Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Sunday Big³ at the B³: Brantley what, Choo and ACab get new deals and a Tribe line-up/shake-up

Do you believe in miracles? The Cleveland Indians start their second week of spring training with fans of the team likely muttering those same words, and not about the U.S. chances against the "visiting" Canadians in today's gold medal game to close out the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. Instead, the Indians seem to be creating more questions than an entire season of LOST. So as we close the door on the Olympics and the month of February, it's time to answer some questions with today's big³ at the B³. Do I believe in Tribe miracles? Yes!

There is no doubt that the big question coming out of spring training has been the roster shuffle that the Russell Branyan signing has created. The Indians brass, including both Manny Acta and Mark Shapiro, have indicated that Branyan will be a starter, and likely at first base.
"We didn't sign him to be a backup," said Acta.
The domino effect would then move Matt LaPorta to left field, and bump Michael Brantley back to triple A for more seasoning. This seems to go against the grain of the Tribe thinking this past offseason. The line of thinking being that the Indians were going to use the season to try and figure out what they have with regards to youth.

With that said, a scenario that would see Russell Branyan starting at first base against right-handed pitchers (75% of the starts), Matt LaPorta starting in left-field and at first base against lefties to spell Branyan, Trevor Crowe spelling LaPorta when he's playing first, Travis Hafner healthy and DH-ing, and Michael Brantley starting the season in Triple A Columbus begins to make sense. There's a two-fold way of thinking about this.

First, the chances of LaPorta, Hafner and Branyan staying healthy aren't at all likely. LaPorta doesn't have a consistent history of injury, but Hafner and Branyan do, and they aren't getting any younger. With this scenario, Brantley would likely get a call-up rather quickly, while continuing to improve his wares as a Clipper.

The second reason is a bit more obscure, but a common scenario in today's major leagues. Tony Lastoria had a nice piece yesterday about Michael Brantley with regards to his service time as a major league player. To make a long story short, if Brantley were to be called up in the first week of June, the Indians would gain a full year with regards to arbitration and free agency. My point here is that in a rebuild year, why waste that year in a do-nothing season. Instead, leave him in Columbus and pull him up when he can actually mean something.

Still, if Brantley earns a spot on the roster, he should be there, and you never can count on injures, can you.

Shin-Soo Choo and Asdrubal Cabrera are going to enter the 2011 season arbitration-eligible. According to Anthony Castrovince at,
"The Indians believe they have the future financial flexibility to investigate long-term deals for their emerging core players. I'd count Cabrera and Shin-Soo Choo in that boat, and I'm sure the Indians will look into the possibility of extending them. Both Choo and Cabrera will be arbitration-eligible at season's end, which means they'll be due for a nice raise. They're not eligible for free agency until after the 2013 season."
AC wrote that before Choo signed with agent Scott Boras, according to LA Times scribe Dylan Hernandez, on Twitter.

Within the Scott Boras mission statement is likely the quote, "Thou shalt become a free-agent at your earliest possible convenience so that thou can line the Boras pockets with an abundance of cash." I'm not sure which Boras clients have ever signed any sort of extension that takes them beyond their free-agent date (which for Choo, will be after the 2013 season), but if it's not zero, it's certainly close. Not only that, but now Choo's arbitration-eligible years become increasingly interesting as well. With Boras as Choo's agent, might the Indians be willing to deal Choo for a similar player with a better agent? I'm not sure how smart that would be, but I wouldn't be surprised if it is at least on the table.

Choo has stated that,
"I really want to stay long-term. I have good teammates here. A good team. Everything I like. I feel at home here. I like the Indians."
Gee, I haven't heard that before.

Choo left Octagon Marketing and agent Alan Nero, who is currently Asdrubal Cabrera's agent. Nero does have history in dealing with the Indians, having worked out a long-term extension for Victor Martinez in 2005, as opposed to going to route of arbitration with the former Indians' catcher. Look for the Indians to sign Cabrera at some point soon to a four-year extension, with a fifth year option. As for Choo? Look out, this could get ugly.

Fans have been clamoring for Grady Sizemore to move down the batting order for years, and it looks like it is finally going to happen. Manny Acta told reporters late last week that he discussed the move with Sizemore, and that the returning center fielder was on board:
"I think it's best for the team that Grady hit in the second spot. I wanted to make sure we gave him the respect he deserved, so I talked to him and gave him time to digest it. He's OK with it."
So, does Sizemore fit in the two-hole? Most saw Grady as a #3 or #4 hitter, saw the #2 slot may not seem like the right place for the veteran slugger. You generally want a lefty, so Sizemore fits here. You also want a guy that mirrors the lead-off hitter in getting on base. Well, check there as well, since Grady mirrors the former lead-off hitter quite well. You want a guy that can avoid double-plays, and Sizemore's speed is effective here. Really, the only area that could cause trouble is making contact. He does strike out a bunch, even though his OBP is always high. That said, I think it will help Sizemore with regards to his strikeouts, and overall, he'll be a better than average #2 type hitter.

My real question is with regards to Asdrubal Cabrera, who I also think is an ideal #2 type hitter. Sure, Sizemore will likely drive in more runs, but will Cabrera get on base enough to make that effective? Perhaps this is a first move in the long-term plans of Acta. Ultimately, Michael Brantley is going to lead-off for this team, with Cabrera batting second. Ultimately, Shin-Soo Choo will stay in the #3 slot, and I believe Sizemore will bat clean-up. Even if Sizemore is #3 and Choo is #4, it's still going to be a lineup that produces a whole bunch of runs.

It's good to see the Indians and Acta doing what makes sense, and not just stay status-quo to prove a point.


Doing the laundry:

For those that haven't done so already, make sure you check out Tony Lastoria's 2010 annual, 2010 Cleveland Indians Top 100 Prospects & More. Here's the press release:
The 2010 Cleveland Indians Top 100 Prospects & More book is now available for purchase at for $19.95 plus shipping and handling. The book will also be available at many popular on-line stores such as in the coming weeks, and in several of the Indians major league and minor league team shops throughout the coming season.

The book is 214 pages in length and features detailed scouting reports for 165+ players in the system, covering almost every player who played stateside in the Indians farm system last year. Included in those 165+ players are scouting reports for the Top 100 players in the system, reports for every draft pick from last year's draft, and reports for the Top 10 Latin players coming stateside this year that primarily played in the Dominican Summer League last season. Scouting reports for Rule 5 picks Chuck Lofgren and Hector Ambriz are also included.

In addition to the scouting reports, lots of other useful information is included such as a listing showing the Top 100 prospects by position, rankings history of the Top 50 from 2007-2009, complete affiliate information, 2009 Draft results, projected 2010 full season opening day minor league rosters, 2010-2013 Rule 5 Draft eligibles, Rule 5 FAQ, 2009 released player listing, 2009 transactions recap from Columbus to Arizona, 2010 minor league spring training schedule, 2010 minor league schedule grid, and more!

Whether you are a casual follower or a long time diehard of the minor leagues this book is for both the beginners and experts, and is the most complete and detailed reference guide on the Cleveland Indians prospects around. For more details or to place an order, please go to
For those that aren't familiar with Tony's site, make sure you do. It's really the best organizational site on the net. I'll be doing some reporting there throughout the year as a beat reporter for Kinston, and I look forward to helping out there as much as I can.

Glad to see Patrick McManamon reporting for AOL Fanhouse.
For those that followed Patrick at either the Akron-Beacon journal and/or, he's continued his insight in even greater earnest at the ever-growing Fanhouse. That makes the third huge loss for the ABJ over the last year, with Terry Pluto and Brian Windhorst having left for the Plain Dealer. Gee, I wonder well Sheldon Ocker will end up?

The All-Aught Indians: The All-Aught Indians will be continuing throughout the rest of spring training. It's a 25-man roster that should mimic an actual baseball team. For example, I can't put Kenny Lofton in at Left Field or as a back-up outfielder, because he was never really the primary guy at either for an entire season. To be considered, you have to have actually done it. Unfortunately for Kenny, his best years with the club were primarily prior to the Aughts, and he wasn't the primary left fielder in 2007, therefore, he's off the roster. However, a guy like Manny Ramirez was the primary position-holder at right field during his only aught season, so his monster season and the sieve that took over right field after he left left him as the top at his slot for the decade. Position players will wrap up early this week, and the pitching staff will start thereafter.

The Sunday Big³ at the B³: This will be my new Sunday piece. After bringing over The Sunday Drive from my past blogs, it was time to put it to bed. Saturday and Sunday mornings are still my favorite times to write, and you'll find the bulk of it here in some form or fashion. Looking forward to developing The Big³ in weeks and years to come.

Here's to a beautiful week for spring training!

Saturday, February 27, 2010

All-Aught Indians--Right Field--Manny Ramirez (2000)

Right Field has been a position of power and pain for the Cleveland Indians over the past ten years. Manny Ramirez started off the decade with a monster year before leaving the Tribe for the greener monsters of Boston. Juan Gonzalez appeared for a year to take Manny's place, relaunched his stuttering career with a big season of his own, then left for Detroit. That's when the mashers left, and the deteriation of right field began. What followed were middling seasons from the likes of Matt Lawton, Jody Gerut, Trot Nixon and Franklin Gutierrez. All showed promise in one form or another, but couldn't even reach the first rung of the ladder built by ManRam and JuanGone. The fact that Casey Blake had the longest tenure during the aughts in right field should let you know just how bad things got in the hunt for stability at the position. The light at the end of the tunnel closing out the decade has been Shin-Soo Choo, who surely has a head start on the All-Teens team. With that said, the All-Aught Indians Right Fielder is Manny Ramirez.

Ramirez was as sure a thing as you could be as a prospect. The hitting savant won the 1993 Minor League player of the year, and made his debut with the Tribe in a September call-up in 1993. His break-out season came in 1995, rolling out 31 homers, with a .307 average and 107 RBI. He'd help lead the Indians to their first World Series appearance in nearly fifty years, and he was only just beginning.

Fast forward five more seasons, two world series appearance, and a whole bunch of offense. Ramirez would enter the decade with 198 career home runs, a career .307 average and back to back seasons in which he hit 89 homers and had 310 RBI. The only thing stopping Ramirez from becoming the preeminent baseball player was, well, Manny being Manny.

His career in Cleveland would culminate in 2000 with one of the best seasons of his career. The only thing that could slow Ramirez down that season was a bum hamstring, which kept him out of the line-up for the entire month of June, and through the all-star break in July. Even while only playing in 118 games, Ramirez would still hit 38 home runs, with 122 RBI. His line was a Babe-Ruthian .351/.457/.697, with a 1.154 OPS. The Indians would finish second in the division, and a game out of the wild-card slot, leaving Ramirez out of the playoffs for the first time as a regular with the Indians.

Ramirez was always regarded as the 'kid brother' with the Indians, to the players and the fans. I can't recall more than two words being spoken at a time by Ramirez with reporters, since he followed in the footsteps of his mentors, Eddie Murray and Albert Belle, who both refused to talk to the media. We've all heard the stories, with my favorite being the five-figure paycheck from the Indians he'd left lying around in a pair of boots in his locker, unchashed. If it was about baseball, Ramirez was Einstein. If it was about anything else...well...Manny was, being Manny.

Ramirez left the Indians in 2001, and never felt the wrath that Albert Belle before, and Jim Thome after, had felt. The Indians chased after their slugger, offering an obscent 8-year, $136 million contract, which the Red Sox then outbid at a even more obsurd 8-year, $160 million deal. Even though Manny left for the cash, most of the anger was slanted towards agent Jeff Moorad.

Manny was, of course, just being Manny.

The Two Thousand, Aught Right Fielders: Manny Ramirez, David Justice, Russell Branyan, Jolbert Cabrera, David Segui, Bill Selby, Chan Perry, Ricky Ledee, Alex Ramirez, Juan Gonzalez, Marty Cordova, Karim Garcia, Wil Cordero, Ellis Burks, Jacob Cruz, Matt Lawton, Chris Magruder, Lee Stevens, Todd Dunwoody, Bruce Aven, Brady Anderson, Jody Gerut, Shane Spencer, Alex Escobar, Ryan Ludwick, Mark Little, Raul Gonzalez, Casey Blake, Jason Dubois, Jeff Liefer, Jose Hernandez, Shin-Soo Choo, Franklin Gutierrez, Hector Luna, Todd Hollandsworth, Jason Michaels, Eduardo Perez, Trot Nixon, Ben Francisco, Matt LaPorta, Trevor Crowe, Chris Gimenez, Jamey Carroll, Ryan Garko, Mark DeRosa

Thursday, February 25, 2010

All-Aught Indians--Left Field--Coco Crisp (2002-2005)

In the 1990's, Albert Belle, Brian Giles and David Justice made left-field a position of strength for the Cleveland Indians. In stark contrast, since the start of the 2000 season, left-field has become the place where ballplayers go to die. Only three players since 2000 have played in 100+ games in left in a single season, and none more than 133. Left has seen transplanted infielders, aging outfielders and horrific platoons turn it into the laughingstock of the Tribe line-up. There was one exception. The All-Aught Indians Left Fielder is Covelli Loyce Crisp. You might know him as Coco.

Coco Crisp was acquired by the Cleveland Indians as another one of those Mark Shapiro specials in 2002, when he sent Steve Finley to the St. Louis Cardinals for Luis Garcia and a player to be named later. That player turned into Crisp, who was immediately sent to Akron for an extremely brief stay. Milton Bradley immediately went on the DL, and Crisp was called up to the big club. Crisp would make an immediate impact, with six hits in his first three games. He batted .260 with 9 doubles, 2 triples, one homer, 4 stolen bases and 9 RBI in 32 games. He would only play two games in left in his first stint, as his natural position was center.

Crisp would start the 2003 season off in Buffalo, and the Tribe would recall him in June 11 with Crisp dominating International League pitching. Crisp would continue his hot hitting with the Indians, rolling out a 13-game hitting streak in July, a month that saw him hit .351 with 6 doubles, 6 RBI and 14 runs in 26 games. He would finish the season slumping, but would end with a .266 average, three homers, 27 RBI, 55 runs, 15 doubles, 6 triples and 15 stolen bases. He would start more games in center, but started in 38 games in left field.

In 2004, Crisp would make the club out of Spring Training, and would become the starting center fielder about halfway through the season. With Grady Sizemore ready to make his presence known in the big club, it was only a matter of time until Crisp would have to move. He would still play 37 games in left. Offensively, Crisp would have a break out season, batting .297 with 15 homers and 71 RBI. He would score 78 runs and 24 doubles, while stealing 20 bases. Crisp would have a torrid August and September that saw him bat .337 and .336 respectively, and batted .345 from July 25th on.

Crisp would become the starting left-fielder in 2005, and this was the season that won him the award as the decades best left fielder. He set personal highs, batting .300 with 42 doubles, 16 homers and 86 runs in 145 games. He would add 69 RBI and 15 stolen bases. His line of .300/.346/.465 put him on the straight-line to the elite. He was named A.L. Player of the Week for the week of September 6-12 after hitting .571 with 3 homers and 7 RBI.

The Indians, in all their wisdom, moved Crisp to the Red Sox after the 2005 season because his real position was centerfield. Of course, you couldn't have two centerfielders/lead-off hitters on the same club, even if one did have his best season in left field. Instead, the Indians deal Crisp and acquired Jason Michaels.

Painful, I know.

In Crisp, the Indians had their best left-fielder in the 2000's. No, he wasn't a natural left-fielder, but he was the best they had to offer since Justice left the team. What might Crisp have done with the Indians past the 2005 season? Who knows. Either way, he left Cleveland as a rising star, and their best left fielder of the decade.

The Two Thousand, Aught Left Fielders: Richie Sexson, Wil Cordero, David Justice, Jolbert Cabrera, Russell Branyan, Dave Roberts, Bill Selby, Ricky Ledee, Alex Ramirez, Jacob Cruz, Marty Cordova, Karim Garcia, Ellis Burks, Chris Magruder, Lee Stevens, Coco Crisp, Ben Broussard, Matt Lawton, Todd Dunwoody, Chad Allen, Bruce Aven, Brady Anderson, Jody Gerut, Ryan Ludwick, Shane Spencer, Alex Escobar, Lou Merloni, Jose Hernandez, Jason Dubois, Jason Michaels, Todd Hollandsworth, Ricky Gutierrez, Joe Inglett, Shin-Soo Choo, David Dellucci, Ben Francisco, Kenny Lofton, Franklin Gutierrez, Jason Tyner, Trevor Crowe, Matt LaPorta, Ryan Garko, Mark DeRosa, Chris Gimenez, Jamey Carroll, Michael Brantley,

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

All-Aught Indians--Utility--Jolbert Cabrera (2000-2002)

Utility infielders and utility outfielders have become extremely valuable resources in the game of baseball. For the Indians, over the years, players such as John McDonald and Jamey Carroll have established themselves as key bench players. Players such as ex-Tiger Tony Phillips and ex-Angel and current Mariner Chone Figgins have re-invented the position. Phillips became the first player to start ten games at five different positions, while Figgins started 35+ games at third base, centerfield and second all in the same season. The Indians have utilized several players in a similar fashion over the years. Most recently, Jamey Carroll had found time at second and third base and right and left field. Prior to Carroll, Casey Blake carried the uber-utility slot for the Tribe, playing third and first base, right and left field, as well as DH during his tenure with the Tribe. He started at third base for the Tribe in 2003 and 2004, moved to the outfield for 2005 and 2006, then moved back to third base for 2007 and most of 2008. Throughout his tenure, he would periodically start at the other positions. Unfortunately for Blake, he doesn't qualify for the All-Aught slot because he started most games at one position to the other from year to year. Even though Carroll should qualify, I'm excluding him because he didn't play much outfield, and really didn't play much outfield in his tenure with the Tribe. The All-Aught Indians utility player is Jolbert Cabrera.

I know what you're thinking...WHAT!?! Cabrera was on my radar for this position, but I still believed Blake or Carroll were the better player for this slot. Once you got down to the nitty-gritty, it became clear that Cabrera was the clear standard bearer at the position for the Indians.

Remember, a good utility player plays defense, and Jolbert Cabrera did just that, and extremely well. You could say it runs in the family, since his brother, Orlando, is as good as they come at the shortstop position. You couldn't peg him for an infielder or an outfielder, although he was brought up as a shortstop like his brother. As good a defender as he was, he wasn't going to supplant Omar Vizquel at shortstop, and with Roberto Alomar and Travis Fryman at second and third, he was the odd man out. So, the Indians did the next best thing...played him at ALL the positions, including the outfield.

Cabrera would get a cup of coffee with the Indians in 1998, playing one game at shortstop. In 1999 Cabrera would start the season with the big league club, and would start at second, center and left and would pinch run before being sent back down to Buffalo. He'd return in August and continue his utility role, although he would struggle with the stick all season, batting a paltry .189 with a sad-sack .231 OBP. He would break out as a utility player in 2000.

In 2000, Jolbert would start the season in Buffalo before being recalled by the Indians at the end of April. He would stay with the big league club for the rest of the season. Cabrera would play 29 games in right, 26 games in center, 24 games in left, 19 games at second, 8 games at short and two games as the DH. Most amazing was that Cabrera would only make one error all year long. His bat improved, batting .251, which wasn't bad for a guy that only started 35 games that year. In the 35 games he started, he batted a much improved .279. His highlight that season came at the end of July, when he went 5 for 5 against Baltimore.

He would follow up in 2001 with even better numbers, starting at six different positions. He would find himself in 141 games that year, playing 36 games in left, 35 games in center, 28 games at second, 27 games at third, 18 games at right and 14 games at short. He would make eight errors that year, but when you are splitting your time up between seemingly every position, well, you get my point. He improved his batting average to .261, while stealing 10 bases in 14 attempts. He would also drive in a fairly impressive 38 runs in 287 at bats.

Cabrera's career would fizzle in Cleveland in 2002, and the Tribe would trade him to the Dodgers in July. Still, Cabrera started the Aughts becoming the "Tony Phillips-of-the-Tribe," and did it better than anybody has since.

No, Cabrera didn't blow you away with numbers, but he could play defense, and play defense well. He was never a guy that was going to start at one position, because he could plug up so many holes. That's what a good utility player does...and Cabrera did it better than anyone else. Cabrera was also much respected in the dugout, a hard-working player, and everything you could ever ask for as a blue-collar utility guy.

Cabrera spawned the uber-utility player for the Indians, and likely led the Tribe in the hunt for players such as Casey Blake and Jamey Carroll. Cabrera has managed to stay in the league for the better part of the past nine seasons, including a stint in Japan. The Mets have recently signed Cabrera to try and make the club as, you guessed it, a utility player.

Now, he'll always be remembered as the All-Aught Indians utility player.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The New Poll: What is the biggest question for the Indians heading into Spring Training?

Boy, do the Cleveland Indians have questions heading into Spring Training. I couldn't possibly mention them all here, or this would be the longest article in the history of baseball. Instead, I've posted the latest poll which addresses several of the issues that the Indians will need to address during spring training.

Where will Russell Branyan play? With the pending deal all but signed, sealed and delivered, the simple questions remains, where will Branyan play? Will it be first base, third base, left field or right? Will he DH, and if he does, where will the other guy play? You have to love questions on a team that likely won't contend for anything much.

Where will Matt LaPorta play? Well, everyone is saying that Russell Branyan is playing first, so, what exactly does that mean for Matt LaPorta? At 25, he's not getting any younger. Is he ready for the bigs, or do the Indians plan on using him in left field. If they do, what about Michael Brantley? Oh boy, I can hear the Sizemore trade rumors already.

Will Jake Westbrook return to form? The Cleveland Indians pitching staff has a chance to be very, very bad. With Cliff Lee and CC Sabathia long gone, the remnants of the staff all hinge on whether or not Jake Westbrook can not only come back, but return to form. If he can't, or worse-case scenario, gets hurt and can't play at all, I'm not sure the staff would have even fifty wins in it.

Will Fausto Carmona locate the strike zone? This question may be even more important than Jake Westbrook's status. Westbrook will never be confused with a #1 starter, while Carmona does have the stuff. He's struggled finding the strike zone since his immaculate 2007 season. He seemed to regain some of his stuff during his winter ball stint. If he can find his way back to that 2007 form, Westbrook has an easier path, as do the three through five starters, whoever they may be.

Can Manny Acta manage? Manny Acta can certainly talk, and can certainly interview. After his rather unsuccessful stint with the Nationals, there tend to be two lines of thought. Many say he can't manage, and that the Nationals job showcased that. Even more seem to think that Acta is an up-and-comer, and if given the chance with a good club, could really explode. He knows the game, that's for sure. The only question is, when he interviews and talks to the press, is it real, or is it memorex?

Will Michael Brantley make the team as the starting left fielder? The Indians and the fans, mostly the fans, see Brantley as the next Kenny Lofton. He can steal bases, has a good eye at the plate, and can defend. So, why then does he seem more and more like the odd man out as a starter for the Indians? Is he ready to get the nod, or did the signing of Russell Branyan ensure he starts the season in Columbus. Of course, he's only 22-years old, and could possibly use another half-year or so of seasoning.

Will Grady Sizemore return to form? You get the impression that Grady Sizemore is at a crossroads during his career. Is he ready to resume the upward trajectory that seemed to be taking him to the top of his profession, or is his rugged style of play lead to more injuries. Many point to Sizemore's injury-issues last year as the sole reason for the Tribe collapse. We all know it was more than that, but it certainly was a major reason.

Certainly, these aren't all the questions that need answered, but it's certainly a start. Aren't you glad you aren't Manny Acta?

The Old Poll: Rafael Perez should stay in the bullpen

Thanks to all the participants that took part in The Old Poll, asking where in the world should Rafael Perez pitch in 2010. With Perez showing success as a starter during the winter leagues, combined with the Indians potential issues in the starting rotation, Perez could be looked at as a potential starter.

If the readers here at Bringing Back Boudreau have anything to say, Perez will stay in the bullpen. 77% of all voters believe that the Indians are best served as a reliever. 11% of all voters believe that the Indians should move him to the rotation. 9% believe the Indians should get rid of the lanky-lefty, while 3% think he should be a minor leaguer.

For the record, Manny Acta has stated that while Perez will certainly start the season in the bullpen, he may have an opportunity to start as the season progresses. Personally, I don't care where Perez ends up, as long as he's finding the strike zone, and not giving up the long ball.

As always, thanks for the input. Look for the new poll later today.

Monday, February 22, 2010

A final word on Mark Shapiro and Chris Antonetti

This past week, the Cleveland Indians announced the promotions of both Mark Shapiro and Chris Antonetti, effective at the end of the 2010 baseball season. Shapiro will take over the roll of president from Paul Dolan, while Antonetti will take over Shapiro's old job as General Manager and executive VP. Paul Dolan will take over the role of chairman and CEO from his father.

Shapiro will now become the visionary for this franchise, overseeing not only the baseball side of operations, but the business side as well. Antonetti will focus solely on the baseball side, running the day-to-day operations of the club.

Mark Shapiro: It's hard to take a clear look at Mark Shapiro over the years without feeling that he's both been an unadulterated success and failure at the same time. Shapiro rebuilt the organization after taking the team over from John Hart in 2002. He re-stocked the minor league system through trades, while getting the Indians to a game away from the 2007 world series. He was twice honored by the Sporting News as executive of the year (2005 and 2007) when the Tribe won 93 and 96 games respectively.

His major failures surround both the draft and the perceived inability to make the team distinctly better after the 2005 and 2007 seasons, that had the Indians knocking on the door of the playoffs. Shapiro will be the first person to admit his failures, but people often forget the financial constraints the Indians are under.

Shapiro is considered a top five executive in the game of baseball today, and the day he is fired by the Indians, is likely the day he's hired by the Yankees. Imagine what he would do with those types of resources.

My issues with Shapiro focus around the spending culture. I understand the restraints he's under, but don't understand how you can not make moves that may even require going over budget to take a final step towards the world series. Sometimes you have to spend to win. Not during the building phase, but certainly during the end-game.

Shapiro will be a solid Team President, if he leads this team to take the final step when they are standing on the edge. He's a smart guy, and tying together both baseball and business is a smart move for any team.

Chris Antonetti: Antonetti is the most sought after GM candidate in baseball. I'm still shocked that he turned down the job in St. Louis to stay with the Indians, even if he was given GM type money. We aren't talking about the GM of the Nationals here, we're talking about the GM of one of baseball's most storied franchises, the St. Louis Cardinals. He chose to stay in Cleveland. That's crazy to me in a baseball sense.

Antonetti's going to be a good GM. There's just something about listening to the guy talk that really makes you believe he's going to bring a title to Cleveland. I can see why Antonetti was high on signing Acta, because the two are similar in that regard. The real curiosity with this move is how autonomous that Antonetti becomes. Is he just an extension of Shapiro, or is he going to bring a whole new energy to the team?

The big picture:
What makes me happy about this move is their take on the city of Cleveland. Both were adamant in discussing Cleveland as their home, and their dedication to bringing a title to the North Coast. To many times, the folks that come to Cleveland use it as a way station on their way to bigger and better gigs. Both have obviously turned down offers to do just that.

Paul Cousineau also brought up an interesting scenario at The Diatribe on Sunday.
"With 2010 looking like a certainty as a transitional year, Shapiro will be completing his tenure as GM helming the early stages of the second rebuilding process that he oversaw. Thus, does anyone else find it interesting that Shapiro’s final year (if he’s choosing when that final year is) at the GM helm is a season in which the Indians are very unlikely to compete?

That is, Shapiro could have insisting on sticking around until after the 2011 or the 2012 season, when the prospects of the team competing look to be brighter or when he could hand the reins off to Antonetti, with the team contending or at least closer to contention. Instead, the transition will come about half of a season after the second rebuild/reload/whatever began in earnest, with Antonetti coming in more or less after Shapiro will have been the point man on most unpopular decisions...when…not if, when the Indians trade (or at least attempt to trade) Westbrook, Wood, Peralta, and maybe even Branyan this coming season. By the time that Antonetti will assume the GM reins, all of the dirty work will have been done in the rebuild, with the roster purged and the contract situations of Lee, Victor, Wood, Westbrook, and Peralta in the rearview mirror…all completed in the “Shapiro regime”."
Cousineau goes on to discuss that Antonetti will get a clean slate to begin his duties. It's an interesting take, fitting in perfectly with that group mentality that Dolan, Shapiro and Antonetti all discussed during the presser. The Indians normally work together when making major moves, and this wouldn't be any different.

Should Shapiro be held accountable for the failings of the Indians over the past two seasons? The easy answer is yes. He's the GM of the team, and if they aren't getting the job done, then he is ultimately responsible. The more interesting question I have is whether or not there is another GM candidate out there that would have done better. I'm not sure that there is.

The real issue in Cleveland is the money situation, and as long as the team is dealing with fiscal restraints, these are the Indians that we get.

At least we'll have stability at the top of the administrative structure, and that stability will be some of the most respected executives in the game today.

Now bring us that title...

A final word on Russell Branyan

On Friday, reported that Russell Branyan decided to sign a contract with the Cleveland Indians. The contract is believed to be a one-year contract with a $2 million base and up to $1 million in additional incentives. The deal would also reportedly include a 2011 mutual option worth $5 million. The deal is contingent on Branyan passing a physical with Indians doctors in Goodyear, AZ some time early this week.

On where Branyan will play: Over Branyan's career, he's played both corner outfield positions, both corner infield positions and DH-ed. In 2009, he played exclusively as a first baseman for the Mariners before his bad back ended his season at the start of September. In 2007 and 2008, he played mostly third base. In 2006, the majority of his games came in the outfield, although he played several games at third as well. So what does this mean for Branyan in 2010?

The key is the back. I can't imagine that Branyan is seriously being considered for the outfield, other than in spot duty for a couple of games. I also can't imagine that he would play third base for any extent of time. There may not be a position more rigorous on the back than third base. That leaves first base and DH. Matt LaPorta is reportedly penciled in as the starter at first base. The right-handed hitting LaPorta is coming off surgery, although the belief is that he'll be ready long before opening day. Are the Indians really saying that LaPorta isn't ready offensively? Are the Indians also saying that they may be playing LaPorta in left as well? I know, there isn't a way that makes sense.

Perhaps they are thinking that Hafner will go down again at some point at DH. I could have seen the Indians sign a power bat to platoon with Hafner, but they are both left-handed, which precludes that move. The problem at DH in any scenario is that Branyan signed with the Tribe because he felt he'd get more at bats. So where will he play? I have to believe he's going to find himself at first for the majority of at bats, while filling in for both LaPorta in left and Hafner at DH, when needed. The Indians are likely playing the percentages here, thinking that someone is going to get hurt or traded. The odd man out in this scenario is Michael Brantley. He's still young, so look for the kid to start the season at triple A.

No, it's not perfect, but it is what it is.

On Russell Branyan's offense: It's pretty simple with Branyan. He strikes out in nearly 40% of his at bats, or hits mammoth homeruns. His career OPS is .822, which is above the league average, and is mostly because of his slugging, although he does have a career .333 OBP, which is right around the league average. He'll likely bat fifth or sixth in the line-up, providing protection to the clean-up slot. I just don't see Branyan getting regular at bats in Cleveland, especially if they are going to take a serious look at both Brantley and LaPorta. Don't forget, these are the players at the center of the Sabathia deal, and LaPorta is 25-years old. No, he's not exactly old, but he's not a young prospect either. Brantley will turn 23 this year, so there is still some time to develop.

On Branyan's future: I really find that mutual option at $5 million interesting. For those that don't know, the mutual option needs both the club and the player agreeing to the terms. I can't imagine a scenario that would have the Indians keeping Branyan for the 2011 season. Either he plays out of his mind and the Indians trade him prior to July, or he doesn't play at all, and they don't exercise the option year. I don't see Branyan sticking around that long. Like his at bats, his year with Cleveland will either be a big hit (trade) or miss (release).

On addressing the need for a right-handed bat, or a utility-type player:
Branyan can't bat right-handed that I know of, so they still have a hole on the right side of the plate. I also can't fathom Branyan in that utility role that Casey Blake and Jolbert Cabrera made famous. Branyan's body is breaking down, and unless someone tells me or shows me different, I just don't see him filling that role this season.

On my feelings for the signing: I really don't get the move at all. I suppose Shapiro and Antonetti felt that spending $2 million was an easy way to get some prospects at the deadline. Of course, if Shapiro really believes this club could contend in 2010, perhaps management is viewing this move as one that could put them over the top in the central.

Either way, welcome back Russell the Muscle, for however long you are back, that is.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Sunday Drive with random thoughts of the Indians 2009-2010 offseason

Thank the heaven's above, it's finally time to say goodbye to the psycho-season.

The psychotics out there (understand that it isn't lost upon me that I am actually one of them) have been predicting and projecting the possibilities of the season to come. It all comes to a fever-pitch during February, as those final hot-stove pick-ups are made, new contracts are signed and the bats, balls and gloves are shipped from home to the home-away-from-home at Spring Training, USA.

So here we are, as the pitchers and catchers report to Goodyear, Arizona today, wondering how the Indians are going to put a team that can win games on the field. It really has been a long and despicable winter pondering the Indians and the 2010. Normally, the Indians make their bevy of offseason moves that never seem to be the right position or the right player or the right amount of money (whether it really is or not). This year, the Indians seemingly took a step beyond previous seasons, setting records for club inactivity. Rumors are abound that tumbleweeds have been blowing through the Progressive Field offices since late November.

I've been sitting here in front of this computer spring conflicted. Should the Indians commit to playing the young guys this season, even though it likely will lead to a season of torment? Or, should the Indians make enough moves to at least be competitive in a relatively weak division? Then there is a third line of thought that leads me to the belief that perhaps one leads to another (and you can take that in whatever direction you want).

Their most entertaining moves of the offseason happened in November, when they brought in a new coaching staff, led by Manny Acta. That should go a long way to explaining just how looooooonnnnnng this offseason has been. Seriously, go to a local watering hole some time this week, sit down, and start talking Indians' baseball. Nearly 75% of your entire conversation will focus on Acta's losing record, Sandy Alomar Jr.'s playing days (I give you a link to 'The Diatribe,' which actually addresses Alomar more appropriately as a coach), or about an in-your-face coach that spent his offseason running around the globe in the Amazing Race.

Past the coaching staff, Mark Shapiro and Chris Antonetti have ransacked the major league version of Goodwill, looking for every type of cheap player they could find. First, they dealt from their pile of catchers, sending Kelly Shoppach to the Rays for a player-to-be-named-later (yeah, I'll get to that later). The same day, they signed RHP Jason Grilli, IF Luis Gonzalez, LHP Mike Gosling, and 3B Brian Buscher to minor-league contracts. A week later, they ransacked the Rule V draft, and came back with righty Hector Ambriz. They dropped Adam Miller and Anthony Reyes from the 40-man roster, then signed them back-up to minor league deals (Miller won't pitch this year, but Reyes may). They signed former Nationals reliever, right-hander Saul Rivera, and on the same day, received Rays prospect, right-hander Mitch Talbot (as the player-to-be-named-later in the Shoppach deal).

After the Christmas holidays, the Indians signed outfielders Austin Kearns and Shelley Duncan to minor league deals. A week later, they brought in Mark Gruzeilanek to another minor-league contract. A couple of days after that, they signed their first major league deal of the offseason, to Catcher Mike Redmond for a massive $850,000, then traded Jesus Brito to the Pirates for infielder Brian Bixler.

February has essentially been the Indians trying to sign Orlando Hudson (out of nowhere) and then ultimately signing Russell Branyan.

So, for those counting at home, the Indians have offered up all of two major league contracts, one to a back-up catcher, and another to a whiffer (yep, all wrapped up into one player). If you add up those contracts together, without incentives, they come in at under $3 million a year. They also signed several nearly-weres, always weren'ts and has-beens to minor league deals to compete for jobs.

I'm well aware of the financial hardships that the Indians face in this present market. Even so, there's always that part of me that wants them to burn the "small-market ledger" and utilize the "Just Win, Baby" mentality. Of course, Al Davis created that line of thinking, and we all know how that's paying off for him now. No, the Dolans are in this thing for the long-haul, and they proved that this week with the announcement of a management change at the end of the 2010 season.

Mark Shapiro and Chris Antonetti will both get promotions, with Shapiro moving up to team president, and Antonetti taking over the VP/GM role that Shapiro has held onto since since 2002. Paul Dolan, the current president, will slide into daddy's role as chairman and CEO of the Tribe. There is a sense of irony to all of this that has to make you laugh.

Many have been calling for Mark Shapiro's head on a platter for the past two seasons. Of course, this is coming after Shapiro won the Executive of the Year twice, in 2005 and 2007, when the Indians managed to win over 90 games. Now imagine the Indians struggling in 2010, for a third straight year, which will earn Shapiro a promotion? The Diatribe looks at the impending management moves in a bit of a different perspective in today's Lazy Sunday. Might Shapiro be setting up Antonetti for success, so he can take the fall? Perhaps...

So here we stand, officially the first day of spring training after an offseason that was about as exciting as watching the snow fall in Cleveland. This is one of those rare teams that we really don't have a clue at what we have until we see them play on opening day and beyond. Until then, come back early and often to read the ramblings of one of the psychotics that always think this is the best time of the know...when the Indians still have a chance to win the World Series.

Blog Post of the SunDAY: Check out Nino's spring training primer at the Tribe Daily. It will do just about everything for you Indians fans that are still trying to figure out who's who, and what's what. It's detailed and intense, for all you fellow psychos...

Check out the rearviewmirror for Cleveland...bye-bye least for another month-in-a-half.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Indians extend offer to Russell Branyan

The Cleveland Indians have reportedly made an official offer to former Indian Russell Branyan. Branyan started his career off with the Tribe in 1998, and was utilized as a power-hitting utility-player. Branyan played both corner outfield positions, third base and DH in his tenure with Cleveland. On the outside looking in, he looks like a perfect fit for the Tribe.

So can anyone tell me what the Indians are thinking?

The Indians are in dire need of a right-handed bat, initially to supplement the line-up as Matt LaPorta heals from his offseason surgery on his hip and toe, then to support a left-hand loaded line-up.

Branyan is a left-handed hitter.

The reports seem to cover this more-than-minor issue and have Branyan in a potential platoon with the aforementioned LaPorta at first base. Yeah, you heard me right...a platoon. A lovely platoon. So I just have to ask, is Eric Wedge manipulating Manny Acta as a marionette? Wedge was platoon-happy in his tenure as Tribe manager, perhaps trying to make work the crud that Shapiro was dealing him, such as David Dellucci and Jason Michaels. Now, Branyan appears to be a guy that can platoon with LaPorta and Jhonny Peralta, and perhaps even keep Michael Brantley from starting in left. Is Branyan really that guy?

Should Branyan sign this deal, does this mean that the Indians dealt CC Sabathia with LaPorta at the center of the deal only to platoon him with a guy that has spent his career striking out in nearly 40% of his at bats? Does this make any sense at all to anyone? LaPorta, coming of two surgeries this offseason, has yet to make an impact with the Tribe, but hasn't had the opportunity to spread his wings as of yet. Is this supposed to help him? The 25-year old should have every opportunity to play every day. Does signing Branyan preclude that from happening? Does the centerpiece to the Sabathia deal really need a back-up plan? Great PR Shapiro, well done.

All of the sudden, this idea that the Indians are going to take a look at the youth this year is seemingly garbage. LaPorta is apparently slated to platoon with a has-been, Brantley might not make the big league club and Luis Valbuena has been sent a message by Tribe management, right or wrong, that they were willing to trade for someone to either platoon with him or completely take over.

As for Branyan, who's mulling over deals from both Cleveland and Tampa Bay, this really isn't anything against the guy. I always wanted him to find a spot with Cleveland in his previous tenure, and tear the cover off the ball. It never happened.

Now he just appears to be a cheap road-block to the talent Shapiro acquired in dismantling the team. Of course, this could turn out to be another minor-league deal, in which case I can't blame the Indians for taking a flyer on the guy. That said, if Branyan is eventually signed to play significant innings, you really have to scratch your head at Mark Shapiro's off-season philosophy.

Of course, most of us are likely bald after the past eight or nine years, so why should this year be any different.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Cavs acquire Antawn Jamison

I know this is a Tribe blog, but as a former Cleveland sports blogger, I'd be remissed if I didn't mention, even in passing, the trade that tonight brought Antawn Jamison to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The three-team trade had the Cleveland Cavaliers sending fan favorite Zydrunas Ilgauskas, the 2010 first-round draft pick and the rights to Slovenian forward Emir Preldzic to the Wizards. The Los Angeles Clippers sent the Cavs point guard Sebastian Telfair and the Wizards forward Al Thornton. The Clippers get former Cav Drew Gooden from the Wizards.

This really is a win-win for the Cavaliers. In acquiring an all-star in Jamison, the Cavs didn't have to give up future all-star J.J. Hickson. Hickson will now be learning under one of the best forwards in the game in Jameson. Hickson, who would be a junior this year at NC State had he stayed in college, nullifies the loss of the 2010 first round pick, which likely will be late anyways. Should the Cavs need to get into the first round, they'll likely be able to do it.

Top this off with a likely scenario that has Ilgauskas buying out his contract, waiting thirty days, and re-signing with the Cavs, and you have what turns out to be a late first-round pick for Jamison and Sebastian Telfair. Telfair is out with a groin injury (I know, sounds painful to me too), but is a pure point guard, and will see playing time with the Cavs.

I'm not convinced the Cavaliers are done. With teams desperate to dump payroll and the deadline looming, the Cavs could make another move. There is the potential that a sign-and-trade for Wally Sczerbiak could bring the Cavs a shooting guard.

Yes, the Cavaliers are going to back the luxury tax, and it will cost them...but owner Dan Gilbert gets that bringing a title to Cleveland may mean making a little less money. The Indians could have used this lesson two years ago.

The move also makes LeBron's decision fairly interesting. Is there another team in the league willing to make the moves that Cavs have over the past two years to get to the finals? The easy answer is no. If LeBron wants to win a title, there isn't a team better prepared to give it to him.

Congrats to the Cavaliers, for finally doing whatever it takes to win a title. Win or lose, they aren't leaving a thing on the table, and you absolutely have to respect that.

Congrats to the Cavaliers for getting the job done.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

A Sunday Drive with a flawed culture cultivated by Shapiro

Today's baseball market in Cleveland in a finicky thing. There are several philosophies floating around with regards to the club making money, and the fans coming to see the team play. You have the train of thought that if the Indians win, the fans will come. There's also the opposite stance that the fans will never come again, at least not in the near future, win or lose. With the Indians not making any moves this offseason worth talking about (sorry Mike Redmond, but when you are the class of the free agents, as in, the only free agent, well, you get my drift), it's time to take a bit of a look at the Tribe philosophy, and if and when the Indians will ever build excitement again.

Now, I know this is going to be a bit of an incoherent rant, so stay with me. As I sit here watching the Cavs rumors, realizing that the Cavaliers are finally answering the call to add when the adding is good by signing Amar'e Stoudemire, I can't help but look to the Indians. Do they answer the call, or are they just looking at a plan, and some numbers?

The Indians are a small market team, and the Dolans and Mark Shapiro have run it as such. Management has built teams since 2001 mostly with either home-grown talent or young talent acquired from other clubs in deals for players that were out of the Indians' price range. Shapiro and his staff most definitely work off the "Money Ball" philosophy of utilizing statistical analysis to try and sign players that are undervalued. You can judge for yourself whether or not this philosophy has been successful over the years. I'll get to that in a second.

Before I go there, I want to take a quick look at Mark Shapiro's successor, John Hart. Hart, in many ways, had perhaps the biggest impact of ANY general manager in baseball over the past thirty years. The much-hyped Billy Beane, who's Money Ball/Sabremetrics approach to baseball has seemingly revolutionized the game, get's much credit for the way GM's look at signing players. Guys like Hart, and to some extent, Beane's mentor Sandy Alderson are often overlooked.

Remember, Alderson was the guy that led the A's to four division titles, three pennants and the 1989 World Series. Hart mirrored Alderson in many ways, leading the Tribe to six American League Central division titles, with appearances in the World Series in 1995 and 1997. Both GMs, and in particular John Hart, created a mentality to do four things:
  1. Sign your young talent to long-term deals.
  2. Add pieces to fill in the holes to ensure that your young talent has a veteran, quality presence.
  3. Build your minors, not only to support the big league club, but to create a source of trade-able parts.
  4. Hire the best management staff in the game with not only old-school baseball minds, but with people that would be considered brilliant thinkers who weren't necessarily baseball guys (remember, Hart created his staff long before Beane was even in the picture).
Sure, it was a little more complicated than a four-step plan. Certainly, the economy at the time played a part in it. No, Cleveland wasn't exactly exploding on the money front, but perception at the time had the Cleveland downtown growing, and at the heart of the growth were the Indians and their new ballpark. The Browns left, and left the city devoid of anything but the Indians and the Cavs, who weren't worth talking about either. The fans showed up in droves, selling out nearly half a decade, and the Indians money-coffers were certainly full. Still, the root of the success was a well-laid out plan by Hart and his baseball people, one of which was Mark Shapiro.

It had it's flaws. Hart could never land the #1 starter that he needed, but not for lack of effort. He signed Black Jack McDowell and Steve Finley, but both were just a bit past their prime. He made trades for players at the deadline, but they never seemed to show up as much as it appeared they would on paper (man, I really though Jeff Juden was going to be something special). Those deals also cost us valuable youngsters, without any payout (still can't stop thinking about the Kevin Seitzer for Jeromy Burnitz deal).Still, thanks to long-term deals for guys like Thome, Ramirez, Belle and the rest, the Indians were able to win, and win a lot. They were also able to bring in solid players through trades (like Dave Justice, Marquis Grissom and Matt Williams), and were willing to sign big-name free agents (Roberto Alomar, Orel Hershiser, Eddie Murray and Dennis Martinez ) to keep the momentum.

Today, the Indians are in rebuild mode, and are making mostly the right decision to not overpay for a free agent who will never figure into a rebuild. In the culture that the Dolans and Shapiro have created here in Cleveland over the years, it fits. Shapiro and the Dolans work under a very strict budget to continue to be a viable, if not cyclical team. The theory makes sense to some extent. You build a team with solid drafting, maximizing your all-stars and veterans into help stock your minors, and long-term contracts to that youth prior to their arbitration years. You sign those undervalued free agents when you can, but rarely, if ever, gamble on a big-name free agent (Kerry Wood notwithstanding).

What's the problem with the culture? Perhaps the most important facet in Cleveland baseball has been a fan base that still, somehow, remains in place after a half-decade of some of the worst losing in the history of the game. The six-year run for the Tribe in which John Hart tried to do everything in his power to bring a championship to the city regained a sense of trust with a club that many thought would be playing somewhere in New Orleans or Carolina in the eighties. More important, there was an excitement not seen in the city in years. The Winter Meetings were as exciting in many ways as the playoffs. Grabbing the News-Herald every Sunday to read Hal Lebovitz column and find out who the Indians were pursuing were akin to Church. You knew the Indians would do something to improve...something...

Enter the regime of Mark Shapiro and the Dolans. Sure, they were behind the eight-ball, following Jacobs, Hart and the only winning era of Indians baseball for many of the living Indians' fans. That said, from the point that Shapiro was hired, things changed. Shapiro was much more guarded than Hart, and that counted against him. The Dolans knew they had to be more frugal than the Jacobs to make money, and that counted against them. The veterans were all gone or leaving, and that counted against them. Still, Shapiro and the Dolans built a young club that had promise. In 2005, the fourth year of Shapiro's tenure, the team won 93 games. Here was the moment at hand for Shapiro to make a move, to show there was a willingness to spend when the playoffs were at hand, and they didn't.

They hadn't made the playoffs in 2005, so the Indians signed a series of no-names and old-names (Einar Diaz, Steve Karsay, Danny Graves) to fill the roster. It didn't seem like a smart thing to do when a team was so close to being good. The Indians would lose more than they'd win in 2006. The bullpen was deplorable, and the team didn't respond. Of course, why spend on a team under .500. Of course, we did get David Dellucci and Jason Michaels. In 2007, the Indians would win 96 games and take the Red Sox to the limits in the ALCS. Surely, only a game away from the World Series, the Indians would pull all the stops to sign or trade for a difference maker. If you believe the reports, they tried to pry Jason Bay from the Pirates. If you believe the reports, the Indians were players with a few free agents. Again, the Indians signed a series of no-names.

The Indians bombed in 2008. A trade was finally made, only this time, it was a goodbye to CC Sabathia for prospects. Shapiro stuck to form. Then, prior to 2009, Shapiro went out and signed a closer in Kerry Wood. It was such a strange move for Shapiro, most people didn't know what to do. The Indians had been starving for a closer the previous two seasons, and now we had one. Of course, the Indians would stink up the American league in 2009, and Wood would pay the price of a depleted line-up with V-Mart dealt, and a newly depleted staff, now that Lee was traded away as well.

The Indians were once again in rebuild mode.

These are enigmatic times, if you are an Indians fan. Today, we are all scratching our heads, likely thinking that Shapiro is doing the right thing, signing all these guys to minor league deals. In this era of Indians baseball, it's pretty much the accepted way of doing things. The problem with that thinking is that you would think the Indians would find a way to spend when they are close...

I remember back in 1997, hammering on the Marlins for buying players and winning a title. Of course, they DID do the wrong thing. They essentially bought an entire team. I don't condone that at all, because it nearly ended baseball in Florida (would it matter, though?). Still, I get it, as much as those Marlins fans got it in their fourth season of competition. When you have a chance to win a title, you take it, at any cost. Would I have been okay with the Indians spending freely in 1997 to give them a title, even if it meant losing for ten years? You bet I would.

Do I expect the Dolans and Shapiro to do the same? Of course not, but there should be a happy medium. I understand that the Indians are a corporation, and that the Dolans owning that corporation deserve the right to make money. With that said, do all owners buy teams expecting a windfall of money? Do you purchase the championship starved Indians thinking, "I'M GOING TO BE RICH!"

Maybe you do, and I understand that. Still, as an owner, there has to come a time when you say to hell with it, and make a move to win...or sell the team. There has to come a time when you stand in front of the fans and say, "I'm going to win. I'm going to parlay this young talent that we have into a championship. I guarantee you that if we are close, I'm going to make a move that leads to that championship, or die trying." Somehow, that would make all of what we are dealing with in 2010 a bit more palatable. Somehow, if the Indians had made a couple of moves after 2007, then the 2010 rebuild would make more sense.

Yes, fans will show if they believe they will win. In 2007 though, the fans never really did return like the old days. Was it the economy? No way. I know Cleveland was hurting, but not any more than today. How are the Cavs drawing today? Try second in the league with nearly 21,000 a game, and the tickets aren't cheap. Sure, LeBron helps, but do you think the fans would show up if Dan Gilbert wasn't going to do everything he could to re-sign LeBron? How do you think the Shaq signing energized the ticket sales this year? 500 more a game doesn't sound like a lot, but add that up to over 41 games, and see what you get...and it's not like the Cavs can add MUCH more than that.

Now the Cavs are hunting down another cohort for LeBron, even with the best record in the NBA, salary cap be damned.

I know, this piece doesn't fit today, with the Indians waiting on the likes of Russell Branyan, Jermaine Dye and Hank Blalock. I was simply going to write about how signing a couple of free agents would be helpful in many ways, when I realized it wouldn't. Why? It won't help the fans, because this management team has proved that they won't sign quality to fill holes when they are winning. The only reason why you sign Dye or Blalock or even Branyan now is because you can sign them to a cheap deal. In other words, they are those underrated players that Money Ball loves so much.

With all that said, Cleveland isn't an easy place to be a GM. The fact that Shapiro has been Executive of the Year twice is just as much an indicator of the town as it is for the quality of the GM. Quite the little catch-22, isn't it.

Perhaps this is a new era of Shapiro and Dolan. Perhaps the plan is to keep the new youngsters, give them a chance in 2010, and start moving forward in 2011. Perhaps the Indians will make the playoffs in the next two or three years. Perhaps the Indians will then sign a player or two that will take them over the top.

Of course, I don't believe it will happen...the trust just isn't there.

The Rearviewmirror: See you later, hot stove season, I barely knew you were there!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Indians should leave the rubbish in the bin

I keep hearing all of the rumblings about Hank Blalock and Russell Branyan, and I can't help but wonder, why?

Let's start with the old Cleveland retread, 34-year old basher Russell Branyan. You've all heard the first half greatness, the 22-homers and the .280 average, followed by the second half crash. Branyan had been complaining of lower back spasms all year, and ultimately led to his being placed on the DL on August 30th. Now Branyan is hammering truck tires at Vanderbilt to showcase his improved back. I have nothing against Branyan, but is he really someone we want to sign to take a job away from the youngsters? The Indians are looking for a right-handed bat that can play first, and perhaps, play some outfield slots. Branyan hasn't played any outfield in two years, and is a liability out there to begin with. To say he's a third baseman is ridiculous at this point, which leaves him as a first baseman. Do you want him ahead of say, Andy Marte, or really, anyone else the Indians have? To be honest, I'd prefer Jordan Brown to Branyan. He's cheaper, and I would love to see what he can do if given a chance. Branyan is a retread. Might he hit 30 dingers again? Maybe...but it's certainly doubtful. He's never come close before. With the rebuild, it just doesn't make sense.

Hank Blalock, a former third baseman from the Rangers, is nearly in the same boat as Branyan. His past three seasons have been riddled with injuries, and he really hasn't been all that productive. Like Branyan, he had a solid first half of the season, batting .260, with 19 homers and 42 RBI, but ended up losing his first baseman's job in the second half because of struggles. He ended with 25 homers, and a .239 average. Yep, another injury issue that can only play one position.

Then there are the Jermaine Dye rumblings.

Jermaine Dye just plain fits. As mentioned at B³ on Sunday, Dye has played some outstanding baseball over the last five or so years, and can play all the outfield positions, as well as first base. No, he doesn't have much of a glove, but he does have a right-handed bat. Dye also struggled in the second half, but it's more the exception than the rule. Blalock and Branyan are a couple of trash-bin guys at this stage of their career, while Dye may prove to be just the bat, and perhaps a leader in the clubhouse. Rebuilding or trying to win, you can't go wrong with that.

It seems like a perfect fit, which means someone else will likely outbid the Indians, and knowing the Dolans, by a buck and a quarter.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Welcome Jamey Wright

The Cleveland Indians landed right-handed reliever Jamey Wright to a minor league contract today. Wright had spent most of his first ten years, making 246 starts for Colorado, Milwaukee, St. Louis, Kansas City and Colorado. The Rockies would begin his transformation to a reliever. His next team, the Giants, continued his trend towards a reliever, followed by the Rangers, who moved him to full-time relief in his second year with the team in 2008. He would return to the Royals last season, and had a moderately successful year, going 3-5 with a 4.33 ERA in 65 games and 79 innings. Overall, Wright has made 174 relief appearances.

Wright is nothing serious, but has a nice upside in this bullpen. Out of necessity, Wright was used in short-inning situations, but is best suited to long relief. I'm not sure if this guy is going to make the team, but it sure won't hurt to have him compete. He's always walked too many batters, but his live arm has always been tantalizing. The curiosity with Wright is that he truly has one of the better curveballs in the game. His fastball has a lot of movement, usually tailing away and sinking. His offspeed stuff does the same. He uses a cutter against lefties, but it tends to hang a bit.

It's another good move for the Indians, who likely will grab a couple of more bargains off the bin before it's all said and done.

Monday, February 8, 2010

All-Aught Indians--Back-up Infielder--Jamey Carroll (2008-2009)

Is there a more unsung job in baseball than the utility infielder? These are the guys that are signed to a contract because they can play tough defense, and do it at more than one position. Can they hit? Not likely. If you find a back-up infielder that has a stick, nine times out of ten, they end up starting. The Indians have had two clear back-up infielders over the past ten years that were in the running for this position. Some may say three, but Asdrubal Cabrera was brought up as a starter at second base, so he's excluded. Instead, the energy focuses on the guy who opened the decade at the position, and the guy who closed it out. John McDonald really put a stamp as the utility infielder from the Tribe from 2000-2004, while Jamey Carroll took over the role in 2008 and 2009. Both were fantastic infielders, but where they differed in two key areas. Carroll had far superior offense, and also had more opportunity to play. McDonald played 2nd, 3rd and short, while Carroll only played 2nd and 3b, while spending some time in the outfield. Still, Carroll's offense made takes him over the top. The All-Aught Indians back-up infielder is Jamey Carroll.

McDonald really had become the poster of what the Indians hunt for every year in a utility infielder. The issue with McDonald really turned out to be his durability. From 2000-2001, and then again in 2003, an injury would keep McDonald from performing at the top of his game, and ultimately, cost him this slot.

Carroll really was subtle excellence at the position. Carroll played both second and third for the Tribe, and could be the Indians Super-Utility player, since he played the corner outfield positions as well. Still, his excellent defense at all infield positions, plus his offense made him stand above McDonald.

Carroll immediately played dividends for the Indians when they signed him to a deal in 2008. Asdrubal Cabrera had started with the Indians in 2007, but would start the season with the Tribe for the first time in 2008. He struggled, and Carroll stepped in and started when the Indians would send Cabrera to Buffalo for much of June and July. He would make 66 starts at second for on the season. He would also make 18 starts at third base. Overall, his fielding percentage was .970+, and .990 at second base. Offensively, Carroll would smoke the ball after May, rolling out a .298 average. He would have a four-hit game, and end the season with a nine-game hit streak. He would end the season with a .277 average, and seven stolen bases. More than solid numbers for a utility guy.

Carroll had a similar story in 2009, just without as much opportunity. He would hit .276 in a few less at bats. His OBP was .355 for the second season in a row, and in a sorry season, was one of the few who consistently performed.

Carroll is never going to be THE guy in any line-up. What he is though, is the heartbeat of a team. Here's a guy who probably doesn't have many more tools as a ballplayer as you or I, but obviously works hard to be where he is. He's the epitome of what a utility player is. He's the glue that holds together a team. Unfortunately for the Tribe, there was more glue than team.

Carroll capped off his career with the Indians by winning the Frank Gibbons/Steve Olin Good Guy Award winner.

Like many Indians before him, Carroll's performance with the Tribe in the Aughts would ultimately price himself out of the Tribe's range. Carroll would ultimately sign on with the Dodgers as their utility guy, but not before we send Carroll off with his reward as the all-aught utility infielder for the Indians.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Sunday Drive in blogville and the land of free agents

It's time to thank the blogs that have been really carrying the Cleveland Indians banner for the past several years. It's not mystery that many of the beat writers for the Indians' major newspaper coverage are utter and absolute garbage, so without sites such as Paul Cousineau's The Diatribe, Tony Lastoria's Indians Prospect Insider, Nino Colla's The Tribe Daily, Let's Go Tribe, Rich Swerbinsky's Swerbs Blurbs ( for all you newbies) , Rick Grayshock and the crew at WFNY, Anthony Castrovince's Castro Notes (I know, he cheats because he works for the Indians, but he's a damn fine writer, and cuts to the chase, which I love) and Paul Cassano's Weblog. These are my daily reads, and where I get the best information on the web, bar none. The writing is not only good, but has heart. It's amazing what you can do when you actually love the team and the sport that you cover. Okay, enough with the Kum Ba Yah, onto our Super Sunday edition of a little slice of love...yeah...I just threw up a bit in my mouth as well.

The Indians, of course, have been searching for some free agent help on the cheap, and we're getting to that time of the hot stove season when the last table is left at the flea market. Even though the Tribe was willing to dish out $5 million to Orlando Hudson, don't expect the Indians to throw out that kind of deal to anyone else. I'll get to that in a second. The Indians are likely looking for a right-handed bat to their line-up, and perhaps a veteran starter that could log some innings to allow some of the younger pitchers some time to develop a bit more.

Who might the Indians sign?

Terry Pluto took notice of Jermaine Dye, a free agent that might fit the bill for the Indians. Dye smoked the ball prior to the All-Star break, then turned into a pumpkin afterwards. He ended with a line of .250/.340/.453, with 27 homers, 81 RBI and 78 runs scored for the Chicago White Sox. His first half line was a more than solid .302/.375/.567, with 20 homers and 55 RBI, while his second half was .179/.293/.297, with 7 homers and 23 RBI. The 35-year-old outfielder went through the biggest slump of his career, with no real answers.
"I have no clue," Dye said. "I put in the work and sometimes it doesn't work out. There's nothing wrong with the mechanics. When you struggle, the pitches you should hit you foul off. The pitches you take normally when you feel good they're balls, they're strikes now. When you struggle everything goes wrong. This second half it just didn't happen."
Dye wasn't injured, so it's unsure if it was simply season-long fatigue, the fact that he's now 35, or just a fluke.

What we know about Dye is that he's been a solid performer for the White Sox over the past five seasons, and that he turned down a $3.3 million deal with the Chicago Cubs. Dye can play right, left and first base, as well as DH, so he could be a solid stop-gap for the Tribe if he can perform as he did the first half of the year last season.'s John Paul Morosi reported today that Dye is focusing his attention on the AL to maximize his playing time, so the Tribe will likely be in play. The only question left is what kind of money is on the table. It will likely be much less than the $3.3 million he was initially offered. We shall see.

Past Jermaine Dye, there really aren't many other options that would be worth taking a slot away from a young guy trying to win a job. Pluto mentioned Jonny Gomes, and there are guys out there like Rocco Baldelli, but the problem with any of these sells is that it's hard to make a case for a question mark, when you have plenty of question marks that can already fill the role.

With that said, there is one player that intrigues me a bit, if not for his offense or defense, then for what he could bring to the team.

That player is Nomar Garciaparra. The rumor bill is buzzing that Nomar is thinking about retiring, but former Tribe-hand and good friend to Nomah, Lou Merloni, says that he has one more season left in the tank. I'm not really sure what's true with regards to the former all-star shortstop, but he would be a valuable commodity, if only for a short time.

Nomar isn't the player he once was, not even close. He went from what was on pace for a hall-of-fame career to a back-up infielder. A bum calf has hindered his career over the past few years, and a once-sure-fire hall of fame career is now in jeopardy. Nomah is a clubhouse presence for sure, and if he's healthier than in past years, he could bring a decent stick in a back-up role. The bonus is that he'll likely sign for a minor league deal, if he decides to play, and he can play most of the infield positions, as well as the corner oufield slots.

You can't forget about Johnny Damon, who's still likely looking for something north of $5 million.

There are starters still available, but all are a mixed bag. There's the old tribe hand, Bartolo Colon, who's a free agent, but would likely sign a cheap deal. There's John Smoltz, who bombed with Boston, but did fare well with the Cardinals. There's Pedro Martinez, who may just be holding out for more money. There's a guy like Noah Lowry, who hasn't played in two years. Braden Looper is still out there, and may be had for less than the $1.5 million that Erik Bedard received from the Mariners. There could be a typical Tribe reclamation project in the bag, but the Indians haven't bitten yet.

The Indians are likely waiting out spring training. Knowing past history, they'll be looking to sign some players to long-term deals, but I'll get into that in the next couple of days. There could be some names that don't make the big league club, and refuse assignment. Shapiro may play the waiting game, and get someone either through a trade or free agency to help out closer to April.

It's fairly evident that free agency isn't a priority this season, and it shouldn't be, should it?

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Do the Indians value Luis Valbuena?

When the Cleveland Indians acquired Luis Valbuena from Seattle in December of 2008, it was believed that the front office had answered the call to acquire middle-infield talent for the near-future. Valbuena brought from the Mariners a nice bat, an improving defense, a strong work ethic and a friendship with Asdrubal Cabrera. So, when Valbuena backed all of that up with a solid initial season with the Tribe...

...why did Mark Shapiro try and make their one free agent splash for Orlando Hudson, a second baseman?

There certainly wasn't much indication last season that the Venezuelen 22-year old wasn't on a path to becoming the every day starer. Valbuena began his tenure with the Tribe with a huge month of April in Columbus (.321/.436/.537), a May call-up, and a solid year in Cleveland, playing both second base and shortstop. The season wasn't without it's bumps. You can't mention Valbuena without hearing about his struggles against left-handed pitching. He only batted .205 against lefties, and worked mostly out of a platoon with Jamey Carroll. Valbuena would only bat .195 in 37 games in May and June, with four home runs and 10 RBI. It's easy to just look at the numbers and say that Valbuena stunk it up in his first two months, but it's a bit more complicated than that.

Valbuena was really getting his first long-term opportunity in the majors. Sure, he had a cup of coffee with the Mariners in 2008, but we're talking about 18 games and 49 at bats. There was bound to be a bit of struggle out of the gate. Combine that with the fact that Valbuena ended up having to play shortstop for essentially the entire month of June, and the struggles begin to make more sense.

Valbuena had played a grand total of 17 games at shortstop in his three-year professional career. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure out what happens when you plug in a rookie who was already struggling into a position they have rarely played, only one month into their tenure as a big leaguer.

Valbuena would return to second base on July 1st, and would showcase much improved play at the plate and in the field over the last three months. He would bat .281, with six homers and 21 RBI. Cabrera and Valbuena, both from Venezuela, and long-time friends, became a spectacular double-play combination. No, we aren't talking about Roberto Alomar and Omar Vizquel just yet, but there were similarities. Vizquel and Alomar were long-time friends, having played several years together in the winter leagues. Cabrera and Valbuena were also partners-in-crime prior to their tenure with the Indians, both in Winter Ball and with the Mariners.

Does Valbuena have holes in his game? He's 23, and has yet to play a full-season, so sure, he has holes in his game. Should the Indians be ready to give his slot to Orlando Hudson? The quick answer should be no, not when you are rebuilding, not likely to contend in 2010, and not willing to spend much money on much of anything.

So, why has the rumor-mill been grindin'? If you are to believe it, the Cleveland Indians offered Orlando Hudson a two-year, $10 million offer, with a player option for the third year. The deal was guaranteed, but supposedly back-loaded, so that much of the money would be paid in an option year buy-out. Try to wrap your head around that one. Hudson ultimately signed a one-year, $5 million deal with the Minnesota Twins, but the question remains, why would the Indians become players for a position it doesn't appear they need?

You'll have the spinsters close to the Indians saying that the rumors were false. I don't believe it. I'm not a huge Ken Rosenthal fan, but he generally will back off a story quickly if the story turns out to be false. In this case, Rosenthal has been pretty steadfast in stating that the Indians were after Hudson, and that they ultimately made an offer. The Indians WERE players for Cabrera, of that I'm convinced. Of course, Mark Shapiro again takes the CIA stand, and never tips his hat. I'm so sick of the over-importance on secrecy this regime takes. I'm not saying we need to know everything, but it really would be nice to hear some actual news, and not garbage straight out of Mark Shapiro-cliche 101.

So why go after a second baseman with Valbuena on the roster, and at 23, one of their bright prospects?

Were the Indians simply trying to sell making a move for more than $850,000, their previous high deal this offseason? It's possible. I could certainly see Mark Shapiro and his brain trust making a play for a player they wouldn't mind having, but offering up a "creative" deal that no player in their right mind would take. It's been a historic ploy by Tribe management over the years, and one they could be in play with right now. With Tribe fans generally unhappy with the Shapiro regime over the past two years, Shapiro might be making one of those offers that he can point to later and say, "we tried, they just didn't take the money." The contract is also a curiosity to me. How much was backloaded, and what was up with a third-year buyout? What did Shapiro do, make the first two years worth a million each, and how would the "buyout" work? The offer just sounds ridiculous. Think Jim Thome, when the Indians offered him a deal that was heavily back-loaded, and full of idiocy.

Or are the Indians questioning Valbuena's ability to ever be a full-time second baseman? That seems silly.

Whatever the reasons, the questions are out there. How will Valbuena take in all the talk of signing a guy to play his position? Time will surely tell, but hopefully he'll be out to prove the Tribe management that they were flat out wrong.

Friday, February 5, 2010

All-Aught Indians--Back-up Catcher--Kelly Shoppach (2006-2009)

When the Boston Red Sox came a-knockin' in an attempt to acquire Coco Crisp, Cleveland immediately asked for top prospect Andy Marte, who had been acquired earlier in the offseason from the Braves. The Red Sox quickly agreed, but the Indians began working the Sox for another important player. Guillermo Mota was thrown in to help bolster the Indians pen, but the player the Tribe wanted was another top prospect in the Sox organization that was buried behind Jason Varitek. Boston was hesitant to give up their top catching prospect, and they turned out to be dead right. The All-Aught Indians back-up catcher was that player, Kelly Shoppach.

It's really hard to look at Shoppach as a back-up since he was essentially the starting catcher for the Indians over the past two seasons. In 2008, he ascended to the top thanks to an injury that left Victor Martinez on the DL for much of the season. In 2009, Shoppach again filled in for VMart, after the starter was dealt to, ironically enough, Shoppach's old team, the Boston Red Sox.

Make no mistakes though, Kelly Shoppach was a back-up. This was always VMart's team right up until the trade. Once Martinez was traded, the writing was on the wall for Shoppach. Put up the numbers, or find yourself either traded, or non-tendered at the end of the season. We'll get to that in a bit.

Without a doubt, Kelly Shoppach, even with his 2009 struggles, was the top player in the Crisp deal. There's a lot to like about the former Tribe backstop. The bottom line with Shoppach, and I'm surprised that this was questioned over the past year or so, is that he is a top defensive catcher across the board. He stops everything, and still has a cannon for an arm. He's the guy that is covered in dirt, even when he plays on pavement. He also carries a big stick. By that, I mean that he swings for the fences. True, he's either a hit or miss, but when the streak-meter is on hit, he can hit rockets.

In 2006, Shoppach immediately became the Tribe's primary back-up. Unfortunately, Victor Martinez was in his way, but the Indians were planning on using VMart as a fill-in at first base to save his knees. Shoppach made that a possibility. Still, he was sent down to Buffalo in May because of inactivity, but was recalled in June, and would stay with the team for the remainder of the year. Shoppach would only commit two errors in his 41 games, and would throw out 10 of 29 baserunners to the tune of .35%.

He would continue his back-up duty in 2007, playing in 59 games. His offense would pick up slightly, hitting 7 homers (up from 3), and hitting .261, up from .245. He did stay with the big league club the entire season, and was the personal catcher for Paul Byrd, as he was behind the plate for all of his 31 starts. Shoppach would only make four errors, and would throw out 13 of 36 baserunners, to the tune of 36%. Shoppach was on fire in the playoffs, batting .500 in his two starts with Byrd on the hill.

The 2007 season was the highlight of his career thusfar, taking over for an injured Victor Martinez. He led American League catchers with 21 homers, and was third overall. Shoppach's brought back a little Boudreau of his own in July against the Tigers when he became the second player to have five extra-base hits in a single game. He went 5-6 that day, with three doubles and two home runs, becoming the only player since, you guessed it, Lou Boudreau in 1946, to complete the task. Shoppach became a commodity. With VMart slated to return in 2009 with two-years left on his contract, Shoppach became a part that a bunch of teams wanted.

Cleveland nearly spun Shoppach into a big-time deal with the Tribe. Tribe GM Mark Shapiro began talks with former Shapiro underling, and new Pirate GM Neal Huntington about potentially trading Cliff Lee, Franklin Gutierrez and Kelly Shoppach to the Pirates for Jason Bay and Ryan Doumit. The Pirates eventually said no to that deal, but it does show you what kind of ups that Shoppach had.

2009 wouldn't be a stellar year for Shoppach. In his 89 games, he would hit .214, with 12 homers and 40 RBI. That's really what you get with Shoppach, a streaky power hitter with impressive defense.

Shoppach was eventually traded after the season, a victim of the Indians cost-cutting. The dealt him at a sell-low, and acquired Mitch Talbot, a moderate prospect for the Rays. Of course, that's for the Tribe-teens in ten...hopefully.

For now, Shoppach was clearly the best back-up catcher in baseball over the past four seasons. In many ways, he's been the heart and soul of the team for long stretches of games in 2008 and 2009. That makes him the clear choice for Cleveland's back-up Catcher of the decade.