Thursday, December 30, 2010

Did Cliff Lee just cost the Indians Bartolo Colon, and is that a bad thing?

Go ahead, read that title over a few times and let it settle in. It appears that the Cleveland Indians are not only trying to sign Bartolo Colon, but they may end up in a bit of a bidding war for the services of the 37-year-old righty.

While nothing has been confirmed as of yet, Colon told reporters prior to a start during yesterdays Dominican League playoffs that there were three teams interested in potentially signing him. Of course, the team that's already been talked about all winter are the Indians. That's not a surprise. What is a bit of a shocker are the other two teams.

Who are the other two teams? As hard as this is to believe, it appears as though the Texas Rangers and the New York Yankees have been scouting Colon. The Rangers and the Yankees were both the rumored winners in the Cliff Lee sweepstakes at one time or another during this past offseason. Now, they apparently decided to find another Tribe starter.

Rumors were abound that both teams were fishing around Ontario and Carnegie to see if Fausto Carmona was available in a deal. When that door was politely closed, they apparently decided that it was imperative to sign anyone that used to wear Chief Wahoo on their jersey.

I seriously couldn't make this stuff up if I tried.

Colon was fairly dominant in his seven starts for Águilas Cibaeñas, going 2-1 with a 1.47 ERA. The Indians, in need of a veteran starter, were known to be interested in their former ace. While Colon being a factor in free agency is somewhat jokeworthy, it may turn out that the joke is on the Indians after all.

The culprit of this potential battle for Colon's services is former ace Cliff Lee. While I'd like to think that Lee didn't do this on purpose, I'm starting to wonder. Is there some greater conspiracy at work here? Did Rocky Colavito bury an old jersey under home plate at the Jake? Is Jaret Wright somehow involved?

When Lee spurned both the Yankees and the Rangers by signing with Philadelphia, the move certainly took the Yankees by surprise. There's no doubt that the Yankee-ego had all but assured itself that Lee was a lock. Nobody spurns the Yankees when they throw around that kind of cash. Oops.

Both the Yankees and the Rangers teams have been actively seeking players that can add depth to their rotation. The Rangers have been more active. The Yankees, well, haven't. They seriously didn't have a back-up plan in place, until now of course.

After the Lee debacle, the Yankees have been hoping that Andy Pettitte would return for one more season, but with retirement seeming more and more likely for the lefty, the Yankees may be ready to turn in another direction. Apparently, Bartolo Colon may be at the top of their list.

Seriously, that's hard to say with a straight face.

The Rangers weren't as stoic and whiny as the Yankees after losing Lee. They went out and signed Brandon Webb to a one-year, three million dollar, incentive-laden deal. Webb has only made one start since the start of 2009, so the gamble is obvious for the Rangers, but they have contingencies in place.

It's believed that the Rangers would like an alternative to Webb should the lefty not pan out, and since they only dropped three million, they had money for another insurance policy. Enter Bartolo Colon.

Both teams seem set for return to the playoffs, and at the very least, are a lot closer to the playoffs than the Tribe. If that's important to Bartolo (and that's questionable), the Indians may not have a chance in this fight.

Cleveland is the one team that can guarantee Colon a sure-fire spot in the rotation. I've read some stuff saying that Colon would be the #5 starter, but the number by his name doesn't matter. As long as he's healthy, he'll start for the Indians.

The Yankees and Rangers would likely spot start him unless someone didn't pan out. In other words, he'd end up in the same situation that he walked out on in Boston and Chicago, his last two major league destinations. So perhaps these three teams are on some even ground.

Still, you have to find the ironic humor in all this. Cleveland needs a starter, and they've been universally panned for even considering Colon. The former Cy Young winner is believed to be long past his MLB prime, has spent the better part of the past ten years eating (although he's supposedly in great shape), and seemed to be an easy get for the Tribe, should they decide to go that route.

Now, Bartolo Colon has not only managed to become relevant, but has potentially placed himself in the middle of three teams looking for a starter. Only in Cleveland.

The ultimate irony in all of this is Cliff Lee. He was acquired by the Indians many moons ago through a trade with the now-defunct Montreal Expos. Who did Cleveland give up to get Lee, Grady Sizemore, Brandon Phillips and Lee Stevens? How about Bartolo Colon. So Colon left because of Lee in 2002 (which was a good thing), and now, perhaps he's done it all over again (perhaps another good thing).

So, what does all this mean?

I'm still not sure that I even want the Indians to sign Colon. There's nothing that indicates he can be effective at 37, or 47, or however old he may be. I can tell you that having the Yankees and Rangers interested sure makes me want the Indians to sign him all the more.

I know that it's not very Sabr of me, but such is life. It may be the only win the Tribe can get against the Evil Empire and the World Series runner-up Rangers this season, so I'll take what I can get.

The real humor in all this is that it's distinctly possible that Colon has made these comments with the direct intent to garner more cash with whomever he ultimately signs with. It's a common ploy for most agents and players to let it be known that they are wanted somewhere else, and Colon has been around the block a few time.

For some reason, this all makes some sort of strange, 'you have to be kidding me' sense. The New York Yankees and Texas Rangers outbidding the Indians for Bartolo Colon.

Shhhhh, I hear Jamie Moyer is available.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The All-Aught/All-Decade Cleveland Indians

The Cleveland Indians of the 1990's were a powerhouse.  The offense, led by Albert Belle, Kenny Lofton, Jim Thome and Manny Ramirez laid waste to the majority of American League opponents throughout the decade.  There was no doubt that the Indians were in the discussion of "Best Team of the 90's."  As the Indians moved into the new decade, things changed dramatically.  The last remnants of players from those great teams were moved in trades to rebuild, and thus began a process that barely made fruition with a run that came up a game short to get to the World Series in 2007.  Then, the rebuilding began again.  Unfortunately, the first decade of the 2000's had more similarities to the hapless Tribe of the "Curse of the Rocky Colavito" years, but hope springs eternal.

Here are the All-Aught Indians:

1. C--Victor Martinez (2002-2009)
2. 1B--Jim Thome (2000-2002)
3. 2B--Roberto Alomar (2000-2001)
4. 3B--Casey Blake (2003-2008)
5. SS--Omar Vizquel (2000-2004)
6. LF--Coco Crisp (2002-2005)
7. CF--Grady Sizemore (2004-2010)
8. RF--Manny Ramirez (2000)
9. DH--Travis Hafner (2003-2009)
10. Bench C--Kelly Shoppach (2006-2009)
11. Bench IF--Jamey Carroll (2008-2009)
12. Bench Utility--Jolbert Cabrera (2000-2002)
13. Bench OF--Franklin Gutierrez (2005-2008)
14. RP--Rafael Betancourt (2003-2009)
15. RP--David Riske (2001-2005)
16. RP--Paul Shuey (2000-2002)
17. RP--Bob Howry (2004-2005)
18. RP--Rafael Perez (2006-2009)
19. RP--Steve Karsay (2000-2001, 2006)
20. SP--CC Sabathia (2001-2008)
21. SP--Cliff Lee (2002-2009)
22. SP--Bartolo Colon (2000-2002)
23. SP--Jake Westbrook (2000-2009)
24. SP--Fausto Carmona (2006-2009)
25. CL--Bob Wickman (2000-2006)

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Greatness of Bob Feller, to this kid anyways

Bob Feller.

It's hard to talk about the Cleveland Indians and not mention the name of Bob Feller.  There were several years when there was nothing else to talk about as Cleveland Indians fans than their greatest player of all-time, but it was always so much more than that.  Feller was always both larger-than-life, and the regular guy next door.  The legend was scary to walk up to, but the stories he would tell were always worth the risk.  He was Bob Feller.  The greatest pitcher to wear an Indians jersey, the ambassador for a team that didn't have any, the guy that could throw harder than maybe anyone to step foot on a baseball field.

It's hard to describe what Mr. Feller meant to me as a kid growing up on the West Side of Cleveland in the 1970's.  You see, the Cleveland Indians of that era weren't very good, which may be overstating the case.  I didn't know any better.  As a Tribe fan, finishing in fourth place was always a fantastic year.  There were quirky, blue-collar players that many second division teams are famous for that I followed, like Charlie Spikes, Buddy Bell, Andre Thornton and Duane Kuiper, but there weren't any icons you could hang your hat on.  The closest thing to a legend was Gaylord Perry, who was known as much for hiding K-Y jelly as he was for winning a Cy Young in Cleveland.

But there was always Bob Feller.

My first memory of Feller wasn't of a strikeout, a victory, a trip to the Pacific or an opening day no-hitter.  No, my first memory of Bob Feller came from my Dad, a devout New York Yankees fan to this day.  I'll never forget the story my Dad told me right before bed, when as a five year old, I was still trying to figure out what that silly game of baseball was all about.  Normally, he sprinkled me with stories of Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford and Yogi Berra, and was, in all likelihood, trying to steer me towards his childhood team, and away from the painful heartache of becoming a Tribe fan.  But even Dad couldn't help himself.

There came the day that Dad mentioned Bob Feller.

While I don't remember what my father specifically said about Feller that night, I do remember the main event of the conversation.  You see, Bob Feller threw faster than a motorcycle.  Today, pitchers are routinely clocked at stadiums through the use of radar, but to a five-year-old, 100 miles per hour might as well be 10 or 1,000.  It was all relative.  But, you see, Bob Feller could throw the ball faster than a speeding motorcycle.

The next day, I told the story to my neighbor, and we set about creating the same test.  Out came the big wheels, the Schwinn's, the mits and the tennis balls.  The test was on.  Which kid could throw faster than any of the vehicles that we all brought out to the street in front of my house.  First against the big wheel with a worn wheel.  Then, against the gold Schwinn that everyone swore was the fastest bike this side of Cleveland's Municipal stadium.  The Green Machine was also tested.  Today, I don't know who could throw faster than what, but that fateful summer afternoon, a kid with a sore arm and a few scrapes became a lifelong baseball fan, and Bob Feller became his hero.

Over the years, I would learn more about the greatness that was "Rapid Robert."  I remember listening to an old timer at a game in Cleveland in the early 80's telling the 12 people sitting in the entire section about how Feller had told him that his Dad had mowed over part of his Iowa farm to build him a baseball field.  Can you imagine that?  A father building his son a ballfield in the middle of his cornfield!  I was a little more than torqued when my father refused to bulldoze the forest behind our house for a ballfield of my own.  I was even more ticked off a few years later when Field of Dreams came out.  I still wonder, did Feller get a cut of the movie's proceeds?  If you think the ballfield was a dedicated move for his son by Bill Feller, Bob's Dad, how about Dad getting rid of ALL the corn, to instead grow wheat, because it would allow him to focus more energy on teaching his son how to become a major leaguer.  He'd create a team of local ballplayers, and they'd play other teams during the weekend.

I remember reading about Feller as a high school junior, making an ungodly jump from high school baseball to the major leagues.  That's right, he never played a second of minor league baseball, before finding himself pitching for the Indians after his junior year in high school.  Feller went back to high school after the season, and finished his senior year with the help of tutors, on the road during his second year.  He still made it to his graduation however,  and it was broadcast on radio from coast to coast.  Think about it.  Most kids DREAM of playing in the majors in high school.  Feller did it.  But that's was always his M.O..

I remember watching Jack Morris throw a no-hitter on the first Saturday game-of-the-week on NBC way back in 1984.  While I don't remember much about the game, I do remember Vin Scully and his broadcast partner, Joe Garagiola.  In painting the picture of Morris' brilliance that day, they kept referring to one Bob Feller, who is the one and only pitcher to throw a no-no on opening day.  While Morris was already making his second start for his no-hitter, Feller had done it on opening day in 1940, when he was all of 21 years old.

Then there are the numbers, and there are just far too many to get into them all here.  As a 20 year-old, Feller would win 24 games in 1939.  As a 21-year-old in that no-hit year of 1940, he would lead the majors with 27 wins and 31 complete games.  As a 22-year-old in 1941, he would win 25 games.  That was Feller's sixth year in baseball.  In today's game, he'd be about to enter his first unrestricted free-agent year.  I wonder what kind of deal a 22-year old coming off three 24+ win, sub 3.15 ERA seasons would get...200 million...300 million...perhaps his own island and a kingdom of his own?

Obviously there wasn't free agency in the 40's, but Feller still offered up his services to something else:  the U.S. Navy.  I'll get to that in a second.

Feller would return late in the season in 1945 for a few starts, but would return for a full season in 1946.  He promptly won 26 games with a 2.18 ERA.  He had 36 complete games, 10 shut-outs, pitched in 371 1/3 innings, and struck out 348 batters in that remarkable season.  In 1947, Feller would win 20 games.  During that five-year playing stretch, Feller would win 122 games, lose 59, pitch 129 complete games, and throw 30 complete-game shutouts.  Overall, Feller would go 266-162 with a 3.25 ERA and 2,581 strike outs.  He'd throw three no-hitters, and 12 one-hitters.  In other words, he was otherwordly.

As a kid, I couldn't stand seeing that four-year block of empty games in the early-40's.  Surely, Feller couldn't have wanted to miss part of the prime of his career.  I mean, imagine the numbers had he stayed healthy.  Based on the five-year average from the three years prior to his service, and the two years after, he'd have averaged 24 wins a season.  Figuring in the five wins he DID win in 1945, that would be another 91 wins, another 1,000 wins, a lower ERA.  Of course, Feller wouldn't have had it any other way.  It wasn't about numbers, or wins, or even playing baseball.  He enlisted in the Navy the day after Pearl Harbor, after waiving a deferment because his Dad was ill, leaving Feller as the sole provider for his family.  Feller's father would die while he was serving during World War 2.  Feller never questioned it.  It was his duty.  While there have been many references to "Chiefs" during the existence of the Cleveland Indians, Bob Feller was a legitimate one.  He was baseball's only Chief Petty Officer elected into baseball's hall of fame.

Over the years, I've had the opportunity to see Feller on several occasions, and I even talked to him briefly a couple of times, because the guy went everywhere in the name of baseball.  No, I'm by no means saying that I created a friendship with the guy.  Not a chance.  He wouldn't have been able to pick me out of a line-up.  That's not my point.  My point is simply that I got to meet Bob Feller.  My most memorable meeting was back in the late-80's, when Feller was a young man in his early 70's.  Feller was throwing BP for a bunch of sportswriters at a small ballfield in Erie prior to a minor league game.  I was standing in the outfield shagging fly balls.  You got it, I was on the same team and field as the great Bob Feller, at least that's the story I'll always tell.  Anyways, I didn't have to shag many balls that day.  Why?  The fireballing 70-year old was busy making the sportswriters look like morons, blowing the ball by them even then.

My most humorous time meeting Feller was at a Winter Caravan meeting a year or two after that.  He signed my ballcap, and I asked him if he remembered me from the two years prior, the day I was shagging fly balls.  Feller, ever the honest, said, "Hell no, I meet a million kids every year, how am I supposed to remember you."  Then, he looked over at my Dad, who was wearing a Yankees cap, and said, "Who let him in?"  I didn't get a chance for a follow up because of the massive line for autographs.  I saw him at minor league games, major league games, spring trainings, all-star games, hall of fames, world series, and basically everywhere in between.  You see, Feller loved baseball, and it was his job to do it some good.  It was the same mentality he had playing the game, and the same mentality he had in serving his country.

I loved listening to him talk about ballplayers.  I recently heard Tim Kurkjian telling a story about Feller watching Willie Mays making that catch against the Indians in game one of the 1954 World Series.  According to Kurkjian, Feller said, "We all knew he was going to catch it.  It wasn't that tough a catch."  He was loaded with up-front comments like that.  It didn't come from a guy out-of-touch, it came from a guy who played baseball better than most.  Perspective, you see, is different when you are standing in the clouds to start with.

Ted Williams said Feller was the best pitcher that he'd ever seen:
"(Feller was) the fastest...pitcher I ever saw during my career. . . . He had the best fastball and curve I’ve ever seen.  Three days before he pitched I would start thinking about Robert Feller.''
Yeah, Ted Williams said that...

You see, Bob Feller was a hero.  He'd never admit that he was.  Feller would likely grunt that he was just "doing his service for his country, and doing his job playing baseball."  That's exactly what he did....his job...and better than most anyone else that ever did it.  He was Sandy Koufax (albeit a righty), before Sandy Koufax.  He was Nolan Ryan, before Nolan Ryan.  He was Randy Johnson, before Randy Johnson.  He was Roger Clemens (minus that steroids), before Roger Clemens.  Was he better than all of them?  That's up for debate.  Is he in the mix?  Of that, there is no doubt.

It's funny, really, looking back.  I had never seen Feller pitch to major league ballplayers.  I was born fifteen years after he threw his last pitch for the Tribe, and thirty-five years after he threw his first pitch.  But he was always there, talking about the game that he loved.  He was the Tribe's connection to the great barnstorming teams of the 1930's, when Feller would travel the country with Satchel Paige and Cool Papa Bell.  He shared the same field as Dizzy Dean, and pitched against Lou Gehrig.  He fought against the likes of Joe Dimaggio, and forced Teddy Ballgame to sweat three days before pitching against the Red Sox.  How many players can say they struck out Gehrig, Dimaggio and Mantle, and stood on the same field as Babe Ruth, the last time he was in a stadium.  Ruth used Feller's bat as a cane during his last public appearance at Yankee Stadium.

He even shared the field with me....or I should say...I shared the field with him...

....and he could throw faster than a motorcycle...

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Is Bartolo Colon about to re-sign with the Indians?

There's something strangely fitting that former Tribe starter Bartolo Colon is rumored to be a potential free-agent target for the Indians during the 2010-2011 hot stove season.  No, I'm not talking about Colon now "fitting" into his old Tribe jersey now that he's allegedly lost 50 pounds, I'm talking about how he could fit on this team as a relevant starter.  Seriously, I know you all are chuckling.  I know most of you think that Colon is long past his prime.  I know that you think this rapid weight loss is bogus, or some sort of Oprah-Winfrey like rubber-band diet.  I know that you all think he's really a grandpa.  I know you think he's past his prime.  But c'mon, you've got to open up your mind a bit here.

I'm going to assume that the five of you that read my sad excuse for a blog are seated in front of your computer while viewing this exquisite and well thought out piece, and while you are likely dedicating the next ten minutes of your life into a wonderful retort about how insane I am (you'd be correct), please try and remain calm for a few more moments.  Give me some time here people,  so please take this moment to relax, get nice and comfortable, close your eyes, and think back to the good ole' days of 1998.  Don't worry, if you can't remember back that far, I'll help you along a bit.  Ah, yes, 12 years ago when the Indians were one of the upper echelon.  Back then, Mr. Colon was a 23-year-old ace-in-waiting.  He had helped the Tribe along to their second World Series appearance in three years back in 2007, and had really emerged as a plus pitcher in '08.  He would win 14 games that year, and would then go on to win 10 or more games in his next four seasons with the Tribe.  He was good...really good.  So good, in fact, that the Indians dealt him away for a net return of Lee Stevens, Cliff Lee, Grady Sizemore and Brandon Phillips.  While Stevens turned into an afterthought, Lee and Sizemore became extremely valuable pieces to the Tribe cause, and Phillips did the same, just not for the Tribe (you're welcome Cincinnati).  Colon continued to pitch well for a variety of teams before winning the Cy Young with the Angels in 2005.  It was his last relevant season.

Okay, now open up your eyes.  I wanted to be fair to the former ace before we took a look at the reality of the "fit."  Yeah, I know, you thought I was being serious.  You thought I really thought that Colon was a perfect fit.  Please let me rephrase a bit.  I don't think he's a good fit, but the Tribe brass does.  No, I'm not kidding.  For once, I'd like to believe Paul Hoynes, who stated on his twitter account a few days ago that the "Indians have no interest in re-signing Bartolo Colon, who quit on his last 2 teams."  Tonight, during Bart's start with his Dominican team, sitting in the stands was one Manny Acta.  Of course, he could just be taking in a game...right?

Colon is nothing if not interesting.  'Manny being Manny' is a popular phrase, but there was also Bart being Bart.  Remember when I said that he was 23 years old back in 1998?  It turns out that a birth certificate showed up in 2002 with a birth date of 1973, instead of 1975.  So, as it turns out, Colon wasn't as promising a prospect as he was.  Granted, a 25-year-old winning 14 games is still fairly outstanding, but it's just not the same as a 23-year-old.  Like many players from the Domincan, questions to this day remain about Colon's age.  Is he really 37?  Is he 40?  Is he 50?  Is he still alive?  It's hard to tell.

There's also the issue of Colon's weight.  With the Tribe, Colon consistently struggled with his weight.  While he was never a svelte starter, Colon did manage some eating restraint.  Over the years, however, Colon's food demons had seemingly caught up with him.  Of course, once they did, Bart actually ate them too.  I remember seeing some listings of Colon's weight back in 2006 and 2007 as somewhere around 185 pounds.  Now I could believe that he was 185 pounds back then, perhaps if he was filled with helium, and not the better part of the Golden Corral buffet. 

Colon hasn't pitched for the Tribe since June of 2002, and hasn't pitched for any major league team since 2009.  In 2008, the Red Sox signed Colon, and he pitched fairly well.  Still, Colon wasn't considered a starter with the Sox, and after making seven solid starts, Boston manager Terry Francona planned to meet with Colon about moving him to the pen.  Colon allegedly never showed up to the meeting...twice.  Then, Colon headed off to the Dominican for "personal matters."  While I can't speak to what those matters were, it's generally believed that Colon was ticked off about relieving, and spot starting.  Apparently it's better to not pitch at all, or in this case, pitch in the Dominican.

Colon then signed with the White Sox.  After his initial signing, it took the White Sox three days to locate Colon to talk to him.  He'd again pitch fairly well.  He'd go 3-6, but he had a respectable 4.19 ERA before going on the DL on June 9th.  Colon would rehab in Arizona, but in late June, he disappeared again.  Manager Ozzie Guillen speculated that Colon was "depressed a little bit" because of his affinity for Michael Jackson.  He would turn up, but injuries derailed his season.

Is there anything that's fitting about this potential signing that isn't some two-cent joke about his weight?  There is a certain amount of nostalgia, but it's not like the masses of Cleveland are clamoring for a reunion with the former enigmatic starter.  He was good, bordering on great, but wasn't nearly as beloved as some of the other members of those great teams.

There is the Cliff Lee factor.  Lee was the young pitching prospect in that deal I mentioned before that sent Colon to Montreal.  Unless you live under a rock. Lee just signed a five-year, $120 million dollar deal with the Phillies, managed by Charlie Manuel, Colon's last Tribe manager.  The Phillies, a relevant, big-market team are signing relevant, marquee baseball players.  In this case, Cliff Lee, the pitcher the Indians hoped to help take Colon's place, which he did, and then some.  Perhaps signing Colon to a minor-league, sub-million dollar contract is some sort of karmic balance to Lee's massive deal.  While Lee fits himself in a staff of aces, Colon could himself in a staff of players half his age.

In a bit more serious tone, Colon is a low-cost option to come onto this club and potentially fill a hole as a veteran starter.  Of course, there's that thing about him quitting on his last two teams.  There's also a bit of an injury issue.  There's also that bit about not having pitched in an important game in over a year.  There's also his weight problems.  Of course, there is all that nostalgia!  Maybe the plan is to sign Manny as well, and create some sort of quirky Cleveland sitcom.  I'm sure we could get Betty White involved, and maybe Cerrano as well.  I'm sure we could work some sort of Allstate tie-in.  Wait a second, what are we talking about again?

My guess is that there are better options that bringing back Bartolo.  Of course, if he does sign, and it pans out for the Tribe, I could always change the name of my blog...

For those wondering at home, Colon got lit up a bit tonight, giving up six runs, three earned.  The three unearned came on a throwing error by Colon on a bunt.  Overall, Colon is a respectable 3-1 with a 1.54 ERA in six starts, and 35 innings pitched.  He's struck out 29 and walked only 3.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

All-Aught Indians--#1 Starter--CC Sabathia (2001-2008)

CC Sabathia had a lot on his shoulders when he was drafted in the first round by the Cleveland Indians in 1998.  The Tribe had been looking for an ace to go along with their vaunted offense for the better part of five seasons.  While Sabathia, a high school phenom, wouldn't be joining the Indians in 1998, the big lefty was certainly fast-tracked to the majors, should he match the potential that made him a first round selection.  By 2001, he was with the Indians, and by 2007, he was a Cy Young award winner.  No, Sabathia wasn't the answer to the great Indians run in the 90's and early 2000's, but he certainly was everything the Indians thought he would be, and more.  The All-Aught Indians Ace is CC Sabathia.

There likely aren't words in an article that can express what Sabathia meant to the Indians over the eight season that he put on the uniform with Cleveland across the front.  The Tribe had spent the best part of every offseason hunting for an ace in the years leading up to Sabathia's emergence.  Sure, there was Orel Hershiser, Dennis Martinez, Jaret Wright, Charles Nagy, Jack McDowell, Chuck Finley and Bartolo Colon attempting to lead the Tribe staff.  While all would at one point or another, be considered the "ace" of the Indians starting rotation, none seemed to relish or run with the title.  Some either lacked the talent, the head or simply were too far past their prime to contribute the way the Indians were looking for.  Colon was close, but he always left the impression, while with the Indians, that he was a 1b, and that his best years would be with a starter in the #1 role.

If only CC Sabathia had come seven years sooner.

Sabathia entered the fray for the Tribe in 2001, the last year of their eight year run as one of the best teams in baseball.  The hefty lefty went 17-5, and while his statistics were certainly a product of good offensive production (his ERA was never south of 4.00 that season), the signs were all there for his future with this club.  His first big league season saw him go 180 innings, while striking out 171, and walking 98.  There certainly were control issues, but Sabathia was still learning how to pitch.  He was not only the youngest player on the Tribe's roster, but the 20-year-old was also the youngest player in all the majors.  Here was the Tribe's workhorse, their stopper, the ace that would finally line up the Tribe starters.  Of course, by the middle of 2002, the team was dismantled, and Sabathia was the light at the end of a long tunnel of rebuilding.

Sabathia started off the 2002 season looking like the ace many thought he would be.  After three starts, he was 2-0 with a 2.79 ERA.  Unfortunately, Sabathia's season, like the Tribe's as a whole, went south quickly.  By the end of April, Sabathia was 2-3 with a 6.82 ERA.  He would fight and claw for everything he could in May and June, and would see his ERA drop in eight of ten starts.  At the end of June, he had lowered his ERA to a respectable 4.70, to go along with a 6-6 record.  His last June start, on the 28th, was a big one for me with regards to Sabathia, as it was the day that Colon was traded.  Sabathia was officially the ace of the staff.  How did he respond?  He went 7 2/3 innings of one run ball, getting his sixth win.  In his next six starts, he would struggle.  His ERA would rise in every game pitched, and after his August 1st start, he was back up to 5.49, with a 6-9 record.  Then, for the first time, Sabathia became the pitcher the Tribe brass thought they had drafted.  Sabathia would go 7-2 for the rest of the season, with a 2.54 ERA.  His overall ERA would drop over a point during that time period, ending the season with a 13-11 record.  For the first time in his career, he'd pitch over 200 innings, with 210.

2003 was Sabathia's tough-luck season, even with an all-star season.  He started off the year without a win in April, going 0-2.  The catch-22 of that scenario was that there really wasn't a bad start in the bunch, as he walked out of the month with a 3.79 ERA.  This would become the mantra of Sabathia's 2003 campaign, as he would receive the fifth worst offensive support in all of baseball.  Sabathia would win four of five starts that May, and lower his ERA to 2.92, far and away his best month of the season, going 4-0 with a 1.91 ERA.  He would end the season with a 13-9 record, and a 3.60 ERA.  He led the team in wins for a third straight year, and was clearly the best pitcher on the team, and getting better.  Remember, he was still only 23-years-old.

I suppose 2004 was an off-year for Sabathia.  He made only three starts in April because of an injury.  Still, he was 1-0 with a 1.71 ERA.  He would have a topsy-turvy May, but his ERA would remain below 3.00.  His best month was June, going 3-0, and maintaining his sub 3 ERA.  He would be selected to his second all-star game, but would really scuffle for the rest of the season.  He ended the year with an 11-10 record, and a 4.12 ERA.  With the emergence of Cliff Lee, there was talk that Sabathia may not be the best pitcher on the staff.  Still, there were stretches where he looked like the best in baseball.  At 24, he was still learning how to become an ace.  Take into account that his final record reflected 6-blown-wins.  He left six games with a win in hand, only to have an atrocious bullpen blow the lead.

In 2005, Sabathia appeared to have to separate seasons.  The first half of the year saw the lefty continue to scuffle, as his ERA steadily rose .92 at the end of April (with a 2-0 record), to 5.27 at the beginning of August, and a 6-9 record.  Sabathia would then explode in August and September, winning seven straight starts, and 9 of 11.  he would only have one no decision, and his ERA would again shrink over a run in less than two months.  He would end the season at 15-10, with a 4.03 ERA.  While Sabathia was still waiting to put together an entire season of quality, he was continuing to showcase months of dominance at a time.  In six September starts, Sabathia went 4-1 with a 1.45 ERA.

Sabathia would start on opening day of 2006, but after only three innings, was pulled with an injured oblique.  he'd be placed on the dl, and wouldn't make another start until May.  While Sabathia's final record for the season would end up 12-11, in many ways, this was Sabathia's best season up to this point.  In May, Sabathia was his dominant self, going 5-1 in six starts, with a ridiculous 1.20 ERA.  He was named pitcher of the month for May.  In August and September, Sabathia really showcased what has made him a special pitcher.  He made 11 starts during the stretch run, and only one game saw him pitch less than seven innings, a 5 2/3 of an inning outing.  During those games, his ERA would never rise above 3.43, or drop below 3.22.  He was locked and loaded...the stopper that he was meant to be.  When Sabathia was on the mound, you knew what you were going to get.  He now knew how to pitch, and was making every start a quality effort.  He could overpower you, outpitch you, or simply where you down.  2007 was a foregone conclusion.

Sabathia's entire 2007 season was a mirror of August and September of 2006.  His low ERA would come on April 15th, when it was 2.14.  His highest was on May 11th, when it was 4.02.  From that point on, it would never rise above 3.81, or below 3.09.  He would win 19 games that year, and lead the league in innings pitched with 241.  He would eclipse 200 strikouts for the first time, with 209 for the season.  From April 20th through July 5th, Sabathia never allowed more than one walk in a game.  The most walks he had in a game all season was three, in two separate starts.  He would end the season with a 19-7 record, and a 3.21 ERA.  His 209 K's looked good up against his paltry 37 walks.  Sabathia would win the Cy Young Award as the best pitcher in baseball.  While he struggled in the playoffs, Sabathia was clearly the key to the Indians making a World Series run.  He was entering a contract year.  It would be a make or break year for the Tribe and Sabathia.

Like his rookie season, a lot was riding on Sabathia at the start of the 2008 season.  He didn't wear it well.  For the first time in his career, there was no doubt outside talk was getting to him.  Many were berating him for his weak performance for the Indians in the post-season.  There was also a bunch of discussion regard whether or not Sabathia would be dealt.  There was also the matter of nearly 250 innings pitched.  Sabathia crawled out of the gates, going 1-4 in April, with a 7.88 ERA.  It was that bad.  In May, Sabathia would right the ship considerably, dropping his ERA over three points, and another point in June.  In the two months, Sabathia would only make two starts under seven innings (6 and 6 1/3 innings), and would go 5-4 during that stretch.  His record was mostly due to the Tribe's lack of punch, more than anything.  Entering July, the writing was on the wall.  The Indians weren't producing, and Sabathia wasn't signing.  It was time to make a deal.  At the time, Sabathia was only 6-8 overall, but was leading the league in K's and K's per 9.  He already had three complete games.  His last start as an Indian came on July 2, 2008.  Sabathia would get a no decision, but typical of his starts, he'd go eight innings, striking out five, and walking only two.  On July 7th, Sabathia was traded to the Brewers.  How good was Sabathia in 2008 with the Indians, and ultimately the Brewers?  Over his last 31 starts, Sabathia would go 17-7 with a 1.88 ERA.

In eight years with the Indians, Sabathia went 106-71 with a 3.83 ERA.  He'd strike out 1,265 batters, while walking nearly 500.  He'd make three all-star appearances, and win one Cy Young award.  Sabathia was also allowed to leave the Indians without having to choose another team, as many had before him.  In a very classy move, Sabathia took out a full page ad, thanking the city of Cleveland for his eight fantastic seasons.

Sabathia has since signed a mammoth deal with the New York Yankees, now has a World Series ring (but not a victory), and has moved on to "bigger and better" things.  But, for eight seasons, Sabathia's vast talent resided on the North Coast, and the team was always the better, for it.

Monday, December 13, 2010

All-Aught Indians--#2 Starter--Cliff Lee (2002-2009)

The top two starters for this All-Aught Indians team has been a given ever since the 2007 and 2008 A.L. Cy Young awards were given to CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee respectively.  Anybody who gives thought to putting a Westbrook or a Colon in these two thoughts, think again.  While Westbrook had three consistent seasons as an Indians workhorse, he was never able to show the brilliance that Sabathia showed year-after-year, and that Lee showcased during his out-of-nowhere 2008 season.  Bartolo Colon may have been as talented as the lefty duo, but his time during this decade was all to brief.

Now I could take the controversial approach and give the #2 slot to Sabathia, but it would simply be a lie.  While Lee undoubtedly had one of the best seasons as a pitcher in 2008, his career over the past seven seasons has been some kind of rollercoaster ride since the Indians acquired him in the Bartolo Colon deal in 2002.  While Lee would win 14, 18 and 14 games in his first three full seasons with the Tribe, he would find himself in the minors after struggling in 2007.  While those numbers alone place him in the same category as Jake Westbrook, his sublime 2008 season would see him dominate the A.L. from day one.  The All-Aught Indians #2 starter is left-hander Cliff Lee.

Monday, December 6, 2010

All-Aught Indians--#3 Starter--Bartolo Colon (2000-2002)

Bartolo Colon came up with the Indians as one of their top pitching prospects, but was overshadowed by another bright young gunner, Jaret Wright.  Wright seemed to be the future ace of the staff in 2007, going 8-3, while Colon made his debut the same year, going 4-7.  Wright would hang on with the club through the 2002, struggling with injuries and mechanics problems.  Colon would also last until the 2002 season with the Tribe, becoming the ace of the staff, and also one of the best pitchers in baseball.  The All-Aught Indians #3 starter is Bartolo Colon.

Colon entered the 2000 season coming off his best season, having gone 18-5 with a 3.95 ERA.  Remember, this was the height of the steroid era, and only seven total AL pitchers that year had an ERA under 4.00.  Colon finished fourth in the A.L. Cy Young race.

Colon would come out of the gates in the new millennium struggling.  While his record would stand at 6-2 on June 3, he had given up six runs in an outing twice, and was sitting on a 4.23 ERA.  He had also struggled a bit with injury, spending the latter part of April on the DL with a pulled oblique. After a loss on July 26, Colon's record stood at 4.49 ERA.  He wouldn't lose another game that year.  He would end up at 15-8, and he would lower his ERA to 3.88.  His signature win that season came on September 18th in a start in New York.  In his only shutout of the season, Colon would throw a one-hit shut out, walking one and striking out a season high 13.  Overall that season, he would strike out 212 batters, becoming the first Indian since the 70's (Dennis Eckersley) to strike out over 200 batters.

Colon would consider his patter in 2001.  On June 30, Colon was 6-7 with a 4.89 ERA.  Colon wouldn't lose a game in July, going 4-0, dropping his ERA to 4.39 in the process.  Colon would only win one game in August, but he would continue to drop his ERA, to 4.12.  In September, Colon would go 3-1, bringing his record to 14-11, and dropping his ERA to below 4 for the first time all season.  He'd get lit up in a meaningless game in October against Kansas City, which would put his ERA over 4.  Still, a typical season tantalizingly close to great, but back-and-forth enough to make people wonder if he'd ever go from being an almost great, to a Cy Young winner.  Then came the playoffs, and we got to see just how big game Colon, in his prime, could be.

The Indians were going up against the Seattle Mariners, who had won 300 games that season, and were heavy favorites to beat the Tribe.  Colon promptly shut the Mariners down in game one.  He went eight innings, giving up six hits and two walks, while striking out ten.  He was dominant, and put the Mariners on their heals.  Colon was equally dominating in his game four start.  Then came the sixth inning.  Colon would almost get out of a bases loaded jam with a 1-0 lead, but would end up giving up three runs before leaving the game.  Still, his big game performance couldn't be overlooked.  He'd finish the series with a 1-1 record and a 1.84 ERA.

Colon would save his best for last in 2002.  It seemed as though Colon finally figured out how to bring out his best from start-to-start.  He would make sixteen for the Tribe that season, and he'd win ten of them, going 10-4, with an impressive 2.55 ERA.  He stopped trying to strike out every hitter, and began to pitch.  Colon's best starts of the season were back to back complete games at the end of May.  He'd give up one unearned run in the first game against Toronto, and shut out Chicago.  It turns out that Colon was pitching too well for an Indians team that was struggling.  He was traded to the Expos after his last start...ironically a win against the Expos for his tenth win.

Colon's 2 1/2 years with the Tribe were enough to put him in this club of Indians elite.  Colon was 39-24 with a 3.67 ERA.  He'd strike out 488 batters in 536 2/3 innings pitched, and 80 starts altogether.

Colon's final piece to this All-Decade team was his return in the trade.  The Indians would receive Cliff Lee, Brandon Phillips, Grady Sizemore and Lee Stevens.  Two of those players show up on this All-Aught roster.  Another (Brandon Phillips) surely would show up on Cincinnati's.  Not a bad haul for one of the best pitchers in the game.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

All-Aught Indians--#4 Starter--Jake Westbrook (2001-2010)

Jake Westbrook came to the Indians as the main piece from the Yankees when the Indians dealt David Justice the New York.  Westbrook had been a number one pick by the Colorado Rockies, then traded to the Expos in a deal for Mike Lansing, then traded to the Yankees for Hideki Irabu, before the trade to the Tribe.  While Westbrook may have lost a bit of the shiny goodness that comes with being the #1 pick, he ended up being the glue of the rotation for the better part of the decade.  The All-Aught Indians #4 starter is Jake Westbrook.

Westbrook's first three years with the tribe were fairly uneventful.  He spent most of the first two years in the pen, making the occasional spot start when needed.  His ERA with the lack of work was 5.84 over the two seasons, and it looked like the Tribe had ruined another pitcher by yanking him around.

In 2003, things would begin to change for Westbrook, in that the Indians would let him start more than relieve.  The tenacious Westbrook would stay true to form even while continued to be bounced around between Buffalo and Cleveland, and between the pen and the rotation.  Westbrook would finish the year at 7-10, with a 4.33 ERA.  He started 22 games, relieved 12, had his first complete game, and pitched 133 major league innings.

Westbrook would actually start the year in the bullpen because of Bob Wickman's injury, but it would be his last time spent in the bullpen during his career.  Westbrook not only would start in 2004, but he would essentially serve as the ace of the staff once he stepped into the role.  Westbrook led the majors with five complete games, while going 14-9 with a 3.38 ERA.  His ERA was the third lowest in the A.L., and he would pitch a career high 215 2/3 innings.

Westbrook would continue his steady hand in 2005 and 2006, winning 15 games in each year.  In 2005, who would lose 15, with a 4.49 ERA.  In 2006, he would lose only 10 games, with a 4.17 ERA.  In that three year period, Westbrook would go 44-34 with a 4.01 ERA.

Westbrook would struggle in 2007 to start the year off, going on the DL on May 2 for nearly two months.  He struggled prior to the DL-stint, but when he came back, he pitched some of the best baseball of his career.  In the second half of the season, Westbrook went 5-5 with a 3.44, but in August, had a league best 1.90 ERA, while gong 4-1.  While Westbrook was the only starting pitcher to struggle against the Yankees in the Division series, he was the most consistent starter in the ALCS, going 1-1 with a 3.55 ERA.

Westbrook would only start five games for the Tribe in 2008, and they would be his last starts of the Decade.  Westbrook had been lights out during the spring, and this carried over to the regular season.  He started the year off at 1-2, but had a 2.73 ERA.  He would go on the DL, rehab, make one start that was decent, but get pulled.  He would undergo UCL surgery in June, and wouldn't start again for the Tribe until 2010.

Overall, Westbrook went 63-62 with a 4.25 ERA, in 158 starts.  He wasn't the Tribe's best pitcher, nor did he pitch the most games, but he certainly was the clue that kept this staff together.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

All-Aught Indians--#5 Starter--Fausto Carmona (2006-present)

The battle for the #5 starter on the Indians team of the decade came down to two players.  The first player had one exquisite season that was so good, many felt he would be one of the best pitchers in baseball for years to come.  The other pitcher never had a season with an E.R.A. below 4.53, but was as consistent as you could be as a bottom-end starter.  The first pitcher, Fausto Carmona, was brilliant in 2007, then dropped off the map as a starters in 2008 and 2009.  The second pitcher, Paul Byrd, was never lights out, but always managed to win double figures.  Unfortunately for Byrd, many of his wins were less about his pitching, and more about his offense.  At the end of the day, Fausto Carmona's 2007 season carry him in this battle.  The All-Aught Indians #5 starter is Fausto Carmona.

Carmona's first season with the Tribe seemed to be typical Tribe management with their pitching staff in the 2000's.  Carmona's first appearance was as a starter in 2006, replacing an injured CC Sabathia.  He would win the game, but struggle in his next two starts before getting sent down with the return of Sabathia.  Carmona would return in late May as a relief pitcher, and over 28 1/3 innings, would only give up four runs, three of them earned.  That's when the Indians made him their closer, and poof, it was all gone.  Over the next four games, he would give up 11 runs, losing all four games, and blowing three saves.  I could keep going, but it just keeps getting worse.  Carmona had gone from the 2003 minor league pitcher of the year, to limbo.

Then came 2007.  The numbers?  Carmona went 19-8, with a 3.06 ERA.  In 215 innings, Carmona would strike out 137, and walk only 61 batters.  He beat Johan Santana twice in a month and had a streak of 22 shutout innings.  After the break, Carmona went 9-4 with a league leading 2.26 ERA.  Torii Hunter commented that Carmona's pitches weren't "normal," and "He's not even human. It was so scary, I thought I was hung over.  That dude is filthy," Hunter said. "We've been struggling, but even if we had been playing good, we wouldn't have beaten him. If you've never played the game, listen to me, I'm a hitter. Right-handers have no chance unless they get lucky and get a hit on a broken bat."

Still, after that sublime season, what Carmona will best be remembered for was his performance in the ALDS against the Yankees.  The two teams were swarmed with midges, and the seemingly unbeatable Joba Chamberlain was on the mound for the Yankees.  Unfortunately for Chamberlain, he couldn't focus with the midges flying around him. The Tribe would tie the game 1-1 with Chamberlain on the mound, then win the game in extra innings.  Alls Carmona did was go nine innings, giving up three hits and a run, while striking out five, and walking only two batters.  Oh yeah, and he defeated the evil midges.

Now we could sit here and chat about Carmona's struggles against Boston, and how he went downhill in 2008 and 2009, but for one big season, Carmona wasn't just good, but he may have been the best pitcher in baseball.  Overall, Carmona went 33-37, with a 4.69 ERA during the decade, which lets you know just how good that 2007 season was.  It overcame a 1-10 season, and an 11-game losing streak, as well as a season in which is ERA was nearly 7.

It's good to know that Carmona has righted the ship somewhat, in the second decade of the century.  Let's hope that continues.

All-Aught Indians--Closer--Bob Wickman (2000-2006)

Whenever I think of former closer Bob Wickman, three things immediately pop into my head:

1.  He severed his index finger down to his first knuckle when he was two in a farming accident.
2.  He has the most saves in Cleveland Indians history.
3.  I had to purchase a defibrillator to help jump start my heart after nearly every one of his outings.

During the best of days, Bob Wickman stabilized the Tribe bullpen, providing the Indians with a surefire, ninth-inning win.  During the worst of days, Wickman was an injury-prone emergency room filler, living on the edge during every appearance.  Through it all, Bob Wickman was the only closer that provided longevity and consistency throughout his run during the first decade.  The All-Aught Indians closer is the hefty righty, Bob Wickman.

It's almost hard to believe, but Wickman was first brought up as a starter for the New York Yankees way back in 1992.  Wickman isn't a typical power pitcher, throwing a decent fastball, sinker and slider.  What made him special was that half-finger of his.  According to Wickman, and every coach he pitched for, that half finger gave him natural movement.  When he was on, too much movement for any opposing batter.

The Yankees ultimately moved Wickman to the bullpen, where he was one of the main set-up man for closer John Wetteland.  The Yanks traded to the Brewers in 1996, where in his first game with the Crew, gave the Indians a glimpse of their future, blowing a save, but getting the win in a late August game.  The Tribe would trade for Wickman, Jason Bere and Steve Woodard in the 2000 Richie Sexson trade.  While the Indians needed starters, Woodard and Bere wouldn't make it for a complete season.  Wickman became a staple.

Wickman immediately was placed in the role as closer for Steve Karsay, and saved 14 of 17 games.  He went 1-3, with a 3.38 ERA in 26 appearances and 26 2/3 innings pitched.  He only struck out 11 batters however, while walking 12.  Let the roller coaster ride begin.

Wickman had one of his best seasons as the Tribe closer in 2001, saving 32 of 35 chances, while going 5-0 with a 2.39 ERA.  He made 70 appearances, and pitched in 67 2/3 innings, and was a true workhorse.  The Indians made a strange move in June, dealing the unhappy Steve Karsay to Atlanta for crazy closer John Rocker.  Rocker was immediately made the closer, and after starting off like a house of fire, imploded.  Re-enter Wickman, who continued his spectacular season.

As good as the 2001 season was, was as bad as the 2002 season turned into.  Wickman's elbow bothered him all season until he was shut down in August.  His season ended with Tommy John surgery.  Wickman's ERA lived above 4.00 for most of the season.  He still saved 20 games for the season.  Wickman would miss the entire 2003 season rehabbing his elbow.

2004 would start off much like the previous two seasons, on the DL, with a strained elbow.  He would return in early July as a set-up man, before entering as a closer after his fifth appearance, and fourth hold.  While he wasn't lights out, he did save five games in six days in early August.  Overall, he saved 13 of 14 games, and righted the bullpen a bit.  He finished the season strong, with three saves in his final four games, and no runs allowed.

2005 was Wickman's finest year as a closer, saving 45 games in 50 chances, which was tied for the AL lead.  Wickman went 0-4 with a 2.47 ERA.  For the first time in three years, Wickman pitched in over 60 innings, and would be chosen into the all-star game.

2006 was Wickman's final year with the Tribe, and he pitched like he was disinterested for much of the first half of the season.  He went 1 and 4, with a 4.18 ERA, saving 15 games in 29 appearances.  Wickman was traded in late July to the Atlanta Braves. He was light's for the Braves, saving 18 games with a 1.04 ERA, showing that when focused, he could be one of the top closers in baseball.

Wickman had a long run as the Indians closer, and while injury-issues were a problem in the middle of his Tribe career, those problems were bookended by outstanding seasons.  Sure, I now need a pacemaker because of the round mound of closers, but there is no doubt he was the best in Tribe-land during the first decade.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

All-Aught Indians--RP1--Rafael Betancourt (2003-2009)

Rafael Betancourt was clearly the best Tribe reliever during the 1990's.  Like many of the Tribe pitchers of the decade, Betancourt was a bit of a reclamation project.  He had spent the previous six seasons all over the place, learning how to pitch, and it all came together with the Indians.  Betancourt threw a low-to-mid-90's fastball, a curve and a changeup, and while none of his pitches were considered plus pitches, it was his location that made him special.  The All-Aught Indians top relief pitcher is Rafael Betancourt.

There isn't a longer, stranger trip to the All-Aught Indians roster than Betancourt.  The right-hander was signed by the Boston Red Sox out of Venezuela as a good fielding, light hitting shortstop.  Betancourt, who worshiped the ground that Omar Vizquel walked on, wanted nothing more than to play shortstop in the bigs.  Boston farm director Bob Schaefer suggested Betancourt try pitching, and after seeing him make three tosses, knew it was the right move.

Bettancourt would spend some time in Boston's minor league system, but injury issues and struggles learning to pitch led the Red Sox to release him.  He headed to Japan for a season, was sent to the minors there after a short stint in the major leagues, then returned to the States and re-signed with the Red Sox.  After a month at AA, Bettancourt would end up shut down for the season before undergoing surgery on his right elbow to transpose the ulnar nerve as well as having a metal rod placed in his right forearm to stabilize his right elbow and ulna.  The Red Sox would release him, and he sat out the entire 2002 season.

All-Aught Indians--RP2--David Riske (1999, 2001-2005)

David Riske didn't have the flair for the dramatic, and when you think of relievers, Riske's name likely won't jump out at you.  Still, for most of his five-plus years with the big league Indians, he was one of the most consistent relievers in the pen.  Riske's primary role over the years was as the eighth inning, right-handed set-up man, but he showed up in the box score where the Tribe needed him.  He even spent some a small chunk of time as their primary closer, in perhaps his best year, in 2003.  Riske gave the Indians obvious bang for their buck, but he also just happened to be their most consistent closer over a five-year stretch, including two dominant seasons.  The All-Aught Indians relief pitcher #2 is David Riske.

The Indians selected Riske in the 56th round of the 1996 draft.  Obviously, when they picked the big righty, they didn't exactly expect him to become much of a player.  It's not like 56th rounders traditionally have 10-year careers, but Riske did, recently being released by the Milwaukee Brewers.  Riske brought a low nineties fastball, but his bread and butter pitches were his plus slider, and his split-finger.

Riske's first cup of coffee with the Tribe was in his third professional season, in 1999, and to say it was successful would be a mistake.  In his first six games, he gave up 10 earned runs, and watched his ERA balloon to 13.  There was still some improvement, as Riske only gave up three earned runs in his last six outings, dropping his ERA by four earned runs.  Still, his overall numbers weren't that good.  In 14 overall innings, he gave up 20 hits and 15 earned runs, while going 1-1 with a blown save.  Still, he closed stranger than he started, and things looked up.