January 2010

Tribe grabs Grudzielanek with Minor League deal

By Anthony Castrovince/MLB.com

The Indians have signed that “big-name” free agent everybody’s been waiting for.

G-R-U-D-Z-I-E-L-A-N-E-K. That’s 12 letters. Even longer than Castrovince. Huge.

Mark Grudzielanek has signed a Minor League deal with a Spring Training invite. This could be the Indians’ answer to their opening in the utility infield spot, as the right-handed-hitting Grudzielanek has vast experience in the bigs at second base (1,108 games) and short (626), and a few games at third (31), just for good measure.

Alas, there’s a catch. Because while the 39-year-old Grudzielanek has experience in the Majors with five teams over 14 seasons, he hasn’t played in the bigs since 2008, and he only appeared in 11 games in the Minors last year. His ’08 season with the Royals was cut short in early August by an ankle injury. The Twins signed him to a Minor League deal midseason last year, only to release him a few weeks later.

In his career, Grudzielanek owns an average of .290 with 391 doubles, 36 triples, 90 homers and 629 RBIs in 1,772 games. He was an NL All-Star with the Expos in 1996 and an AL Gold Glove winner at second base with the Royals in ’06.

Trying to learn how to walk like the heroes

The Tribe’s annual winter development program for Minor Leaguers begins today, with 13 players participating.

They are: right-handers Hector Ambriz, Carlos Carrasco, Josh Judy, Yohan Pino, Zach Putnam, Jeanmar Gomez, Carlton Smith and Gonnor Graham, left-handers Scott Barnes and Kelvin De La Cruz, infielders Jason Donald and Carlos Rivero, outfielder Nick Weglarz.

The program, now in its 15 year, aims to get the players acclimated to the big-league operation by involving them in classroom sessions with Tribe coaching staff members, physical conditioning programs and fundamental work. For guys like Ambriz, Barnes, Carrasco, Graham and Donald, all of whom were acquired last year, this is a good way to get further adjusted to their new surroundings.

The players will be here in Cleveland this week before spending next week at the player development complex in Goodyear, Ariz. They’ll hear from several guest speakers, including Hall of Fame writer Peter Gammons (who, in case you missed it, joined the MLB.com team this month) and St. Ignatius head football coach Chuck Kyle.

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.


When something's broke, I want to put a bit of fixin' on it

We talk a lot about payroll in these parts, because that’s the sort of discussion that erupts when the team you follow supplies both World Series teams with their No. 1 starters.

With that in mind, I suggest you clear 20-30 minutes from your schedule and check out Paul Cousineau’s lengthy, inspired read on MLB’s payroll structure in his latest DiaTribe post.

Paul presents an interesting take on how to alleviate the payroll imbalance that gets points for creativity and, if nothing else, inspires debate.

Of course, it would take a bloodbath in labor negotiations to bring about fundamental changes in the current economic structure. It should be the more realistic hope of Tribe fans that changes are made in the way amateur talent is acquired, because that’s become another embarrasingly unbalanced playing field. To that end, MLB.com did a three-part series last month on how to fix the First-Year Player Draft (you can read that here, here and here). One would also hope changes can be instituted in the international signing market, where big-market teams can afford to throw ungodly figures at unproven commodities.

Anyway, all that reading ought to keep you busy when you’re not out buying your Austin Kearns jersey.


Duncan, Kearns signed to Minors deals

From the “shot in the dark” department, the Indians signed OF/1B Shelley Duncan and OF Austin Kearns to Minor League deals with Spring Training invites.

You can find Duncan’s bio here and Kearns’ here.

So where do these guys fit into the Spring Training picture?

Well, with Matt LaPorta working his way back from hip and toe surgeries, the Indians are trying to protect themselves at first base and in the outfield. Duncan can bounce between the corner outfield spots and first base, and he has a strong track record against left-handed pitching.

Even if LaPorta is good to go (and he’s said to be progressing well in rehab), the Tribe might carry an extra right-handed bat for first base and/or the outfield. Duncan, Jordan Brown and Andy Marte are all in that mix.

As for Kearns, he’ll compete to be the fourth outfielder, and it’s also not out of the realm of possibility that he’ll compete to be the regular in left. While a healthy LaPorta seems to be guaranteed a spot on the Opening Day roster, I’m not sure the same guarantee is there for Michael Brantley.

Kearns was once a breakout player in the making in Cincinnati, but his career never really took off, and he’s coming off two abysmal seasons in Washington. Manny Acta, obviously, is familiar with Kearns and recommended the Indians take a look at him.

Again, though, these are shots in the dark on the part of the Tribe. But at least it breaks up the monotony a little bit.