Terry Francona Chooses the Indians—Why?

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Terry Francona could conceivably have had his choice of jobs as the baseball managerial wheel spins. But, shockingly (to me at least), he decided to take over as the manager of the Cleveland Indians on a 4-year contract. The move is being lauded widely, but is it the right one for both sides?

Let’s see what this means for the Indians and Francona and why it might’ve happened.

Francona wants to prove himself

After his tenure in Philadelphia and in the throes of the Moneyball craze in which a manager was seen as little more than a faceless automaton whose prime directive is to follow orders from the front office, Francona took over as the Red Sox manager. He was hired because he was willing to do what he was told; would take short money; was agreeable to the players and especially Curt Schilling, whom the Red Sox were trying to acquire from the Diamondbacks; and he wasn’t Grady Little.

Even as the Red Sox won their long-elusive championship and another one three years later, there was forever an underlying feeling that Francona—in spite of his likability and deft handling of the media and egos in the Red Sox clubhouse—was along for the ride. Perhaps he’d like to show off his managerial skills in a less financially free situation such as that of the Indians. The Indians have some talent on the big league roster. Asdrubal Cabrera, Carlos Santana, Lonnie Chisenhall, Shin-Soo Choo, Justin Masterson, and Ubaldo Jimenez are the foundation for a decent club. They should also have some money to spend on mid-level improvements with both Travis Hafner and Grady Sizemore coming off the books.

In order for a manager to eliminate the perception of what he was in his prior stop, he has to go to a totally different situation. Francona certainly has that with the Indians.

He enjoyed his time with the Indians, has ties to Cleveland, and misses the competition

Francona was a former front office assistant with the Indians and his father Tito Francona was an All-Star player for the Indians in the early-1960s. He knows the front office and there will be a cohesiveness that wasn’t present with the Red Sox. As successful as Francona was in Boston, there was a limit to his sway. With the Indians, his opinions will be heard and he must feel they’ll be adhered to.

That’s not necessarily a good thing. If a club is rebuilding and the manager is trying to justify his reputation, he’s going to want to win. There’s a tug-of-war at play when a manager wants to win and the organization is trying to develop. Francona might not be the same person he was when working for the Indians in his pre-Red Sox days and if the Indians aren’t willing to mortgage the future in a win-now maneuver, there could be unexpected friction.

Being around baseball as a broadcaster isn’t the same as being in the middle of the fight. Francona recharged his batteries, or may think he recharged his batteries after a year away, and wants to jump back into the fray.

He didn’t want to wait and see about other, higher-pressure jobs

The implication of Francona as the prototypical “nice guy” isn’t exactly accurate. He, like Joe Torre, has been a far more calculating presence than his portrayal and persona suggests. He played the martyr following the Red Sox collapse and became a victim to the players’ decision to disrespect him and the front office need to kick someone overboard as a show of “doing something.”

Was he innocent? It’s part of the manager’s job to be hypocritical, but if he was going to get the credit for being laid back when the team was winning and it was okay that the starting pitchers who weren’t working that day were off doing whatever, then he also gets the blame when clubhouse leaks and team fractures result in a disappointing fall. The idea that Francona wasn’t to be held accountable in any way for the Red Sox slide in 2011 (and in 2012 for that matter) is ludicrous. If his calm leadership was credited for them winning in 2004 and 2007, then his porous discipline is part of why they came undone.

Will there be expectations in Cleveland? Based on Francona’s reputation, there will be factions thinking the “proven manager” theory will work. But in the end, it’s about the players. Francona could have sat in the ESPN booth and waited for other jobs with more attractive on-field personnel—the Angels and Tigers specifically—to open. He wants to win, but with the Indians, he won’t get the blame if they don’t.

The Indians presented a plan to spend a bit more freely

As mentioned earlier, the Indians will be free of Hafner’s, Sizemore’s, and Derek Lowe’s paychecks and they may look to trade Choo. That should give them increased flexibility. If I’m Manny Acta, I would be offended if the Indians spend this winter, signing and trading for players who were off-limits due to finances simply because they hired Francona. Acta has been unlucky in his managerial stops. With the Nationals, he oversaw the breaking of the ground in their rebuild and was fired. He got the Indians job and did as much as he could with limited talent and again was fired. It’s a similar situation that we’ve seen with Art Howe and Torre. Howe left the Athletics for the Mets for many reasons. The Mets were going to pay him more than the A’s would have; Mets’ GM Steve Phillips wanted someone he could control better than the fired Bobby Valentine and another candidate Lou Piniella; and he also wanted to prove that his success wasn’t the fluke it was presented as in Moneyball.

Torre was fired by the Cardinals in 1995 and this was well before he became “The Godfather” of baseball and St. Joe—both images promulgated by Torre himself. He was considered a retread who knew how to handle the clubhouse, but wouldn’t do much to help the team one way or the other. If you examine the 1995 Cardinals team that Torre was fired from 47 games into the season, they weren’t very good and didn’t spend any money (20th in payroll that season). They’d allowed Gregg Jefferies, one player who had blossomed under Torre’s gentle hand where he’d failed everywhere else, to depart to the Phillies without replacing him. Back then, Tony LaRussa was viewed as the Mr. Fix-It who could win anywhere by sheer force of will and strategic brilliance. LaRussa was hired as Cardinals’ manager that winter after he left the Athletics as a managerial free agent and, lo and behold, they imported players LaRussa wanted because he had a power that Torre didn’t have and for him to take the job, that guarantee had to be made. A bad team was transformed into a club that lost in game 7 of the NLCS.

Torre, to put it mildly, landed on his feet with the Yankees.

Howe, on the other hand, took over a Mets team in disarray with a power struggle at the top and awkwardly moving on from the late 1990s-2000 years of contention. The 2003-2004 Mets under Howe had a misleadingly high payroll because of prior financial commitments they’d made to declining players. When Omar Minaya took over as GM late in the 2004 season, it was announced that Howe would finish the season and not be retained. The Mets hired an inexperienced Willie Randolph and opened the checkbook in the winter of 2004-2005 spending big money on Pedro Martinez and Carlos Beltran. They finished at 83-79 in 2005 and would’ve finished with pretty much that same record under Howe. An in-demand manager can say what he wants and have it done. A retread can’t. Torre was a retread; Howe was a bystander; with the Phillies, Francona was a shrug. LaRussa was LaRussa and got what he wanted.

Will it work?

In the end, it’s the players. If Francona’s going to succeed in Cleveland, it won’t be through some “magic” that doesn’t exist. His reputation might be conducive to players wanting to go to Cleveland; his laid-back demeanor will be easier for young players to develop without someone screaming or glaring at them; but it won’t be due to the simplistic, “He won with the Red Sox so he’ll win here.” He didn’t win in Philadelphia because the team was bad. Does that factor in? If not, it should.

If the Indians toss the same roster in 2013 as they did in 2012, they’re not going to be all that much better under Francona than they were under Acta and Sandy Alomar Jr.

If that’s the case, then Francona wouldn’t have taken the job. The “name” manager gets his way, justified or not. If it fails or succeeds, we’ll know why.

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Translating GM-Speak, Votes of Confidence and Threats

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Most of the “rumors” or information from “insiders” is either fictional or planted and has no basis in fact. But there are other instances where baseball people say something without saying something; when they make a statement for selfish reasons, whether it’s to get the fans/media off their backs or to send a message to individuals. In recent days, there have been several such stories. As we saw with Mariners’ GM Jack Zduriencik saying that Ichiro Suzuki was a franchise player, then turning around and trading him, many times there’s an ulterior motive behind the rhetoric.

Let’s take a look at some statements and translate them into what is actually meant.

The Bobby Valentine vote of confidence

It’s called the “dreaded” vote of confidence because the perception is that it inevitably precedes a firing. Valentine just received one from the Red Sox’ front office. It’d be nice if some enterprising stat person with a lot of time on his or her hands did some research, looked into historic votes of confidence and crunched the numbers of a firing or not following the public declaration of job security.

The thing with Valentine is that he needs absolute support from the ownership to counteract the media/fan/player hate he engenders. If he doesn’t have that, there’s no point in keeping him around. If the Red Sox are truly invested in Valentine, they’re going to have to: A) make structural changes to the roster including getting rid of the subversive elements like Josh Beckett (which they’re probably going to try to do regardless of who the manager is); and B) give him at least an extra year on his contract for 2014.

They have to decide whether changing the manager is easier than changing the players and that can only be determined as they gauge interest in the likes of Beckett and even Jon Lester this September.

Translation: They don’t know whether Valentine’s coming back and it depends on a myriad of factors, not just putting up a good showing late in the season or making the playoffs.

David Samson on the Marlins

The Marlins’ hatchet-man, Samson, offered his opinions on this season. Here are the main quotes regarding owner Jeffrey Loria, baseball ops boss Larry Beinfest and GM Michael Hill:

“As we go into the offseason, the fact is, forgetting the injuries, the players we have right now should be winning games,” Samson said. “It’s clear the evaluation was wrong on certain players. It’s a constant process of seeing what you’re doing right and what you’re doing wrong, and changing. One thing we don’t want to be as a baseball organization is stubborn. We don’t want to not admit mistakes. Who is that serving?”

“Everything may change,” Samson said. “I think it’s going to be an interesting October, a little different than the October we envisioned …. [Loria] is angry and he should be. Me, Larry and Mike are only two, three and four in the disappointed department. He’s number one.”

The Marlins are a disaster, that’s something everyone can agree on. Given the constant changes in field staff and player personnel and that Samson mentioned the words “evaluation” and “wrong” without pointing the finger at himself or Loria, along with the history of Samson and Loria of firing people, there might be front office changes rather than field staff and player changes. The one static department has been the front office. Beinfest and Dan Jennings have been prevented from interviewing with other clubs for positions and they—Beinfest, Jennings, Hill—have super-long term contracts to stay.

Translation: Manager Ozzie Guillen is safe, but members of the baseball operations team are definitely not.

Manny Acta’s job security

Indians’ GM Chris Antonetti didn’t specifically say Acta would be back, but said he has, “no reason to think otherwise.” That’s not a ringing endorsement and the Indians have come undone—through no specific fault on the part of Acta—and faded from negligible contention. There’s talent on the team, but the issues they have stem from front office mistakes than anything Acta has or hasn’t done. Grady Sizemore was brought back and hasn’t played; Johnny Damon and Derek Lowe didn’t work out and were jettisoned; Casey Kotchman reverted back into being Casey Kotchman; Ubaldo Jimenez has been awful since being acquired from the Rockies.

I think they need a change and with Sandy Alomar Jr. still very popular in Cleveland and on several managerial short-lists, they won’t want to let him leave when he’d benefit the front office and shield them from rightful criticism for what they put together.

Translation: Acta won’t be back and will be replaced by Alomar.

Sandy Alderson says the Mets won’t eat Jason Bay’s contract

The Mets are saying they won’t pay Bay to leave. After this season, the Mets owe him $19 million. Those who are saying the Mets should just swallow the money are living in a dreamworld where $19 million is considered absolutely nothing. Yes, the money’s gone whether Bay’s here or not and while the Mets’ financial circumstances may have stabilized with the settlement of the Bernie Madoff lawsuit against the Wilpons, that doesn’t mean they’re going to hand Bay that golden parachute.

It’s not going to work in New York for Bay, but the Mets will exchange him for another bad contract before releasing him. A release would come next year despite the vitriol they’ll receive if he’s brought back.

Translation: The Mets aren’t releasing him now and won’t eat the money, but they’ll eat some of the money and trade him for another contract that’s equally bad. He’s not going to be a Met in 2013.

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American League Central—Buy, Sell or Stand Pat?

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I’m going division by division. This morning I went through the AL East. Now it’s time for the AL Central.

Chicago White Sox

They’re buyers and should be, but they need to do it within reason.

They’ve already made one move to fill a hole by getting Kevin Youkilis essentially for nothing, they need a starting pitcher and some bullpen help.

Could they cobble together the prospects to get a Cole Hamels, Zack Greinke or Matt Garza? Probably. Should they? Probably not. But GM Ken Williams is going to do what he’s going to do and won’t apologize nor backtrack. They’ve played this well up to this point with John Danks and Philip Humber injured.

I would tweak the bullpen with a Brandon League, Huston Street, Rafael Betancourt or Francisco Rodriguez if he comes available; plus another lefty like Joe Thatcher. The best improvements to the club will be if Danks and Humber come back effectively and if Alexei Ramirez starts hitting. That’s more important than any acquisition they could make. A desperation trade would be counterproductive.

Cleveland Indians

They need a bat at first base, the outfield or at DH. I’d leave the pitching alone unless they can get Ryan Dempster at a reasonable price. Yes, Travis Hafner’s off the disabled list, but judging from history he’ll be back on it soon enough. Neither of their veteran acquisitions—Johnny Damon and Casey Kotchman—have hit; they can forget about getting anything from Grady Sizemore.

They could use a lefty out of the bullpen and should make a move on the just released Brian Fuentes. For a bat, Carlos Quentin is out there. If the Cubs will pay his whole salary, they might want to take a look at Alfonso Soriano. At the very least he’d hit them some homers. Ty Wigginton would be a useful and cheap extra bat.

If they’re inclined, they could craft an offer for Justin Upton and wait to see if B.J. Upton comes available.

Detroit Tigers

The second they signed Prince Fielder and moved Miguel Cabrera to third base, the Tigers were all-in to win now. They need a starting pitcher and while I wouldn’t trade Jacob Turner, that’s probably what’s going to have to happen to get one of the big names out there, Hamels, Greinke and Garza. I have a feeling that Placido Polanco is going to be playing second base for the Tigers before the end of July.

A lot will depend on how realistic it is to pin their needs for a bat on Victor Martinez getting back from knee surgery well before he was expected to.

The Tigers can still salvage their season and make the playoffs. There’s no dominant team in the AL Central.

Kansas City Royals

A couple of weeks ago I asked why they would be selling when they were only 5 games out of first place and had played well since a rancid start. Now they’re 9 ½ games out of first place and are said to be willing to move closer Jonathan Broxton but won’t give him away. They have players who have use like Jeff Francoeur, Bruce Chen and Jose Mijares.

They should get what they can for Mijares and stay where they are, giving the young players a chance to right the ship. This can still be a positive season for the Royals.

Minnesota Twins

They need to sell some of the key pieces from their long run in dominating the division. That means Justin Morneau and Francisco Liriano. I still think Morneau winds up in Los Angeles with the Dodgers. Liriano is going to be in heavy demand for multiple teams as a starter or reliever. Matt Capps will wind up getting traded somewhere maybe as part of a Morneau to the Dodgers deal.

I would not trade Denard Span.

If Carl Pavano returns and shows himself healthy, he’ll get through waivers in August and teams will need a body with a functioning arm. I suppose Pavano qualifies in that respect. Sort of.

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Surprise Buyers—American League

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Let’s look at some teams that are unexpectedly hovering around contention, what they need and who they should pursue.

Baltimore Orioles

The Orioles could use a starting pitcher and a bat (or two). One of the bats has to be able to play the outfield competently.

Dan Duquette is looking pretty smart for his under-the-radar off-season maneuvers getting Jason Hammel, Matt Lindstrom and Wei-Yin Chen. He’s not going to gut the system for a big name should one come available, nor should he.

Ryan Dempster is the type of middling pitcher they should pursue. Matt Garza can be had. Cole Hamels isn’t worth the cost for a rental unless they know they’re going to sign him.

Jim Thome has been mentioned as a DH option and he’d provide an offensive boost on the field and would be a stabilizing, quietly strong veteran leader off the field.

Carlos Lee is available from the Astros; if the Cubs are willing to give them Alfonso Soriano for a moderate prospect and pay his salary, the change to a club in the pennant race could really wake up his bat—and he’s been hitting homers lately anyway.

Carlos Quentin is on the block from the Padres.

Chicago White Sox

It was supposed to be a bridge year for the White Sox with a new manager, Robin Ventura and an altered configuration and strategy. But they’ve taken advantage of a mediocre AL Central and are in first place.

They could use a starting pitcher and if they’re still hovering around the top of the division and Wild Card at the deadline, GM Ken Williams is going to go for a big name—that means Hamels or Garza.

For the bullpen they could pursue Huston Street (who I’m not a fan of), Brett Myers, Brandon League or Grant Balfour.

Cleveland Indians

It’s time to forget about Grady Sizemore and to not expect any long term health from Travis Hafner when he returns.

They need a bat that can play centerfield.

Shane Victorino is a pending free agent and the Phillies are soon going to be teetering on holding out for the return of their stars or accepting that this isn’t their season and moving forward for 2013.

Chase Headley would be an upgrade over journeyman Jack Hannahan at third base; he can also play the outfield and first base.

Casey Kotchman has been a disaster at first base. I wouldn’t give up much to get Carlos Lee, but I’d take him.

The Indians’ starting pitching isn’t impressive statistically, but there’s enough there to wait without overspending on an outsider.

They could use a bullpen arm or two and should check with the Padres on Street and the Rockies on bringing Rafael Betancourt back to Cleveland.

Kansas City Royals

What’s with all this talk of the Royals selling? They’re 5 ½ games out of first place.

Ravaged by injuries to their starting rotation, they need arms. They have the prospects to do something major like bringing Zack Greinke back. They have the money to sign him long term.

On the surface, they could use a power bat but they just got Salvador Perez back and there’s reason to believe that they have enough pop if Alex Gordon and Eric Hosmer start hitting the ball out of the park.

I wouldn’t go too crazy trying to win now, but I’d explore what’s out there to improve in the short and long terms.

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2012 American League Central Predicted Standings

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Wins Losses GB
1. Cleveland Indians 91 71
2. Detroit Tigers* 88 74 3
3. Kansas City Royals 81 81 10
4. Chicago White Sox 72 90 19
5. Minnesota Twins 70 92 21

* Denotes predicted Wild Card winner

Cleveland Indians

The Indians have all the components to take the next step from their near .500 season in 2011.

There are positives amid the negatives of the old warhorses’ injuries and contract statuses. Grady Sizemore keeps getting hurt, but the Indians couldn’t have expected him to return to form nor expected him to stay healthy. His injury and absence will give them the chance to see what Ezequiel Carrera can do. Travis Hafner is in the final guaranteed year of his contract and some players manage to stay healthy when there’s a large amount of money on the line.

Carlos Santana is a mid-lineup run producer; they have a highly underrated 1-2 starting pitching punch with Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez; and their bullpen is deep.

Detroit Tigers

The entire season will come down to how obstinate Jim Leyland is about the decision to move Miguel Cabrera to third base.

I was about to say “experiment”, but is it really an experiment if we know what’s going to happen?

He can’t play third; the Tigers have pitchers—Doug Fister, Rick Porcello and even Justin Verlander—who need their defense to succeed; and Leyland is adamant in saying that not only is Cabrera going to play third but that he won’t be removed for defense in the late innings in favor of the superior gloves of Don Kelly and Brandon Inge.

Eventually Leyland will probably bow to reality and Cabrera and Prince Fielder will share first base and DH.

I say probably because it depends on whether Leyland is going to be the old-school baseball guy who’ll see weakness in admitting he’s wrong or the one who admits the team’s playoff spot in jeopardy and bows to reality.

The extra Wild Card will save the Tigers.

Kansas City Royals

The Royals are loaded up with young players and have to give them the chance to sink or swim on their own without looking at them for a month and sending them down.

Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas will be in the lineup every day for the Royals for the next decade, but the other youngsters Lorenzo Cain, Salvador Perez, John Giavotella and Danny Duffy have to be given the legitimate chance to play without wondering if they’re going to be sent down immediately if they slump.

The starting pitching is young and improving; the bullpen has been bolstered and is diverse.

Chicago White Sox

Is this a rebuild or not?

Are they going to continue listening to offers for the likes of Gavin Floyd or will they hold their fire?

The decision to hire Robin Ventura as manager was a “he’ll grow with us” maneuver, but the foundation of the team is still in place.

It’s not a rebuild or a stay the course blueprint. They’re just doing things.

When serious structural alterations needed to be made, just doing things translates into 90 losses.

Minnesota Twins

Much was made of Terry Ryan’s return to the GM seat.

But so what?

They made something of a lateral move in letting Michael Cuddyer leave and replacing him with Josh Willingham; they got a solid defender and good on-base bat with Jamey Carroll; and they did the “Twins thing” in signing cheap veterans who can contribute with Jason Marquis and Ryan Doumit.

Their bullpen is loaded with a bunch of bodies and has already lost Joel Zumaya.

Much depends on the health of Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau and even if both stay on the field, there are still too many holes offensively, defensively and—most importantly—in the rotation and bullpen to ask how much they can be expected to improve from losing nearly 100 games in 2011.

Far more in depth analysis is in my book, Paul Lebowitz’s 2012 Baseball Guide, now available.

Click here for a full sample of team predictions/projections. My book can be purchased on KindleSmashwordsBN and Lulu with other outlets on the way.

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Quality Moves, Under the Radar

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While the Marlins and Angels have garnered the headlines with their spending sprees; the Nationals by their overreaching trade for Gio Gonzalez; the Red Sox with their front office and off-field controversies; and Billy Beane for being Billy Beane and therefore worthy of attention just because, two teams have made drastic improvements amid questions, criticisms, ridicule and camouflage.

The Rockies and Indians are poised to leap into serious contention in 2012 because of said acquisitions and they’ve done it relatively cheaply and without fanfare.

Still needing help with their starting pitching, the Rockies are one of the suitors for the underrated and mean Hiroki Kuroda; if they get him, I’ll like their off-season all the more.

Here are the Rockies moves so far:

Signed OF/1B Michael Cuddyer to a 3-year, $31.5 million contract.

I went into detail about the match between Cuddyer and the Rockies in an earlier posting. In short, his defense in right field won’t be an issue because of the Rockies pitching staff’s penchant for getting ground balls; his hitting will improve markedly playing in Coors Field; and he might see substantial time at first base with the recent injury history of Todd Helton. He’s a better player than Seth Smith and will hit and hit for power.

Traded RHP Huston Street to the Padres for minor league lefty Nick Schmidt.

The Rockies sent $500,000 to the Padres (for Street’s 2013 buyout) and cleared the rest of his $7.5 million salary.

Street was not reliable as a closer, gave up too many hits and homers and was expensive; the Rockies dumped him and his paycheck and have Rafael Betancourt to close and Matt Lindstrom to back him up.

Schmidt is 25 and still in A ball. This was a money spin for an organizational warm body and it was a smart thing to do.

Traded C Chris Iannetta to the Angels for RHP Tyler Chatwood; signed C Ramon Hernandez to a 2-year, $6.4 million contract.

Iannetta has pop and gets on base, but he was never able to put a stranglehold on the everyday catching job; Chatwood was one of the Angels top pitching prospects who had an up-and-down season in Anaheim. He’s a ground ball pitcher who should do well in Colorado.

Hernandez is fine with being a part-timer, has power and throws well. He’ll be a perfect tutor to young prospect Wilin Rosario.

Traded INF Ty Wigginton to the Phillies for a player to be named later or cash; signed 3B/1B/OF Casey Blake to a 1-year, $2 million contract.

Wigginton was a fiery player and hit a few homers, but he’s terrible defensively and limited offensively. They’re paying $2 million of his $4 million salary and signed Blake to a 1-year contract for $2 million—basically they traded Wigginton for Blake and it’s a great trade…if Blake is healthy.

Blake missed most of the 2011 season with multiple injuries and required neck surgery.

His health is the key. He’s versatile and is a good fielder; he has power; and Blake is plainly and simply a professional baseball player who goes unnoticed but is a key component to a winning team—the other players, coaches and managers will tell you how good a player a healthy Blake is.

If they add a Kuroda or Roy Oswalt to go along with the package they got last summer for Ubaldo Jimenez, it equates to a strong top-to-bottom club that has repaired the holes that caused their underwhelming 2011 record of 73-89.

The Indians have done the following:

Acquired RHP Derek Lowe from the Braves for minor league LHP Chris Jones and $10 million.

There’s no defending Lowe’s performance for the Braves, but the Indians got an innings-eater and will only pay $5 million of his $15 million salary. When a durable sinkerballer like Lowe is pitching so poorly, the issue is generally mechanical; if the Indians can fix whatever was preventing him from getting the proper movement on his pitches, he can again be effective; perhaps he just needed a change-of-scenery.

Either way, you can’t go wrong for $5 million. With Jimenez, Justin Masterson, Fausto Carmona and Josh Tomlin, the Indians have a formidable rotation backed up by a strong bullpen.

Re-signed CF Grady Sizemore to a 1-year, $5 million contract after declining his option.

Sizemore was a budding star before microfracture surgery derailed him; he’s worked very hard to come back and it took Carlos Beltran (whom the Indians pursued but lost to the Cardinals) a full season to return to relative normalcy after a bone bruise. Although Beltran didn’t need microfracture surgery, the injuries and recovery times are similar. If Sizemore can be 75-80% of what he was, he’s a bargain.

The Indians finished ninth in the American League in runs scored and are looking for another bat, but with full seasons from Jason Kipnis and Shin-Soo Choo along with some semblance of production from first base (they need to sign someone, perhaps Derrek Lee) and Travis Hafner, they’ll score enough to contend in the winnable AL Central.

The Rockies and Indians need to be watched closely in 2012 because they’re legitimate playoff threats without having spent $300 million as the Angels did or hoodwinking their local government to get a new ballpark as the Marlins did.

They did it with under-the-radar acquisitions, bold and clever.

And they’re going to pay off.

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I’ll be a guest tomorrow with former MLB player Les Norman on his baseball show Breakin’ the Norm on the ESPN affiliate 810 WHB in Kansas City. I’ll link the appearance and post it here.

Spread the word!

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Ike’s Ankle—The Bright Side

Games, Management, Media, Players

Mets first baseman Ike Davis‘s injured ankle has shown no improvement. Although it keeps being repeated that he’s “out of the boot”, it’s seemingly ignored that he’s out of the boot because the boot isn’t doing his injury any good.

The dreaded words “microfracture surgery” are being mentioned.

The procedure is well known to beleaguered Mets fans because there was the endless debate as to whether Carlos Beltran needed to have it done before he had the team-unsanctioned clean-up on his injured knee right before spring training in 2010.

Microfracture surgery doesn’t always work.

Grady Sizemore of the Indians had it last year and hasn’t been anywhere close to what he was from 2005-2009.

On the bright side for the Mets and Davis are the factors that Sizemore and Beltran were center fielders who could run; Davis is a first baseman and it would be all but impossible for him to come back much slower than he was before no matter what condition his ankle is in.

This is simple bad luck for the Mets.

Given their current circumstances, it really doesn’t make much difference one way or the other for the team’s fortunes; it’d be nice to have Davis gaining more experience by playing, but in the grand scheme of things the injury—even if it keeps him out for the season—isn’t as bad as some will portray it as being.

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The Clock Is Ticking On The Indians

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If you think the Indians are going to get the continued pitching excellence from the starting rotation and especially the bullpen all season long, you can forget it.

Fausto Carmona has proven he can be trusted for the most part; Josh Tomlin looks like the real deal; I’m not sold on Justin Masterson or Carlos Carrasco. The future is positive, but right now they’re still finding their way in the big leagues.

Their offense has been far and away beyond expectations; they’re leading the league in runs scored based on a couple of big outbursts like the 19-run shellacking of the Royals last week. Even if they slow down a bit, once Shin-Soo Choo and Carlos Santana start hitting; Grady Sizemore gets back; and if Travis Hafner stays healthy, they’ll score enough to win a few games.

But it comes down to the pitching and their schedule.

The upcoming schedule is a nightmare with the Reds, Red Sox, Rays, Blue Jays, Rangers, Yankees and Tigers up to mid-June.

They might be back at .500 by then.

With the hot start giving them some cushion, the Indians might finish at or close to .500 this season, but reality will strike and they’ll fade from playoff contention by August. Or sooner.

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I’m administrating a discussion group on TheCopia.com. Click on the link to leave a comment or start a new topic. Check it out.

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Please purchase my book, Paul Lebowitz’s 2011 Baseball Guide.

I published a full excerpt of my book here.

It’s available now. Click here to get it in paperback or E-Book on I-Universe or on Amazon or BN. It’s also available via E-book on Borders.com.

It’s out on Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble Nook.

If anyone would like to purchase an autographed copy, leave a comment; Email me; contact me on Facebook or Twitter.

Become a fan on my Facebook fan page. Click on the link.

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Early Season Oohs And Ahs

Books, Free Agents, Games, Management, Media, Paul Lebowitz's 2011 Baseball Guide

Let’s have a look at some of the early seasons positives and whether or not they’re real or a mirage.

The rampaging Indians:

Justin Masterson and Josh Tomlin are a combined 7-0; the bullpen has been brilliant; Travis Hafner is healthy and killing the ball; Asdrubal Cabrera has 4 homers(!); and Grady Sizemore is looking like his old self returning from microfracture surgery.

All of these occurrences won’t continue.

Hafner’s inevitable health problems and the tricky nature of microfracture surgery for Sizemore will be counteracted—to a point—when Shin-Soo Choo and Carlos Santana start to hit; but the Indians are still playing journeymen Orlando Cabrera and Jack Hannahan regularly; and Asdrubal Cabrera cannot keep up his hot start.

The pitching is the question. Masterson will return to earth; the bullpen won’t be as good as it has been; and they’ve beaten up on struggling/mediocre/poor teams.

A brigade of “Indians are contenders again” believers will gather steam, but they’re not contenders. At best they could hover around .500 all season and fade out towards the end. But that’s it.

Weaver and Haren is plenty good:

And Ervin Santana is underrated as well.

Who could possibly have thought that the Angels—with their top three starting pitchers and history of success—were going to recede into the Pacific Ocean and leave the AL West for the Rangers and still-overrated Athletics without a peep?

Jered Weaver is one of the best pitchers in baseball and is looking to get paid in the not-so-distant future (free agent after 2012; Scott Boras is his agent—do the math).

Dan Haren has been brilliant as well. Those who looked at the Angels off-season and scoffed because their acquisitions were limited to Vernon Wells (who’s going to hit), Hisanori Takahashi and Scott Downs, conveniently forgot that the Angels traded for Haren at mid-season 2010.

Joel Pineiro will be back soon and rookie Tyler Chatwood has been solid. Manager Mike Scioscia didn’t hesitate to make Jordan Walden the closer and Fernando Rodney is more comfortable as a set-up man.

Is anyone still laughing at the Angels? And will they admit how stupid they were (and still are) now?

I doubt it. I’ll be more than happy to point it out though. With enthusiasm.

Burying Josh Beckett and the Red Sox:

More partisan silliness.

Beckett was hurt last year. Now he’s not hurt. And he’s pitching brilliantly.

It was idiotic to think that a 31-year-old post-season hero with Beckett’s career history was “done” because of maladies that had nothing to do with his arm.

After their hideous start, the Red Sox have righted the ship and will be a run-scoring machine when Carl Crawford starts to hit. And he will start to hit.

On another note, it’s only a matter of time before Mike Cameron is playing center field regularly. The frustration with Jacoby Ellsbury is legitimate; I was never a fan and his power display is a mirage. He’s done nothing at the plate aside from his 4 homers; is mediocre defensively in center field; and the other players don’t seem to like him.

John Lackey will also have to be dealt with. Even though he pitched well against the anemic offense of the Oakland Athletics, his behavior and body language were both troubling. Nobody’s saying that Jarrod Saltalamacchia is Johnny Bench in terms of handling pitchers, but the open animosity between pitcher and catcher can’t go on. Lackey isn’t endearing himself to his teammates with his miserable attitude and it has to be handled from the inside. If that means Jason Varitek, David Ortiz and Kevin Youkilis have to corner and threaten him physically, so be it.

Later on today, I’ll post about the negatives so far in early 2011.

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I’m administrating a discussion group on TheCopia.com. Click on the link to leave a comment or start a new topic.

****

Please purchase my book, Paul Lebowitz’s 2011 Baseball Guide. Many of my predictions have proven accurate already; the ones that haven’t will be. Most of them anyway.

I published a full excerpt of my book here.

It’s available now. Click here to get it in paperback or E-Book on I-Universe or on Amazon or BN. It’s also available via E-book on Borders.com.

It’s out on Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble Nook.

If anyone would like to purchase an autographed copy, leave a comment; Email me; contact me on Facebook or Twitter.

Become a fan on my Facebook fan page. Click on the link.

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Mets vs Phillies—In The Medical Theatre

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The Mets 7-1 win last night and good start aside, I don’t think anyone with a sane mind and any concept of baseball believes that it’s an indicator of a turning of the tide from recent years. The Phillies are walking wounded and, by the time the summer rolls around, will be far ahead of the Mets.

They’re in two different stratospheres right now with divergent goals. Of course both teams want to win, but the Phillies’ expectations are beyond the scope—it’s World Series or bust; the Mets are trying to regain their footing after years of dysfunction and embarrassment on and off the field.

The win last night was nice, but it’s a speck in the cosmic scheme of things.

It’s pointless to talk about a rekindling of the Mets-Phillies rivalry with the clubs heading in opposite directions. Can the Mets give the Phillies a problem this year? Sure. Will it be a make-or-break problem? No.

What I’m thinking about is the different perceptions of both clubs.

Given the Mets disastrous medical history over the past two seasons, it’s fair to ridicule their handling of injuries. It hasn’t been as bad this year because the new regime is still on the honeymoon period, but Jason Bay and Ronny Paulino are on the disabled list. Because of their history with injuries, the Mets have again been the object of deadpan humor. It’s not accurate, but it’s out there.

What I’m wondering is what the reaction would be if it were the Mets who had a player the caliber of Chase Utley out with a seemingly undiagnosed injury without a comprehensive treatment plan in place.

What would be said? Where would the jokes end—if they ever did?

Utley is still out for the Phillies; he hasn’t had surgery; he can’t run; the Phillies don’t know much more than anyone else does; they’ve been equivocating since the news broke that Utley was hurt.

He’s just on the disabled list with a knee problem.

This posting by Ken Rosenthal on Foxsports adds to the air of mystery, the fog of unknowing.

What is wrong with Chase Utley‘s knee? Is it arthritis? Tendinitis? A bone bruise? Is it chronic? Is it an actual game-related injury from wear-and-tear? Would surgery repair it?

Is this career-threatening?

Does anyone have a diagnosis and treatment plan for what the problem is?

As devastating as microfracture surgery is (and I’m not suggesting that Utley needs that delicate and not always successful procedure), at least you know what’s needed to fix the issue.

Carlos Beltran‘s knee is said to be “bone-on-bone”, but doctors said microfracture surgery was not required for Beltran; the procedure was needed to try and save the career of Grady Sizemore. Beltran is compromised and in as good a shape as he’s going to get; Sizemore is working his way back.

With their pitching, the Phillies will get by without Utley for awhile; if the injury is going to keep him out completely, they have the prospects to make a move for an available bat at second base, third base or the outfield when the time comes. But what about Utley, who’s one of the best players in baseball?

If the Phillies are waiting for Utley to begin jogging before taking the next step, what if his knee doesn’t improve so he can function at even 70% capacity without pain?

How can they fix a problem if no one is acknowledging what it is and what the treatment options are? And if surgery isn’t the answer; if rest doesn’t work, then what?

Then what?

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My podcast appearance with SportsFanBuzz previewing the season is posted. You can listen here The SportsFan Buzz: March 30, 2011 or on iTunes.

I was on with Mike at NYBaseballDigest and his preview as well. You can listen here.

I’m scheduled to be on with Sal against next week, but he’s an accountant and it’s tax time, so he might be zoned out by the end of the week which will leave me to my own devices on the podcast!

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Paul Lebowitz’s 2011 Baseball Guide is available and will be useful for your fantasy leagues all season long.

I published a full excerpt of my book here.

It’s available now. Click here to get it in paperback or E-Book on I-Universe or on Amazon or BN. It’s also available via E-book on Borders.com.

It’s also out on Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble Nook.

If anyone would like to purchase an autographed copy, leave a comment; Email me; contact me on Facebook or Twitter. We’ll hash out the details.


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