Tag Archives: Miguel Cabrera

Tribe Time Now Roundtable: The Indians Regressed the Least in AL Central

DownloadRSS (audio) | iTunes

After a lengthy discussion, the first Tribe Time Now podcast roundtable agreed: The Indians regressed the least among the AL Central this off season

Last night (2/18), I was joined by:

And we discussed a plethora of topics regarding the Indians including:

  1. Bruce Chen
  2. Dayan Viciedo
  3. Indian’s pre-season rankings
  4. The back end of the rotation
  5. Gavin Floyd
  6. The starting line up

Be sure to follow the incredible guests we featured on the first roundtable on twitter and check out their Indians-related content on their respective websites.

As always, follow me on twitter (@rthompak13) and the Tribe Time Now podcast (@_TribeTimeNow) for show related musings, podcast links, etc.

If you have any feedback, questions for the next show, or comments in general: email us at feedback@tribetimenow.com!

Go Tribe!

Indians Stand Pat While AL Central Foes Acquire Talent

The winter meetings came and went. The Indians traded minor league 2B prospect Joey Wendle to the Oakland A’s for LH power bat Brandon Moss.

But that’s it.

The rest of the winter meetings blew ball in a whirlwind as every other AL Central foe made acquisitions to increase their respective chances of taking home the 2015 AL Central crown. To say that the AL Central will be the toughest division in baseball this year may be an understatement.

Let’s go through each team’s acquisitions quickly:

Cleveland

Detroit

Minnesota

Chicago

Kansas City

Brandon Moss

Yoenis Cespedes Ervin Santana Jeff Samardzija Jandel Gustave

Brett Hayes

Alfredo Simon David Robertson Yohan Pino

Adam Moore

Alex Wilson Dan Jennings

Alex Rios

Destin Hood Gabe Speier Rob Brantly

Kendrys Morales

Jerry Sands Melky Cabrera
*Indicates best acquisition

 

I believe that’s everyone.

It’s apparent that Minnesota did the least so far out of the five teams in the Central. Every other team cut the deals necessary to make themselves a contender in 2015. The White Sox have made the most drastic changes to their lineup going into 2015. The additions of Jeff Samardzija and David Robertson immediately turn around a staff that was in the bottom five in the league for nearly every major pitching statistic. The 1-2 punch of Sale and Samardzija is going to be rough for teams that catch Chicago at the beginning of their rotation. Adding Melky Cabrera give the White Sox a solid 1-4 hitter who, last year, hit .301/.351/.458 with 35 2B, 16 HR and 73 RBIs (If Melky could have come cheaply, I was secretly hoping the Indians would make a run at him to bolster the outfield, but alas, it was not to be).

For Detroit, the additions of Yoenis Cespedes and Alfredo Simon are just icing on the cake for a lineup that is already loaded with juicy talent.

Think of it this way: The 3-4-5 combination of J.D. Martinez, Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez was pretty scary in 2014. Now add Yoenis Cespedes to that mix.

That’s not even fair. That reminds me of the ’27 Yankees lineup that featured Lou Gehrig, Earle Combs, Babe Ruth, Bob Meusel and Tony Lazzeri. They are going to smash homeruns and rack up a ton of extra-base hits. Pitchers will go into the Tigers’ den with low ERAs and come out limping.

The worst part: They’re in our division.

2014 AL Pennant winners, the Kansas City Royals, didn’t make nearly as much noise as our friends from the state up north, but they were able to sign Luke Hochevar to a new deal and as recently as the writing of this article, signed Alex Rios to an $11 million deal. The Royals, like the Indians, focus on building through their farm system rather than through large trades and FA signings. It showed during the winter meetings. The Royals added Kendrys Morales to fill Billy Butler’s vacancy and the Rios signing fills the hole left by the departure of Norichika Aoki to FA.

So at long last, we come to our wahoo warriors; our protectors of the Cuyahoga: The Cleveland Indians.

The Indians were one of the first teams to take the dive during winter meetings with their deal for Brandon Moss. In my article last week, I delved into what the Moss addition means for the Tribe moving forward. To summarize: Moss is a great LH power hitter that will help bolster the middle of the lineup and create runs if the top of the lineup can get on base.

After that deal though, the front office shut it down. I’m sure there were deals out there that just didn’t get made. I know for a fact the Indians were on the short list to sign FA pitcher Brett Anderson. The issue is, and always has been, money. Brett Anderson got $10 million from the Dodgers. Ervin Santana got 4 years/$48 million. Justin Masterson got $9 million with $500 incentives for innings pitched from the Red Sox. The Indians just don’t have that kind of money to throw around, especially considering how over-valued the latter players are. I don’t know what world Brett Anderson is worth $10 million, but it certainly shouldn’t be this one. Same goes for Ervin Santana. The Dodgers and Red Sox are both in the top 10 in salary spending year in and year out. They can afford to overpay a low-risk/high-reward pitcher and eat the cost if he blows up in their face. The Indians, and other small-market teams cannot say the same.

That brings up another slew of issues that I’ll save for another article.

To counter the lack of moves made during winter meetings, the Indians signed C Brett Hayes, C Adam Moore, 1B/OF Destin Hood and OF Jerry Sands to minor league contracts with spring training invites yesterday (12/15). All four players have varied stints of major league experience, but the most intriguing contract (for me anyway) is Jerry Sands. Sands was well-regarded by the Dodgers during his time there. He plays great defense and is a right handed power bat (THANK GOD). The problem is his lack of major league experience. He only has 97 major league plate appearances against left handed pitching, he has a slash line of .289/.340/.511 and, according to fangraphs.com, a wOBA of .483 (ridiculously good). This is the first time that I’ve calculated wOBA (an offensive statistic that tells a deeper story than say just batting average or just slugging percentage). If he can shine in Triple-A Columbus this season, I don’t see what he couldn’t see some playing time around the All-Star break if Michael Bourn is struggling to stay healthy.

There’s still plenty of time to add talent, but the pool is considerably smaller than it was just a week ago. The Indians are going to need to spend money if they want to compete, especially in an AL Central that has bulked up considerably. With less than 70 days until pitchers and catchers report, the next 2-3 weeks are going to be very telling of what the front office is planning over the course of the rest of the off season.

That’s all for this week.

Go Tribe!

Cleveland Indians Weekly: A Lot of talk, not a lot of movement

 

It’s been a pretty big week for player movement in the MLB thus far

The deal involving the Oakland A’s and Toronto Blue Jays was the centerpiece of this week’s marketplace.

In exchange for 3B Josh Donaldson, the A’s received 2B/3B Brett Lawrie and three minor-leaguers (High-A Pitchers Sean Nolin and Kendall Graveman & teenage shortstop Franklin Barreto).

In my opinion, this signals that the A’s are entering a period of rebuilding even though Billy Beane hasn’t overtly made that decision known to the general public. Donaldson has a WAR north of 7.4 the past two seasons and is one of the best players in the game today. In a world where he has to compete with the likes of Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera, his true influence is left nearly unnoticed.

From the Blue Jays side of the equation, there are a few things that are clear:

1. They think they have what it takes to compete AND win the A.L. East in 2015

2. The power moves by the Boston Red Sox (signing Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez) signaled a “Power” arms race in the N.L. and the other four teams had a very short time to decide if they wanted to jump in. Clearly New York is nowhere near the point where it can hope to compete  in 2015. Their superstar hung up his cleats for good, it’s rotation is unproven and its infield is decimated from just a few years ago. The Orioles are seeing some of their rising stars hit free agency and take the opportunity to test the market (See: Nick Markakis), but they retain many of the pieces that helped them win the division by 10+ games in 2014. Finally, the Rays have lost skipper Joe Maddon to Chicago and unless everything comes together in 2015, I just don’t see them even competing through the All-Star break.

Some minor rumblings…

There were some other smaller moves around the league and the Indians have been linked to the likes of free agent and former SEA 1B/DH Kendrys Morales and NYY 3B Chase Headley. Whether anything happens with those players, it’s too early to know. Considering we already have Carlos Santana, I guess I don’t see the point in being linked to Morales unless the thinking is that he and Carlos would split 1B/DH duties. As for Headley, we’ve basically moved away from that deal, but it’s interesting that were looking at a 3B when we have Lonnie Chisenhall. While some people think Chisenhall had this crazy good season, he honestly didn’t. He came out smoking into June and then just deflated. His slash line at the end of the season was .280/.343/.427. Above average, but nothing to write extensively about, in my opinion. If that slugging percentage goes up by oh, I don’t know, 50-60 points and his SO/W ration comes down from 3, then we can talk.

In the same breath, we can also say that FA and former Tribe ace Justin Masterson is garnering interest from every team in the AL Central in addition to a handful of other teams in the AL and NL East & NL Central. Again, WAY to early to tell, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see a team pull the trigger on him around the time of the winter meetings or a little before.

The real talk…

Has been around what to do with Nick Swisher. Nick’s contract has about $30 million left on it and, after last year, many are speculating that the Indians front office is shopping his contract around to see what they can get for him. I’ve never been a “fan” of Swisher per se. Last year was definitely a blip on the radar. Swisher has never played as badly (or as few games) as he did last season. The front office must see it as the beginning of his post-prime regression. I would give him one more year. If he had played a full season, I guarantee his numbers would have rebounded somewhat.

If the Indians are looking to unload a contract…

They should look at Michael Bourn. Bourn is in the middle of his 4 year/$48 Million contract and he still has upside that may be appealing to some teams. If the front office could package Bourn and a few prospects (that are not off the table (See: Lindor, Frazier, Naquin, etc) for PHI P Cole Hamels, that could be a smart move. Hamels is owed $90 million through ’18, but he is going to be cheaper than many of the current FA P on the market. The problem with this deal is: The Phillies are an old team. When I say old, I mean OLD. The Phillies want one thing and one thing only: Young talent. We have young talent. We have a lot of it. But the Phillies are going to want our best and brightest, especially after Cole Hamels finished 6th in the NL Cy Young race and delivered a a 3.07 FIP, 3.37 SO/W and 5.0 WAR. I’m thinking they’ll request Lindor and/or Naquin and our front office will laugh all of the way out of their offices and make a joke about old age, dinosaurs, etc (at least I would).

You may have heard…

That the Indians and Red Sox are poking around the idea of a trade involving Yoenis Cespedes for a few of our major-league tested young pitchers (Bauer and Salazar). Don’t believe it for a second. Carrasco, Bauer and Salazar are propped up for Big seasons this year, and the front office is not going to damage what could be the best young rotation in the majors for a 1 year rental on a guy who regressed on a really bad Red Sox team. Mark my words: Cespedes will be dealt by the All-Star Break this year (or earlier). He’s goign to be dealt to a dumb team on the cusp of playoff-relevancy with a lot of young talent to unload. I’m thinking Brewers.

Interested in meeting AL Cy Young winner Corey Kluber?

Or MVP finalist Michael Brantley? Check out Tribefest, held January 24th and 25th at Progressive Field. I’ve included the link here. Last year, the area got hammered with bad winter weather and I was unfortunately unable to go, but from what I heard from my friends on Twitter, it was the greatest thing next to opening day. I highly recommend going if you’d like a chance to take a picture with one of your favorite players or get an autograph. Tickets are on sale now and are going quick!

As the weeks progress, I’ll be sure to cover any deals or signings by the Indians. Because this is the downtime for the MLB, I’m going to be doing in-depth profiles of the players who I believe will get the starting nod on Opening Day 2015. I’d like to include snippets of conversations with fans, so, if you have an opinion about starters in 2015, make sure you leave a comment and let’s talk!

I love ya Cleveland. Roll Tribe!

Cleveland Indians: Making a Case for Michael Brantley as AL MVP

On July 7th of 2008 the Cleveland Indians traded Cy Young award winner CC Sabathia to the Milwaukee Brewers for (then) top prospect Matt LaPorta, Zach Jackson, Rob Bryson and a player to be named later. On October 8th of the same year the Brewers sent their 24th ranked minor league prospect to the Indians to complete the trade as the player to be named later. Tonight, that player has a chance to win the AL MVP award. His name is Michael Brantley.

Despite two other strong candidates in the American League MVP race there is a clear front runner, Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout. Trout is a two-time MVP runner up (both times losing to Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera) and is considered by some to be the best player in baseball right now. It’s hard to argue against that. Trout won AL Rookie of the Year in 2012, is a three-time All-Star and Silver Slugger (2012-14), and this year won both the AL Outstanding Player award and AL Hank Aaron Award. This season Trout played in 157 games. He posted a .287 batting average, a .377 on base percentage and a .561 slugging percentage. He hit 36 home runs drove in 111 runs (best in the AL) and scored 115 runs (best in baseball) all on 173 hits. He also drew 83 walks, stole 16 bases (caught twice) and hits .305 with runners in scoring position. Defensively, he is a very good outfielder. Patrolling centerfield, Trout had a .992 fielding percentage this season. He committed 3 errors, has 4 assists, 383 total putouts and helped turn one double play. He also led every player in 2014 in WAR (wins above replacement) at 7.87. That alone might be enough to clinch the AL MVP award as Trout is clearly the favorite to win it.

But he has two serious contenders, both of which Cleveland Indians fans are familiar with.

First there is Victor Martinez of the Detroit Tigers. Originally signed by the Cleveland Indians in 1996 as an amateur free agent, Victor spent eight seasons with the Indians before being traded away to the Boston Red Sox in a move that even brought Victor to tears. I think it’s safe to say he’s gotten over that pain. This year for the Tigers, Victor played in 151 games and posted a .335 batting average, .409 on base percentage and a .565 slugging percentage. He collected 188 hits, scored 87 runs and hit 32 home runs to go with 103 RBI. He drew 70 walks and only struck out 42 times. He also hits well in the clutch, batting .326 with runners in scoring position and .316 w/RISP and two outs. Despite all this there are two cases to be made against Victor. He doesn’t really play defense as he is the Tigers DH. This season Martinez only played 301.1 innings of defense, most of them coming at first base (37 total games, 35 games started; 35 games at first base, 2 games at catcher). He posted a .983 fielding percentage, had 274 putouts, 18 assists, was involved with 24 double plays but he also made 5 errors (3 at first base and 2 at catcher). While there are no definitive guidelines for an MVP candidate, there are some rules that voters must (or should) follow. Rule number one states that the voter must consider “actual value of a player to his team, that is, strength of offense and defense”. Victor Martinez hits a baseball very well, but only played 300 innings of defense in 2014. Also, an argument can be made that he isn’t even the best player on his team (although this season he probably was). Victor also finished 34th in WAR at 5.32.

Finally we come to the player to be named later, Michael Brantley. He didn’t put up the gaudy power numbers that both Trout and Martinez did this year (something that might hurt him, although he did hit 45 doubles which is 6 more than Trout and 12 more than Martinez), but don’t fool yourself into thinking he isn’t a serious candidate to challenge Trout for the award. In 156 games played, Brantley posted a .327 batting average, a .385 on base percentage and a .506 slugging percentage. He had 200 hits (second most in all of baseball this year) scored 94 runs, hit 20 home runs and had 97 RBI. Brantley also stole 23 bases (caught just once), walked 52 times while only striking out 56 times. He hit a blistering .376 w/RISP (higher than Trout) and .306 w/RISP and two outs. Defensively Brantley was very good, posting a .996 fielding percentage (higher than Trout’s). In 1304.1 innings of work in the outfield (splitting time in both center and left field) he made 271 putouts, had 12 assists (more than Trout), was part of 2 double plays and only had 1 error. He was also 6th in WAR at 6.97. Michael Brantley literally did everything last season, and he did it very well.

Brantley, Martinez and Trout all have MVP type numbers.
Brantley, Martinez and Trout all have MVP type numbers.

Despite all of this, Trout remains the favorite to win the AL MVP. But is there any way Brantley can separate himself? While Brantley has the better batting average (by 40 points) and the better on base percentage (by just 8 points), he also does two things much better than Trout: he doesn’t strike out as much and hits better in certain clutch situations. Mike Trout struck out an AL leading 183 times in 2014. Obviously he did other things well (like pretty much everything else) but it’s at least something to consider. Trout also only hit .200 w/RISP and two outs, a full 106 points lower than Brantley. Defensively, Brantley committed fewer errors (albeit in fewer chances) and had three times the assists. Brantley also didn’t have somebody like Albert Pujols in the lineup protecting him (although Carlos Santana did come on as the year progressed). Looking at monthly stats Brantley only hit below .300 twice, once in April (.255) and once in August (.286). Every other month Brantley hit over .300, but never below .320. He hit .416 in September with his team in the playoff hunt. Mike Trout only hit above .300 for a full month during April and June. Otherwise he was never above .274 for a monthly batting average.

Is all of this enough to beat out Mike Trout for AL MVP? Probably not. Trout is a two time MVP runner up and with the “decline” of Miguel Cabrera it seems natural that it’s his time. His overall numbers absolutely make him a favorite to win the award but, should Brantley win, it shouldn’t be considered that much of an upset.

Detroit's Dealin' Dave Dombrowski

Matthew Kline’s analysis of the David Price trade was spot on and it got me thinking about my perspective on the issue. The deal was an utter failure for the Tampa Bay Rays, their fans and the general state of baseball in Florida (do they even deserve two teams down there?).

I’ll admit I was convinced the Rays were keeping Price to make a run at this year’s pennant in an up-for-grabs AL East. Apparently the surging Baltimore Orioles convinced them it would be better to deal away the best thing (maybe the only thing) they had going for them.

Drew Smyly and Nick Franklin are serviceable Major League talents and will positively impact the team in the years to come but c’mon. The Rays should have needed a barge to haul all the prospects they got in return for the most sought-after player at the deadline. Instead, they needed only a makeshift raft. I’m left wondering how the team with seemingly all the power in these negotiations ended up getting the shortest of all possible straws.

The Seattle Mariners got an absolute bargain here! All they had to do was go along for the ride and hang on tight. They picked up a reliable everyday centerfielder in Austin Jackson just by sending Franklin to Tampa. It seems like the Rays got cheated.

If that’s what you believe then direct your anger toward the Rays’ front office. Sending away your best player while in the middle of a division race means you cannot play that “small market” public relations card that has allowed you to hide the fact you aren’t truly committed to winning championships. Having little spending money is one thing, indifference is quite another. Notice how Oakland all of a sudden doesn’t care much about payroll.

The only logical explanation I can offer is this: Dave Dombrowski, the Detroit Tigers General Manager/ President/ CEO. He is the very best in the business at what he does. At least it appears that way with all the tremendous transactions he has made in his tenure. (I also believe all but a handful of GMs aren’t given enough authority to effectively alter their teams’ rosters, thus making it hard to compete with Dombrowski who clearly does.)

The acquisition of David Price is one of the many blockbuster moves Dombrowski has pulled off for the benefit of the Tigers and their fans. The complete list is long. Most of these moves go under the radar or are forgotten about in due time, but the highlights are evident when watching the team. Take a look:

Jan. 2005: Ugueth Urbina, Ramon Martinez for Placido Polanco.

  •  Seems like ancient history by now but Polanco was invaluable during the resurrection of baseball in Detroit along with Ivan Rodriguez and Magglio Ordonez.

Dec. 2007: Cameron Maybin, Andrew Miller, Eulogio de la Cruz, Burke Badenhop for Miguel Cabrera, Dontrelle Willis.

  • Willis was fun to watch for maybe three starts but who cares about him. This deal landed the game’s best hitter in Detroit. Maybin and Miller have had marginal success in the Bigs but again, who cares.
Dombrowski laughing at the haters.
Dombrowski laughing at the haters.

Dec. 2009: Curtis Granderson, Edwin Jackson for Austin Jackson, Phil Coke, Max Scherzer, Daniel Schlereth.

  • Boy oh boy did I have a hard time talking to Tigers fans about this trade. Granderson was loved in Detroit and it seemed everyone refused to acknowledge this as a good trade simply because he was shipped out. He never would’ve become the player he is today had he not gone to the Yankees back then. Edwin Jackson continues his grand tour around baseball playing for the Cubs these days (his ninth team in his twelve seasons). Austin Jackson stepped seamlessly into the void left by Granderson and remained the starting centerfielder until recently being dealt in the Price trade. Coke struggles a lot but who in the Tigers ‘pen doesn’t nowadays. Scherzer took some time to pan out but I’d say winning last year’s Cy Young more than makes up for his late bloom. And I will continue to ask Detroiters if they still miss the Grandy man.

July 2010: Giovanni Soto for Jhonny Peralta.

  • Not Soto the catcher, some lefty who I haven’t heard anything from since. Peralta literally made history immediately dropping bombs over the Green Monster in his first two at-bats with the Tigers (the only player ever to do so). He was suspended 50 games last year and was forced to move to left field when he got back because Jose Iglesias was manning shortstop by then. Peralta still hit better than everyone not named Victor Martinez during the postseason. It would have been nice to have him at short this season too with Iglesias on the shelf.

July 2012: Jacob Turner, Brian Flynn, Rob Brantly for Anibal Sanchez, Omar Infante.

  • Turner is still trying to lockdown a permanent spot in the Miami rotation while Sanchez has soared. The American League ERA leader from last year has electric stuff even though he goes mostly unnoticed considering the arms that surround him. Infante was a Tiger earlier in his career. It was nice to see him back at second base since everyone and their mother in the Tigers’ system was trotted out at the position after he left the first time. He’s moved on again, to Kansas City this time but I wouldn’t be shocked to see him come back once more to finish his career in Detroit.

July 2013: Avisail Garcia, Brayan Villareal for Jose Iglesias.

  • This was part of the trade that sent Jake Peavy to Boston. Garcia has been hurt ever since getting to Chicago which really is too bad because he and Jose Abreu would have made for an incredible 3-4 punch. Iglesias wowed everyone who watched him in the field down the stretch last year. He too has been hurt for the entirety of this season. If he can’t come back healthy and stay that way, I’ll have to say I don’t like this deal because I hated seeing Garcia go, especially to a division rival.

Nov. 2013: Ian Kinsler for Prince Fielder.

  • As a Tigers fan, the only thing better than signing Fielder was trading him away. Kinsler is the straw that stirs the Tigers’ drink. I was ecstatic when I heard this news and have not at all been disappointed by the results thus far. Rangers fans would have to disagree I’m sure since Fielder didn’t play more than a couple months this season before being diagnosed with a season-ending neck injury.

Dec. 2013: Robbie Ray, Ian Krol, Steve Lombardozzi for Doug Fister.

  • This one’s still up in the air a bit. Ray has become the Tigers’ top pitching prospect. Krol has looked too much like Coke when he’s been healthy. Lombardozzi was soon dealt to Baltimore for Alex Gonzalez (ugh). Put it this way though, without having dealt Fister the Tigers wouldn’t have had the opportunity to get Price.

So now I’m thinking maybe it wasn’t the fault of Tampa Bay’s front office. Maybe Dave Dombrowski is just that damn good at what he does.

Balk-ing Home with Hammy

Well, the secret is out, but knowing that the Tom Hamilton walk-off call, be it a home run call or anything a little Hollywood, is almost an unparalleled experience, especially if you’re a Tribe fan. Being off the reservation, or should I just say “out-of-market”, keeping up with the Tribe involves a financial decision each spring.

hamilton-tribe-booth-2009-ccjpg-b1fa14f41cbea61c

 

For years, I’ve shelled out the extra cash for DirecTV to add the MLB Extra Innings package to my already outrageous monthly invoice, but I made the leap to the more feature-rich MLB.tv Premium a few years back. With other sports offering broadband and mobile packages, in conjunction with the cable/satellite add-on, Major League Baseball was once again behind the times, or so I thought. Extra Innings only served its purpose when I was home, whereas the online service offered some flexibility on the go. One of those services made available was the radio call of all the games, with your choice of the home or away announcer and the Spanish crew, when applicable.

It doesn’t matter if I’m at the office, stuck in commuter traffic, or 1500 miles from home; if the Tribe is playing, I can listen to Tom Hamilton and Jim Rosenhaus on the audio call. The exception to that, of course, is when I’m 35,000 feet above the ground, when I’m without broadband or mobile data service, as I was yesterday, en route to Chicago. To take soften the blow of Chi-town’s swamp-like humidity, I put the headphones on, and let the Voice of the Cleveland Indians take me home, in more ways than one, with an all-important, if not extremely unlikely, series sweep of the Detroit Tigers hanging in the balance.

To reset my perspective, the At Bat app, the one that drives MLB.tv and the bonus audio feeds, sends me an alert that the game is tied at 7 after Detroit added two in the fifth. I paused; seven runs thru 5 for the Braves of the Cuyahoga, but I thought Scherzer was on the bump for the Tigers! That was encouraging for this enigma of an offense that Terry Francona has marched out there, this far in 2014, but it doesn’t matter if you score 20, if you lose 21-20. By the time I was back on the grid, with “Hammy” and “Rosey” in my ear, it sounded as though a bad day from Scherzer wasn’t going to sink the Tigers, who now led 9-7, but David Murphy had no concerns about their backs being against the wall with one on and one out in the ninth.

“A swing and a long drive, deep right center…this ball is…”

GONE! I’ve got no video to go on, hence nothing analytical to add, just the raw emotion of a Missouri native-turned-Cleveland fan at heart in Tom Hamilton. The Detroit closer’s name was Joe, but you could call him Blown Save Nathan after that shot. Out in the visitor’s bullpen, I can only imagine Al Albuquerque thinking, ‘I know this feeling,’ having served up a game-winning bomb to Michael Brantley in the first game of this series.

The celebration didn’t last long, as theme for 2014 continued with the Indians pitching staff surrendering a response run; this potential back-breaking smash came off the bat of Alex Avila after a solid two and two-thirds of solid relief work from usual starter Josh Tomlin. Alex Avila! Must it always be the nobodies, like JD Martinez, Don Kelly, and Avila that punish Indians pitching? Well, in this case, maybe it did, considering Miguel Cabrera got the “Bye Felicia”, as Keith Olbermann would (and actually did) say, in the sixth. However, they still had the sizzling hot Victor Martinez and seemingly, regardless of early 3 games to 1 advantage Cleveland technically has on the Tigers in 2014, the Indians number.

Anyway, Tomlin managed to freeze Danny Worth on strike three to end the 13th, but with Mike Aviles, Michael Bourn, and Asdrubal Cabrera due up, the Indians had work to do in the home-half of the frame. Down in the count against Phil Coke, Aviles hit one towards the hole at short that Worth could quite squeeze in the glove, and stood on first, representing the tying-run. Bourn, who according to Hamilton, is not the best sacrifice bunter the game has ever seen, laid one down the third base line so poetically that a radio listener may have ascertained scholars would talk about and praise for years. He was thrown out at first, and as my late-night viewing of Olbermann would reveal, he probably shouldn’t have been. Whatever, no need for Hammy to torch a guy with bad hammies in this situation.

Asdrubal Cabrera would be next, and Coke put the 2-1 pitch into his knee cap; the words from the WTAM call left me to wonder if Cabrera would be able to finish the season, let alone the game. Only Yan Games remained on the bench, not exactly your ideal pinch-runner, so after a few minutes, the Indians shortstop limped to first as the potential game-winning run. That meant one out and a runner in scoring position for Ben Maller’s favorite player to be named later against the Detroit southpaw. Left-on-right, left-on-left, it doesn’t matter for Michael Brantley, who delivered with a ground ball to the left side, which Aviles legged out from second to tie the game at 10 apiece.

No sooner than Gene Lamont, assuming the skipper role from Brad Asumus, who got the heave-ho in the Cabrera aftermath, summoned Monday’s goat Alburquerque from the ‘pen, did Terry Francona call Justin Sellers back to the dugout. Now, it was time for Yan Gomes to step into the right-handed batters box against the right-hander. Albuquerque tried two sliders, which went wide with no chase from Gomes, and then stopped the charade and put the Tribe’s usual starting catcher on first to load them up from former-Tiger Ryan Raburn.

It all came down to this at-bat, Raburn stepped in, and the strangest thing happened next. Alburquerque flinched!

“And a balk! Ballgame! How about that! WE NOW HAVE SEEN EVERYTHING! A walk-off balk! Unbelievable, Cabrera scores the winner on a walk-off balk!”

I am not sure it’s possible to transcribe any part of Hamilton’s note-worthy calls without the over-use of exclamation points. Happy to spend my Wednesday afternoon with you, Tom. Happy to be an Indians fan, like everyone back in Cleveland. Happy to have the option to listen to radio call from Chicago.

AP TIGERS INDIANS BASEBALL S BBA USA OH

11-10, Tribe wins! What a game, even the limited parts I caught; I sincerely hope it springboards us into “What a season!” mode. All in all, I’m quite content with the balk-off.  A win is a win.

Detroit Tigers Off-Season Keys

The Detroit Tigers were two wins from playing in two consecutive World Series. If the Tigers fill some key needs they’ll be right back into the mix. Dave Dombrowski is a mastermind; we all know that, so Tigers’ Cult rest assured these needs will be filled.

Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski is a mastermind; we all know that, so Tigers’ Cult rest assured these needs will be filled.

Photo by Keith Allison

A Healthy Miguel Cabrera:

A mid-season back issue began a seemingly never-ending spiral of Miguel Cabrera injuries that included  hip, abdominal wall, and groin injuries. Cabrera underwent offseason surgery and is projected to be ready by spring training, and the Tigers definitely need him. Above all, including the bullpen’s shortcomings, Miguel Cabrera’s lack of production due to injury held the Tigers back. With a healthy Miguel Cabrera and a couple new pieces the Tigers are right back into the World Series discussion.

Bullpen Depth:

Coming into the offseason it was clear relievers, most importantly a closer, were some of the Tigers biggest offseason needs. Although Dombrowski has solidified the closer spot with the former Minnesota Twin, 39 year old Joe Nathan, you have to believe the trade that sent Doug Fister to the Washington Nationals means solid bullpen arm Drew Smyly will be moved into the starting rotation. The 8th and 9th inning guys are solidified with the 22 year old Bruce Rondon and the aforementioned Nathan in the ninth. Add Al Alburqurque and you’ve got three solid relievers, but the rest of the pen is a bit of a tossup.

Outfielders:

The Tigers need a better bat in the outfield. Everyone thought this would be Nick Castellanos, but trading Prince Fielder to the Texas Rangers will mean shifting Cabrera back to first  base, which means Castellanos will be back at his natural third base spot.

Do the Tigers stick with the route they took last year with Andy Dirks in LF, Austin Jackson in CF, and Hunter in RF? Or do they make a move for a guy like Shin-Soo Choo?

As of now Dombrowski says not to expect any big names being signed, but we have all heard this before. Remember the lead up to the Prince Fielder signing?

Austin Jackson’s bat back:

Getting Austin Jackson’s batting stride and front foot settled are key to the Detroit Tigers offseason.

After hitting .300 with 16 HR 66 RBI and having a OBP of .377 in 2012, Austin Jackson’s 2013 numbers fell to .272, 12 HR 49 RBI and an OBP of .337.

Jackson’s WAR fell to 3.4 in 2013 after he amassed his highest WAR of his career at 5.5 in 2012. On the bright side Jackson hit .318 and had a OBP of .423 in the Boston series, so hopefully that little sliver of success can carry over to the 2014 season.

A Change behind the Plate:

I often notice Alex Avila’s name being drug through the dirt on twitter, I spot people calling for him to be replaced and some tweeters even like to say he is only on the Tigers because of his father, Assistant GM Al Avila. Sure you can criticize Alex for his bat at times but if you dive into what matters most with a catcher, what he is doing behind the plate, you’ll see why Avila is so valuable.

The relationship between a pitcher and catcher is often overlooked, I get it there is no chemistry stat but it’s there and when it is good you can tell:

Alex Avila caught 21 games for Anibal Sanchez. In those games Sanchez had an ERA of 2.42, with other catchers that rose to 2.94.

When Avila was behind the plate catching 18 games for Justin Verlander, Verlander had an ERA of 3.11. With Bryan Holaday and Brayan Pena, now with the Cincinnati Reds, catching Verlander in the other 16 games his ERA rose to 3.85.

In the 18 games Avila caught, Cy Young award winning pitcher, Max Scherzer, Scherzer had an ERA of 2.49 in the other 15 games with Pena behind the plate that number rose to 3.41. When you look at the improvement Avila brings behind the plate and realize that a catcher’s first job is just that, to catch, you see Avila’s true value.

Tigers Offseason Final Thought:

All Detroit needs is a healthy Miguel Cabrera, a couple of bullpen arms, and a couple of tweaks along the way. If those issues are fixed the Tigers will solidify themselves as World Series contenders – maybe even favorites – once again.

Photo Credit to Keith Allison

If Choo, Cano Sign in the AL Central

Yesterday, I saw multiple reports that shook my inner Indians fan to its core.

First Buster Olney said this…

Then reports surfaced that Robinson Cano was on his way to Kansas City to sign with the Royals.

Gulp…

If you’re an Indians fan, this all hurts tremendously.

First of all, the Tigers, should they sign Shin-Soo Choo, might just be the best team in baseball. Take a gander at this lineup, should Shin Soo make his way to the Motor City.

Shin-Soo Choo
Ian Kinsler
Torii Hunter
Miguel Cabrera
Victor Martinez
Torii Hunter
Nick Castellanos
Alex Avila
Jose Iglesias

That lineup at its face value could easily take on any in the league. Meanwhile, Detroit houses baseball’s best pitching staff.

Justin Verlander
Max Scherzer
Anibal Sanchez
Doug Fister
Drew Smyly

The worst part of it all is that Dave Dombrowski seems to be on a World Series mission and will use all of the cash in the world to get there.

In other words, they’re not done yet. Not even close.

While the Tigers will certainly have the upper hand on the Indians seemingly regardless of the situation, the Tribe could at least compete with a Choo-less Tigers lineup. Once you put the former Indians star at the top of that order, who knows just how far the talent gap will grow.

All the while, Omar Vizquel has taken the job of first base coach in Detroit.

First Victor. Then Omar. Now Choo?

Detroit is slowly but surely destroying the Indians and their fan-base former player by former player.

Meanwhile, another AL Central team seems be on a mission and ready to spend some cash.

Rumors yesterday are showing that Robinson Cano may just be the newest member of the Kanas City Royals, in what would be an earth shattering development. Should that splash happen, the Royals could easily move into the second rung of the AL Central ladder and could become a legitimate World Series contender.

David Lough
Alex Gordon
Robinson Cano
Eric Hosmer
Billy Butler
Mike Moustakas
Lorenzo Cain
Salvador Perez
Alcides Escobar

Add in the top end of their pitching staff and they might be one of the most under-the-radar teams in all of baseball.

James Shields
Jeremy Guthrie
Ervin Santana
Wade Davis
Bruce Chen

First, the Tigers go out and get much better by moving Miguel Cabrera to first base, adding Ian Kinsler to the mix and potentially adding Shin-Soo Choo. Then, the Royals get the most highly sought after free agent in all of baseball.

Of course these are both hypothetical, but reported, circumstances, but in any case, can the Indians catch a break?
Sure, the Indians did get better on Wednesday by signing David Murphy to take over the everyday right field duties, but the Indians can’t compete with the suddenly big market teams in Detroit and Kansas City, should these deals go down.

The worst part is, there’s really nothing they can do about it.

The Indians don’t have the money to put a bid in on Robinson Cano. They can’t make a deal to bring back Choo. They just simply can’t make these splashes as, apparently, Detroit and Kansas City can.

This is all to say, Indians fans, that maybe last year, despite its heartbreak towards the end, was as good as its going to get. Maybe the magic that Jason Giambi, Nick Swisher and Ubaldo Jimenez brought to the corner of Carnegie and Ontario last season was as good as its going to get for a while.

The Tigers and Royals may be on the verge of taking over the American League and leaving the lowly Indians, White Sox and Twins in the dust.

Despite all of the good that Terry Francona, Chris Antonetti and Mark Shapiro have done for the Indians and for the city of Cleveland, it may all be for naught. The Indians, for the forseeable future, may be trapped in the dark, vast dungeon of the American League Central Division.

Is there anything they can do to get out, should Choo and Cano sign within this division?

Yes, but it would be very, very unlikely.

First of all could get out of the dungeon by getting lucky again and again as they did last season with Scott Kazmir, Ryan Raburn, Yan Gomes and Mike Aviles. If Antonetti continues to pull off moves such as those, the Indians can compete.

Even then, however, things will still be difficult.

They would still have to spend money to solidify their rotation, which is decent but needs a little help. They would also need prospects like Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez and Jesus Aguilar to be all that we expected and more.

Again, its not impossible, just very, very unlikely.

Other than that, just hope that these two rumors were nothing but. Hope that Choo and Cano sign with the Yankees, as that organization is a continual mess.

If you’re an Indians fan, however, just accept that should Cano and Choo sign in the Central, the new era of Indians excellence may come to a tragic and screeching halt.

All of the hope and optimism could be over with a few simple swoops of a fateful pen. Enjoy it, Tribe fans, because very soon, the fun could be over.

Reflecting On 2013 Tigers And Theorizing Where To Go From Here

It’s been over for nearly two weeks.

dt.common.streams.StreamServerThe Detroit Tigers’ latest assault on that elusive fifth World Series title fell short last Sunday, as Shane Victorino’s Game 6 grand slam (which is still airborne) catapulted the Boston Red Sox into the World Series (which they are expected to win within the next two days). The Tigers became the first team to reach the ALCS in three consecutive seasons since the New York Yankees made four in a row between 1998 and 2001. The Yankees won the World Series in 1998, 1999, and 2000, and were one win from another championship in 2001. The Tigers have won the pennant once out of these three appearances and won exactly zero games in the ensuing World Series. Pretty stark contrast.

Going so far as to call the 2013 season a “failure” appears at first glance to be a bit harsh, but consider that the organization’s brain trust has stated time and time again (especially over the past two seasons) that the goal of the Detroit Tigers is to win the World Series. They were very active at the trade deadline this season and last. They spent MORE THAN $500 MILLION DOLLARS to tie up three players: Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, and Justin Verlander. The Tigers have had three good teams over the past three seasons, but they all had the same fatal flaw: a failure to score in the postseason. The Tigers averaged only 3.2 runs per game in the 2013 postseason, and have averaged 3.4 runs per game over the past three Octobers. The 2013 edition was extra-special because of their abysmal bullpen; the bullpen that cost Max Scherzer two wins in the ALCS and blew three wins for Detroit overall. The team appeared to be constructed well enough, yet there’s no championship. And when the franchise credo is “World Series or bust” and the franchise doesn’t win the World Series, then yeah, there’s a mildly compelling argument that 2013 was a failure, despite the third consecutive division title, despite the likely Cy Young Award for Scherzer, and despite the very strong possibility of another MVP award for Cabrera.

The Tigers’ latest postseason power outage cost them their manager, as Jim Leyland elected to step down after eight seasons on the job. As much vitriolic crap as Leyland frequently got from scores of angry Detroit fans, there’s no denying the impact he had on the club. When he arrived in 2006, the Tigers were irrelevant. They lost 119 games in 2003, their last winning season was 1993, and their last playoff appearance was in 1987. Since 2006, the Tigers have recorded the following: six winning seasons, four playoff appearances (three times as division champion), and two pennants. What that means: Jim Leyland is the second-best manager in Tigers history, right behind Sparky Anderson.

Now, regarding this team’s future. The way this writer sees it, there are two feasible routes the Tigers can go (no, neither of them involve hiring Dusty Baker and spending $250 million on Robinson Cano):

1) hire a younger manager from outside the organization (Brad Ausmus, Torey Lovullo, Tim Wallach), trade potential 2014 free agent Scherzer, and begin to utilize younger/unproven players on the major league roster (whether it be from the Scherzer trade or to fill voids left by the departures of free agents Joaquin Benoit, Omar Infante, and Jhonny Peralta). At the end of 2014, let Torii Hunter and Victor Martinez walk as free agents, and *consider* moving 2015 free agent Cabrera (unless he takes a discount), In other words, lay the miguel-cabrera-icon2foundation for a rebuild.

2) hire from within (Tommy Brookens, Jeff Jones, Lloyd McClendon), keep the band together (perhaps add an impact free agent because #MikeIlitchPizzaMoney), and give it another go in 2014. Extend Cabrera and/or Scherzer to keep a semblance of a championship window open for the next few years.

The rumors of the Tigers shopping Scherzer won’t go away, and with three guys making $20 million per year already on the payroll, general manager Dave Dombrowski may have to consider how to cut costs and get maximum value back for some of his assets. The Tigers’ farm system is one of the worst in baseball now, and it must be replenished eventually. Going route #1 would be disappointing to many fans, but no one really knows how much more 84 year-old owner Mike Ilitch can or will spend to rope in a title. And the current “win now” approach hasn’t paid all the dividends it was expected to.

MLB: Detroit Tigers-Prince Fielder Press Conference

Route #2 would appease hungry fans and likely keep the Tigers in that upper echelon in MLB. However, the farm system would still be in tatters and the Tigers would be paying at least $20 million per season to FOUR players for the next several years. Close to half the payroll would be tied up in two pitchers and two hitters, and at least three will be getting paid well into their late-30’s, unless a Marlins-esque salary dump occurs. This payroll constriction will be a problem in the years to come if the Tigers develop any top-flight prospects in the next year or so, or if secondary guys on the roster need a raise.

The Tigers are definitely a team to watch this offseason because of all the questions they have to answer. They’ve blown two golden opportunities to win a World Series for Mr. Ilitch and a rabid fanbase over the last two Octobers, and 2013 could very well prove to be the swan song for this era of Tigers baseball. Only time will tell.

Barefoot Clowns in October: JT's Irrational Fear

October. One month out of twelve. It generally has some of the most pleasant weather of a New England year. Hockey season normally is just beginning. The year’s NFL contenders start to emerge. The NBA is right around the corner. It should be a great time for any sports fan. Why do I fear it so?

As a child I might have feared the month because I was just in the beginning of another long school year. As an adult, I hate all the buses during my morning commute.

Maybe it’s Halloween. I never knew what or who to be, so it was usually a last minute mask or fake teeth. No, that can’t be it either.

Ah, now I remember. October baseball, or to be more specific, October Red Sox baseball.

I was a Red Sox fan growing up and have remained one into adulthood. I, along with many others, have suffered through countless failings of the local ball club during the playoffs. I will not bother to reminisce about those painful details here, but suffice it to say, looking back to those dark times runs a chill up my spine. Sure, I know the Sox finally broke through in 2004, and even won another in 2007, but can those two fleeting moments really distract from the futility of years past?

I write this article in the middle of September. The Sox are rolling at the moment. They have just swept the New York Yankees in Fenway (quite possibly out of the A.L. wild card race). My colleague Matt Kline recently wrote that the Red Sox are a shoe in for the title this season. They have the best record in the American League, and are close to wrapping up home field advantage in the playoffs. Clay Buchholz is back, Jon Lester is more dialed-in than he has been all season, and Jake Peavy and John Lackey have turned in strong outings down the stretch. The offense, for the most part, has been clicking on all cylinders. Even the bullpen leading up to Koji Uehara is starting to take shape. The team looks primed and ready for a deep playoff run. Why am I still afraid?

I have many irrational fears. I hate walking barefoot. I really hate clowns. I don’t know why. They exist to make us laugh, yet they freak me out.

I look around the American League, and I don’t see any team that can take it to the Sox. Detroit has a strong team, but Justin Verlander hasn’t been right for much of the year and the Miguel Cabrera injury changes their whole offense. Oakland has strong pitching, but I don’t trust their offense. I feel the same about Tampa Bay. The Rangers have been so up and down this year that I don’t know how anyone can trust them. Cleveland will get a polite mention here, but they aren’t ready for what’s to come if they do make it. Everything points to another banner year for the Sox, yet I am still fearful. I really can’t explain it. I guess it’s just in my DNA.

October. The clowniest month. That’s just some guy in white face paint with a red nose, right?