Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Carmona and Perez and a Lofgren goodbye

Sorry for the sporadic posting over the past several days. I am now sitting in a McDonald's, in sunny, yet chilly Florida, having traveled across the state watching some grapefruit games, attending weddings, and ignoring the internet. That said, here's a quick post before heading to the land of Disney to take the Bcrew on their first adventure to the Magic Kingdom. Here's some quick thoughts to tide you over.

Chuck Lofgren is officially gone as a member of the Cleveland Indians. I've been a Lofgren fan since I saw him pitch several times in Kinston in 2006, when he tore up the Carolina League with a 17-5 record, a 2.32 ERA, 125 strike outs, and 54 walks in 139 2/3 innings. There has been varying degrees of success and struggle over the years for Lofgren, and for many reasons. He got lost in the shuffle somewhere in between. The Brewers selected Lofgren during this past year's Rule V draft, and as originally thought, the Brew-Crew offered Lofgren back to the Tribe, knowing they couldn't keep him on their big league roster all season. All the while, Milwaukee was trying to make a trade to keep him. That happened today when the Indians accepted Omar Aguilar in exchange for Lofgren. Good luck to you Chuck, and I fully expect to see you in a Brewers' jersey in the next year.

As for Aguilar, look at him as the Brewers bullpen version of Lofgren, which automatically makes him a fit for the Tribe...not that a starter would hurt either. Aguilar exploded on the scene in 2008, when he saved 13 games in 19 appearances, while going 3-0 with a 0.35 ERA for Single A Brevard County. He's never really been all that successful outside of Single A ball, so it's unknown how much of a prospect he'll turn out to be.

The 6'0, 220 lb righty has a monster fastball that blows hitters away (11.57 K's/9 innings in Huntsville last season), but not much else. He struggles with his control, but has that cannon arm that if harnessed, could put him at the back-end of a bullpen. So in comes promise-for-promise. Let's hope it plays out.

Now, before I finish my fries, and before my son and daughter start chanting Mickey, let's move on.

I'm convinced this club can contend in the central if Rafael Perez and Fausto Carmona return to their 2007 form. Now, that's no small feat, but if the spring is any indication, then they might be on the right track. In Carmona's only appearance so far in Arizona, he went three innings, giving up nothing, and striking out one. Yeah, he was pounding the strike zone, and putting a big smile on Tim Belcher's face. Belcher, famous for forcing hitters to swing, seems to have gotten through Carmona's complicated head, at least early on.

Perez is 1-0 in four innings and four games of work. He's got zeros across the board as well, with the exception of one walk and five K's. Perez is starting to not only pound the strike zone with his tops-in-the-system slider, but is mixing his above average fastball. If he's throwing strikes, and getting the movement he's been missing with all of his pitches, he's as unhittable as they come. Well, as unhittable as Carmona was...is...could be.

If you get my drift.

It's early yet this fine spring, but Carmona and Perez are flirting with the form that not only made them tops for the Indians, but tops in the majors. If these guys are close to that, well, things really do get interesting.

As for me, it's M-I-C-K-E-Y, spend-all-my-mon-ey...

I'll be talking to you in between the Swiss Family Robinson, It's a Small World, Space Mountain and having to foreclose on my house because a soda is $12.00.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

All-Aught Indians--RP3--Paul Shuey (2000-2002)

Paul Shuey was a flame-throwing, right-handed reliever, who never seemed to pitch as good as you thought he could. This Lima, OH native had three plus pitches, starting with a blazing fastball with movement, a splitter, and a superb, late-breaking curveball. When the Indians drafted Shuey in 1992 out of the University of North Carolina, they believed they had their closer of the future. Unfortunately, a variety of injuries and a propensity to walk batters under pressure situations kept him from becoming that closer. It didn't, however, keep Shuey from becoming a productive set-up man. The All-Aught Indians relief pitcher #3 is Paul Shuey.

Shuey was the second pick in the first round of the 2002 draft, and the Indians and everyone else figured that Shuey was going to be a monster closer in the future. Cleveland would first call Shuey up in 2004, straight from Single A Kinston, and made him their closer. He would ultimately save five games, but after imploding in back-to-back games in June, the Indians would send him down to Buffalo for the rest of the season.

Over the rest of the nineties, Shuey consistently showcased his wicked stuff, consistently was on the dl, and consistently proved that he was a set-up man, and not a steady closer.

In 2000, Shuey would continue to dazzle and frustrate at the same time. In May, June, Shuey was one of the best relievers in baseball. He would record five holds, go 1-0 with a 0.84 ERA, 10 strikeouts, walks and only two hits in 10 2/3 innings pitched. In May, his hip would begin to bother him, and his ERA would rise to a high of 3.10 before going on the DL on May 21. He would miss five weeks after hip surgery, a run through the dl and a rehab assignment. He would return in late June, and would make 40 more appearances. Overall, Shuey would lead the AL in holds, with 28, while going 4-2 with a 3.39 ERA. Opponents only averaged .219 against him. He would strikeout 69 batters and walk 30 batters. Another solid year, albeit a frustrating one.

2001 would be a similar scenario for Shuey. He would be one of the better relievers in baseball through June 12, going 5-3 with six holds and a 2.60 ERA before an elbow injury would put him on the dl once again. It was his ninth time on the dl in his career. He would come back at the end of the June better than ever. Over the next ten games, he would add two more holds with a 1.59 ERA. The Indians would put Shuey back on the dl on July 23 until September with another elbow injury. Overall, Shuey would post a 2.82 ERA in 47 games and 54 1/3 innings. He would strike out 70, with 26 walks.

Shuey would blaze in 2002. He wouldn't give up a run in his first 15 appearances, holding sixe games, and going 1-0. He would give up just six hits and five walks during the stretch, while striking out 11 over the 14 total innings. His ERA during June was 0.00. His ERA in May was 0.69. He would have one bad outing in June, but would end up on the dl for the 11th time in his career, this time for a groin pull. He would be back in late June, and would continue his torrid pitching. He would give up only three more runs through July 24th. That was the day he was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers, ending his tenure as an Indian.

The 2002 season was his best yet. He ended the season with the Tribe having gone 3-0 with 12 holds, 39 K's, 10 walks and a .225 average against. Shuey will forever be remembered as a vastly talented reliever who could never quite be the closer people wanted him to be. Instead, he was just a fine, fine reliever.

He would end the decade with the Tribe having gone 12-5, with 12 saves, 47 holds, 178 strikeouts, 66 walks and a 2.95 ERA. Imagine what could have happened had he been healthy. Even with the injuries, he was still nearly as good as it gets.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

All-Aught Indians--RP4--Bob Howry (2004-2005)

Bob Howry was a typical signing by the Cleveland Indians. In 2003, Howry, while pitching for the Red Sox, struggled with right elbow problems. He would end up on the 60-day dl after undergoing season-ending surgery at the beginning of July to repair his flexor tendon. The Indians would swoop in and sign the damaged righty to a minor league deal after the 2003 season, hoping it would pay off. Obviously, it did. The All-Aught Indians relief pitcher #4 is Bob Howry.

Howry was a solid relief pitcher prior to his stint in Cleveland. In his first full season with the White Sox in 1999, he served as their closer and saved 28 games in 34 chances. Keith Foulke replaced Howry as closer after struggling early in the 2000. Howry rebounded in the set-up role and finished the year with a stellar 3.17 ERA in 71 innings. He would continue to be an innings hog in 2001 and the start of 2002, when the White Sox traded him to the Red Sox at the deadline. The 2003 season would become a wash because of the elbow injury, and Howry would turn to the Tribe to rehabilitate him.

Howry spent the first month of the season rehabbing the elbow in extended spring training, having started throwing off the mound for the first time just before the Indians left Winter Haven. He made his first appearance for Buffalo on May 11, and after proving his arm was once again healthy, was called up by the Tribe on June 29th. He ended the season 4-2, with eight holds and a paltry 2.74 ERA. He would pitch in 37 games and 42 2/3 innings, while striking out 39 and walking only 12. He was exactly what the bullpen-starved Indians needed.

For as good as Howry was in 2004, he was that much better in 2005. The Indians had avoided arbitration with Howry by signing him to a one-year, $900,000 deal. Howry was banking on a big year for a big payday, and that's exactly what he got. He may have been the best relief pitcher in baseball. He went 7-4 with 29 holds and a 2.47 ERA in 79 games pitched. He would hold opponents to a .191 batting average against, but Howry saved his best for last. He pitched in 37 games after the All-Star break with a 0.99 ERA. He gave up only four earned runs, which included both a 13-inning scoreless streak and a 21-game streak in which he didn't give up an earned run.

The Indians pen may have been the best in the league during that 2005 season, anchored by Howry and closer Bob Wickman. David Riske, Rafael Betancourt and Arthur Rhodes also had stellar seasons in leading the Indians to a 93-69 record, and a near playoff appearance.

Howry had more than proven his mettle with the Tribe. In the 1 1/2 years in Cleveland, he would go 11-6, with 37 holds, 87 strikeouts and a 2.61 ERA. More than that, he had closer experience, and had proven that his arm was sound. The Indians, coming off a run at the playoffs, had an opportunity to sign Howry. Howry, however, was looking for a three-year deal between $10.5 and $12 million, and the Indians decided to take a chance at signing a bigger target for slightly more money. Closer Bob Wickman was also a free agent, so Shapiro made a full-court press for closers Tom Gordon or B.J. Ryan. If they spent a big chunk of change for Howry, they wouldn't be in play for the two pitchers they had ranked higher.

Howry would be the first to sign, heading to the Cubs with a 3-year, $12 million deal. He would never regain his 2004-2005 success, but he would continue to eat up innings (four straight season with 70+ innings, including an 84 inning season), would spot save, and earn every penny of his deal. What about Ryan and Gordon? Well, Ryan would visit Cleveland with his wife and get the royal treatment from Shapiro and the Dolans. Ryan would then use the Indians to drive up the price, eventually signing a mammoth deal with the Blue Jays to the tune of five years and nearly $50 million. Gordon would sign a 3-year, $18 million dollar deal with Philly. The Indians would re-sign Bob Wickman, Danny Graves and Steve Karsay, and would acquire Guillermo Mota from the Red Sox in the Coco Crisp deal. In other words, Bob Howry's loss turned into a mammoth hole that the Indians couldn't fill.

Hindsight is 20/20, and the Indians likely should have signed Howry to some sort of deal to either close or set-up, but they didn't. Ryan and Gordon would turn out to be busts over the length of their deals. It turns out that Howry was the deal afterall. The Indians paid the ultimate price, but Bob Howry had already earned his place on the All-Aught Indians.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Brantley Brilliant for Tribe

The buzz over the internet over the past several weeks has all but sent Michael Brantley to Columbus. It all makes perfect sense when you think about it. Of course, there's one fly in the ointment. What happens if Brantley lights up spring training?

Today, Brantley did just that. He went 3-for-4, with a triple, double, an RBI and run scored. Brantley led the game off with the triple, and immediately scored when Brian Buscher grounded out to first base. There's nothing like lighting up major league pitching, and from the lead-off slot to top it all off. What's particularly impressive is that Rodrigo Lopez, the starter for the D-Backs, didn't give up another hit, while striking out two in his two innings.

Brantley likely would have to hit about .700 through spring to have any chance to make this club right out of spring training. It's a different era in baseball, one in which major league clocks and arbitration and free agency are all just as big part of the equation with regards to small market teams like the Tribe as playing your way onto the team. Still, it's good to see Brantley making the decision that much more difficult for Tribe brass.

The Indians continue their undefeated streak. Acta made a point in stating that winning in the spring training absolutely translated to winning in the regular season. He has the right line of thinking. Winning breeds winning. A veteran club like the Yankees or Red Sox may not need the psychogical edge of winning what amounts to pre-season games, but the Indians, who's 40-man roster is the youngest in baseball at slightly over 26, needs all the help it can get. So the Indians are 3-0, tops in the Cactus League. Spring training or not, let's enjoy it while whe have it.

Jake Westbrook struggled mightily today, but it's all relative. Consider the fact that Westbrook hasn't pitched in the majors since May of 2008. For those counting at home, that's nearly two years, so only going an inning and two-thirds, while giving up a run, a hit, hitting a batter and walking three doesn't seem so bad. The key is that Westbrook felt strong. As long as he's healthy, look for Westbrook to start for the Tribe on opening day in Chicago against the White Sox.

The Tribe goes up against Seattle tomorrow, with the rumored spring training debut for both Russell Branyan and Matt LaPorta to follow on Wednesday. Should be a fun week.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Sunday Big³ at the B³: Is it time to start Marte and bench Peralta?

With the world focusing on Kathryn Bigelow's Hurt Locker taking on ex-husband James Cameron and his bloated Avatar in tonight's Oscars, I couldn't help but notice that the Cleveland Indians were atop the Cactus League standings. While most see this as launch to the top of the standings as one of those spring training anomalies, I happen to believe this is a trend. Maybe, just maybe, the Indians will go undefeated this year. Hey, it's Oscar night, sometimes you have to dream. So, with the Oscars likely to start at about 10:00 A.M. to get through the previews of the ten candidates for best picture, I'd better get this B³ rolling. I mean, who doesn't want to see the leather-faced Joan Rivers critiquing clothes, followed by four hours of rich actors blathering all over themselves about all the good they do. I, for one, can't wait. On with the Big 3:

#3. Ladies and Gentleman, introducing Nick Weglarz, future Indians masher: Did anyone notice that pitch he hit out the other day against Cincinnati? It was down and tailing away, and he crushed it. With all the focus this spring on pitching and where in the world are Michael Brantley and Matt LaPorta going to play, let's complicate the picture a bit, shall we? With Jordan Brown getting handed the Rodney Dangerfield card with the Tribe, let's take one more step back, and begin wondering where in the world does Nick Weglarz and his potential power production fit into all of this? The Canadian left fielder has been pounding the ball early in the spring training, and you do have to start wondering where in the world is he going to play when he does eventually make the team.

Now, let's get something clear right now. I don't think Weglarz can play his way onto this club this year, even if he hits a home run in every spring training game, continues to bat 1.000 and walks 100 times (he's currently 2 for 2, with a homer, four RBI and three walks). The Indians certainly are playing the arbitration and free agent clock with several players, and Weglarz making the club would really screw things up. While it does sound idiotic to keep a kid like Weglarz down if he earns a slot, in Cleveland Indians baseball, these are the economic times. Especially if you take into account the simple fact that two other clocks are directly in front of him in Michael Brantley and Matt LaPorta. While Weglarz is likely to cool off in some form or fashion this spring, it is realistic to think that this is the year things really click for power hitter.

So where does he fit in the future? Weglarz is earmarked for Akron's left field slot this year, but that certainly could change, especially with Jordan Brown injured, and likely out until May. Weglarz would take his place in Columbus, playing left field. I can't imagine that the Indians would move Weglarz back down, especially if he's hitting. Will they keep him in left in Columbus? Will they move him to first base, where a guy like Shelley Duncan may be playing? Will they move Brown? Will they send him down? It's not an easy question.

With the Indians outfield likely to carry Brantley, Sizemore and Choo next season, and with LaPorta at first base, there may not be a position available for Weglarz. Of course, my projections have Weglarz moving to the DH or first base at some point in his career, and depending on Hafner's health, it could be sooner, rather than later. While I don't see Nick Weglarz in an Indians' jersey this season, it's good to see the kid from the 'Great White North' playing well.

Unfortunately for Jordan Brown, this is another reason we'll never see him in Cleveland, if everyone stays healthy.

#2. It's all about the pitching, stupid: This team is going to score some runs this year, there is no doubt about it. The question with this team is going to rest squarely on the shoulders of the starting pitchers. With Fausto Carmona, Jake Westbrook and Justin Masterson locked in as the 1-3 starters this spring, minus catastrophe, there are two jobs wide open. According to Anthony Castrovince, three players are fighting for these two jobs.

Jeremy Sowers is out of the running because of his shoulder tightness, which actually helps Manny Acta and the coaching staff, because Sowers is out of options. What does this mean for Sowers? According to Castrovince, he'll either start the season on the DL or become a candidate for long relief in the bullpen. The minors don't seem to be an option for Sowers, since he's out of options and would have to clear waivers.

Carlos Carrasco and Hector Rondon are also mentioned as possibilities, but likely are in the same boat as guys like Michael Brantley and Nick Weglarz. The Tribe brass are clearly watching their MLB clocks, and taking into account their option status (they have many). They don't stand much chance making the big club unless there is an unforseen injury, or they have a perfect spring. Both may have more upside than the three in the mix, but are likely mid-season call-ups.

In the cross-hairs for the two slots are Mitch Talbot, David Huff, and Aaron Laffey. Mitch Talbot is going to be staying with the big club in some capacity. The 26-year old is completely out of options, and is the return in the Kelly Shoppach deal. Talbot obviously has some tenacity. When asked about his chances as a starter in Tampa, he had this to say:
"With [David] Price and [Wade] Davis, their golden boys, I knew it wasn't looking too good as far as being a starter, and that's what I want to be. I was not really looking forward to being a long reliever and pitching once every two weeks or so. I'm really happy to be here where I can actually compete for a starting spot."
Aaron Laffey has tenure, but also is the most frustrating. He's tenacious on the mound, and has stretches where he looks like he's finally made the turn to being a starter for years to come. Ultimately, Laffey either gets injured, or suffers some sort of mechanical issue that keeps him from maintaining his solid pitching. Lafey has two options remaining, and I have a feeling that the Indians are going to be using one of them this season. I'm not saying at the beginning of the year, but I will need to see Laffey become consistent before my doubts disappear.

David Huff really is the wildcard to me. Sure, he won 11 games last year, but he didn't exactly exhibit his minor league prowess, that saw him go 20-9 with a 2.95 ERA in four seasons. He rocketed through the system, and even though he won 11 games, his ERA was a less than stellar 5.61 ERA. After August 21, Huff seemed to figure something out. He went 4-1 with a 2.18 ERA, with 18 strikeouts and 10 walks. I really do believe that Huff is going to be something special. No, maybe he's not a clear #1, but I do think he's going to be a very, very good starter. Think somewhere between Chuck Nagy and CC Sabathia.

My feeling here is that Jeremy Sowers needs to be released. I like the kid and have always wanted him to find the form that made him Fausto Carmona the year before Fausto Carmona. At this stage of the game, it's not likely to happen. In all honesty, he'll likely clear waivers, and you can put him in Columbus. If not, wish him a good career and move on. I want him to succeed, but it's not likely to happen in Cleveland.

As for the other three, I think they'll all make the club. Look for Talbot and Huff to make the rotation, while Laffey will end up in the role that he took on last year for a bit, in the bullpen. Laffey will be the first option when spot starts are needed. Of course, the Indians could send him down to Columbus if they want to give him starts. The right move would be to keep him in Cleveland though. I'm not sure what he learns bouncing back and forth. The regular work he'll get in between appearances will help solidify his mechanics.

#1. Is Andy Marte ready to explode? Let's complicate things a bit more. What is going on with Andy Marte anyways? In Cleveland, he's gone from a bust to a scrappy prospect who just won't go away. Yeah, Andy Marte is now an underdog. Marte, a former minor league player of the year for Atlanta, has been labeled perhaps the worst thing you could be labeled as in the majors, and that's as a Quad A minor leaguer. He's the guy that can hit minor league pitching, but can never figure out the majors. Could this be the year that all changes?

Marte has always been considered a solid fielder at third base, and his power potential is unquestioned. Unfortunately, Marte has never had more than 235 at bats in the majors, and while he's never hit more than .232 in the bigs, I can't help but wonder what might happen with 500 at bats. Will he get that in 2010? Well, it doesn't appear so, but you really never know.

Jhonny Peralta is in the last year of his contract, and there is absolutely no chance for the Indians to take on the club option in 2011. He's a below average infielder to say the least, and if you believe the reports, he never really endears himself to anybody. Last year, he lacked power, average, and blamed it on the shift to third, which he took as a surprise. Well, first off, it shouldn't have been a surprise. Could it have been handled better? Sure, but for Peralta to play it off as a surprise is ridiculous. He's either an idiot or a bad liar. Either way, I do get the issues that can cause offensively. Still, it's a same ole', same ole' with the enigmatic infielder.

Marte just keeps plugging along. Last year in the minors, he batted over .327 with 18 homers and 66 RBI, and looked good doing it. This year, Marte belted a home run in the first game of spring training. No, it doesn't mean he's on pace to hit 70 homers this year, or even bat over .300. Perhaps it just means that he's serving notice to both Manny Acta and Jhonny Peralta. His potential is unquestioned. His glove and range is superior to Peralta's. With regular at bats, does anyone doubt he can hit 23 home runs?

No, the Indians aren't going to bench a commodity that will likely be dealt in July, at least not yet anyways. But if Peralta doesn't watch out, he may find himself in the utility role that Marte has been burdened with for his entire Tribe career. That may not be a bad thing.

The Sunday Drive:

The prospect countdown continues at Indians Prospect Insider. This past week saw #'s 18-13:

#18: Lou Marson
#17: Zach Putman
#16: Alexander Perez
#15: Jordan Brown
#14: Tony Sipp
#13: Jason Kipnis

There really is no reason for anyone else to waste their time putting out prospect reports. Agree with the rankings or not, nobody does more homework on the Indians' prospects than Tony Lastoria.

Paul Cousineau at 'The Diatribe' is continuing his series (or what should be) on the increased impossibilities for the majority of Major League teams to succeed in the current market. It stands to reason that his pieces over the off-season on the topic are some of the best I've read. His latest, 'Swimming Upstream,' showcases Rob Manfred, the MLB’s Executive Vice President of Labor Relations, essentially describing the Indians model over the past five years as being what's expected for small market teams. Joy to the world.

Nino Colla of 'The Tribe Daily' rolls out the eternal optimism for this version of the Indians.
If you haven't checked out his site, or if you haven't checked Nino out at Bleacher Report, you have to take the opportunity. Like Nino, I think this version of the Indians could be better than people think...certainly better than Paul Hoynes, who has his head planted firmly in his own...assessments. I believe the offense and the bullpen will carry this team, until the starting pitching rights itself. If that starting pitching figures things out, well, it could be an interesting season.

The rearviewmirror: Wave goodbye to the chances of Jordan Brown and Jeremy Sowers making an impact on this club, at least early in the season. Both deserve a shot, somewhere.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Jordan Brown gets no respect, no respect at all

Outfielder Jordan Brown will need arthroscopic surgery to repair a tear in his meniscus in his right knee. Jordan will likely miss four to eight weeks, and any shot that he had of making the Indians has gone right out the window.

Tell me there isn't a small part of you that doesn't think that Jordan Brown is cursed. Don't get me wrong, the kid has had a promising career. We all know that he won the MVP of the Carolina League in 2006. We all know that he was named rookie of the year and MVP of the Eastern League in 2007. Still, you have to wonder what has happened since then?

Remember Victor Martinez? VMart won both the Carolina and Eastern League MVP's, and was heralded as the future of the franchise. Like Brown, VMart was viewed as lacking in defensive prowess, but whose offense would overshadow any catching deficiences. Brown? Well, he's been treated like second-hand clothing. If Rodney Dangerfield had a line about being a baseball player, he'd likely call himself Jordan Brown.

After an injury-filled 2008, Brown was left off the 40-man roster. Brown rebounded in 2009 with a strong season, batting .336, with 15 homers and 67 RBI. It did get Brown a spot on the 40-man roster, but no realistic chance at any playing time in Cleveland. The Indians thought so much of Brown that they signed left-handed first baseman Russell Branyan. With Matt LaPorta, Michael Brantley and Trevor Crowe all vying for outfield playing time, and Andy Marte likely ahead of him as well, Brown may never find himself in the majors with the Indians.

Hopefully Brown will find a way through the cracks at some point, because he's too good a player to be stuck in Triple A Columbus.

All-Aught Indians--RP5--Rafael Perez (2006-2009)

Today we are going to take a look at the lefty portion of our All-Aught relief crew, and the first part of 'Dos Rafael' to enter our team of the decade. The All-Aught Relief Pitcher #5 is Rafael Perez.

Now Perez doesn't enter this club without some questions, but before we look at those, we have to take at why he made this team. In 2007, Perez arguably became the best left-handed reliever during the regular season. In 2008, he was undoubtedly the best bullpen pitcher out of the entire Indians bullpen. In 2009, he fell apart, but the two previous seasons were too good to keep him off this team.

The Indians signed Perez as a starter out of the Dominican Republic in 2002. It didn't take him long to make an impact, as he was named the Appalachian League pitcher of the year in 2003 for Burlington, going 9-3 with a 1.70 ERA. He would climb up through the Indians system in 2004 and 2005, before finally breaking through with the Tribe in 2006.

At the end of 2005, the Indians' brass began converting Perez to the bullpen, thinking that his fastball and slider would fit much better there. In 2006, Perez would start his year in Akron, in their starting rotation. The Indians would call him up briefly in April for one appearance out of the pen. He was sent back down to Akron thereafter, and continued starting for the Aeros. In early June, he was recalled by the Tribe, and again moved to the bullpen. He wasn't dominating by an stretch, making 11 appearances and rolling out a 4.70 ERA. Who could blame him, with the Tribe bouncing him around from the pen to the rotation, and from Akron to Cleveland. The Indians would send Perez down to Buffalo for the first time, and would keep the lefty in the pen. He would shine, holding lefties to a .115 average in his 13 games. Perez would get the September call-up. Overall, Perez did very well at the major league level. Even though his overall ERA was 4.34, he didn't give up any runs in 14 of his 17 appearances. He would give up six runs, but two earned runs each, in three different games.

In 2007, Perez would start the year in the rotation in Buffalo, and to be quite honest, was shelled. Lefties hit a robust .325 off of him, and he gave up multiple earned runs in all of his starts. The Indians would still call him up out of necessity, where he would enter one game as a reliever, and go three innings, giving up no runs on three hits and a walk, while striking out three. The Indians would send him back down, but not for long. They would recall him for good (at least for 2007) at the end of May.

At that point, it was lights out for the American league. 34 of his 44 appearances that year were scoreless, and only two of those appearances saw more than two runs cross the plate. His 1.79 ERA was third best in the league. Overall, opponents only batted .219 against him, with lefties only going at a .145 clip. The numbers do continue from there, but you get the point. Perez was about as unhittable as you can be, and combined with Rafael Bettancourt, gave the Indians as dominating a set-up duo as their was in baseball. Without a doubt, the solidity of the bullpen started and ended with Dos Rafael.

His dominance would continue into the ALDS, where he pitched in three games, and for six innings. He would only give up one run and three hits in his outings, and really dominated the Yankees hitters. In game one, he would pitch two perfect innings, while striking out four. In game two, the infamous gnat game, Perez would come into the game after Fausto Carmona's impressive nine-inning performance and slam the door on the Yanks to get the win. Again, Perez would go two innings, while striking out one, while again going two perfect innings. The Indians would score in the bottom of the 11th to win the game. Perez would struggle a bit in his third outing after replacing starter Paul Byrd, but would go two innings again, giving up a couple of singles, a walk, and a solo shot from Alex Rodriguez. Fortunately, the Indians were ahead 6-2, and would go on to win the game and the series.

The ALCS was a different story. Perez would pitch in three games for only one inning total, while giving up eight runs, five earned. That's right folks, his ERA was 45.00, and that's not a typo. Still, Perez had a sublime 2007, and was up to the ALCS, was one of the top five relievers in the game.

In 2008, Perez continued to succeed, if not exactly impress. He was, without a doubt, the best reliever the Indians had that season, in a year in which the bullpen imploded. Perez was, more or less, the rock of a bad pen.

Perez would show up in 73 games and 76.1 innings. 53 of those 73 games were scoreless for the lefty relief specialist. His overall ERA was 3.54, but after April 25th, it was an even better 3.11. Overall, batters would hit .234 against Perez, while lefties were at .222. No, Perez wasn't the same pitcher that he was in 2007, but he certainly was still awesome at times. He was prone to more errors in judgment under pressure situations, and was prone to some big innings, but overall he still did very well.

Then came 2009. I could hash out the season step-by-step, but what would be the point. I don't know that I need to say anything more than 48 innings and 39 earned runs, for a 7.31 ERA. It was so bad, that Perez was sent down to the minors early in the season after a devastating start. He would more or less dominate in Columbus, before returning to the Indians in late May. Perez was sent back down to Buffalo on July 8th. How bad was it? His ERA was 8.88 when he was sent down. Perez would pitch better down the stretch, but still had games in which he would implode. His ERA would drop to that 7.31, but it would include games in which he gave up two, three and four earned runs.

It's easy to get down on Perez, and deservedly so, but it would be a mistake to ignore the 2007 and 2008 seasons, in which he was one of the top left-handed relievers in the league. Perez spent winter ball finding himself again in the starting roll, and was lights out.

Will we get a return to form from the lefty-reliever? It's hard to say, but for two seasons, he was as good as it got out of the pen, and puts him in our All-Aught Indians bullpen, as our fifth reliever.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

All-Aught Indians--RP6--Steve Karsay (2000-2001, 2006)

Any big league bullpen is a hodge-podge of players. There are the golden arms that have been ear-marked to close because of their lightning fastball. There are the set-up men that are either young up-and coming closers, or former closers on their way out. You have your side-armers, spit-ballers, knuckleballers, LOOGY's, long-relievers, spot-relievers and nowhere-else-to-put-yous. Garnering the last spot in the All-Aught Indians bullpen is just that nowhere-else-to-put-you in Steve Karsay.

Karsay's name likely isn't one that will come up on your list of top-notch Indians' relievers, although he was exactly that. Karsay was mostly lost in the shuffle of a career marred by injuries and untapped potential. He started in 1993 as a 21-year-old gunslinger in a late season call-up by the Oakland A's. He had skipped Triple A and pitched 49 solid innings before manager Tony LaRussa would shut him down before his 50th inning to keep his rookie-eligibility. The following season, Karsay would make four electric starts before elbow pain would end his season. He wouldn't pitch again in the majors until 1997 after two elbow surguries, including Tommy John surgery in 1995.

The Indians would acquire Karsay in late-1997 as a potential starter for the 1998 season, but he would lose the job as the #5 starter to some kid named Bartolo Colon. Karsay would start in the rotation in Buffalo, but twice would end up on the DL before being activated by the Indians on the last day in July as a reliever. After another start and relief appearance, he would get sent down to Buffalo in late August. He would get recalled in late September strictly as a reliever, and was shelled to the tune of an 8.31 ERA. It wasn't looking good, but Karsay felt fantastic. He'd begun playing with a Cleveland staple, the splitter, and was slowly re-discovering his fastball, that was now being clocked in the mid-90's.

He'd break out in 1999 as a multi-purpose reliever after adding a splitter and rediscovering his mid-90's fastball. He'd, going 10-2 with a 2.97 ERA. He started the year as a middle and long-reliever, twice pitching more than three innings of relief, with stints anywhere from the first inning, to the ninth. The further back in the game he'd pitch, the better he was, until the DL bit him in July with a strained oblique muscle. He'd return at the end of the month and return to form before manager Mike Hargrove would move Karsay to the rotation because of injuries to Dwight Gooden, Jaret Wright and Mark Langston. He looked brilliant in two starts, going 2-0 with a 0.90 but his third start would end with another stint on the DL with a strained tendon in his right forearm. He'd return to the bullpen for the rest of the season.

Karsay would begin his Aughts as the closer for the Indians, and would save 19 games out of 24 attempts for the Indians prior to the trade deadline. He had impeccable stretches that year, saving seven straight chances from May 16 to June 10th, and his ERA was a respectable 3.09. The Indians wanted Karsay back in his role of set-up, and acquired Bob Wickman during the trade deadline. Karsay would struggle for the next month with the demotion, but would rebound in September during the stretch run. He would go 1-1 with a 1.42 ERA during his last thirteen innings of work.

2001 would begin as a frustrating year for Karsay, who wanted to be a closer. With the Indians, Karsay would make 31 appearances, going 0-1. He wouldn't give up a run during the month of April, which would amount to ten appearances and 14 innings. Karsay quickly became the most important reliever, going more than one inning in 11 of his first 17 games played. His final line with the Indians was an impressive one, finishing with a 1.25 ERA in 43.1 innings pitched. He would strike out 44, with only eight walks, while giving up only one homer. He would only record one save, however, and even though Karsay still brought his A-game, the frustration was building. Karsay was dealt in late June in one of the most idiotic deals in Tribe history. Karsay was sent to Atlanta with sidewinder Steve Reed for John Rocker, the enigmatic lefty closer that was more bigot than pitcher.

Karsay won't go down in the annals of baseball's great relievers, but he certainly was a good one with the Indians. His strength was his ability to pitch in any scenario, from long-relief to closer. He could even spot start on occasion if you really needed him. He had more stuff than your average reliever, with a plus fastball, splitter and curve, to go along with a nice change-up. Cleveland revitalized his career, but in the end, didn't give him what he wanted most, to start, or close.

Still, he was extremely good at all of the above. Welcome to the decade's best Indians Stevs. As our sixth reliever, you can fill all the gaps for our All-Aught Bullpen.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

All-Aught Indians--Back-up Outfielder--Franklin Gutierrez (2005-2008)

Eric Wedge didn't like Milton Bradley, and Milton Bradley didn't like Eric Wedge. Bradley had made a habit of doing the wrong thing, including fights, tenures in jail and not running out ground balls. When he got into it with Eric Wedge twice in less than a year, he was sent packing to the Los Angeles Dodgers. What they received in return for the misguided centerfielder would turn into their best utility outfielder of the decade. The All-Aught Indians Center Fielder is Franklin Gutierrez.

Gutierrez would make his first long-term stints with the Indians during the 2006 season, getting called up on three different occasions. Gutierrez would bat .272, with 21 runs scored, nine doubles, one homer and eight RBI. No, it's not like Gutz stood up and proclaimed himself to be the greatest player of the decade, but he did exhibit the ability to play all three outfield positions, only made three errors, and showed up a cannon of an arm.

In 2007, Gutz would up the ante with 100 games played, and once again, at all three outfiled positions. He would hit .266, scoring 41 runs, with 13 doubles, two triples, 13 homers, 36 RBI and eight stolen bases. He would only commit one error with three assists.

Gutz would struggle with more playing time in 2008 in 134 games, although he did play his best baseball in August and September, raising his average from .220 to nearly .250. He would only make three errors that season.

Gutz couldn't manage to take the next step with the Tribe, from the back-up role to the role of starter, so the Tribe traded him to Seattle. He would have a break-out season in 2009, playing center field for the Mariners. Still, as an Indian, Gutierrez managed to play all three outfield position in his three seasons of consequence, and played them exceptionally well. He had decent power, speed, and likely the best arm in baseball.

No, Franklin Gutierrez couldn't win and sustain a regular outfield position during his tenure with the Cleveland Indians. Lucky for Gutz and the Indians, that allowed the multi-talented outfielder to claim the all-aught back-up oufield slot.

Monday, March 1, 2010

All-Aught Indians--Center Field--Grady Sizemore (2004-2009)

There really hasn't been a more stable every-day position for the Tribe than center field. The four major players this decade has been Kenny Lofton, Milton Bradley, Coco Crisp and Grady Sizemore. Bradley, although spectacular at times, was injury-prone, and already an enigma. Crisp was an able athlete, but played most of his time at other positions. Lofton had a spectactular career with the Indians, but his best days with the Tribe were behind him. The All-Aught Indians Center Fielder is Grady Sizemore.

Sizemore was acquired by the Indians in that now infamous 2002 Mark Shapiro deal that sent Bartolo Colon and Tim Drew to the Montreal Expos that also brought Lee Stevens, Cliff Lee and Brandon Phillips.

Sizemore made his major league debut as a defensive replacement on July 20th, 2004, and would spend a month with the club. He started off strong, but a major slump sent him down to the minors at the end of August, where he would regain his form in leading the Bisons to the International League title. He was recalled again by the Indians in mid-September, and closed the season with a bit of a flourish, hitting .306, with two homers and nine RBI in thirteen games. For the entire season, he made only one error.

Sizemore broke out in 2005, becoming on of the top up-and-coming players in the league. Sizemore's line read .289/.348/.484, with 22 homers and 81 RBI from the leadoff position. He would score 111 times, with 37 doubles, 11 triples and 22 stolen bases. His defense was spectacular, only making three errors all season, and didn't make an error in his last 62 games. Sizemore was also a quiet presence in the dugout, and quickly became known as the type of player that leads by example, not by mouthing off.

2006 was an even better season for Sizemore. He didn't miss a game all year, and improved nearly every stat. His line improved to .290/.375/.533 with 28 home runs, 76 RBI, 134 runs scored (led the league), 53 doubles (led the league), 11 triples and 22 SB. He also led the league in extra base hits, not bad for a lead-off hitter. He was the second major league player to ever hit 50 doubles, 10 triples, 20 homers and 20 steals in the same season. His defense would only get better, making only two errors in a major league leading 419 chances. He would make the All-Star game for the first time. The Indians would sign Sizemore to a long-term deal that would keep him with the Indians through 2011, with a club option for 2012.

In 2007, Sizemore would continue his climb to the top of the AL ranks. His line would read .277/.390/.462, with 24 homers and 78 RBI, with 118 runs scored, 34 doubles, five triples, 101 walks and 33 stolen bases. Again, Sizemore made only 2 errors, and won the Gold Glove for the first time in his career, and would make the all-star team for the second year in a row. The Indians would make the playoffs that season for the first time, and he started off strong against the Yankees in the ALDS. His ALDS line was .375/.524/.688, with three runs, six hits, one triple, one homer, one RBI and a stolen base in four games. He would struggle against the Red Sox, batting only .222 in the seven game series.

2008 would take Sizemore to new heights, as he became only the second Indians to enter the 30/30 club, hitting 33 home runs, while stealing 38 bases, and only being caught five times. His line was .268/.374/.502, with 101 runs scored, 39 doubles, 5 triples, 90 RBI and 98 walks. Sizemore would win the Silver Slugger award and the Gold Glove, with only two errors.

Sizemore would struggle in 2009 with injuries all year long. He would only play in 106 games, missing most of June and September with elbow and abdominal injuries, both of which would require surgery in the offseason. The Indians season quickly went down the tube with their star's lack of health. He batted only .248, with 18 homers and 64 RBI. He only had 13 stolen bases.

Sizemore has been compared to some of the greats, including Barry Bonds (minus the steroids) and Joe Dimaggio. While there's a long way to go before those unfair comparisons can be put to the test, it's safe to say that Sizemore has been one of the brightest that the Aughts have to offer.

Let's hope he's here long enough in the teens to make the next decade's team.

The Two Thousand, Aught Center Fielders: Kenny Lofton, Jacob Cruz, Alex Ramirez, Jolbert Cabrera, Mark Whiten, Dave Roberts, Milton Bradley, Brady Anderson, Dave Magruder, Karim Garcia, Coco Crisp, Jody Gerut, Alex Escobar, Mark Little, Grady Sizemore, Franklin Gutierrez, Joe Inglett, Ben Francisco, Michael Brantley, Trevor Crowe, Shin-Soo Choo