October 2008

Well, way back in the Bible…

The Teahen Trade Tease, as it shall now be known (although “tease” implies that Indians fans wanted the trade to happen, and I don’t think that was the case with the majority of you… but you have to like the alliteration, if nothing else) forced some of us with nothing better to do to take a good, hard look at the Indians’ outfield depth.

 

If the Indians were to trade one of their outfielders, who would you feel most comfortable with letting go? Grady Sizemore, obviously, isn’t going anywhere, and it’s pretty safe to assume the Tribe wouldn’t get rid of the two high-profile acquisitions of the CC trade — Matt LaPorta and Michael Brantley. And David Dellucci is pretty much untradeable.

 

So… Shin-Soo Choo? Ben Francisco? Franklin Gutierrez? Trevor Crowe? None of the above?

 

“Big League” Choo and Francisco strike me as the most likely to be everyday Major League outfielders. Crowe has potential, but he’s unproven, and you have to be concerned with his slow starts the past two seasons at Double-A Akron.

 

And then there’s Gutierrez, who the Indians remain enamored with, even after a disappointing ’08 in which he hit .248 with eight homers and 41 RBIs in 134 games.

 

This is what Mark Shapiro had to say about Gutierrez earlier this month:

 

“He has the ability to impact the game defensively in center, right or left. He saves runs. When he does struggle offensively, that offsets some of the downside he can have offensively. As the season went on, he made some fundamental adjustments in his swing and got better offensively. He is certainly a valuable Major League outfielder. I have no doubt Franklin Gutierrez is a Major League outfielder, and one we feel good about having on this team.”

 

With all due respect to Shapiro, I have my doubts. Gutierrez has been in professional baseball for eight years and has spent the better part of the last two and a half years in the big leagues, and he still can’t hit a breaking ball.

 

But the point about his defense is spot-on, and that’s backed up by the announcement today that Gutierrez has won a 2008 Fielding Bible Award for his work in right field. A panel of 10 experts, including Bill James and John Dewan, the author of The Fielding Bible, chose Gutierrez and eight others for the award, which is announced in the forthcoming Bill James Handbook.

 

For those unfamiliar with the Fielding Bible, Dewan analyzes every ball put into play and determines whether it is reasonable to expect the fielder to make the play. According to Dewan’s calculations, Gutierrez made 29 above-average plays in 97 games in right field last season — the most of any right fielder in baseball.

 

The other Fielding Bible Award winners are: 1B Albert Pujols (Cardinals), 2B Brandon Phillips (Reds), SS Jimmy Rollins (Phillies), 3B Adrian Beltre (Mariners), LF Carl Crawford (Rays), CF Carlos Beltran (CF), C Yadier Molina (Cards), P Kenny Rogers (Tigers).

 

The Gold Glove winners will be announced next week, and you have to figure Sizemore is a prime candidate to be a repeat receiver of that award. For my money, though, Dewan’s award is a bit more legit, because it involves actual analysis, rather than sheer reputation.

 

So, congrats to Gutierrez. Now, get in the cage and work on those breaking balls, will ya?

 

As for the rest of you, if you’re interested in more information on the Fielding Bible or the Bill James Handbook, visit www.fieldingbible.com or www.actasports.com.

Waist deep in the big muddy

I covered my first Winter Meetings in Dallas in 2005 and quickly learned that the annual event makes for, without question, my least favorite week of the year. As a reporter covering the meetings, if you’re not loitering in a hotel lobby and enduring endless small talk with fellow baseball scribes, you’re chasing down a story on some rumor that, nine times out of 10, has little to no merit.

 

During those meetings in Dallas, I listened to a conversation between two newspaper reporters, who shall remain nameless in this space, discussing possible trade scenarios involving the clubs they covered.

 

“Would your team be interested in [Player X],” Reporter A would say.

 

“Possibly. Would your team have a need for [Player Z],” Reporter B would counter.


“Yeah, I think so.”

 

The next day, I read, in disbelief, Reporter B’s notes package, in which he mentioned a rumor that Reporter A’s club was interested in Player Z. Now, maybe he had used that conversation as the basis for a discussion with a club source, who confirmed that, yes, Reporter A’s team was interested in Player Z. Unfortunately, it’s just as likely that he used the conversation as the basis for an empty rumor to satisfy his bosses and his readers.

 

(I apologize for the impromptu run through the alphabet above, but you get the idea.)

 

I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. Countless times over the course of the offseason, you, no doubt, read a rumor that never amounts to anything. And that very well might have been the case this week, with the reports that the Indians were interested in the Royals’ Mark Teahen.

 

It began when the Kansas City Star reported on its Web site Sunday night that the Indians and Royals were discussing a trade involving Teahen. The [Cleveland] Plain Dealer picked up on the rumor and reported it as well. Yours truly then wrote a story for MLB.com, saying the rumor had been reported by multiple publications. And in my Monday mailbag column for Indians.com, I detailed what I felt the trade would mean for the Tribe, while being sure to point out that plenty of trades get discussed each offseason and very few get off the ground.

 

All of this happened within half a day.

 

Since then, Royals GM Dayton Moore has told MLB.com that the rumor is a “flat-out lie.” And I just spoke with Indians GM Mark Shapiro, who made it pretty clear the Indians have not had one discussion with the Royals about Teahen.

 

I write all this, then, for two reasons. For one, I want to express one regret about my handling of the matter. Because I was citing other outlets’ reports of the rumor (indeed, no one with the Indians would confirm it, on or off the record), I should have included a question mark in the headline on the blog posting below (“Tribe talkin’ Teahen”) and should have requested that such a question mark run alongside the headline to my story for MLB.com (if you haven’t noticed, that question mark, for what it’s worth, is up on the site now).

 

Other than the absence of that small, yet meaningful, punctuation mark, I feel I treated the Teahen situation as best I could, following up on the reports of two major metropolitan newspapers while never once citing the rumor as fact. I will leave the ultimate judgment of my handling of the matter up to you.

 

The other, more pressing reason I’m writing all this is to express my concern over the way incorrect information so often spreads in this day and age. This is no new phenomenon, of course, but, as we enter the winter Hot Stove season, it’s certainly worth mentioning. Over the course of the next few months, you will see the Indians linked to many a free agent and/or trading partner. I will do my best to use my resources to sort rumor from fact and to make it clear which is which in my reports on Indians.com and in this blog.

 

But as I wrote in the mailbag and as we learned with the Teahen situation, you, as a fan and reader, are best-served to not get overly invested in any rumor until it becomes fact. Wasted energy, much like unsubstantiated reporting, is a bad thing. Take it from a guy who just spent two days writing about a trade that will probably never happen.

Tribe talkin' Teahen

The Indians are looking for a third baseman, and they might have found one in their own division.

 

According to multiple reports, the Tribe is talking to the Royals about third baseman Mark Teahen. The Royals, who are searching for a center fielder to move David DeJesus to left, might be interested in Franklin Gutierrez, Ben Francisco or Minor Leaguer Trevor Crowe.

 

This wouldn't be the first time Kansas City has shown interest in Gutierrez and Francisco. The Royals were believed to be interested in both players when the two American League Central Division clubs discussed a trade for Octavio Dotel in 2007. That trade was never consummated.

 

The 27-year-old Teahen hasn't played third base regularly since 2006. He was moved to the outfield to make room for Alex Gordon.

 

Teahen was the 39th overall selection in 2002 Draft by the A's. He was traded to the Royals in 2004.

 

Over four Major League seasons, the left-handed-hitting Teahen has batted .268 with 47 homers and 243 RBIs in 532 games. In '08, he hit .255 with 15 homers, 31 doubles, four triples, a .313 on-base percentage and a .402 slugging percentage in 149 games.

Roster trimmed; Sizemore, Lee honored

The Indians made a couple more 40-man moves today, outrighting RHP Brian Slocum to Triple-A Columbus and losing RHP Bryan Bullington off outright waivers to the Blue Jays.

The 40-man now stands at 36, not counting RHP Jake Westbrook and RHP Scott Elarton, who are on the 60-day DL and do not factor into the 40-man total.

In other news, Grady Sizemore and Cliff Lee have been named to the Sporting News All-Star Team, which was voted on by 41 general managers and assistant GMs. It is the first time since 2001 that the Indians have placed more than one player on TSN’s All-Star Team (Juan Gonzalez and Jim Thome).

May you stay forever young

Statistician extraordinaire Bill James is publishing his annual Handbook on Nov. 1, and it once again includes a “Young Talent Inventory.”

According to James, the Indians rank seventh in all of baseball in regard to their stockpile of young talent (with “young” being defined as players under 30 in 2008). James takes into account runs created for position players and runs allowed for pitchers, then adjusts according to injuries and the number of years a player should be at his peak performance.

This is what James had to say about the Indians: “One of the Cleveland announcers during the postseason said that the Indians had missed their moment, and their opportunity was getting away from them. Our analysis suggests that this is untrue, and the Indians, despite their injuries and the loss of Sabathia, are still well stocked. … I think the Indians are still very capable of challenging the Twins and the Royals for the future of this division.” 

James is particularly enamored with Grady Sizemore. He ranks No. 24, appropriately, as the 24th-best young player in baseball. Here’s the complete list:

1. Prince Fielder, Milwaukee Brewers first baseman, age 24
2. Hanley Ramirez, Florida Marlins shortstop, age 24
3. Tim Lincecum, San Francisco Giants pitcher, age 24
4. David Wright, New York Mets third baseman, age 25
5. Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers left fielder, age 24
6. Dustin Pedroia, Boston Red Sox second baseman, age 24
7. Matt Kemp, Los Angeles Dodgers center fielder, age 23
8. Francisco Rodriguez, Los Angeles Angels pitcher, age 26
9. Jose Reyes, New York Mets shortstop, age 25
10. Nick Markakis, Baltimore Orioles right fielder, age 24
11. Joakim Soria, Kansas City Royals pitcher, age 24
12. Ryan Zimmerman, Washington Nationals third baseman, age 23
13. Cole Hamels, Philadelphia Phillies pitcher, age 24
14. Troy Tulowitzki, Colorado Rockies shortstop, age 23
15. Felix Hernandez, ! Seattle Mariners pitcher, age 22
16. Jon Lester, Boston Red Sox pitcher, age 24
17. Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay Rays third baseman, age 22
18. John Danks, Chicago White Sox pitcher, age 23
19. Adrian Gonzalez, San Diego Padres first baseman, age 26
20. James Loney, Los Angeles Dodgers first baseman, age 24
21. Stephen Drew, Arizona Diamondbacks shortstop, age 25
22. Brian McCann, Atlanta Braves catcher, age 24
23. Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers first baseman, age 25
24. Grady Sizemore, Cleveland Indians center fielder, age 25
25. Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds first baseman, age 24

For more information on the Bill James Handbook, visit www.actasports.com.

Carroll coming back

From the no-brainer department, the Indians have exercised their $2.5 million option on Jamey Carroll for next season.

The 34-year-old Carroll hit .277 with one homer, 13 doubles, four triples, 36 RBIs and 60 runs scored in 113 games, including 84 starts at second base and third. He will once again be in the utility infield role.

Also expecting the ’09 Spring Training schedule to be released today, so, if you’re planning a trip to Goodyear or just have a profound interest in such things, be on the lookout for that on the Indians.com site later.

It's gonna be a long walk home

So, if you’re Travis Hafner and the Indians, are you relieved that no structural damage has been found in Pronk’s shoulder and the surgical procedure performed was a relatively tame arthroscopy, or are you just all that much more perplexed?

This injury has been about as mysterious as they come. I don’t fault the Indians for delaying surgery as long as possible. Given that the MRIs on the shoulder turned up no need for structural repair, it seemed reasonable to have Hafner try to build up his strength through rehab. But when that strategy failed, it was back to the drawing board — or, more accurately, off to the surgeon’s table.

Now that the “cleanout” surgery has been performed, the Indians are operating under the assumption that Hafner will be at 100 percent strength by the start of next season.

But here’s an assumption the Indians must be considering: Even at 100 percent strength, there is a very good chance the Pronk of 2009 won’t be the Pronk of 2006 or even ’07. His bat speed had slowed long before he ever told the Indians his shoulder was bothering him, and the time lost due to injury won’t help matters one bit.

The Indians are really handcuffed here. Hafner’s contract hinders them from seeking out backup DH options on the open market, so any “Plan B” would have to come in-house.

I had once been in favor of exploring Kelly Shoppach’s trade value this winter, but the ever-evolving Hafner saga leads me to believe the Indians will have little choice but to stay flexible with that whole Shoppach/Martinez/Garko mish-mosh at catcher and first base. If Hafner is still ailing or remains a shell of his former self at the plate, the Indians could give Martinez more time at first and Garko more time at DH — at least until Matt LaPorta is ready to contribute.

Only one truly positive scenario exists out of this mess, and that’s Hafner returning at full strength and contributing at the plate — perhaps not at the level he did in ’06, but I’m sure the Indians would sign up for 100 RBIs and an OPS above, say, .850. That scenario, unfortunately, has looked less and less believable as this year has evolved. And it’s hard to be convinced that an athroscopic procedure is going to cure all that ails the man known as Pronk.

Surgery for Pronk

Travis Hafner will undergo diagnostic arthroscopic surgery on his right shoulder in Birmingham, Ala., on Tuesday. Dr. James Andrews will perform the surgery.

On a conference call today, head athletic trainer Lonnie Soloff explained that Hafner’s shoulder strength is at about 70 percent. It was at 75 percent when he returned to baseball activities in August. Because of the regression, the decision has been made to, in Soloff’s words, “clean out any chronic changes and investigate any other anatomical reasons for pain.”

So there’s an exploratory nature to this surgery. The Indians have not discovered anything on an MRI that indicates any part of Pronk’s shoulder will need to be repaired or reconstructed, but surgery may or may not reveal something along those lines. Expect a more detailed update on the surgery Tuesday, and a full story on today’s news will be up on the Indians.com site shortly.

Taking the "off" out of offseason

The following players from the Indians’ organization will be participating in the various fall and winter leagues:

ARIZONA FALL LEAGUE (started on 10/7)

LHP Chuck Lofgren

RHP Eric Stiller

RHP Josh Tomlin

RHP Neil Wagner

INF Wes Hodges

INF Beau Mills

INF Josh Rodriguez

OF Stephen Head (Taxi Squad)

NOTE: At this point, the Indians have not reached a resolution on OF Michael Brantley’s status for the AFL. General manager Mark Shapiro said if Brantley can’t get anything more than a “taxi squad” position, they’ll just let him go home.

 

HAWAIIAN WINTER LEAGUE (started last week)

CA/INF Adam Davis

CA/OF Matt McBride

INF Dustin Realini

INF Ron Rivas

LHP Kaimi Mead

LHP Matt Meyer

LHP Shawn Nottingham

LHP Heath Taylor

 

VENEZUALAN WINTER LEAGUE (starts mid-October)

RHP Randy Newsom (Caracas)

1B/OF Matt LaPorta (Caracas)

INF Asdrubal Cabrera (Lara)

OF Franklin Gutierrez, Franklin (Caracas)

RHP Edward Mujica (Caribes)

INF Niuman Romero (Caribes)

INF Karexon Sanchez (Caracas)

 

DOMINICAN WINTER LEAGUE (starts mid-October)

INF Jordan Brown (Aguilas)

CA Chris Gimenez (Aguilas)

RHP Adam Miller (Aguilas)

LHP Scott Lewis (Aguilas)

LHP Tony Sipp (Aguilas)

RHP Fausto Carmona (Aguilas)

INF Andy Marte (Los Toros del Este Romana)

OF Jose Constanza (Los Toros del Este Romana)

OF Lucas Montero(Gigantes)

CA Alex Castillo(Gigantes)

RHP Joaniel Montero (Escogido)

INF Chris Dela Cruz (Aguilas)

 

MEXICAN WINTER LEAGUE  (starts mid-October)

OF Roman Pena

Surgery a possibility for Pronk

We just had our annual media post-mortem with Mark Shapiro and one of the many topics that came up, of course, was Travis Hafner’s right shoulder. The Indians are considering whether or not Hafner will undergo arthroscopic surgery on the shoulder this winter, or whether they’ll go with their original plan of rehabbing the shoulder without surgery. Shapiro said Pronk’s end-of-the-year physical found the shoulder to be weaker than expected.

I’ll have more info on the Indians.com site shortly, and I’ll have a more complete story on Shapiro’s thoughts heading into the offseason on Wednesday.

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