My Only Friend, The End…

The season has concluded for the Indians this year. This season has been an atrocious let down, to say the least. The worst of it wasn’t the record breaking losing streaks of various forms, the early season bullpen meltdown, the late season rotation woes, the offense being unable to hit in the clutch, etc. For me, the worst of it was when we dumped nearly every player that we could afford to release and replace. I even believe that had Grady been healthy, and had Kerry Wood been effective, we would have attempted to trade them as well. For me, losing Victor hurt the most. Even though trading back to back Cy Young winners is a rather humiliating thing to do, I think I could have been talked in to it, had the prospects been appealing. But, Victor was the heart and soul of this team, and had been in the organization since he was 17. I think the emotion he showed when he learned he was traded was similar to that of most every true Indian fan out there. Well, I could go on about the negative aspects of this season for hours. But, I don’t want to think about that. Rather, I will address the good things that have happened this season, and make me look forward to that hallowed day when pitchers and catchers report.

1. Shin Soo Choo

I won’t lie, he has become one of my favorite Indians. In his first full season, he achieved 20 HR – 20 SB. He has the attitude that makes me like him all the more. He continually wants to develop himself as a player, and was concerned at the rate he struck out with runners on base. I really look forward to seeing this guy perform in the future.

2. Cabrera/Valbuena

I’ve always liked a team that has a tight defensive middle infield. With these two, I see the potential I haven’t seen since the Vizquel/Alomar days. Asdrubal has shown himself to be a stellar defender as well as an exceptional, disciplined hitter. Valbuena has surprised me with the amount of pop he has at the plate as well. While not putting in a full season, he still had 10 home runs. I would like to see him hit for average better, but I won’t complain about him hitting an even .250 his rookie campaign.

3. The Possibilities of a Speedy Lineup

Let’s say that with the emergence of Michael Brantley as an everyday player, it allows Grady Sizemore to move back in the lineup (if he is comfortable with such a move). Imagine this:

1. Michael Brantley (LF) (L)
2. Asdrubal Cabrera (SS) (S)
3. Grady Sizemore (CF) (L)
4. Shin Soo Choo (RF) (L)
5. Travis Hafner (DH) (L)
6. Matt LaPorta (1B) (R)
7. Jhonny Peralta (3B) (R)
8. Lou Marson (C) (R)
9. Luis Valbuena (2B) (L)

How many lineups in the American League can boast that their first FOUR batters are a threat to steal? It would give us the ability to both manufacture runs, and hit for power in the middle of our lineup. The only problem with this is that the lefties and righties are all nicely grouped together. Therefore, I doubt we’d see this that often.

4. Justin Masterson

While his transition from reliever to starter has been a rough one, I must say I was thrilled to watch this. With out a doubt, he needs to find some solution against left-handed hitters. This night was heavy on righties, but nevertheless, a truly stellar outing. He went all nine innings, only allowed one run and struck out 12. It was a good ending to a troublesome season. I hope we can see more outings like this in 2010.

5. David Huff

I’ve heard it said from various sources that David Huff is in the mix to compete for a rotation spot next year. Frankly, this is a little unfair. I think the fourth or fifth spot is his to lose. Here are his final stats for his rookie season:

W-L: 11-8
ERA: 5.61
GS: 23
IP: 128.1
BB: 41
SO: 65
WHIP: 1.56
OBA: .351

While some of these numbers aren’t amazing (OBA, ERA, WHIP), I think that all things considered, it was a solid year for Huff, and a good rookie campaign. In a rotation that had three 10+ game losers, the fact that Huff was able to come through with the only 10+ game winner speaks well in his favor. Let’s not forget that in his last five starts he was 4-1 with a 2.18 ERA.

When we have so little options and questions marks in next year’s rotation, Huff has to have a spot. I look forward to seeing what he can do next year.

6. Brantley/LaPorta

It was nice to see the key acquisitions of the C.C. Sabathia deal play this season. I see so much potential in both guys. I think neither of them can qualify for Rookie of the Year in 2010, as they’ve both put in too many at bats this season. However, now that they have seen consistent MLB pitching, I think they both will not only see a lot of playing time next year, but will be high impact players.

7. Sizemore/Hafner

With such a young team, I really look forward to these two guys next year. Both are coming off injuries or have been limited in playing time. Having both of them healthy will really add some insurance to our young lineup. I think it goes without question that Grady will have a good year, once he has recovered. However, I must say it was wonderful to have Hafner back in the lineup on a somewhat consistent basis this year. While I don’t think his shoulder will ever be the same, I don’t think a 20-30 home run season is out of the question, if he is able to play somewhat consistently and without trouble.

8. New Staff, New Possibilites

While, I could never say with certainty where the problems truly were in the coaching staff, I think a fresh perspective with a fresh team will be good. Who the new manager will be is anyone’s guess at this point. I’ve heard Bobby Valentine’s name tossed about once or twice. I think the Farrell possibility has been thoroughly shot down. However, with a team that has seen so much time at AAA this past year, I think Columbus’ skipper, Torey Lovullo, will have a fair shot.

I do know one thing for sure…my dreams of having Victor Martinez as a player/manager have been extinguished. While it was never a real likelihood, I must say, I wanted it bad.

While I think we won’t do much better than a .500 season next year (I will talk about our pitching woes later), I do have some things to look forward to.

Until next time, folks!

Taking a Look: Cliff Lee

I was going to gush about how well we’ve been playing of late. However, we’re in the wake of being shutout 25 out of our last 27 innings. Even if it was against one of the best pitching staffs in the American League, and we did take one game from them, it has nevertheless put me in a foul mood.

I would, however, like to take this opportunity to say that Cliff Lee is absolutely flourishing in the National League. I don’t think that anyone would doubt that he would do well, but I must say that I am amazed. Here is what things look like for Cliff since the trade:

He has had three starts and has notched three wins, one of which was a complete game. He has posted a 1.13 ERA while striking out 23 and only walking 6 (I actually thought this to be a little high for Lee, but not a bad show all around) and maintaining an over all 0.92 WHIP.

ON TOP OF THAT….

He is batting .333 in his last nine at bats with the Phillies, with two doubles and only one strike out.

I don’t mean to be rude to our new rookies, but, Cliff Lee is performing better than any of you at the plate. (I know it’s only 9 at bats, but I think it is rather comical.)

My Pitch on Pitching

I initially was going to discuss the trades, player by player, and weigh the benefits of each. However, I quickly began to realize that the post would be several pages long, and would rival Paul Cousineau in word count, but would be somewhat lacking in analysis. Therefore, I decided to shift gears a bit, and do a quick commentary on the key acquisitions and 2010 outlook. To sum up what I intended to say with the monster post that I was constructing, “the high emotion in the post-trade wake is now gone, and I’m ready to accept the deals that were made.”

We set out to get pitching depth in the farm system, and that is what these trades did. To what end, only time will tell. However, with the exception of Masterson, I don’t really see any of them impacting the Tribe in the 2010 season, and possibly not even 2011. Most of them are low-A, power-arm, starting pitching prospects that have “high ceiling,” to coin Shapiro’s pet phrase. One problem I do have with obtaining so many young kids with a mid- to high-90s fastball, is that there is the possibility they burn out before they ever get to the big leagues.

However, I must say I really like the idea of having a team built around pitching. Without a doubt, it has never been our strong area. Even back in the glory days of the mid-1990s, what got us to the postseason was our offense. With this batch of prospects we now have simmering down in our farm, the potential for such a team is there. But, let’s talk about the present.

The Rotation

With the departure of Cliff Lee and Carl Pavano, and the possibility that Jake Westbrook may never return, we are left with a very young and inexperienced rotation in 2010. However, it isn’t as bleak as I initially thought.
Here are our options:

Fausto Carmona
Jake Westbrook
Justin Masterson
Aaron Laffey
Scott Lewis
David Huff
Jeremy Sowers
Hector Rondon
Carlos Carrasco
Anthony Reyes (Tommy John)

Unless he makes some great strides, I don’t honestly see Carrasco making the rotation out of Spring Training. Also, unless Scott Lewis and Jake Westbrook show some signs of life, I can’t imagine they will be competitive right out of the gate for the rotation. Although Westbrook will be pulling in the highest paycheck, he still hasn’t pitched since May of 2008. Reyes won’t be back until the All Star break, and he was never really an impact pitcher anyway. So, that leaves us with the following in the healthy/effective catagory:

Fausto Carmona
Justin Masterson
Aaron Laffey
David Huff
Jeremy Sowers
Hector Rondon

I feel that these six will be the most likely to have an impact on our rotation next year. I think it’s likely we may see a winter meetings acquisition to supplement this list. But, given our current financial situation, it won’t be significant.

The Bullpen

Believe it or not, we may be looking at our bullpen next year. This year’s bullpen has been a travesty, but lately, a few key guys have stepped up.
Here is our list as of now:

Kerry Wood – RHP (closer)
Rafael Perez – LHP
Chris Perez – RHP
Tony Sipp – LHP
Jensen Lewis – RHP
Joe Smith – RHP
Tomo Okha – RHP
Jess Todd – RHP

I once thought that R. Perez (LHP) and J. Lewis (RHP) would be the perfect setup guys for Kerry Wood. However, the way they have struggled this season has made be think otherwise. Perhaps they will be coming in to 2010 with fire in the belly, and something to prove after disappointing seasons this year. If they don’t step up, then I think Tony Sipp (LHP) and Chris Perez (RHP) can fill that void. Being that the pen is currently a little RHP heavy, a release of Okha, and a call up of someone like Rundles may be likely.

All in all, I don’t think this is a terrible pitching staff. If the ‘pen isn’t infected with the same “ineffective bug” that spread like wildfire, I think our bullpen can be decent. I think our rotation will be very young and inexperienced, but the talent is there. While it isn’t the perfect matchup, the pressure of being “contenders” definitely won’t be weighing on us next year.

Here’s to the future…

The Beginning

For the maiden entry of this blog, I felt it proper to introduce the reader to myself, my background in baseball, and how a young Oklahoma boy began to follow the Cleveland Indians.

In our short history, baseball has been America’s favorite pastime as an organized sport as early as the Civil War. It is ingrained into our culture, and can be considered the flagship of Americana. The method in which baseball has ingrained itself into American culture, can only occur as it is ingrained into the hearts and minds of the populous. This can be said by countless boys and girls, men and women, all telling similar stories.

I can’t necessarily begin to describe how my interest for baseball initially came into being. From my perspective, it has always existed. Whether it was a something I naturally adopted, or it was something to which I was introduced, I credit my father in either circumstance. Baseball became a more than a sport to me; it seemed to consume my every waking moment in some fashion or another for the entirety of my childhood and beyond. Whether I was playing with my friends in the cult-de-sac by my house, collecting baseball cards, playing little league, following MLB box scores in the newspaper, going to see the AA Tulsa Drillers play, or reading Matt Christopher books in the local library, I rarely thought much of life outside baseball.

I can’t even rationally describe how I began to follow the Indians. I remember my earliest tangible baseball memories being in what must have been 1990 or 1991. I collected baseball cards, and for whatever reason, the Atlanta Braves and the Cleveland Indians always appealed to me. Whether it was due to the early forms of an interest in Native American culture and history, I cannot say. By about 1993 (I only remember this, because it was the year before the strike), I had locked in my interest with the Cleveland Indians. The 1990s was a roller-coaster of emotions for me as a new Indians fan. We visited the World Series twice, and twice were my hopes and dreams crushed. I remember the odd feelings as we played the Braves in ’95. As I had prior interest in them, when the Braves won, it was almost a feeling like running in to an ex-girlfriend with a new boyfriend. I didn’t know if I should be happy for her or dislike the situation altogether. Either situation, as I became very familiar with both, did little to sooth my disappointment. The 1997 World Series seemed to be worse, as we were so close to winning.

As the years went on, though I played baseball in high school, my interests began to shift to life outside baseball. It was a whole new outlook, one to which I was trying to adapt. High school became the pursuit of girls and rock-and-roll, as I imagine it is for most. By the time college came around, I had chosen not to play baseball in college, and shifted my focus to academics. As my undergraduate tenure came to a close, I realized that I had became rather detached from baseball, something that had dominated my life for years. By 2007, I began to follow baseball with an earnest that I had not exhibited since childhood. It was unbelievably refreshing, although a cold realization was growing in the pit of my stomach. I remember watching young guys like Asdrubal Cabrera play in 2007, and realize that they were younger than me. A dream that I had held as a young small-town Oklahoma boy of playing professional baseball seemed to be gone. Perhaps my new-found fervor for baseball is an unconscious desire to try and live out a small part of my dream. If that is all I can have, than it is a pretty damn good thing.

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