October 2010

"Let's raise our glass and let the hammer fly"

By Anthony Castrovince/MLB.com



Way back in those halcyon days of early April, I matched each member of the Tribe lineup with the Bruce Springsteen song that best captured their outlook for 2010.


It is only fitting, then, that here on the final day of the 2010 season, I am turning to "The Boss" once again, using his song titles to hand out some hardware for the best, worst and everything in-between this year.



Big raise coming for Shin-Soo Choo, who, some have speculated, could be worth between $3 million and $4 million next year based on his second straight season with a .300 average, 20 homers and 20 stolen bases. The Indians would be wise to try to work out a three-year deal with Choo to give themselves some cost certainties through Choo's arbitration years, before he inevitably bolts as a free agent.



An impressive year, all around, for Choo, but his .401 on-base percentage is his most impressive mark of all.



Grady Sizemore was once billed to be one of the greatest players of his generation. Now, he's played 139 games over the course of two seasons, and he'll be entering 2011 coming off microfracture surgery. Not good.



Manny Acta has the perfect temperament not only for a manager's job, but for a rebuilding manager's job. He has done a nice job of making pointed remarks about certain players over the course of the season without ever getting to the point of embarrassing them. Ultimately, it will take real contention for Acta to become a true crowd-pleaser, but he has handled a difficult year with class and likely endeared himself to some of the fan base in the process.



Carlos Santana sure looked like the real deal before wrenching his knee. With surgery will come questions about how well-prepared he'll be for 2010 and how much time he'll have to log at first base. But if the kid is healthy, he gives the skeptics a reason to get excited about the future of this club.



You might have predicted we'd see Carlos Carrasco or Jeanmar Gomez, but nobody imagined Josh Tomlin would be a regular in the rotation at any point this season. He proved to be a viable option, and his dominant debut against the Yankees was one of the highlights of the season.



Congratulations to lefty reliever Rafael Perez, who went an entire season, including Spring Training, without doing a single interview with anybody in the media. I've checked with PR man Bart Swain, and I believe this is a first. Perez has been pretending not to understand English for a while now, and he has successfully turned off every beat reporter enough to avoid any requests altogether. Personally, I gave up trying to talk to him last year. But Plain Dealer scribe Paul Hoynes made one run at him this spring, and Perez told him he was "too tired" to talk after running sprints following a Cactus League appearance.



perez3.jpgRaffy Perez stands in stunning contrast to Chris Perez, who gets this award not only for his approachability and the respect he shows reporters but also for the fact that he is easily the best quote in the clubhouse. These days, it's increasingly rare to find a player genuinely willing to speak his mind about anything related to his team or other teams, so Perez is a gem. And his performance backs up his bravado, which is more than I can say for some others I've encountered.



Jensen Lewis was optioned out four times this year (and was told he'd be optioned out one other time, only to be recalled the minute his plane landed in Columbus). Now, he's probably entering arbitration-eligibility through "Super 2" status, so he could find himself on the transaction wire yet again this winter.



Dealt at the Trade Deadline, Jake Westbrook hasn't had his name in these parts in a while. But here's to Jake for returning from Tommy John surgery and working more than 200 innings between the Indians and Cardinals this season. A nice achievement for a true class act.



This appears to be the end of the Andy Marte era, as he is approaching salary arbitration. Nice guy, Marte. Just couldn't live up to the expectations of being the primary acquisition in a trade that robbed Cleveland of future Hall of Famer Coco Crisp.



Give Marte credit for this, though. On a night in which none of the Indians seemed capable of throwing a strike, he put the Yankees down, 1-2-3. Amazing.



I've noted before that Chris Gimenez is a pile-jumper, the kind of guy you want in your clubhouse and dugout. The Indians apparently feel the same way, because Gimenez, despite a .160 career batting average, has compiled well over a year of service time with the Tribe over the last two years. Kudos to him.


Mark Grudzielanek and Mike Redmond, we hardly knew ye.



So much happens over the course of a 162-game season. But please, let's not let lose sight of the fact that Jhonny Peralta, of all people, hit an inside-the-park home run.



Travis Hafner wasn't physically fit to play seven days a week and his old power stroke was lost to shoulder woes. But Hafner played more than 100 games for the first time in three years and provided a .943 OPS in the second half, so the Indians' investment, while far from money well spent, was not a total loss.


brantley.jpgTHE "ONE STEP UP" AWARD:

Michael Brantley had a .174 average after 121 at-bats. He entered the final day with a .246 average in 293 at-bats. That's significant improvement, and the Indians have to feel pretty good about penciling him in as their potential leadoff man for next season.



After leading the team in wins in 2009, David Huff was 2-11 with a 6.21 ERA in 15 starts this year and wound up in Triple-A, sans September callup. Huff's resilience showed with the way he quickly bounced back from that A-Rod liner to the head, so here's hoping he shows it again and comes back strong in 2011.



Huff, or somebody with access to his Twitter account, tweeted that he'd be making a spot start for the Indians within 15 minutes of the club giving him the news and asking him to keep the information to himself. Because of this breach, the start instead went to Gomez, who has basically been a regular in the rotation ever since.



No matter what else happens in his career, Jason Donald will always be remembered for being incorrectly called safe by Jim Joyce to break up Armando Galarraga's perfect game with two outs in the ninth at Comerica Park.



Big years down on the farm for second baseman Jason Kipnis, who made a successful conversion from the outfield, and right-hander Alex White, who proved to be a viable starting pitching prospect. Honorable mention also goes out to third basemen Lonnie Chisenhall and Jared Goedert, second baseman Cord Phelps, left-hander Matt Packer and right-handers Vinnie Pestano and Bryce Stowell.


And finally...



This one goes out to all you fans out there who stepped through the turnstiles at Progressive Field this season. The Indians had the lowest home attendance in baseball and their lowest season attendance since 1992. But the Tribe showed its appreciation for those who showed up by having players high-five kids as they ran the bases on Sundays, sign autographs near the dugout before weekend games and toss out autographed baseballs after the last home game. These were all nice touches to thank true fans.



"It's lonely out in space, on such a timeless flight"

By Anthony Castrovince/MLB.com


This is an ode to A2, my home that takes me away from home.
It is the seat I have frequented on Continental’s Embraer jets for the last five years on the Indians beat. As “first class” as you can get on a regional, 50-person flight.
You know those flights. One seat on the left side, two on the right. But the beauty of sitting in A2 is that you are removed from the exhausting small talk that must be kept up with the flight attendant when you’re sitting in A1, and you are removed from having a person sitting on either side of you. Nobody bothers you in A2. You are free to complete your Jumble puzzle or read your Nicholas Sparks novel in peace.
Ah, A2. You are the perfect seat to soothe me when the sobering reality that I am about to spend three days in Arlington sinks in. You are a true companion when those tiny bags of even tinier pretzels serves as lunch. Your prime location at the front of the plane ensures me a quicker trip to baggage claim and fresher canned apple juice than those poor saps in the back.
We sat together today, A2. We’ll be together again Sunday night. Times are changing, though. The Continental and United merger became effective today, and the rigors of the baseball beat have me contemplating a career change to my first love, providing closed-captioning services for “Judge Alex.” Frankly, I’m not sure what the future holds for either of us. So I just wanted to take this moment to say thank you for the cushiony comfort and the livable, if not lordly, leg room.
A2, you are A-OK.
  • Before I get to the usual Tribe notes, I’m going to give myself a little link love. Here’s a feature on our old buddy Brandon Phillips. Here’s a column examining Miguel Cabrera’s MVP chances. Here’s another column on Reds manager Dusty Baker. Here’s a column on Joakim Soria’s underrated season. And here’s the latest installment of the Indians Inbox. Click to show you care.
  • With the home slate now complete, we can officially report that the Indians had the lowest home attendance in baseball this season, at 1,391,644. Will the fans come back if the Indians improve? “Just because they’re not showing up doesn’t mean our fans aren’t passionate,” Acta said. “I get the letters. There is a lot of bitterness and borderline offending [words]. Wherever I went, I saw people wearing Indians stuff. Everybody likes a winner. Why do you think everybody showed up in the mid-90s? Because they liked the way the uniforms looked on some guys?”
  • Justin Germano gets the starting nod Sunday, followed by a bunch of other relievers. Quite an ending.
  • Head athletic trainer Lonnie Soloff gave a final update on various Tribe players, most notably Grady Sizemore and Carlos Santana. Sizemore has had two post-operative checkups and is progressing to “ground-based activities,” meaning lunging and squatting, in two weeks. Santana has had two post-op checkups and is doing well, though Soloff said he could not confirm Santana’s statement from earlier this week that he’ll begin running in November (Soloff did not have the calendar handy).
  • That “ground-based activities” description is a new one. But it is a welcome clarification for those accustomed to seeing baseball players hovering above ground while strength training.
  • When Soloff was done with his session with reporters, a local scribe said, “Does he do that a lot? Because last time you guys were in town, he had one of those.” I don’t have an official tally, but I’d have to believe Lonnie is among the league leaders in press sessions by athletic trainers over the last two years. He’s had a lot of territory to cover.
  • You know who else has been busy the last two years. Hand specialist Dr. Thomas Graham. He recently moved his operation from Baltimore back to Cleveland. Can’t blame Graham for that move. Adam Miller alone provided him enough business to make it worthwhile. But in all seriousness, the Indians view Graham as a tremendous asset to have nearby. He is very well-regarded in sports circles.
  • Heck of a squeeze bunt put down by Trevor Crowe to push across the game-winner in Wednesday’s nightcap. You don’t see too many well-placed bunts on 99 mph fastballs delivered head-high and out of the strike zone. 
  • Manny Acta was asked what he’s thought of Crowe’s season. “We didn’t envision Crowe on this ballclub, with the personnel we had going into Spring Training,” Acta said. “I had heard he was talented, which you expect from a first-round pick, but that he sometimes plays a little out of control. He’s made a lot of progress, in that respect. He had a legit opportunity to make a big-time impression here and put himself on the inside track of being an everyday player. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. But he did enough good things for me to continue to think he’s going to be a good part of what we’re trying to do here.”
  • The subject then turned to second baseman Jason Donald, who was also not expected to get such a meaningful opportunity at this level this season. Acta said that while Donald’s final numbers don’t capture the attention or imagination, he was pleased with the way Donald never went through a major swoon and continually worked hard to make improvements at the plate and in the field. “He kept his head above water and played good enough to not get sent back down once [Asdrubal] Cabrera came back,” Acta said. “It’s a tribute to him.” Will Donald enter 2011 as the starting second baseman? “It depends on what we do in the offseason,” Acta said. “He proved he can compete, and he got one more year under his belt.”
  • Today was pay day for the players. One guy approaching arbitration-eligibility for the first time was heard to remark, “This is the smallest paycheck I’m going to get until I’m a 40-year-old retread.” Line of the day.