January 2009

Mailbag: Choo's military service, the DeRosa deal, Garko vs. Shoppach and more

Before we begin, I'd like to pass along correspondence from reader Kevin H. in Athens, Ohio -- also known as the navel of the universe:


“My buddies and I were recently at a local Ohio University hole in the wall (The Crystal), when we started talking the Tribe. One of the old Athens citizens sitting next to us overheard us and literally said, ‘I love ’em mailbags. The guy makes it so I’s a donna have to read ‘da rest of ‘dem articles. A te hee hee (that’s his laugh)!’ We told him the writer of said mailbags went to OU, and he bought us all two rounds. So I guess a thanks is in order here.”

Thank you, Kevin, for this lovely little yarn, as it proves that even the Athens townies appreciate the dog and pony show known as the Tribe Mailbag.

Unfortunately, it is my duty to inform you that the Mailbag, as we know it, is no more. MLB.com is doing away with the feature on its club sites and going in a different direction with its content plan for 2009. We’ll just take the easy way out and blame it on the economy, like everything else.

But because the Tribe Mailbag has become such a popular feature, I cannot, in good conscience, extinguish it entirely. For one, I had promised a new Mailbag on Jan. 5, and I refuse to be labeled a liar. While it won’t run on Indians.com today, as previously scheduled, I can certainly run it here at CastroTurf.

I will, on occassion, continue to answer some of your questions in entries here. So please, by all means, keep them coming, and check back frequently.

E-mail your questions to tribemailbag@yahoo.com, and please don’t forget to include your first name, last initial and hometown.

Let’s see what was on your minds this week…

Allow me to be a typical Cleveland sports fan. I think the Tribe has found a budding star in Shin-Soo Choo. He’s a .310/25/100 guy. And in two years he’ll be holding a gun for the Korean military instead of a bat for the Indians. Figures.

— Josh H., Mansfield, Ohio


Your cynicism is understood in these parts, Josh. It's an innate part of the Cleveland condition.


Choo could avoid the obligation by becoming a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, or he could avoid it by helping South Korea to a baseball championship in the 2010 Asian Games (but that is, obviously, easier said than done). And while no one is saying it publicly, there is always the possibility that Choo simply does not return to his native land, thereby avoiding conscription.


Whenever the topic of his military obligation comes up, Choo says he's not thinking about that yet. And the Indians haven't shown the slightest bit of concern about the situation. The "typical Cleveland sports fans," as you call them, are the ones fretting, but this might amount to much ado about nothing.


I am a die-hard Cubs fan, and I just wanted to tell Indians fans the obvious: You guys got an insanely underrated player in Mark DeRosa. He may have been the Cubs’ most valuable asset, and we are sad to see him go.

— Scott P., Trevor, Wis.


I’ve heard nothing but good things about DeRosa, from a character standpoint. The fans and the media in Chicago loved him. I have no doubt that he’ll be an asset to the Indians’ clubhouse, and his numbers certainly lend themselves to the belief that he’ll be an asset in the No. 2 spot of the lineup.


I’m less convinced about moving DeRosa to third, though I understand the Indians’ rationale. I suspect the Tribe will work Jhonny Peralta in at third, on occasion, to get a better read on how he’d adjust to the position (his reflexes aren’t exactly cat-like at shortstop, and that could become even more of an issue at the hot corner). It’s reasonably safe to assume third base is in Peralta’s future, but it doesn’t make a heck of a lot of sense to move him to third permanently now, as DeRosa has the versatility to make the move in the interim.


If you can’t tell, I liked this trade for the Tribe.


How do the prospects the Tribe received for Casey Blake in July (catcher Carlos Santana, right-hander John Meloan) compare with the prospects we gave up to get DeRosa (right-handers Jeff Stevens and Chris Archer, left-hander John Gaub)? How are these prospects valued internally by the Tribe, and what is your take on the net cost of obtaining DeRosa for one year? Is this worth it?

— Craig A., Loughton, Essex, U.K.


Santana is already considered one of the organization’s top prospects. The Indians couldn’t be more enamored with his potential. They felt that Meloan and Stevens both could have competed for a bullpen job this season, but Meloan was probably higher on the pecking order because of his Triple-A experience. It was way too early to have a firm read on Archer and Gaub, who haven’t spent so much as one inning above low-A ball.


All prospects are unproven commodities. I'd say the Indians received two unproven commodities in Santana and Meloan who are rated higher than the three unproven commodities given up in Stevens, Archer and Gaub.


But if you're really going to compare Blake and DeRosa, as so many fans seem inclined to do, the net cost issue is more about contract length than anything else. The 35-year-old Blake commanded a three-year deal in free agency, averaging out at $5.67 million per year. DeRosa, who turns 34 next month, is signed for one more year at $5.5 million. The Indians are much more comfortable with DeRosa for one year than Blake for three.


Is first base secretly at all a concern? Is Victor Martinez potentially going to start there, and, if so, will he still bat fourth? I would think Peralta should bat fourth. With last year’s injuries and production, Martinez should be looked at as unreliable in the cleanup spot. And if you could choose between Kelly Shoppach or Ryan Garko getting regular playing time, who would it be? It has to be Shoppach, right?

— Kevin H., Athens, Ohio


Kevin supplied the OU anecdote above, so he gets his question answered, too.


First base would be more of a concern if the Indians didn't have the perceived luxury of Martinez's flexibility and Shoppach's bat. When it comes down to Garko vs. Shoppach, the Indians are a better team defensively with Shoppach behind the plate and Martinez at first. Then again, I think Garko has more run-production upside than Shoppach, who strikes out too frequently for my liking. The Indians, for now, are just as indecisive on the matter, which is why I think you'll see both guys quite a bit.


I've always liked Garko, which made his '08 season all the more maddening. But what he did down the stretch was real, so that has to allay some of the Indians' worries. On the whole, the lack of power at first is a worry. If Martinez returns to his '07 form, it's less of a concern. But if not, that position is a glaring weakness, from the power standpoint.


As far as the lineups are concerned, I would be surprised if Peralta doesn't remain in the cleanup spot. You're right, Kevin, that the Indians can't exactly pencil in Martinez's old production until they see how he rebounds from all that missed time last year.


Well, the first Mailbag of the New Year, and it happens to be my birthday, as well! Maybe that’s a good sign? Anyway, my question is on the farm system. I saw MLB.com’s top 50 prospects and noticed that Matt LaPorta (No. 14) and Adam Miller (41) are on it. LaPorta I understand, but Miller? He is always injured. Do you think he deserves that ranking?

— Aaron M., Erie, Pa.


First off, happy birthday, Aaron. May this Mailbag inclusion be, by far, your least-impressive birthday present.


It's a testament to Miller's raw stuff that he's still on that list, despite only pitching a grand total of 94 innings over the last two seasons. I expect him to make an impact in the back end of the bullpen this season, if he's healthy. But because that "if" is such a big "if," I personally would have put Santana on this list before Miller.


Why would Grady Sizemore play in the World Baseball Classic? Better yet, why does the front office permit him to play? At the end of last season, I recall management saying they need to give Grady days off during ’09.

— Bill, Cincinnati


Teams are at the mercy of their players' desires to play in the WBC, unless that player missed significant time due to injury in the previous season. So when Sizemore said he wants to participate, the Indians had no choice but to let him. But it should be a good experience for Sizemore, and he should be a valuable asset to Team USA.


And finally...


Why don’t the Indians trade all of their good players to the A’s? The A’s are boss!

— Sean M., Livermore, Calif.


I don’t know why, but this might be my favorite Mailbag question of all-time. I’m imagining headlines of “Tribe trades Lee to A’s — for nothing” and subheads of “Shapiro said move was made because A’s are ‘so boss.'”


More than anything, I’m just rooting for “boss” to reemerge as part of our lexicon. That would be gnarly.