Wednesday, January 11, 2017

International signings - Time to make them a high priority and back it up with dollars!

OK, I am an Indians' geek and I have been for a half a century since I was a little kid.  Part of the legacy of following the Tribe for that long is that I always looked to the there wasn't usually much of a present.   So, even with many of us being giddy about the Indians' 2017 season, I am looking towards 2020 and beyond.  

So, the acquisition of talented prospects, something that has always been front and center on my radar, is what I wanted to talk about today.  

The Indians, with the signing of Encarnacion, find themselves in an unusual place.   For only the 3rd time since the draft started in 1965, the Indians don't have a first round pick.  Plus, their excellent record last year means they will pick near the end of each round of the draft AND their competitive balance pick is buried after the second round of the draft.  What this means is that their first pick in the draft will be around #65, which is second worst opening pick in Indians' history.  

I wrote about the loss of the first round pick and the implications to the draft in December but, in summary, it is likely that we will not be able to get an impact player in the 2017 draft unless (a) a highly rated guy falls out of the first round and (b) we sign a bunch of college seniors to save up money to sign that one guy.   Other than that scenario we are likely to get a bunch of guys who will sign for slot money.   While the Indians have been very good about getting what, on paper, looks like decent talent to sign for slot money in rounds 2 and beyond, none of the guys we drafted below #65 in a draft are looking like more than complimentary players, even if we went over slot to sign them!   The guys who ARE looking good were selected using first round (and first round supplemental) picks and who were very highly rated at the time they were drafted.

So, since our 2017 draft is likely to produce, on paper, one top prospect at best, if everything falls our way, we need to find a way to fill the prospect pipeline in ways other than the draft. 

Since we all like to spend the Indians' money (really, admit it, you like to do that, too!), I want to state again something I said right after the Encarnacion signing:

We need to apply a lot of our amateur talent acquisition resources (i.e., scouts, bonuses) to the international market.  To bend an old expression: we need to spend like drunken scouting directors. 

I hope that the Indians already had a budget for the 2017 draft before they signed Encarnacion. If they did, the projected money for the draft doesn't simply go away and, hopefully, they didn't use that budget to sign Encarnacion.   If that money still exists, I think it is a MUCH better idea to target it toward the international free agent market and, maybe, even take some of the remaining draft money and push it towards international free agents.    

I see two areas to spend money....and I think we should be spending a lot of money internationally this summer:

1. Posting on or signing outright high quality  international professional free agents

2. Signing big name amateur free agents from Latin America starting on July 1st. 

I don't advocate #2 very often as the Indians have done a good job getting and developing good talent from Latin America on the cheap (Danny Salazar, Jose Ramirez, etc.) and have had not so good luck when they did spend anywhere close to $1 to sign a young Latin free agent.   However, this year I think we should go for a couple of high budget (>$2 million) Latin signings.   While they are high risk as these guys are only 16 years old, these guys can be acquired more easily as there is no draft and the penalties for going over the international budget are much less severe if you don't do it every year than they are for going over the draft budget pool.  Plus, there are Cuban players like Yandy Diaz (and better) who are/will be available.  Bottom line: if done correctly I think we can limit our risk and maximize our rewards, probably to a level much greater than if were able to spend all the money on draft choices.

As far as #1, this is generally reserved for big budget teams but  teams like Minnesota have been able to sign quality talent for a reasonable price in this process so maybe it is time for the Indians to dip more than their toes in this pool.  Maybe it is time for them to do a full out belly flop from the high board into the deep end! 

In summary, it has been pointed out by a lot of writers with a lot of data over the years saying how bad it is to miss an entire year of coming up with prospects for a team's prospect pipeline.   The Indians can attest to that as they had gaping holes in their prospect pipeline in years where they either did not have a first round pick or where their first round pick(s) flamed out early.

So, we can roll the dice and MAYBE get one gem out of this draft if everything goes our way (see Albert Belle years ago).  But, in 2017, the place we ought to be spending the Indians' hard-earned dollars is internationally...and at levels never seen before in Cleveland.

That is how we keep this prospect pipeline flowing. 


Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Tyler Naquin - what to make of him

Now that we have decided not to sign Mike Napoli and Rajai Davis and assuming our bullpen trio is healthy and productive and remains so, there is no bigger question mark on the 2017 Indians than Tyler Naquin.

Has the league caught up to him using the Cubs blueprint or will Naquin adjust yet again.   For those of you who don't remember, Naquin was hitting well early in 2016 despite only getting rare chances to play in the first few weeks of the season, something that would cause most players to imitate the tin man at the beginning of the Wizard of Oz.  However, when Naquin played, he hit, yet he was sent to the minors with a number of goals, the most out-front of which was to learn to take a walk.   He accomplished that goal and was brought back up to the majors where he prospered against righties. 

To me that was all very impressive for a rookie who I felt had the ceiling of a very good 4th outfielder on a 5 outfielder team.

Then there was the post-season.   Remember it is possible, maybe likely, that the reason the Indians didn't bring back Napoli and didn't extend their budget to bring back Davis was because of their post-season flops.   But Naquin, who was less of a factor than the two above-mentioned veterans,  remains.

Is he an integral part of the 2017 Indians?  Will he have a breakout year, continuing to show that when given a challenge (like the bases on ball thing last year) he has the tools to make the necessary adjustments.  Or will he finally be exposed and fade off into obscurity?  This sounds like baseball's version of the popular HG TV show.   We could call it: "Rip or Flop".  Will the relationship between the Indians and Naquin end up flourishing or in divorce?  Only time will tell.

As a veteran prognosticator (translation: a guy who isn't afraid to guess on what will happen but rarely has any more clue than the next guy) I can't even begin to imagine how this will go.   I will say this.   Francona does not cut young players any slack.   If he thinks Naquin is not going to help him win but he is stuck with Naquin on the roster, he simply won't play him in the way necessary to get Naquin to optimize his performance.   If Francona is impressed with how Naquin looks when he comes to spring training and sees his value, Naquin will get every chance and more (is that even mathematically possible?) to prove he can help the team win, despite what Chernoff and Antonetti might think.   And Tito is usually right, or at least that is what I have seen so far. 

So that is my answer of what to make of Naquin:  If Tito likes him Naquin will likely prosper to some level.   Whether that level is good enough to be a starting OFer on a playoff team will be decided this year.   If Francona doesn't like him out of ST, don't be surprised if the 3rd place finisher in last year's ROY balloting ends up beginning and spending a lot of 2017 in the minors.  If the latter happens, Naquin is likely gone next off-season and NOT for very much in return.    He then would likely go the way of the Chad Huffmans of the world and just bounce around from organization to organization.

So let's hope Naquin reaches his potential in 2017, which, to me, is about 30% better, all things considered, than his play last year.  If that happens, we have a keeper here as Naquin has shown me that he learns a lot from past experiences.   And we have a keeper who is cheap for years to come and a young guy who can continue to grow on our fan base.  Think a poor man's Grady Sizemore in Sizemore's prime.  I'll take that any day of the week in Cleveland.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Rajai Davis and other thoughts

I am not upset we didn't sign Davis.   I would rather sign or trade for (now or in July) a third baseman  with power and an OK glove and free up Jose Ramirez for another outfielder AND utility duty and to fill a starting OF slot, if necessary.   We would also eliminate the need for a Michael Martinez or even Erik Gonzalez (both of whom could be used in trade(s)) as utility guys and, hopefully, give us more power in our lineup.  I don't think Martinez and Gonzalez add much offensively although they are great 25th men who sit there and don't gripe if they don't play.   I would rather give Tito a bunch of guys who are about equal which is what happens if Ramirez takes over that utility role.   Now you position your yourself to play all 25 guys (assuming the bullpen gets in order) without much drop in ability.   Thus you have mostly the same chance to win every night and still keep guys fresh.

Don't know who I would target in trades but it doesn't look like there is a free agent I would break the bank for.   Again, Chernoff, Antonetti and Francona are the veterans but their summer trades (Miller, Guyer and Crisp) have worked out better than their bargain basement free agent signings (Napoli and Davis on the plus side but Marlon Byrd and Jose Uribe on the down side)

As I said, right now I would rather focus on finding a lockdown right hander and a good LOOGY who can get the occasional RH batter out.   Drew Storen just signed with the Reds for $3 million.   Not saying Storen was a guy I targeted but one year deals for Storen and Holland would look really good to me right now for $9 million.

Still relievers out there and I trust the Indians and Tito to find the right ones.   Still, if they plan to go into the season with the current relievers they will be playing right into Tito's tendency to overuse his star relievers.  You have to give Francona weapons or he will likely default to having his best record by overusing the stud relievers and underusing the has been his pattern in the past few years. 

Hey, I have ultimate trust that Tito is the guy who will make us win.   I just think we need to give him more veteran weapons in the bullpen so he feels more at ease giving Miller, Allen and Shaw, in that order, the rest they need.   He also needs to have enough good position players that if he needs to give one rest or fill a need if a guy goes on the DL, he already has that player on his roster and any guy he brings up from the minors isn't pressed into playing full-time and can operate, at the beginning, as that 25th man.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Happy New Year

The Indians into extra innings in Game 7 of the WS.  The Cavs as champions.  Ohio State in the final 4. 

If we can top that in 2017 or even match it, it will be another great year in Cleveland sports. 

Happy New Year to all the readers of this blog.  Hopefully you all will come back this year.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

The Loss of a Draft pick for signing Encarnacion

In the afterglow of the signing of Edwin Encarnacion we should consider the impact of the Indians losing their first round pick from the 2017 draft.

First, realize that their Indians' first round pick (#27) was one of the lowest first round picks the Indians have had in its history, with only Danny Peoples (1996), Tim Drew (1997) and Lonnie Chisenhall (2008) being lower (NOTE: Corey Smith in 2000 was drafted in the 26th slot).   But the Indians, being a small market club, value their first round picks.  In fact, if I read the drafts correctly, this will only be the 3rd draft in the history of the ML draft in which the Indians do not have a pick before the second round of the draft (the other two being in 1987 and 1999)!

The are two things that really bother Indians' draftniks (of which I am one) about the loss of this pick:

1. As the Indians will not have a first round pick, their first selection will roughly be around #65, the second lowest first picks in Indians' history.  The only time the Indians ever picked lower was in 1999 when, against predominant opinion and, to the laughter of most of baseball, selected Wil Hartley at #74.   This is sometimes what happens when a team is reaching for the brass ring in a year they don't have a high pick.   That being said, in 1987 they took a flyer on Albert Belle (at #47) who was clearly talented but had attitude problems at LSU that hurt his draft status.   No matter how it worked out, this was a gamble, again something desperate teams might do when they don't have a first round pick.

2. The way the collective bargaining agreement CURRENTLY reads, the Indians will have a very small bonus pool with which to work.  Why?  Because the way bonus slotting works, the higher the draft pick the more the slot is worth.   Why does that matter?  Well, teams with very high draft picks generally have very big bonus pools.  In the past those teams, including the Indians, have been able to save a little money on their first round picks that they were able to spread around to picks after the first round, maybe being able to sign HS players away from college commitments by giving them more money than other ML teams were willing to give them.  Right now the Indians can't do that and really, in the 2017 draft, basically have two possible strategies; (a) draft a bunch of guys at slot value, meaning the depth of their draft could be good but the star power not good or (b) draft a bunch of college seniors in the first 10 rounds and save most of their bonus pool for 1 or 2 guys who drop out of the first round due to bonus demands that are perceived by the industry as being too high for whatever reason.   Either of these paths are generally seen by draftniks as possible disaster scenarios for the Indians' acquisition of talent to keep their prospect pipeline flowing along.

Now, I don't know what the Indians are thinking about this but, for me, losing a pick so low in the first round is not the end of the world for a few reasons:

1. The slot amount for that pick is so low there really isn't a lot of slack in that pick to save money.

2. Since we only got a competitive balance pick at the end of round 2 instead of last year when we got that pick at the end of round 1, there is a much lower possibility that there will be any impact players left who we can go over slot with meaning we are more likely to use scenario (a) above.   If we do that we will have money to spare compared to last year's draft and will have to find impact talent in a different way, which brings me to...

3. The Indians are normally very frugal spenders in the international free agent market.  They have not paid millions of dollars to the top international amateur free agents nor have they signed professional free agents from Asia or even Cuba due to high price tags.   Instead, they have spread their money around hoping to out-scout the other teams to get more prospects for less money per prospect.  This philosophy has worked to some extent as the Indians have obtained prospects like Danny Salazar going this route.  In 2017, if the Indians take excess scouting dollars and excess bonus dollars they won't have to use to scout a bunch of and pay a first round pick, they will have the ability, and should use it, to not take this volume-over-quality approach and, rather, spend most of their money on a few top international free agents.   They also have 6 months to do the leg work in places like the Dominican Republic and in the professional and amateur leagues in Asia to identify a couple of guys who they want to treat like first round picks in this draft.  If you see the Indians trade guys for international pool spending dollars it will be a good indicator they are going that way.   Even without, that, however, they still should be able to get some star quality prospects if they just sign a few high value prospects rather than a number of lower value prospects.

So, if the Indians take the international approach I suggested above, it is very possible that the 2017 draft plus international signing period combined could yield a very strong influx of talent into the organizationn.    

Friday, December 23, 2016

Elvis having a blue Christmas. Should we add him?

Noticed that former Indians' prospect Elvis Araujo has been DFA'd.   If he gets to us (doubtful, but possible) should we claim him and jettison someone else off of our full 40-man?  Not saying we should but it is worth some thought, at least. 

I would love to have him put it all together as part of a championship team in the organization he started with.   Not a big deal but it would be a nice Cinderella story.

Encarnacion, check!

English is a funny language as words and phrases can have multiple meanings. Take the title of this post.

On one hand it could mean that, given his new contract, we will be expecting Encarnacion to pick up the check when he and his teammates go to dinner as he is the highest paid member of the Indians.

On the other hand it could mean that the Indians have just checked off a major box in their off-season planning.  The have the power hitting first baseman/DH they needed.

Let's focus on the latter meaning.   So the Indians have Encarnacion.   What's left to do?

First, they need two relievers.   Jeff Manship did his job here, and then some.   But what we need is an upgrade over him.   I have said repeatedly that I won't believe until the 2017 regular season is over that the hangover from the massive use of Allen, Shaw and Miller in 2016 won't, at some point this season, come back to bite the Indians.  They need one more 7th/8th inning guy who you aren't afraid to put into a tight playoff situation next year. 

Second, they need to identify a second lefty.   They have done a great job stockpiling guys who throw with their left arms..  Whether any of them can pitch in the majors is still to be seen.  We need a couple more of those guys to come in.   Clearly with Cecil and  Rzepchinski (sp?) got this off-season we will be shopping in the bargain section of the store to find one. 

Finally, we need some more starting depth.   The Indians have been great about signing major league starters on the mend from injuries and rehabbing them.  However, we haven't gotten any production from those guys.  We need to find a couple of decent inning eaters and stash them at AAA.   It would be nice to have 4 solid starters at AAA (Merritt and Plutko will be there) with all them having the ability to relieve, if necessary.  I might consider tandem starting some of those guys just so that they get used to coming out of the bullpen, if necessary, when the Indians need them or in the playoffs when we only need 4 starters.

It would be nice to make a trade for another hitter but we can wait until July for that if we can make an opportunistic move then.

p.s., I feel bad for Mike Napoli.  He provided the spark that helped push us over the top last year.   Thanks, Mike.   Good luck this year.