Thursday, April 12, 2012

Welcome Johnny

                Johnny Damon is officially an Indian. And by that I mean it’s official in everyone’s eyes besides the front office.  Damon’s been telling ESPN all day he’s a part of the team.  Also, multiple reporters have been stating the figures of the deal (1.25 base with 1.4 in plate appearance incentives).  @BNightengale went as far as tweeting that the medical reports (aka physical) happened two days ago; one day before the Indians busted out of their slump and scored a whopping six runs #sarcasm.  As much as I want to say the signs suggest the front office might be panicking, there are reports that suggest otherwise.  The same reports back that up by saying that the Tribe’s been going after Damon for a while now.  I’d counter that by saying that someone unemployed would have been willing to accept a job offer if there weren’t any others on the table.  Either way, the front office is going to say that this is not a result of a horrendous handful of games out of the gate.  That is the biggest problem I have with the front office; they think their fan base is either incredibly stupid or oblivious but that’s another issue for another day.
                As far as I’m concerned, the signing isn’t a bad one.  Notice I didn’t say “it’s a good one” or “it’s a bad one”.  That’s because, the only logical reaction to this is that it just can’t hurt.  Our offense sucks and it has for the past 167 games (last year and this year).  That’s why I’m going to look past the fact that this means we will have ZERO right handed hitters in our lineup.  Which, as I typed, makes me absolutely nauseas.  While Damon’s batting average, on base percentage and OPS have all decreased each of the last two years (clearly indicating he’s getting older and worse), he’s still an upgrade over what we’ve got in the outfield right now.  I’m going to leave it at that because I hate thinking about what it actually means to this team that already has an uphill battle with the invincible Detroit Tigers off to a sizzling start.
                I do want to shift focus to what it means for us.  If the reports (aka tweets) are true,  Damon will be the starting left fielder with a full no trade clause and an opt-out clause when Grady returns from the DL.  I refuse to talk about what Damon means to our outfield.  I never thought I’d say that someone is a downgrade defensively to Shelley Duncan but that’s what Damon is.  My boss said to me at work today “I know it sounds crazy but I know for a fact that I have a better arm than Johnny Damon.”  Well Isaac, that isn’t crazy.  Damon could quite easily have the worst arm in the entire MLB and it’s probably not even close.  He hasn’t played outfield since bread was packaged pre-sliced so I’m not sure that will be the smoothest transition either. 
                The no trade clause is somewhat surprising to me, pointless yet surprising.  At 38, Damon is looking for a chance to prove he can still play.  If he’s able to be effective with the bat and what could prove to be equally important, in the field, he would be a viable trade candidate to a contender should the Tribe fall out of contention themselves.  That’s why I don’t think the no trade clause is in play whatsoever.  We’d only be moving him to a contender in return for a prospect.  Because of this, I find it hard to believe he’ll reject any team in contention (especially since Cleveland hasn’t been a hotspot for free agents).
                The opt out clause is the most shocking part of the entire ordeal for me.  It’s very creative (kudos Antonetti) and original.  Further, I don’t see it coming into play either.  If Damon can prove he can play in the outfield, I believe he’ll stay there even when Grady’s playing.  In my estimation, the odd man out will be Brantley.  His bad start combined with what seems to be a lack of confidence from the front office has got me believing he’s the odd man out.  However, if Damon fails to show he can play in the outfield adequately, his value diminishes significantly.  He’d be stuck in the DH role which immediately eliminates half the teams (1 more than half but who’s counting).  Further, if you look at the contenders in the AL, there aren’t many DH spots available (including the Tribe).  The only potentially available teams are the Yankees (who have Andruw Jones and Raul Ibanez- wash with Ibanez) and the Rays which makes the most sense to me as they don’t have a true DH; something they probably place a lot of value in due to the versatility it gives them with their lineup. The only true option I see is a contender losing a key piece to injury a la the Tribe with Grady.  Hopefully, this will all be moot because Damon will play well enough on the Tribe to keep his starting spot and the Tribe remains in contention.
                To wrap up my rambling.  I don’t hate the acquisition, I definitely don’t love it and unless he pulls a Fausto, his name is not Carlos Lee.  However, he provides an upgrade in left field and possibly more importantly, off the bench where Duncan is most impactful.  After five games, I’m absolutely not thrilled with anything on this team besides Derek Lowe’s first outing.  Thankfully, there’s 157 left.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

I'm Not Sold on Ubaldo Quite Yet

                Two weeks ago Tiger Woods ended a winless drought that dates back to dinosaurs.  Immediately after, he was dubbed to be “back”.  He was the favorite to win the Masters this weekend and why shouldn’t he have been?  Once upon a time Tiger couldn’t do anything wrong; he was untouchable.  Then he peed on a porn star or two and his career became more normal.  He was no longer far and away the best player on the tour.  He was average at best.  That all seemed to be hoopla after Tiger won.  He was back and no one could touch him…  Oh wait, I’m talking about Ubaldo.  Two years ago, he was the best pitcher in baseball.  He couldn’t do anything wrong; he was unhittable.  Then something happened (no porn stars that I know of), but he became normal at best.
 Well, Friday Ubaldo threw an absolute gem and now he’s back.  Right?  I’m still not so sure.  Maybe it’s the Clevelander in me but I’m just not sold after one start.  Ubaldo didn’t touch 95 once in one of his best starts as an Indian.  In the seventh, he barely was hitting 90 mph.  There was a pitch that Underwood called a changeup that was clearly a two-seamer at 88.  I understand he may have been fatigued but it should still be alarming to more than just me.   Ubaldo’s command was unbelievable.  He hit almost every spot he wanted to and he mixed his pitches up incredibly well.  Unless Ubaldo spent the offseason with Cliff Lee and learned how to have the same type of pinpoint accuracy, I don’t think his command will be consistent throughout the season- check the tape of any of his games last year.  In order for Ubaldo to truly return to Cy Young form, he’s got to figure out where those 5 miles went on his fastball.  He simply cannot become a pitcher with an average fastball. His command simply isn’t good enough and we gave up too much potential for an average pitcher.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Spring Training has Started

                About a month ago I started writing a piece about how health was a critical aspect of the success of the 2012 Tribe.  I didn’t finish it because (I’m lazy) it seemed far too obvious.  After two weeks of Spring Training, the injury bug has made its way from Cleveland all the way to Goodyear.  Chris Perez, Grady Sizemore and Raffy Perez have all suffered ‘setbacks’.  Interestingly, these injuries might turn out to be a good thing.  If Chris Perez isn’t ready for the regular season (I know he thinks he’ll be throwing next week but we’ll see), Vinnie Pestano will be closing ballgames for the Indians.  He has the arm to be a closer in the Bigs; however, the mental aspect of closing can be unnerving for some and is not a role for everyone.  If Vinnie proves he can close out ballgames, Chris Perez becomes a much more tradable commodity.  It’s very conceivable the front office didn’t trade Perez in the offseason because they were unwilling to gamble on Pestano’s ability to be as good a closer as Perez has been the last two years (59/67 or a very respectable 88%).
                As for Grady, this one was pretty much inevitable and I’m just glad it came before the trade deadline.  I don’t view this as a huge loss as he probably won’t be anything more than frustrating to watch this year.  He certainly isn’t the most vital offensive player for this team anymore and I would say he isn’t the most important outfielder for the Tribe (and I don’t think it’s close).  Think about how miserable Shin Soo Choo played last year. Even in the most down year of his career, his OBP was a mere seven thousandths of a point worse than Santana’s team best .351.  I would take Choo in a footrace nowadays over Grady and in the field it’s no longer a contest.   Grady can no longer make up for his weak arm with his formerly outstanding range that was undoubtedly taken with his multiple surgeries.  And while Choo takes as many precarious routes to the baseball as anyone, there is no one better in the league when the ball gets into his throwing hand.
                In my perfect scenario, Perez’s oblique will hinder him for the first month of the season and Pestano proves he can handle the closer’s role.  Further, the Indians finish April 5 games over .500 and trade Perez for Carlos Lee.  While this is my pipe dream, I truly believe the Indians’ would love to see Matt LaPorta light it up in Spring Training and having him play left field and turn into a productive starter.  The front office would love to save face with the Sabathia deal and get two productive starters (Brantley being the other).
                It doesn’t appear Raffy Left’s injury (this was my favorite Raffy, when Betancourt was still on the team and those two were one of the best lefty, righty setup combo’s in the game) is anything serious.  However, if it continues to hinder it opens up the door for Nick Hagadone who has a more overpowering arm that needs to gain experience against big league hitters.  He struggled last year but showed the cannon to be another great option late in games.  If Hagadone can show enough to break camp with the big league club, the Tribe will have three lefty options out of the ‘pen.  This would only be fitting for this team to have a plethora of lefty options.
                The Indians have already shown their susceptibility to be hindered by injury and if it remains to be the case throughout the rest of the season, it’ll be a long six months staring up at the Tigers in the standings.
                To finish on a positive note, Jordan Bastian ‏(@MLBastian) tweeted “Scout tells me Ubaldo was sitting between 93-96 mph in first outing. Solid for first spring outing”, combined with 25 of 37 (68%) pitches for strikes.  If he can add a mere two MPHs to this by the time the regular season starts and maintain that strike percentage, we could be looking at the old (really good) Ubaldo.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Carlos Lee Makes Sense (still) and is Available (again)

To all my loyal reader (singular on purpose), I want to warn you that this will be similar to a previous post.
The Indians have stated that their current offensive needs for next season are a fourth outfield option, first base, and a right handed hitter with some pop that can bat in the middle of the order.  All of these can be addressed by one player.  Carlos Lee is a perfect fit for Cleveland.  First and foremost, he’s a right handed hitter that’s capable of 100 RBIs.  He hit .275 and had an OBP of .342 with Matt LaPorta’s left handed clone hitting behind him which provided Lee absolutely no protection.  Because of this, his numbers could remain steady or improve with someone like Hafner or Santana hitting behind him despite his age and the fact that he’d be shifting into a harder league.   Offensively, he helps.
Shifting the focus to El Caballo’s defense, it seems like it's a perfect fit.  Last year Carlos Lee played in 79 games at First Base and 80 in Left Field with a 2.1 defensive WAR (  He can replace LaPorta at first base and shift to left field when Santana needs a break from catching or when one of our outfielders inevitably gets hurt- Yes, you Grady Sizemore.  Further, Lee has managed to stay healthy, playing in at least 155 games each of the last three years.
The obstacle is obviously acquiring him.  He is owed $18.5 million next year which is much more than the Tribe has stated they’re willing to spend; however, we did just convince Atlanta into eating ten of Derek Lowe’s 15 million owed next year.  If we can get Houston to do the same, he would be within the projected spending room the Tribe have.  Houston is in the very beginning of a massive rebuilding project which means they don’t need necessarily need major league ready prospects, which bodes well for the Tribe since they don’t have any left.  The Astros need a plethora of younger guys and some stopgaps that can be serviceable in the meantime.  We have plenty of that caliber player on the Clippers and should have enough good players in the lower level minors to pry Carlos Lee away from the rebuilding Houston Astros.  

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Tribe Off to Fast Start in Offseason (I'll talk about Grady when it's official)

The Indians fast start to the offseason is reminiscent of how they started the season.  The Indians had little time after the World Series to decide whether or not to pick up the options of two of the longest tenured Indians; which is unbelievable in its own right.  The Tribe accepted Fausto’s and seemingly everyone that gets paid to write about this thought it was the right move.  I 93% disagree.  I understand the argument and importance of the high number of innings he is capable of logging.  However, that argument would make more sense in little league, where winning doesn’t matter.  Fausto was flat out miserable last year.  His ERA was 5.25.  No offense, not even the Yankees could sustain any sort of success with pitching like that (I cannot and will not imagine what Fausto’s ERA would have been in Yankee Stadium).  Further, anyone that watched our offense last year knows we cannot outhit anyone.  I don’t understand how having Fausto take away inning from someone like Jeanmar Gomez helps us win games.  Fausto’s WAR (wins above replacement, which would be a AAA player a.k.a. Jeanmar) was -1.4, easily the lowest on the Tribe last year.  Next lowest you ask? Chad Durbin.  Remember how painful he was last year?  His WAR was half as bad as Fausto’s, -.7 (Asdrubal’s defensive WAR was also -.7 but his slow first step is excused by the fact that he made outstanding play after outstanding play and because he took over for Jhonny Peralta who might be as slow as Victor Martinez).  Having a pitcher who can eat up innings is like having a fat kid at Thanksgiving.  Just because he makes the cook happy that there’s no food left doesn’t mean he is doing everyone at the table any favors because everyone else wanted some food also and would have been more productive with that food (the last part is a stretch but just go with it).

Inexplicably, the Indians thought that having Fausto around was such a good idea, they decided to waste five million and a future lefty specialist away for another Fausto.  Derek Lowe’s compiled stats last year: turned 38 years old (and does not have Benjamin Button’s disease), 9-17 win loss record (7-15 for Fausto), ERA of 5.05 (5.25-Fausto), WHIP 1.51 (1.40-Fausto).   They are both awful numbers and both pitchers got about 185 innings worth of opportunity to compile these numbers.  I know the Tribe thinks Derek Lowe can rebound from that but I’m not so certain.  I would have much rather seen the Indians take the 12 million they spent on those two and signed a Mark Buehrle or Roy Oswalt or traded for someone like Wandy Rodriguez and watched David Huff attempt to develop into the next Cliff Lee.  Further, I understand the importance of having pitchers that can pitch that many innings but the ONLY strength of our minor league system is our depth at viable starting pitchers.  I say only because having great AAA hitters does not mean they are going to be good in the pros (Hello Matt LaPorta and Luis Valbuena).  I'm glad the Tribe has taken the aggressive approach into the winter.  I just hope that the moves they've made have been well thought out and more importantly than anything, help us win.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Carlos Santana Finally Starting to Figure it Out

Carlos Santana has had a weird year.   His stats thus far are (.350 OBP, .444 slugging percent), both of which are respectable for a five hitter (where I think he’s best suited, with a healthy Grady batting right after him).  If you really need to know his batting average it’s .242 but that is somewhat overrated as a stat as I’ve said before.  He’s projected to hit 25 homers and drive in 79 which are both respectable numbers, especially considering his RBI totals would be a little higher if his teammates could stay healthy.  That being said, he is batting .282 this month and is slugging a very respectable .505.  Ironically, his slugging percent is up because he’s doing less.

He’s finally starting to take what the pitchers are giving him, at least a little bit.  If there’s a pitch away, Carlos isn’t trying to pull it every time.  The kid has gotta be so used to being able to crush every single ball he wants to that he is seems to be a little behind the learning curve.  He’s has to continue to learn that in the big leagues he can’t hit sit and wait for a pitch to drive every at bat.  Way too many pitchers are way too good.  They won’t give him one.  That’s why he’s got to learn to take a pitch the other way, even if there’s only one strike (or dear I say none).  A single is good.  When that light bulb goes off (or on, whatever it is) in his head, he could be a .290 hitter with 20 homers and 40 doubles.

In Carlos’s first at bat last night, he struck out, and looked like the old Carlos Santana.  Either taking the pitch because it wasn’t perfect, or over swinging and trying to pull it.   In his second, he looked like the same guy; he swung a whiffed pretty badly on two straight pitches.  He was way ahead of them and clearly trying to pull the ball.  On the second swing, he was so far in front of the pitch, he hit it with the top of his bat and it broke it.  It forced Carlos to take a stroll, get a new bat and take a breather.  Right after, he took a fastball and hit a nice liner over the shortstops head (batting left handed).  He didn’t try to kill the ball, it looked like a swing a 60 year old would have taken.  It was a nice soft swing that was enough to get the ball over the shortstop’s head and into center field.  And I loved it.  It was just a single, and it amounted to nothing but it showed growth.  And that’s what Santana’s been doing a little more frequently of late.  Further, in his third at bat, he drilled a pitch to left center (heavy on the center).  His swing however, was a nice smooth swing, that looked more like the swing that landed him a single in the previous bat than it did the swings that preceded the single.  It was pure and simple and it works for him.  Hopefully he can continue to make more swings like last night and continue to improve.  He is an integral part of this team and needs to get better if this team wants to contend for next couple of years.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Welcome tHome

Well, the Indians made another move to try and improve their roster.  By doing so, they added another big name.  By doing so, they brought back someone from the dynasty (yes, I’m calling the teams of the 90s a dynasty even if they don’t have any rings to show for it) a la Kenny Lofton in ‘07.  They brought back someone who was going to end his career with the Indians one way or another. Jim Thome is back and batting cleanup tonight.  Thome’s numbers this year are well below his career averages (.243 BA compared to .277 career and a measly 12 homers), but he’s still productive (.351 OBP this year) and can make an immediate impact for our depleted lineup.  This will be very surreal for him as well as the fans.   I, as I’m sure every Cleveland fan is, am very excited to watch him in the uniform he belongs in.

That being said, I’m skeptical as to Chris Antonetti’s motives.  When we played Detroit at home earlier this month, we averaged about 26,000 in attendance.  Just a few weeks later, at Detroit when we visited, they had their biggest three day crowd in history (according to Rick Manning, so who knows how reliable that is) with about 44,000 per game.  That’s a lot more people stuffed into a stadium, a lot.  I am aware that the series in Detroit was a weekend series and the one in Cleveland was during the middle of the week but it’s still a crapload more people.  Further, the Tribe ranks somewhere around 25th in attendance this year, in a year that we’re in contention.   Antonetti said during the trade deadline that money was not the issue, when dealing for players.  He said that the team had extra capital due to the increase in attendance compared to what they had expected.  I would assume Antonetti had projected the team to maintain their attendance and presumably projected it to increase as the team inched closer to the finish line IN CONTENTION.  Right now, it’s hard to consider us in contention, being under .500 and have more players on the DL than the active roster and 6.5 games back against a team that is absolutely on fire right now.  Hard for me to realistically (I’m extremely pessimistic) think the team is still seriously in the playoff hunt. 

Because of all that, I think Antonetti and staff were jumping with joy when they found out they were awarded their claim for Thome.  The storyline of him coming back to where it all began is to help boost attendance this year (tonight’s going to be a sellout and we’re playing Kansas City).  That being said, Hafner, along with every other starter, is on the DL and he might be lost for the year.  I applaud and am very happy to see the front office’s continuous effort to improve the squad.  That being said, it might be too little too late.  Then again, it might be enough of a spark to bring this team back from the dead.  It was on Thome’s birthday (which by the way, is tomorrow, HAPPY BIRTHDAY JIM) that everyone on the team wore high socks, seemingly bringing that group together to go on and make their run to the 1997 World Series.  Maybe lightning will strike twice.  Even if we don’t make the playoffs, this year has been a hell of a ride and an incredible amount of experience for these young guys.  Hopefully, Jim can pass on a thing or two he has learned about playing and especially about playing when the pressure’s on.