Keys to 2013: Cleveland Indians

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Starting Pitching Key: Ubaldo Jimenez

Usually when there’s a big trade of youth for an established veteran the trade can be judged within a year-and-a-half. Sometimes that judgment is floating and interchangeable. The problem with most deals is that there’s an immediate reaction of a “winner” and a “loser” before any of the players even get their uniforms on.

For the Rockies and Indians, who completed a big trade in the summer of 2011 with Jimenez going to the Indians for a package of youngsters including Drew Pomeranz, Alex White, Matt McBride and Joe Gardner, there has yet to be a payoff for either side.

For the Rockies, if Pomeranz doesn’t develop, the trade will be a disaster. I think he will, but he hasn’t yet. White was traded to the Astros; McBride is about to turn 28 and has the looks of a 4-A player. Gardner’s mechanics make him an arm injury waiting to happen; if he doesn’t get hurt, he’s a reliever.

It can be seen as the Indians didn’t give up much of anything for a former All-Star and third place finisher in the Cy Young Award voting, but now that they’re looking to contend, they need the Jimenez from 2010 or, at worst, 2009. He’s been awful from 2011 onward with an attitude to match and his ERA has risen by over 3 ½  runs since the end of June 2010 while his velocity has declined by 4-5 mph. Nobody’s expecting him to keep up an ERA under two, but over five? 92-94 is plenty enough fastball to be effective. He has a club option for 2014 at $8 million that he can void himself since he was traded mid-contract. If he’s as bad as he was over the past two seasons, the Indians will trade him at mid-season or sever ties after the season.

Relief Pitching Key: Chris Perez

Perez’s complaints about the Indians fans not caring and the front office not spending any money were assuaged this past winter, but he has to hold his end of the bargain up by getting the job done in the ninth inning. The Indians are better than they were, but they’re not good enough to afford blowing games in the late innings. To make matters more precarious, Perez’s status for opening day is in question because of a shoulder strain. He could also be traded if the Indians are underperforming and Vinnie Pestano indicates he can handle the job.

Offensive Key: Carlos Santana

For all the talk of Santana being an offensive force and the Dodgers making a huge mistake by trading him to get Casey Blake, he’s been something of a disappointment. Santana’s productive, but not the unstoppable masher he was supposed to be. If he’s able to be a competent defensive catcher then his current offensive numbers are fine; if he has to be shifted to first base, he’s a guy you can find on the market.

Defensive Key: Santana

Whether or not the Indians have the depth to contend is not known yet. I don’t think they do. Regardless with the new manager and the money they’ve spent, they have to be competent and that hinges on the pitching. The starting rotation behind Justin Masterson and Brett Myers are temperamental (Jimenez); young, difficult and have already yapped their way out of one venue (Trevor Bauer); and are scrapheap reclamation projects (Daisuke Matsuzaka and Scott Kazmir). Manager Terry Francona might look at Santana’s defense and realize he can’t win with him behind the plate. Santana at first base would make everyone else move to a different position and force a far weaker offensive catcher into the lineup in Santana’s place.

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The Ike Davis Trade Rumor Mania

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I would trade Ike Davis if I could get what I want for him. What I’d want for him would be a legitimate outfield bat like Justin Upton of the Diamondbacks; a package centered around Dustin Ackley and one of the Mariners’ young pitchers; or in a deal for the Rockies’ Dexter Fowler and Drew Pomeranz.

Lucas Duda is a better overall hitter than Davis, will hit 25-30 homers if he plays every day, hits lefties better, has a more discerning eye at the plate, can play first base well enough defensively, and hasn’t accrued—in a ridiculously short period of time—the reputation as a whiner and umpire-baiter as Davis has. Davis is streaky; Duda has a compact swing that would be resistant to long slumps.

This is not a controversy nor is it a new concept that the Mets would be willing to part with Davis. His name was bandied about as long ago as last winter when he was recovering from his ankle injury and before he was reported to have contracted Valley Fever. Back then, they wouldn’t have gotten much of anything for him other than a similarly talented player whose future was in doubt. Now, with a big power year, he’s a trade chip. Davis is a limited player who is not, under any circumstances, untouchable.

The frenzy over the Mets willingness to listen on Davis stems from where it came from and why. ESPNNewYork.com Mets beat writer Adam Rubin cited an unnamed source that implied the organization is unhappy with Davis’s unwillingness to listen to coaching suggestions and that he stays out too late after games. Rubin doesn’t say the source is anyone involved with the Mets, but the reaction on Twitter seemed to automatically think it did come from the Mets. Rubin’s piece says nothing of the sort. It says a “baseball source,” which could be anyone from anywhere.

There were even suggestions that the source doesn’t exist; that Rubin made it up to write the story. While there are so-called writers who would have no qualms about creating a phony source; talking to a team mascot outside the stadium and quoting him or her as an “employee” and “insider”; or making one up entirely (see Sherman, Joel of the Post, New York), I don’t believe Rubin would do that.

The conspiracy theories had grown to such loony proportions that it was only a matter of time before Rubin took refuge at the Ecuadorean Embassy seeking asylum from his pursuers a la Julian Assange.

There’s an irrational hatred of the Mets that is difficult to understand and much of it stems from their own beat writers (not Rubin) and those who classify themselves as “lifelong Mets fans” such as Howard Megdal, yet take joy in attacking the organization no matter what they do. Did someone from the Mets drop this nugget to Rubin to send a message to Davis? If so, it’s highly doubtful that they haven’t said it to Davis privately. Putting it out there publicly could be a message for Davis to tone it down. Or it could’ve come from someone who’s not involved with the Mets at all and is relating what he’s been told as the club lays the foundation for a possible trade. It might be speculation based on whispers floating in the air.

We don’t know.

There’s a freedom inherent with using an unnamed source and the reaction tends to be mindless and agenda-laden. If you read what Rubin wrote, there’s no case to finding a guilty party with the Mets, but like the game of telephone, it grew in intensity as if something was said by someone, somewhere and no one knows who, what, or why.

The ancillaries are meaningless. The facts are highly relevant. And the facts are that while the story has veered off into a direction of blame and accusation centered around the Mets and Rubin, trading Davis is a viable idea that the Mets should pursue if they can get what they need to make themselves better.

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Off Season Losers In Retrospect

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Several days ago I listed the off season winners in retrospect discussing teams and the moves they made this past winter. Now it’s time for the losers.

New York Yankees

Acquired: Michael Pineda, Raul Ibanez, Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte, Jose Campos

Subtracted: Jorge Posada, A.J. Burnett, Jesus Montero, Hector Noesi

The YES Network website still hasn’t mentioned Jose Campos since he got hurt. For that matter, nor have they mentioned Manny Banuelos’s recent injury. Maybe they haven’t been informed yet. Yeah. That’s it.

The trade of Montero and Noesi for Pineda and Campos is an absolute and utter disaster—a fireable offense for GM Brian Cashman.

Kuroda’s been good and unlucky.

Pettitte’s unexpected return has been a bolt from the blue and Ibanez has contributed the power I expected.

It’s fine to talk about them “having” to get rid of Burnett, but they’re paying him; they got low minor leaguers for him; he’s pitching well for the Pirates; and the players the Yankees got haven’t played yet in 2012. Had Pettitte not returned I guarantee there would be people now lamenting the loss of Burnett.

Guarantee.

Boston Red Sox

Acquired: GM Ben Cherington, Manager Bobby Valentine, Andrew Bailey, Ryan Sweeney, Cody Ross, Kelly Shoppach, Mark Melancon, Nick Punto

Subtracted: GM Theo Epstein, Manager Terry Francona, Jonathan Papelbon, Marco Scutaro, Josh Reddick, Tim Wakefield, Jason Varitek

It’s only when you look at the list above all at once do you realize how rancid an off-season the Red Sox had. Never mind the exchange of GMs/managers. Had he stayed, Epstein probably would’ve had better success fending off the advancing power grab of Larry Lucchino but it would’ve taken a Herculean effort for Epstein to prevent the mediocrity that the Red Sox have become.

I’m sick of seeing Francona complaining about how he was treated in Boston. If it weren’t for the Red Sox, the hot chicks to whom he’s sending candid photos of himself wouldn’t know who he is; not to mention would he not have two World Series rings and respect as a “great” manager—which he’s not.

Bailey got hurt as Reddick is on his way to making the All Star team and has been the Athletics’ best player. Melancon is back in the minor leagues; Shoppach is on the trade block; Ross was playing well before he got hurt; Punto is Punto.

No one’s saying they should’ve overpaid to keep Papelbon, but giving Scutaro away for a journeyman righty Clayton Mortensen made no sense.

Detroit Tigers

Acquired: Prince Fielder, Octavio Dotel, Gerald Laird, Collin Balester

Subtracted: Wilson Betemit, Brad Penny, Magglio Ordonez, Carlos Guillen, Joel Zumaya

Fielder and Cabrera are doing their jobs at the plate and more. The porous defense created by the signing of Fielder and shifting of Cabrera to third base hasn’t been as catastrophic as expected. That’s unless the pitching staff has it in their heads that they have to strike out more hitters or pitch differently to prevent balls from being hit to the right or left sides of the infield—highly unlikely.

The Tigers are 5 games under .500 because their pitching has been bad. The off-season isn’t a failure because of the signing of Fielder, but 5 games under .500 wasn’t what Mike Ilitch had in mind when he paid all that money to sign a huge bat like Fielder to replace Victor Martinez and team him with Cabrera.

Minnesota Twins

Acquired: GM Terry Ryan, Josh Willingham, Jamey Carroll, Jason Marquis, Ryan Doumit, Joel Zumaya

Subtracted: GM Bill Smith, Joe Nathan, Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel, Kevin Slowey

Terry Ryan was supposed to come back into the GM’s chair and start doing things the “Twins’ Way”. Well, that “way” is no longer working. The reason that vaunted “way” worked in the past was because they had talent on the roster and a club that was built for how Ron Gardenhire managed.

That’s no longer the case.

Marquis was released. Carroll hasn’t hit. Willingham’s been fantastic. The Zumaya signing was worth a shot I suppose, but he got hurt again. What he needs now is a friend—a real friend—to tell him that it’s over and he should retire before he damages himself permanently.

Maybe that’s what the Twins need too.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Acquired: GM Jerry Dipoto, Albert Pujols, C.J. Wilson, Chris Iannetta, Jason Isringhausen, LaTroy Hawkins

Subtracted: GM Tony Reagins, Fernando Rodney, Jeff Mathis, Tyler Chatwood

Pujols has started hitting and the Angels will rise and fall on what he does, but the uncharacteristic decision on the part of the Angels to depart from the template they’ve adhered to for a decade has led to this disconnect between GM Dipoto, manager Mike Scioscia and the club.

Scioscia’s hitting coach, Mickey Hatcher, was fired against Scioscia’s wishes. They never took serious steps to bolster the bullpen and had too many players for too few lineup spots.

Owner Arte Moreno made maneuvers that were not team-related, but related to the TV deal he wanted to secure. And he did.

They did business like the 1980s Yankees and they’ve been playing and behaving like the 1980s Yankees. The one thing that will save them is the thing that was lacking in the 1980s: the Wild Cards.

Cincinnati Reds

Acquired: Mat Latos, Ryan Madson, Ryan Ludwick

Subtracted: Ramon Hernandez, Yonder Alonso, Yasmani Grandal, Edinson Volquez, Edgar Renteria, Francisco Cordero

The Reds are in first place and playing well no thanks to Latos (he’s been horrific); Madson (out for the year with Tommy John surgery); and Ludwick (.205/.290/.402 slash line with 6 homers in a homer-friendly home park).

It’s not as if they needed Alonso with Joey Votto ensconced at first base. They have a young catcher in Devin Mesoraco so they didn’t really need Grandal. And Volquez has been consistently inconsistent and injured since his great rookie year with the Reds.

But the winter moves are what’s relevant here and if they’d held onto the players they traded for Latos (and I’m not retrospectively ripping the deal since I thought it was good for both sides), they could’ve gotten mid-season help rather than an in-season nightmare.

Milwaukee Brewers

Acquired: Aramis Ramirez, Alex Gonzalez, Norichika Aoki, Jose Veras, Brooks Conrad

Subtracted: Prince Fielder, Yuniesky Betancourt, Casey McGehee

Ramirez is starting to hit and will hit put up numbers by the end of the season. We’ll never know whether the improved defense and pop from Alex Gonzalez and a full season from Mat Gamel would’ve made up for the loss of Fielder because both blew out their knees within days of each other.

It’s not really anyone’s fault. They did the best they could under their financial and practical circumstances.

St. Louis Cardinals

Acquired: Manager Mike Matheny, Carlos Beltran, pitching coach Derek Lilliquist

Subtracted: Manager Tony LaRussa, pitching coach Dave Duncan, Albert Pujols, Edwin Jackson, Octavio Dotel, Gerald Laird, Nick Punto.

So wait…now that the Cardinals are at .500 and freefalling it’s been miraculously discovered that the transition from a Hall of Fame manager/pitching coach combination to a manager who’s never managed before anywhere wasn’t going to go as smoothly as it did when they got off to a hot start?

That replacing Pujols wasn’t as simple as signing Beltran and moving the now-injured 36-year-old Lance Berkman to first base?

Shocking.

Colorado Rockies

Acquired: Michael Cuddyer, Marco Scutaro, Ramon Hernandez, Jeremy Guthrie, Tyler Chatwood, Tyler Colvin, Jamie Moyer

Subtracted: Chris Iannetta, Jason Hammel, Matt Lindstrom, Ian Stewart, Seth Smith

The starting pitching has killed them.

They loaded up on starters, but it hasn’t been enough as Drew Pomeranz got hurt and they gave Moyer 10 starts. It hasn’t helped that Hammel has been very good for the Orioles while Guthrie has been terrible for the Rockies.

Cuddyer has been everything advertised. Scutaro and Hernandez haven’t.

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Cuddyer’s Defense Won’t Hurt the Rockies

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As they complain about his poor defense and criticize his signing, many are missing the point with Michael Cuddyer and the Rockies.

His shaky glove is the most contentious and debated aspect in the Rockies 3-year contract (for $31.5 million) with Cuddyer, but several factors are being ignored.

Cuddyer may be a poor defensive outfielder, but the idea that the Rockies made a mistake in signing him based on his defense is stat person’s lament disguised as fiscal and practical sanity; it’s ignoring the Rockies strategy and personnel.

Because the National League doesn’t have a DH and they don’t have anywhere to hide him, Cuddyer’s glove is a perceived problem; but the constant references to how many runs he cost the Twins over the years is a misplaced extrapolation of “if this, then that” without considering what the Rockies do and how many balls are going to be hit to him to begin with.

The Twins pitchers generally allow more ground balls than fly balls; in 2011 they surrendered 1762 fly balls vs 2082 ground balls.

The Rockies had a 2011 difference of 1541/2061 fly balls to ground balls.

That was before the Rockies brought in new starting pitchers whose stuff is conducive to coaxing ground balls.

It’s done by design.

The Twins ratios were similar every year that Cuddyer played right field regularly and accrued the poor defensive metrics that have led to the implication that he’s a pending disaster for his new team in right field—that his defense won’t be mitigated enough by his power bat to make him an intelligent signing.

It’s nonsense.

In general, during Cuddyer’s years in right field, the Twins had 200-300 more ground balls to fly balls; going back to 2008, the Rockies have had 500-700 more ground balls than fly balls.

That’s a big difference.

The Twins were a contact-based pitching team; the Rockies are a contact-based pitching team—but the type of contact is important. The Rockies get more ground balls than the Twins; this makes Cuddyer’s glove in right field less imperative.

Like the proverbial tree falling in the woods, how can the porous defense of Cuddyer cost the Rockies runs if the ball isn’t hit to him?

He’s in the big leagues because he can hit and he’ll hit with the Rockies; the best thing to do with a player who’s limited defensively is to hide him where he’ll do the least amount of damage. For the Rockies and Cuddyer, that means right field.

As a direct result of playing their home games in a park that begets a lot of home runs, Rockies GM Dan O’Dowd has filled his pitching staff with arms that throw sinkers and get ground balls.

Their prospective starters for 2012 are all this type of pitcher.

Jhoulys Chacin gets twice as many ground balls as fly balls.

Jorge De La Rosa—ground ball pitcher; Tyler Chatwood—ground ball pitcher; Drew Pomeranz—ground ball pitcher; Jason Hammel—ground ball pitcher.

Their relievers are the same way. Matt Lindstrom and Matt Belisle get ground balls; Rafael Betancourt allows more fly balls than grounders, but he also strikes well over a batter-per-inning.

Their infield defense is led by the still-solid first baseman Todd Helton and the superlative shortstop with a howitzer arm Troy Tulowitzki; second base and shortstop are unsettled, but they’re not going to compromise the infield defense because of the strategy they employ with their pitchers.

The Rockies want their pitchers to throw strikes and get ground balls. And they do.

Because of the reliance on contact-based pitchers and trusting the infield defense, does it matter if they have Cuddyer in right field? Is he going to hurt the team that much considering there’s such a disparity in hit trajectory?

Cuddyer in Colorado will hit for an .800 OPS and he’ll pop at least 20-30 homers—maybe more.

The Rockies biggest issue in 2011 was a lack of depth in the starting rotation. With the young arms they’ve accumulated in trades of Ubaldo Jimenez and Chris Iannetta, they’ve addressed that.

Cuddyer has played the outfield, third base, second base and first base with the Twins, but it would be silly to call him a utility player; he’s not good defensively—it’s true—but he’s passable at first base and can be placed in right field without panic.

He can hit; that’s why the Rockies signed him; that’s what he’ll do.

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Indians Get Ubaldo Jimenez And Go For The Deep Strike

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In trading star pitchers CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee at the trading deadlines of 2008 and 2009, the Indians acquired 1st round draft picks Zach Jackson and Matt LaPorta; they also acquired Michael Brantley (7th round pick), Jason Knapp (2nd round), Carlos Carrasco (a touted amateur free agent), Jason Donald (3rd round) and Lou Marson (3rd round).

In retrospect, they would’ve been better off keeping both Lee and Sabathia and taking the compensatory draft picks when they left as free agents.

But they didn’t know that then.

It’s short-sighted to let a few deals that didn’t work out in a club’s favor influence future moves so heavily, but it gives some background to the Indians thinking—given that experience—when they acquired Ubaldo Jimenez (pending a physical) from the Rockies for Alex White, Joe Gardner, Matt McBride and Drew Pomeranz.

White and Pomeranz were 1st round picks; McBride a 2nd round pick; Gardner a 3rd round pick.

The Indians gave up a lot, but they’ve seen first hand what can happen with “blue chip” prospects and building for a “future” that may never come. They have a right to be hesitant. A natural response would be that all players are different; all deals are different; and that experience shouldn’t factor so heavily into trading for a young pitcher in Jimenez who hasn’t pitched particularly well since a brilliant start to his 2010 season and whose availability should give some pause to the pursuing teams.

But the questioning glances stem from paranoid rumor-mongering (contingent on that physical). Apart from unattributed speculation, there haven’t been any concrete statements about Jimenez being in poor health or whining about his contract.

Sometimes there’s no smoking gun. Sometimes players are traded because they’re traded and both sides feel it’s the right thing to do.

The Indians are in a terrible division and in a pennant race; they needed a starter and got one in Jimenez days after bolstering their lineup with the underrated Kosuke Fukudome.

Jimenez is not a rental as Sabathia was; he’s not going to be able to demand over $100 million in a year-and-a-half as Lee was; he’s going to be with the Indians through 2013. The players they gave up weren’t going to help them now, if at all; the Indians are supposedly still trying to improve via trade.

The Rockies are fading in the NL West race, shed some salary and brought back a few cheap, young players.

The Indians are going for the deep strike—something I’m an advocate of when the opportunity presents itself.

Go for it.

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