Sunday, March 6, 2011

Spring training observations

3/24/11 - Terry Pluto with a good article on Monday about the Tribe drafts in 2004-2007.  He said how little we got for those drafts.  The problem with this 20-20 hindsight thinking is that it took 7 years from 2004 for people to realize how bad these drafts were.  Actually, they were bad at the time, we just didn't know how bad.  To the defense of John Mirabelli, a lot of the players who were drafted were considere solid picks in those drafts, e.g., Jeremy Sowers, David Huff, Wes Hodges, Nick Weglarz.   Some were clunkers from the word 'go' however, e.g.,  Trevor Crowe, Beau Mills, Javier Herrera.  These were the definition of 'a real reach' and they weren't the only ones.  Plus, in most of those drafts there were close to ZERO late round flyers who they actually signed, although they did draft Tim Lincecum and Desmond Jennings, although they failed to sign either.  So now Terry Pluto is saying how bad those drafts are hurting the Cleveland Indians.  It is kind of tough for me to hear this because I have been saying this for years and years.  Yeah, in many cases it does take years to find out what you have in a draft class.  However, this is mostly due to guys falling off due to injuries and seeing whether 5-tool prospects can really translate those tools into performance.  However, for the picks that should be your solid ones, in rounds 1-5, you HAVE to do better if you are the Cleveland Indians and those picks have to be close to locks to perform in the majors at the ability their respective draft slot indicates they should. 

To that point, Pluto talks about Josh Tomlin.  Well, Josh Tomlin is EXACTLY the kind of guy you SHOULD get in the 6th round.  If he is a pitcher, for example, you should minimally get a guy without TOR upside but who is a serviceable major leaguer.  That is EXACTLY what we got with Tomlin.  Very similar to when we drafted Ben Francisco in the 5th round.  Getting a quality 4th outfielder in the 5th round of the draft is good drafting.  We need to do this kind of thing more often.  But we need to do more, too.

Towards that idea, Pluto also mentioned the 2008-2010 drafts.  I have hailed the 2010 draft as maybe the best draft in Indians' history as they did what you are supposed to do: draft quality throughout your draft and pay the money to get those guys signed.  If you draft guys based on their slots, once you get past the 6th round or so you are hoping for a miracle where one is unlikely to happen.  You draft 50 rounds just in case a miracle does happen but you can't plan on it.  You have to draft top 5-round talent up and down your draft.  THEN you have a shot at getting a good draft out of it.

In 2008 and 2009 I said the Indians needed to take more risks. I hailed them for drafting Putnam and House and look how those picks have turned out compared to Trey Haley, who was an overdraft and a clunker from the word go, as we can now see from his performance.

What Pluto didn't mention is the pathetic return we got for CC and Lee.  A good return for CC and Lee and better drafting during those years would mean we were looking at how many games we can win this year rather than how many games we are going to lose.  Diehard fans could be worrying about keeping their October calendars clear for the playoffs rather than planning a trip to Vermont to look at the leaves turn wonderful colors.

The only difference between Pluto's 20-20 hindsight and my 20-20 vision at the time is that no one believed it then. 

The bottom line: Let's have more drafts like 2010 and spend 2+ million on one top Latin FA a year.  We do that and we will be in contention with the Kansas City Royals for the 2014 and beyond Central Division championship.  Until then..its going to be 4 months of damn poor skiing as my friend from Maine used to say about the months of May, June, July and August. 

Indians' fans, you only have yourselves to blame.  Not for not buying tickets because that would have just been feeding the monster that wasn't doing you any good.  The blame you bear is for not complaining loudly enough at the time these pathetic drafts and trades were being made.

Hey, each draft pick doesn't have to be CC Sabathia and each trade for a Cy Young winner doesn't have to be a Bartolo Colon trade but SOME of that has to occur or your team sucks badly...just like ours does now!
3/21/11 - This team needs to catch some breaks and they are not getting them.  Rob Bryson out with a broken foot, Nick Weglarz out with a torn cartilage in his knee,   LeVon Washington hurts his knee after hurting his hip last fall.    Tony Wolters has potentially the LEAST serious of the injuries and he is out after surgery to remove his hamate bone!!!!! All 4 of these guys have to be able to produce at the ML level. 

Brash statement?  I don't think so.  Farm systems are useful for two things: producing major league contributors and providing trade bait.  Not getting production out of these 4 really hurts our depth options and, as a result, our ability to plug these guys in down the road or trade them for needed parts.  

Plus, they are all top prospects and cost us huge bonuses and are among the top prospects in our system.   Add to this that Bryson is part of the crappy CC deal that looks worse by the day and has already had shoulder surgery and it adds pressure for him to perform.

Injuries are part of baseball but so is differential market size/revenue flow.  You can live with one of those two but when you are in a small market with significant injuries among your top prospects then that is the kiss of death and leads to frustrating ineptitude like we have seen in Washington, Pittsburgh and Kansas City.   For example, we are struggling at first and third base right now but if Michael Aubrey and Matt Whitney hadn't had injuries that sucked the performance out of them, we would have been rock solid at those positions this year!

Let's hope that these guys come back strong and our farm system stays healthy and productive.  Without cash flow to make up for these bad breaks, we are in a world of hurt.

3/19/11 - The first bad break of the season comes to Jason Donald's hand, apparently.  Now we will see what the Indians are thinking.  Their starting pitching is floundering, although this is not unexpected given who we are talking about as starters.  Their everyday lineup is shaky.  Their bench is problematic.  The only strong part of this team APPEARS to be the bullpen and we all know that you can't judge a bullpen from previous numbers, even ST numbers. So, now we need to know who is going to replace Donald until he heals.  The odds-on favorite is Jack Hanrahan, one of the plethora of ST invitees.  Still, he is no better than Luis Valbuena or Jayson Nix because, frankly, when you have the other problems the Indians have, who gives a flippin' crap about which bad thirdbaseman you play?  Why do I care?  Because adding Hanrahan will take yet another prospect off the 40-man roster.   Hey, it's not like taking Trevor Crowe or someone like that off the roster will kill the future of this team.  But, man, why take anyone off the roster?  This is the folly of minor league invitees for a team like the Indians.  Using them will make no real difference in where the Indians finish and it will force them to DFA somone AND it may cost younger players needed ABs.  I mean, c'mon, Jason Donald at 3rd to Jayson Nix at 3rd does not hurt this team much.  However, if like Chad Huffman (and DFA Shelly Duncan) if they want to keep Hanrahan and DFA Jayson Nix, I am fine with it.  Trading one AAAA player for another on the 40-man doesn't expose anyone of significance to the FUTURE of the Indians to waivers.  So, if Jack Hanrahan is the favorite to replace Donald then Jayson Nix should be the favorite to take a hike.  Just my opinion.

Talking about AAAA guys, let's move on to Chad Durbin.  Vinnie Pestano is tearing it up so far this spring.  So is Justin Germano.  Jess Todd is doing OK.  So is Frank Herrmann.  Jensen Lewis is out of options.  Josh Judy and Zach Putnam is at AAA.  Doug Mathis is a minor league invitee.  So, we signed Durbin and yet we already have a bunch of options AND we have Germano, a minor league invitee, tearing it up and Doug Mathis in the wings as a minor league invitee.  So, do we all now see how ridiculous it is to sign Durbin?  There were more than enough options without him.  Yet we will send one of our prospects to the minors or DFA Lewis just to have Durbin pitch on a terrible team.  Didn't make sense then.  Doesn't make sense now.  Ridiculous move...and especially since Durbin was hurt coming in.  

So, given what happened with Durbin, how many of us think we will get a good result out of the Jason Donald situation?  

And, let's not forget the backup catcher thing.  If we don't keep Marson on the roster it means adding ANOTHER AAAA player as a backup catcher causing us to DFA ANOTHER prospect.

3/16/11 - Chad Huffman keeps hitting.  I am fine with putting him on the 40-man as long as Shelly Duncan comes off (actually not 'fine' with it, just resigned to having one of them on the 25-man this year).  Of course, it would have been nice if Duncan came off last winter in time to protect Josh Rodriguez.    Duncan is clearly a AAAA guy.  Huffman is a AAAA guy.  Neither should be on the roster but no way in heck should BOTH be on the 40-man roster, especially when we would have to DFA someone else to make that happen. 

Jensen Lewis really stunk it up yesterday.  His time in Cleveland may be running out.  However, when you have AAAA players dotting your roster everywhere, what difference does it make if Lewis, who is playing himself into that AAAA category, is on the roster.  At least he is a homegrown AAAA player!

3/15/11 - Chris Antonetti had the following quote in today's Plain Dealer on-line:

"As an organization we look at it like it's a good problem to have too many quality players at too few positions," said GM Chris Antonetti. "To the extent we can do that consistently, we'll be in a really good place organizationally. "

The problem is he wasn't talking about Jason Kipnis, Lonnie Chisenhall, Cord Phelps, Josh Rodriguez and Luis Rivero.  THAT would have been a nice problem to have.  He was talking about ACab, OCab, Jack Hanrahan, Jayson Nix, Jason Donald, Adam Everett and Luis Valbuena.  In that group only ACab should even be considered quality and THAT is still up in the air, at least from what the Indians think.  The rest are either retread vets who had trouble getting any kind of job offer this winter, AAAA guys and career backup types.  No, Chris, what you have is a perpetual (in Cleveland) bad problem of bringing in worthless (to the Indians' rebuilding) veterans and dissing and, in some cases, LOSING real prospects.  The quote above should be insulting to all Cleveland baseball fans.  You don't call guys like this quality and you don't take ABs and IPs away from young players just to play these guys.  One thing that will always be true: a retread veteran will almost always look better than a fresh rookie in every situation, short-term.  They have the experience to cover up for their overall lack of ability at the ML level.  Long term, however, it is a waste of money and makes this franchise look like a joke to play guys like this.  Even OCab is a waste, although, as the only retread veteran on this team I could accept him being here.  But with Nix, Duncan, Durbin and possibly Buck and/or Hanrahan having a shot to make the opening day roster?  This team could easily become the joke of baseball AND not be moving one step closer to ML competitiveness as guys ready for the majors are not getting innings at that level.
3/12/11 - There's a joke in here somewhere.  Anthony Reyes pitching to Grady Sizemore!?!?!  I could see the biggest nightmare the Indians and their fans could imagine out of this: Reyes loses control of a pitch re-injuring his arm and hits Sizemore in his surgically repaired knee, putting him out for the entire season.  Well, though it might have been what Eeyore would have predicted, it didn't happen.  Apparently everything was OK for both of these guys.  Now, if we can just get good reports on Adam Miller! 

3/11/11 -  Josh Rodriguez is hurt for the Pirates with hamstring tightness.  So far he only has 7 official ABs this year ("B" games are not included in ST stats).  He has lots of competition for a ML spot.  Interestingly he is in competition with a number of guys for the UIF spot including Corey Wimberly, a guy I have been interested in for a long time, ever since his draft year.  Wimberly is a lot like Ezequiel Carrera in his game but can play 2B, 3B and some SS and OF.   While they may not turn out to be anything I would rather see Wimberly and Rodriguez on our ML roster right now instead of Nix and Duncan.  At least I would have some hope the former 2 turn out to be something instead of watching two more re-tread/AAAA guys reaffirm why they will be fringe MLers.

We are about 3 weeks away from opening day so the Pirates have to make a decision soon on Rodriguez.  I hope the Indians take him back.  If they do, he will go to AAA where I hope he will light it up and force the Indians into giving him a shot.

Meanwhile, Jose Flores has pitched 3 innings for Seattle and given up 3 runs on 4 hits and a walk.  The odds of him making Seattle out of spring training are just as long as they were when he was picked in the Rule 5 draft in December.   I hope we work out a deal for him and throw in one of our ML extras just to get a reasonable minor leaguer back.  That is, Flores and, say, Nix or Joe Smith for a "B" prospect. 

I really want to see: Nick Weglarz take off this year,  Jess Todd get a chance out of ST, Vinnie Pestano make the opening day roster, Jordan Brown get his Wally Pipp shot this year and turn it into a career and, finally, no one else be lost off the 40-man roster for another AAAA player.   While Lou Marson at AAA may be better in the short term for Lou Marson, Lou Marson in the majors is better for the organization as we don't have to clear a 40-man spot for the winner of the Luke Carlin/Paul Phillips/Juan Apodaca hot dog race.  Plus, Marson gets further training in his eventual ML role: backup catcher.   In addition, the thought of retreads Chad Huffman or Travis Buck making our opening day roster on a team destined to lose 90+ games just makes me ill.    Playing them does nothing for the long-term future of this franchise.  Of course they look good in ST, they are motivated and putting it all on the line whereas other guys are just trying to get into shape.  I say let Buck and Huffman go to AAA and hit their way back to the majors by exceptional performances down there.  If it is not a mirage let them prove it in AAA.  In the meantime, go with the guys on your 40-man, including Carrera.  If you are going to add someone to the 40 at this point, it should be Jordan Brown and not Buck or Huffman.

3/7/11 More of the same with retreads

"It's believed the Indians signed Johnson, who will report to camp next week, as protection should Matt LaPorta or Travis Hafner falter this year."

So says the Plain Dealer.  Sooooo, Jordan Brown is not an option, I guess.  The Indians have screwed over this guy so much it is unbelievable.

More of the same from the cheap Tribe who refuses to give rookies extended looks unless they don't have any other option.

3/6/11 Terry, you're asking the wrong question, man!

Reading Terry Pluto today (I do that every time he writes something) it strikes me that there is one thing he fails to mention in his column.

The Indians are CONSIDERING Travis Buck and Chad Huffman and are intrigued by Buck.  However, what Terry didn't say was that this is just folly.  Yeah, one time in one hundred this type of thing works out.  That means there are 99 sucker bets played wasting time and money for the teams playing them.

What Terry should have asked is WHY the Indians were considering adding a guy like Buck, who could only get a minor league contract and is one of dozens of guys with exactly the same story (previous BRIEF good performance followed by injuries).  He should also have been asking WHY to even consider a retread like Buck when you have internal options, some already on the 40-man roster, in a year where we are likely to lose 90+ games again.

Ezequiel Carrera can play CF well.  Maybe not on a world championship team but well enough for a team destined to lose that many games.  Jordan Brown is passable as a LFer and Austin Kearns can play left and right.  With Choo and Duncan (even though I don't like Duncan for the same reasons as above) we already have enough OFers.

I love Terry Pluto's writing.  But I have to ask myself when reporting that the Indians were considering Buck, why not ask why?  Travis Buck is a symptom of bad management.  If a guy is 95% likely to be a AAAA player and 5% likely to be a rehab success, the question should be, with all the internal options the Indians have AND the fact they would have to likely remove someone from the 40-man roster to add Buck, why bother? 

Now, on to the other topic I found intriguing in Mr. Pluto's column: Aaron Laffey

Mr. Pluto said the reason the Indians traded Laffey was his lack of arm strength in camp.  While that is truly revealing it doesn't explain trading him.  At worst, put him at AAA and hope that he regains arm strength.  He certainly knows how to pitch at the ML level and Chad Durbin, another guy who couldn't get a ML contract except from us, is no better a long-term option than Laffey.   Heck, it is no worse and maybe a little better to work through your own reclamation projects than other people's, right?

So, while I love Terry Pluto's writing and reporting, I question why he isn't asking the question on what the Indians are trying to do:  Why, in 2011, are you contemplating looking at anything other than internal options?

David Huff = Cliff Lee?

I have been saying for some time that I thought David Huff could be our comeback player of the year and have been pointing out the parallels between him and Cliff Lee. 

It is early in ST but things are looking promising.

My point here is to remind all of us on how we, as fans, and the Indians, as an organization, gave up on Brandon Phillips and Jeremy Guthrie and how we tried to give up on Cliff Lee (proposed Jason Bay trade that Pittsburgh pulled out on).    David Huff has many similarities to Cliff Lee although probably not identical situations.  Still, we screwed up with the other guys, we need to have patience with Huff.  There is a legitimate chance that he could be a quality #3 by the end of the season, maybe higher if he really gets his act together.

BTW, doesn't that non-trade point out the ineptitude of two organizations: Us trying to trade Cliff Lee and Pittsburgh refusing to take him!

LaPorta and Brantley

So far these guys are not turning out to be what Shapiro needs to explain the laughable trade of CC Sabathia a few summers back.  But, however, they are turning out to be what was easily projected of them at the time.  I see Brantley as being a weak-armed slap hitter he was when we traded for him. BTW, Shapiro at the time denied he was a slap hitter, all statistical evidence to the contrary.  At the time I said LaPorta could easily be Rob Deer Part Deux and probably had the upside of Russell Branyan with a few less strikeouts but no better defense.  I still stick to those predictions. 

LaPorta and Brantley better pick it up or, like the Phillips and Guthrie losses, fans will have to start retrenching in a year or so and saying how bad they thought the CC Sabathia trade was at the time.

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