Saturday, April 11, 2009

Indians Thoughts

A few thoughts on our now 0-5 baseball team:

1. I didn't expect the Indians to win more than about 85 games this year but they're definitely not this bad. My guess is that they'll settle down eventually and become a .500 team. What kills me about the idea of another atrocious April though is that the Indians are going to be completely out of it by the all-star break, even in a very mediocre division. That makes for an awfully long season. It's one thing to play a meaningless second half. It's quite another to be playing virtual exhibition games in early June.

2. Shapiro and Dolan have to be absolutely terrified by the scenario that might be unfolding for the organization right now. Combine a cold, wet April with a terrible start for the team, now add in a bad recession and the possibility of the Cavs making a very deep playoff run that could last all the way into late June. I mean really, if all of those things come to fruition, the team could be looking at an absolute financial armageddon. What's more, I don't even know if they could really even dump salary if they wanted to because most of the expensive pieces that they might consider moving are virtually untradeable (Hafner, Dellucci, Kobayashi). I mean sure, you could shop a guy like Jake Westbrook if he can come back healthy but then you'd be seriously jeopardizing your chances to contend in 2010. The situation has the potential to turn into a mess. If the Indians can't stay within a hope and a prayer of the division lead in the first half, the only card that Shapiro will have to play as the summer rolls on is to bring up the kids from Columbus and sell the fans on the idea of growing with the team, with an eye toward next year. I don't see Indians fans opening their wallets for that idea but it might just be Shapiro's only option.

3. I've never been an anti-Eric Wedge guy. I've always thought that for the most part, he's done a decent job with what he's been given. That being said, I think if after 40 games, the Indians aren't showing any signs of life, it might be time to make a move. If nothing else, it would allow the Indians to bring in a new voice and a fresh perspective. I also think it's high time for Derek Shelton to be relieved of his duties as well. I know people will point to the second half of last season but I've always had my doubts about Shelton. If you look at the Indians young position players, how many of them have truly improved their approaches at the plate during Shelton's tenure? As a team, the Indians still don't work themselves deep into counts, they strike out at an alarming rate, and they swing at an abnormally high number of pitches outside of the strike zone. You can even look at a guy like Sizemore, who by all accounts is just a phenomenal hitter, and see that his weaknesses really aren't getting any stronger. I just don't think Shelton is helping the team to develop disciplined young hitters. It's time for him to go.

4. As for the pitching staff, I think the bullpen will end up being fine. There are just too many decent arms in that pen for them to continue to struggle like they have. I also think that both Lee and Carmona will straighten things out to some degree and end up winning between 12-15 games apiece. I think Lewis isn't going to be back withe the big league team anytime soon and I suspect that Pavano will end up being this year's Jason Johnson. It's certainly not a rosey perspective, but looking forward to next year (and after all, it's already mid-April....why wouldn't we be looking forward to next year), the Indians would have a chance to piece together a decent rotation out of Lee, Carmona, Westbrook and then some combination of Reyes, Laffey, and Huff.

5. Here's something that really bothers me about the Indians: As a team, they have absolutely no speed. So, even when they string together a couple of base hits, they end up playing station to station and making the diamond look like a clogged toilet. They must improve this aspect of the team going forward. I know that speed is probably less important in the American League, but it is still a huge disadvantage to be completely devoid of good baserunners. For example, look at a guy like Ryan Garko. Yes, at times, he's a perfectly decent hitter, but if he's going to be a sloth on the basebaths, he at least needs to be able to hit for power. If he can't (and I think it's safe to say that he can't), I'd rather have a guy like Michael Brantley (and yes, I'm aware that they play different positions) who, although he may bring even less power, will be a threat every time he gets on base. This team has been slow for far too long. It's time to get faster and more athletic.

6. It really upsets me when I see the Indians swinging at first pitch after first pitch against good pitching like they did today with Halliday. I understand that when you're facing an ace, sometimes you only get one pitch in an at-bat that you can really drive, but if you keep making outs early in counts, you have no chance of getting to the other team's bullpen. Good teams always seem to work deep into counts and force other team's pitchers to throw strikes. The Indians . . . not so much. Again, I think some of the blame for this has to fall on Shelton and Wedge.

7. I think that if the Tribe isn't in contention at the All-Star break, the should explore the idea of trading Victor Martinez. I know that's going to rub a lot of people the wrong way but I think it makes a ton of baseball sense. I believe that the Indians have an option on Martinez for next year, but then after 2010, he would be a free agent (and of course, the Indians probably wouldn't be able to afford to re-sign him). If Victor is healthy and reestablishes himself as a premier hitting catcher/1B during the first half, at age 30 with a lot of gas left in the tank and a contract that plenty of teams could absorb, Martinez could bring in a huge haul. If you look at this team, they're probably a couple of years away from contending again with or without Martinez. If they moved him, they would still have an above-average catcher in Kelly Shoppach, along with the jewel of their farm system, Carlos Santana. With all of the teams out there that would fall all over themselves to get Martinez, the Indians should use their organizational depth at Catcher to bring in more prospects. Given their payroll limitations,the team is probably going to struggle to contend more than once every few years. If they can move Martinez (and maybe even Cliff Lee) now, they can create a bumper crop of top-level prospects to give them the chance of growing into a serious contender a couple years down the road.

That's all for now. Here's hoping we can get off the schneid tomorrow.

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