January 2009

"I worked out with a dumbbell today. I feel vigorous!"

Travis Hafner met with the media today, and he is noticeably slimmer and less built these days. But it’s hardly a ridiculous development. He’s not emaciated or anything like that. He said he’s lost about 10 pounds and is down to 250.

The thinner waist comes from his newly healthy diet (“A lot of it is just not going out to restaurants as much,” he said), and the smaller frame is a product of only recently being able to up the ante on his weight-lifting and strengthening exercises following arthroscopic surgery on his shoulder in October.

I’m not going to read too much into the loss of 10 pounds and what it might mean for Hafner’s productivity this season, as some people have. That’s an opinion that will be formed over the course of Spring Training camp. Because until this guy picks up a bat, it’s difficult to assess what he’ll be able to contribute to this team after missing the bulk of 2008.

For the record, Pronk won’t swing a bat until Monday. When he does, it will be the first time he’s done so since the last day of the ’08 season.

Here’s the full story on the Hafner media session.

Oh, and a P.S. on Pronk. This arctic weather we’re enduring in Cleveland (it’s 7 degrees, with the wind chill pushing it down to minus-8, last I checked) is a veritable summer day for the Sykeston, N.D., native. He said his relatives back home told him it was minus-33 degrees, with a wind chill of minus-55. 

"We found traces of a certain toxic adhesive commonly found in very low priced envelopes."

As reported on the site, the Indians handed out their organizational invites to big-league camp -- OFs Matt LaPorta and Michael Brantley, LHP Dave Huff, RHP Ryan Edell, and INFs Wes Hodges, Beau Mills, Jordan Brown, Stephen Head. 1B Michael Aubrey was announced as an invitee earlier this week.


Personally, I'm eager to get my first look at LaPorta and Brantley in action. Huff will be competing for the fifth spot in the rotation (Aaron Laffey is my personal pick to click out of camp, though I'd expect Huff to make an impact at some point this year). Also curious to see Hodges at third.

Saarloos, Aquino signed to Minor League deals

The Indians signed right-handers Kirk Saarloos and Greg Aquino to Minor League contracts with invites to Spring Training camp.


The 29-year-old Saarloos has a career record of 29-30 with a 5.02 ERA in 165 games, including 73 starts, with the Astros, Reds and A's from 2002-08. He was a third-round pick of the Astros in the 2001 Draft and has compiled a 29-10 record and 3.29 ERA in 99 games, including 56 starts, in the Minors.


Saarloos spent most of '08 in the starting rotation for the A's Triple-A Sacramento affiliate. He went 9-4 with a 4.22 ERA in 22 starts. His ERA was the eighth-lowest in the Pacific Coast League. He also had two stints with the A's, appearing in eight games, including one start, and going 1-0 with a 5.47 ERA in 26 1/3 innings.


The 30-year-old Aquino has gone 2-4 with 17 saves and a 5.40 ERA in 135 relief appearances for the Diamondbacks, Brewers and Orioles since 2004. He led the Diamondbacks with 16 saves in 2004.


A converted infielder, Aquino began '08 with the Orioles but was designated for assignment by the end of April after putting up a 14.21 ERA. He returned to the club in July but was quickly placed on the disabled list with a left hamstring strain and was later outrighted to Triple-A Norfolk. With Norfolk for the bulk of the season, he went 2-2 with nine saves and a 2.45 ERA in 23 outings.

Mailbag: The Pavano deal, Shoppach trade talk, Aubrey's designation and more

Many thoughts are running through my ever-churning mind on this snow-covered Monday.


I'm wondering who Browns fans will root for during next week's AFC Championship Game -- the Steelers, the Ravens or the apocalypse?


I'm wondering, in the wake of painting my dining room, if painting is the only job in which it is acceptable to cut corners.


I'm wondering why no one bought me a Snuggie for Christmas. Because everybody could use a blanket with sleeves, right?


Lastly, I'm wondering how it's possible that the Oklahoma and Florida football teams each played more than 1,000 games before finally facing each other for the first time in last week's national title game. You had to figure it would happen Sooner or Gator.


(Note: This Mailbag entry is dedicated to my good friend Kate, who despises that "Sooner or Gator" joke with every fiber of her being. Happy birthday, Kate the Great!)


Anyway, those are my thoughts. Let's check in on yours...


I don’t understand the Carl Pavano signing. Our rotation currently consists of Cliff Lee, Fausto Carmona and three question marks. I’m sure I’m not the only person who is concerned about that. What we need is a reliable No. 3 or No. 4 starter to stabilize things. A guy like Paul Byrd. We know that he fits in here, he won’t be looking for more than a one or two year deal, and he won’t be too expensive.

— Mark E., Chagrin Falls, Ohio


The Indians showed no interest in bringing back Byrd. They were certainly appreciative of his efforts here from 2006-08. Byrd has done a remarkable job of getting the most out of what even he would admit is unremarkable stuff. But he’s 38, and there is a significant chance his smoke and mirrors act is on its decline.


This rotation has some obvious concerns, but they are concerns the Indians didn’t have the budget to address. They’re taking a chance on Pavano, but it’s really not much of a financial risk. Though it would be life-changing money for us, $1.5 million is chump change to a big-league club. For Pavano to receive the max value of his contract ($6.8 million), he would have to make 35 starts, pitch 235 innings, be selected to the All-Star team, win the Cy Young Award and win the League Championship Series and World Series MVP awards. The Indians would sign up for all that in a heartbeat.


I’m not at all sold on Pavano staying healthy and becoming the pitcher he was in ’04, but you never know. The bottom line here is that Pavano can easily be dumped midseason if it’s not working out.


Jake Westbrook will be back in the second half, Aaron Laffey and Dave Huff are, in my view, strong candidates to help this club in the back end of the rotation, and, if the Indians are in contention, don’t rule out the possibility of a midseason trade for a starter. Is the starting rotation a concern? You better believe it, and it’s one we’ll delve deeper into in the weeks leading up to Spring Training. But the Indians are not without backup options, so that’s a plus, going forward.


With Boston‘s signing of John Smoltz, as well as their newfound depth at starting pitcher, what do you think the chances may be of the Tribe dealing for Clay Buchholz? The Red Sox are seeking an upgrade at catcher, after all, and Kelly Shoppach could be their short-term answer.

— Matt K., Minneapolis


I’d say the odds are pretty good that the Indians have made the last of their major moves and will report to spring camp with the roster you see now.


That being said, if the Red Sox get desperate, anything can happen. Reportedly, Boston is not ruling out the possibility of bringing back Jason Varitek and has also shown interest in the Diamondbacks’ Miguel Montero. I haven’t heard a word about them keying in on Shoppach, but that doesn’t mean it can’t or won’t happen. It’s just that, at the moment, nothing appears to be happening on that front.

I was very excited when I saw the OU reference in the CastroTurf debut of the Mailbag. Anyway, I know you are the Indians reporter, but what are the chances Mark Shapiro can get ahold of the Browns’ GM job?

— Ken R., Athens, Ohio

Well, the Browns, for whatever reason, were intent on hiring a head coach first and then catering to his GM preference. So if Eric Mangini told them he wanted Shapiro, I’m sure they’d try to make it happen, regardless of how silly it looks.


Any chance the Indians would be interested in getting Michael Young from the Rangers?

— Brandon K., Blackstone, Va.


It’s not going to happen.


I was just working hard at my cubicle. By working hard, I mean printing up all my 2009 Indians schedule information. I noticed a lot of “TBD” on the 2009 regular season schedule. Also I did not notice, nor could I find, any information on who will be broadcasting the majority of the games.

— Jason F., Austintown, Ohio


I’m told the broadcast schedule and game times will probably be released sometime in the next week to 10 days. Now get back to work.


I was wondering if you could come up with any logical reason why the Tribe would designate Michael Aubrey for assignment? I know room needed to be made on the 40-man roster but, with the signing of Mark DeRosa, I feel Andy Marte is a little more expendable. Your thoughts?

— Matt P., Napoleon, Ohio


It is beyond dispute that Marte, who is famously out of Minor League options, has no shot at making the 25-man roster this spring, unless third base opens because of an injury. But because that injury risk is inherent and the Indians simply don’t have many other options at the hot corner, Marte holds more value to this club, at present, than Aubrey — a soon-to-be 27-year-old first baseman in an organization loaded with first basemen. Aubrey’s career has had no flow because of injuries, and he posted a .746 OPS at Buffalo last year.


Really, Matt, I wouldn’t get too hung up on this transaction, especially with Aubrey clearing waivers and getting outrighted to Triple-A today. By Opening Day, neither of these guys will be on the 40-man.


And finally…


I’ve got a great nickname for Choo. We’ve all heard the obvious ones — “Big League Choo” and whatnot. How about this: “The Godfather of Seoul!” It’s an homage to the late, great James Brown and the largest city in Choo’s native South Korea.

— Josh F., Athens, Ohio


What are the chances of Mark DeRosa becoming the new head spokesman for Ponderosa restaurants? Do Ponderosa buffet restaurants still even exist? If so, DeRosa would be their man. “Come to Ponderosa with Mark DeRosa.” That’s pretty catchy!

— Nile S., Indianapolis


Why am I such a sucker for this stuff?


Keep those questions — and nicknames and sales pitches — coming to tribemailbag@yahoo.com (include your first name, last initial and hometown with all submissions), and we’ll keep the Mailbag alive here at CastroTurf. Note that there will likely not be a Mailbag next week, as I’ll be busy breathing in bus fumes during the annual winter Press Tour.

Shoppach signed, Aubrey outrighted

The Indians have avoided salary arbitration with Kelly Shoppach, who signed a one-year deal today. The Tribe has not gone to arbitration with a player since Jerry Browne and Greg Swindell in 1991.

Also today, Michael Aubrey, designated for assignment when Carl Pavano was signed last week, cleared waivers and was outrighted to Triple-A Columbus. Aubrey will be a non-roster invitee to Spring Training camp.

Captains meet and greet

The Class A Lake County Captains will hold their annual Hot Stove Dinner next Monday, Jan. 19, from 6-8 p.m. ET at Classic Park.

This will be a great autograph opportunity for fans who follow the Tribe’s Minor League ranks, as several participants in the Indians’ winter development program will be on hand for the dinner.

Tickets to the event can be purchased at captainsbaseball.com.

Flyin' cross the land, tryin' to get a hand

Just making sure you’re all aware of the schedule/locations/participants for the annual Press Tour, which kicks off Monday, Jan. 19. Cliff Lee Jensen Lewis, Ryan Garko, Matt LaPorta, Michael Brantley and Shin-Soo Choo are among those taking part.

Zach Attack*

A few people have e-mailed about Zach Jackson’s Minor League options status, related to his mention in yesterday’s Pavano story.

Jackson has a fourth Minor League option. How did he pull this off? Well, there’s a stipulation in the rulebook that players entering their fourth or fifth professional season who have already been optioned out in three separate years receive a fourth option. Seasons spent entirely in short-season leagues don’t count toward that tally, so Jackson’s 2004 stint in the New York-Penn League doesn’t count.

So there you go.

* Zach Attack should not be confused with Zack Attack, which was the name of Zack Morris’ band in my — and hopefully your — all-time favorite Saved by the Bell episode, “Rockumentary.” It includes the classic scene in which Zack and his much-despised girlfriend enter the recording studio and insist that the band play their newly penned song, “Love Me Now.” The other members of Zack Attack are quite displeased at this development, and yet … they nail the song! On the first take! It’s unbelievable! An incredible band. 

Pre-hitting Pronk

Got an update for you on the Pronk. Travis Hafner has been cleared by Dr. James Andrews to begin “pre-hitting activities” at Progressive Field this week (I believe “pre-hitting activities” include trying on batting gloves and writing his number in magic marker on the knob of the bat).

Hafner will begin a return-to-hit program in mid-January.

Carry on.

Tribe signs Pavano

Looking to bolster their starting rotation depth, the Indians are taking a chance on Carl Pavano.

Pavano and the Indians have agreed to a one-year Major League deal that was to be announced Tuesday afternoon. The deal does not include an option. Financial terms were not immediately available.

Pavano, who turns 33 Thursday, is coming off a disappointing, injury-plagued four-year stint with the Yankees. With New York in 2008, he appeared in seven games and was 4-2 with a 5.77 ERA in 34 1/3 innings.

Over the course of his four-year, $40 million deal with the Yanks, Pavano appeared in just 26 games. He threw 145 2/3 innings over a four-year span. He missed all of 2006 because of injury. He broke in with the Montreal Expos in 1998.

The Indians will have to remove a player from their 40-man roster to make room for Pavano.

UPDATE (3:10 p.m. ET): 1B Michael Aubrey was designated for assignment to clear Pavano’s spot. No major surprise there.

UPDATE No. 2 (3:11 p.m.): You gotta love the influx of Italians on this roster, don’t you?

UPDATE No. 3 (3:41 p.m.): Got the terms. Pavano is guaranteed $1.5 million for ’09, with the chance to make another $5.3 million in performance-based incentives. About to jump on a conference call with Mark Shapiro. Look for the full story on Indians.com in a little bit.

UPDATE No. 4 (4 p.m.): Shapiro says Pavano is guaranteed a spot in the rotation, if he’s healthy.

UPDATE No. 5 (4:45 p.m.): The incentives don’t kick in until Pavano makes at least 18 starts.

UPDATE No. 6 (5:20 p.m.): If you’re incredibly curious about this contract, it breaks down as follows, according to a Major League source. Pavano gets $100,000 each for reaching 18, 20 and 22 starts, $200,000 each for reaching 24, 26 and 28 starts, $250,000 for 30 starts, $300,000 for 32 starts, $350,000 each for 33 and 34 starts and $400,000 for 35 starts.


He gets $100,000 each for reaching 130, 140 and 150 innings pitched, $150,000 each for 160 and 170 innings, $200,000 for 180, $250,000 for 190, $250,000 for 200, $300,000 for 215, $400,000 for 225 and $500,000 for 235.


So, basically, a very tolerable level of financial risk with this contract, if you ask me. If Pavano gets hurt or gets shelled, the Indians can cut bait midseason and stomach the $1.5 million investment.