Tag Archives: Oakland Athletics

Royals Are Hollywood’s Dream

It’s been nine hours since game one of the World Series and to quote the great Jack Buck “I don’t believe what I just saw”. I don’t know if there is anyone in Hollywood paying attention to this Kansas City Royals team, but if there isn’t they should get here immediately. I’m starting to think the Angels in the Outfield has a more believable plot than this Royals team. Last night’s game was enough for a full summer blockbuster.

It all started with Royals shortstop Alcedes Escobar in the bottom of the first inning. It’s almost a joke at this point at how Escobar always swings at the first pitch. I think Fox announcer Joe Buck might fall out of his press box if Escobar didn’t swing at the first pitch of the game. Lucky for Buck he was safe, as Escobar swung at first pitch fastball down the middle of the plate and hit a deep fly ball to left center field. The two Mets outfielders had some miscommunication allowing the ball to not only drop between them, but bouncing off Yoenis Cespedes leg shooting into left field. Escobar, running the whole way, scored easily for the first inside the park homerun since Mule Haas in 1929. It was the first ever inside the park homerun to leadoff game one of a World Series and only the second leadoff inside the parker in WS history in any game. Just like any great movie, the Royals started fast to suck you in and put you on the edge of your seat early.

The game then settled down for a few innings, good time to get some popcorn. Then the bad guy showed up in the movie as the Mets scored a run in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings. Down 3-1 in the bottom of the sixth the Royals do what they do and made a comeback. A couple hits, stolen base and sacrifice fly later the Royals tied the game 3-3 in the bottom of the sixth. The Royals coming back in the late innings is becoming as predictable as a hero defeating fifty people by himself.

Then came the twist and surprise plot turn that you never saw coming. In the top of the 8th with two outs and a runner on second, an easy grounder bounced over the glove of Eric Hosmer into right field scoring the runner from second. Hosmer is a two time Gold Glove Award winner who makes that play 99 out of a 100, but unfortunately that one time happened to be in the World Series. The crowd was shocked into silence, not that we were losing but just the fact that Hosmer missed it. Of course last night just happened to be the 29th anniversary of the Bill Buckner play against the Mets in the 1986 World Series. I don’t think Steven Spielberg could make this stuff up.

So we head to the bottom of 9th with the Royals down 4-3. With one out and the Mets dominant closer Jeurys Familia on the mound, Alex Gordon walks to the plate. While the Royals haven’t named an official Team Captain since Mike Sweeney, everyone knows Gordon is the unofficial Captain of this team. Drafted number two in the 2005 draft, Gordon was projected to be the next George Brett. Being blunt, he was a major bust before the 2011 season. That year he was moved to the outfield in one last ditch effort to get something out of him. What they got was a four time gold glover outfielder with a consistent bat and leader of the team. So the old man of the team steps to the plate and crushes a ball 438 feet over the center field wall to tie the game at 4. It was the first time a player hit a homerun to tie or take the lead in the 9th inning of game one of the World Series since Kirk Gibson hit his walk off against the Oakland Athletics.

The stadium is in a frenzy as the Royals once again come back from what looked like certain doom. The game went into extra innings as bullpen battled bullpen. It all came down to a pitchers’ duel between starters turned relievers; Chris Young for the Royals versus Bartolo Colon of the Mets. They dueled until the bottom of the 14th inning. The man who started it all, Escobar, hit a hard grounder to third which was bobbled by the Mets team Captain David Wright causing a wide throw allowing Escobar to reach first. A single by Ben Zobrist and intentional walk to Lorenzo Cain loaded the bases with no outs as Hosmer came to the plate. After being just two outs away from being the new Buckner he would have his chance to be the hero. He didn’t disappoint as he hit a long fly ball to right field plenty deep enough to score Escobar from third for a walk off win. The fourteen innings tied the record for longest WS game played by inning and the over five hours of game time was good enough for the second longest game in WS game history by time.

The stadium erupted as fans high fived everyone within reach and hugged people they’d never met. Fireworks were going off, the W sign was being hung on the Royals Hall of Fame and Salvador Perez was dumping a Gatorade bucket of water on Hosmer during an interview. Is there a better ending to a movie than a crazy walk off turning the hitter from goat to hero in one of the longest games in WS history?

This isn’t just a one game series though; there are at least three more to go, maybe as many as six. So we all knows what that means; sequels! The sequel to this amazing movie that was game one was set in motion when the news broke that the Royals starter Edison Volquez father had passed away just hours before the game started. The family however told the Royals to not tell Eddie because they wanted him to pitch. The Royals agreed to the family’s wishes and only told coaches and pitcher Chris Young so he could be prepared to come in for relief if Eddie found out and wanted to leave early. The news however did make its way to social media and by the second inning the only people who didn’t know was Eddie and the rest of the players. Fox and the Royals radio team did a great job of not talking about it on air just in case Eddie was in the clubhouse and hear the news that way.  When he came out of the game after the sixth inning he spoke with his wife and got the devastating news. He left almost immediately to fly to the Dominican Republic to be with his family. Manager Ned Yost told the rest of the team after the game turning a great celebration to a more subdued affair. Despite winning one of the greatest WS games in history, the players first thought in every interview was on Eddie and his family. The Royals family has had a tough year with now the third parent passing away joining Mike Moustakas’s mother and Chris Young’s father who both passed away in August.

This series was already going to be a fight with every game sure to be close; now you mix in the heavy hearts of the Royals players wanting to win for their brother and something special is building. Game one was a summer blockbuster for the ages that had everything a good movie needs. There was drama, heart break, redemption, good versus evil and an emotional roller coaster from the highest of highs to the absolute lowest of lows. Fans are screaming for a sequel because they want more of this amazing theatre. Unlike the movies, you won’t have to wait a year or two for the sequel; game two starts in just a few hours. So get your popcorn ready, get in that comfortable seat and sit back and enjoy the show.

 

The American League Wildcard and the Trouble with Schedules

It appears that the Indians’ favorable schedule down the stretch is keeping the glimmer of playoff baseball alive in September.

I can’t believe it. You can’t believe it either. As I wrote last week, the Cleveland Indians are still relevant as it pertains to the 2015 playoffs. At the beginning of August, most writers and fans alike had capped this season as a disappointment and were looking ahead to 2016. Slowly but surely, the Indians strung some wins together and figured things out.

Currently, the Indians are just 4.5 games out of the second wildcard spot currently held by the Texas Rangers. In front of them are the Los Angeles Angels (3.0 GB) and the Minnesota Twins (1.0 GB).

Let’s take a look at each of the current contenders and their remaining schedules in the months of September/October:

Minnesota Twins

The Minnesota twins are currently locked in a series with the Chicago White Sox, having won game one of the three game set last night, 6-2. After their remaining two games in Chicago, the Twinkies travel home to Target Field for a 10 game homestand featuring visits by the Detroit Tigers, Los Angeles Angels, and, after an off day on 9/21, the Indians. They then travel to Detroit for a three game set, followed by a four game set at Cleveland to finish out the month of September. Their final series of the season comes against the Kansas City Royals at home at Target Field.

Clearly, of the remaining games, the most important series comes against the Los Angeles Angels next week. Considering it’s a four game series, it could make or break the Twins’ wild card hopes in addition to sinking other squads’ hopes. In a perfect world, you hope that the teams split the two game series and gain no ground either way. The Indians have a favorable weekend series against the White Sox at the same time as the Twins v Angels series, so a sweep there could really place the Indians in a position to own the 2nd wildcard spot conversation entering the final two weeks of the season.

Another problem the Twins face down the stretch is the perceived strength of their schedule. They only face 4 teams after their weekend series against Chicago: Cleveland, Los Angeles, Detroit, and Kansas City. Of those four teams, one is going to be a division winner (KC), two are currently competing with the Twins for the second wildcard spot (CLE and LAA), and one is down and out this year, but still can pack a wallop (DET).

While the Minnesota Twins have been a nice story this season (see: Houston Astros), the strength of their schedule down the stretch may overarchingly doom them.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

The Los Angeles Angels are currently in the middle of a three game home set against the Houston Astros and won their game last night 3-2. After finishing with the Astros, the Angels travel for 10 straight games against the Mariners (3), Twins (4), and Astros (3). After a day off, the Angels open a 6 game home stand against the Mariners and Athletics, before traveling to Texas for a 4 game showdown with the Rangers.

Of the teams remaining in the wildcard race as it stands right now, the Angels probably have the hardest schedule of them all. The AL West has been the surprise division (in my opinion) this year in terms of divisional excellence. The thought entering the season was that the Angels and Mariners would clash for the division crown while using the injury plagued Rangers, downtrodden Astros, and talent-less Athletics as target practice in between. In reality, Seattle has been an overwhelming disappointment considering their talent level. In addition, the Angels have played well below expectations and nobody really knows what team their going to get when playing them. The Rangers, even with all of their injuries entering the season, have found ways to win games and keep themselves relevant while the Houston Astros shocked the world and took the division by the horns while never looking back. The Athletics are the only team that have really played to expectations before the season started.

Instead of just one team to worry about down the stretch (Mariners), the Angels have to play three decent baseball teams within their own division. While this makes for interesting storylines as a writer, Angels fans are undoubtedly worried about the strength of schedule they face over the course of the upcoming weeks and what that means to their playoff hopes. Unfortunately, Mike Trout can’t play every position.

Texas Rangers

Like the Angels, the Rangers play many games remaining on their schedule in their own division. The Rangers have it slightly easier in that they see the Athletics twice (6 games) and have a random series at the end of the month against Detroit. Other than that, the Rangers play the division leading Astros twice (6 games), the Mariners once (3 games), and finish their season at Los Angeles (4 games).

If you read the second paragraph under the Angels tab, it applies here as well. The only difference being the strength of schedule the Rangers face. It is slightly less difficult than the Angels with two series against the Athletics and one series against the Tigers.

Cleveland Indians

Of the AL wildcard teams mentioned in this article, the Indians overwhelmingly have the easiest schedule down the stretch. Cleveland plays 3 at home against Detroit followed by a four game set against the Royals and a three game set against the White Sox – All at home. After an off day, they travel to Minnesota for 3 games and then to Kansas City for 3 games. They then travel home for the final home series of the season against the Twins (3 games) and Boston Red Sox (4 games).

Easy, I think, is a relative term in baseball. The Indians have some challenges when it comes to their remaining schedule. The difference, I think, is the strength of the challenge as compared to other challenges faced by the latter wildcard contenders. Yes, the Indians face the Royals seven times down the stretch. Yes, the Indians face the Twins six times down the stretch. Those 13 games will be tough, of that I have no doubt.

But are we really afraid of going 0-13 against those two teams? Of course not.

Are we afraid of dropping all but one game in the series against the Royals and Twins? Of course not.

When I look at teams like the Angels and Rangers, I actually believe that they could walk into each others’ ballparks or Seattle’s or Houston’s and get blanked three straight games.

That’s how good I think the West is this year.

The Indians just have to play their style of baseball, get a few hits, and play no- to minimal-error baseball. They do that, and they have a chance to travel to New York for a one game wild card playoff against the vaunted Yankees. I believe that this team is in the right place, when it comes to their hitting, pitching, and defense, to make a push.

I’m not overly optimistic about our chances. I think, as a Cleveland sports fan, I packed away optimism, along with the ideals of “hope” and “dreams”, in a box long ago.

I do think the Indians have a golden opportunity to do something special and I hope they can muster together enough to make a wildcard appearance happen.

I guess, as the leaves change, we will see if the Indians fortunes change as well.

*Note: Teams directly behind the Indians in the standings were not included in this article due to its potential length if they were added and the shear number of teams still vying for a spot. As teams either move in front of the Indians or separate themselves from the pack, this article will be updated to reflect their chances and remaining schedules.

Indians execute trade for Moss, trade AA second baseman Wendle

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Earlier today, the Cleveland Indians and the Oakland A’s completed a trade in which the Indians received OF/1B/DH Brandon Moss for Double A 2B prospect Joey Wendle.

Moss, who is 31, recently had hip surgery, but should be ready by the time the tribe opens the season in early April. He has been in the league since 2007 and has received playing time with the Phillies, Red Sox, Pirates and Athletics. His first full year of playing time came in 2009 with the Pirates where he hit .236/.304/.364, collected 20 doubles, smacked 7 homeruns and collected 41 RBIs.

Wendle, a sixth-round pick by the Indians in the first year player draft in 2012, has spent all of his time in Cleveland’s farm system since being picked. Wendle won the Lou Boudreau award in 2013 which recognizes the organization’s top minor league hitter. In 261 games in the Tribe’s farm system, Wendle hit .292 and collected 28 homeruns, 68 doubles, 155 RBIs.

The Indians will have to make room for their recent acquisition and have designated 28-year-old pitcher Bryan Price.

Inevitably, this trade was going to happen, it was just a matter of when.

The Moss trade had been making its way around the rumor mill for the last week, but we had to wait for the actual deal to be announced. It ended being exactly what we thought: 1 for 1, Wendle for Moss. There were talks that Billy Beane was trying to get one more piece in the deal (Jose Ramirez), but that quickly fell through. My assumption is Moss’ hip injury plagued the potential for a 2 for 1 deal.

Moss looks promising if his hip injury and subsequent surgery don’t linger.

Looking at the numbers, Moss is clearly the value power hitter that we could afford. He’s in his prime (with regard to hitting) and he came pretty cheap compared with some of the right-handed power hitters that were free agents (think: Nelson Cruz; 5 years/$95 million). In his most recent season, he hit .234/.334/.438 with 23 doubles, 25 homeruns and 81 RBIs. He also had 67 walks. One thing that scares me is his SO/BB ratio. In the past three seasons (2012-14) with the A’s, Moss has SO/BB ratios of .29/.36/.44 respectively. At least it’s going up. Additionally, according to ESPN.com, Brandon Moss saw the 18th most pitches per plate appearance (4.07), coming in just above MVP candidate Victor Martinez (4.06) and just below Shin-Soo Choo (4.08). For a guy who is going to inevitably be in the middle of the lineup, I would like to see that ratio between .80-1.10 as we progress through this year. More so, I’d like to see him sit back on a few more pitches, increase that P/PA ratio, and draw some more walks.

Moss’ WAR in the past three seasons (2012-14) was 2.1, 2.2 and 2.6 respectively. Compare that to David Murphy’s over that same time span (3.7 (TEX), 0.6 (TEX) and 0.2 (CLE)) and, offensively, the picture becomes a little more clear.

With regard to defense, I’m not as up-to-date as I should be on advanced defensive statistics, but don’t worry – I’ll have it down pat by spring training!

I like the trade and I think it signals the front office thinks we can win now.

The trade make sense for the tribe, a club on the precipice of breaking through and becoming an elite contender in the American League. Moss brings power to the middle of the lineup that desperately needs an injection of power after last year’s dismal performances by Jason Kipnis, Nick Swisher, David Murphy and Ryan Raburn. David Murphy should recognize this trade as the precursor to his exit as a part of the Indian’s organization. I see the Indians including him in a trade as we move into spring training if there are any teams in need of a utility player who has the potential to knock in some runs and get some extra-base hits.

Losing Wendle is rough considering how well he was progressing in the minors. With Jason Kipnis manning second base, Franciso Lindor waiting in the wings and Jose Ramirez ready to plug in where needed, it was one of the few times trading young talent for a proven hitter was worth it.

Moss has the ability to play both corner OF spots as well as 1B and some DH. He’ll be a welcome addition to the Goon Squad and will hopefully see significant playing time in Right field.

What else is in store for the Indians at the beginning of the 2014 MLB Winter Meetings?

As we head into the beginning of the 2014 Winter Meetings, expect many og the high dollar FA pitchers to find news homes. I don’t think we’ll be seeing the Indians making any moves, but If something comes up, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the FO perform due diligence just to see if it could help us win now. Certainly, Carlos Santana, Michael Brantley, Jason Kipnis, Corey Kluber, and Yan Gomes aren’t going anywhere. I’m nearly certain that our core of young pitchers (Carrasco, Bauer and Salazar) are on lock too, but I have them as less certain than the former.

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!

The Race to Play Baseball in October Heats Up

As someone old enough to remember two ten team leagues, with ten man pitching staffs, no designated hitters, without divisions and only the two pennant winners advancing beyond the regular season, I consider myself a traditionalist as far as baseball is concerned. Having said that, while the current format of interleague play has put a damper on that tradition, I must admit that I am enjoying the numerous races for the ten post-season spots in 2014.

With a week to go we know that the Angels, Orioles, Cardinals and Nationals will win their divisions, even though not all of them have mathematically eliminated their closest competitors. We also know that the AL Central is down to a two team race between the Tigers and the Royals and that the outcome of the Dodger-Giant series in Dodger Stadium Monday through Wednesday will settle the NL West. The Giants series in San Diego didn’t do anything to help their chances. Perhaps they were looking to the Dodger series? The Wild Card races add some additional interest as no team wants to be a wild card team and risk being eliminated in a one game showdown and if the worst comes to the worst and a team has to enter the post-season via the wild card, they want to be sure to get the home field advantage for that Wild Card game.

In the American League, of the teams still mathematically still alive, it would seem that only Seattle has a chance to secure a Wild Card spot and to do that they will have to make up two games on both the Athletics and the Royals, the teams currently holding down those Wild Card spots. The Royals didn’t help themselves this past weekend. Trailing the Tigers by a half game going into their weekend series, the Royals had the Tigers where they wanted them. A half game down, with three games in the Royals park. They didn’t respond. They were blown out Friday night and as a result of one bad inning on Saturday they suddenly found themselves two and a half games out. Their win Sunday kept them in the race and coupled with a Detroit loss and a Royals win on Monday night, all of a sudden it gets interesting again. The Tigers are at home for the balance of the schedule (White Sox and Twins) while the Royals are on the road this week (Cleveland and Chicago White Sox).

Oakland had the best record in MLB at the All-Star break, but their play since the break, coupled with the Angels surge over the same period has put the Athletics in a spot where they could still miss the post-season. If they do, they will become the first team since divisional play was introduced in 1969 to have the game’s best record at the All-Star break and then not make the post-season. A record they will not want to hold.

The National League Wild Card race became clearer over the weekend as a result of the Mets trip to Atlanta, which eliminated the Braves and resulted in GM Frank Wren being let go. The Giants and the Pirates seem to have the inside track there unless the Giants somehow manage to sweep the Dodgers and get back in the NL West race. The Brewers find themselves in the same boat as the Athletics. Humming along at the All-Star break only to play less than stellar baseball in late July and through August and now find themselves in the unenviable position of having to make up five games between Tuesday and Sunday’s regular season finale.

Once again, we are seeing the Cardinals come to the table when it matters most, August and September. They were without Yadier Molina for almost two months in the summer time and he was missed. Not only did they get him back for the stretch run, they got him back rested, which can only be an advantage the deeper the Redbirds go in the post-season. Getting Molina back was better than any trade the Cardinals could have made to shore up their team for the stretch run. The only weakness the Cardinals have right now is their bullpen. Trevor Rosenthal was counted on to be their lights out closer after his success in 2013, but he has been spotty to say the least and that may still come back to burn them in the post-season, where games are typically close. The Pirates have been playing at a steady clip for the past month and especially since the return of Andrew McCutchen from injury.  I hope Pittsburgh gets in, if only to watch a game or two from beautiful PNC Park.

The Orioles have had a magnificent season, albeit in an AL East that is weaker than it has been in 20 years but I wonder about the Orioles pitching in the post-season, because it isn’t that strong and they will be facing an ace or someone close to an ace every night.  There will be no easy nights against a fifth starter.  Funny, thirty years ago we would have never said we were concerned about the Orioles pitching. The Angels have been in high gear for two months now and they have pitching issues as well, so they also may have to rely on their bats to get them through.

Just as interesting as the races though is the number of possibilities that still exist in terms of possible World Series match ups between geographic rivals. We still have the possibility of Dodgers-Angels, Giants-Athletics, Cardinals-Royals, Nationals-Orioles, Dodgers-Athletics, Giants-Angels to think about.

Thanks to television, the season goes on too long, just like every other major sport. Also just like every other sport, baseball plays what should be its most watched games at a time of year that really isn’t in weather conducive to the sport. We won’t ever see that change, because no professional sport can survive today without the almighty dollar from TV. Before the 1970’s World Series games were in the afternoon and most kids didn’t get to see some of the games because they were at school. Now the games are at night, but they start so late, school kids don’t get to see the entire game. I wish there was a way to get the season over earlier, play the post-season games in daylight and let the fans of tomorrow enjoy the game today. I can wish, but that’s likely about all I can do about it.

MLB Contenders Gear Up For the Pennant Run

Every year baseball fans sit and watch the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline with interest. Some watch it because their team is in the thick of the pennant race and their fans feel that the team needs to beef up. Some watch because they know their team is out of the running for a post season berth and wonder if their team will re-build, re-tool or try for the quick fix. Others will sit back and watch as their teams do nothing and the fans wonder if that means that management won’t take a chance or that management rightfully/incorrectly believes that the team really does have the horses to compete next year.

This year we saw a couple of deals early, both of which affected the AL West as the Athletics and the Angels, the two teams with the best records in baseball weighed each other up for the stretch run.

Usually on deadline day, we see lots of deals and almost always those deals are for minor fixes….an extra bat off the bench here, an extra arm in the bullpen there, a back of the rotation starter or maybe an extra infielder or outfielder with defensive skills as insurance. Most of the deals involve prospects/fringe players going from the contenders to the also-rans in return for the player the contender really feels it needs to stay in the race. Rarely do we see big names move at the deadline and even more rarely do we see big names involved in the same trade.

If we expected that again in 2014 we were shocked. Twice. Everyone knew that the Boston Red Sox were shopping Jon Lester. He becomes a free agent at the end of the year and discussions between the two parties appeared to be going nowhere. When Lester was scratched from his August 30 start against Toronto, it was pretty clear that he was on the block. A pitcher of Lester’s ability is always going to attract a lot of interest. But, to do the deal a lot depends on what the selling team is looking for. They may be looking for front line prospects to use as building blocks for the future; they may be looking for a player(s) off the major league rosters to fill immediate needs. The direction that the selling team, in this case the Red Sox, wants to go usually determines who they match up with to make such a deal. The Red Sox have struggled mightily this year, but in Boston the term “re-building” is not one that is used as far as baseball is concerned. So the Red Sox were looking for a big name as part of the package they got in return for Lester. Yoenis Cespedes qualifies as a big name. Why the Athletics were prepared to deal him is a bit of a mystery. He is a top flight power hitter and on the surface appears not to be a clubhouse problem. For the Red Sox, he solves a couple of problems. He is a big name, who provides protection for David Ortiz and the bonus is that he is under team control until the end of the 2015 season. Getting a player like that in return for trading your staff ace certainly eases some of the criticism on Red Sox GM Ben Cherington. From the Athletics standpoint, it indicates they believe this is their year. Having already strengthened their rotation with Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel they now have a rotation consisting of Lester, Samardzija, Hammel, Sonny Gray and Scott Kazmir. No real weak links there.

The Red Sox then traded John Lackey, another member of their starting rotation to the Cardinals for Joe Kelly and Allen Craig, both major league regulars and this would indicate that the Red Sox feel they can rebound in 2015 with some additional re-tooling. Kelly replaces Lackey in the rotation and Craig provides versatility as well as a pretty good major league bat.

The Athletics main rival outside their division, the Detroit Tigers felt they needed to answer, especially since the two teams are favoured to run into each other either in the American League Divisional Series or the American League Championship Series. So what did the Tigers do? They only picked up lefty David Price from the Tampa Bay Rays. Price needs no introduction. A top class lefty, with experience in the post season. The cost was relatively cheap considering Price’s stature. Starter Drew Smyly, Centre Fielder Austin Jackson (who went to the Mariners in the three team deal) and a minor league prospect. The Tigers are geared up now, with the last three AL Cy Young Award winners (Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and Price) in their rotation along with Anabal Sanchez and Rick Porcello. Like Oakland, no weak links. On top of that, they have the last three AL MVP winners as well in Verlander and the 2012 and 2013 winner Miguel Cabrera.

The Price deal is purely business. The Rays likely feel that they cannot compete with the big boys after the 2015 season when Price is a free agent, so why not get as much for him as they can. With Price under club control for another 15 months, they likely felt the return on the asset was better than it would be a year from now when he was only under club control for another 60-90 days. Time will tell.

The other contenders to add some pep to their post-season run were the Orioles and the Cardinals. The Orioles picked up quality left handed reliever Andrew Miller from the Red Sox and the Cardinals tried to mitigate the loss of Michael Wacha by acquiring John Lackey and Justin Masterson to bolster their rotation. The real key for the Cardinals will be the return of Yadier Molina to the lineup and the hope that he is 100% when he does return.

So who won the trade deadline sweepstakes? The Athletics took the biggest gamble by trading their most consistent power hitter in Cespedes. If Lester can’t bolster the pitching sufficiently enough to offset Cespedes’ loss, then the Athletics are in tough, as by making this deal they have clearly indicated that they feel this is their year. The window is short in Oakland as very few of their players are signed beyond 2015. The Tigers have sent the same message and so much depends on Cabrera and Victor Martinez to stay healthy and keep hitting. If they produce the Tigers are in good shape. If they don’t, then the pitching staff is likely going to have to work on the basis that one or two runs a night is going to have to be enough. For the Red Sox, we won’t know until next year or maybe 2016, depending on whether Cespedes wants to stay in Boston beyond 2015. Either way, I see Detroit and Oakland now as the real heavyweights in the American League. In the National League, the Cardinals will live and die with pitching and Molina’s health.

Whichever way we look at it, last Thursday’s dealing will make for an interesting last six-seven weeks of the major league season.

Thursday’s Trade Deadline: Baseball Nerds' Christmas in July

Major League Baseball’s trade deadline is a prime example of why the sport is so unique. Trades simply don’t happen as frequently or with nearly as much magnitude in other sports as in baseball.

Four O’clock PM Eastern Standard Time on July 31st is the annual deadline to finalize any non-waiver trades. (To be clear, players can still be swapped if they are passed on by all MLB teams, hence clearing ‘waivers’.) Ultimately the decisions to pull the trigger on deals are telling enough that by the next day fans have a good understanding whether their squad is chasing this year’s pennant or gearing up to make a run next season.

The final hours leading up to the deadline were the most active of any in recent memory with twelve deals being made on Thursday. Each general manager has a plan, some more thorough than others. Those intentions I cannot quite speak to because of extremely limited access. I can, however, speculate as to why certain moves were made while defending those I like and ripping the boneheaded ones.

Let’s start with the Twins stealing away a potential top of the rotation guy in Tommy Milone from the Athletics, giving up only Sam Fuld. Milone is a huge addition for Minnesota. Fuld can play a part in the Oakland outfield equation going forward but Milone might already be the best Twins starter.

There were a few deals made with the present in mind more than the future. Although it may appear one team got the better of a deal, that could very well change as prospects further develop. The Brewers and Mariners also added pieces to their outfields. Milwaukee acquired Gerardo Parra who won’t set the world on fire but is another solid option for the Brew Crew. Seattle upgraded in the form of Chris Denorfia and Austin Jackson via the 3-way David Price deal which they simply piggy-backed on, completely lucking out.

David Price
David Price

Left-handed Red Sox reliever Andrew Miller was dealt to Baltimore. The O’s would have done well to grab a starter but Miller is money out of the ‘pen. The Yankees acquired a good hitter and utility man in Martin Prado from the Diamondbacks who didn’t need him the way they’re playing this summer.

There were plenty of puzzling deals too. As good as the Prado addition was, the Yanks had me seriously scratching my head with the Stephen Drew for Kelly Johnson transaction. This one might be a case of both players needing a fresh start. It’s still odd to see Boston and New York trading with one another just before facing off in a weekend series in Fenway.

I was under the impression that Asdrubal Cabrera would be a building block in the current Cleveland configuration. Apparently I was wrong as he was sent to Washington for Zach Walters. His sudden departure might be the result of wearing out his welcome as I know was the case with the seemingly-indifferent Justin Masterson. The Tribes sent their former Opening Day starter to St. Louis for James Ramsey. That brings us to the Cardinals.

I cannot believe what the Cardinals did on Thursday. Allen Craig and Joe Kelly are heading to Boston in exchange for John Lackey and a prospect. Trading these two guys away shows you how deep the cardinals are at all positions. Craig is a victim of the Oscar Taveras craze and Kelly was just a number in the shuffle of fantastic young pitchers that St. Louis is hoarding.

Lackey has a pretty good track record in the postseason going back to his rookie season in 2002 with the Angels. He pitched and won Game 7 in that Series against San Francisco. Last autumn, after losing Game 3 to the Cardinals, he won Game 6 to again clinch the Series. The dude literally WINS the World Series. The Cards have seen it themselves and apparently decided he’s a guy they want on the mound for their side. He is owed a fair amount of praise, but all those games were in American League parks. Now we’ll see if he can do it in the Senior Circuit.

Jon Lester
Jon Lester

The BoSox dealing away ace Jon Lester and Jonny Gomes to the A’s for Yoenis Cespedes was a blockbuster Thursday morning splash and early sign how exciting deadline day would be. Red Sox GM Ben Cherington is going to look like a genius when he re-signs Lester to a new multi-year deal in the offseaon.

The 3-way cannonball deal that sent David Price to Detroit; Jackson to Seattle; Drew Smyly, Nick Franklin and Willy Adames to Tampa Bay was undoubtedly a direct answer to the Athletics landing Lester. And although the originally reported text from Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski to A’s GM Billy Beane about the deal was false it’s still a nice little storyline. Either way, I think it’s cool to see competitors acknowledge each other instead of ‘coach speak’ oozing from everyone who steps in front of a microphone.

Detroit GM Dave Dombrowski with owner Mike Ilitch in background.
Detroit GM Dave Dombrowski with owner Mike Ilitch in background.

Certainly the Tigers strengthened their starting rotation for this postseason but I think the deal was truly made as an insurance policy. Max Scherzer’s contract expires at the end of the season, he’s playing at an incredible level and he is a Scott Boras client. I can easily see him wearing Yankee pinstripes next year. Now that scenario wouldn’t hurt the Tigers nearly as much. The price Detroit had to pay was an everyday centerfielder. Jackson was pulled off the field minutes before the deadline. Sitting in my seat at Comerica Park I couldn’t quite believe what I was seeing. Never have I been to a game where the starting pitcher and centerfielder don’t finish the game on the same team.

After letting all the ideas marinate in my head I think it’s clear the deadline day winners were the Red Sox and the Braves. Boston made moves for their future, Atlanta acquired for an immediate impact. They picked up the antithesis of every player they have in Emilio Bonifacio. His style of play can really help them going forward. Boston fans should be thrilled though. They’ve now got their corner outfield spots set up for years and a solid middle of the rotation pitcher with a high ceiling.

Boston’s 2014 is looking a lot like their 2012. Of course they won the World Series last year. That’s just something for your baseball brain to snack on going into next season.

For a more in depth look into the Boston Red Sox trade deadline activity check out Matthew Kline’s column.

Revamped Pitching Staff has Athletics Poised for Pennant Run

The Major League Baseball season has reached it’s first quarter, and one of the bigger surprises of the season, is the play of the Oakland Athletics. As of Sunday, the A’s are chugging along with a record of 28-16, good enough for the second best record in all of MLB.

Why this is fantastic start such a surprise considering the A’s have reached the playoffs each of the last two seasons? While the standings tell you the A’s finished last season with a 96-66 record, (which was good enough to win the American League West Division), the standings fail to mention the vast difference in the composition of the A’s pitching staff.

The 2013 A’s staff was led by All Star pitcher Bartolo Colon,14 game winner AJ Griffin, along with Jarrod Parker, and Tom Millone whom finished with 12 wins apiece. Of those 4 pitchers, the only remaining member of the current rotation is Millone. Colon left the team in the off season to sign with the New York Mets as a free agent, while Griffin and Parker tore ligaments in their elbows that required the dreaded Tommy John Surgery, therefore ending their seasons. Along with the changes in the starting rotation, the A’s bullpen also was in for a big change, as the A’s lost All Star Closer Grant Balfour in free agency to the Tampa Bay Rays. In 2013 Balfour was once of the best closers in all of baseball saving thirty-eight games out of forty-one opportunities.

In order to offset the losses in the starting rotation and bullpen, the A’s went to work exploring every possible avenue to fill the vacancies. Their first move was to acquire closer Jim Johnson from the Baltimore Orioles. In 2013, Johnson recorded a league high 50 saves for the Orioles, and had accrued over 100 saves in the past two seasons combined. The A’s also added relievers Luke Gregerson from the San Diego Padres and Fernando Abad from the Washington Nationals to solidify their pen.

Johnson Had back to back 50 Save seasons with the Orioles
Johnson had back to back 50 save seasons with the Orioles

After filling their bullpen voids, the A’s went to work on the rotation by signing free agent pitcher Scott Kazmir from the Cleveland Indians. Kazmir, who had been out of Major League Baseball for over 2 seasons, resurrected his once promising career in Cleveland under the tutelage of pitching coach Mickey Callaway, and regained the form that made him one of the most dominating left handed starting pitchers in baseball. The A’s also made an under the radar trade acquiring left handed pitcher Drew Pomeranz from the Colorado Rockies. Pomeranz, was a former first round selection of the Indians who had been very inconsistent since being traded to the Rockies in 2011 in the Ubaldo Jimenez blockbuster trade. The last two additions to the A’s rotation were already with the team in the person of young phenom Sonny Gray and journeyman pitcher Jesse Chavez. Gray joined the A’s late in 2013 and helped pitch them into the post-season while Chavez spent 2013 in the A’s bullpen.

Sonny_Gray_August_20,_2013
Sonny Gray leads the revamped A’s rotation

With the exception of Jim Johnson, all of these moves have panned out very well for the A’s. Gray, Kazmir, and Chavez are near the top of the pitching leaderboards in wins, batting average against, and earned run average. Meanwhile Pomeranz, who has been dominant in the bullpen, recently made the transition to the starting rotation and has yet to give up a run in his two starts.

Johnson on the other hand, started off the season poorly, losing two games and blowing a save in the first week. Since then, He was removed as the closer and has been trying to work his way back into the good graces of manager Bob Melvin. Despite Johnson’s struggles, and the uncertainty of the closer situation, the rest of the A’s bullpen has been phenomenal. Newcomers Abad and Gregerson, have joined forces with existing stalwarts Dan Otero and the Bearded wonder that is Sean Doolittle, to create one of the most dynamic bullpens in all of baseball.

Sean  Doolittle Fired up after recording an out
Sean Doolittle is fired up after getting out of a jam

Despite the vast changes in the pitching staff, the A’s seem poised to make noise come October. Will the pitching staff hold up and continue their early season splendor? Or will the opposing hitters make the necessary adjustments?  Either way, the A’s may finally have the necessary talent to advance past their Division Series nemesis, and make a long October run towards glory.

The 216: Your 2014 World Champion Cleveland Indians

Even when I feel pretty good about Cleveland, I don’t generally allow myself to dream.  You see, it’s hope that tears us down the most; it’s hope that helps general levels of disappointment manifest itself into an “Only in Cleveland” (OIC) level stomach punch.  It’s being three outs away from a World Series win or four wins from being NBA Champions that sets us all up for devastating heartbreak when it inevitably crumbles before our very eyes.  It’s so much easier to expect the disappointment, then be surprised when it’s all over and destiny has run out of ways to take it away from us; of course, for most of us, the Browns, Cavaliers, and Indians have managed to astonish us like that.

 

Maybe, none of them ever will.  Maybe, it’s not in the cards.  Maybe, real life needs an unscripted version of the Washington Generals and a region of loyal fans that literally expects nothing good to ever come their way.  But, maybe it doesn’t have to be like that.  Maybe, someday we’ll have exhausted all of the excuses, run out of ways to lose in such calamitous ways, and our great city can be defined by its winning ways, even if it’s just one team for one season.  Like the 1908 Cubs or 1964 Cleveland Browns, the joy of celebrating a World Champion has a shelf life, and soon enough it doesn’t add up to a hill beans in the long run, but as Frank Drebin said, “This is our hill, and these are our beans.”

The truth is, this team isn’t going to be the favorite of many, if any, to win the American League Central Division, let alone the World Series, as they break camp this weekend.  On paper, there are holes all over the Indians prospects to defeat a pretty good National League team four times in October, and I’m sure the fine people in the state of Nevada will happily take money from anyone who thinks the Tribe is worth taking a flyer on this season.  Kenny Lofton doesn’t even believe this was a playoff team last year; we haven’t received Kenny’s dissertation on the validity of the moon landing or the reality of the blaze on the Cuyahoga River, but stand by for any developments.  A lot of people do believe the 2013 Indians were a playoff team, but still remain hesitant to reveal any optimism about “Unfinished Business” when they consider what’s been subtracted from a team that needed to win 10 straight just to get on the dance floor.

 

The easiest way to address the questions about what constitutes a “playoff team” in this day and age, is just to follow the advice of Jake Taylor and “Win the whole fucking thing.”  Wouldn’t that force Lofton and fellow naysayer of the 1-game playoff teams, Christopher “Mad Dog” Russo to admit the Indians made the playoffs, regardless of how they qualified?  I imagine we wouldn’t have any concern with splitting hairs over such nonsense if this team can make the 1948 Indians a little less relevant in the grand scheme, but the OIC factor leads me to believe there’s going to be some type of ridiculous string attached.

 

Had they managed to win one more game against Boston in 2007 and bested Colorado in a best-of-seven, how much do you want to bet that “they” wouldn’t let us enjoy it?  It would have been because of the bug game or because Schilling’s sock wasn’t bloody enough.  It would have been because the National League stunk or any other variety reason the wet blankets could discourage those who are “Happy In Cleveland” (#HappyInCLE).  For those who took a liking to Ohio State football circa 2002-2003, you have an intimate familiarity with the wet blankets not letting you have that title, and “they” will never let you have that one under any circumstances.

 

Here’s to 2014 and a title for our city to have and to hold, until we all grow old.

Two Things About 2014

They Have to Win Now

 

It’s not because they’re due, and it’s not because we’re so desperate for it to happen.  It’s not because the stars are aligned so perfectly, but I don’t think it would hurt if they did so, coincidentally.  It’s because the window is wide open at the moment.  This is the last year this group is going to be together, and while they don’t need to be great, they need to be good or they will cease to exist as a group made up of its current parts.  Mark Shapiro would never fire Terry Francona, but how long do you think Tito is going stick around if it turns to garbage?  At that point, doesn’t the Dolan family realize they’ve opened the checkbook and brought in the best personnel, on and off the field, and that this regime couldn’t make it work, then find themselves forced to do a thorough house-cleaning?

 

Photo credit: Cleveland.com

 

I think those are both difficult questions to ask, let alone answer, if you’re really asking them.  They were meant to be rhetorical, but Francona has too many miles on him to start from scratch the way Eric Wedge and Manny Acta had to.  Maybe Shapiro would tell Tito, ‘Thanks for the memories, but we want to go in a different direction,’ but I’m almost positive that Shapiro, Chris Antonetti, and Francona’s last day with the Indians will coincide.  That would be the logical conclusion, but that’s just me caught up in the mindset that things will end badly.  Of course, as was the case in Boston, things can end badly, even after they go incredibly well.

 

The manager is just one piece of the puzzle, albeit a large piece, and one piece that might raise some questions about how much of a role the Tigers change at the helm is going to affect this quest.  It comes down to who you can get on the field and what you can do with them.  Nick Swisher might have a few more 20-25 home run seasons in him, and we saw at least one season like that, though most would say he had a discouraging year in 2013.  My guess is that he’ll be better in 2014, but may be approaching the back nine of his career, so that’s a plus that opens the window of opportunity up in the present tense, but leaves you to wonder exactly how long it’s going to stay like that.

 

If Nick Swisher was the #1 free agent that Francona was able to help reign in to Cleveland, Michael Bourn was arguably #1a, but certainly no lower than #2.  Like the energetic  Swisher, Bourn’s first season at Carnegie and Ontario was probably more bust than boom.  Bourn is an above average outfielder (at the very least) and a good base-runner, but wasn’t very efficient stealing bases last year.  I might say he was adjusting to American League pitchers and catchers, but this might be a developing problem that I’ve chosen to ignore, because it starts unraveling this tight spool of thread that is this prediction.

 

Forgive me for blowing that off as a minor cog in this whole thing, and suggest that it gets better for Michael Bourn.  He’s going to have a better year at the plate and on the base paths; as good as I think the chemistry is with this roster, I think it took Bourn some time to adapt to the craziness.  I haven’t spent a lot of time with Bourn, but I just always got the vibe that the energy level wasn’t quite his cup of tea, but winning heals most wounds.  Believe it or not, this team won.  Yes, it was due in large part to a couple of part-timers, who used the Indians to audition for the real jobs that they began this year, but with the subtracted assets, we should also consider the subtracted liabilities.

 

As briefly as possible, I’d like to remind everyone that Chris Perez was a problem.  Forget his dealings with the United States Postal Service, we know that’s a tough crowd, and just look at what happened on the field and in the clubhouse.  It’s worth noting, when he had his stuff moving, he was fierce, but we’re left with too many memories of things either not going well or not going as well as the should have in the ninth inning of too many games last season.  If not for that, it probably wouldn’t have been a big deal that Chris refused to talk to the media because of Paul Hoynes and Sheldon Oecker, but his teammates had to speak to his mistakes.  In other words, he left hung them out to dry.

 

As far as shunning the beat is concerned, that’s pathetic.  Neither one of those veteran writers had any interest in unnecessarily smearing Perez, but they had to ask the right questions, and they also had to write the truth.  If Perez wanted a better truth, he should have helped write more uplifting coverage of himself, with a better performance on the field.  Maybe that’s unfair; my ERA would be in the high 40’s if you asked me to do what Perez did well part of the time.  Anyway, no hard feelings toward Perez, but a mutual parting of ways between the now-Dodger reliever and the Tribe seemed appropriate to the advancement of the best interest of both parties.

 

Because All Else is So Uncertain

 

We alluded to the departures of Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir, who pretty much wrote the thesis on what to do in a walk year to get paid.  Maybe it’s real, and maybe Mickey Callaway is the Jesus of pitching coaches.  Either way, it speaks well to the way the Indians evaluate talent, going back to prospects for Jimenez deal in 2011 and even the low-risk deal they gave Kazmir a year ago, after he’d been out of Major League Baseball for a season, the Indians are got something out of these former top-of-the-rotation guys that they hadn’t been able to get from the likes of Jeremy Sowers or David Huff, a couple of their first-round picks.  Even those dismissed via that questionable deal at the time haven’t offered much of anything at the big league level yet, and the clock is starting to tick.

 

Of course, the clock is ticking for everyone.  The Indians have to be well aware of it, as they’ll likely head to Oakland with no new deals in place for Justin Masterson and Jason Kipnis, meaning this will be Masterson’s season with the Tribe, whether there’s a parade or not, and Kipnis could very well play himself out of the Dolan’s price range.  There’s a lot of Indians middle-infield talent in the minor league pipeline, but the timing may not coincide properly, so you could be looking at Jack Hannahan type of place-holder in Kipnis’s place, but that’s not an immediate concern in the next year or two, though locking him up would be wise, if affordable.  Affordable is something that Masterson, far and away the ace of this staff, if not a legitimate ace on a more universal plane, will not be.  Chances are, regardless of whatever was leaked from the negotiations, he probably wasn’t affordable during the talks this month.

 

I’m not sure Years 3 and 4 of Swisher and Bourn are necessarily in the budget if things don’t come together in 2014.  If you need precedent, see what happens to the Indians in 2006 and 2008 after some serious flirtation with success in prior years.  I could recap, but I would just make myself sad.  In fact, I’m probably making everyone sad in mentioning it.  I’m not saying they can’t win without those two, but Cleveland lacks the proper curb appeal to bring free agents of their caliber to town without some extenuating circumstances.  I have a hard time believing they’ll hit the lottery with another Terry Francona type as the skipper, but through my half-full glass, I see Sandy Alomar Jr. in a legitimate protégé-becomes-the-master scenario, a la Mike Matheny.

 

Still, it’s a stretch to say this isn’t as good as it gets.  Tomorrow is a giant question mark for Indians baseball, if they even continue to be the Indians or reside in Northeast Ohio for the long term.  Both issues are probably can of worms that we need not open in this particular space.

 

One World Champion

 

Photo credit: AP

I don’t know how everyone looks at Terry Francona, which is to say I don’t how anyone looks at the Tribe’s current manager and thinks any alternative would have been better.  I know, especially after the disaster that was Mike Holmgren in Berea, that fans had their reasons for being skeptical about Tito’s World Championship pedigree, but I think it’s been obvious that Francona has nothing in common with anyone that’s been associated with the expansion outfit the NFL awarded Cleveland in 1999.  I mean, Terry Francona is obviously not Bill Cowher, but the commonality ends there.

 

He’s helped this team build its core off the field, with his name alone, and also a lunch with some Columbus-types.  He’s put together an outstanding staff to carry out his mission, and never underestimate the value of a general’s ability to identify the best lieutenants.  On a side note, think about Mike Scioscia’s staff that included eventual Major League managers Bud Black, Ron Roenicke, and Joe Maddon.  Think about Alomar’s plan with Lou Marson, Carlos Santana, and a player whose success has opened the door for the season’s biggest subplot, Yan Gomes.  They traded an above-average reliever for the services of Gomes and utility infielder Mike Avilies, by far the best deal Chris Antonetti has to his name, considering Gomes was good enough to become the everyday catcher, giving them a little bit of Marson’s defense and a bat good enough to allow for Santana to shed the catcher’s gear, at least on a regular basis.

 

Look, it’s not like the man doesn’t come with his own question marks.  Considering his demise in Boston with a fun team and few rules, you have to wonder if his reliance on veteran leadership might back-fire.  How about his loyalty to certain veterans, which is a major sticking point for those of us who can’t justify Jason Giabmi’s spot on the roster for the sake of his clubhouse presence?  He insists these guys go hard every step of the way, which I question, but it proves they’ll eat lima beans if he asks them to eat lima beans.

 

Nick Swisher has a World Series ring, but Francona has two; I know it’s easy to dismiss the individual’s value on Goliath-like teams, but you can’t tell anyone that neither played a significant part in bringing home a winner, nine-digit payrolls or not.  When the speculation of the hire began, Ryan Isley wrote a good piece about how Francona’s past relationship with the powers-that-be would continue to be a crutch, and that had to be legitimate concern.  Call it shell-shock from the broken promises that came from the Holmgren Era, but I believe 2013 should have annihilated that concept, virtually upon arrival.

 

Winning it all with two different clubs is something that no active manager has done, now that Tony LaRussa has moved on, so it’s a tall order for Francona to get back there, but you would be foolish that anything short of that is the goal.  Bruce Bochy got the Padres there in 1998, before winning two recently with San Francisco.  Jim Leyland won one in the late-90s and has gotten Detroit there twice, but has chosen a life of smoking Pall Mall non-filters and yelling at small children over chasing another ring.  Francona’s quest for a third ring is a journey to some uncharted waters, but I’d consider it far from something that can’t be done.

 

Six Buzz Killington-isms

Detroit

 

At least we’re not Detroit, right?  To keep it on the diamond, we’ll forget about the Red Wings, Pistons, and the endless collection of championship trophies the Motor City has to their name in the winter sports.  For some balance, we’ll spare our friends in Michigan mention of their equally inept NFL franchise.  Here’s the thing, unless you remember 1984, is there much of a difference between the Indians and Tigers from a macro view?  Think about it; both had dominant runs and a couple of legitimate chances to win it all, only to come up short when you would have classified them as favorites.

 

That would matter if we were talking about history, not current events.  Currently, Detroit may have reached their peak, so let’s see if they find a plateau at the top or slide down the back side of the hill.  Numbers can be deceiving sometimes, but you really can take the Tigers’ dominance over the Tribe last season at face value.  They beat the Indians in every way imaginable; it was de-moralizing, and I’m saying that from the couch.  It took a couple of at-bats, but Miguel Cabrera went from looking positively lost against Danny Salazar to taking the Cleveland phenom and his team out of the win column with an opposite field home run.

 

Prince Fielder and Victor Martinez took their whacks at Indians pitching too, but the worst part was getting beat by the likes of Don Kelly and Alex Avila.  It never mattered; Detroit just had an answer for masterful pitching and an abundance of offense.  For the third year in a row, the Tigers refused to run away with the division, and the Indians stuck around a little bit longer than Manny Acta could ever motivate them to do, but one number is deceiving, the one game that separated first and second place in the American League Central Division.

 

Even Tito would tell you that Detroit shut it down in the regular season as soon as they had it locked up.  Kudos to the Indians for winning ten in a row to keep it interesting, but Leyland and his team had little interest in winning any of the games in the team’s final series in Miami to end the season.  They’ll have plenty of interest in feasting on the Indians and anyone else on the slate early, but the wins may not come so easy at Comerica this season.

 

Max Scherzer has two different color eyes and a Cy Young Award, which he’ll have plenty of time to shine on Opening Day since Brad Ausmus has decided Justin Verlander gets the ball.  In reality, he’s earned it, and the fact that the reigning Cy Young winner is deferring his Opening Day start suggests just how good the Tigers are at the top of the rotation.  Is there real depth there, considering Rick Smith decided it was time to gamble on Drew Smyly to replace Doug Fister, and you never know what type of Rick Porcello you’re going to get, no matter how well Anibal Sanchez pitches.

 

There’s no question there’s a “Spahn and Sain, and pray for rain” element to the pitching staff, but Detroit is built for a slug-fest.  Fortunately, you’re not going to see Ian Kinsler replace Fielder’s power, and you lose something in the batting order with Jose Iglesias replacing Jhonny Peralta.

 

That said, they’re still the best team on paper, and no one should expect them to lie down and die, but they are beatable.  The Tribe doesn’t stand a chance against this team on paper, but if they can get it done on the field more often than not, as they did in 2012, it could be the difference.  In any event, you wouldn’t bet your life against the team’s first Central Division title since 2007, even if you wouldn’t bet your life on it actually happening.

 

Kansas City

 

It would probably be borderline disrespectful to call the Central Division a two-horse race, and I’m not prepared to give the Royals any “nobody believes in us” motivation.  The Royals have arguably been better than the Tribe in recent years, and we’ve just been waiting for the young pitching to come up.  You might say Royals management jumped the cycle last year in offering Wil Myers for James Shields to be their ace, a short term solution.

 

You might say I’ve believed the hype, but I’ve been holding my breath for so long, waiting on this team to surge, that I’m ready to exhale.  The Royals are relevant, but there may not be much more they can do with Ned Yost.  But, just because I’d classify the Royals as more pretender than contender, that doesn’t mean the Indians can sleep on these guys, who are fully capable of playing spoilers.  However, if this team preaches “Unfinished Business” and then comes out lackadaisical against a lesser opponent, they don’t deserve to watch the World Series, let alone play in it.

 

The AL Beasts

 

While I don’t love having the eastern seaboard shoved down my throat by ESPN, I can’t deny that division in the east plays some of the best American League baseball there is.   Toronto has made a lot of noise, but I’m not sure they’ve really said anything.  The Orioles made a statement in 2012, but played themselves out of the October fun last September, so they cut the check this winter to give Buck Showalter a better crack at keeping up with the Joneses, or at least the Farrels and Maddons.

 

Speaking of cutting the check, the team that has the reputation for it no longer boasts the game’s highest payroll.  That shifted over to the left coast and belongs to the Dodgers, but the Yankees aren’t exactly on what you’d call a “fixed income”, though they are cutting back from money not being an object.  The next generation of Steinbrenner is a little more frugal and they haven’t demonstrated the baseball know-how, to boot.  Frankly, they aren’t the player they once were, but Tampa Bay has picked up the slack for that.

 

Indians fans learned all too well just what the Rays have brought to the table since dropping the “Devil” from their name.  If you throw out the attendance issues they have on Florida’s Gulf Coast, outside of Tampa-proper, Joe Maddon’s team is everything we want the Indians to be, a system full of homegrown assets netted by good drafting and selling high on young talent.  It’s probably worth mentioning that they’ve yet to win a title, but they’ve managed to stay consistent, despite noticeable roster turnover.  Someone that looks at the Indians and Rays in a vacuum would tell you the Rays “deserve” to get back to the Fall Classic more; the Indians can only overcome that by being better when the games are actually played.  That means beating Tampa head-to-head, something they were obviously unable to do it at home when it counted most; don’t think anyone on last year’s roster will soon forget that.

 

California, Here We Come

 

With Thursday’s 3-2 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks at Salt River Fields, the Tribe is done in Arizona, and on to California, they will play games that count, beginning Monday after a pair of exhibition games with the Padres at the University of San Diego.  The Friars will visit them at Progressive Field in a few weeks, but the Tribe won’t be playing any games at PETCO Park this summer.  They will return to the Golden State later in April to play the Angels and Giants, but after a three-game set at Dodger Stadium as we turn the calendar from June to July will be the last time the schedule dictates the Tribe goes California dreamin’ this year.

 

However, if October is in the cards for this team, and I obviously believe it is, you can be fairly sure that they will be going (going) back (back) to Cali (Cali).  The Padres figure to be better in the National League West this season, but I won’t waste anyone’s time entertaining a Padres-Indians World Series.  On the other hand, the Giants and Dodgers figure to merit a reasonable wager to win the National League West, and perhaps the entire National League.

 

Dodger Stadium and AT&T Park haven’t been too kind to the Sons of Geronimo, but Asdrubal Cabrera is the only one that remains from the team’s last trip to Chavez Ravine in 2008.  So, those inter-league games might be a solid preview for the World Series games the Tribe would have to play on the road.

 

Obviously, it’s putting the cart in front of the horse to talk about the World Series without talking about everything that stands in the way of it, especially in California, where it’s do or die time for Jerry DiPoto in Anaheim after shelling out the cash to give Scioscia a chance to bring Orange County its first World Series since 2002.  The Angels are another one of those teams that should be better, maybe even better than the Tribe, on paper, but have underachieved for one reason or another.  That’s going to fall on Scioscia, and likely DiPoto too, if they can’t get it done, whether that’s fair or not.

 

Back to the wet blankets for a moment, I can pinpoint the moment “they” would have used to take it all away from us, if they somehow would have made it happen in 2013.  How about that home run at home that would have given the A’s a chance to avoid the sweep last May?  Adam Rosales home run-turned-double off Chris Perez survived a replay challenge in a game the Indians won 4-3, instead of being prolonged had Rosales’ blast tied the game.  Considering the Indians had to win ten straight to make the post-season without having to play a 163rd or 164th regular season game, anyone has anything to say about a single game in a 162-game season actually has a leg to stand on.

 

As it turns out, Bob Melvin’s squad didn’t need that win anyway.  They won the West for the second straight year, despite what Texas was supposed to be, coming off consecutive American League pennants in 2010 and 2011.  Oakland’s problem during Billy Beane’s tenure in the front office has always been the challenge of winning a 5-game series, and it plagued them against last year, despite having the Tigers on the ropes, they lost in 5 game to Detroit in the American League Division Series.  While I have an enormous amount of respect for Boston, Tampa, and Detroit, it’s not out of line to suggest the American League’s two best teams might be showcased at O.co Coliseum in the season’s opening series.

 

The Ghosts of October’s Past

 

It’s that time of year that you’ll hear the term “chalk”, usually in reference to the most obvious picks on our NCAA Basketball brackets, but the term is universal, and in this context I’d say a St. Louis-Boston World Series re-match is possible, while certainly not inevitable.  Besides, Boston can’t be in the World Series if Cleveland is winning it.  But, both of these teams present themselves as a tough out.  You could say the Cardinals outplayed everyone on the Red Sox roster except for David Ortiz last year, but I’d consider it the Red Sox finding a way to win.

 

I could preach day and night about the emotional high the Red Sox rode all year after the Patriots Day Tragedy, but the bottom line is they were better than the Indians last year.  They were better than everyone.  I will say this though; Terry Francona will forever be connected to those Red Sox, but he won’t stand for having his former team dominating him year in and year out.  There’s nothing scientific to back that up, just speculation that a desire not to lose will result in wins and a championship.

 

If there’s any team I’d prefer the Indians avoid from the Senior Circuit, it’s the St. Louis Cardinals, the National League Champion in 2004, 2006, 2011, and 2013.  Since 1992, the Redbirds are undefeated in the World Series when they don’t play Boston.  They’re a classy organization that figures out how to win, even when they lose big money talent.

 

One thing is for sure, if the Indians encounter a team they can’t beat, they probably would strive to be like that team.  I know we would all enjoy some solid structure in all ranks of the organization.  However, none of it would serve as any type of consolation for not getting it done.

 

Luck

 

It plays a factor, no question.  Luck puts you on the right side of that bad call on May 8th.  Luck means quick healing for Michael Bourn, a level head on Nyjer Morgan in his understudy role, and for overwhelming Spring Training success to translate to regular season prowess for Justin Masterson and Michael Brantley.  It means motivated play in walk years for Masterson and Asdrubal Cabrera, the aforementioned need for bounce-back years from Bourn and Swisher, Carlos Santana transitioning smoothly to third base defensively, minimal regression from Yan Gomes and Jason Kipnis after solid 2013 seasons, and good work from this bullpen full of new faces.

 

You never want to root for injury, but it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world if Max Scherzer and/or Justin Verlander spent some time on the Disabled List.  The same goes for any of the big bats in the American League Central Division, starting with Miguel Cabrera and Billy Butler.  We’re all excited for Danny Salazar, but it’s going to take some luck for him to survive the growing pains of not being quite so over-powering once opposing hitters get a few looks at him in person as the film on him builds up.

 

We want Corey Kluber and Zach McAllister to grow into their roles as regulars in the rotation.  Carlos Carrasco needs to keep his head on straight, and if not, Josh Tomlin will be thrown into the fire.  My high expectations for the team aside, the bar has to be set low for Tomlin who hasn’t pitched in a Major League in some time.  If Trevor Bauer can figure it out to be an effective spot starter at worst, or the second coming of 1997 Jaret Wright at best, we can be very happy in the cold as the floats travel down Euclid Avenue this November.

 

 

That’s all I’ve got for you this week.  In fact, this is going to be my last Sunday column on the site for a while.  More Than A Fan: Cleveland is in very capable hands with the other writers on the site.  Continue to enjoy their brilliance as they take you on the ride to glory with the Tribe while giving you the very best takes on the Cleveland Browns, Cavaliers, and Lake Erie Monsters.

 

Enjoy the time you have to kill between now and next weekend.  Thanks for reading and stay well.

 

 

 

 

2014 Spring Training Wrap-Up: The Tale of the Carloses

As the Tribe enters the final weekend of spring training, the final adjustments have been put in place: How will they play out as we open the 2014 season?

 

Since my last correspondence, the Indians have made a lot of announcements and adjustments.

 

Specifically, the Tribe has named former starting catcher, Carlos Santana, the starting third baseman and rounded out the rotation by naming hot-headed Carlos Carrasco the 5th starter. Additionally, the Tribe rounded out its bullpen with pitchers Scott Atchison and Blake Wood.

 

When it was announced on March 25th that Santana was going to be the everyday third baseman, I can’t say I wasn’t utterly shocked. In terms of a “metric based decision”, this move is possibly the stupidest thing that has happened since Chris Perez was kept on the playoff roster last season. The following table shows several spring training statistics for both Big Lon and ‘Los:

 

Michigan Kansas State
27th
138.6
yds/gm
Rushing Def
37th
144.9
yds/gm

60th
228.0
yds/gm
Passing Def
49th
222.6
yds/gm

33rd
366.6
yds/gm
Total Def
36th
367.5
yds/gm

66th
26.5
Scoring Def
35th
23.7

 

The only statistics in which Santana did better than Chisenhall were strikeouts, doubles, and walks. Of those respective categories, he only did better by 5, 1, and 1 respectively. If we put our “big picture” hat on, we notice that these statistics were compiled in spring training over the course of approximately 20 games. Additionally, both Santana and Chisenhall saw the plate an average of 62 times over the course of spring training; hardly a big enough sample size in to make an accurate call either way.

 

That being said, I don’t know how Tito can ignore Lonnie’s production during the spring. He’s currently hitting a slashline of .316/.391/.561. Last year, Lonnie’s UZR (widely used, all-encompassing defensive statistic) was -4.6 which places him below average, but not a ridiculously bad below average 3B. I can only think that when Tito made the decision to make Carlos Santana the starting 3B, he took into account Santana’s ability as a defensive third baseman rather than his slow start at the plate in spring training.

 

This could be a blessing in disguise for the Indians and they don’t even know it yet. Imagine a world where Carlos Santana hits a solid .260 (similar to last year), knocks in 75 RBIs, and plays third base at an above-average rate. Now, pair that with Lonnie having an insanely above average year in which he continues to hit .300+ and hits for power. Not only can we count on winning a few more games in the aggregate because of Santana’s defensive play, but we can also count on winning and additional 4-6 games in the aggregate with regard to Lonnie’s WAR.

 

Baseball is, in essence, a mixture of statistics and psychology. Since we have already gone over the statistics of the decision, let’s talk about the psychology of the decision.

 

Giving third base to Santana, if anything, helps to build his confidence as he still gets the feel for the position. Santana’s biggest problem has always been his head. When he gets out of sorts, his swing lengthens, he reaches at pitches out of the zone, and tends to pull the ball. Maybe Tito is attempting to build up his former catcher so that Santana can begin to see the good in himself early and learn to shake things off better than he did as a catcher. As for Lonnie, while it has to be a big blow to lose his job to Santana, I can only think that Tito sat him down and told him that his production this spring has been fantastic and that the team won’t go anywhere without his bat as a DH. Additionally, it is a given that Lonnie can come in as a defensive substitution to give Santana a blow in addition to giving Santana the day off as needed.

 

In the end, as much as I was baffled by the decision to start Santana at third, I don’t hate it. I think, if things work out for the better, it could win Tito Manager of the Year again. If there’s one thing everyone that follows baseball knows, it’s that Terry Francona knows his players back to front. I can’t help but think this is going to work out well for the Indians going forward into the 2014 Regular Season.

 

I wanted to quickly touch on the rotation being finalized as well –

 

A few weeks ago, I mentioned how I wouldn’t mind seeing Carrasco end up being the 5th man in the rotation against Trevor Bauer. Lucky for me, I was right as the Indians announced Carrasco would round out the rotation of Masterson, Kluber, McAllister, and Salazar. Bauer never could seem to get himself under control (again) this spring and it made it really hard to see him as the 5th starter over the surprisingly cool, calm, and collected Carlos Carrasco. Similar to Danny Salazar, Carrasco underwent TJS in 2012 and has been fighting to get back to the major league level since. While Carrasco has had his chances in the past, he has blown them either by a lack of consistency and quality starts or his temper (the latter more than the former).

 

I personally feel that the lack of strong leadership in the clubhouse and the lack of team chemistry aided Carrasco’s downfall over the past few years. Dichotomously, only he can attest for his horrid behavior that got him suspended on a number of occasions during those same years. Salazar and Carrasco have opportunities to prove that the prospects they are have been worth the Tribes’ investment. If anything, Carrasco should be looking to Salazar as a role model when it comes to handling the pressure of being a major league starter and the poise that has to accompany that role. Salazar has been nothing but a class act since he spot started against the Blue Jays last year and Carrasco could learn a thing or two from Danny going forward. Tito’s leadership and strong coaching staff in addition to people like Jason Giambi are a reminder of the chance Carrasco has as the 5th starter. I don’t see him wasting the opportunity. If he blows it due to his temper, it won’t be just him that he will see disappointed; it will be all of us fans, the organization, and his coaches.

 

As we head into the final weekend of spring training, I think the Indians are positioning themselves to be a dark horse to win the A.L. Central title. We have the coaching, team chemistry, offense, pitching, and defense to be successful. It all comes down to putting it together with a little bit of luck and a good record within the division. While I will be driving to Columbus on Monday night for an event the next morning, I will have the radio on as Hammy and Rosey open up the season in Oakland at 10:15.

 

Be safe this weekend and Go Tribe!