January 2009

Open up your engines, let 'em roar

The equipment trucks have departed Progressive Field and begun the four-day journey to Goodyear, Ariz., where pitchers and catchers will report Feb. 12.

Clearly, then, spring is here.

Now, excuse me while I go shovel my driveway.

Well now home entertainment was my baby's wish…

There’s apparently some big football game on TV on Sunday (though some of us are perhaps just as excited about the halftime show as we are about the action on the field). And there will be plenty of baseball games on your tube this summer.

The Indians announced today that all 162 regular-season games and seven Spring Training games will be broadcast in 2009. Every regular-season game will be broadcast in high-definition, which, as an added bonus, greatly improves your chances of seeing nose hairs.

SportsTime Ohio will televise 154 games, while WKYC Channel 3 will air 20. The new wrinkle this year is that the games broadcast on WKYC will be simulcast on STO.

National rightsholder Fox Sports has selected eight Tribe games for its ’09 slate — three home games (June 13 against the Cards, July 4 against the A’s and Sept. 5 against the Twins) and five away games (April 18 against the Yankees, May 2 against the Tigers, May 16 against the Rays, June 6 against the White Sox and Aug. 15 against the Twins).

You can check out the complete schedule here. Many of the game times are still yet to be announced.

Mailbag: The fifth rotation spot, Wedge's security, Hall of Fame chatter and more

I really don't know what you're doing reading this blog, when you should be somewhere mentally preparing for tomorrow's release of "Working on a Dream," the new Bruce Springsteen album.*

 

*About that disc... Thanks to some -- ahem -- alternative measures, I've had a copy of it for a week or so, and it is indeed an interesting collection of musical experiences. The Boss gets experimental on this one. Sometimes it works ("Good Eye" is proof positive that he needs to do a blues-rock album before all is said and done), sometimes it doesn't (unlike Bruce, I am not in love with the "Queen of the Supermarket"). It's not his best work. But the Pizza Rule applies to Springsteen music -- even when it's at it's worst, it's still quite good.

 

But because you're here and I'm here, we might as well tackle some Mailbag questions, right? So let's get to it...

 

You reported that Aaron Laffey was your “personal pick” to fill out the rotation. Could you expand on that? What criteria did you base that on? Has the club told you something?

– Jay S., St. Clairsville, Ohio

 

I think what Laffey showed us in May of last year, when he went 3-2 with a 0.79 ERA, was real. And he’s been in Cleveland and working out all winter, putting particular emphasis on his core — much like Cliff Lee did a year ago — to maintain strength and balance over the course of a long season. The elbow soreness that ended his season appears to be behind him.

 

More than anything, I think Laffey is about as competitive and confident a pitcher as the Indians have in their upper levels, and I think that will pay dividends in the Spring Training battle for the fifth spot. As Mark Shapiro said, “He’s a bad guy to bet against.”

 

But as we’ve seen in the past, the Opening Day rotation rarely sticks. I also think Dave Huff will impact this rotation in a meaningful way this season, given the reports I’ve heard on him. If I’m ranking the candidates for the fifth spot, I put Laffey and Huff on top.

 

Do you think Ben Francisco will have great year from start to finish?  He looked tough last year and he has a lot of upside.

– Mark H., Kokomo, Ind.

 

As you know, Francisco didn’t have a great year from start to finish in ’08. He batted .294 with eight homers and 35 RBIs before the break, and .236 with seven homers and 19 homers after the break, including a .165 average with one homer and four RBIs in his last 23 games.

 

Though Francisco spent the better part of the season’s first month in Buffalo, we can essentially label ’08 as his first full year in the big leagues, and it’s natural for young players to wear down over the course of their first exposure to that grind. Francisco’s life was also made more difficult when he was slotted in the No. 3 spot of the lineup in the wake of the injuries to Travis Hafner and Victor Martinez. The Indians like to say that wasn’t “fair” to Francisco, and it’s hard to dispute that claim.

 

But Francisco’s streakiness is a concern that must be taken into account going forward. I don’t see him in a straight platoon with David Dellucci in left field, mainly because Eric Wedge is so confident in the right-handed Francisco’s ability against right-handed pitching (and for good reason: Francisco has hit .266 off right-handers and .270 off left-handers thus far in his career).

 

Francisco will be the Opening Day left fielder. If he (or Shin-Soo Choo) struggles, the Indians hope to be able to choose between Michael Brantley, Matt LaPorta and Trevor Crowe to fill in.

 

Is Eric Wedge’s job in jeopardy this year? I know people love Wedge (myself included), but let’s be realistic. This offseason has changed things for him. The organization spent a lot more money than people expected. The team expectations have to be higher than ever. If the team underperforms or struggles for the first few months, then change has to be at least considered, right?

– Kevin H., Athens, Ohio

 

The general feeling among the Indians’ higher-ups is that last season might have been Wedge’s best as a manager. Wedge’s club was socked with an onslaught of injuries, an awful bullpen and the trades of CC Sabathia, Casey Blake and Paul Byrd, yet came out with an 81-81 record. The Indians were 16 games back of .500 on July 9 but played with passion until the very last day of the season.

 

I know that sounds like a P.R. rap, but it’s simply what I saw last year. And while Wedge certainly makes his share of in-game decisions that make you scratch your head, I’m a big believer in the mentality that a manager’s chief job is to manage the various personalities in his clubhouse and get everybody working on the same page. That’s what Wedge has done here in Cleveland, and the club is pleased with his efforts.

 

Of course, an abysmal season has the potential to change those good feelings in a hurry. We see it all the time in professional sports. But there doesn’t appear to be any undue scrutiny on Wedge, at present.

 

Everyone says Ryan Garko’s job is in danger if he doesn’t improve at the plate. Other than being benched for not running out that ground ball, I thought he had a solid year, hitting .273 with 14 homers and 90 RBIs. The Indians committed a lot more money to guys who put up far worse numbers than Garko did! Why is the co-leader in RBI under such criticism?

– Adam G., Akron, Ohio

                                         

I’m as big a Garko supporter as anybody, but the fact is the guy hit .224 in April and .232 in May last year. He had a stretch from May 18 to July 9 in which he had just three extra-base hits. You can’t get by as a first baseman with those numbers.

 

Garko’s obviously not a dazzling defender, so he’s counted on for his bat. And in the first half last year, he didn’t deliver. But the Indians have to like the way he rebounded in the second half to come out with some respectable numbers for the season — the 90 RBIs total included. I personally think he’s going to get off to a much stronger start this year. The simple fact of the matter is that he has to, if he wants to keep his job.

 

Reading your article on Manny made me realize it is still a realistic possibility that he could go in the Hall of Fame as an Indian. Can you give me a rundown on the other big three — Omar Vizquel, Jim Thome and Kenny Lofton? I would say it is clear that if they go to the Hall they’ll wear the Wahoo, but what are their chances, realistically, when the time comes?

– Cody S., Scranton, Pa.

 

You can make a case for Vizquel and Thome. Lofton? Not so much.

 

It will be really interesting to see if Vizquel gets in. Personally, I think he’s worthy of strong consideration, having played more games than anybody else at, perhaps, the game’s most demanding position and won 11 Gold Gloves in the process. Throw in 2,657 career hits (to this point), and you have a pretty strong case. But Vizquel has never had anything resembling an MVP season. He’s generally been a superior defender with a dependable, but hardly game-changing, bat. Suffice to say he’s not first-ballot material, but I think he might get in eventually.

 

Really, the only case you can make for Thome is his home run total, and the 500-homer plateau simply ain’t what it used to be. He has finished among the top 10 in MVP voting four times, but never higher than fourth. I point out MVP ballots, because the people who vote for the MVP are the same people voting for the Hall of Fame. If they’re showing Thome no love while he’s playing, it’s hard to imagine him getting more appreciation when his playing days are done. If he’s able to reach 600 homers, then it’s probably a different story.

 

If either of those guys goes into the Hall, they’ll do so as an Indian. It’s hard to imagine Ramirez going in as a member of the Tribe. People will identify him as a member of the Red Sox.

 

And finally…

 

I feel the Indians need to clean house and rid themselves of inflated salaries for guys who just aren’t worth the expense and dump some others who just haven’t performed. So I suggest to Shapiro and company to wrap up a package consisting of Garko, Dellucci, Jeremy Sowers, Josh Barfield, Andy Marte and Michael Aubrey and trade them for a top-flight pitcher or two. Your thoughts, pisan?

– Mark F., Allentown, Pa.

 

Excellent idea, Mark. Say, I’ve got 10 pennies here. Do you mind giving me a dollar for them?

 

E-mail your Mailbag questions to tribemailbag@yahoo.com, and be sure to include your first name, last initial and hometown.

Get a haircut and get a real job

I don’t presume you come to this site to look for job postings, but, lo and behold, we’ve got it all here at CastroTurf.

The Indians and Sportservice are hosting a Job Fair from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday (yes, this Saturday, or what some might refer to as “next” Saturday, if you remember that ridiculous debate) at Progressive Field. The team is looking for game day security and retail help, and Sportservice is looking to fill a variety of hospitality positions.

If you’re interested in attending, enter the building through the parking lot located on the corner of East Ninth and Carnegie.

On an unrelated note…

  • I’d like to thank
  • reader “phildirt”
  • for showing me
  • how to do bulleted lists
  • without bullets on the blank lines.
  • That was very helpful.

Excruciating Minutia from the Press Tour

The annual Press Tour is wrapping up tonight. This week is always a good time to pick up little nuggets of information from various sources -- from the front office to the manager to the players -- so I thought I'd share a few with you:

 

  • There is a chance -- albeit a slim one -- that Matt LaPorta, Michael Brantley or Trevor Crowe could win a big-league job out of camp. Again, though, it's slim, given that the Indians prefer to have those guys getting everyday at-bats in Triple-A. But it's become quite clear that David Dellucci is on a short leash this season. It also doesn't appear likely the Indians will carry five outfielders at the outset of the season.
  •  
  • And that brings me to my next point: Josh Barfield appears to be the odds-on favorite for that 25th roster spot. Luis Valbuena looks to be on track to be the starting second baseman at Triple-A, and Barfield keeps getting mentioned as a potential bench option in the big leagues. That's one reason Wedge wants to try Barfield in the outfield this spring, because added versatility would give the Indians added value in keeping him. I find it a tad suspicious that the Indians are suddenly so high on Barfield after Wedge seemed to do everything in his power not to play him last September.
  •  
  • Rafael Betancourt has, from my vantage point, never been in better shape. He's put on a ton of muscle.
  •  
  • Jensen Lewis, on the other hand, has never looked worse. But that's only because he shaved his head. Physically, he's fine.
  •  
  • Wedge hired former Tribe farmhand Dave Wallace to be the Tribe's new bullpen catcher, replacing Dennis Malave, who will be a coach with the Arizona League this summer. The Indians view this spot as a stepping-stone, of sorts. Wedge said Wallace has definite manager material.
  •  
  • As reported yesterday, I wouldn't expect Fausto Carmona to actually make it to the World Baseball Classic. Just doesn't make sense, given the time he missed last year.
  •  
  • Shapiro has tried to temper his excitement about Adam Miller and how well he threw in the Dominican, but it's pretty clear Miller is at or near the top of the totem pole, when it comes to winning that last spot in the bullpen. If he's healthy and throwing well in camp, it's hard to imagine the Indians using an option on him to send him to Triple-A. But we'll see.
  •  
  • The Indians will try to protect Shin-Soo Choo against some lefties, so they really want another right-handed bat in the outfield mix. That's part of the reason Mark DeRosa, Jamey Carroll, Ryan Garko and Barfield will all see time there in camp.
  •  
  • Brantley is as mature a 21-year-old as you'll ever meet.
  •  
  • No, I don't know how to get rid of all those extra bullets on the blank lines. Sorry.

Rockin' all over the world

A little late posting this, as I’ve been running around with the Press Tour today. But 14 members of the organization are on the provisional rosters for the World Baseball Classic. They are:

Rafael Betancourt (Venezuela)

Fausto Carmona (Dominican Republic)

Shin-Soo Choo (Korea)

Cirilo Cumberbatch (Panama)

Mark DeRosa (USA)

Damaso Espino (Panama)

Paolo Espino (Panama)

Masa Kobayashi (Japan)

Chen Lee (Chinese Taipei)

Jhonny Peralta (Dominican)

Rafael Perez (Dominican)

Grady Sizemore (USA)

Sung-Wei Tseng (Chinese Taipei)

Nicholas Weglarz (Canada)

Another blog brother

We MLB.com people take care of our own. And we reporters especially take care of our editorial producers (our copy editors, essentially), whose job it is to rescue us when we turn in stories rife with stylistic errors or various misspellings of Saarloos (I think I got it right that time).

With that in mind, I point you to the newly created blog of MLB.com editorial producer Dan Mennella, who has shamelessly asked for a plug, with the promise that he will put choice four-letters words in my headlines if I do not abide (he was joking…. I think).

Anyway, here’s the link to Dan’s baseball blog (which, by the way, has pictures… something I’ve struggled to adapt here): thediamond.mlblogs.com

Garko in the OF?!

Yes, I wrote this story.

No, it’s not April 1.

And no, I don’t expect it to work out. Probably just a few reps, here and there, and then a return to normalcy, I imagine.

Barfield in the outfield, on the other hand? That might be doable.

It's getting crowded…

Looks like the Indians will try to use every last locker in that new clubhouse in Goodyear.

 

Two more invitees were announced Friday, as right-handers Matt Herges and Jack Cassel (older brother of Patriots QB Matt Cassel) have been signed to Minor League contracts. As previously reported, right-handed reliever Vinnie Chulk was signed to a Minor League deal with an invite to big-league camp on Thursday, though that deal hasn't been officially announced by the club yet.

 

Herges might be in the mix for the Indians' seventh and final bullpen spot. The 38-year-old has appeared in 537 Major League games for the Dodgers, Expos, Padres, Giants, Diamondbacks, Marlins and Rockies. Interestingly, he is one of just two players -- Steve Finley being the other -- to have played on every team within a five-team division. Finley also played for every team in the National League West.

 

More info will be up on Indians.com shortly.

Chulk inked

The Indians signed right-handed reliever Vinnie Chulk to a Minor League deal with an invite to Spring Training camp. The 30-year-old Chulk was dumped by the Giants midway through the ’08 season.

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