Today I got an e-mail from Aaron in Mill Creek, Washington. He wanted to know what I thought about the Indian’s chances this year and for the future, since they’ve only lost Coco Crisp and gained much in the offseason. I decided the Indians are overdue for some coverage, so here we go. Most of you who have read my division/team overviews know that I don’t like making predictions on where teams will end up at the end of the year – I prefer to break down a team’s strength’s and ‘holes,’ because to be honest, predictions are a crapshoot anyway.
Since finishing 93-69 and just 6 games behind the White Sox in 2005, the Indians have re-signed Jhonny Peralta (5 years,) and Grady Sizemore (6 years,) to long term contracts. They’ve acquired Guillermo Mota and signed free agents Paul Byrd and Jason Johnson. Aaron wondered whether these gains, offset only by the loss of Coco Crisp, gave the team a chance to make a run this season. Aaron, you forgot to mention that the Indians let the pitcher with the best ERA in the AL walk away to free agency. He is currently playing for the Rangers. I’ll give everyone a couple seconds to think about who that might be, because it still amazes me that this guy had the lowest ERA of any starting pitcher in the AL and barely anyone knows it.
Alright, times up – it was Kevin Millwood. In any case, maybe people didn’t take note because he went 9-11 last year. How you can start 30 games and have a 2.86 ERA while playing for a team that won 93 games – but only win 9 games yourself – is beyond me. Oh well. On to Coco Crisp. Do you remember before the 2004 season, when the Indians shipped tinder-box Milton Bradley to the Dodgers so they could make room for Coco Crisp on the roster? Think about that for a minute, and it will become clear. If you still need help, think Monopoly and Breakfast. In any case, Coco is an average center fielder (his natural position), and the guy who’s playing in center instead – Grady Sizemore – is younger and more qualified for the job. I agree with Aaron that the loss of Coco Crisp isn’t a huge loss – more so since the Indians acquired a valuable defensive backup catcher in Kelly Shoppach, a quality reliever in Guillermo Mota, and a highly valued 3rd base prospect in Andy Marte. Marte is only 22 now, but he’s an amazing fielder and has great potential at the plate.
However, many Indian fans don’t like this trade because of the chemistry Coco brought to the team. I guess others feel that GM Mark Shapiro was trading away the present for the future, but nothing could be further from the truth, in my opinion. Crisp wasn’t playing in his natural position, and he wasn’t going to as long as Grady Sizemore is in town – which is going to be about 6 years. Power-hitting, quality fielding 3rd basemen are hard to come by, and Andy Marte will develop into one within the next couple years. Some people have even raised the idea of turning Victor Martinez into a 1st baseman and starting Kelly Shoppach at catcher, because he is defensively superior. This is a possibility, but not in the near future. Before I go further, let me say that I was almost done with this piece when my computer decided to restart. So I lost the last half. Oh well, here we go again. This is how the Indians line up on the depth chart for the 2006 Season:
Catcher – Victor Martinez
First Base – Ben Broussard
Second Base – Ronnie Belliard
Third Base – Aaron Boone (for now)
Shortstop – Jhonny Peralta
Right Field – Casey Blake
Center Field – Grady Sizemore
Left Field – Jason Michaels
DH – Travis Hafner
Many of you who have read my team overviews are familiar with the holes analogy. We see another good use for it right here; the Indians don’t have a lot of holes, provided the team plays like they did last year. Red Sox Killer Aaron Boone should be able to produce, as long as he doesn’t get any worse than he was last year. I don’t like Jason Michaels in Left, if only because he’s never played a full season. However, Todd Hollandsworth is there to back up any outfielders that go down, and I’m comfortable with that. The Indians are young, and that’s their greatest asset. V-Mart, Belliard, Peralta, Blake, and Sizemore are only getting better, and I don’t see any of them having huge off years that would ruin the team, (but Martinez always starts slow, so be weary.) Broussard and Hafner may improve a little, but Hafner is already a great DH to begin with. Remember, this lineup finished 93-69 last year. The only major thing offensively that’s changed with the Indians is the departure of Coco Crisp, which is not a big loss to the team offensively – some Indian fans will contend that it is a matter of chemistry, but that debate won’t be settled here. The most important thing to remember is that all the members are generally consistent performers – unlike the Mets, their season isn’t riding on the success of one or two guys.
As for the rotation, I like it and it tends to be fairly solid. C.C. Sabathia is one of my favorite pitchers, and he’ll be the ace again this year. The problem with C.C. is that he has a tendency to get hit around the yard a lot. His typical ERA hovers around 4, but most people forget that C.C. is only 25 years old. This could be the year that he pulls everything together. Apparently, I fell asleep and when I woke up, it became ok to start Jake Westbrook at the Major League level. I’m not gonna bash the guy too much, because frankly he doesn’t deserve it. Ok, maybe 2005 was an off year – I mean, 2004 was his good year, and all the others were just off years. My point is that 2004’s 3.38 ERA looks more like a statistical anomaly than a genuine, quality performance. But who knows, Westbrook is supposed to pull it together any year now, (he’s 28,) and this might be the year. Cliff Lee is next in line. Lee has really figured things out since his rocky full-time debut in 2004, when he had a 5.43 ERA but somehow managed to win 14 games. In 2005, he won 18 games with a 3.79 ERA, and I think he’s for real. Furthermore, I forgive Cliff for pitching his glove into the crowd after he exited a game in 2004, unhappy with his performance. And before you ask why anyone would ever start
Westbrook over Lee… Sabathia, Lee, and Jason Johnson (the #5) are all Lefties. Handedness aside, the rotation might fall to some variation of Sabathia, Lee, Byrd, Westbrook, and Johnson. The veteran of this young staff is Paul Byrd, at number 4. And hold it a minute, I’ll get to Johnson in a second. Byrd has had a good last couple of years. I’m not going to go into the hurricane that’s been his career, but basically it’s stabilized. If he can continue his sub-4.00 ERA ways and stay consistent, he’ll be a great #4. And then there’s Jason Johnson. I saw him start a few too many games for the Tigers last year, and I don’t like him. I’m convinced the guy is a fraud. He’s another one of those players I just don’t care for. I’m not saying he’s a bad guy or anything, his style of play just concerns me. And by style of play, I mean he’s only had two sub-4.50 ERA seasons – for the Orioles in 2001 and 2003, 4.09 and 4.18, respectfully. But, I do understand that guys that can go 200 innings with a 4.50 ERA are a little rarer than we typically think. If Johnson can stay healthy and stable, he’s doing his job as a number 5. Overall, this is a solid rotation if it stays healthy, which it has in the past. Neither Paul Byrd nor Jason Johnson strike out a lot of guys, and therefore the outfield defense which some people worry is a little shaky may be a problem – no one seems to be too sure how it will perform. Byrd caused some worries earlier in Spring Training when he was roughed up for 7 runs in 1.2 innings and said, "I need to get more zip on my fastball… it feels like I’m pitching underwater." That’s not a good feeling. The Indians are working on Fausto Carmona as well – Carmona is a 22-year-old prospect who allowed just 1 ER and recorded 8 K’s in 12 IP this spring. He’s set to spend the year in AAA Buffalo, but I think that if Byrd, Johnson, or Westbrook goes down for any length of time he may be called up, if he’s having a good year at AAA. Of course, this isn’t a long term solution because you risk pitching him too many innings and pulling a Mark Prior on him, but at least he provides a little bit of insurance.
The bullpen is a little bit shaky still, but it simply wasn’t the priority to be fixed during the off-season. Right now, the only reliable guy is one Rafael Betancourt, who still claims he wasn’t juiced up. But this guy is good. I actually drafted him last year because if Wickman goes down – not unlikely – he’s #2. Guillermo Mota, who was acquired when Coco Crisp departed, should be good, but there’s no telling for sure.
Ever since Mota was shipped to the Marlins in 2004 with Paul Lo Duca, he’s been a mess. His 2005 season was a total loss, but it did produce Todd Jones as a closer (again), and he’s in Detroit now. Relief pitchers aren’t something you want to bet on because they can be so fickle from year to year, but I think Mota can pull something out of his bag and get back to a serviceable condition this year. The car crash that is Danny Graves has also arrived at the Jake, and apparently won itself a roster spot. If Graves thinks Wickman’s gonna go down this year, and Eric Wedge will panic and hand him the closer spot, he needs to drop back down to planet Earth. Maybe, maybe, if the rest of the bullpen is assassinated he’ll have a shot. Do you remember when the Indians were on their bus to the Kansas City airport near the close of the 2004 Season, when all of the sudden reliever Kyle Denney was shot? The best part of this was that Denney was wearing a white cheerleader’s outfit as part of a hazing ritual, and the high white boots he was wearing may have saved him from further injury. Can you imagine how that must have gone?
"Skip, I’ve been shot!"
"Shut up Denney, you haven’t been shot."
"No, he’s serious! Reliever down! Reliever down!"
Too much. In any case, If Graves and Mota pull it together, you’ve got a decent bullpen. But any team who signs Danny Graves is grabbing at straws, and Mark Shapiro knows it. Bob Wickman, who saved 45 games last year, is fine if he stays healthy. I was at an Indians v. Tigers came last year, and I chanced into Bob Wickman by the dugout – I think it was just after we had gotten into the park. We asked Wickman if he could sign, and he said sure. He came on over, and then he dropped the bomb.
Do you care where I sign? Want it in the sweet spot?
Anyone (above the age of 15) who has ever gotten a player’s autograph know’s that this is just
absurd. Most of the time, the players will ignore your attempts to speak to them. You’ll say,
‘thanks,’ and they’ll give you a standard ‘no problem’ without looking up or making eye contact. Wickman looked me straight in the eye and treated Kevin and I respectfully, because he knew we’re the reason he has a salary. I’m not saying players who don’t do this are bad guys – I understand that a lot of fans are obnoxious, and the players don’t have time for everyone, etc – but anyone who takes time out like Bob Wickman gets an A+. Remember the Andres Torres Story? Additionally, anyone who has attended an Indian’s game has probably seen the old
T-Shirt lady. I won’t go into it now, but… screeching at players like
you’re their mother is not the way to go. In any case, the 37-year-old Wickman had one of his best years last year, dropping his ERA to a solid 2.47. Again, if he stays healthy he’s perfect – if not, start looking for a replacement. But Wickman is a good guy.
That said, I’m going to remind you that I like to break down teams and let you decide where they’ll end the year at. But, if I had to take a guess – and I think the AL Central is one of the easier divisions to predict, although everyone else will disagree with me – we’ll go Indians, White Sox, Tigers, Twins, Royals. The Indians and Sox may swap; the Tigers and Twins may swap. (Check out the Tiger’s Overview.) Again, there’s no way to know for sure. But the Indians have put together a great club recently and stand a good chance of running away with the division. Aaron, I hope I answered your question. Any other e-mails are welcome and I’ll do my best to address them and use your ideas.
Thanks for reading.
I haven’t been posting a lot lately because I’ve been absolutely swamped with work. It’s nuts. I had to talk to my advisor on Monday, and I walk in the door and he says, ‘wow, you look a little frazzled.’ Hmm, thanks. And today I had a great day in the Chemistry department; I cut my hand, got Hydrochloric acid on my finger (pH < 0,) and spilled some Chromium on my hands on top of that. Great. Well, that said… let’s get back to the baseball.
Few topics I want to cover tonight:
Where are the Blue Jays going this year?
The Blue Jays recently placed A.J. Burnett on the DL, but there’s more too it. See, medically, he can play, but they want to give the scar tissue which evidently tore loose some more time to get itself worked out before they throw him into a game. I’m gonna say this right now – smart move. Burnett is only missing two starts, and that’s a bargain. The Jays are paying this guy $55 million for 5 years. That means, if he develops a problem – Mark Prior or Kerry Wood like – they’re stuck with him. And worst case scenario, the Jay’s lose two games they may have otherwise won – again, worst case scenario. And that’s about 200 times better than having Burnett go down anytime during the season, because if he does it’ll be for much longer.
Burnett should have a great year. And as I’ve said time and time again, Halladay will be even better. If, disregarding any freak injuries, I had to pick one guy for the AL Cy Young this year, it would be Roy Halladay. Dude is lights out. I’ve talked about this before. But basically, take my word, Halladay is the man. However, I worry that the Jays are a lot of big names with not a lot behind them. Glaus, for example, is a big home run guy at 3rd base. However, he cannot hit well for an average. He’s been this way his whole career – the Blue Jays know it, obviously, and they don’t expect it to change. But, what does this do for the much-advertised,
"Vernon Wells gets protection in the lineup" scheme? Furthermore, upon close inspection of the rest of the Blue Jay’s team, you still see a lot of holes. The lineup is about average – which, of course, doesn’t win the AL East. The pitching was the problem last year. For example, the Jays scored 775 runs last year; the White Sox scored 741. However, the White Sox allowed 645 runs, (earned and otherwise,) for a 3.61 ERA. The Jays allowed 705 total runs for an ERA of 4.06. 60 runs may not seem like a huge difference, but it is about .37 runs per game. My point, however, is that you don’t win the AL East with lackluster pitching and an average lineup. B.J. Ryan, A.J. Burnett, and a healthy Roy Halladay may solve that problem. However, it is not often that a team can be in 3rd place one year, make a few trades, and contend for the division the following year. Winning has to be bred from within the organization.
I like the Blue Jays a lot, and I like what they’ve done as an organization. They’re on the rise as a club. And, if they were in the AL Central, or the AL West, they would have a serious shot at this thing. But as of now, they simply cannot compete with the Yankees or the Red Sox. Regardless of what the opening day lineup is for the Yankees, Steinbrenner would support the WBC before he allowed the Jays to go over him in the AL East. It won’t happen. And if you need more evidence, here you go.
Does Carl Pavano still play baseball?
He is listed as an active player, but I’m not so sure. If I have my facts straight, about a week ago he threw ‘for real’ for the first time since last August, although this is a really muddled situation. I know the guy isn’t milking the team for cash, but he’s still managing to make me upset. I feel like he’s standing there laughing at us, "Haha, yeah, you know, I’m just taking it slow. I’m primed for rebound season though. The difference between how I pitched last season and how I’m throwing now is amazing. I feel good. Blah Blah Blah.********." Great. Again, it seems inconceivable that a Major League baseball pitcher would just act like he had a sore back/shoulder so he didn’t have to pitch to earn his cash. I mean, it’s illogical for starters. That’s certainly is not going to make you any more money in the long run. So what’s this guy’s deal? Why is he so intent on taking his time to recover? Perhaps he just doesn’t know how to handle the media – I don’t know. I guess my point is that it seems like he’s taking his ‘rehab’ very slow. Don’t like that one bit.
Beantown is about to get pissed
I want to say something. There’s an article floating around MLB.com that notes that since 2001, four of the five teams that won the World Series didn’t even make the playoffs in the previous year. Diamondbacks in 2001, Angels in 2002, Marlins in 2003, White Sox in 2005. That’s right, the Red Sox aren’t included. Why? They might have made the playoffs in 2003… but they hadn’t won the World Series in 86 years. You know, that’s a really long time. You could conceivably be born the year after the Red Sox won the Series, fight in WWII, marry, have children, get grandchildren, retire, etc etc, and then die. And then, the Red Sox would win the World Series again. An entire lifetime! Do you understand how ridiculous that is? I’m just happy I got my two days of crying in already – I know I won’t have to do that ever again. With that, I introduce the following counter. It’s kind of like my garlic and cross against Beantown. E-mail me if you would like the code.
The Radio Show
Kevin and I are still working on the Radio Show and trying to line up some guests. So far, we’re still looking for George Will, Andres Torres, Jim Bunning, and anyone else. If you know any of these people, tell them we’d like to get in touch. Apparently my Dad, who does some work with public policy institutes, knows people who know George Will and Perfect Game Winner/U.S. Senator Jim Bunning. But again, if you’re close with these people – or anyone else who would want to be on a sweet show and talk about baseball – tell them to talk to us.
It’s been great. Talk to you tomorrow.
Ah, it seems MLB.com is at it again. First, I love the new look. Second, I don’t like the cover story, "NL West Battle: Better from top to bottom." I’ve said it about 17 times now; there is no such division. It appears that MLB.com misidentified the division formerly known as the NL West with the actual NL West, which hasn’t existed in quite some time. Please, as I said before, it matters not what is done in the Western Division this year. Last year, the top finisher in that race ended with an 82-80 record after, "a strong finish." There are consequences for such lackluster ‘performance.’ Consequences which include probation. That’s all.
I’m at my wit’s end here. I don’t understand the whole Red Sox – Devil Ray ‘rivalry’ talk that’s cropping up these days. Just because they threw a couple pitches at each other’s skulls last year, (and I wrote about that too,) and now they’re fighting each other in Spring Training doesn’t mean their rivals, does it? In any case, you’ve got to hand it to the D-Rays; this was probably the best thing they could do to provide their team with some good PR. Don’t scare people by being a good baseball team, scare them by beating them up, great idea. Your team isn’t going anywhere in the batters box or on the mound, so why not step into the ring and throw a few punches?
You may recall that after the Red Sox and Devil Rays got into it last year, the Ray’s manager at the time, Lou Pinella, said that "We didn’t throw at guy’s heads, but if we’re thrown at, we’re gonna defend ourselves." Then, Curt Schilling fired back, saying that some of the Rays had told him that Lou told them to throw at guy’s heads, and that he’s the reason they’re a lock to lose 100 games every year. Pinella shot back at Schilling, saying that he’s forgotten more baseball than Schilling will ever know. That’s incredible. I said it then, and I’ll say it again – the Devil Rays aren’t a team of fiery competitors, they’re a band of unknowns. I don’t think they have to worry about the Red Sox insulting their dignity.
This fight was even better. Apparently, Julian Tavarez was covering home when Joey Gathright slid in. Gathright said,
I slid in and then he was standing on my arm — I can show you marks. I was trying
to get up. I couldn’t get up, because he was putting more pressure on
it. I was like, ‘Get off my arm,’ but he wouldn’t move, so I tried to
get up and push his knee back, and I was getting up. He swung at me,
and that’s when it all started.
Alright, sounds good. Tavarez had this to say:
You have to defend yourself, man. I don’t have a twin
brother out there. He was like, ‘Hey man,’ I tried to get out [of the
way] and I wasn’t going to let him throw a punch at me right away. You
ever hear that whoever gets the first punch gets the win? That’s what
happened. That’s how it goes.
Are you freaking kidding me? First, you basically just told us that you punched him for saying ‘hey
man.’ And I don’t have a twin brother out there? Maybe not, but you have at least 25 teammates out there. And if you get wronged, they stick up for you. So, let me try to understand what happened here. You thought that after Gathright slid into home, he was gonna fight you. As Gathright helped himself up off the ground, you performed a pre-emptive strike on his face with your right fist. After that, you punched him again in the head.
With the Yankees picking up Kyle Farnsworth, you’ve just added fuel to the fire. On top of the usual cast of characters, you have two of the biggest fist-throwers in the league. Fantastic. I can’t wait to see them go at it. What if the Sox and Yanks fight again this year, and the bullpen’s empty… and then Farnsworth tackles Tavarez on his way out of the pen? How mad would that be?
Check out my NL East Overview; apparently it was snuck into the cover story. I’m reading from the MLBlogs homepage, and I get to, "what do you think?" and the word you is linked. I think, hmm, is this some new messageboard? I’m curious. So I click on it and end up on my own website. Cool!
Also, check out the new MLBlogsosphere blog, it’s that new messageboard.