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.

1 comment:

  1. I totally agree with you concerning Valbuena, Shapiro, etc. Nicely worded. I see Luis as being a sturdy above average 2nd, with some pop, versatility, respectable range, and good fundamentals. He just needs playing time and support...