Archive for the ‘ Dailies ’ Category

“Tell me how do we get this thing started?”

By Anthony Castrovince/MLB.com

The Indians announced their starting rotation Friday, and, well, it’s a start.

Fausto Carmona is the de facto ace of what many will label a defective starting five. The rotation is rounded out by Justin Masterson, Carlos Carrasco, Mitch Talbot and Josh Tomlin, in no particular order and receiving no particular ovation from a skeptical fan base.

Even Tomlin sounded skeptical when told he had nailed down the fifth slot.

“I won’t believe it until I’m on that mound in Cleveland,” he said.

Tomlin’s emergence at the Major League level last year was a credit to his ability to throw strikes when so many other ailing arms could not. It was also telling of the state of the upper-level starting pitching situation in the Indians’ system, as Tomlin was completely off the radar one year ago but worked his way up when the usual suspects — injuries, ineffectiveness and the Trade Deadline — left the Tribe scrambling for help.

While the current crop of five starters is not going to do much to inspire immediate optimism in the Tribe’s chances this season, the Indians’ hope is that the scramble can be avoided and a reliable rotation can be formed by year’s end, so that a more earnest effort to contend can be launched in 2012.

For that to happen, these are five keys for the starting five, entering 2011:

1. Carmona’s command: Fausto turned in a 5.22 walks per nine innings rate in 2008 and a 5.03 mark in ’09. Last year, he got that number down to 3.08 (not quite his 2.55 total from ’07, but getting there) and that was, by and large the key to his All-Star season. (Well, the other key is that Shin-Soo Choo got hurt and the Indians didn’t really have any other All-Star candidates, but that’s neither here nor there.)

The tradeoff to get that improved command is that Carmona has had to reinvent himself, sacrificing some velocity on his sinking fastball and using his breaking ball more frequently, thereby getting less groundball outs than he did back in the day. So whereas Carmona was throwing 75 percent fastballs in ’07 (according to FanGraphs.com) and averaging them out at 93.5 mph, he threw the pitch 67.8 percent of the time and at an average velocity of 92.6 mph last year.

Back in ’07, Carmona looked like an ace-in-waiting. Now he looks more like a middle-of-the-rotation guy who, if kept mechanically correct and getting good action on the sinker and slider, can eat up innings and frequently give you a quality start. Of course, on this particular staff, he’s an ace, even if his personality isn’t necessarily a natural fit for the role.

2. Masterson’s modifications: Just when it appeared the time was ripe to give up on the Masterson-as-starter experiment, he went at least six innings and allowed two earned runs or less in five of his last six “starts” (one of which was not really a start but a seven-inning relief outing when Talbot got hurt in the first). So this brings the Indians back to square one in this process of wondering whether Masterson, a successful Red Sox reliever in another life, really can stick as a starter.

Masterson’s big body suggests durability. His heavy fastball suggests groundballs. His .324 batting average on balls in play in 2010 suggests he was the victim of some bad luck. His improvement down the stretch — brought on, he said, by the application of “checkpoints” in his delivery — suggests things are looking up.

Still, all the old warnings still apply to Masterson. The arm angle on his delivery makes him a nightmare for right-handers but a boon to lefties, who hit .290 off him last year. The Indians are right to give Masterson a long leash in this role at this stage in the contention cycle, but if the splits don’t get fixed this year, it might be time to rethink the situation.

3. Talbot’s teammates: Talbot’s pitches never met a bat they didn’t like. Even as he put together a respectable rookie season in 2010, he got swinging strikes on just 5.9 percent of his pitches, well below the league average of 8.5 percent (thanks again, FanGraphs.com). Those swinging at his pitches inside the strike zone made contact 91.6 percent of the time.

With numbers like those, it’s little wonder Talbot came back down to earth after a sizzling start to the season last year. He also battled some back issues in the second half, which didn’t help matters.

Talbot has a four-pitch mix, which allows him to maintain a certain level of unpredictability. Ultimately, though, he might be a pitch-to-contact guy who is only as good as his teammates — those picking him up at the plate and those fetching the ball in the field. The Indians undoubtedly need to be better in the latter category this year.

4. Carrasco’s confines: Let’s be clear about two things. One, Spring Training stats are, by and large, meaningless. Two, the ball notoriously flies off the bat in Arizona.

And now that we’ve said all that, let’s pull back the sheet and look at the gruesome scene in front of us: Carrasco has allowed six homers in 16 2/3 innings this spring.

Potentially meaningless but intriguing all the same, those numbers bring to mind the number one concern about Carrasco, which is his ability (or, rather, inability) to keep the ball within the confines of the park on a consistent basis. If he can locate his pitches well enough to prevent the long ball, then what you have here is a 24-year-old kid with special stuff who could emerge as a viable front-end rotation option. In a solid September callup last year, he went 2-2 with a 3.83 ERA and, most impressively, a 2.82 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

He just can’t get hurt by the homer. Maybe he got it all out of his system in Arizona.

5. Alex’s arrival: As long as he keeps pounding the strike zone, Tomlin is a serviceable placeholder in the rotation, though his stuff doesn’t translate into him being a likely long-term answer. More likely, we’ll see former top Draft pick Alex White in this or one of the other starting slots by year’s end and perhaps by the All-Star break.

Because he arrived as the 15th overall selection in the ’09 Draft, there might be an expectation among some fans that White is an ace-type talent in the making. A more applicable expectation would be for him to emerge as a Jake Westbrook type who can give you a ton of quick innings and routinely deliver double-digit wins. While it’s a little less sexy, there is, obviously, a lot of value in that type of talent.

White proved at the Class A and Double-A levels last year that he’s capable of starting, after some confusion as to whether or not he would be groomed as a reliever. This year, he’ll try to tackle Triple-A, and there is every reason to expect him to make an impact in Cleveland sooner rather than later. And a year from now, the Indians hope to be on a similar timetable with left-hander Drew Pomeranz, the top pick from 2010 who does have more of an ace-type pedigree and made a strong impression in spring camp.

The bad news about all of the above is that the Tribe rotation is, clearly, still very much in the developmental stage, which is why the battle royale with the Royals for fourth place in the AL Central is counted on to continue this season.

But the good news is that some important strides were made last year and more could be on the horizon, particularly if guys like Nick Hagadone and Jason Knapp pan out as starters in the Minor League levels this year.

Perhaps most important, if the Indians get it right, all of the above are under contractual control through at least 2014 and, in most cases, beyond.

So, again, it’s a start.

~AC

"I've never seen a beautiful lady reading 'The Guide'"

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The printed word has no doubt lost some luster, thanks to modern technology (just ask the good folks at Borders), but count me among those who still enjoy the annual release of the media guide.
When you’re covering a team, the media guide is always along for the ride, there to provide quick and easy access to Jayson Nix’s career OBP when you’re unable (or too lazy) to access a wireless signal.
But the media guide has plenty other information, much of it oft-ignored. If you’re around a ballclub on a daily basis, much of the biographical information available in the guide becomes known through basic human interaction. However, as I flipped through the Indians’ 2011 guide while bored out of my mind on the flight out of Phoenix over the weekend, it occurred to me that this 474-page tome contains quite a few nuggets that might not be common knowledge to the common fan.
With that said, here is a very special edition of CastroTurf:
EXCRUCIATING MEDIA GUIDE MINUTIAE…
  • Fausto Carmona’s favorite movie is “Major League II.” Not “Major League,” mind you. “Major League II.” 
  • During his undergrad days, GM Chris Antonetti spent a year and a half as a student manager for the Georgetown men’s basketball team, working for head coach John Thompson Jr.
  • Assistant GM Mike Chernoff’s father, Mark, is the vice president of programming at WFAN in New York City.
  • I’m not sure why, but this has been a favorite media guide entry of mine for several years: Shin-Soo Choo’s favorite music is listed as “soft contemporary.” I smell an endorsement contract with WDOK on the horizon.
  • Carlos Carrasco, meanwhile, likes country music. Keith Urban’s huge in Venezuela.
  • Hitting coach Jon Nunnally’s nickname when he was a player with the Royals was “The Flying Nuns.” OK, this info isn’t in the media guide, but it ought to be.
  • shawshank.jpgTrevor Crowe, David Huff and Lou Marson all list “The Shawshank Redemption” as their favorite movie. Would you believe me if I told you I never saw “The Shawshank Redemption” until a couple weeks ago? Just never got around to it. In fact, I even toured the Mansfield prison where the movie was shot (during an Indians Press Tour stop) long before I even saw the movie. Naturally, the movie is as phenomenal as I expected. Worth the wait.
  • On the opposite end of the spectrum (though still great), Matt LaPorta and Vinnie Pestano both list “Dumb and Dumber” as their favorite film.
  • Scouting director Brad Grant’s sister is married to Lee MacPhail IV, the director of professional scouting for the Orioles, great-grandson of Hall of Fame executive Larry MacPhail, grandson of Hall of Fame executive Lee MacPhail and nephew of O’s GM Andy MacPhail. 
  • Jared Goedert’s father, Joe, holds the single-season batting average record for Cloud County Community College. He hit .510! I don’t use many exclamation points, but felt it necessary here.
  • While at the University of Washington, Nick Hagadone and Tim Lincecum combined on a no-hitter against Santa Clara in 2006.
  • Hagadone’s wife’s name is Pesarakphorn. No, a cat did not just walk across my keyboard. That’s her real name. I double-checked with the PR department. I’ve written here before about how people always butcher my last name, but I can only imagine what poor Mrs. Hagadone has had to go through over the years. Anyway, they got married over the winter, so congrats to the happy couple.
  • In addition to appearing on “The Amazing Race,” third-base coach Steve Smith was inducted into the Pepperdine Hall of Fame last year. He was also first-base coach Sandy Alomar Jr.’s manager at Beaumont, Wichita and Las Vegas from 1986-89.
  • van.jpgFrank Herrmann likes “The Godfather,” Van “The Man” Morrison and “Seinfeld.” Check, check, check.
  • Speaking of “The Godfather,” Crowe is the godfather of Jordan Brown’s son, Mason.
  • Before coming to Cleveland, Dan Smith, the Tribe’s vice president of food and beverage, served as GM of the House of Blues in New Orleans. I’m only including this note because it simultaneously makes me hungry and brings back extremely pleasant memories of my 21st birthday weekend.
  • Huff has a new tattoo of a samurai slaying a three-headed dragon, with Japanese letters that translate to “The Silent Assassin.” Again, not in the guide, but ought to be.
  • I’ve mentioned here once or twice that Raffy Perez is probably the most elusive guy in the clubhouse, from a media standpoint. So I find it fitting that this is the full extent of the “personal/miscellaneous” section of his bio: “Single… resides in Santo Domingo, DR.” Enlightening.
  • Newly signed reliever Chad Durbin obviously isn’t in the guide. So I’ll take it upon myself to provide this nugget about the Durbster. Back when he was with the Tribe in ’04, the Illinois native guided the Chicago Cubs to video game glory. I can’t remember which game, exactly. MLB High Heat, maybe? Anyway, that’s not important. What’s important is that Durbin acquired himself to pitch for the Cubs, and he made himself the fifth starter. Not the ace. The fifth starter. Humble guy, that Durbin. Good to see him back in the fold. 
  • OK, now I’m getting completely off-track from the media guide stuff, but I must include this note, as well: Also in ’04, myself and former Indians PR intern Jeremy Martin were rooting for a game in which Chad Durbin gets the win, Scott Stewart gets the save and Rob Deer comes out of retirement to hit the big home run, only because the Indians.com headline could have been “One Durbin, One Scott, One Deer,” with a tip of the cap to George Thorogood. Maybe now that Durbin’s joining a bullpen coached by Scott Radinsky, this can still happen, somehow. Just need a Deer.
  • All right, back to the guide… Radinsky is the lead singer of the alternative punk rock band, Pulley, and was formerly the front man for Ten Foot Pole. He owns a skateboard park in bronxtale.jpgSimi Valley, Calif. Radinsky might be the coolest guy in baseball, and that’s saying something.
  • This will make some of you feel old: Mike Hargrove has eight grandchildren.
  • LaPorta’s favorite TV show is “Swamp People.” I have no idea what that is, but color me intrigued.
  • Chris Perez majored in criminology at Miami.
  • And finally… Manny Acta’s favorite movie is “A Bronx Tale.” Well done, Manuel. A classic film. So classic that my uncle uses “bronxtale” as his computer password. For my money, there are few bits of movie dialogue better than the one delivered by Robert De Niro when he gives his young son, Calogero, the “working man is the tough guy” speech. And then, of course, you have “A Bronx Tale’s” greatest contribution to our society – spreading the gospel of The Door Test. I’ve employed this test multiple times in my life, and suffice to say it works. (My
    wife, naturally, passed The Test… otherwise she wouldn’t be my wife.) Great movie. And I didn’t know it was Manny’s favorite until I read the media guide.

~AC

PS: In case you missed it, here’s my column on Grady Sizemore’s ongoing recovery from microfracture surgery.

"Dream beneath the desert sky"

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Greetings from the Valley of the Sun, otherwise known as the Land of Traffic Cameras.
I’m taking short-term residence in the posh Hotel del Bastian for the next few days, visiting a few Phoenix-area Spring Training sites — including, of course, the Tribe’s spring safehold here in Goodyear. And with Jordan getting a rare day off, beating his drum and donning his coonskin cap somewhere atop the Estrella Mountains, I figured I’d help provide you with your daily helping of all things Indians.
It’s worth noting that upon touchdown at the Sky Harbor Airport, I headed straight to the Giants’ camp in Scottsdale for a bit before heading west to Goodyear, where a Manny Acta interview session awaited. So if you’re wondering how far the Indians are from being a championship club, I can tell you — about 45 minutes or so, traffic dependant.
With that said, let’s roll.
EXCRUCIATING MINUTIAE OF THE DAY…
  • Grady Sizemore. Grady Sizemore. Grady Sizemore. It’s the No. 1 rule of Indians coverage at this juncture. If you write Grady Sizemore’s name, people – even non-Indians fans… and especially fantasy baseball folks — will read it. (I mean, at least, I hope so… I am here, in part, to do a Grady column, after all). So I’m going to lead off with some Grady Sizemore news. He is… wait for it… ahead of schedule in his rehab, in that the Indians are overjoyed with the way he’s swinging the bat, given all the time missed. “If you could have a designated runner for him right now,” Acta said, “he’d be in the lineup.” (IMPORTANT NOTE: This doesn’t, of course, mean he’s ahead of schedule in every other facet of baseball. Just hitting. I didn’t make that distinction clear enough, initially. Count me among the highly skeptical that we’ll be seeing Sizemore before mid-April, at the absolute earliest.)
  • grady.jpgBut you know the line on Sizemore: The fearless (reckless?) way he approaches the game is what led to his downfall (I’ve already taken to comparing him to Billy Mumphrey, in that regard). So as he progresses in his rehab from a rare surgical procedure, he’ll simultaneously have to learn to rein himself in, where appropriate. “Right now, we’re in a dangerous spot, because he’s swinging the bat so well,” Acta said. “We don’t want him to get overly excited and do something that’s not going to be in his best interests.”
  • It will certainly be interesting to see if two years’ worth of injuries affect Sizemore’s style, once he is in the lineup. I asked Shin-Soo Choo, who returned from Tommy John surgery in 2008, about that process, and he said, “When I came back, I didn’t worry about sliding or anything. You can’t control anything. You can’t worry about injury and play scared or afraid.”
  • Kenny Lofton arrived today as an Old Guy Teaching the Young Kids – a Spring Training specialty. You’d have to imagine Lofton would be a good influence on a young player like Michael Brantley, who is learning how to make the most of his speed and developing as a potential leadoff man. “Kenny participated in our baserunning lecture [Wednesday morning],” Acta said. “Kenny and Eduardo Perez have already made an impact in our camp. They’re full of energy and knowledge. They’re part of that group of players that not only had good careers at Major League level but have a lot of savvy they can pass on. Kenny, in his first day, right away made an impact.”
  • Beware anybody who offers assurances, positive or negative, about a Major League bullpen. Nobody really knows what they’re talking about. That’s why it helps to have depth, and this is one area where – on paper, at least – the Indians possess such a luxury. Acta was asked if he thinks there’s such a thing as “momentum” carrying over from one season to the next for a bullpen. After all, Tribe relievers posted a 2.95 ERA after the All-Star break last year – the second-lowest such mark in the AL and the fourth-lowest in MLB. “I think the offseason can stop any momentum, because it’s four months of inactivity,” Acta said. “Confidence [carries over]. Guys were pretty dominant in the second half, and they feel pretty good about themselves. I just don’t see them backing down right now.”
  • As written here and elsewhere, the first five spots in the ‘pen are assured to the Perezes, Tony Sipp, Joe Smith and Jensen Lewis. It’s a traffic jam in the mix for the last two spots -http://www.indians.com- Frank Herrmann, Vinnie Pestano, Josh Judy, Justin Germano and Zach Putnam are among those getting consideration. You also have to factor in Josh Tomlin, Aaron Laffey and even Anthony Reyes, if they don’t land a rotation job. “I feel I have about 10 [relievers] I can count on,” Acta said. “It’s going to be an interesting competition. You can say that five guys are probably in there, but those other guys… Herrmann pitched well for us and so did Germano. So did Pestano. And then the way Judy threw the ball in Triple-A, that gives another guy we feel can come up and help us out.”
  • Acta said non-roster invitee Bryce Stowell, who posted a 5.49 ERA in 17 appearances at Columbus last season after blowing past Double-A competition, is not competing for an Opening Day job. “He’s made big strides in our system,” Acta said. “But Bryce knows he has work to do with his secondary pitches and command of his fastball.”
  • And Reyes? Really? The guy has plenty to prove, considering he made just eight starts in ’09 before blowing out his elbow and having Tommy John performed, costing him essentially all of 2010. The Indians consider him a viable rotation candidate, but today, to my knowledge, was the first time he’s been mentioned as a potential bullpen candidate. Acta quickly admitted the Indians would have to be careful with how they use him in a relief role, if it comes to that. “We’re going to find out in Spring Training,” Acta said. “But if you have a guy like him in the bullpen, you have to take [his elbow history] into consideration. You’re not going to be getting him up and down, up and down, up and down.”
  • Closer Chris Perez had his ups and downs very early in 2010 but he righted himself with improved command of his fastball and slider as the year progressed. From June 18 on, his ERA was 0.96. It was 0.53 from June 28 on. “Repetition,” Acta said. “That’s what makes people better in the game. Last year was basically the first opportunity this guy had to pitch consistently at the big league level. Even when he wasn’t closing games for us, he was still the most important guy in our bullpen. He was the guy that was a bridge to our closer. Even when season started, he was closing games [when Kerry Wood was on the DL]. The fact that he was able to go out there three times a week, that helped.” Perez is working on a changeup this spring. Acta said that would be a “huge” weapon for him.
  • If the Indians do, indeed, go with five right-handed starters, then you have to like Laffey’s chances of landing in the ‘pen as a long man. “Last year, we started with that,” Acta said. “It can help us, especially in our division. It helps to have a left-hander with some length in the bullpen, based off all those right-handed starters we have.”
  • Looking forward to seeing the Jason Donald Experiment at third base. Donald is
    one of my personal favorites in the clubhouse. A true gamer/grinder/whatever buzzword Eric Wedge would use for guys who put the team first and uniform cleanliness second. I have, however, voiced some concerns about him as a third baseman, but the reports, thus far, have been positive. “His footwork and his clock from third have been really good,” Acta said. “We’re excited. Workouts are not the same as game speed. We’ll wait and see. We like what we see.”
  • The Indians will see some semblance of game speed tomorrow, when they have their first intrasquad game at Goodyear Ballpark. First pitch is set for 10:45 a.m. local time. Jeanmar Gomez gets the start for Sarby’s Sour Balls (coached by Mike Sarbaugh), opposite Justin Masterson of Smitty’s American Racers (coached by Steve Smith). Another intrasquad is scheduled for Friday here at the complex, where Carlos Carrasco and Mitch Talbot will get the starting nods.
  • My good friend and MLB.com comrade Jesse “Save the Money” Sanchez was here today to profile Carrasco. Be sure to check that out on Indians.com later.
  • Tomorrow’s game will be followed by a charity golf outing with the Reds. Acta will be among those hacking up the local links. Choo won’t be taking part, though he will be receiving his first set of golf clubs tomorrow. Mizuno offered him a personalized set of clubs. Choo said he’s planning to try to discover his inner Y.E. Yang next offseason.
~AC

"The writing's on the wall, come read it, come see what it say"

The U.S. dollar might be worth less than the Canadian dollar and the SI Swimsuit Issue might have been lapped by the Victoria’s Secret catalogue, but you know what hasn’t lost value over the years?
Opening Day roster predictions, made six weeks in advance of Opening Day.
These haven’t lost value, because they never had all that much value to begin with.
So let’s take an early stab at the Indians’ Opening Day roster, shall we?
Starting pitchers (5): Fausto Carmona, Justin Masterson, Carlos Carrasco, Mitch Talbot, Jeanmar Gomez

Comment: The only undecided spot here is the fifth. Obviously, there’s still a chance of the Tribe bringing in a veteran on a Minor League deal. For now, I’m picking Gomez to beat out Josh Tomlin, David Huff and Anthony Reyes. And I’ll admit I have absolutely no basis for this prediction other than my own opinion that Gomez flashed pretty good stuff at the Major League level last year, while Tomlin perhaps reminded me too much of a right-handed Jeremy Sowers, Huff was a trainwreck and Reyes is too much of a question mark after so much missed time due to injury. Then again, Tomlin threw strikes and turned in more consistent results than Gomez. And now I’m about 45 seconds into thinking about this fifth spot, and, frankly, I’m already bored. Let’s face it: Whoever claims the fifth spot has absolutely no guarantee of being in the rotation all of April and May, let alone all season, so why worry about it? Maybe they’ll throw David Huff a bone and forgive him for his Twitter travails, because, when all is said and done, his stuff is on par with that of the others and he’s left-handed. This rotation needs a little of that, in case you haven’t noticed.
Relief pitchers (7): Chris Perez, Raffy Perez, Tony Sipp, Joe Smith, Jensen Lewis, Vinnie Pestano, Aaron Laffey.

Comment: The first four guys here are obvious, and Lewis is out of options and newly signed so he’s aboard. The last two spots are question marks. The Indians like Pestano, and for good reason, as he was dominant in Columbus and looked comfortable last September. I think they’ll keep him around. I’m including Laffey here because of the aforementioned lack of a lefty in the rotation and the possible need for a lefty long man out of the ‘pen. That could change, particularly if the Indians like what they see from Laffey as a starter this spring. It would appear that, between the aforementioned No. 5 spot candidates and Alex White, Corey Kluber and Zach McAllister, the Columbus rotation spots are pretty well spoken for. That’s one reason I can’t help but imagine Laffey returning to relief, but I’ve certainly been wrong before.
Catchers (2): Carlos Santana and Lou Marson.

Comment: Not sure it makes much sense to have Lou Marson, who was anything but Larrupin’ at the plate last year, playing a part-time role in the bigs when he could be getting everyday at-bats in Columbus and improving his offensive game. So I could just as easily see the Tribe going with Luke Carlin or Paul Phillips. That said, the No. 2 guy here will get a little more playing time than your average backup backstop, given that Santana will be at first once or twice a week. Marson, for all his struggles last year, has more offensive upside than those other guys, and he works well with the pitching staff.
Infielders (5): Matt LaPorta, Orlando Cabrera, Asdrubal Cabrera, Jayson Nix, Jason Donald.

Comment: LaPorta’s locked in at first, and his performance will largely dictate the success of this season, from a developmental/rebuild standpoint. (Unless the Indians have plans to make a bid for Pujols or something.) Asdrubal’s at short and must stay healthy. When I look at the Opening Day outlook for second and third base, let’s just say I’m reminded of that scene in “This Is Spinal Tap” when Marti DiBergi is reading the band some of the reviews of their work. I reasoned through the O. Cabrera signing last week, with the general point being that the Indians just need a little veteran stability on-hand until the likes of Lonnie Chisenhall, Jason Kipnis and Cord Phelps are ready to crack the big-league roster. Obviously, the hope on the Indians’ part is that those guys break in by year’s end, though you just never know.
For now, it’s looking like O. Cabrera and Donald at second and Nix (who is out of options) and Donald at third. Yes, I think the Indians will give Donald time at both positions, with the thinking that versatility (buzz word alert) adds value. In a stunning(?) upset, Luis Valbuena did not crack my Opening Day lineup. Keep in mind, Manny Acta can also utilize Nix as a sort of poor man’s Casey Blake (and isn’t that saying something?) and give him some time as an extra outfielder, if it comes to that. I mentioned Nix is out of options, which is ultimately why I think the Indians will keep him as part of their inventory, if only for a few weeks or months. That doesn’t mean I think he’s going to last at the hot corner. Given that he’s a couple years younger than Nix and more likely to be a part of this roster long-term, Donald might make more sense for the Indians at third, but his participation at the position is completely experimental at this juncture, so I have a hard time predicting he’ll win the job outright.
I’m going to cut myself off there, because, when you get down to the heart of the matter, not one part of me firmly believes in any of the above as the long-term, everyday answers at second or third. So for now, let the Indians place some warm bodies in those spots, even if those bodies happen to be playing out of their natural position. There are development and service time issues that will keep Chisenhall and Kipnis (and, to a lesser degree, Phelps) from cracking the big league roster in the season’s first two months, and a little early spring speculation won’t change that.
Outfield (5): Austin Kearns, Michael Brantley, Shin-Soo Choo, Trevor Crowe, Shelley Duncan.

Comment: I don’t see any point in rushing Sizemore, who played just 33 games last year and isn’t expected in Cactus games until mid-March, merely for the feel-good story of him being in the Opening Day lineup. I see him on something resembling the Russell Branyan schedule of a year ago, joining the team in mid- to late-April (and no, this doesn’t mean I see him traded by June). In the meantime, you’ve got Kearns in left and Brantley in center, which should look familiar. Acta likes the athleticism and speed Crowe can bring off the bench and the help Duncan can contribute against lefties. 
DH (1): Travis Hafner
Comment: Meet the 2011 Pronk, same as the 2010 Pronk. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as the chronic shoulder issue could have completely erased his contributions to the lineup, rather than just drastically diminishing them.

"Stuck in the middle with you"

By Anthony Castrovince/MLB.com

orlandocabrera.jpgHey, look, the Indians did something.

Just as the electricity of the Austin Kearns signing was dying down, the club reportedly reached agreement with infielder Orlando Cabrera on a Major League contract today.

I like this move, not because the new Cabrera will light up the lineup (78 OPS+ for the Reds last year… yowza) but because, in case you haven’t noticed, there is a great deal of uncertainty and instability in the Tribe’s infield this year, and a guy like Cabrera – a veteran of six postseason clubs – can be a stabilizing force, regardless of how impactful his offensive numbers may be.

A couple years ago, while talking to the Chicago Tribune, Cabrera summed up his role in this game.

“My whole career,” he said, “I was brought into places when they have something to fix. And once the problem is fixed, they move me on because someone else requires my service.”

So, what are the Indians fixing?

Well, for starters, this Cabrera can spell the other at short, and that’s important.

Asdrubal Cabrera has had some durability issues (not that any of us wouldn’t have had durability issues if Jhonny Peralta smacked into our forearm). It’s encouraging that Asdrubal is taking his conditioning more seriously than he once did, but the Indians have been wise to avoid any talks about a long-term extension with him until he can actually get through a full season without any issues with his performance or his body. His range at short had diminished quite a bit upon his return from the forearm fracture last year. Whether that was related to the return from the injury or is a serious cause for concern is something we’ll have a better feel for once Spring Training ends.

(By the way, if I’m Asdrubal, I’m a little perturbed by this move… no player wants to have to put his first initial on his jersey to differentiate himself from his teammate of the same surname.)

Orlando Cabrera also takes some of the instability out of the second base picture. Jason Donald gets points for the consistency he displayed in his rookie season. He never went through any prolonged rut, and he is clearly a determined gamer who wants to prove himself as an everyday player. But there is a very real possibility that Donald’s bat (.690 OPS in 88 games last year; .711 in 98 games at the Triple-A level) will ultimately suit more into a utility role. Donald has also endured his share of injuries at a young age, and the Indians must take that into consideration at this juncture.

Donald and Cabrera will both vie for time at second. Luis Valbuena? I won’t even go there.

Count me among the skeptical that Donald has the arm to play third (and Cabrera has never played there). It still seems to me that Jayson Nix is the favorite to land the most opportunity at the hot corner. We shall see.

But if you think Jason Kipnis is likely to win the second base job outright this spring, you haven’t been paying much attention to the methodical way the Indians do things. Kipnis just transitioned to second base a year ago, and his only Triple-A experience came in the International League playoffs last fall. He’ll be Columbus-bound.

So given all this youth, uncertainty and instability, the Indians made a wise move in bringing in a veteran stopgap. One who clearly is understanding of his role as a fixer.

~AC

"Nobody wins unless everybody wins"

Judging by some of the e-mails and tweets I received today, I seem to have annoyed quite a few Indians fans with my take on MLB’s parity, relative to that of the NFL.
I hear you, Indians fan. I’m with you. I feel you. We are simpatico.
You look at your Tribe team, entering 2011 with a bare-bones payroll and seemingly little hope of contending, and you know that the game’s grand economic inequities have caught up with Cleveland once again. All the big names developed in the Indians’ system had to be shipped elsewhere because they were due to cash in through free agency. 
It’s a story we’ve discussed in this space once or twice.
You also look at the broader scope of the game and note that the more teams spend, the better their odds to contend. This is indisputable.
So, yeah, baseball’s unfair. It’s been unfair as long as I can remember. If MLB operated like the NFL, the Indians might have maneuvered a way to keep their stars and build a playoff dynasty. Instead, the Indians lost those guys and, on top of that, they didn’t draft well. So now they find themselves among the Royals and Pirates of the world, trying to claw their way back to coherence on a limited budget.
It’s harder to claw in baseball than it is in the NFL. This is indisputable also. The player development process is painfully slow, and free agency is expensive and inefficient.
I get all that. To spend five years covering the Indians and not get that would make me the Hector Luna of beat guys.
But that wasn’t the point of the piece.
My point (apparently, not-so-well-articulated) is that, for all its economic faults, baseball has seen a remarkable amount of unpredictability in terms of playoff participants from year to year. Though you would think otherwise when you listen to talking heads or the casual fan, payroll alone doesn’t dictate the postseason lineup (three of last year’s eight postseason clubs ranked in the bottom 12 in Opening Day payroll, and only two of the top nine payrolls made it). And contrary to popular perception, baseball’s unpredictability in this regard rivals what we see in the NFL.
Is it easier or more efficient to build and sustain a great team — even in a small market — in the NFL? You better believe it (although you wouldn’t know it, watching the Browns operate). NFL teams can draft talent that directly impacts the team the following season, and the NFL has a salary cap and non-guaranteed contracts that ensure more bang for the buck and less chance of an albatross like Travis Hafner hanging around.
But that doesn’t mean the NFL is infinitely less predictable than MLB, when it comes to a preseason prognostication on who might participate in the playoffs and, therefore, get a shot at the title. The stats in the column back that up.
Baseball is actually trending toward more unpredictability. Over the last four years, 24 NFL teams (50 percent of the available spots) have reached the playoffs in consecutive seasons, and only 12 (37.5 percent) have done so in MLB. My suspicion (and I readily admit I could be wrong) is that, as MLB gets younger in the wake of the steroid era, we could see more and more instances of teams in the lower half of the payroll totem pole — teams like the Reds, Rangers and Rays in 2010 — make it to October. For the good of the game, I hope I’m right.
I’m not arguing that MLB has more economic parity. It’s painfully clear such a thing is nonexistent in baseball. I’m arguing that those who dismiss baseball as a sport in which only the big spenders survive aren’t paying attention. The stats demonstrate that, in both sports, a broad range of teams contribute to the playoff pool (a pool that is significantly wider in the NFL, which allows 12 teams in). In baseball, if you draft and develop well, you can put together a club that outplays its payroll and legitimately contends. But if you don’t, the penalties are harsher than they are in any other major professional sport.
That’s where the frustration sets in. And Tribe fans know that frustration as well as anybody.

"The highway's jammed with broken heroes"

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Somewhere between the Cavaliers’ historic 55-point loss to the Lakers and the Browns’ hiring of what seems like their 55th head coach since 1999, the thought occurred to me that the most pessimistic sports town in America must be feeling particularly pessimistic these days.
For the Cavs, it’s just like starting over, in the wake of LeBron James’ departure and the startling revelation that, during his tenure here, he might have actually had some impact on the team regularly being a playoff contender. With James gone, the Cavs have taken their “All for One, One for All” slogan a bit too literally, winning precisely one of their last 22 games, as of this writing. To the lottery they limp.

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Then you have the Browns, for whom turnover is even more frequent than turnovers. The only constant with the “new” Browns over the last 11 seasons — aside from losses, of course — has been fan support. But that loyalty has, aside from one lone and unfulfilling playoff appearance, largely gone unrewarded, thanks to objectionable acquisitions and dismal drafts. Last year, it appeared the new regime, led by Mike Holmgren, got it right on the latter end, but, as much as Browns fans can talk themselves into anything, it will probably take at least one or two more of those strong showings on draft day for the team to turn it around.
All of which brings us to the Indians, possessors of the longest-tenured leader in town in manager Manny Acta (he’s, uh, been here for 15 months) and a reputation for retooling, thanks to the trades of two Cy Young winners and, well, everybody else over the age of 28 and not named Travis Hafner.
Yet when held up to the standards of their Cleveland counterparts, suddenly the Tribe’s rebuilding résumé doesn’t look quite so repugnant, does it?
Thanks to a little thing known as the salary cap, the rebuilding concept is, in theory, much more efficiently seen to its fruition in the NBA — where, as the Cavs proved, you just need one premier guy to build around — and the NFL. Immediately — and not even delving into the muddy waters of baseball economics — this places the Indians at a disadvantage, when it comes to capturing the imagination of the local fan populace.
Never mind that the Indians’ last rebuild, tenuous as the end result might have been, saw the club win 93 games and barely miss the postseason just three years removed from the initiation of the process. And never mind that such a turnaround looks like — wait for it, “Spaceballs” fans — “ludicrous speed” when compared to the ongoing and longstanding droughts in places like Pittsburgh and Kansas City. Cleveland possesses a bit of an impatient fan base. A nearly 50-year wait between titles will do that to a town.
But the Cavs’ downfall presents an interesting opportunity for an Indians team that, in recent years, has seen even its most attractive first-half games suffer at the gates, thanks in no small part to LeBron, ahem, lighting it up like Las Vegas next door at the Q.
While 2011 is not projected to see the Tribe take that grand leap into contention, it is most definitely a time when this team, which attracted the lowest attendance total in the Majors last season, has a chance to win back the hearts of — or, at the least, generate some interest from — even the most fickle fans.
In order for that to happen, a lot must go right for an organization that, to be sure, has seen more than its fair share of things go wrong and has not majored in good luck the last few years. As I wrote last week, the Indians need to prove this season that they got some value out of the CC Sabathia trade, and it’s up to Matt LaPorta and Michael Brantley to do the proving. But there are certainly some other pieces here that could allow the Indians to take that step from rebuild to respectability.
To me, it all begins with Carlos Santana, whose Major League debut created the only legitimate buzz in Progressive Field last season — aside, of course, from Stephen Strasburg taking the mound for the Nationals and the gates opening at Snow Days.

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It is completely unfair to place a heavy burden of expectations on a guy who has just 150 big league at-bats to his name and who is coming off an injury. But Santana’s surgery wasn’t invasive enough to lead to major concern about him being ready for Opening Day, and his premier plate discipline is a skill that carries over considerably well.
The bottom line is that an Indians lineup with Shin-Soo Choo (whose rising star I’ll address in a later column) and Santana in prominent spots is infinitely more interesting than many of the injury riddled lineups Acta and his predecessor, Eric Wedge, were forced to turn in the last couple years. And any fans still bemoaning the loss of Victor Martinez have plenty of reason to stop crying into their catcher’s mitts.
Hey, Santana was even the subject of a “Jeopardy!” question the other night. His star is rising.
Another asset the Indians have working for them is closer Chris Perez. The horrid bullpen endured by the Indians in recent years has been corrected considerably by Perez’s maturation into the closer’s role, and his presence in the back end can have a calming effect on the rest of the ballclub. What’s more, in Perez’s personality, the Indians have a new marketable asset. He has true closer’s confidence (not to mention the right hair for the job), and his candidness resonates well in these parts. The Indians should take advantage of that.
Speaking of marketability, the Indians figure to have Grady Sizemore back on the field. Of course, it was Grady’s boyish good looks that won him over with the female fan base and his uncompromising style of play — equal parts fearless and reckless — that won him over with the men. Rest assured, ladies, the former survived two years’ worth of injuries, but the latter led to a complex knee surgery that leaves Sizemore’s future performance in potential peril.
Much like the fictitious Billy Mumphrey in that equally fictitious “Seinfeld” episode, Grady’s unbridled enthusiasm led to his downfall. The only ones firmly expecting him to contribute at his 2008 level this season are probably guilty of a bit of unbridled enthusiasm themselves. But again, from an advertising standpoint, having a player of Sizemore’s caliber on the field, in any form, is a good thing for this ballclub.
Where the Indians will suffer, obviously, is in the rotation. Incremental improvements and a Fausto Carmona comeback aside, the Tribe still possesses a rather rag-tag bunch, relative to the likes of the Tigers, White Sox and Twins. That said, who’s to say Carlos Carrasco, who provided some September sizzle last season, isn’t ready to take the leap toward the forefront? And an Alex White debut — which appears possible in the second half, if his 2010 perform
ance at the Double-A level is any indication — would attract interest, as well.
I think back to that Strasburg game and the packed house at Progressive that Sunday afternoon. It was an all-too-necessary reminder that burgeoning baseball talent — not just fireworks shows or bobblehead giveaways — still resonates with people in this town. The Indians need it to resonate enough to start generating adequate revenues, because then and only then will they have an offseason in which signing Austin Kearns doesn’t constitute the extent of their expenditures.
Of course, fans here were slow to warm to even the 2007 team that won an AL Central title and finished a win shy of the World Series, and they’ll be slow to adopt this latest incarnation of the Indians, too. But if the Indians can show that some of the seeds they’ve sewn the last few years are ready to bloom and can hover around .500, they can finally start to register on the radar again.
After all, given the exploits of this town’s NBA and NFL entries, the current sporting standard here is not all that difficult to overcome.
~AC

"We were always waiting for something to happen"

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While the Indians might hold the dubious distinction of being the only club in history to trade consecutive Cy Young Award winners, they can at least take newfound comfort in knowing they are no longer the most recent AL Central club to trade a Cy Young winner.
Hey, it’s the little things in life.
But the Zack Greinke trade made by the Royals last month does not mean the Tribe is totally in the clear. Fans here are still waiting for some substantive proof that the Indians received reasonable returns for CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee in 2008 and ’09, respectively.
Nationally, the consensus seems to be that the Indians came out of those blockbuster deals virtually empty-handed. In one sense, that’s a cynical, short-sighted point of view, given that one of the principal players acquired in the Lee deal, Jason Knapp, is just 20 years old and slated for Class A ball in 2011, while Matt LaPorta, Michael Brantley, Carlos Carrasco, Jason Donald and Lou Marson have just 471 combined games of Major League experience between them.
In another sense, the skepticism is somewhat justified, particularly in the case of the Sabathia trade, made 30 months ago.
The now-famed 2002 Bartolo Colon deal began to bear fruit in 2004, when Cliff Lee won 14 games and Grady Sizemore made his eye-opening debut. It was in 2005 when both of those players firmly entrenched themselves into the Indians’ definition of “core.” Both guys were in Double-A at the time of the deal — as was the case with LaPorta and Brantley at the time of the Sabathia trade — so, strictly from a timeline standpoint, it’s not all that unreasonable to suggest that 2011, three years removed from the trade, is a time when LaPorta and Brantley ought to prove their long-term value.

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LaPorta, at present, is the bigger concern of the two, by virtue of the fact that he’s had more than 500 at-bats in the bigs and has struggled to make them meaningful.
The October 2009 hip and turf toe surgeries that hindered his offseason conditioning program no doubt had an effect on LaPorta’s endurance and, therefore, his performance last year, which is why Tribe manager Manny Acta gave him a “mulligan” for the season.
(The recovery from surgery is also why LaPorta’s frame took on some added beef last winter, prompting White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen, while struggling to remember LaPorta’s name, to refer to him as “the fat guy.”)
Such excuses expire in 2011. For all his flashes of potent pop and all his defensive strides at first base, the 26-year-old LaPorta has to prove what all natural sluggers ultimately have to prove at this level — that he has the necessary baseball intelligence to adjust his swing and approach and understand what the opposing pitcher is doing against him.
If he shows that ability with any consistency this year, then the Indians have plugged in a big bat at a prominent spot on the field and in the lineup. If not? The rebuilding plan takes a big hit.

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Brantley, 23, has offered a little more optimism in his first 100 games at this level. He certainly seemed to learn from a 2010 season in which the Indians masterfully managed his service time and challenged him at the Triple-A level. He hit .292 in the season’s final two months and continued to prove himself as a contact hitter. But he needs to draw more walks (22 in 325 plate appearances last year) and he definitely needs to develop more power (89 of his 108 hits in the Majors have been singles) if he’s not going to be known, simply, as a speedy guy who plays strong D. With Brantley, though, there is a lot to like at first glance.
We might get a look at another Sabathia trade acquisition this year, in the form of Rob Bryson, who recovered from shoulder issues to post a combined 2.53 ERA, .165 average against and 80 strikeouts in 53 1/3 innings at the Class A and Double-A levels last year. Obviously, the CC trade will ultimately be judged by the performances of LaPorta and Brantley, but netting a quality relief arm out of the deal would be good for the soul.
To be fair, it’s a little more premature to judge the Lee trade, given that Knapp missed most of last season due to shoulder surgery (certainly not the best of PR developments in the immediate aftermath of that swap). I’m not even going to delve into Knapp’s numbers upon his return because, again, he was 20 years old and pitching in the Midwest League. 
But as is the case with the CC deal, we’ll know a lot more about the Lee trade after 2011, when we get a full-season look at Carrasco in the rotation and we have more definitive answers on whether Jason Donald is a full-time second baseman and Lou Marson, playing in a backup role behind the dish, can hit in the bigs.

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Carrasco is the most important measuring stick, and if he can limit the long ball (particularly because he tends to have his share of traffic on the basepaths) he appears to be a guy you can slot into the front end of your rotation. His seven September starts, in which he went 2-2 with a 3.83 ERA and struck out 38 in 44 2/3 innings, was a nice first step.
While the CC and Lee trades obviously get the ink, admittedly it’s sometimes the less-magnified moves (Casey Blake for Carlos Santana, anyone?) that have the grander impact on a club. The Twins proved that you can whiff on a trade involving your Cy Young winner (Johan Santana) and still put together a competitive club. 
But these trades were defining moments in the recent history of the Indians. The CC swap hinted at a rebuild, and the Lee trade confirmed it.
One problem for the Indians is that a rebuild that began in what was oft-labeled (by yours truly and others) a “winnable” division continues in a climate in which the ante has been raised significantly. The Twins’ new ballpark has made them a big-market club, the Tigers have developed one of the strongest rotations in the league, the White Sox have had a surprisingly aggressive offseason and aren’t going anywhere, and even the lowly Royals have developed enough depth in their farm system to make contention in 2012 or ’13 — dare I say — realistic.
So the Indians have to hope they got it right, now more than ever. And 2011 would be a wonderful time for them to start seeing meaningful returns on two of the most high-profile trades in club history.
~AC

"That attitude's a power stronger than death"

By Anthony Castrovince/MLB.com

Bob Feller lived up to all expectations the first time I met him. It was in 2004, and I was doing an anniversary story on the 1954 Indians AL Championship team. Feller, a regular attendee at Tribe home games in his perch in the press box, was easily accessible, and I approached him knowing he had a reputation for being, well, a little gruff.

“Get that thing out of my face,” he said when I tried to hold up a tape recorder at what I thought was a reasonable distance from his face.

CI_072007_174.jpgYep, he was gruff, all right.

But then he started talking. And talking. And talking. I didn’t have to ask a single question — I would learn this is fairly common in a Feller interview — to get him to spill every memory from that season, every comment on his teammates. Feller was 84 at the time, and his memory was as sharp as ever.

Over the years, I would be fortunate enough to get the opportunity to tap into that memory quite often. Feller was an extremely valuable resource in learning about the past of not just the Indians and Major League Baseball but of our country itself.

And that gruff exterior? Just an exterior, I would come to learn. Because beneath the hard handshakes and beyond the sometimes-controversial commentary is actually a pretty charming old man with an inimitable and unshakable wit.

Without question, one of my favorite days on the beat each year was the day Feller would arrive to the Spring Training complex, be it Winter Haven or Goodyear, and come strolling into the press workroom. Unprompted, he’d begin offering his opinions on the news of the day. This year, it was the news that LeBron James was filing paperwork with the NBA to change his number from 23 to 6.

“I changed my number three times,” Feller said, “and never had to file any papers.”

When it was pointed out to Feller that he wore Nos. 9, 11, 17 and 19 — all odd numbers — Feller reasoned, “I like oddballs and odd numbers.”

You could always tell from the wry smile on his face that Feller loved making us laugh, and he did so frequently. Sometimes we were the target of his jokes.

“What do you do when you can’t hit a curveball?” he once said. “Get a typewriter.”

He also loved regaling us with what he called “rainy day stories” from his career, from the ridiculous to the sublime. If you were on deadline pregame (as I often was, trying to get my notes filed), both the worst thing and the best thing that could happen to you was getting stopped by Feller in the media dining room. Because once he started telling his tales, there was no telling when he’d stop.

It was in the summer of 2007 that I got to know Feller on a deeper level. The Indians invited me to come along on a chartered flight to Des Moines. They had arranged for the filming of a documentary on Feller’s Iowa upbringing, and Feller was aboard to show the camera crew his roots. I’ll never forget that trip. It was better than any American history course I could have taken in college. Feller showed us the farm where he formed his fastball and the cornfield that he and his father turned into a baseball field. He took us to his museum, which was, to him, a great source of pride, and to the street that bears his name.

My favorite stop of the tour might have Booneville, Iowa — a tiny town that, by my recollection, contained a couple grain silos, a small diner, a few houses and, well, not much else. But there was a building where a bank once stood, and Feller shared with us a story passed down to him by his father. It seems the bank’s owner lived across the street, and one day at lunch he looked across the street into his bank to see it being robbed by three crooks. The bank owner grabbed his gun and shot each crook dead on the spot as the exited.

Feller loved this story. “Instant justice,” he said.

But another memory I have of that trip — the memory I’ll take with me long after Feller is gone — is of the visit we made to the house he built for his parents at the site of the farm. The house is now inhabited by a local doctor and his family, and Feller’s frequent visits have made him a grandfather-type figure to those kids. When we arrived, they all excitedly greeted him with hugs and tagged along as he visited the red barn where he used to play catch with his dad.

“Decide what you really want to do early in life, then do it,” Feller told those kids. “Then you never have to work a day in your life. That’s what I did. I played ball for a living.”

In the wake of last night’s news that Feller has been transferred to hospice care, I find myself instinctively writing about him in the past tense. It’s not intentional; it’s just that we all knew a day would come when Feller, 92, would begin to succumb to Father Time, and that day, sadly, appears to be close. Feller, of course, acknowledged as much earlier this year, when he talked about throwing out a ceremonial first pitch at a Spring Training game.

“One of these days,” Feller said with a smile, “it will be the last first pitch.”

But I’d like to think that those of us fortunate enough to be around Feller on a regular basis in these latter years of his life took full advantage of the situation. A living legend was in our midst, and, while he certainly had some unmistakably gruff qualities, he was, at heart, a Hall of Famer in ways that go well beyond anything he accomplished on the mound.

This, then, is a thank you to Rapid Robert for the many memories he shared with me and the many memories he left with me. My thoughts and prayers go out to him and his family.

~AC

"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

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