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Six years gone

Eric Wedge

2009 wasn’t supposed to go like this for the Cleveland Indians. After getting off to a terrible start in 2008, the Indians rallied to finish the year 81-81, with the help of some promising young talent from Buffalo. The 2009 Indians brought back Cy Young winner Cliff Lee, added free agents Mark DeRosa, Kerry Wood and Joe Smith, and were poised to compete in the weak AL Central division.

It didn’t work out that way. Whether it was injuries, ineffectiveness, or just plain bad luck, the 2009 Indians had their worst season in almost 20 years. When you assess a season like this, where do you begin? My review of the 2009 Indians is after the jump.


Victor Martinez

Another day, another franchise-altering deal. With the Cliff Lee trade, I was a little disappointed. But I’ll be honest: the trade of Victor Martinez makes me mad.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand why the trade was made. Victor Martinez has the most HR and RBIs of any catcher in the last six years, he was due to be a free agent after the 2010 season, and he’s in his prime. Thus, the trade value for Martinez right now may be as high as it will ever be.

But there’s a problem: Boston needed him.

  • Jason Varitek (the current Red Sox catcher) is past his prime.
  • David “The Cheat” Ortiz doesn’t hit with the same power anymore (The Man cut off his stash).
  • Manny Ramirez is gone.
  • The Yankees not only play in a stadium where they can score runs almost at will, their lineup is stacked with the highest 1-2 home run total players since May 8 (A-Rod and Texeira).
  • The Rays, after starting slowly, are back in the thick of things and only a few games back in the wild card.

This wasn’t a trade Boston was making to get incrementally better, it was a trade Boston had to make to survive into October. Therefore, they should have paid dearly.

And they didn’t.

3 prospects, one of which was Major League ready. Rumor was, the Indians wanted Clay Buchholz too (he threw a no-hitter for Boston in 2007) among others. If Martinez wasn’t going anywhere this offseason anyway, and Boston needed him, why didn’t Shapiro set his terms and say, “that’s the deal, take it or leave it”?

Anyone else feel like Shapiro just panicked? That he felt like he had to get something for him and took an offer? Here’s a guy who would have cost the Indians $7.1 million next year. Sure, he’s only a .297 career hitter. Sure, he only has the most home runs and RBIs of any catcher in the last six years. Sure, he was the team leader and only All-Star this year. Sure, he said he wanted to retire in Cleveland (at the All-Star break, mind you, when the Indians hadn’t yet went on this recent 7-3 tear) and maybe could have been convinced into staying past 2010.

When Cliff Lee was traded, he was a little bit disappointed or apprehensive, but other than that largely indifferent. He was a professional while he was here and I’m confident he’ll be a professional in Philadelphia too; a perfect team player. As I watched video of Martinez by his locker for the last time yesterday, I realized he wasn’t just a team player; he was a Cleveland Indian.

Clearly, Martinez was someone who just had to be gotten rid of while the iron was hot.

Maybe someday Shapiro will prove me wrong, and the three guys we got will turn into cornerstone, franchise players. But today, I’m mad about it., because it feels like the Indians treated one of the classiest guys in the game and most important guy on the team like garbage. And that’s not how it should work.

Back to normal in Arizona

Now that Japan has beat South Korea in the final game of the World Baseball Classic, the rest of Major League Baseball can go back to preparing for the upcoming season. It seems like we’ve been in Spring Training forever, and we still have almost two weeks left (well, thirteen days). Nonetheless, it’s been a while since talking about our favorite baseball team, so here we go.

  • The pitching rotation, while inconsistent, seems to be taking shape. Cliff Lee, after a couple rocky outings, pitched a solid five innings the other day, and he seems like he’s getting into form in time for his first Opening Day start ever (which, incidentally, will be the Indians’ first Opening Day since 2001 that C.C. Sabathia didn’t start). Fausto Carmona had an injury scare, but it seems like he’ll be alright and he has had a good spring so far. Anthony Reyes, who figures to be the #3 starter, pitched well on Saturday and has had a strong spring.

    The other two slots are less certain, but my guess is that you’ll see Carl Pavano and Aaron Laffey rounding out the Indians rotation at the outset of the season, with Scott Lewis as the Indians’ #6 starter at AAA Columbus. Jeremy Sowers hasn’t been bad, but he hasn’t been good enough to merit a try in the rotation yet either.

    The good news for the Indians is that really, only one of those two starters needs to be good for the whole year: the Indians will get some reinforcements hopefully by the All-Star Break when Jake Westbrook comes back from Tommy John surgery (he threw off of a mound the other day, which is major progress, although he’s still at least two months away from being ready).

  • The Indians are convinced that Travis Hafner is on his way back, but it’s hard not to be worried as he posts a .143 average with no home runs. The Indians say he is driving the ball well in batting practice, and hope that will translate to the field soon. Realistically, I don’t know how much we can expect from Hafner this season, but I’d be happy thrilled with about 80-90 RBIs, 20 HR and a reasonable on-base percentage (think Kelly Shoppach numbers).
  • Mark DeRosa and Shin Soo Choo made it back from the World Baseball Classic without any injuries. This is the best news the Indians could hope for, as both of them were in it for a very long time. Rafael Perez was in the WBC as well, but he was part of the Dominican Republic team that was eliminated very early on.
  • The Indians’ bullpen hasn’t been all great. Kerry Wood has been excellent when he’s pitched (3 IP, 2 SO, 0.00 ERA), as has Rafael Perez (5 IP, 4 SO, 1.80 ERA) and Jensen Lewis (6 IP, 6 SO, 0.00 ERA). Beyond that, the numbers don’t look as good for Rafael Betancourt (5 IP, 7.20 ERA) and Masahide Kobayashi (5 IP, 14.4 ERA). I think Betancourt will be okay: he’s a pitcher that relies on spotting his fastball incredibly well, and he’s still tuning that. Kobayashi I’m a little bit more worried about, as he’s had a miserable spring the year after pitching a career high in innings. I think it’ll be up to guys like Tony Sipp, Greg Aquino, and Joe Smith to shoulder more of the load.
  • Josh Barfield’s not having the best spring at the plate, but he’s proven that he can be a good replacement to Sizemore in the outfield and can play other positions around the infield as well. If he can ever figure out how to hit consistently, Barfield will be an excellent and valuable player.
  • Indians’ outfielders Grady Sizemore, Matt LaPorta, Ben Francisco and Michael Brantley are having excellent springs at the plate. I’d be very surprised if we don’t see LaPorta sometime in July, with Dellucci being designated for assignment at some point.
  • Jhonny Peralta is killing it at the plate, with Asdrubal Cabrera having a solid spring as well. It’ll be interesting to see what happens should Josh Barfield earn more playing time.
  • Victor Martinez looks fully healthy and is swinging the bat well, with a couple of homers already this spring.

All I can say is, I’m ready for Opening Day. Hopefully opening the season in Texas this year will let the Indians get off to a hotter start offensively without any injuries (take it slow, Victor, take it slow) and the bullpen and rotation will come around. As far as the inaugural Goodyear Spring Training is going, you can’t hope for much more (except for maybe Travis Hafner starting to hit. Please).

The swagger is back

There haven’t been many times this year where I’ve said, “this feels like the 2007 Indians.”

The 2007 Cleveland Indians were a team that never gave up. Especially near the end of the season, the game was never over until the last strike was recorded or the last out was made. I remember a couple games specifically where, with two outs in the ninth, Asdrubal Cabrera doubled (once off Joe Nathan, coincidentally, and once off of Joakim Soria) and the next batter, Travis Hafner, homered to tie the game and singled to tie the game, respectively.

And that was just scratching the surface. There was the legendary David Dellucci single up the middle off Todd Jones on June 1, 2007, giving the Indians a dramatic win against the Tigers. There was Jhonny Peralta, defiantly slamming a home run to right field off of the “toughest” reliever in the game, Joel Zumaya, in a crucial September game against the Tigers (actually, one year ago today: September 17, 2007). Who could forget Ben Francisco’s walk-off in his first major league start? What about Kelly Shoppach’s sprint-off? Or Casey Blake’s two walk-offs in the span of a week?

The 2007 Indians found a way to win. Games that looked over were always just one clutch hit away from being back in contention. This year, although the Indians won on Opening Day in similar fashion, the 2008 Indians seemed to find ways to lose.

Until July and August, this seemed to be the trend. In August, the Indians won ten in a row and built up some major confidence. And tonight, two of the Indians’ MVPs gave the Indians their swagger back:

I’d be lying if I said I was extremely confident about next season, but what’s happening now parallels what happened at the end of 2006: the Indians, rid of their aging veterans, made a late charge and posted a respectable second-half record.

And oh by the way, if the rest of the night wasn’t enough like 2007…

If that doesn’t start your Wednesday off with a smile, I’m not sure what will.

A trade of epic proportions

On May 15, the Indians had won three in a row, were three games above .500, and had first place all to themselves. Since then, the Tribe’s only won 26 more games and lost 43. The Indians have dealt their ace, lost their marquee catcher and powerful designated hitter to injury, and lost their closer who led the league in saves last year to a release.

Meanwhile, back on May 15, the Boston Red Sox were 24-19, a game behind the first-place Tampa Bay Rays. Most analysts figured the Rays would be back in their comfortable, familiar last place in a month or so. Since then, the Red Sox played just a game over .500, lost and regained David “Big Papi” Ortiz, and finally started to look like a mortal team.

The Red Sox are getting old, and there’s no one more exemplary of that fact than Jason Varitek. The team captain, he’s a switch hitting catcher who has been instrumental in both Red Sox World Series victories. Varitek is hitting an anemic .218 (that’s below even David Dellucci!) with only 25 extra-base hits all season. It’s becoming clear to me (and perhaps others as well) that Varitek is in the twilight of his solid career.

What I’m proposing is a trade, between the Boston Red Sox and the Cleveland Indians, in a move that could potentially help both teams. Let me just throw it out there first, and then I’ll explain it: in my trade, the Indians would get RHP Jonathan Papelbon, and the Red Sox would get C Victor Martinez.

Let’s look at it for a minute. The Indians need bullpen help, particularly a closer. Right now, except for perhaps Mariano Rivera, there is no better closer in baseball than Papelbon. Papelbon is young (he was a rookie in 2006) and thus does not come with an expensive pricetag. He’s got good stuff, including an explosive fastball and a dominant curveball, and has the “stuff” to be a closer (which basically means he’s lucky).

Victor Martinez, with Varitek, Posada and Rodriguez in decline, the best offensive catcher in the American League. He’s a little bit injury-prone, but he has a career batting average of .299 and slugs .463. He’s a team leader, which the Sox will need when Varitek retires. He’s great at calling a game and is defensively underrated.

Meanwhile, the Indians would have Kelly Shoppach as their starting catcher, who has shown in the last few weeks he can handle it. The Indians have depth in the organization at first base and catcher, so finding a backup would not be difficult. The Red Sox have pitchers like Hideki Okajima who could close, or prospects like Clay Bucholz who could do the job. Of course, they also have a gargantuan payroll that could be used to get the best closer money can buy.

Obviously this deal won’t happen. Both teams consider both players too valuable to deal. But it’s an interesting prospect, no?

It’s the final countdown…

Some therapeutic blogging before tomorrow’s AI exam steals my soul away.

  • In politics, the big news is the primaries tomorrow in Indiana and North Carolina; Hillary is up in Indiana, while Obama is up in North Carolina. A couple controversies the last few days and weeks have made this pretty much a deadlocked race.

    First, Rush Limbaugh is calling for all Republicans to vote Hillary Clinton, in what he calls “Operation: Chaos”. I agree with Rush Limbaugh a lot of the time (definitely not all the time), but Operation: Chaos seems destined for disaster. Anytime you try and influence your opponent without worrying about yourself is a bad idea – although, Rush may realize that John McCain doesn’t really have much to brag about, so this may be his only move.

    Second, the gas tax holiday. Totally agree with Barack Obama on this one – it’s a classic Washington move that’ll save us maybe $5, once. Instead of worrying about a gas tax holiday, let’s figure out how to keep gas prices down. I’d much rather pay $3 for gas all the time than $3.50 most of the time and not have to pay tax once.

  • The Indians are struggling, and it looks like they’re finally going to take my advice and call up Ben Francisco. If it were me, I’d try and package Andy Marte and Jason Michaels in a deal for some single-A prospects and call up Francisco and Josh Barfield to take their places. Ben Francisco may not be the ideal situation, but it’s better than having career role players Jason Michaels and David Dellucci handle left field – Michaels is a liability offensively, and Dellucci is a liability defensively.

    I hope Travis Hafner watches Baseball Tonight, because for the first time since last year I’ve seen video evidence as to why Travis Hafner is struggling. Steve Phillips (I know, right? Second time he’s said something smart… like, ever) pointed out that Hafner’s stance is incredibly spread out at the plate and that instead of keeping his hands up and driving the ball for line drives, he’s dropping his hands before he swings and thus either hitting fly ball outs or rolling over top and hitting grounders. He needs to get it going, particularly with Victor Martinez’s power outage of late.

Sorry about the lack of updates lately – hopefully after tomorrow (or maybe the next day, got a lot of stuff to move), I’ll be able to update more regularly.

My inaugural visit to Progressive Field

I went to my first Indians game of the year yesterday, against the New York Yankees. It wasn’t your typical first Indians game of the year: the Yankees were playing, I had a shiny new digital camera to play with, and the stadium was newly renamed and newly rebranded. I took some pictures, as well.

I got to the stadium about ten minutes before first pitch. I was handed my “Go Tribe” rally towel and made my way to my seat. My seats were in section 550, row H, offering a pretty nice view:

Yankees @ Indians 002

The Indians played pretty well, and we got a win out of it on Victor Martinez’s walk-off single (the Yankees have already shown some issues with pitching around guys; why pitch around Travis Hafner to get to Martinez?).

There were definitely more Indians fans than Yankee fans (whose annoyance is surpassed only by Red Sox Nation), but there was one stupid Yankees fan behind me (you know who you are). She seemed to be deeply impressed any time Ian Kennedy found the plate (a loud “NICE.” after every strike), and also seemed to think that saying “drop it, drop it, drop it” as loudly and as annoying as possible on the most routine ground balls would help the Yankees. Fortunately, on the other side of me, in the row behind me, was my favorite type of Indians fan: the loud, obnoxious fan who heckles the Yankees very creatively (Jason Giambi: “He needs some JUICE! JUICE HIM UP!”).

All in all, a good game. Sorry about the lack of posting lately, and for those of you from New York who thought I was dead: if I do die soon, I hope to get a blog post in beforehand explaining what goes to who and such. I’ll try to post something longer tomorrow.

The season started?

So, we’re still in the offseason…

April Fools!

Sorry, that was completely lame, I know. Let me get on to the real business, the brilliant analysis that you, my faithful readers, yearn for after a very exciting Opening Day in the Major Leagues.

Let me start by saying that our pitching (particularly the bullpen, particularly Rafael Perez) had better be better than they were today. And I’m sure they will be, but parts of today felt like 2004 and 2006 when it felt like no lead was safe.

From the second batter of the game, you could tell things weren’t quite in sync with our pitching, and the third batter of the game, Jim Thome hit his first home run of the season, a prototypical, 415-foot blast to right center. He hit another one later in the game, and I’ll say this: Thome looks good this year. Both home runs were hit off of Sabathia, a lefty, off of whom he had never got a hit (and then later in the game he hit a liner into the left-center field alley that Jason Michaels was barely able to run down). Thome looks about 5 years younger, somehow, and after watching today I’m looking for him to put up big numbers.

The Indians answered back after three consecutive singles by Martinez, Peralta and Garko, and after Cabrera hit into an RBI fielder’s choice, Franklin Gutierrez hit a curveball into the bleachers for a field goal. All of those players, particularly Gutierrez, I think will have good years and build upon what they started last year.

Later in the inning, Victor Martinez injured his hamstring sliding into second base. He walked off of the field okay, but hamstrings are tricky, especially for catchers, and I hope that injury isn’t one that takes him out of the action for very long.

Some mild controversy arose in the eighth after the White Sox hit consecutive doubles against Rafael Betancourt (who was really the only Indians pitcher to consistently throw strikes today). After an intentional walk loaded the bases, there was a play at the plate where Peralta’s throw home was wide, forcing Kelly Shoppach to make a sweep tag of Joe Crede coming home. I saw the replay – it’s hard to tell if the tag ever landed. But more importantly, Gerry Davis (the home plate umpire) was in no position to make that call correctly. Nothing he could do about that, but from his angle it would have been easy to say the tag hit Crede. The very next play, Jim Thome hit a broken bat grounder to second (the only ball he didn’t hit hard today) which Asdrubal Cabrera threw to Peralta to start the double play. Peralta was able to get one, but got tripped up around second because White Sox baserunner Orlando Cabrera attempted a red-card slide tackle. No question that was interference. I heard in various places that the White Sox TV broadcasters were screaming about how they got hosed on that call, but after looking at the replay I don’t think you can make that argument (even Ozzie Guillen conceded after the game that it was interference).

And in the end, Casey Blake (hear that Cara? CASEY BLAKE.) hit what turned into the game-winning double high off the wall in left, driving in three. After that interference call rightly went the Indians way in the top of the eighth I kind of knew the Indians would find a way to pull it out, and Casey Blake got the job done.

In the ninth, Joe Borowski didn’t get me any ERA fantasy points, but he did get the save, and that’s really all he needs to do. The save is just that – you’re saving your team from losing.

There were other games going on throughout the majors, I’ll touch on them a bit:

  • Brewers @ Cubs: I had this game on in my commercial surfing lineup. Anyone else notice how dark Wrigley looked today? That’s the darkest I’ve ever seen a baseball stadium in the day. I think it’s because they don’t turn the lights on at Wrigley for afternoon games. Kosuke Fukudome’s three run home run tied the game in the bottom of the ninth, but it wasn’t enough. The Brewers won, 4-3.
  • Mets @ Marlins: Some math for you: Good Pitcher + National League = Great Pitcher. Hence, Santana was dominant today against one of the worst lineups in the major leagues. Ho-hum.
  • Royals @ Tigers: Top to bottom, there is no getting around the fact that the AL Central is the best division in baseball. This is evidenced by the fact that the Royals, the projected last-place finishers by pretty much everyone, are actually a pretty good baseball team, and managed to beat the Tigers today. Alex Gordon hit an absolute bomb in this game.

Some other interesting tidbits:

  • I used to think that Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak would never be broken and was a once-in-a-lifetime anomaly. Apparently, it’s not. A really interesting article says that in pretty much every simulation of Major League Baseball for the last century, someone had a hitting streak of similar length, and one went as high as 109 games!
  • Quote of the Day, speaking of Joe DiMaggio:
    There is always some kid who may be seeing me for the first or last time. I owe him my best.

    Joe DiMaggio, CF, New York Yankees

For those of you who enjoy my political musings more than my baseball musings, I’ll be posting something from the political arena hopefully later today. Until then, go Tribe and boo Red Sox!