November 2010

"You mean stakeout the lobby?"

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

waldorflobby.jpgOrlando is lovely this time of year. Or so I hear. All I can vouch for at this juncture is the loveliness of the Waldorf-Astoria lobby, where many a ball scribe has spent many a minute this week at the GM Meetings, in precious pursuit of a scoop… or at least a tidbit.

Here, then, are some tidbits pertaining to your beloved Tribe, courtesy of the Waldorf.

EXCRUCIATING MINUTIAE OF THE DAY…

  • Chris Antonetti would be the first to acknowledge that, from a reporting standpoint, he’s one of the least interesting guys here. His team has no money to spend and few holes to fill (partly because of that whole no-money-to-spend thing). Of course, that won’t prevent him from investigating trade opportunities to address third base and the rotation. And as I wrote on the main site tonight, the Indians might be looking for some bullpen depth later this winter. Obviously, nothing too consequential, though.
  • The bigger issue with the Indians this week is Friday’s 40-man deadline. The Indians have five spots to fill with guys who are Rule 5 eligible. Those left unprotected will be eligible to be taken by the other clubs. Among the eligibles, hard-throwing lefty reliever Nick Hagadone is an obvious choice for roster protection, and you’d have to imagine the need for starting depth will lead to recent trade acquisitions Zach McAllister and Corey Kluber getting added. Beyond that, and as noted in this week’s Inbox, infielders Jared Goedert and Josh Rodriguez and right-handers Josh Judy and Adam Miller are the most obvious names to consider.
  • Antonetti wouldn’t say if the Indians will use all five spots or if they’ll leave one open to potentially nab somebody in the Rule 5, as they did a year ago with Hector Ambriz. He did say the Indians aren’t planning on removing anybody else from the 40-man, which would appear to be good news, however tentative, for Shelley Duncan and Justin Germano.
  • When Rule 5 protection is the hottest topic this time of year, you know you’re dealing with a team that’s not exactly billed as a contender. So, in Antonetti’s estimation, how far away are the Indians from fielding a competitive team? Is such a thing possible for 2011? “I do think it’s a possibility,” he said. “We had a very talented but very young team. With that youth comes volatility. The group of guys we have are certainly capable of being a contending team. Will that happen? That’s going to depend on guys staying healthy and guys continuing to progress and get better. But as a group, it’s all guys that are either in their prime or entering their prime.”
  • What that prime consists of is the issue. The hope, of course, is that guys like Matt LaPorta, Michael Brantley, Justin Masterson and Carlos Carrasco can turn their potential into substance. “The important thing with young players is to have that consistency,” Antonetti said. “Once you start to see young players contribute on a consistent basis, rather than sporadically, it gives you optimism that you’re getting to that point of being a contending team — not just competitive, but contending.”
  • You already know the Indians had the youngest roster in the game at season’s end, but here’s a little added perspective: Grady Sizemore is the team’s second-oldest position player, behind Travis Hafner, and Rafael Perez is the oldest pitcher. Those guys were both born in 1982.
  • As noted at the time they traded him, the Indians would have loved to bring back Jake Westbrook… just like they would love to bring back Cliff Lee. There’s a difference between hope and reality, of course, which is why there were never any serious conversations with Jake before he re-upped with the Cardinals with a two-year, $16.5 million deal. Westbrook took less than his perceived market value because he loved his experience with the Cards, a team that had targeted him for a while before finally landing him in July.
  • Westbrook was out of the picture, so the Indians instead settled for re-signing Anthony Reyes, who hasn’t thrown a pitch in the bigs since May 2009, to another Minor League deal on Monday. They view him as a legit candidate for a rotation job. So lump him in with the group that already included Josh Tomlin, Jeanmar Gomez and David Huff. Fausto Carmona, Justin Masterson and Mitch Talbot are all assured spots, and Carlos Carrasco seems all but guaranteed a spot, as well.
  • Obviously, Huff is the only left-hander in the above list. Problem?  “Ultimately, we need the best starting pitchers to get guys out,” Antonetti said. “Whether they’re right-handed or left-handed, we’re not ultimately concerned about. The thing we’re more concerned about are who are the most effective pitchers to get us deep into the game.”
  • The lineup will obviously be augmented if Grady Sizemore and Carlos Santana make successful returns from knee surgery. Both are on-schedule, for now, but December and January will be important months for them. Sizemore’s status, in particular, will be interesting to monitor. “From an injury standpoint, Carlos’ injury is maybe a little bit more predictable because there are more cases of his type of injury, a repaired ligament,” Antonetti said. “With Grady, it’s a little less certain. Grady, we’ll have to continue to see how he meets the individual milestones and be in touch with Dr. [Richard] Steadman on what he feels the appropriate progression will continue to be. He’s met all his checkpoints so far.”
  • Baseball America released its list of the top 10 Indians prospects. Lonnie Chisenhall heads the list.
  • On my flight to Orlando, I was seated near our old friend Eric Wedge, his wife Kate and their two young kids, Ava and Cash. It was great to see the Wedges (and Eric’s reborn ‘stache, in particular). I was always of the opinion that he deserved another shot. Though obviously the situation he’s inherited in Seattle will be an uphill climb, something Wedge is, unfortunately, accustomed to. M’s GM Jack Zduriencik said Wedge’s intensity really showed in the interview process. “I had met him a few times, talked to him a few times at meetings like this, but had no relationship with him,” Zduriencik said. “But a lot of people I knew did. We had a few discussions before we brought him in, and when we brought him in he lived up to the billing. We set a criteria of what we were looking for in a manager. As you go through the process, there’s a relationship that gets to be established, and that happened there. He fit the bill for what we were looking for.” The way Wedge handled his dismissal in Cleveland was noticed around the league. “He handled it with a lot of class,” Zduriencik said. “That’s Eric. That’s part of the reason why he’s our manager.”
  • Speaking of managers, what’s new in Manny Acta’s world? Well, as you probably know, Acta holds dual citizenship here and in his native Dominican, and part of the responsibility of being a U.S. citizen is fulfilling that age-old obligation known as jury duty. Acta was called into involuntary servitude down here in Florida last week. He spent six days listening in on a civil suit. Six days he could have been spending with his family in a too-short offseason. But he took dedicated notes and took his position very seriously. And then, on the last day, the judge informed him that his vote would not be needed. Acta learned he had merely served as the alternate. Gotta love the judicial system.
  • You new Tribe scribe, Jordan Bastian, has begun his new blog at this link. Be sure to bookmark it and check it often.
  • Finally, if I haven’t said it enough, thank you so much for all the kind words about the work I’ve done here and on the site. It’s extremely gratifying and extremely appreciated. But now that all the mushy stuff is out of the way, it feels nice to dig back into the minutiae, doesn’t it?

~AC

"This is the long goodbye"

By Anthony Castrovince/MLB.com

When I arrived here in Orlando to cover the GM Meetings earlier today, I checked my Twitter account and found it inundated with kind words from many of you who read my announcement about leaving the Indians beat. Overwhelmed by the show of support, I thought back to that day, nearly five years ago, when I arrived here under much different circumstances. I was en route to Winter Haven to cover the Cleveland Indians’ Spring Training camp in my first year on the beat as the reporter for the team web site.

That’s still quite a concept to wrap my head around. Because to a Euclid kid who would head to Cleveland Municipal Stadium on many a summer day with his old man to scalp a couple general admission seats in the right-field stands (so that I could see my favorite player, Cory Snyder, up close) and who spent every morning of every day in grade school and high school reading every last inch of the sports page and hoping to one day be the one providing the words within it, this was a dream job.

billyjoel1.jpgIn many ways, it still is a dream job. It still boggles my mind that they pay people to write about baseball and you fine folks devotedly read the ensuing product. I can’t thank you enough for that.

So I thank you, also, for the many wonderful experiences that have come with this job, from covering the 2007 playoff run (and ensuing collapse) and the Armando Galarraga perfect game (I’ll always refer to it as such) to walking through the Iowa cornfields with Bob Feller to shaking hands with Billy Joel. I even got to interview Snyder one time.

The perks of the profession extended to the personal side, too. Having my dad, who made me a baseball fan in the first place, along for the ride on a few road trips was a great bonding experience for us both.

And while all of the above led to some meaningful memories, nothing compares to that day when I met the girl who, in a few weeks, will become my wife. Naturally, we met at Jacobs Field.

Of course, to do this job right is to give up a lot. That can include your sanity, as any ball scribe worth his credential can tell you after covering a day-night doubleheader in which both games go into extras or getting up at 5 a.m. after covering a night game in Kansas City so that you can catch that flight to Minneapolis that includes the three-hour layover in Chicago.

Fortunately, my bosses at MLB.com value my work enough to allow me to continue to do what I love – i.e. attempting to put this great game into words — while stepping away from the daily grind and the relentless travel that come with beat responsibilities. I owe them a big, public thank you, as well.  

Over on the Indians.com page, I’m turning you over to the highly capable hands of Jordan Bastian, one of MLB.com’s best. Jordan is inheriting a front office that is a joy to work with. Mark Shapiro, Chris Antonetti and Co. have always been accomodating and responsive, and Curtis Danburg, Bart Swain and the rest of the guys and gals in media and community relations are extremely helpful, as well. Toss in the cast of characters in the Progressive Field press box — including Paul Hoynes, Sheldon Ocker and Jim Ingraham, who have been on the beat longer than I’ve been alive yet never made me feel anything less than welcomed — and you’ve got a tremendous work environment.

As noted in the Inbox, I’m not completely stepping away from all this. Here at CastroTurf, I plan to continue to track the Tribe, provide some insight into their decision-making and direction, some analysis of their performance and, yes, some excruciating minutiae, too. It won’t be on the nightly basis that it once was, but hopefully it’ll be enough to keep the writer-reader relationship we’ve built up over the years going strong.

I hope you’ll also check out my columns for MLB.com (they’re linked here) and keep an eye out for my other work on the site. You can always follow me on Twitter (@Castrovince) to see what I’m up to.

Thanks to all you “Castronauts” for making this job a joy.

~AC

PS: On a completely unrelated note, don’t forget to buy the Darkness box, in stores now.

Reviewing "Time in the Minors"

By Anthony Castrovince/MLB.com

timeinminors.jpg

The percentages are against those who begin a Minor League
career hoping to one day get that call to the big leagues. So the percentages
were equally against independent documentary filmmaker Tony Okun picking two
faces in the crowd and getting the chance to chronicle such an ascent.

So, no, we don’t get that rise in “Time in the Minors,” Okun’s
recently released film that follows two players — an eight-year Minor League
veteran named Tony Schrager and a newly signed first-round pick named John
Drennan — through the 2006 season. What we get is more the Minor League norm: two
guys, at two distinctly different stages in their career, whose experience in
the professional game is one of big adjustments, low pay and long road trips.

At the risk of spoiling the ending, neither of these guys got
the call to the bigs in ’06. In the present day, Schrager has
moved on from the game and Drennan is still plying his time in the Indians’
system (he was at Double-A Akron in 2010). Maybe Okun’s film would have
benefited from the ability to show Schrager getting that long-awaited call and
the emotion of the moment, but it certainly succeeds in instead reflecting
reality. Minor League baseball, after all, is all grind and no glory, and the movie does a
fine job of stressing that.

Schrager’s tale is the more compelling of the two. The film
takes a look at a season that saw a 28-year-old Schrager humbly accept a job
with an independent league team when no professional unit came calling, only to
latch on with the Marlins’ organization when they had a need for middle-infield
depth. We see how the threat of a dream denied begins to weigh on Schrager and
his wife, though I thought Okun could have delved a little deeper into the
mounting frustration and lack of opportunity that ultimately led to Schrager’s retirement and a new career in real
estate.

Drennan’s annoyingly vague California surfer speak doesn’t make
him all that compelling a character. But Indians fans will enjoy seeing the
club’s Minor League operation behind the scenes, including some fine shots from
the decrepit Winter Haven spring facility (which is probably worth a
documentary in its own right). And Drennan homers off a rehabbing Roger
Clemens, so that’s pretty cool, too.

Overall, what you get here is an honest look at what some might
be surprised to learn is an unglamorous profession. It serves as good food for
thought for young ballplayers anticipating a pro career, and it’s also worth a
look for those curious about the inner workings of the Minor League game.

Here’s the link to Okun’s web site, where you can check out the
trailer and order the DVD.

~AC

"Here where the blood is spilled, the arena's filled and Giants played their games"

By Anthony Castrovince/MLB.com

giants.jpg

The first question Indians fans will ask themselves, in the wake of the San Francisco Giants’ unlikely rise to World Series glory, will be, “Can that happen in Cleveland?”
The answer, from my perspective, is yes. And no.
This Giants team was not your traditional underdog. It’s easy to get caught up in the talk of their collection of “outcasts and misfits” and lose sight of the fact that the Giants opened the season with the ninth-highest Opening Day payroll in the game, at $98.6 million. They are in the nation’s sixth-largest television market, and their fans can hardly be construed as fair-weather. The Giants lost 91 games in 2007 and 90 in 2008 and still drew 3.2 million and 2.8 million fans, respectively, in those seasons.
Now, you can look at the Giants and suggest that they actually won with a payroll in the mid-$60 million range, because several of their big-money makers — Barry Zito, Mark DeRosa and Aaron Rowand — were either not a major factor in the postseason run (Rowand) or off the postseason roster altogether (Zito and DeRosa).
But the fact remains that this was an organization with the payroll flexibility to absorb some pretty outrageous financial blunders.
So, no, in one sense, the Giants’ situation and that of the Indians isn’t even remotely comparable.
Yet what strikes me about the Giants’ postseason roster and its key contributors is the way it was built. Brian Sabean’s major ventures into free-agent waters proved ill-fated. The strength of this club was its internal, homegrown talent, with some low-cost pieces/parts filling in the gaps.
The Giants are world champs primarily because they drafted well. In the first round in the last decade, they took Matt Cain in 2002, Tim Lincecum in 2006, Madison Bumgarner in 2007 and Buster Posey in 2008.
Right there, the Giants provided themselves with the pieces that would fill three rotation spots and a catcher for the middle of the order.
Not a bad haul. And not that any of you need to be reminded, but while the Giants were pulling in that talent, the Indians were making the likes of Jeremy Sowers, Trevor Crowe and Beau Mills top 15 picks in the Draft.
The Giants were able to rebuild relatively quickly (they had four straight losing seasons from 2005-2008) as the Barry Bonds era wound down and eventually ended because they had that next wave of talent coming through the farm system. That’s something the Indians simply didn’t possess when the 2007 club became besieged by injuries and the pending free agency of several core players.
What the Indians received when the walls caved in and they dealt those core players to other clubs will go a long way toward their current rebuilding effort. But the early returns on those trades of CC Sabathia, Cliff Lee and Victor Martinez obviously leave quite a bit to be desired.
Still, as if the message hasn’t been hammered home enough, I’ll hammer it home again: The Indians have to hope they got it right with Alex White, Drew Pomeranz and their other prominent Draft picks in recent years.
The Indians don’t have the money, the market or the reliable fan support to compare to the Giants, but they do have the ability to build this thing from within, as the Giants (in some ways in spite of themselves) did. You have to hit on your No. 1 Draft picks, and you have to have some luck — something the Indians haven’t majored in, to this point.
~AC
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