Sunday, December 4, 2016

Musings for a Sunday night in early December

Mike Napoli or no Mike Napoli.   Let's be honest.  Cleveland, despite it's great season, is where guys go to re-start their careers on one-year deals so they can, the next year, go elsewhere and cash in on the season they had in Cleveland.  Why, because there will always be some rich team who can overpay a guy like Napoli for multiple years, have him fall on his face, and it still not kill their budget for years to come...because they can afford to have bigger budgets!

The only thing I will say in Napoli's defense is that if he will accept a one-year deal I would take him for even $10 million in that year.   Why?  I think his intangibles in 'the room' are knowns to Francona and the Indians whereas those of anyone else (including Encarnacion and Fowler) are suspect if you put them in the position Napoli was in last year.  We are in our 'window' now and he will, for next year, likely help keep us there  But for more than one year?  Never.  Yeah, it may kill our playoff chances next year but next year in the playoffs and years after that, signing Napoli might significantly hurt our chances of winning long term.

HOFers...or not.  In the mid- to late-90s I dreamed on the prospect of having multiple Indians from that era make the Hall of Fame.   A couple of decades later I am still waiting.  Now Albert Belle is on a separate ballot.  It reminds me of what could have been:

Carlos Baerga, Julie Franco, Albert Belle , Jim Thome, Manny Ramirez, Omar Vizquel, even Robbie Alomar and maybe Sandy Alomar looked like potential HOFers.  Now, due to injuries, steroids, following the money overseas and precipitous declines ability, it looks like only Thome and Vizquel have a shot at the HOF with Belle having a slight shot.   And there is no guarantee if they do make it that they will go in as Indians since they did leave Cleveland, many significantly before their careers ended.

Why am I mentioning this?  Because the Indians didn't do enough (which means they should have done it no matter what the cost) to keep their HOFers here.   Yeah, we would have been burned, HOF-wise, on Ramirez, Robbie Alomar and Baerga but for all the other guys, they are likely or were likely, given difference circumstances of going in the HOF.

Looking at the current roster only Francisco Lindor looks like a likely HOFer.   In the next year or two we need to give him a lifetime contract.  Yeah, at the end of it we will be rueing the day we gave him that deal...until he goes into the HOF as an Indian.

None of the above was worth the money they made when they left the Indians.  Yet, had we had them here, we would be looking at a lot of HOF guys over the next few years.    And, living in St. Louis, the value of those statues outside the stadium is invaluable to keep the tradition alive.

Ohio  State Football - OK, this is a baseball blog.   But in all the controversy or perceived controversy about the final 4 this year, there is one thing that I see noticeably missing.   People are ticked about Washington's non-conference schedule but they don't seem to talk about Ohio State's luck.   Realistically OSU could be sitting at 8-4 now and looking at a matchup in a minor bowl game.   Putting Clemson ahead of them was a symbolic thing to do.   I think they should have been ranked 4th with Washington 3rd.  I just don't think they showed enough to be in the top 3 and only because of the closeness of some of the major conference championship games do I even think OSU deserves to be in the final 4.  People who make a big deal about Washington's weak non-conference schedule and don't ding the Buckeyes for their multiple almost losses are, in my opinion, missing the real issue:  You have to dominate to make the final 4.   A win is not a win when you are talking about the football playoffs.   And Ohio State's close wins are just as suspect, if not more, than Washington's weak non-conference schedule.   And you are getting that opinion from a lifelong Buckeye fan an Buckeye alum (sort of).

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Thankful that I am a Cleveland fan

Hey, I grew up in the Cleveland area and have been a Cleveland sports fan my entire life.  I 'fly the colors' wearing my Indians stuff.   I am not afraid to tell people I am a Cleveland sports fan and I bristle every time I see any mention of 'the mistake on the lake'. 

Why do I say this now?

Because this is probably the golden age (if one year can define an age) of Cleveland sports.   The Cavs and Indians have provided us thrills and championships this year and Ohio State looks like it is going back to the football playoffs after beating that team up north (always a thrill in and of itself).  The minor league hockey team won a championship and even the Browns are working on a perfect season (tongue firmly in cheek) and are providing us with some nostalgia, taking us back to a time when the big excitement for a Cleveland fan was when their team approached earning the top pick in next year's draft!

So, let's be happy, fellow Clevelanders.   This age may last a couple of minutes, a couple of years or a decade or may be snuffed out by a solar flare.  Who can tell.  Let's just sit back and watch and enjoy.   Now it isn't "wait 'til next year" it is "I can't wait 'til next year!"

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Indians' needs for 2017

A hot topic in the off-season is what your team needs to add in the off-season.   A look at the Royals in 2015 and 2016 shows that not much changed.  However, a few injuries to key players and not having a quality 5th starter turned out to be the difference between a WS champion in 2015 and a .500 record in 2016. 

The key for me is to address areas of possible weakness as much as areas of actual weakness.   Let's take a look at the Indians, area by area:

Bullpen: We need a solid setup man who has closed successfully in the recent past.  Look, I know we have Miller, Allen and Shaw.  But look at how those guys were used in 2016.  It would be an amazing feat if those guys pitched as strongly and as long in 2017.  Francona rides his bullpen hard and I don't honestly believe that relying on these three guys to go 7th, 8th, and 9th (or 8th and 9th or just 9th) every time we have a close game is realistic.  We need to have another guy who can save the arms of these 3 or, more likely, can give us quality relief WHEN one of these guys goes to the DL.  We won't be able to afford the luxury of what we really need: one quality righty and one quality lefty who is more than a loogy.   We will have to settle for one of those two.  Yes, we have McAllister and Otero and should probably re-sign Manship but we need more than Armstrong, Adams, Colon, Crockett, etc. to back the top 6 up.  If even one of those last 4 end up giving us quality innings all through the 2017 regular season I will be ecstatic.  Hoping for more than that is just too much to ask, in my opinion.

Catcher - I think we are probably good there and investing any resources in a catcher is probably a waste of time.  Yes, we might be able to upgrade but at what cost?  Better we re-sign Chris Gimenez and Adam Moore to minor league deals and hope Gomes and Perez give us good production next year.   I think it is a good gamble they will.

Infield -  First, I don't think we re-sign Napoli unless we can get him at the same price we got him at this year.  Santana is a good alternative at first base and decent DHs are cheaper than giving Napoli a multi-year deal.  Hard to swallow but I think I am being a pragmatist here.   You really don't know how much production you will get out of him next year after how hard Francona rode him this year.  I want to sign him but not for more than one year with a club option for the same amount or a $2 million buyout for the second year..  Assuming we re-sign Napoli, the obvious position we need help with is third base.  Yes, Jose Ramirez did well there when he was pressed into service.   But imagine if we could use him as a super sub and get him 500 ABs and get good production at third base from a free agent!  I think we need to focus some (actually MOST) of our free agent dollars here.   The guy, whoever he would be, could spell at DH, too, giving Napoli and, to a lesser degree, Santana more rest than they got this year. 

Outfield - Right now the Indians are set in the outfield IF Michael Brantley comes back.   If that happened they wouldn't even need to re-sign Rajai Davis.  One caveat, however.   I really, truly believe that Tyler Naquin might not make this team next year.  His weaknesses on both sides of the ball were so exposed in the World Series that he might actually be done.  Add that to his likely unrepeatable HR rate and he looks like a 4th outfielder to me at this point.  Thinks could change and  I hope I am wrong but he has got to fix the things that made him an automatic out in the WS.  Other than that, I would not want the Indians to give the guy a chance just because he was able to get hits before the Cubs figured him out.  Assuming Brantley doesn't come back strong next year, you almost have to re-sign Davis and Napoli and hope that the 2016 chemistry and magic carries over to 2017.  If things don't go well in the first half of 2017, you can still go out and get an OF bat at the deadline.  I know it didn't work this year in terms of getting an impact OF bat in July but availability might be better this coming July, if the need arises. 

The rotation - Look, every team wants more starters.  The Indians have talked about having 10 guys who could start next year.  Frankly, I think they already have that here.  The same logic applies to the starters as it does to the outfield.   Yeah, it would be nice to have more depth but if the need arises you get a rotation arm at the deadline.  Until then, even with injuries, you have enough to muddle through until near the trade deadline, especially if you can stash an innings eating minor league free agent signing or two at Columbus until the end of May.

The bench - We have already covered some of this above but the bench is an area I wouldn't waste resources on.  My infield bench, if Ramirez is a super sub, is Erik Gonzalez with Michael Martinez stashed at AAA.  In the outfield we have platoon guys and I think we are good there, especially considering the other things I am suggesting doing above.  Plus, there is still the chance that Zimmer and/or Yandy Diaz could be ready to help in the OF by next June. 

Summary - This team needs an impact bat, especially at third base.  This becomes the mega-signing that I think the Indians need to gamble on as I think it will help team morale and get the fans pumped up for next season.   If we can get him on a one-year deal we need to bring back Napoli, too. He is the heart and soul of this team as long as we don't ask him to be the statistical or innings played leader of the team. We also need an excellent bullpen arm and it would help if he was left-handed but could still get righties out, although a particular handedness is not a necessity if he can get all hitters out.  I think, for a major league team with the payroll Cleveland has to work with, that is all we actually NEED.   Note that the Royals brought back almost everyone in 2016 but didn't bring in a lot of talent in addition to the 2015 team and it wasn't nearly enough.   We need to learn from that model.   You can't go spending-happy as a small market club but if you believe like I do that 2016 was more magical than pre-ordained, we need to prepare for 2017 to have more bumps in the road than 2016, especially as I expect the Royals to rebound.   In order to do that we have some work to do and will have to spend money this off-season to get that work done.  

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

It's prospect list season - Here's mine

Here is my list of the top 50 Indians' prospects heading into the 2016 off-season. 

1. Triston McKenzie
2. Nolan Jones
3. Francisco Mejia
4. Brady Aiken
5. Bradley Zimmer
6. Bobby Bradley
7. Erik Gonzalez
8. Yandy Diaz
9. Adam Plutko
10. Yu Cheng Chang
11. Ryan Merritt
12. Will Benson
13. Shawn Morimando
14. Greg Allen
15. Andrew Calica
16. Connor Marabell
17. Mark Mathias
18. Joseph Colon
19. Rob Kaminsky
20. Aaron Civale
21. Shane Bieber
22. Cameron Hill
23.  Mike Papi
24. Willi Castro
25. Juan Hillman
26. Nellie Rodriguez
27. Tyler Krieger
28. Matt Esparza
29. Shawn Armstrong
30. Connor Capel
31. Anthony Santander
32. Logan Ice
33. Taylor Murphy
34. Ben Krauth
35. Julian Merryweather
36. Gabriel Mejia
37. Ulysses Cantu
38. Marco Gonzalez
39. Samad Taylor
40. Luis Oviedo
41. Jorma Rodriguea
42. Oscar Gonzalez
43. Thomas Pannone
44. Nick Pasquale
45. Casey Shane
46. Andrew Lantrip
47. Zach Plesac
48. Louis Head
49. Jose Fermin
50. Jonas Wyatt
51. Luke Watkamatsu
52. Justin Garza (2015 draftee)

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Post-election musings

Wow, how life imitates art.   First the Cubs win the World Series and then Donald Trump becomes president-elect.   I wonder if it will be Trump who greets the Cubs at the White House?  Wouldn't that be like two anti-matter particles colliding?

To steal a phrase from "Back To The Future", who became Vice President, Kim Kardasian?

OK, all kidding aside, Trump's election should bring at least one fleeting question into the minds of baseball fans.  How, if at all, will Trump's election impact the number of foreign-born players in baseball?  Obviously the NHL has the highest percentage of non-US born players at close to 50%.  However, not counting that sport which originated, for the most part, in Canada, baseball comes in second with 28% of their players born outside the US.   The NBA has like 2% foreign-born players.  Even the NHL, if you don't count Canada, has less than 14% of its players born neither in Canada or the US.  

So, if Trump really follows through with actions that support his verbalized isolationist leanings, will it impact the number of foreign players who can even get into the US to play baseball?  In the past, due to concerns about identity fraud and other issues, it has not been a piece of cake to get Latin players into the US.  Will Trump's regime make it harder and, if so, will it actually impact the talent in MLB?

Probably a non-issue but, given Trump's stated positions, something that we have to at least consider.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

After a night of reflection...

...here are my thoughts about the Indians and the WS.

10. Do you think in 20 years that anybody will remember that Mike Montgomery retired the Indians' 25th player who was 0-3 with 3 Ks to get the save in Game 7?  Probably people will remember him for getting that last out, not the circumstances.  For Montgomery, whether he goes on to have a great career or not, he at least has him moment.  Very few baseball players ever get that moment. 

9  Mike Napoli had a horrible series.  When you combine his streakiness with the Cubs pitching and the fact that he played more this year than in a long time (maybe ever) it is not surprising.  I just wish he would have been able to come up big last night.  Still, it makes you wonder if you should bring hm back next year.  If he is becoming more of a part-time player in this part of his career, is he worth what we would have to pay him?

8. I wonder what all this means for guys like Otero, McAllister and Manship?  Do you keep them because they can get you regular season outs?  I guess so.  Still, does it mean you don't want them around because they can't get WS outs?  It's almost like they are regulated in the post-season to blow outs or bullpen games.  

7. If he avoids injury and gets some more post-season chances Francisco Lindor is going to be a HOFer.  Let's hope they break the bank and make him an Indian for life.  Seeing Thome there in this series and knowing that Vizquel, Belle and Ramirez left too early and Baerga flamed out too early and knowing if we kept Julio Franco at DH all those years we would have had a half a dozen legitimated HOF candidates out of the wonder years.  Hindsight is 20-20 but using hindsight to shape foresight is really important.

6. Good to see Trevor Bauer end on a high note.   I only wish he would have started the 10th inning

5. If the Indians make it back to the World Series next year the experience they gained this year will be invaluable.

4. What heart the Indians had this year and especially in the post-season.   I think I wanted us to win so much that I completely forgot what a miracle it was for them to be there.  Now, if only Paul Hoynes next spring can predict the Indians to be in the cellar of the AL Central maybe it will give them the incentive to win it all.

3. As far as next year, is it possible that Naquin could win the AL Rookie of the year award this year and next year not make the team?  I think so. 

2. Congrats to Mike Chernoff and Chris Antonetti.  What a great job of bringing in Guyer and Crisp.  They were both big contributors in the regular season and the playoffs.   Obviously Miller was huge.  However I wonder when the last time was that a team brought in guys the level of Guyer and Crisp and they contributed so much in the post-season.

1. More about next year.  It is quite possible, the way he was used, that we might have seen the best Andrew Miller will ever give us.  I know that is doomsaying but I wouldn't be surprised to see him be out most of next year or the year after that.  Tito rode him pretty hard this year.  Ditto for Shaw and even Cody Allen.   When he said that when he had a chance to win a playoff game he would take it and he would let the next game take care of itself, Tito forgot about next year.   These guys all appeared fried last night, as did Chapman of course.  Reminds me of the way Milaukee used Sabathia when the Indians traded him to Milwaukee before the deadline several years ago.  Let's hope I am wrong but I really wonder if the big 3 in the Indians' pen will make it to the opening day roster and through next season healthy.

The stars almost all aligned for the Indians this year.  Let's hope they do next year.  Go Tribe!

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Congratulations, Indians and Chicago Cubs

Before my post, I wanted to congratulate the Cubs fans.   No one should have to wait 108 years for a World Series title and no team should have to be the target of so many jokes because of that drought and some of your near misses in the past.   If anyone had to beat the Indians I am glad it was your team and, in fact, I am glad that your team had such fight to come back from the Indians 8th inning rally when I am sure some fans were saying 'Oh no, here we go again.'  So enjoy this moment and to the Cleveland Indians and their manager and their GM, I say thanks for the ride it was great.  Now on to the post I crafted before Game 6.

As I said in my previous post I had this post already written before knowing what was going to happen in Game 6 of the World Series.  So, by now, the Indians could be celebrating and I could be hitting send.   Or I might have to wait until tomorrow night, win or lose, to hit send.

In any case, you learn a lot from your kids but one thing I never would have learned from them came from the world of professional wrestling.  You know, that sport has come a long way from the days I watched it growing up in Cleveland, watching Bobo Brazil, Bulldog Brower and others wrestle on TV, when there were only 3 channels. 

Now my kids are interested in it and one of them was watching an old Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson match where he said, "you can take that ____, turn it sideways, and shove it up your candy a**".

So, as I hit send, knowing whether we won or lost this series, here are my final thoughts on it:

First, to the Cleveland Indians, players, manager, organization and management, AND ownership, congratulations on a memorable season.   In the end, the curse has been lifted, whether we won or not.

Second, to the Cleveland fans, congratulations.   Hopefully, win or lose, you acted respectfully and in good sportsmanship.   Next year it would be great if the fans could show up all year and not just on opening day and in October.  I know there are lots of people out there who love the Indians and some of us would love the ability to go to Cleveland and see them all the time, although we can't.  So please be there for us and we will support them in spirit and when they come to or close to our town or when we make it to Cleveland.

Third, to the Cubs fans, and I know a number of you, congratulations on a great season.   Part of me hopes your curse was broken but most of me hopes our drought was broken.   I think all of you are great, almost 100% of you are without pretense, smugness or a superiority complex.   Way to go.  Your future is bright.   You have great players and great management and ownership and one of the best ballparks to watch a game at in the major leagues. 

Fourth, to the media, especially those of you who are clearly not even close to unbiased, including the TBS people who made up and supported the burning river promo, those MLB network people who spent about 80% of your time talking about the Cubs in this series and even one of the Fox announcers (I have had harsh things to say about how biased this guy has been in the past against the Indians, almost like he was the hometown announcer for whoever their opponent was) well, to paraphrase The Rock, why don't you take that microphone (or graphics computer, if appropriate), turn it sideways, and stick it up your candy a**.

Finally, to the Cubs players, and I am sure there must be a good number of you, who honestly are just putting in a good effort without pretense, smugness or air of superiority, and trying to win the championship for the long suffering Cubs fans, congratulations on a great season.   To those of you (and I can think of at least 3 of you) who are thinking 'hey, we are so much better than the Indians they shouldn't even be allowed in the World Series against us and if they win it doesn't make them the better team', you can take your 36 inch, 36 ounce bat, turn it sideways, and stick it up your candy a** because, win or lose, the undermanned Indians played this entire post-season with more heart, more intensity, more love of the game and more love for the city of Cleveland than you ever will have in your life.  And, if you do happen to win the series, don't cheapen it with crying and saying how you did it for Cubs fans, don't lie.  You few did it for yourself.  You know it and I know it, because it is written all over your faces, in your words and in your expressions.  I'll tell you what.  Let's look a few years down the road and see if you stick with the Cubs or if you go to another team who gives you a few more bucks.  That will tell a lot.

I hope when I press "SEND" tomorrow night it will be when I am watching the Indians celebrating their first WS title since 1948.  But if I am watching the Cubs celebrate their first championship since 1908, then I will say "way to go, Cubbies" when I hit that SEND button.  But my thoughts above won't have changed in any way because you are what you are, regardless of whether 'your team' wins or loses.