The Tribe cannot lose. They are still undefeated this spring. Ok, there is one blemish on their record now in the form of a tie, but Cleveland sits at 5-0-1 heading into today. The Indians are the only unbeaten team left in spring training. Of course, the winner and loser of these games means next to nothing, but Herm Edwards would agree that “you play to win the game.”
Spring is an interesting time. You want to believe that the stats have meaning. That great performances now will be repeated during the regular season. However, we all know that the performances in these games mean very little except for the few position battles on a team. The players that I have noticed this spring are Grady Sizemore, Wes Hodges, Shin-Soo Choo, Michael Brantley, and Lonnie Chisenhall. Add in solid performances from Aaron Laffey, Mitch Talbot, and David Huff. Now Choo and Sizemore really have nothing to prove, but it is nice to see 2/3 of our outfield knocking the ball around the field. Hodges has yet to become the player everyone thought, and now appears to be at a full position. Maybe he will produce at AAA this year and earn a September call up. Chisenhall is still a few years away from the bigs, but we might be getting our first glimpse of our future third basemen. His numbers are not eye popping, but I like what I see from the young kid. His knock has been his defense which should continue to improve in the minors. Brantley is making his case for the left field job. He is picking up right where he left off at the end of last year. If he continues to play this well in the spring, it will be very difficult to send him to Columbus to start the season. The final two spots in the rotation are still up for grabs. Guys like Laffey, Talbot, and Huff are going to have to continue to show their skills in order to grab one.
Manny Acta has said that Grady Sizemore will no longer hit leadoff for the Cleveland Indians. Instead Grady will bat second, with Asdrubal Cabrera leading off. I love this move. I always felt that Grady hit leadoff because that is where he was needed the most. It was really the best fit for him. He has above average power, but doesn’t hit for a great average and tends to strikeout more than your typical leadoff guy. Cabrera is going to be looking to build on a solid season last year. He batted over .300 on the year, even with a shoulder injury that sidelined him for awhile. Any way you can get Grady to the play with somebody on base is great. Hopefully some of those solo home runs will be two run shots instead. I say this was a smart move by Acta, and I hope it pays off.
That is the best way to describe the Cleveland Indians signing of Russell Branyan. Aside from the obvious reason that Branyan has struck out more than once per game for his entire career, the move seems to make little sense for the entire team. Branyan is coming off of his best season in the big leagues. Yet nobody really wanted him. I wonder why. It might have something to do with the fact that his best season in the bigs consisted of a .251 avg, 31 hr, 76 rbi, and 149 strikeouts in 116 games. Sure the home runs are great, but do those really make up for the rest of his game. Especially when you consider he isn’t driving many other runs. Branyan’s career .234 average scared most teams away, but not the Indians. They are expected to hand him the first base job.
And this is where I have a major problem. They guy is going to be given first base. Why? I do not want to watch Russell Branyan play everyday. I have seen him in the past and have no desire to watch him swing and miss. Not only will I have to watch him, but I, most likely, will not get to see Michael Brantley play everyday. Since Branyan will be playing first, Matt LaPorta and Brantley will battle for time in left. This means that there is a chance Brantley returns to Columbus for this season. Brantley was exciting in the majors last year, and I believe it will be a mistake to send him down. LaPorta is not an outfielder of the future. He belongs at first base and should be getting his work there this year. As a fan, I want to see what LaPorta and Brantley can do. They need to get experience because they are expected to be a part of the core of this ball club for years to come. Let Branyan platoon with Hafner and pinch hit when you need him. The Indians should have saved some cash and not signed Branyan.
Today, I woke up to a light snow covering. Temperatures in the high 20s, low 30s and not a sign of this thing called the sun. This is not atypical for a February day in Akron, OH, but what makes it difficult is the constant news about Spring Training. Sure it rained on the Indians in Goodyear yesterday, but today’s forecast is partly cloudy, high of 71. Don’t get me wrong I love baseball, and I love spring training. However, I can help but get frustrated when I think about all these baseball teams going south to play ball. I wish I was going with them. I have never been to spring training, but I did play some games in Florida when I was in high school. What a great feeling. You leave the snow and cold and get to play baseball under the sun.
This got me thinking. Everyone deserves spring training. For kids, its spring break off of school. However, often times here in Ohio, there is still snow on the ground during those “spring” breaks. A nice spring vacation would do just the trick. One day I will attend Indians spring training, because nothing signals the end of winter like baseball. The resources just aren’t available at this time. I vote that we just get one week of spring weather to help bridge the gap to the real spring season.
On Friday, the Indians agreed to terms with Russell Branyan. Yes, the same Russell Branyan who played for the team from 1998 through 50 games of 2002. Branyan and the Indians agreed to a contract worth up to 3 million this season with a mutual option for 5 million next year. Branyan is expected to see some time at first base.
This move makes for little sense to me. Branyan is a career .234 hitter. He is known for his uncanny ability to strikeout. Sure the guy has some pop in his bat, but why are the Indians giving this guy 2-3 million dollars. This move makes me think that the Indians do not believe that Matt LaPorta will be ready for the start of the season. However, instead of going out and getting Branyan, why don’t the Indians give Jordan Brown a chance. If LaPorta isn’t not ready right away, allow Brown to play first until he is. The other issue I have is that this move will potentially take at bats away from a healthy LaPorta or possibly Michael Brantley throughout the year. One scenario has LaPorta playing some left field, but I don’t really see that happening. I want both LaPorta and Brantley playing everyday. It’s been two seasons since we traded away CC Sabathia. He now has a world series ring, and we still don’t know what we got in return. When healthy, LaPorta should play everyday at first, and left field should be Brantley’s job to lose. This is a team who has said it does not plan to contend this season, so why not let the young kids play. Why sign Russell Branyan?
I do not like the signing of Russell Branyan, but it happened. Here is how I would like to see the Indians use Branyan. Branyan can fill in at first base when those occasional off days are needed. He can also be used as a pinch hitter when necessary. Who knows maybe he can hit a few big home runs for this team. Also, I think he will see some time at DH. It’s time for Hafner to step up and produce. If he is unable to do so, then I give Branyan a shot at the DH. Hopefully, one of those two can produce some home runs and RBIs.
Spring has finally come. Pitchers and catchers have to officially report today. Well, actually they all don’t, just some of them. Those teams who are reporting today include the Orioles, Cubs, Reds, Rockies, Royals, Angels, Yankees, Phillies, Pirates, Cardinals, Giants, and Mariners. All the other team’s pitchers and catchers report this week or weekend, except for one team. That one team is the Cleveland Indians. Sure they report on Monday only one day after 4 other teams, but that one day might drive me nuts. I am so excited for spring training and now I have to sit through 5 days of others teams stories until the Indians report. This is obviously not a major deal, but as a fan who cannot wait for the spring, making me wait until last is not entirely fair.
I am not too familiar with the way Manny Acta manages. I’m interested to see they way he manages the bullpen, the everyday lineup, and especially in game situations. Will he hit and run? Will he sacrifice bunt? And above all the rest, will he steal bases? I hope he is more aggressive stealing bases than Wedge. I want to see the Indians put pressure on other teams with some speed.
In fact, I am going to make a prediction about the 2010 season. The Cleveland Indians will steal more than 100 bases this year.
This will be quite a feat if I am proved correct. The last time the Indians stole over 100 bases was in the 2000 season. That year they stole 113 bases as a team. The were led by Roberto Alomar with 39, Kenny Lofton with 30, and Omar Vizquel with 22. Yes, those guys were still Indians the last time Cleveland stole 100 bases. And since 2000, the only other year they came close was 2004. They stole 94 bases that year with Matt Lawton stealing 23, Coco Crisp stealing 20, Omar Vizquel stealing 19, and Jody Gerut stealing 13. This is also the only year, aside from 2000, in which they were above the league average. Last season the league average was 99 and they were well under that with 84 steals. This is their numbers of steals in order starting with last season through 2000: 84, 77, 72, 55, 62, 94, 86, 52, 79, 113.
So why do I think this team will steal 100 bases. It’s simple, the personnel. Last season, the Indians stole 84 bases. Now that is well shy of 100, but you have to remember that Grady was not healthy, nor did he play a full season. Ben Francisco also accounted for 13 of those steals and he is no longer around. However, when I look at this season, the numbers make sense. Grady Sizemore is good for 30+ (maybe even 40). Shin-Soo Choo stole 21 bases and was only caught twice last season. I count him in for at least 20 again this season. Asdrubal Cabrera will make the jump to the 20s after stealing 17 a year ago. These 3 along put you somewhere between 70-80 steals. Then add in Micheal Brantley. He has the speed and ability to get 20 steals himself, even in his rookie year. After these four guys, you will get a few steals here and there from a guy like Crowe and you have reached the century mark. The Indians have a shot at stealing 100 bases this season. The managerial style and health are going to play huge roles in this being accomplished, but I am going on record as saying they will do it.
There is a really possibility that, at some point this season, the Indians could send out four infielders, a pitcher and a catcher whose last names all end with the letter a.
1B- Matt LaPorta
2B- Luis Valbuena
3B- Jhonny Peralta
SS- Asdrubal Cabrera
SP- Fausto Carmona
C- Carlos Santana
Now this will probably won’t occur until late in the season, because Santana is projected to start at Triple AAA. This really doesn’t mean anything, but I just found it interesting. I think I might be a bit bored.
Yeah, baseball needs to start.
The main reason the Indians are not expected to compete in 2010 is their starting rotation. 1-7 all have questions to answer. Unfortunately those questions do not include, “Can they win another Cy Young this season.” Heading into spring training it is unclear as to who will make the rotation. The guys in the running are Jake Westbrook, Fausto Carmona, Justin Masterson, Aaron Laffey, Mitch Talbot, Jeremy Sowers, and David Huff. The top three appear to have their spots, leaving the other four to compete for two spots.
Although Westbrook, Carmona, and Masterson seem to have their spots in the rotation, questions remain. Is Westbrook fully healthy? Will he be able to pitch they way he once did? Even if he returns to his old form. He is not a number one guy. He will be the ace of the staff, but he won’t be an ace like Lee or Sabathia. For Carmona, the questions are obvious. Can he return to his 2007 form, was that a one year wonder? Can he consistently throw strikes and limit his walks? These are two huge questions. This is your number two guy, and you really don’t know what to expect. That is not a good sign. Masterson will be entering his first full year as a starter. He pitched fairly well in that role last season. Will he be able to use the off-season and spring training preparation to develop into a quality starter? I believe so, but time will tell.
After those three it really anybody’s guess. For me, I go with Laffey and Huff. Laffey has struggled a bit with injuries, but still believe he can do good things. He is a little inconsistent, but his last four starts last year were decent. I think he deserves a rotation spot, and so does Huff. Huff won 11 games as a rookie last season after coming up. His ERA was high because of a few games were he just got bombed. Again it was his first year in the bigs. He was inconsistent just like Laffey, but also finished strong in the last month of the season. His performance should give him the first look at the fifth rotation spot. As for the other two, Sowers and Talbot, they are out of minor league options and that might play a factor in the rotation. I do not know much about Talbot. He has only started one game in the bigs, so I’m not sure how he goes right into the rotation. This is a guy who I need to see pitch before really deciding what to do with him. As for Sowers, he has had his chance to prove himself and not succeeded. 18-30 with a 5.18 ERA in 71 career starts. Those numbers speak for themselves as he appears to be a long cry from rookie year. His problem last year was that he could go five or so innings, and they would get bombed. That is why I put him in the bullpen as a long relief guy. He can give you 2, 3, or 4 innings if need be. Spring Training will go a long way in deciding the Indians 2010 rotation, but for me I would have Westbrook, Carmona, Masterson, Laffey, and Huff in the rotation with Sowers and Talbot in the bullpen.
When you get 15 inches of snow, baseball is not the first thing you think about. However, the Super Bowl is over and spring training is right around the corner. Soon this snow will be gone, and Major League Baseball will be in full swing, just not soon enough.
Anyways, Terry Pluto of the Plain Dealer had a few interesting tidbits about the Tribe in his column today. First, he said that the Tribe was keeping their eyes on Jermaine Dye. His is still unsigned mostly due to concerns about injuries. He recently turned down an offer from the Cubs for 3.3 million dollars. He obviously would not fit into the outfield picture (see Sizemore, Choo, Brantley) but Terry says that Cleveland is considering him for first base. He also mentions Johnny Gomes and Russell Branyan as two other names. To me none of this makes sense. I know that Matt LaPorta may not be ready to go at the beginning of the year, but I don’t see why you would sign Dye for that role. LaPorta deserves to play once he is healthy and Dye or another first basemen would only be a high priced fill in. Jordan Brown should get a shot at first if LaPorta isn’t ready to start the year. I always don’t see the Tribe giving up a couple million dollars for a guy who isn’t going to play everyday. Terry points this out himself with an interesting statistic. The Tribe will have the lowest payroll in the AL Central this year at 65 million. That’s pathetic. That’s embarrassing. Just like the rumors that Cleveland was interested in Orlando Hudson, I don’t see Jermaine Dye becoming an Indian. Sure, the team would love to add a quality player, but they simply are not willing to pay for one.