I don't buy that there was anything more than curiousity, and a willngness for teams to wait and see if the Tribe non-tendered Shoppach, since there are several other similar middling catcher options.

The Indians end up acquiring Mitch Talbot, who was a former top prospect for the DRays, in an organization full of prospects. He struggled last season with injuries, only making 15 total starts in triple A and rehab assignments. Prior to that, Talbot was a solid triple A performer for the Durham Bulls, going 26-18 in two complete years. He has a low-90's fastball that can top out at 93 or so, and has one of the best changeups in the minors when healthy. He is out of options, which means that he'll have to make the team out of camp, or be exposed to waivers.

Combine Talbot with Hector Ambriz and Jeremy Sowers, who are also out of options, and you have three middling pitchers who must stick with the team or be likely lost either through waivers or the rule V draft. I see it as a positive under the circumstances. The Indians need to bring in starters to fill out the 2010 roster. Sure, in a perfect world, you'd like to bring your youth in to see what you have with regards to a run at a pennant in 2011. Will Hector Rondon and Carlos Carrasco have an opportunity to show their wares in 2010? If they earn it, I firmly believe they will.

Look at the Mitch Talbot trade, as well as the Hector Ambriz signing as cheaper alternatives to free-agent signings. No, these guys don't waltz into camp with any kind of pedigree, but they also don't bring in the large salary that a free-agent would command. You could even make the case that Talbot and Ambriz have more upside than bringing in a guy like Kelvim Escobar, who hasn't pitched in two years, and a better value. The bonus is that you don't overcommit to someone who won't figure into the Indians plans in 2011.

What's the worst case scenario? Talbot doesn't make the team and they have to put him through the waiver process. So what. He either won't get taken and the Indians send him to triple A, or he gets picked up by another team. Again, so what. Remember, Shoppach was going to be non-tendered anyways, and if we'd have kept Shoppach, was he going to lead us to the promised land?

So welcome Mitch Talbot, ye of middling ability. Such is the life of the 2010 Indians. As fans we can either fight it, or embrace 2010 for what it's likely to become...another lost season.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Are the Cleveland Indians about to deal Jhonny Peralta?

Are the Cleveland Indians about to deal away their third baseman? There's speculation that the Indians are listening to some offers for Jhonny Peralta, and would likely deal him for the right package of players. No, there's nothing concrete. As a matter of fact, John Paul Morosi of Foxsports.com stated that,
The Twins haven’t actively pursued a trade for Cleveland third baseman Jhonny Peralta, multiple sources said. But the Indians could be persuaded to move him if offered the right package.

You could say that Jhonny Peralta has been one of the most speculated Tribe employees with regards to being traded over the past three seasons. He had lost favor with Eric Wedge after struggling in 2006, and after a solid 2007 season, seemed to carry some weight in the trade market as a power-hitting shortstop.

Peralta was moved to third base in 2009 after much speculation, and never really took to it. Peralta never visibly complained, but his offensive performance spoke volumes of his struggles making a move that the Indians didn't appropriately prepare him for. His power numbers dropped, and he went from a power-hitting shortstop to a light-hitting third baseman. His value most certainly dropped.

Add to that the firing of Eric Wedge, and the hiring of Manny Acta, and it seemed as though Peralta would be a lock to stay in the wigwam. There are a variety of reasons to see an upswing in Peralta's 2010 performance. Obviously, a year at a position will make you better, especially when you know about it in spring training. Acta and Peralta also seem to have a solid relationship. Both hail from the Dominican Republic, and Acta has been trying to reach out to all his veterans to ensure a smooth transition. In return, Peralta has aired his baggage and struggles, and seems ready to move on.

So why the mention of Jhonny Peralta in the foxsports article? It could be a writer just going from roster-to-roster, as many of these stories are. It may even be a writer who has read all the speculation over the past few years that put Peralta in an article dealing with a possible trade. Or, it could be one of those smoky stories that has more fire to it that just speculation?

I'm not sure if there is more to this story than meets the eye, but you have to believe that the Indians are shopping Peralta. Perhaps they aren't done dumping payroll. Perhaps Acta sensed trouble with regards to Peralta after his initial talk. Perhaps the Indians are just fishing to see if they can get another Carlos Santana-deal.

If Marte is dealt, the Indians would be hard-pressed to fill the roster. Andy Marte is available, but it's believed that he's the leading candidate to fill in at first base while Matt LaPorta gets healthy. Of course, when LaPorta returns, Marte could slide right over to third. This is assuming that Michael Brantley is ready for a full-time stint in left field, and assuming Marte doesn't hit below the Mendoza-line. Is Wes Hodges ready after struggling in 2009 with injury?

Obviously, at this stage of the game, if the Indians can get some top prospects for Peralta, they'd be idiotic not to. Of course, can they get top prospects? You're talking about a guy who hit .254 last season, with only 11 homers and 83 RBI. These aren't the numbers you want from a corner infielder. Selling low isn't smart, but we don't even know if the Indians are selling.

Will Peralta be with the Tribe in 2010? I can't imagine that he wouldn't be, but if there's one thing I CAN be sure of, is to expect the unexpected...

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Tribe Holiday Mishmash with the starters

I sit here in early preparations of a day fighting the crowds in that wonderful Christmas tradition we all call shopping. On the agenda? A bauble for the wife to offset the new bigscreen I plan to buy myself. Call it the calm before the holiday storm. In other words, I'll likely spend more today than the Indians will spend in the entire offseason. Let's get on with today's mishmash.

How can you not be even slightly excited about Rafael Perez and his absolute awesome performance for Gigantes del Cibau in the Dominican Winter League. In an offseason that has seen the Indians spend most of their time doing, well, nothing, Perez has been nothing short of scintillating. Perez is now 3-0 in five starts, striking out 25, while walking only 10 in 27 innings pitched. His ERA is a paltry .33, having given up only one run all season long.

I could sit here and get bogged down in the fact that Perez doesn't seem to have enough pitches to be a full-time starter. Over the past four years, Perez has thrown essentially two pitches: his slider and his fastball. That can be misleading, because he does throw a four and two-seam fastball. His fastball, when on, is low-end 90's with a lot of movement. His slider is his out pitch, and is devastating when he's on. He dabbles with a cutter, changeup and curveball, but he hasn't used any of those pitches with any sort of consistency or reliability over the years to think he can start...right?

Forget all of that for now. Perez is pitching better than good as a starter, and the Indians, for as pathetic as their bullpen could potentially be, needs starters. If Perez continues this torrid pace, then every member of the Tribe staff need be fired prior to the season. Sometimes what you see in the mirror is what you see in the mirror. Perez has always had that three-quarter delivery that has been difficult for hitters, but also difficult for Perez to replicate. It appears that starting gives him that repetition.

Keep Perez in the starting role as long as he shows this type of dominating stuff. As I've been preaching for the past month, you've got to do whatever it takes this season to put together a team that can compete, and Perez is a case in point. If the Indians and Mark Shapiro are thinking outside the box, as many are thinking, than this is just the type of move they need to make.

Can we please be done with the Westbrook is the Indians ace talk? I'm not saying he can't be, I'm just kind of done with it. I like Westbrook. He's the kind of bulldog every staff needs, but forget about calling him an ace. What he can be is a guy you can roll out every fifth day and give you some innings. Anything past that is icing. It's not that he looked good this offseason, but that he pitched without pain of any kind. It will be interesting to see what happens as he puts some miles on his arm.

Fausto Carmona really is the lost man in the rotation this year. I can't fathom that anyone is expecting anything from Fausto. The reality is that Carmona is the only guy currently on the staff that possesses the type of stuff that can be ace-material. You can throw out several issues with Carmona over the past two years, that likely top out at a ten-cent head. That said, his biggest visible issue is his lack of ability to find the strikezone. Tim Belcher, his new pitching coach, made a career of throwing strikes. You have to wonder if Carmona's struggles wasn't at the top of the list for the Indians when Belcher was hired. If he can fix the struggling starter, then the Indians chances to be anything other than a joke get markedly better.

I'm a firm believer in David Huff. Sure, you can lump him in with the Scott Lewis/Aaron Laffey/Jeremy Sowers crowd, and they certainly are all similar. The difference with Huff is that he has tenacity that goes along with his finesse. Think of Tom Glavine. Glavine pounds the strike zone, works all sides of the plate, and has immeasurable confidence. That's David Huff. He has that mean streak, a deceptive delivery that makes his fastball look quicker than the 92-94 it's clocked at, and just has command on the mound. He has put up good numbers in every league he's pitched in, and let's not forget that he rolled out 11 wins last year, even with that near 6.00 ERA. This kid will be a good one.

Justin Masterson really is a similar pitcher to Huff, aside from pitching from the other side of the rubber. Masterson should be a starter, plain and simple. I've been listening to this talk about Masterson closing down the road since the Indians have picked him up. Could he? Sure he could, but this would be on a team like the Red Sox that pulls out their sizable wallets every offseason to pick up the top pitching prospects. On the Indians, this kid is a starter. His fastball's are numerous, and he really varies the speeds, anywhere from 88-95. He has a solid slider, and an improving changeup that drops off the table when it's on. I've heard rumblings that he may add a curveball this year, but I'm fine with a guy that pounds the zone with varying speeds. Masterson has always had confidence and moxie, and as he learns the role of a starter every day, he could be a good one.

Past that, we will have the annual Jeremy Sowers/Aaron Laffey watch. Look for Laffey to challenge for the fifth spot in the rotation, with Sowers likely finding a spot in the bullpen. What's left to say about these two. Hopefully one pans out. Until then, well, we've said it all already.

You have to hope that Carlos Carrasco turns into something special. He can be a frustrating pitcher. He has mid-90's stuff, but mechanics have kept it from being consistent. He has a wicked slider, but mechanics have kept it from being consistent. His best pitch is his offspeed, but it all depends on the other two pitches. If he pans out, good riddance Cliff. If he doesn't, we'll have some time to wait to see if the Indians manage to come out with a win in the Cliff Lee deal.

Not sure what to expect from the staff right now. I'm far enough away from the season to think it could be better than originally thought. Of course, a lot of dominoes have to fall for it to be anything better than pedestrian. This rotation really is an ace away from being pretty good, and getting the pieces to fall in line, so don't expect much until hopefull 2011. Even if Carmona finds his stuff, there may not be enough solid arms to make a rotation without some sort of move. Of course, with this team, that might now matter in 2010.

Off to buy a big screen...er...present for my wife...

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Westbrook continues rehab with mixed results

Jake Westbrook's third start in his winter league rehab assignment was a struggle, as the righty went 3 2/3 innings, giving up five hits and three walks, while striking out one and giving up three runs.

It's all relative with regards to Westbrook, as long as he continues to pitch pain free. Westbrook is likely not necesarily looking at results, as opposed to rebuilding arm strength and continuing to test his pitches. Of his eleven outs, seven were ground balls, suggesting he was able to keep his pitches down. Of course giving up five hits and three walks in less than four innings doesn't help the cause.

With Paul Cousineau noting the soaring prices of decrepit starting pitchers, it's imperative that Jake Westbrook not only continues to improve, but continues to get people out. The Indians rotation will be rife with under-proven and under-whelming options, and Westbrook, who may fit into the latter category, needs to find the pitcher he was during his dominant spring of 2008, prior to his injury. If he does, the Indians at least have a servicable ace. If he doesn't, the Indians may struggle to find a starter that can manage 10+ wins.

Ahhh, the winter meetings, and the only thing we have to talk about is a cruddy winter-league stint by Jake Westbrook.

No surprise, Nunnally named Cleveland Indians new hitting coach

Manny Acta and the Cleveland Indians today announced the hiring of long-time Tribe minor league hitting instructor, Jon Nunnally, as their new major league hitting coach. The hiring is the last major hire for Manny Acta's staff, who finally has a full gambit of big league coaches. This one was no surprise at all, as Nunnally was mentioned from the get go as the go to guy, and for good reason.

Nunnally has been a more than successful coach throughout his coaching career with the Indians. In his three years in the system, Nunnally's teams have lead their respective leagues in hitting two out of his three seasons (Kinston in 2007, and Columbus in 2009). According to Anthony Castrovince, several Tribe hitters endorsed Nunnally for the job after working with him during rehab assignments, including Grady Sizemore and Travis Hafner.

Sometimes boring hires are the best, and this is just the case. Nunnally is successful, and to many times, hiring a good coach is to complicated. Nunnally performs, and that's just what the Indians ordered. If he can figure out how to cut down the Tribe K's, he's already a winner in my book. I know, I know, like he needs my endoresment.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Another sizzling start for Rafael Perez

Rafael Perez continued to make the Dominican winter league his playground with another blistering start that gave him his first win for Gigantes del Cibao. Tonight, he went six innings, giving up only four hits and one run while striking out six without walking a batter. The bad news? Perez saw his ERA jump 0.60 of a run. The good news? His ERA is 0.60 in 15 total innings of work.

The four hits that the lanky lefty allowed were all singles, two of which were of the infield variety. Three of the singles were clustered together in the second inning,
in which he gave up his only run of the season thusfar. Of his 12 recorded outs, eight were ground balls. Of the 21 batters he faced, 17 failed to hit balls out of the infield. In other words, he was electric.

The irony of all this is that the Cleveland Indians management sent Rafael Perez to the Dominican Republic with a singular mission, to become consistent with his delivery as a reliever. To do that, the Tribe braintrust of Mark Shapiro, Manny Acta and Tim Belcher chose to use the winter league as a spring training of sorts for the beleaguered reliever. They decided to start Perez so that he could get guaranteed work, and get the repetition that would give him a more dependable delivery.

Now I can't be the only one that sees the common sense side to all of this, can I? If Perez needs to start in the winter leagues to get the multiple innings to create consistency in his delivery, why wouldn't he just start, period? Admittedly, it's too early to make any definitive statements about the future of Perez with regards to starting or relieving, but his past three starts have certainly at least put Perez into the starting rotation equation.

In 2007, the Indians caught lightning in a bottle when Fausto Carmona moved from the bullpen to the starting rotation. He found consistency in his delivery, and was electric. Could Perez do the same?

Perez does have some issues that could work against his potential as a starter. His fastball is a consistent 88-90. He does have a natural cut to his heat, which makes it more elusive. His slider is his true plus pitch when consistent, and is nearly unhittable when he's going good. He does also have a fair changeup, although he hasn't had to use it in his years in the pen, and isn't considered a plus pitch. Like Carmona before him, he would need to perfect that third pitch before he could make a final move to start.

Can Perez continue his consistency to allow him to start? Can he develop a third pitch that won't have batters sitting on his fastball? Does Perez and his slight frame have the stamina to pitch seven innings a night? All those questions would have to be answered prior to a potential move, and they aren't even the biggest question.

Will Mark Shapiro, Manny Acta and Tim Belcher think outside the box to allow even the thought of Perez returning to his role as starter? My hope is that Tribe management will turn over every rock, and consider every option with regards to the 2010 Indians. If they do, perhaps this ship can be righted.

Either way, it's good to see Perez pitching back to 2007 form. Let's hope it carries over to the 2010 season.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Indians Westbrook takes form in second winter league outing

It's not taking long for Jake Westbrook to regain the form that made him a mainstay in the Indians starting rotation from 2001-2007. The 6'3" righthander looked much better in his second outing for manager Eduardo Perez' Leones de Ponce of the Puerto Rican winter league. Westbrook went three full innings, giving up four hits while striking out two. Westbrook didn't walk a batter, but did give up one run.

Westbrook forced five ground ball outs and two fly outs, to go along with his two K's in the game, which again shows that the bulldog righthander is pitching to his strengths early on in his rehab. Obviously, it's much too premature to say that Westbrook is a lock to be a solid starter for the Indians, but he's painfree and painting corners. Not a bad way to start the season.

Westbrook is vital to the Indians having any chance of being competitive this season. The Indians have no viable options for their #1 starter position, and some would correctly say that Westbrook is overmatched as the ace of the staff. Unfortunately (or fortunately, if you're a glass half full kinda guy), he's currently the best that the Indians have who is major league ready.

It's believed that Westbrook will make two to three more starts, and of course, stay aboard the starship B3 for winter league updates as we get them.

Make sure that you check out Tony Lastoria's Indians Prospect Insider over the winter. With the Indians out of the market, the minor league happenings will be the central focus for the Tribe until February. Look for more minor league news to roll out soon enough, with Tribe management still hemming and hawing about a potential PTBNL. We've also got the Rule V draft in six days, which will more than likely be uneventful.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The surreal life of a Cleveland Indians fan

While the rest of the world revels in the life and times of Tiger Woods, Cleveland Indians fans have real news to talk about. With the hot stove season upon us, what other team would you rather be following right now? Would you rather be a fan of the New York Yankees or Boston Red Sox, who will actually sign quality players to ludicrous contracts that no other team can match? Or would you rather follow the Cleveland Indians, where nothing is considered trivial, $3 million is way too much, and our star players are chasing pictures, or about to start triple A? C'mon, that's a no brainer, right? Consider the big news this week:
  • Mike Sarbaugh was promoted as the manager from double A Akron to triple A Columbus. Sarbaugh and the Aeros rolled to the Eastern League championship, and the Indians wanted to promote Sarbaugh to continue his development as a manager. You know, like Torey Lovullo and Eric Wedge and Joel Skinner and Charlie Manuel and Mike Hargrove prior. Who's taking Sarbaugh's spot? Oh yeah, Joel Skinner, who wanted to stay in the area and with the organization.

  • Kelly Shoppach was dealt to the Tampa Bay Rays. The catcher, who batted .214 last season, was likely to see a raise in pay through arbitration to $3 million. Cleveland felt that was too much money.

  • Cleveland signed four guys today that nobody has ever heard of before in the history of the game, and baseball gods willing, nobody will ever hear about again. One of the guys used to get shelled nightly for the Tigers, and another toiled for the Twins for a few seasons. I'm not going to mention them now, because I fear I'll begin accepting the signings of cast-offs as the norm. I mean, when we have the potential to sign David Dellucci and Jason Michaels in the future, who want's to know these guys?

  • Grady Sizemore is getting healthy, and he's quite obviously trying to show the world his prowess. In all seriousness, the only thing left for Sizemore to do this week is find himself drunk in a car with Lindsay Lohan, giving the paparazzi upskirt shots. I mean seriously here, when are we going to get the Sizemore/Peralta cat fight? This comes after the Tribe centerfielder was asking everyone this side of the Pinkerton detective agency to get private photos of these here internets. Grady was apparently showing his lady friends his batting stances. Why is it that when I say Sizemore with regards to this story, I feel a bit sick to my stomach?
What a week to be a Tribe fan ladies and gentlemen, and we haven't even made it to the Winter Meetings.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Why the Grinch stole Shoppach

Cleveland Indians catcher Kelly Shoppach was traded today to the Tampa Bay Rays for the infamous player to be named later. The Indians will have until December 20th to choose the PTBNL from the Rays, which will allow the Indians to await the results of the Rule V draft. It's likely the Indians have been given a list of players, some of which are on the 40-man roster, and some younger prospects not protected.

The Shoppach deal is purely a product of finances, as the Tribe catcher originally acquired in a deal sending Coco Crisp to Boston was likely going to pull in an arbitration haul of around $3 million. The Indians, with a system deep in catchers, could afford to let the free-swinger move on to other pastures.

Shoppach became a hot commodity after the 2008 season, when the slugging catcher became the Tribe starter thanks to an injury-riddled season to Tribe backstop Victor Martinez. Shoppach crushed 21 homers, 21 doubles and had 58 RBI in only 353 at bats. He also struck out a rather impressive 133 times, which has been Shoppach's knock over his career.

Shoppach calls a good game and has a howitzer for an arm. During Shoppach's two seasons as a strict back-up, Shoppach threw out a monster 36% of total base stealers. This dropped to 21% during his offensive breakout year in 2008, and 23% in 2009. Still, Shoppach is an able backstop who has some pop in his bat.

He struggled offensively in 2009, limping in at .214, while striking out 98 times. Obviously the Indians were hoping for a continuation and an improvement offensively, but didn't get it. Still, don't let the numbers fool you. Shoppach is a solid catcher, and will be a good addition for a Rays team looking for a leader behind the plate. Shoppach is a scrappy player, and really is the type of guy you want on a young club.

So why did the Indians deal him? Lou Marson, one of the players acquired in the Cliff Lee deal, is major league ready. Marson has no real power, but is a solid defensive backstop. Many compare the lighter hitting Marson to Jason Kendall, although Marson projects to have more power down the road. In reality, Marson will just be a place holder for Eastern League MVP Carlos Santana.

Santana is projected to be the Tribe starter in 2011, but don't be surprised if he makes an appearance at some point in 2010. He's likely ready now, but the Indians have the time and players to allow him some time to develop.

Who might the Indians get in return for Shoppach? It's hard to tell. There's a lot of speculation that he's not going to bring the Indians much, but I wonder. The Indians were expected to Non-Tender Shoppach, which means the Rays could have had him for nothing. Obviously, there were other teams interested in the under-appreciated catcher. Could there have been a bit of a bidding war for Shoppach? It's possible, and if so, expect the Tribe to get a decent prospect, even if in the lower minors.

Have a good career Kelly Shoppach, you will be missed. At least until that famous guitar player makes his debut.