Results tagged ‘ mailbag ’

"The mail never stops!"

The people have spoken, and the Mailbag is returning to Indians.com.

Actually, strike that, because we’re changing the name of my regular dialogue with Tribe fans. It will now be known as the Indians Inbox (because, you know, that’s a little more hip… and the next one of you to actually mail me a question the old-fashioned way will be the first).

While the format will remain the same, the run date will be a little less regimented. The Mailbag, as you know, was a Monday fixture, but Inbox’s appearances will be based on what’s going on with the club in a given week. I expect it to run at least once a week during Spring Training, and we’ll see how it evolves in the season proper.

You can keep your questions coming in at tribemailbag@yahoo.com (might have to change that address eventually), and look for the first edition of Inbox on the team site next week. Thanks to all of you who helped keep the ‘bag alive and well here at CastroTurf during its brief absence from Indians.com.

Mailbag: Wood's contract, Scott Lewis, team speed, The Boss at halftime and more

If you had told me a few years back that Bruce Springsteen would play halftime of the Super Bowl and would chop up his songs (leaving out the second verse to four of them and plugging some football-related lyrics into two of them) and would allow fireworks to go off during "Born to Run" and would call upon the talents of a gospel choir and would have an actor dressed up as a referee come up on stage and penalize him for a delay of game, I would have cringed. Actually, I'll go further and say a little part of me would have died. All these things appear to fly in the face of everything the Boss represents, from the standpoint of artistic integrity and the protection of his image.

 

And then this happened last night, and I absolutely loved every second of it. Even the ref.

 

No, it didn't take me to another place, the way U2 did with their 9/11 tribute in 2002. That halftime show will never be topped. But Bruce brought a 12-minute burst of energy to the proceedings. And really, as long as he didn't pull a Paul McCartney and say, "Hello, Super Bowl!" you knew he was going to blow the roof off the dump (I know there was no roof... it's just a figure of speech, people).

 

Obviously, I've got Bruce on the brain. But you've got the Indians on yours, so let's see what's up this week...

 

Do you think that, in retrospect, Mark Shapiro regrets signing Kerry Wood for $10 million a year? I can’t blame him for it, but with the way that market’s taken shape since, it seems we vastly overpaid. Instead of signing Wood, they might have been able to sign both Ben Sheets and Juan Cruz for the same kind of money, or, depending on how much his price falls, they might have even been able to make a play for Manny, if they were inclined to.

– Seth P., Philadelphia

 

Interesting, Seth. I doubt Shapiro regrets it, given how highly he regarded Wood in this winter's closing market. He viewed Wood as an elite arm, and he didn't want to risk losing him to another club (namely, the Tigers).

 

Yes, the Indians could have saved money by waiting for the market to develop further, but, in doing so, they likely would have had to settle for a closer they don't regard as highly. Would you rather have Wood at $10 million a year or Brian Fuentes at $8.75 million a year? Personally, I'd side with Wood (and, obviously, so would the Indians), but some might disagree.

 

I don't see the point in bringing up Cruz's name. He's not a proven closer, and whoever signs him will have to forfeit a top Draft pick. And Manny was never going to happen. Finding a closer was the Indians' No. 1 offseason priority. They picked their favorite arm in the lot, they were aggressive in their pursuit of him and they left themselves enough room in the budget to address their other concerns.  

 

Every article I read lists Dave Huff or Aaron Laffey as the likely fifth starter for the Tribe. I like both pitchers a lot, but I thought Scott Lewis did a tremendous job for the Tribe at three levels last year. How does he fit into the Indians’ plans for 2009 and the future?

– Elia F., Hillsboro, Ore.

No doubt, Lewis did a tremendous job. Of course, sometimes teams don’t put as much weight in September performance because it’s a time when rosters are expanded and many teams are out of the race. But what Lewis did was nothing to scoff at.

 

Still, I don’t think the Indians are on high on Lewis, at this juncture, as they are on Laffey and Huff. That’s merely the perception I’m getting, and Lewis obviously is considered to be in the mix for that fifth spot. But I think he’s more likely to start the season at Triple-A Columbus. He’s only pitched 24 innings at that level, and I’m sure there’s some thinking that he still has a lot to prove before landing a full-time role in the big leagues.

 

I saw a picture of Juan Rincon pitching for his Venezuelan Winter League team. Any word on how he’s doing down there and if the Tribe is possibly going to throw him a Minor League contract and an invite to Spring Training?

– Cody S., Scranton, Pa.

 

Rincon signed a Minor League deal with the Tigers. Apparently he's going to try out every team in the AL Central before all is said and done. The Indians never showed any interest in bringing him or Brendan Donnelly back.

 

When the Tribe traded Jason Michaels, it was announced -- as well as written by you -- that Michaels was traded along with cash considerations to the Pirates for a player to be named later. After doing a net search, I could not discover any player having been named. Is it possible that the amount of the cash consideration was subsequently adjusted in lieu of the PTBNL? -- Jennifer, no location given

  

Yes, that turned out to be a cash deal.

 

One concern of mine — or perhaps more of a slight irritation — is that our beloved Tribe is one of the slower teams in baseball (save Mr. Sizemore). This fact was strengthened when we traded Franklin Gutierrez, who had base running potential. I think Ben Francisco has the potential to do so as well. He did a bit of base stealing in Triple-A, with much success. Will we see a more nimble Tribe in ’09? More importantly, with Garko discovering his new versatility with a chance in the outfield, maybe we can see him extend this versatility a bit further with some base stealing. (Tongue inserted firmly in cheek.)

– Jacob K., Claremore, Okla.

 

You can’t teach speed, and you can’t miraculously inherit it over the winter, either. The Indians haven’t done anything to improve on that front, unless Francisco inproves his on-base percentage.

 

I think it’s certainly an area worthy of concern, and it would have been nice if the Indians could have addressed it while simultaneously filling their infield hole. Brian Roberts would have been a perfect fit, but the Orioles’ asking price was too high.

 

Shapiro has said that speed is perhaps the easiest area of the game to overpay for. Clearly, he has not made the acquisition of speed a priority in his free-agent and trade acquisitions.

 

With the Tribe’s Triple-A team moving to the great state of Ohio, any chance they’ll get TV time on SportsTime Ohio?

– Adam S., Wadsworth, Ohio

 

That is reportedly in the works, though I have not heard anything concrete on how many games will be broadcast.

 

And finally...

 

I wanted to let you know about a Spring Training/”Major League” party that is going to take place at Stampers Bar and Grille in Fairview Park on Thursday, Feb. 12th, starting at 4 p.m. This party was started years ago at a place called Jerry’s, where they gathered at the start of Spring Training as they watched Major League and hoped that this was our year. I am trying to get the word out, so if we could get your help it would be greatly appreciated. 

– John C., no location given

Thanks for the heads up, John. Hopefully some of the readers of the Mailbag will take interest in this event.

 

If you have a question for the ‘bag, send it in to tribemailbag@yahoo.com and be sure to include your name and hometown. 

Mailbag: The fifth rotation spot, Wedge's security, Hall of Fame chatter and more

I really don't know what you're doing reading this blog, when you should be somewhere mentally preparing for tomorrow's release of "Working on a Dream," the new Bruce Springsteen album.*

 

*About that disc... Thanks to some -- ahem -- alternative measures, I've had a copy of it for a week or so, and it is indeed an interesting collection of musical experiences. The Boss gets experimental on this one. Sometimes it works ("Good Eye" is proof positive that he needs to do a blues-rock album before all is said and done), sometimes it doesn't (unlike Bruce, I am not in love with the "Queen of the Supermarket"). It's not his best work. But the Pizza Rule applies to Springsteen music -- even when it's at it's worst, it's still quite good.

 

But because you're here and I'm here, we might as well tackle some Mailbag questions, right? So let's get to it...

 

You reported that Aaron Laffey was your “personal pick” to fill out the rotation. Could you expand on that? What criteria did you base that on? Has the club told you something?

– Jay S., St. Clairsville, Ohio

 

I think what Laffey showed us in May of last year, when he went 3-2 with a 0.79 ERA, was real. And he’s been in Cleveland and working out all winter, putting particular emphasis on his core — much like Cliff Lee did a year ago — to maintain strength and balance over the course of a long season. The elbow soreness that ended his season appears to be behind him.

 

More than anything, I think Laffey is about as competitive and confident a pitcher as the Indians have in their upper levels, and I think that will pay dividends in the Spring Training battle for the fifth spot. As Mark Shapiro said, “He’s a bad guy to bet against.”

 

But as we’ve seen in the past, the Opening Day rotation rarely sticks. I also think Dave Huff will impact this rotation in a meaningful way this season, given the reports I’ve heard on him. If I’m ranking the candidates for the fifth spot, I put Laffey and Huff on top.

 

Do you think Ben Francisco will have great year from start to finish?  He looked tough last year and he has a lot of upside.

– Mark H., Kokomo, Ind.

 

As you know, Francisco didn’t have a great year from start to finish in ’08. He batted .294 with eight homers and 35 RBIs before the break, and .236 with seven homers and 19 homers after the break, including a .165 average with one homer and four RBIs in his last 23 games.

 

Though Francisco spent the better part of the season’s first month in Buffalo, we can essentially label ’08 as his first full year in the big leagues, and it’s natural for young players to wear down over the course of their first exposure to that grind. Francisco’s life was also made more difficult when he was slotted in the No. 3 spot of the lineup in the wake of the injuries to Travis Hafner and Victor Martinez. The Indians like to say that wasn’t “fair” to Francisco, and it’s hard to dispute that claim.

 

But Francisco’s streakiness is a concern that must be taken into account going forward. I don’t see him in a straight platoon with David Dellucci in left field, mainly because Eric Wedge is so confident in the right-handed Francisco’s ability against right-handed pitching (and for good reason: Francisco has hit .266 off right-handers and .270 off left-handers thus far in his career).

 

Francisco will be the Opening Day left fielder. If he (or Shin-Soo Choo) struggles, the Indians hope to be able to choose between Michael Brantley, Matt LaPorta and Trevor Crowe to fill in.

 

Is Eric Wedge’s job in jeopardy this year? I know people love Wedge (myself included), but let’s be realistic. This offseason has changed things for him. The organization spent a lot more money than people expected. The team expectations have to be higher than ever. If the team underperforms or struggles for the first few months, then change has to be at least considered, right?

– Kevin H., Athens, Ohio

 

The general feeling among the Indians’ higher-ups is that last season might have been Wedge’s best as a manager. Wedge’s club was socked with an onslaught of injuries, an awful bullpen and the trades of CC Sabathia, Casey Blake and Paul Byrd, yet came out with an 81-81 record. The Indians were 16 games back of .500 on July 9 but played with passion until the very last day of the season.

 

I know that sounds like a P.R. rap, but it’s simply what I saw last year. And while Wedge certainly makes his share of in-game decisions that make you scratch your head, I’m a big believer in the mentality that a manager’s chief job is to manage the various personalities in his clubhouse and get everybody working on the same page. That’s what Wedge has done here in Cleveland, and the club is pleased with his efforts.

 

Of course, an abysmal season has the potential to change those good feelings in a hurry. We see it all the time in professional sports. But there doesn’t appear to be any undue scrutiny on Wedge, at present.

 

Everyone says Ryan Garko’s job is in danger if he doesn’t improve at the plate. Other than being benched for not running out that ground ball, I thought he had a solid year, hitting .273 with 14 homers and 90 RBIs. The Indians committed a lot more money to guys who put up far worse numbers than Garko did! Why is the co-leader in RBI under such criticism?

– Adam G., Akron, Ohio

                                         

I’m as big a Garko supporter as anybody, but the fact is the guy hit .224 in April and .232 in May last year. He had a stretch from May 18 to July 9 in which he had just three extra-base hits. You can’t get by as a first baseman with those numbers.

 

Garko’s obviously not a dazzling defender, so he’s counted on for his bat. And in the first half last year, he didn’t deliver. But the Indians have to like the way he rebounded in the second half to come out with some respectable numbers for the season — the 90 RBIs total included. I personally think he’s going to get off to a much stronger start this year. The simple fact of the matter is that he has to, if he wants to keep his job.

 

Reading your article on Manny made me realize it is still a realistic possibility that he could go in the Hall of Fame as an Indian. Can you give me a rundown on the other big three — Omar Vizquel, Jim Thome and Kenny Lofton? I would say it is clear that if they go to the Hall they’ll wear the Wahoo, but what are their chances, realistically, when the time comes?

– Cody S., Scranton, Pa.

 

You can make a case for Vizquel and Thome. Lofton? Not so much.

 

It will be really interesting to see if Vizquel gets in. Personally, I think he’s worthy of strong consideration, having played more games than anybody else at, perhaps, the game’s most demanding position and won 11 Gold Gloves in the process. Throw in 2,657 career hits (to this point), and you have a pretty strong case. But Vizquel has never had anything resembling an MVP season. He’s generally been a superior defender with a dependable, but hardly game-changing, bat. Suffice to say he’s not first-ballot material, but I think he might get in eventually.

 

Really, the only case you can make for Thome is his home run total, and the 500-homer plateau simply ain’t what it used to be. He has finished among the top 10 in MVP voting four times, but never higher than fourth. I point out MVP ballots, because the people who vote for the MVP are the same people voting for the Hall of Fame. If they’re showing Thome no love while he’s playing, it’s hard to imagine him getting more appreciation when his playing days are done. If he’s able to reach 600 homers, then it’s probably a different story.

 

If either of those guys goes into the Hall, they’ll do so as an Indian. It’s hard to imagine Ramirez going in as a member of the Tribe. People will identify him as a member of the Red Sox.

 

And finally…

 

I feel the Indians need to clean house and rid themselves of inflated salaries for guys who just aren’t worth the expense and dump some others who just haven’t performed. So I suggest to Shapiro and company to wrap up a package consisting of Garko, Dellucci, Jeremy Sowers, Josh Barfield, Andy Marte and Michael Aubrey and trade them for a top-flight pitcher or two. Your thoughts, pisan?

– Mark F., Allentown, Pa.

 

Excellent idea, Mark. Say, I’ve got 10 pennies here. Do you mind giving me a dollar for them?

 

E-mail your Mailbag questions to tribemailbag@yahoo.com, and be sure to include your first name, last initial and hometown.

Mailbag: The Pavano deal, Shoppach trade talk, Aubrey's designation and more

Many thoughts are running through my ever-churning mind on this snow-covered Monday.

 

I'm wondering who Browns fans will root for during next week's AFC Championship Game -- the Steelers, the Ravens or the apocalypse?

 

I'm wondering, in the wake of painting my dining room, if painting is the only job in which it is acceptable to cut corners.

 

I'm wondering why no one bought me a Snuggie for Christmas. Because everybody could use a blanket with sleeves, right?

 

Lastly, I'm wondering how it's possible that the Oklahoma and Florida football teams each played more than 1,000 games before finally facing each other for the first time in last week's national title game. You had to figure it would happen Sooner or Gator.

 

(Note: This Mailbag entry is dedicated to my good friend Kate, who despises that "Sooner or Gator" joke with every fiber of her being. Happy birthday, Kate the Great!)

 

Anyway, those are my thoughts. Let's check in on yours...

 

I don’t understand the Carl Pavano signing. Our rotation currently consists of Cliff Lee, Fausto Carmona and three question marks. I’m sure I’m not the only person who is concerned about that. What we need is a reliable No. 3 or No. 4 starter to stabilize things. A guy like Paul Byrd. We know that he fits in here, he won’t be looking for more than a one or two year deal, and he won’t be too expensive.

– Mark E., Chagrin Falls, Ohio

 

The Indians showed no interest in bringing back Byrd. They were certainly appreciative of his efforts here from 2006-08. Byrd has done a remarkable job of getting the most out of what even he would admit is unremarkable stuff. But he’s 38, and there is a significant chance his smoke and mirrors act is on its decline.

 

This rotation has some obvious concerns, but they are concerns the Indians didn’t have the budget to address. They’re taking a chance on Pavano, but it’s really not much of a financial risk. Though it would be life-changing money for us, $1.5 million is chump change to a big-league club. For Pavano to receive the max value of his contract ($6.8 million), he would have to make 35 starts, pitch 235 innings, be selected to the All-Star team, win the Cy Young Award and win the League Championship Series and World Series MVP awards. The Indians would sign up for all that in a heartbeat.

 

I’m not at all sold on Pavano staying healthy and becoming the pitcher he was in ’04, but you never know. The bottom line here is that Pavano can easily be dumped midseason if it’s not working out.

 

Jake Westbrook will be back in the second half, Aaron Laffey and Dave Huff are, in my view, strong candidates to help this club in the back end of the rotation, and, if the Indians are in contention, don’t rule out the possibility of a midseason trade for a starter. Is the starting rotation a concern? You better believe it, and it’s one we’ll delve deeper into in the weeks leading up to Spring Training. But the Indians are not without backup options, so that’s a plus, going forward.

 

With Boston‘s signing of John Smoltz, as well as their newfound depth at starting pitcher, what do you think the chances may be of the Tribe dealing for Clay Buchholz? The Red Sox are seeking an upgrade at catcher, after all, and Kelly Shoppach could be their short-term answer.

– Matt K., Minneapolis

 

I’d say the odds are pretty good that the Indians have made the last of their major moves and will report to spring camp with the roster you see now.

 

That being said, if the Red Sox get desperate, anything can happen. Reportedly, Boston is not ruling out the possibility of bringing back Jason Varitek and has also shown interest in the Diamondbacks’ Miguel Montero. I haven’t heard a word about them keying in on Shoppach, but that doesn’t mean it can’t or won’t happen. It’s just that, at the moment, nothing appears to be happening on that front.


I was very excited when I saw the OU reference in the CastroTurf debut of the Mailbag. Anyway, I know you are the Indians reporter, but what are the chances Mark Shapiro can get ahold of the Browns’ GM job?

– Ken R., Athens, Ohio

Well, the Browns, for whatever reason, were intent on hiring a head coach first and then catering to his GM preference. So if Eric Mangini told them he wanted Shapiro, I’m sure they’d try to make it happen, regardless of how silly it looks.

 

Any chance the Indians would be interested in getting Michael Young from the Rangers?

– Brandon K., Blackstone, Va.

 

It’s not going to happen.

 

I was just working hard at my cubicle. By working hard, I mean printing up all my 2009 Indians schedule information. I noticed a lot of “TBD” on the 2009 regular season schedule. Also I did not notice, nor could I find, any information on who will be broadcasting the majority of the games.

– Jason F., Austintown, Ohio

 

I’m told the broadcast schedule and game times will probably be released sometime in the next week to 10 days. Now get back to work.

 

I was wondering if you could come up with any logical reason why the Tribe would designate Michael Aubrey for assignment? I know room needed to be made on the 40-man roster but, with the signing of Mark DeRosa, I feel Andy Marte is a little more expendable. Your thoughts?

– Matt P., Napoleon, Ohio

 

It is beyond dispute that Marte, who is famously out of Minor League options, has no shot at making the 25-man roster this spring, unless third base opens because of an injury. But because that injury risk is inherent and the Indians simply don’t have many other options at the hot corner, Marte holds more value to this club, at present, than Aubrey — a soon-to-be 27-year-old first baseman in an organization loaded with first basemen. Aubrey’s career has had no flow because of injuries, and he posted a .746 OPS at Buffalo last year.

 

Really, Matt, I wouldn’t get too hung up on this transaction, especially with Aubrey clearing waivers and getting outrighted to Triple-A today. By Opening Day, neither of these guys will be on the 40-man.

 

And finally…

 

I’ve got a great nickname for Choo. We’ve all heard the obvious ones — “Big League Choo” and whatnot. How about this: “The Godfather of Seoul!” It’s an homage to the late, great James Brown and the largest city in Choo’s native South Korea.

– Josh F., Athens, Ohio

 

What are the chances of Mark DeRosa becoming the new head spokesman for Ponderosa restaurants? Do Ponderosa buffet restaurants still even exist? If so, DeRosa would be their man. “Come to Ponderosa with Mark DeRosa.” That’s pretty catchy!

– Nile S., Indianapolis

 

Why am I such a sucker for this stuff?

 

Keep those questions — and nicknames and sales pitches — coming to tribemailbag@yahoo.com (include your first name, last initial and hometown with all submissions), and we’ll keep the Mailbag alive here at CastroTurf. Note that there will likely not be a Mailbag next week, as I’ll be busy breathing in bus fumes during the annual winter Press Tour.

Mailbag: Choo's military service, the DeRosa deal, Garko vs. Shoppach and more

Before we begin, I'd like to pass along correspondence from reader Kevin H. in Athens, Ohio -- also known as the navel of the universe:

 

“My buddies and I were recently at a local Ohio University hole in the wall (The Crystal), when we started talking the Tribe. One of the old Athens citizens sitting next to us overheard us and literally said, ‘I love ‘em mailbags. The guy makes it so I’s a donna have to read ‘da rest of ‘dem articles. A te hee hee (that’s his laugh)!’ We told him the writer of said mailbags went to OU, and he bought us all two rounds. So I guess a thanks is in order here.”

Thank you, Kevin, for this lovely little yarn, as it proves that even the Athens townies appreciate the dog and pony show known as the Tribe Mailbag.

Unfortunately, it is my duty to inform you that the Mailbag, as we know it, is no more. MLB.com is doing away with the feature on its club sites and going in a different direction with its content plan for 2009. We’ll just take the easy way out and blame it on the economy, like everything else.

But because the Tribe Mailbag has become such a popular feature, I cannot, in good conscience, extinguish it entirely. For one, I had promised a new Mailbag on Jan. 5, and I refuse to be labeled a liar. While it won’t run on Indians.com today, as previously scheduled, I can certainly run it here at CastroTurf.

I will, on occassion, continue to answer some of your questions in entries here. So please, by all means, keep them coming, and check back frequently.

E-mail your questions to tribemailbag@yahoo.com, and please don’t forget to include your first name, last initial and hometown.

Let’s see what was on your minds this week…

Allow me to be a typical Cleveland sports fan. I think the Tribe has found a budding star in Shin-Soo Choo. He’s a .310/25/100 guy. And in two years he’ll be holding a gun for the Korean military instead of a bat for the Indians. Figures.

– Josh H., Mansfield, Ohio

 

Your cynicism is understood in these parts, Josh. It's an innate part of the Cleveland condition.

 

Choo could avoid the obligation by becoming a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, or he could avoid it by helping South Korea to a baseball championship in the 2010 Asian Games (but that is, obviously, easier said than done). And while no one is saying it publicly, there is always the possibility that Choo simply does not return to his native land, thereby avoiding conscription.

 

Whenever the topic of his military obligation comes up, Choo says he's not thinking about that yet. And the Indians haven't shown the slightest bit of concern about the situation. The "typical Cleveland sports fans," as you call them, are the ones fretting, but this might amount to much ado about nothing.

 

I am a die-hard Cubs fan, and I just wanted to tell Indians fans the obvious: You guys got an insanely underrated player in Mark DeRosa. He may have been the Cubs’ most valuable asset, and we are sad to see him go.

– Scott P., Trevor, Wis.

 

I’ve heard nothing but good things about DeRosa, from a character standpoint. The fans and the media in Chicago loved him. I have no doubt that he’ll be an asset to the Indians’ clubhouse, and his numbers certainly lend themselves to the belief that he’ll be an asset in the No. 2 spot of the lineup.

 

I’m less convinced about moving DeRosa to third, though I understand the Indians’ rationale. I suspect the Tribe will work Jhonny Peralta in at third, on occasion, to get a better read on how he’d adjust to the position (his reflexes aren’t exactly cat-like at shortstop, and that could become even more of an issue at the hot corner). It’s reasonably safe to assume third base is in Peralta’s future, but it doesn’t make a heck of a lot of sense to move him to third permanently now, as DeRosa has the versatility to make the move in the interim.

 

If you can’t tell, I liked this trade for the Tribe.

 

How do the prospects the Tribe received for Casey Blake in July (catcher Carlos Santana, right-hander John Meloan) compare with the prospects we gave up to get DeRosa (right-handers Jeff Stevens and Chris Archer, left-hander John Gaub)? How are these prospects valued internally by the Tribe, and what is your take on the net cost of obtaining DeRosa for one year? Is this worth it?

– Craig A., Loughton, Essex, U.K.

 

Santana is already considered one of the organization’s top prospects. The Indians couldn’t be more enamored with his potential. They felt that Meloan and Stevens both could have competed for a bullpen job this season, but Meloan was probably higher on the pecking order because of his Triple-A experience. It was way too early to have a firm read on Archer and Gaub, who haven’t spent so much as one inning above low-A ball.

 

All prospects are unproven commodities. I'd say the Indians received two unproven commodities in Santana and Meloan who are rated higher than the three unproven commodities given up in Stevens, Archer and Gaub.

 

But if you're really going to compare Blake and DeRosa, as so many fans seem inclined to do, the net cost issue is more about contract length than anything else. The 35-year-old Blake commanded a three-year deal in free agency, averaging out at $5.67 million per year. DeRosa, who turns 34 next month, is signed for one more year at $5.5 million. The Indians are much more comfortable with DeRosa for one year than Blake for three.

 

Is first base secretly at all a concern? Is Victor Martinez potentially going to start there, and, if so, will he still bat fourth? I would think Peralta should bat fourth. With last year’s injuries and production, Martinez should be looked at as unreliable in the cleanup spot. And if you could choose between Kelly Shoppach or Ryan Garko getting regular playing time, who would it be? It has to be Shoppach, right?

– Kevin H., Athens, Ohio

 

Kevin supplied the OU anecdote above, so he gets his question answered, too.

 

First base would be more of a concern if the Indians didn't have the perceived luxury of Martinez's flexibility and Shoppach's bat. When it comes down to Garko vs. Shoppach, the Indians are a better team defensively with Shoppach behind the plate and Martinez at first. Then again, I think Garko has more run-production upside than Shoppach, who strikes out too frequently for my liking. The Indians, for now, are just as indecisive on the matter, which is why I think you'll see both guys quite a bit.

 

I've always liked Garko, which made his '08 season all the more maddening. But what he did down the stretch was real, so that has to allay some of the Indians' worries. On the whole, the lack of power at first is a worry. If Martinez returns to his '07 form, it's less of a concern. But if not, that position is a glaring weakness, from the power standpoint.

 

As far as the lineups are concerned, I would be surprised if Peralta doesn't remain in the cleanup spot. You're right, Kevin, that the Indians can't exactly pencil in Martinez's old production until they see how he rebounds from all that missed time last year.

 

Well, the first Mailbag of the New Year, and it happens to be my birthday, as well! Maybe that’s a good sign? Anyway, my question is on the farm system. I saw MLB.com’s top 50 prospects and noticed that Matt LaPorta (No. 14) and Adam Miller (41) are on it. LaPorta I understand, but Miller? He is always injured. Do you think he deserves that ranking?

– Aaron M., Erie, Pa.

 

First off, happy birthday, Aaron. May this Mailbag inclusion be, by far, your least-impressive birthday present.

 

It's a testament to Miller's raw stuff that he's still on that list, despite only pitching a grand total of 94 innings over the last two seasons. I expect him to make an impact in the back end of the bullpen this season, if he's healthy. But because that "if" is such a big "if," I personally would have put Santana on this list before Miller.

 

Why would Grady Sizemore play in the World Baseball Classic? Better yet, why does the front office permit him to play? At the end of last season, I recall management saying they need to give Grady days off during ’09.

– Bill, Cincinnati

 

Teams are at the mercy of their players' desires to play in the WBC, unless that player missed significant time due to injury in the previous season. So when Sizemore said he wants to participate, the Indians had no choice but to let him. But it should be a good experience for Sizemore, and he should be a valuable asset to Team USA.

 

And finally...

 

Why don’t the Indians trade all of their good players to the A’s? The A’s are boss!

– Sean M., Livermore, Calif.

 

I don’t know why, but this might be my favorite Mailbag question of all-time. I’m imagining headlines of “Tribe trades Lee to A’s — for nothing” and subheads of “Shapiro said move was made because A’s are ‘so boss.’”

 

More than anything, I’m just rooting for “boss” to reemerge as part of our lexicon. That would be gnarly.

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