<$BlogRSDUrl$> The Indians Compendium

Friday, April 30, 2004

Our Wonderfully Craptastic Bullpen

What a grotesque beast this year's bullpen is turning out to be.

What's mind-boggling is that most of the culprits have major-league track records. Jose Jimenez, David Riske, and Scott Stewart have all closed before with at least some degree of success. Yet all three have been absolute gas-cans this season.

What can the Indians do about it? Not much, besides going after another fungible arm or two like Rick White. Otherwise they just have to just hope that the main guys get things back together before the rest of the team is affected by it.

The most unfortunate thing about the bullpen is that it's overshadowing an otherwise improved team. The Indians are light-years better offensively, ranking at least in the middle of the pack in vritually every team category. The starting pitching has been pretty good for most of the season. But the only thing people seem to mention on this team is the bullpen...it's been that bad.

VORP Results - April

Probably the best measure of how good or bad a player has been is his VORP, or Value Over Replacement Player. It's essentially a measure of how much better a player is than a generic replacement player. If you'd like to see the mathematics behind this, here's a good introduction.

First the starters:







CC Sabathia10.8
Jason Davis0.7
Cliff Lee6.3
Jeff D'Amico-1.7
Jason Stanford6.8
Jake Westbrook11.2


Only veteren crumb Jeff D'Amico has really been a below-average pitcher, though Jason Davis has resided there for a couple starts. If you assume Westbrook is going to boot out Jeff when Jason Stanford comes off the DL, it's a pretty good rotation.

Now, for the hitters:










Matt Lawton5.0
Omar Vizquel5.7
Jody Gerut3.0
Casey Blake1.5
Travis Hafner9.6
Ron Belliard18.2
Ben Broussard3.6
Victor Martinez3.6
Alex Escobar1.1


Again, not too bad considering the expectations for the offense. Obviously Belliard is playing way over his head, but the runs have been there. Unfortunately, the wins haven't come because of these guys:










David Riske-4.8
Rafael Betancourt1.3
Scott Stewart-5.5
Jose Jimenez-1.1
Chad Durbin-8.8
Rick White0.4
David Lee-5.0
Kaz Tadano0.0


Ouch. Betancourt has the highest value at 1.3, and the rest have been pretty much scrub-level.





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Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Buffalo (and Akron) Soldiers

Demoted RHSP Jeremy Guthrie to Akron (AA) from Buffalo (AAA)

A lot of good is happening with the Bisons, but there's one bad spot so far this year. Jeremy Guthrie, who was supposed to make his major-league debut, has been demoted to Akron. The article mentions mechanical concerns, and I hope that's all it is. Jeremy's velocity hasn't really decreased at all, but he simply can't find the plate at all this year. He's walked 18 batters in 19 innings.

Now onto the promising stories; namely Brandon Phillips and Jhonny Peralta, who could make the rebuilding effort a heckuva a lot easier if they develop as promised. Brandon especially has been very promising at the plate. He's only struck out twice in 57 ABs, an astounding turnaround from last season. And the new plate discipline has not come at the expense of power, either; he's slugging .491 so far.

Jhonny Peralta has been as good as Phillips or better. He's hitting .351/.433/.483.

Now what will be interesting to see is where both will end up on the infield. Phillips is a natural shortstop, and he's looking like the heir apparent to Omar Vizquel. Brandon has played 8 games at 2B, and 9 games at SS, so he'll probably be the first called up if Vizquel or Belliard have to go on the DL. Jhonny Peralta has also played some games at short (7), as well as third (9). I don't think the acquisition of Russell Branyan will cut down on Peralta's time at short, as there's more a need in Buffalo's outfield than at third.

Speaking of third, Corey Smith is raking in Akron. He's slugging a cool .710, and has cut his strikeouts dramatically. But his errors are still a big problem; he's booted the ball 7 times in 16 games at the hot corner. The Indians have been beyond patient with Smith, and haven't moved him to the outfield as of yet, but the time is coming when a decision has to made on him.
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Sunday, April 25, 2004

Branyan is Backkkkkkkkkkk

Traded a PTBNL/cash to the Atlanta Braves for 3B-OF Russell Branyan

This really confuses me. Granted, he's reporting to Buffalo, and the Indians aren't exactly stacked with 3B, but Branyan's left-handed, not exactly Eddie Murray's biggest fan, and hitting under .200 in AAA.

I'll (safely) assume that the PTBNL is pretty much meaningless, or the Indians got Branyan for a couple thousand dollars. What remains to be seen is where Branyan will end up playing. Hopefully that's in Buffalo, because frankly, I don't want to see him in Cleveland at all.

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Transactions

Designated RHRP David Lee for Assignment

Purchased the Contract of RHRP Kazuhito Tadano and Recalled him to Cleveland

Traded OF Trey Dyson (A+) to the Los Anegeles Dodgers for RHRP Rick White; Added him to the 25-man roster

Optioned LHRP Jason Anderson to Buffalo (AAA)

Placed C Josh Bard on the 60-day Disabled List (groin)


"Please Excuse Our Dust..."

In the past three days, the Indians have renovated their bullpen, adding two new pieces.

First of all, prospect Kazuhito Tadano was added to the 40-man roster. He's rated the Indians' #12 prospect by Baseball America, and projects as a pretty good reliever, possibly a closer. You all know the external stuff concerning Tadano, so I won't belabor the point. He probably won't be put into too many pressure situations, and will probably start out in long relief. He had started in Buffalo, mainly to get his work in after an off-season illness.

And today, the Indians traded Trey Dyson, one half of the Brian Anderson trade, to Los Angeles for veteren Rick White. He pitched with the White Sox and Astros in 2003, and posted a combined ERA of 5.78. So far this year, White hasn't given up a run in 11.2 IP in Las Vegas. I wouldn't expect too much from White at his stage of his career, but the move was probably made to stabilize the bullpen more than anything, much like Dan Miceli did last year for the time he was here. Looking over the Buffalo roster, there was little, if anything, that could have helped in Cleveland. Luther Hackman has been absolutely awful (16.88 ERA), as has Tim Young (14.73). Jason Anderson probably could be a useful reliever in the future, but it's pretty apparent that he needs more work in the minors. Fernando Cabrera has also struggled in the first two weeks, and he really wasn't going to be ready until at least the All-Star Break.

So, here's the "new" bullpen (for now):

CL David Riske
RH Rafael Betancourt
LH Scott Stewart
RH Rick White
RH Jack Cressend
RH Kaz Tadano
RH Chad Durbin

So where does that leave Jake Westbrook? I'm no manager, but I'd have to think that 16.0 one-hit innings justifies a spot in the rotation, no matter what happens when Jason Stanford returns in another start. When Jose Jimenez returns, things become even more interesting. Tadano is the only one in the current bullpen with an option, so he may only be up here for a cup of coffee.

Regardless, no matter what the Indians do, the troika of Riske, Betancourt, and Stewart HAVE to do their jobs. If not, these moves are simply rearranging Titanic's deck chairs.
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Friday, April 23, 2004

Transactions

Optioned LHSP Jeriome Robertson to Buffalo (AAA)

Recalled LHRP Jason Anderson from Buffalo (AAA)
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Relief, in More Ways Than One

Well, the past couple of days have been, shall we say, eventful. As they have been for me. So expect to read a lot today.

Item number one is obviously CC Sabathia's injury. The preliminary diagnosis is a strained bicep muscle. Trust me, that's good news if that's all it is. Immediately after hearing that CC was not only pulled because of injury, but that it was more specifically a "sore shoulder", I immediately thought of the worst. A rotator cuff injury would sidetrack CC for a extended amount of time, and a torn labrum is just about as bad as a gets for a pitcher. Now that Tommy John surgery (elbow ligament replacement) is so common, the shoulder injury is the final frontier for pitchers. Because the shoulder is such a complex joint, an injury to the labrum could mean permanent damage to the arm, and could effectively end a pitcher's career. So I am definitely relieved to hear that it's a muscle injury instead. Hopefully the Indians (and they have so far) play it conservatively with CC and allow him to rest until it's fully healed, because a lot of times a player will get injured a second time because they compensated for a previous lingering injury.

Now, onto the Jake Westbrook dilemma.

On Monday night, Jeff D'Amico (who ironically pitched well on Thursday in a role reversal) got shelled for four runs before a lengthy rain delay. Eric Wedge then brought in Jake Westbrook to try to eat up a couple of innings. And eat them he did; he threw seven perfect innings, throwing a little over 80 pitches. Wedge did not send him out for an eighth inning, instead bringing out Rafael Betancourt, the team's best reliever this year in a tie game, who promptly gave up a three-run homer. Game over.

Almost immediately the fans started to slam Wedge on taking out Westbrook. He had only thrown a little over 80 pitches, and was throwing a perfect game, they said. Why take him out?

I don't agree with everything Wedge does (or every other manager in baseball), but Wedge was absolutely right in pulling him. Here's why:

1) Westbrook has a history of arm injuries. In 2002 he had elbow surgery (ulnar nerve, bone spurs), and practically missed the entire season. He attempted a comeback late in the year, but was shut down in August because of elbow soreness.

2) Westbrook's maximum pitch count this year was 75. Given that pitchers injure themselves more frequently when tired, he would have been at a greater risk to re-injuring his elbow. Pitch counts are not unto themselves a preventive measure; they are simply a tool for a manager to gauge how tired a pitcher is. If a pitcher is normally accustomed to throwing 95-100 pitches in a start, throwing 120 pitches in a game probably indicates that he threw 15-20 pitches tired. Not good. How do you prevent this? I'm no pitching coach, but normally a pitcher is gradually stretched out so that he can manage whatever pitch count the team feels necessary to throw. So in his next outing, Westbrook should be able to go 85 pitches comfortably. Yes, you can bring up pitchers 30-50 years ago, but the fact is that this is not the 1960s, and it probably will never be. Going "old school" is not an option in today's game, where pitchers simply aren't programmed to throw that many pitches or innings.

3) Rafael Betancourt was the best reliever in the bullpen, and it's a tie game. My assumption was that Betancourt pitches the eighth, and Riske the ninth, giving the Indians two innings to get one run. It didn't work; Betancourt didn't do his job. Had he done his job and the Indians score in the 8th or 9th, no one would have praised Wedge for the move. Why? Because they would have done their jobs.

Wedge could have gone Dusty Baker and thrown Westbrook out there until the game was over. But what then if, because of the stress those last two innings caused him, he re-injures his elbow and is out an entire year? Then you lose Sunday's starter (he'll take the place of Jason Stanford, who's on the DL), and lose his services for the entire year.

Baseball is a game of risk management, both on the field and off. You choose situations where there is the least risk of things going wrong. Yes, managers sometimes go with their 'gut', and sometimes they are right. But show me a manager who goes with his gut on every decision, eschewing the data available to him, and I'll show you a manager who's unemployed. Especially when it comes to injuring pitchers arms.

The Bullpen Merry-Go-Round

Jason Stanford, although his forearm injury wasn't that serious, was DLed anyways in order for the Indians to bring up some more arms for the bullpen. Jeriome Robertson, who was acquired this spring in order to provide depth, is now doing so. For now, he'll probably take over for Jake Westbrook as the longman, and possibly make a spot start here and there. The rotation is all mucked up thanks to bad performances (D'Amico, Durbin) and injuries (Sabathia), so he might be starting this week sometime, or at least until the rotation gets reorganized.

Jose Jimenez is also on the DL. Hopefully his obscure muscle injury was the cause of his dramatic drop in velocity, but I'm not real hopeful. David "Assignable" Lee was brought up in his stead. He'll serve as the mopup pitcher, and will probably be gone in a couple of weeks, until the next fungible arm is decided on.

Couple Guys to Watch

OF Ryan Goleski. He's mashing the ball in Lake County (.367/.426/.735). Not bad for a 24th round pick.

C Ryan Garko. Also mashing, though a bit more impressive because it's in Kinston (.429/.478/.690). I doubt seriously he'll stick at catcher, but teams found places for Craig Wilson and Matt LeCroy.

SP Adam Miller. As a rule, I try to temper any enthusiasm for pitchers below AA, because of the inherent risk you take with young pitching, but I can't ignore 21 SO in 16 innings. Plus he's only allowed 2 walks and 5 hits. He also doesn't turn 20 until after the season.

One Last Thing

I've changed my e-mail address to indians@gmail.com. So please address any correspondence there from now on

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Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Transactions

Placed LHSP Jason Stanford on the 15-day Disabled List (forearm)

Recalled LHSP Jeriome Robertson from Buffalo (AAA)
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Monday, April 19, 2004

The Real Matt Lawton?

Other than the first couple weeks of the 2002 season, I haven't seen Lawton like this in an Indians uniform. He's always had the eye at the plate, but the fact that he's hitting for power now really is encouraging. He's sort of a nontraditional leadoff hitter, but frankly how many "traditional" leadoff men are in the game now? If Matt can turn back the clock and become Lawton v. 2000, this offense will get a boost. Of course, then he becomes tradable as well.

Here's how the regulars are hitting so far:











PlayerBAOBPSLG
Lawton.321.373.585
Vizquel.296.356.370
Gerut.298.385.474
Blake.294.385.392
Hafner.349.408.721
Martinez.206.279.436
Broussard.350.480.500
Escobar.200.263.229
Belliard.423.423.519


Obviously these numbers will not continue to hold, but this is definitely encouraging considering that the offense was expected to be a weakness this year. This lineup is murder on right-handed pitching, but we all saw what happened when the Tigers started southpaw Mike Maroth. The most missed player on the team is probably Ryan Ludwick, as he was expected to play some first this year. Regardless, this team is definitely not a finished product, but we're really beginning to see the strengths and weaknesses of this team, and that's what this season is all about. If the process proceeds as planned, the weaknesses will be addressed this offseason.
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Saturday, April 17, 2004

Transactions

Placed RHRP Jose Jimenez on the 15-day Disabled List (intercostal muscle)

Placed RHRP Bob Wickman on the 60-day Disabled List (elbow)

Purchased the Contract of RHRP David Lee from Buffalo (AAA)

Sorry about the delay in posting, but I've been really busy as of late.

Judging on the past two games against the Tigers, this team is talented but inconsistent. Which is pretty normal for a team as young as the Indians. Yes, the lineup probably had a bit to do with the 6-1 loss, but it was more a lack of hitting with RISP than anything that cost the Indians the game. Jason Davis pitched "OK", but fell behind to a lot of hitters, and that usually spells disaster no matter who's on the mound. Left-handed pitching, which the AL Central has a lot of, is arsenic to this lineup. Check these career splits versus LHP out:

Ben Broussard .184/.246/.296
Jody Gerut .200/.271/.303
Travis Hafner .202/.284/.356

Those are probably the three best hitters on the team, and when you have to play Lou Merloni at first rather than Broussard or Hafner, it's a problem. The solution? Shapiro's #1 job this offseason is to get 2-3 good right-handed hitters to plug into this lineup. Until then, I guess you just bide your time until you can start playing teams without all left-handed starters

But first things first. Last night's game was a validation of sorts to those who've supported the rebuild. We aren't going to see the whole lineup click like that every night this season, but it does show you what this team is capable of. Victor Martinez had a great game, and Jody Gerut had a career game, coming very close to hitting for the cycle. CC Sabathia finally got his well-deserved first win. It was 70 degrees at game time.

Oh well. You have to live with the ups and downs of such a young team, and moreover you have to be patient; for three clunkers you see, you'll see a game like the one on Friday night. The good thing is that of all the teams in the Central, the Indians have the most money to spend next year, and the most room for improvement. Until then, we bide our time...
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Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Return to Normalcy, or Just a Blast from the Past?

Yesterday, the Indians followed a familiar script:

1) Score first
2) Starter pitches well
3) Increase the lead

However they for some reason forgot:

4) Blow the lead late
5) Lose the game in extra innings

Of course, that didn't mean they didn't try to follow the script. David Riske was on his way towards giving up a four run lead, and then pitching coach Carl Willis made a visit. Three pitches later, the game was over. After the game, Riske said that he had lost his aggressiveness, and he had blown the other games because he was too "nice".

Too nice?

Well, that certainly is a relief. Now if Riske starts getting lit up, the bench can start chanting "no juevos!" like the "other" Indians did to Pedro Cerrano.

Bitter, Party of One?

Judging by Jim Ingraham's piece today, you'd have thought that the Indians had lost yesterday. Is this the same guy who waxes poetic on the Indians' farm system for Baseball America?







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Monday, April 12, 2004

Opening Day, Part II

Today is the home opener, and finally the Indians are back in Cleveland. The road trip was, shall we say, frustrating and maddening. The Indians starters have the best ERA in the American League, the offense has been productive, scoring an average of just over 5 runs a game, certainly better than last year. But the bullpen has just plained sucked. The Indians are 2-3 when leading after 6 innings. Unfortunately, there's no one person to pin the blame on. All four of the Indians' setup men (Riske, Stewart, Betancourt, and Jimenez) have lost or directly contributed to a loss. David Riske has blown both of his save opportunities, giving up leads of 3 and 2 runs, respectively.

So what happens now? First of all, hope that a couple guys get back on track, specifically Stewart and Riske. The Indians don't really have another left-handed reliever that they could call up, and Riske is the team's best reliever. There's a couple of right-handed guys in Buffalo that could be called up (Luther Hackman, David Lee) for a quick fix, but no one in the bullpen have any options. So unless someone gets hurt, the Indians are stuck with the current guys.

What's especially maddening is the fact that both Minnesota and Kansas City were very beatable. The Indians banged around both Jeremy Affeldt and Brian Anderson, probably the Royals' best pitchers, and got to both Brad Radke and Kyle Lohse. Unfortunately, they were only 2-2 during those games. For a team who won't be able to slug past their mistakes, losing these games are completely unacceptable.

Now for positives. The starting rotation has been as good as it possibly could have. Jeff D'Amico turned back the clock four years, Jason Davis has shown a lot of improvement, and CC Sabathia has pitched like an ace. Heck, Jason Stanford kept the team in the ballgame on Friday night, allowing 0 runs in 5 innings. The offense has been solid, with virtually everyone in the lineup contributing. And beyond the numbers, I've noticed a drastic change in approach from several players; Eddie Murray looks to finally been able to get to a lot of the young players, and it's showed.

Also, Brandon Phillips looks like a new hitter, at least in his first few games this year:

14 AB, .429/.500/.714, 1 HR, 1 2B

No, this line is not going to hold up over the course of the year, but the fact that he's taking walks shows that he's at least willing to listen to his coaches. The return of Phillips as a bonefied prospect would be a huge boost to the Indians. Jhonny Peralta has also started the season hot, batting .357 over 14 ABs.

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Thursday, April 08, 2004

Transactions

Claimed RHRP Jason Anderson off waivers from the New York Mets; Optioned him to Buffalo (AAA)

Seeing that Anderson was the centerpiece to last year's Armando Benitez deal, I'm a bit surprised the Mets risked outrighting him, especially when they still had an option on him. By my recollection, Anderson is the 5th bullpen arm claimed off waivers in the past two years (Matt White, Jack Cressend, Nick Bierbrodt, and Cliff Bartosh being the others). Given this history, it looks like Shapiro is definitely looking to build a bullpen without giving out multi-year, multi-million dollar contracts to LOOGYs and various "veterens" that have name value. Just take a look at the current bullpen:

David Riske (56th! Round of the 1996 draft)
Jose Jimenez (1 year, $1M contract)
Scott Stewart (traded Ryan Church and Maicer Izturis)
Rafael Betancourt (minor-league contract)
Jack Cressend (waiver claim)
Chad Durbin (minor-league contract)
Jake Westbrook (the David Justice trade)

Of these seven guys, only Jake Westbrook really cost anything, although Ryan Church could someday become a decent outfielder. Of course, Bob Wickman obviously cost the Indians a ton of money, but his stint with the Indians is essentially over. And hopefully Mark Shapiro has learned his lesson.

So what about Jason Anderson? From what I can tell, he's basically a live arm who has had success in the minors in the bullpen. So the Indians will maybe treak some mechanics in Buffalo, see what he can do, and eventually send him up to Cleveland. Unfortunately for Anderson, Fernando Cabrera and Kazuhito Tadano will probably get chances before he does. The Indians have been successful in their relief projects recently, and hopefully Anderson further that track record.
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Gotta be the Tongue...

Ron Belliard is having a great start to the season...but that's being overshadowed by his odd habit of sticking out his tongue on the field. Oh well, maybe it brings him luck, or possibly he's endowed with an extra sense in his tongue that doubles as a sonar device....

If anyone spies a pic of him doing this on the 'Net, send it my way, and I'll post it here.
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Transactions

Traded a PTBNL to the Chicago Cubs for OF Todd Dunwoody; Assigned him to Buffalo (AAA)
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Wednesday, April 07, 2004

Site Updates

New profiles have been added for Jeriome Robertson, Brent Abernathy, Scott Sauerbeck, Franklin Gutierrez, and Stubby Clapp

I've also updated the Options page to the best of my ability. When the minor-league rosters are officially announced, I'll update the Minor-League Rosters page.

The Agony of Defeat

The two losses on Monday and Tuesday were pretty tough to swallow. In many ways they parallel the back-to-back extra-inning losses last season in Pittsburgh. But however painful the losses, the starts by CC Sabathia and Jason Davis were very much encouraging. Sabathia pitched as well as I've ever seen an Indian starter pitch in a long time, and Davis showed marked improvement over last season. Along with Jody Gerut, Travis Hafner, and Ben Broussard, they make up half of my 10 player list that will make or break the 2004 Indians. All 5 have played well. Broussard however sprained his ankle in Monday's game, and will miss a week, which really hurts the offense.

Who needs to step up? David Riske, Scott Stewart, and Jose Jimenez. The back end of the bullpen lost both games, contests that the Indians for all purposes should have won. Wasting great starts is not an option for this team; they just aren't capable of outhitting suspect pitching, and least of all suspect relief pitching. The more I look at this bullpen, I'd really like to see Eric Wedge use Jimenez as a matchup righty given his splits, and promote Rafael Betancourt into a more prominant role. Scott Stewart can get both righties and lefties out, so he could be used as an 8th inning guy as well, and not just to get one left-hander out.

This month especially, the Indians are going to have to be able to hit left-handed pitching. The AL Central has the most starting southpaws in the league, and that's who the Indians will be facing all month. Ron Belliard, Alex Escobar, and Casey Blake will need to step up especially.

But from the two games I've seen, this team is much more balanced this year. Belliard, Vizquel, and Lawton have helped to add depth to the lineup, and hopefully those three can stay healthy and help take some of the pressure off the young hitters. Tonight Cliff Lee goes tonight, and hopefully his efforts will be rightly rewarded with a win.
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Monday, April 05, 2004

Opening Day

Ray, people will come Ray. They'll come to Iowa for reasons they can't even fathom. They'll turn up your driveway not knowing for sure why they're doing it. They'll arrive at your door as innocent as children, longing for the past. Of course, we won't mind if you look around, you'll say. It's only $20 per person. They'll pass over the money without even thinking about it: for it is money they have and peace they lack. And they'll walk out to the bleachers; sit in shirtsleeves on a perfect afternoon. They'll find they have reserved seats somewhere along one of the baselines, where they sat when they were children and cheered their heroes. And they'll watch the game and it'll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they'll have to brush them away from their faces. People will come Ray. The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it's a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again. Oh... people will come Ray. People will most definitely come.

-Terrence Mann (played by James Earl Jones), Field of Dreams


Today is the day where all 30 major-league teams and their fans think they can win it all. When stadiums across the country, resplendant with bunting and balloons, filled with faithful fans, erupt as the first pitch of the season is thrown. This is the day when every fan sitting in those parks expect great things from their hometown team, expect every player to be better, and no one to get hurt. This is the day where hope springs eternal for moribund organizations, frustrated franchises, and even the nomadic Montreal Expos. This is the year long, painful curses will be exorcised, this is the year when hopes and dreams will become tangible reality. When the home team takes the field for the first time, the uncertainties of the long, cold winter evaporate. Here is the player who was brought in from the other league, the promising rookie, and the old friends back for one more year. This is a time that is both a celebration of our national pastime and also the rebirth of Spring.

Today is Opening Day.


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Sunday, April 04, 2004

Transcations

Traded OF Milton Bradley to the Los Angeles Dodgers for OF Franklin Gutierrez and a PTBNL (by 6/30/04)

Regardless of whether you felt the Indians should have traded Bradley in the first place, they got maximum value for him. The PTBNL is of a different ilk than the one involved in the Ricky Gutierrez trade; it will be a high prospect as well, possibly in the Dodgers' Top 10. As I thumb through my trusty Baseball America Prospect Handbook, Defiance, Ohio native RHP Chad Billingsley would make quite a coup; his one year "anniversary" in the majors is 6-9-04, which would make him eligible for a trade.

I described Gutierrez below as a younger version of Alex Escobar, and the more I look at him, the more I think so. Depending on which publication you look at, he's either above or below Grady Sizemore on the prospect charts. But while Sizemore brings an all-around game to the table, Gutierrez has one of the best power prospects in baseball, and has a very high ceiling. His drawbacks are common to most young power hitters...he strikes out a lot, he gets pull-happy, and has a long swing. But hitting 20 HR in the Florida State League, the best pitcher's league in the minors, at age 20 is impressive. He'll join Jason Cooper and Ben Francisco in Akron, essentially taking recently traded Luke Scott's spot.

Obviously, this will hurt the major-league club unless Alex Escobar suddenly becomes Sammy Sosa. The Indians were going to struggle to score runs even before the trade, and now they will probably struggle even more. I doubt they score less runs than they did last year (they have quietly upgraded several positions in the lineup), but they certainly won't finish in the top half of the league in offense.

But given the circumstances, the Indians got as much value as they could have for a troubled young star.

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Transactions

Optioned OF Milton Bradley to Buffalo (AAA)

Purchased the Contracts of UTIF Lou Merloni and RHSP Jeff D'Amico

Assigned RHSP Jason Bere, RHRP Luther Hackman, RHRP Bob Howry, C Dusty Wathan, and UTIF Chris Clapinski to minor-league camp.


Ok, I can't put this off any longer. If you haven't heard by now, Milton Bradley is going to be traded very soon. Why is he being traded? I don't think it's strictly due to the incident last week against the Astros where Bradley, after being confronted by manager Eric Wedge for not running out a bloop fly ball, he reportedly blew up at Wedge, and left the stadium, taking a taxi back to Winter Haven. I think he's being traded because that incident crossed the Indians' threshhold of grief they could take from him. Reading between the lines, the Indians were willing to give Bradley one last chance this season, and until last week, he's been a model ballplayer.

Predictably, most of the local media has taken Bradley's side in the matter. Until some more substantiated accounts of the incident comes out (if it ever does), I can't really take a side here, because frankly, I don't really know what happened. But I can reason this: for the Indians to trade their best player, their cleanup hitter, four days before Opening Day when fan sentiment is (fairly or unfairly) against them, they must have a darn good reason why. They better. Unfortunately, we may never heard their reasoning in the matter, and it's a matter of time until the Milton Bradley tell-all interview comes out. Just like Robbie Alomar. Just like Albert Belle. No matter who they get in a trade, the Indians will come out of this looking bad to the general baseball fan. And that's unfair.

Now, escaping the odious arena of public perception, let's get into what they could get for Bradley.

Milton Bradley, had he stayed in the lineup for another two weeks last year, could have been in the top 10 in batting average and on-base percentage, and could have been a leader in OPS as well. And he's a center fielder. And he can steal bases. And he's only 25. And he's cheap. So even with his warts, he theoretically has great trade value. Of the teams reportedly in the running for Bradley, Los Angeles appears the best fit. Paul DePodesta, the Dodgers' GM, needs offense in the worst way, worked with Shapiro when they both were in the Indians' front office, the Dodgers have one of the best farm systems in the game, and DePodesta is a huge supporter of the tenets of sabermetrics.

I don't think LA is going to give up Edwin Jackson, possibly the best pitching prospect in the game, for Bradley. But the Dodgers have a couple other blue-chippers in their system:

OF Franklin Gutierrez - essentially a younger version of Venzualen native Alex Escobar. Although the Indians don't lack for outfield prospects, Gutierrez is a right-handed power, something the Indians don't really have aside from Alex Escobar and Ryan Ludwick. Ranked #31 on Baseball America's 2004 Top 100 Prospects List. Of yeah, he's a natural center fielder.

2003 Stats
A+ Age 20 425 AB, .282/.345/.513, 28 2B, 20 HR
AA Age 20 67 AB, .313/.387/.597, 3 2B, 4 HR

1B James Loney - If the Indians hadn't drafted Michael Aubrey last year, this is a guy they'd be really after in trade talks. As of right now, Loney has a slight edge over Aubrey because he's been in the minors for a full season, but I think Aubrey will overtake him this year as a prospect. Still, he's someone the Indians could trade off to another organization for a player that more fits their needs. Ranked #42 on Baseball America's 2004 Top 100 Prospect List.

2003 Stats

A+ Age 19 468 AB, .276/.337/.400, 31 2B, 7 HR

A couple other teams in the running, and some of their top prospects:

Oakland - Joe Blanton
Pittsbugh - RHP John VanBenschoten, LHP Sean Burnett, RHP Bryan Bullington





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Saturday, April 03, 2004

Transactions

Placed OF Ryan Ludwick (knee), RHRP Bob Wickman (elbow), and C Josh Bard (groin) on the 15-day Disabled List

Placed LHSP Brian Tallet (elbow) on the 60-day Disabled List

Outrighted LHRP Matt White to Buffalo (AAA) - (White agreed to outright assignment)

Signed free agents RHSP Robert Ellis and OF David Miller to minor-league contracts

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