December 2009

You wake up, and it's another year

Haven’t posted here in a while, but just wanted to take a moment to wish everybody a Happy New Year, and to thank you for keeping the conversation going in my blogging absence.

If it wasn’t already apparent, I’ll point out that your comments help shape the topics I cover here and on Indians.com and MLB.com, so the writer-reader relationship is an important one to me. Thanks for your help and enthusiasm on that front.

I wish you all the best in the New Year, and I look forward to continuing to use this space in 2010 for a dialogue on all things Tribe (as quiet as those things might be these days) and, of course, whatever other topics happen to invade my brain.

On Monday, I’ll post a new Inbox column, so feel free to shoot your questions to tribemailbag@yahoo.com and be sure to include your name and hometown.

~AC

Nagy's return, Ambriz's arrival, the loss of Lofgren, and more

Here in Peyton’s Place, where the work of Castrovince met the land of Castroneves, the news was rather slow, where the Indians were concerned.

But there are several items of note here on the final morning of the Winter Meetings.

  • Charles Nagy is back. The Indians have hired Nagy to be their Triple-A pitching coach at Columbus. A tremendous fit for this organization, as Nagy was a durable, dependable arm and a three-time All-Star over the course of 13 seasons with the Indians from 1990-2002. Furthermore, Nagy has experience as a pitching coach with Triple-A Salt Lake City in the Angels’ organization, and the professionalism he brings to the table is second to none.
  • Lee May Jr., formerly at Double-A Akron, will be the hitting coach at Columbus.
  • The Rule 5 giveth and taketh. The Indians selected Diamondbacks RHP Hector Ambriz with the fifth pick in the Draft, with the hope that he can compete for a spot in their big-league bullpen. Also in the Major League phase, the Tribe lost LHP Chuck Lofgren to the Brewers.
  • In the Minor League phase, the Indians selected OF Brian “The Rabbi of Swat” Horwitz from the Giants’ Double-A roster and will place him at Triple-A Columbus. He’s a corner outfield bat with some big league experience. The Tribe lost LHPs Anillins Martinez (Marlins) and Matt Meyer (Cardinals) from the Double-A Akron roster.
  • Finally, C Carlos Santana has won the Lou Boudreau Award as the organization’s best Minor League position player in ’09, while RHP Hector Rondon was recognized as the Bob Feller Award winner as the organization’s top Minor League pitcher.

~AC

Santana, Miller both go under the knife

Two of the Tribe’s top prospects have had surgery.

For catcher Carlos Santana, the surgery spells a delay in his offseason conditioning. For right-hander Adam Miller, it could spell the end of a once-promising career.

Santana had surgery Tuesday to remove a broken hamate bone from his right hand.

Santana had been pulled out of winter league action in the Dominican because of the flu bug. When he recovered enough to take batting practice, he noticed the hand injury and was shut down. The surgery should prevent him from hitting for about eight to 10 weeks, but it shouldn’t prevent him from being ready for Opening Day at Triple-A Columbus.

“It’s not a setback at all,” manager Manny Acta said. “We’re thankful it was discovered this early. The only downfall is that he wasn’t able to get some playing time in winter ball and make some improvements in certain areas that we wanted him to make.”

Miller, meanwhile, was in the process of rehabbing from the career-threatening surgeries he had on his right middle finger earlier this year. The surgeries aimed to stabilize the flexor tendon in the finger, and the hope was that Miller would be ready to pitch by Spring Training, with an aim on rejuvenating a career that had been thrown out of whack by injuries.

But Miller experienced yet another setback while playing catch at the Goodyear, Ariz., complex, and now the Indians have no timetable for his return to baseball activities. Considering Miller has pitched just 28 2/3 innings in the Minors over the last two years, the chances of him making it to the big leagues seem slimmer than ever.

More info to come on Indians.com.

Nunnally joins coaching staff

Manny Acta has selected Jon Nunnally as his hitting coach, rounding out the Major League coaching staff for Acta’s first season at the helm.

The move will officially be announced Wednesday.

Nunnally spent the ’09 season as the hitting coach at Triple-A Columbus and was the hitting coach at Class A Kinston in ’07 and ’08. He played professionally for 15 seasons as an outfielder in seven different organizations, reaching the bigs with the Royals (1995-97), Reds (’97-98), Red Sox (’99) and Yankees (2000). The Indians selected him in the third round of the Draft in 1992 before losing him in the Rule 5 to the Royals in ’94.

Acta went with Nunnally over another in-house candidate, Minor League field coordinator Dave Hudgens, who is a former hitting coach for the A’s.

Nunnally obviously has a working relationship with many of the Tribe’s young hitters. He was instrumental in the improvements Andy Marte showed in ’09, and he received vocal support from Travis Hafner, who worked with Nunnally while on a rehab assignment last year.

There's a code of silence that we don't dare speak

By Anthony Castrovince/MLB.com
http://castrovince.mlblogs.com
http://www.twitter.com/castrovince

This guy walked into the lobby at the Marriott at the Indiana Convention Center this afternoon. Actually, it wasn’t a guy. It was a Guy. He was tall and looked vaguely like a professional athlete, though I have no idea who he was.

Everyone in the vicinity craned their necks to take a gander at the Guy. They watched him mix and mingle with various agents, and everyone asked some version of the same question.

“Who is that Guy?”

I never did receive confirmation as to the Guy’s identity, but he was the type of Guy who attracts attention in a crowded lobby filled with reporters, agents, general managers trying to take a quick Starbucks break and people with nothing better to do than watch baseball people schmooze.

Oh, and there are a few genuine Marriott guests mixed in. Most of them look confused and/or horrified by the goings-on.

This is what it’s like covering the Winter Meetings. You’re just standing around looking for Guys.

EXCRUCIATING MINUTIAE OF THE DAY…

  • Good Lord, it’s quiet, where the Indians are concerned. They even delayed the announcement of their hitting coach. As of this writing, a formal announcement has not been made, but Jon Nunnally is the guy. More on that in a separate post.
  • There was one newsworthy item this afternoon: Manny Acta’s hat. He was walking around in a black fedora. It takes a certain type of guy to pull off that look. Acta is that type. I am not. And I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that most of the CastroTurf Commenters are not, either.
  • Acta had his interview session with reporters. I have no idea what kind of manager he’ll be, but at least he’s a good quote. When talking about how the Indians won’t be bringing in a Matt Holliday or Jason Bay, he said, “Obviously they might come, but into the opposite clubhouse.” And when asked about the famous Grady Sizemore pictorial, he said, “I’ve never seen [the pictures]. Why would I want to see them?”
  • Regarding more serious matters, the D.C. media had a few questions for Acta about his experience with the Nationals and his new job here. They asked him to compare the two situations, and this was his response: “I don’t see [the two jobs] as similar, because I think there are more pieces in place here in Cleveland. I think when we arrived over there [in Washington], we only had Ryan Zimmerman, basically, and we were looking for more pieces to add. … But I’m getting into a situation where I already have one of the best right fielders in the American League in Shin-Soo Choo. We have Grady Sizemore, we have Travis Hafner, we have Jhonny Peralta, we have Asdrubal Cabrera. So that’s what attracted me, and also the fact that the farm system is a rich one. So I’m looking down the line to see guys like Carlos Santana, Nick Weglarz, [Hector] Rondon, [Carlos] Carrasco, and that kind of really attracted me to the Indians.”
  • Acta said he doesn’t expect Travis Hafner, now more than a year removed from shoulder surgery, to be limited to no more than three consecutive games played, as was the case in ’09.
  • With new players to work with, Acta is expecting some changes to his managerial “style,” as it were. “You have to be different this time because you have three guys in the outfield that, from the get go, will have green lights,” he said. “Guys that can run [and get a] high percentage of stolen bases. The style of every one of us, the 30 [managers], just changes depending on the personnel that you have. It’s that simple. None of us are basically defined as doing something. I think all of us will adjust to what we have.”
  • Allow me to just reiterate that the Indians will not be trading Kerry Wood this winter.
  • The Indians might, however, make a selection in the Rule 5 Draft. “We’re spending time on it,” GM Mark Shapiro said. “We’re definitely talking about it. In the past, we’ve felt we wanted to protect our own players. But we were able to create some roster flexibility this year.”
  • I’m still hearing that there’s a good chance Jason Grilli will get swiped in the Rule 5. We’ll see.

~AC

With them Indiana boys on an Indiana night

By Anthony Castrovince/MLB.com
http://castrovince.mlblogs.com
http://www.twitter.com/castrovince

Greetings from beautiful downtown Indianapolis, where the locals are in a panic over the foot of snow that fell overnight (and is probably Cleveland-bound… or at least Columbus-bound) and the ridiculousness of baseball’s annual Winter Meetings is officially underway.

indy.jpgThe Indians’ front-office brass is arriving today, but the Tribe, for better or worse, does not figure to be a prominent component of the rumor mill. That is, unless the scuttlebutt regarding the potential landing place of Jamey Carroll is particularly fierce.

To that end, Carroll’s agent, Jonathan Maurer, e-mailed with this synopsis of his client’s situation…

“Jamey Carroll has greatly enjoyed his time in Cleveland. While we are entertaining offers from other teams, we have not ruled out Cleveland because of this simple fact: Management is good, the city is good, and this team CAN compete in their division. The market for free agent infielders is quite good and the numbers of teams that have contacted us is indicative of Jamey’s value to any team wishing to win ballgames. No matter what the outcome, Jamey’s time in Cleveland has been a great experience.”

 

We’ll see how much money talks in that matter (it usually is pretty vocal), as it seems doubtful the Indians would be able to get into any type of bidding war for Carroll’s services. He made $2.5 million last year and is in line for the raise. If the Indians signed him for that kind of dough, their utility infielder would be one of their top-paid players in 2010.

 

The biggest piece of intrigue this week, where the Tribe is concerned, might be Thursday morning’s Rule 5 Draft. The Indians have a roster spot open, now that Kelly Shoppach has been moved, so they could make an addition in that draft. I’d say it’s more likely, however, that spot will be kept open for a utility guy.

 

And there is also the distinct possibility that the Indians will endure a loss or losses in the Rule 5. Yohan Pino (the pitcher acquired for Carl Pavano last year), Carlton Smith, Steven Wright, Chuck Lofgren and Matt McBride are among the potential targets of other clubs. It’s also possible that reliever Jason Grilli, who was signed by the Indians to a Minor League deal last week, could get swiped, as he’s not on the 40-man and is Rule 5-eligible. Word is, there is a National League team with interest in Grilli.

 

Anyway, that’s what’s shaking here, for now. MLB.com is, as usual, all over the Winter Meetings coverage for all clubs. Of particular note is the Hot Stove blog that is updated frequently with the latest rumblings.

UPDATE (7 p.m. ET): A few bits of Excruciating Minutiae from an overwhelmingly uneventful first day of the Winter Meetings…

  • Manny Acta will name his hitting coach on Tuesday. The safe money is on Jon Nunnally, who was the hitting coach at Triple-A Columbus.
  • When it comes to Acta’s hopes of landing a right-handed bat for first base and left field, one name on the free-agent wire that makes sense is Xavier Nady.
  • Also, don’t rule out the possibility of the Indians taking a look at Ryan Garko, if the Giants non-tender him by the Dec. 12 deadline. He makes sense for them as a right-handed bat at first base, and his value is down after his post-trade performance in the second half. Obviously, though, Garko (who, for the record, got married over the weekend) would be looking for as much playing time as possible. It’s probably safest to assume the Garko ship (as it pertains to the Indians) has sailed.
  • Overall, I don’t see the Indians doing anything in free agency until mid- to late-January, at the earliest.
  • The reports on Jake Westbrook’s first two winter ball starts for Ponce in Puerto Rico have been encouraging. Westbrook reported that he felt better in his second start Saturday than he has at any other point in a game situation since his May 2008 surgery.
  • Fausto Carmona made his first winter ball start for Aguilas in the Dominican Republic on Sunday, allowing three runs (two earned) on three hits with no walks and three strikeouts over 3 1/3 innings.
  • Here’s what GM Mark Shapiro had to say about the Tribe’s 2010 contention hopes in a weak AL Central: “It’s still going to be dependent on our starting pitching and the development of those guys. The greatest condition upon us becoming a contending team is, can we take those nine guys and get five of them to pitch like No. 3 starters? Can we piece together five No. 3 starters for the season? That’s possible. It’s still going to take a lot of things positively working together. If that happens, I think the rest of our team gives us enough of a core to contend.”
  • The Indians won’t hire another special assistant to take over Tim Belcher’s former role.
    Matt LaPorta, recovering from offseason hip and turf toe surgeries, is a little ahead of schedule but still not doing anything baseball-related.
  • Finally, there’s been a lot of talk (instigated by Scott Boras) lately about mid- and small-market ballclubs essentially hoarding money brought in through revenue sharing. Here’s the link to an interesting piece in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette about that issue, as it pertains to the Pirates. 

~AC

Tribe ships Shoppach to Rays

The Indians shopped catcher Kelly Shoppach and found a taker before the Dec. 12 non-tender deadline.

Shoppach has been traded to the Rays for a player to be named. The player must be determined by Dec. 20.

That the Indians got anything in return for Shoppach is a bit of a surprise, because he was sure to be granted free agency at the non-tender deadline. He made $1.95 million last year, as his performance slipped, and the second round of arbitration would have provided him with a raise that the Indians weren’t all that willing to absorb.

Shoppach’s arbitration situation is in the Rays’ hands now. As for the Tribe, they have Lou Marson, Wyatt Toregas and, to a lesser degree, Chris Gimenez on board to handle the catching duties, with Carlos Santana on the horizon at Triple-A Columbus. It’s still possible the Indians would look for a veteran catcher in free agency, but I wouldn’t count on it.

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