Going 'round and around

Over on the Indians.com site, I’ve begun a weekly “Around the Horn” series examining each position and the outlook for 2010. We start where the game always starts (and, unfortunately, sometimes ends) — the starting rotation.

Regarding the potential Opening Day roster, the Indians, like all teams, have a lot of moving parts at the moment, so it’s impossible to form an accurate projection. But let’s take a swing at it, shall we?

A precursor: Rightly or wrongly, I’m going to assume Matt LaPorta enters April needing a couple more weeks of rehab from his October surgeries. I’m going to assume Michael Brantley is sent to Triple-A for a little more seasoning. I’m going to assume a few non-roster invitees are given the benefit of the doubt and break camp with the club. And I’m going to assume no other major injuries are sustained in camp.

Obviously, some of these are bold assumptions. But let’s go with it…

Rotation (in no particular order): Jake Westbrook, Fausto Carmona, Justin Masterson, Mitch Talbot and Jeremy Sowers.

If Talbot gets through camp healthy, I think the Indians will find a spot for him. I just have no idea where. It could be in the bullpen, opening the door for Aaron Laffey or David Huff in the rotation. For now, I’ll place him here. And for whatever reason, I see the Indians giving Sowers (who, like Talbot, is out of options) one last chance to make it at this level.

Bullpen: Kerry Wood, Chris Perez, Rafael Perez, Tony Sipp, Jensen Lewis, Joe Smith and Jason Grilli.

The X factor here, again, is Talbot. He could bump somebody, depending on spring performance. And I admittedly have no earthly idea what Grilli’s got in the tank. Just have a hunch they’ll make room for him.

Catcher: Lou Marson, Wyatt Toregas.

Carlos Santana’s on deck.

First base: Andy Marte, Shelley Duncan.

World Series! (Even as I type this first base outlook, I have no real faith that it’s accurate. The Indians had just better hope LaPorta heals on time.)

Second base: Luis Valbuena, TBD.

The TBD would be the as-yet-undetermined, right-handed utility guy who will spell Valbuena against lefties. At the moment, the only in-house options are prospect Jason Donald and non-roster invitee Luis Rodriguez.

Shortstop: Asdrubal Cabrera.

All-Star in the making.

Third base: Jhonny Peralta.

Trade bait in the making.

Outfield: Grady Sizemore, Shin-Soo Choo, Austin Kearns and Trevor Crowe.

I hope I’m wrong about Brantley, because he’s fun to watch. But it’s important to remember that as good as he was in September, he still had some struggles in Triple-A and might be in line for some second-year adjustments. We’ll see.

Designated hitter: Travis Hafner.

And he should be ready to play more than three games in a row. Not bad for 11.5 million bucks. 

Ladies and gentlemen, your 2010 Cleveland Indians! … Maybe.

~AC

39 Comments

Regarding the rotation, I’ve abstained from weighing in before Spring Training thus far. However, you are probably right about the “out of options” guys. But, that being the case, I still don’t like it. I think Huff, although he still has room for improvement, really made a lot of good strides last year, and should get a spot. Same with Laffey. He wasn’t as consistent as one might have liked, but he showed some really good streaks. Also, I don’t like the idea of snubbing him out of a starting spot out of the gate two years in a row. But in the grand scheme of things, if Sowers and Talbot do make the rotation out of the gate, I don’t really have a lot of confidence that either will stay there all that long.
I think I agree with everything else, except for Brantley. I think he will make the team out of Spring Training. Whether he stays all season or not, that is yet to be seen.

Yeah, I guess it makes sense that if they don’t think they’re going to compete from the onset, they should let the guys out of options have a shot, as I don’t think it would be the worst thing in the world for Huff, Laffey, etc. to start the year in Columbus.
Also, AC, you actually made me laugh out loud with this back and forth:

Shortstop: Asdrubal Cabrera.

All-Star in the making.

Third base: Jhonny Peralta.

Trade bait in the making.

Good stuff.

i think you’re dead on. i think this rotation is going to need long relief and jeremy “twice through the line-up” sowers could fit that bill. gimme laffey in the rotation over grilli.

I find it interesting that Talbot makes the rotation in your Predictions, but as you said, it all depends where the Indians like him. I think, going off you predictions, i would rather have Laffey in the rotation over Sowers. I agree with Bricker that Sowers could be a long man. I think J. Lewis is on the bubble right now. If Laffey doesn’t make the rotation, I think he’s a great fit in the pen with his sinker. It just depends on where everyone fits the best.

Is Laffey not out of options too?

He had 1 option remaining heading into 2009 and was optioned out to Columbus on Mar 25 2009.

I know there’s a rule that options don’t count if they last LESS THAN 20 days, but Laffey was recalled on Apr 15 2009…. so he spent at least 20 days in the minors (Mar 26th to Apr 14th) and maybe as many as 22 (if the 03/25 and 04/15 are also counted).

So, he should be out of options….. if so, he’ll be on the team….. Laffey to the rotation, Talbot to the bullpen & Lewis to AAA?

Just to be clear, Laffey is not out of options.

Yeah, I agree with everyone else, I’m not sure how Laffey could possibly be left out of the rotation. He’s certainly struggled at times, but has technically been their best starting pitcher the past 2 years not named Lee or Sabathia. A demotion to AAA at this point in his career would be the kind of move that could ruin him as an Indians pitcher, not make him better. I would say that Westbrook, Laffey and Carmona should be locks, barring injury. Even if one or more of them is awful in spring training, those three should still make it. Carmona since he needs to get another chance, and Laffey because last year he struggled in spring training and came into the ML rotation and was dominant at the beginning anyway.

Regarding the potential for signing an infielder, have their been any reports of the Indians going after Belliard? As far as I know he hasn’t been signed and he seems perfect for the role. His career OPS against LHP is .829 and was .841 last year (and overall he hit over .350 in August and Sept), he already has a history with the Indians and Acta, he played games at 1b, 2b and 3b last year and he only made 1.9 million

I think you are right, ST, about a demotion doing more to hurt Laffey than help at this point in his career. I remember him being a little miffed last year when he didn’t make the team out of Spring Training. He really pitched pretty well throughout the season, and even made a move to the bullpen when needed. I think he’s put his time in, and should be given a shot. Snubbing him again will be unfortunate.
Regarding Sowers, I think he is out of options in more ways than just contract allowances. He’s been back and forth from AAA to Cleveland since 2006, and hasn’t really proved much at the MLB level recently. He’s always done well in the minors, but nothing is translating, as far as extended success goes. If we had the same staff as last year, I would say it’s time to make a final decision on him, whether it be a move to the pen or something else. However, since he has good success in AAA, and we have that “fresh set of eyes” excuse to use, I guess he should have one more chance….somewhere.

we all certainly make the case that Peralta, Wood, and Westbrook are all trade bait in the making. Good stuff.

ST, I was thinking about Ronnie Belliard for that role too. He beat out Hudson for the starting job in the playoffs last season. Might be a great fit considering his past with Acta (unless of course he and Acta dont get along).

I’m sorry AC, but if Jeremy Sowers actually makes the rotation over David Huff, I will throw something at my TV. In my opinion, Acta and company need to choose the best 25 players that can help this team win as soon as possible, this is a roster that looks like they will lose another 95 games, and it’s very, very depressing. Jeremy just isn’t a starter, he has had many chances and there is nothing left for David Huff to learn in AAA. Sure, David learned while he was in the Majors last year, but he surely gives us a better chance to win than Jeremy, if nothing else than we know he can throw 7 innings, Jeremy has proven he can’t. There is still a spot left for Jeremy and that is long relief. Nothing wrong with that because we may need a long reliever, especially if they use Mitch Talbot, instead of Aaron Laffey. Jeremy is great for 5 innings, or the first 2 times around the order, but he can’t get them out a 3rd time, so why not use Jeremy to his strengths and NOT weaknesses?

I’m not doubting you AC, but can you explain how Laffey still has options remaining?

He had one left before 2009 and he was optioned out for 20 or more days during the season.

I assume you’re going by a list sent directly from the Indians, but I’m just curious how Laffey retains an option when he seemingly goes against everything I know about option rules.

Thanks

CG, I half agree with you. I think JK has an excellent point about Laffey, and my fear is Sowers taking THAT spot. I think Laffey should be — and needs to be — an every day starter in the majors for an entire season.
As for Huff, while I applaud his improvement towards the end, he was called up much earlier than he was every supposed to be. I think there’s plenty of value in having him start the season in AAA, more so than for Laffey. Personally, I’m fine with letting Huff get more time in with the Clippers.
I would prefer something like:
Westbrook
Carmona
Laffey
Masterson
Talbot/Sowers
With the loser of the last spot going to the ‘pen for long relief. I do find it interesting that AC puts Grilli in the ‘pen but, again, all I know about him is that we used to light him up back in ’07.

Also, if we truly think we won’t contend in ’10, our sights should be set on ’11 and beyond. In that, I think ’10 should be used to really, truly prepare those guys who figure in to that rotation. I just don’t see Sowers as one of those guys. Therefore, I think Laffey needs to be in the mix somehow for the whole season in order to prepare him to have a strong, full season in ’11. I think LACF is right about another round of AAA not hurting Huff, and I don’t think it will really be a slight to him if he goes back down for a month or two. With the idea of ’11 as our goal, perhaps preparing Sowers for the pen is best. So, here is my wish list:
Westbrook
Carmona
Masterson
Laffey
Talbot
Sowers (long relief)

I suppose there’s some merit to the idea of increasing package trade value for Sowers, too. And I don’t think it’s unreasonable to believe that one or two of our suggested bullpen guys won’t be around after the first few months, so perhaps starting Sowers in the rotation, then moving him to the bullpen if his performance deems it necessary, isn’t such a bad thing.
And let’s face facts — best case scenario is that we have at least one open rotation spot at mid-season because Westbrook has pitched well and we deal him, which means anyone starting the year in Columbus will get a chance after the trade deadline. As JK just said, half a season in AAA for Huff wouldn’t be that bad.
And, honestly, I’d like to see him perform when he has to compete for a spot, as that has yet to be the case.

According to the ’09 media guide, Laffey entered ’09 with two Minor League options. Somehow, the list provided to me by the Indians says he still has two options remaining. Not sure how that worked out… I’ll have to double-check it… but, either way, he has at least one left.

So LA, that is why the Indians have Rondon in Columbus, in case Jake is traded, he will be the 6th starter and not Huff. Look, we can agree to disagree on Huff and where he should be starting 2010 season, but if I was in charge of this team, I would still treat it as if the Indians are contending because the AL Central, in my view is still wide open. I like the potential of the back end of the bullpen, I like some of the starters, but where we lack in my estimation is the bench. AC and the Indians somehow think Travis Hafner can mysteriously play just about everyday, even though he hasn’t done that in 2 years. So, we need a backup plan, someone who can spell Travis, just in case he can’t do it. We also need to put the players in their best positions possible, and this includes our starters and relievers. I realize this is what spring training is for, but if David Huff is lighting it up and Jeremy is getting lit up….THEN YOU START HUFF. Don’t mess with things, just put Jeremy in the bullpen and use him in long relief. Hector Rondon should be the 6th starter, no questions asked when we need him, whenever that may be. Shapiro used this model as “The Florida Marlins” okay, fine, then use that model because the Marlins try and compete. Do not try and treat this as just a transition year, because not only is that hard to sell to the public, but it also demoralizes the players.

I think we don’t have to worry about our respective favorite pitching prospects getting MLB playing time.
1. Westbrook hasn’t pitched in MLB since since May of ’08. We still don’t know how he will react to extended playing time. We know he’s faced bumps-in-the-road before.
2. Carmona…..well, we all know Fausto has some problems.
3. Masterson still hasn’t really proven he can be effective at the MLB level against lefties.
Honestly, our rotation has plenty of question marks, and, I’m sure, there will be plenty of opportunities for Laffey, Sowers, Huff, Rondon, Carrasco, Talbot, etc., as the season progresses.

such good conversations going on right now. Man, I love us off-season baseball degenerates.

btw AC, unless you were at the House of Blues around 10:00pm tonight, I saw your long lost twin there

CG, I don’t think anyone is suggesting that if Huff is lights out in spring training he should be sent down. That’s why everyone is talking about Sowers as an option in the bullpen as a way of keeping him on the big league roster. But if he blows it, he blows it, and we’ll see how the waiver goes.
But let’s look at it rationally — there’s no reason to believe that Huff WILL be lights out in spring training. Compare his numbers from last year to Sowers and there’s really not much difference. It’s not as if we’re talking about sending Sabathia down because Zach Jackson is out of options.
And, as much as like Rondon, he began to struggle at the AAA level towards the end of the season. He needs more time — there’s no reason to rush him.
Again, this is the point of spring training — the best man wins. Sowers and Talbot may get the benefit of the doubt because they’re out of options, but not if they’re thoroughly outperformed by 12 other guys.

Just checked on Laffey…. his optional assignment in 2007 lasted only 15 days, so it didn’t count as using up an option year.

He was optioned to AAA in 2008 which did use an option year, so you are correct he did have two remaining heading into 2009.

I don’t get what we are so exited about Talbot for. If Laffey isn’t in that rotation it’s a travesty; barring a spring training meltdown. Sowers has to be the long man. He looked great there last year and hasn’t shown any type of consistency in a starting role since 2006. I would also be very disappointed if David Huff didn’t find his way into the rotation. After a great 2008 minor league season and a 2009 season where he showed some promise I would prefer him over a Mitch Talbot who has logged nine major league innings, and been shelled over those innings. If we are looking for a completely unproven answer why not Rondon who at least we know has nasty stuff.

I don’t know LAClevelandfan, call me overly cautious when I hear things like that. During Wedge’s regime, he chose his favorites over the more talented people a few times that bit him in the back on more than 1 time. I am hoping Acta is different from that. To me, the best 5 starters should be out there and right now, that is Westrbook, Carmona, Masterson, Laffey, and Huff….period. Sure, you can have competitions where it regards Talbot and Sowers, just in case, but they should also give Carrasco and Rondon long looks since 3 years from now, those 2 will or should be fixtures in our rotation and not Sowers or Talbot. Like I said before, don’t do what Wedge always did and put people in that had no options left, knwoing full well they won’t contribute much, choose the best 25 man roster as they possibly can, because these players need to get their feet wet so they can be ready in 2011 when they are supposedly ready to contend.

I really do think it’s a matter of who performs best in spring training. I don’t think anyone would consider losing Sowers or Talbot would be that big of a deal, given that Sowers has had every opportunity to prove himself and we didn’t particularly give up much for Talbot. But I also don’t think it’s realistic to believe that Huff, Carrasco, or Rondon are going to EARN spots in spring training — none of them have done anything to convince me they’re that much better than any of the other guys. As good? Maybe, but not so much better than talking about starting them in Columbus is crazy.
Bobwickman, people are only excited about Talbot because of his history prior to his injury. And if we’re talking about his few innings in the majors being an issue, look at Carmona’s first few innings in the majors — and we stuck with him the following year (2007). But, again, if Talbot doesn’t cut it, no loss. The fact that we got anything at all for Shoppach is still kind of amazing.

Baseball America ranks our prospects:

1. Carlos Santana, c
2. Lonnie Chisenhall, 3b
3. Nick Hagadone, lhp
4. Jason Knapp, rhp
5. Michael Brantley, of
6. Nick Weglarz, of
7. Hector Rondon, rhp
8. Carlos Carrasco, rhp
9. Alex White, rhp
10. Jason Kipnis, 2b/of

It would seem, at least on paper, that the recent trades were good ones (although it might just mean our farm system was awful before).

If you guys remember my story about my bus-driver-at-OSU/random-Oklahoma-Indians-fan, and his son, Donnie Webb, here is an interesting story I just read on IPI:
http://www.indiansprospectinsider.com/2010/01/webb-no-longer-flying-under-radar.html

Nice article, JK. Small world.
A thought occurred to me today regarding any or all optimism we might have for the ’10 season. Now, why I periodically day dream about the Tribe surprising everyone and winning the World Series, maybe we should start being more realistic about this.
Think about it: we are expecting Brantley, Valbuena, LaPorta, Hafner, and ALL 12 of our pitchers (whoever they might be) to either finally become, or return to being, major league type players — that’s 16 guys on a 25 man roster! And that’s not even counting Sizemore returning from multiple surgeries, Cabrera coming off a career year, Peralta actually starting the season at third, and revolving rookies behind the plate. That now brings us up to 20 guys, which only leaves our mysterious bench and Choo. That is a LOT of “if’s,” people.
I think if even half of them live up to their potential or return to form, we’ll be incredibly lucky, which means that, realistically, a successful season is one in which we drop the dead weight and filter more and more guys through the system until we get a solid squad. But I would expect a lot of the guys we keep talking about, keep banking on, to fall by the wayside over the course of the season.

From my perspective, a successful 2010 season would be seeing good progression from a couple of our starters (Masterson or Carmona, chiefly) and from our rookies (LaPorta and Brantley). As long as its good progress towards a winning club in 2011 or 2012, I think I will be satisfied. Also, if we break .500, that would be just terrific. But, that would require some very good years from a few people.

I kind of look at that in a different way. I think it’s unreasonable to expect all of our prospects to underperform, and for none of our players to overperform. We don’t need every one of those players to be awesome. If Sizemore is back to his usual self, hitting above .270 and 30/30, Choo puts together a complete year (he has 30/30 potential too, but for some reason has only hit HRs for half a year at a time), Laporta hits just as well as he did last year for an entire season, Cabrera doesn’t drop off too much and Peralta hits around his career average, again, not demanding anything extraordinary here, the only one I’m calling to overperform is Choo, you don’t have to worry so much about how Hafner, Marson/Toregas, Valbuena/FA and Brantley/Crowe/Brown do, and at least a couple of those guys should come through. For the bullpen, out of Wood, C Perez, R Perez, Sipp, J Smith, Sowers, Talbot, Jensen Lewis, I’d expect that some of them will struggle and not make it, but we have Todd, Judy, Wagner, Wright, Tomlin, Pino at AAA … someone out of that group has to pitch well. The starting rotation will be average, I don’t think they’ll be terrible, again there are just too many “major league ready” options not to find 5 guys who can go 6 innings and give up 4 or fewer runs on a regular basis, but the bullpen has a chance to be above average to dominant … which would be enough to compete in the Central … My predictions, Peralta has a career year, Choo puts up All-Star numbers, Sizemore has his best year since 2006, bullpen is one of the best in the league, starters have an ERA around 4.50, the Indians are competitive

I love your optimism, ST, and it may be well founded. Peralta is certainly due for a career year, and if some of these guys can come through, we could have a great lineup. I agree with you, but I think that this will happen over the course of the year. It will probably take this season to tool around with the rotation and bullpen (and the lineup, to a lesser extent), and the we will be ready to compete from Opening Day 2011. We already have so many pieces at the major league level, and close to it. Give this new coaching staff a full season of instilling their philosophy in the players, deciding which players to use, all that jazz. That is why this year is more reloading than than rebuilding. Man, I am too excited for this season to start. It’s only January…

Yeah, ST, what pigeon said. We might not need every one of those players to step up, but we do need the majority of them. Honestly, the only player without some kind of question mark next to his name is Choo, which is why we have all these low risk minor league deals. I think it’s crazy to expect our youngsters to play at a high level all year — there’s going to be a learning curve for most of them, one which will take up most of the year. The goal is for them to get the growing pains out of the way this year, so they can compete next year.
That said, I’m totally optimistic about guys like Masterson and Laffey and, strangely enough, Carmona. I have a good feeling about C. Perez, Sipp, and Wood in the back of ‘pen, and I would love to see Brantley as our lead off hitter. Ultimately, though, we’re going to field a mostly AAAA team in hopes that a year in the majors will take them to the next level.

All that said, I’m also with pigeon in being excited for the new season. I honestly don’t care how well they do, I’m just looking forward to seeing the progression. For every guy who blows his chance, we’re bound to see one who steps up and earns his place. For every failure, we’re going to get on the ground floor of a few great new players, and I’m pretty excited to get to watch that happen from the very beginning.

Of all the pitchers that started a game for the Indians last year, Laffey had the 2nd lowest ERA and he should go to AAA???

Second lowest and still above league average, so not exactly a slam dunk. He’s also yet to pitch a full season in the majors. So, again, he’s going to have to win a spot — definitively win it — to start the season in the rotation.
I hope he does, though, as I think he’s the kind of guy we need in our rotation. But his performance last year — even second best in ERA — isn’t enough to guarantee him anything, because it really wasn’t that great.

I personally would like to see Laffey come into camp with the right attitude and flat out win that open roster spot in the rotation. Given the admittedly poor attitude he had last year at the start of camp it would satisfy a little bit of the problems I have with Laffey if he prepared in that manner. I still think that he’s too inconsistent be to a dominant top-tier SP but he still has time I suppose. Honestly, given the choice between Sowers and Talbot for the 5th SP spot (assuming Westbrook, Carmona, Masterson and Laffey) I would prefer the latter if only b/c I feel after all this time that I have seen what Sowers would contribute to a starting rotation spot. Talbot is a relative unknown commodity at this juncture.

After thinking it over for a while, I’m actually curious to see what Talbot does. I understand he is still considered a descent pitching prospect, but had little future in Tampa Bay.

Great article A. C. keep up the good work.

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