November 2010

Manny being Manny

ActaBatterhorn.jpgIt’s been an interesting few days for Indians manager Manny Acta. Fresh off a mini-vacation with his family to a remote beach area in his native Dominican Republic, Acta was in Cleveland, hands gripped tightly to an inflatable tube as he flew down the Batterhorn at Snow Days at Progressive Field.
 
That was just Saturday.
 
On Sunday, Acta attended his first NFL game, watching the Browns edge out the Panthers, 24-23. Acta was sporting an Indians winter hat at the game, but he said he was proudly wearing and waving a bright orange foam finger as he cheered on Cleveland’s team.
 
“It was a good experience,” Acta said with a smile. “And we won. Regardless of how, and who we beat, we won.”

Acta is soaking up all things Cleveland — evidenced by his usage of the word “we” when talking about the Browns.
 
He raved about watching Browns running back Peyton Hillis plow through defenders, even referencing the hard-nosed back when asked if Grady Sizemore might need to adjust his all-out style in light of his recent knee injury.
 
“That’s just the way he’s wired,” Acta said. “That’s like asking Hillis to stop running people over.”
 
Acta took the time to gather with reporters on Monday afternoon for a casual lunch, followed by a question-and-answer session. Monday evening Acta was scheduled to hold a chat with Indians’ season-ticket holders as well. Here are a few highlights of Acta’s discussion with us local scribes today
 

  • On more than one occastion, Acta noted that the non-tender date is coming up. Considering Cleveland is limited in what it can do financially, looking to this second wave of free agents — typically less-expensive options — might be a way for the club to solve the holes at third base and in the rotation. Thursday is baseball’s non-tender deadline.
  • Asked about third base, Acta said, “We’ll see what’s out there. if not, we’re prepared to go with our in-house candidates.” He took a slightly different route when answering about the club’s search for rotation help. “We should be able to add a guy or two and have him compete. There are some guys that are going to go to Spring Training to compete for us who probably still need some more seasoning in the Minor Leagues.”
  • One internal option for third base is Jayson Nix, who is working on his defense at the position at winter ball in Puerto Rico. That said, Acta noted that Nix’s performance in P.R. will not dictate whether the Tribe seeks an addition at the hot corner. “If that would be the case, then I would be tomorrow sitting in Puerto Rico watching him play,” Acta said with a chuckle. “You have to give it to him. Not too many guys will take the challenge and go to winter ball and get better. He’s just trying to make himself more versatile.”
  • There was no real update on Sizemore, but Acta said he did see the center fielder when the manager was in Arizona to see some Fall League action. Understandably, Acta said the club will take a very conservative approach with Sizemore in the spring, but the manager added that, “Until I hear anything different, he’s our center fielder. But, we have to get to Spring Training and see how he is and how things develop.”
  • Acta maintained his sense of humor when asked about the Tribe’s poor luck with injuries: “My seventh, eighth or ninth hitter never went down,” he quipped. The manager is excited about the possibility of having both Sizemore and catcher Carlos Santana back at full strength and knows that a pile of injuries present a big problem for teams like the Indians. “It’s something that is tough to absorb when you’re a team rebuilding and you don’t have the depth or the flexibility to just go grab somebody else.”
  • Acta noted that there are definitely some spots in the Indians’ bullpen that are “up for grabs.” Said the manager: “We have Chris Perez and we have the two lefties [Tony Sipp and Rafael Perez]. Then we have [Joe] Smith and the rest of the guys. Nothing is set in stone when it comes to that, so guys like [Josh] Judy, he could come into Spring Training and who knows? He could win a spot. We’re not dead set on the rest of those guys.”
  • When it comes to leadership within the clubhouse, Acta said he expected guys like Chris Perez, Asdrubal Cabrera and Shin-Soo Choo to play a larger role come 2011. Acta has no problem with younger guys stepping up, either: “I just don’t know who told people you have to be a 10-year veteran to be a leader.” Then again… “I’ll take pitching and defense over leadership,” Acta quipped.
  • Acta was asked for his thoughts about Indians CEO Paul Dolan’s recent comments about this not being the right time to spend on free agents. Replied Acta: “It doesn’t upset me, because … he also said that when he feels it’s the right time, he will spend.” After referencing the Kerry Wood and Mark DeRosa signings of nto so long ago, Acta added: “My job is actually to make these guys better and to make Paul spend. … I feel very confident about what we have here. He was pretty clear about that, that when he thinks it’s the right time, he’ll do it, and he has done it.”

Makes you wonder…

… can Hillis play third base?

~JB

     

And its so white as snow


Thumbnail image for SnowDays.jpgAs tempting as it might have been to take part in Tuesday’s  “Snolympics” at Progressive Field, I decided it was best for me to sit out.

I was a bit beat up after running Sunday’s Philadelphia marathon after all.

I did head down to the Indians’ ballpark, though, and got a sneak peak at the upcoming “Snow Days” experience, while other media members battled it out on the ice and through the snow around the stadium.

I’ve got to say, reading about what “Snow Days” will include is one thing. Seeing it up close was something else entirely.

It was pretty impressive to see The Batterhorn — with its 10 lanes for snow tubing — towering over left field, running from the bleachers and down to the field. On top of that, there’s a quarter-mile ice skating track that weaves around the field, a maze made out of hay bales (it’s hardly as tall or intimidating as the garden maze in “The Shining,” don’t worry), a small ice skating rink, an area for making snowmen or tossing snowballs and a fire pit up on the Home Run Porch.

“Snopening Day” is Friday, so if you’re not running a Turkey Trot on Thursday morning, you could always burn off that holiday feast with a few laps on the “Frozen Mile” at the ballpark. The “Snow Days” event runs through Jan. 2 and if you want more info on hours and ticket prices CLICK HERE.

~JB

 

Notes and quotes

BallinNet.jpgYikes, that blog title isn’t clever at all. As a Seinfeld fan, I’d love to use “Excruciating minutiae” but I can’t step on Castroturf’s, um, well, turf. So I’m opening it up to the floor for suggestions. What should I call these posts when I dive headfirst into a bunch of Tribe-related topics covered today? Let’s here what you’ve got. Otherwise, I’ll have to let my utilitze my corny sense of humor.

  • First off, before I delve into anything else, my 14-month old son learned how to say “baseball” today. Well, OK, it sounds more like “bah-bawl”, but we’ve got to start somewhere. I just finished piecing together my new office in my new Ohio home and on the walls are framed black and white photos I’ve taken over the years. There is one that he really likes, a photo I took in Spring Training of a home run ball hanging in the netting of a fence (above). He points at it and starts saying “Bah-bawl!” I’m one proud papa.
  • Us Tribe scribes spoke with GM Chris Antonetti tonight about Shin-Soo Choo’s path to gold (and military exemption), among other topics. The Indians have yet to hear from the Korean Baseball Office concerning the status of Choo’s military requirement, but have no fear, the Indians fully expect the outfielder to be exempted from the 30-month obligation. Antonetti said he hopes to know officially in the next 12-24 hours.
  • As for Choo’s performance (.571, 3 HR, 11 RBIs in 5 games), Antonetti was more than impressed. “It’s hard to imagine a more presure-filled environment than playing under the circumstances Choo was playing in,” Antonetti said. “It’s certainly a great accomplishment for him and Team Korea to win the gold medal at a very competitive tournament and to perform exceptionally well in helping lead Team Korea to the gold.”
  • Now, about that contract extension. Well, predictably, Antonetti did not go into much detail about any possible ongoing talks with agent Scott Boras about a long-term deal with Choo. Antonetti was quick to remind that Choo (arbitration eligible this winter) is controllable for the next three years. That said, the GM said he plans on continuing dialogue with Boras at some point this winter.
  • Friday marked the final day for clubs to add players to their 40-man roster in preparation for the upcoming Rule 5 Draft. The Indians had five vacant spots and they used every last one of them. Added to the roster were infielder Jared Goedert, left-hander Nick Hagadone, right-hander Josh Judy, righty Corey Kluber and righty Zach McAllister.
  • One notable player left unprotected is right-hander Adam Miller. The former first-round pick has logged an inning in the past two years and is coming back from multiple finger operations. Miller is trying to make a comeback as a reliever and Antonetti said the pitcher hit around 90-91 in a game appearance in Instructional League. In that outing, Miller threw both fastballs and sliders. Until we get to spring, and the Indians can closely monitor Miller’s progress, his status for 2011 remains an unknown.
  • Others of note who are eligible for the Rule 5 from Cleveland’s system? Minor Leaguer Josh Rodriguez, who has the ability to man multiple infield and outfield positions. Other notables include Beau Mills, Matt McBride, Jerad Head, Carlton Smith and Juan Diaz. I have my doubts about any of the players listed being taken in the Draft by another club.
  • Antonetti said he has some productive talks at the GM Meetings earlier this week with rival GMs, “laying the groundwork” to see if there might be potential fits for trades. Given Cleveland’s financial situation, trades seem like a more likely route for making additions. That, or some late-offseason signings that won’t break the bank. Third base and starting pitching remain the top two priorities.
  • As for that possible addition to the rotation, Antonetti said reliability is the main trait the Tribe is seeking. Said the GM: “We have depth. We have options. There are any number of guys, we can probably go eight or nine or 10 deep, that could pitch at the Major League level for us next year. I think the one thing we lack in our rotation is some reliability. It’s a very young rotation. I think our oldest starter next year is 27 and we have two guys in Carmona and Masterson who have thrown over 180 innings in a season. So while it’s a very talented group, there’s not a lot of certainty with it and I think that’s one of the things we would look to potentially address this offseason if we could.”
  • Beyond that and potentially bringing in a new third baseman? Antonetti said adding another catcher and a right-handed-hitting outfielder are other areas possibly in need of addressing. Said the GM: “There are a couple of other areas where we could add depth. Obviously, we have two very good catchers in Carlos Santana and Lou Marson, but we could look certainly complement that area as well. And, an extra outfielder, preferably a right-handed bat.”

With that, I’m signing off and will be heading to Philly in the morning. I’m taking part in the Philadelphia Marathon on Sunday. It’ll be my fifth full marathon (Chicago 2008-09, Disney ’09 and Tampa ’10). The move to Ohio fell right in the thick of my training, so the program became a bit sporadic for a while. Not sure I’ll beat the 3:43 I put up in Tampa in February, but I’ll make it over that finish line one way or another.

–JB

Its gold, Jerry! Gold!

Choo_Korea2.jpgShin-Soo Choo probably would’ve found a way out of his military service one way or another. But there was one sure-fire way to earn exemption: gold.

Well, consider that done.

On Friday, South Korea rode the S.S. Choo to a gold medal at the 16th annual Asian Games being held in China. The Koreans defeated the defending champs from Taiwan 9-3 and earned military exemption in the process.

According to Korean military regulations, athletes who capture gold at the Asian Games are exempt from 30 months of military conscription. The requirement is for all able-bodied men under 30 years of age.

Choo is 28 and entering his prime and he can now do so without the threat of military hanging over him. Had South Korea fallen short, Choo might’ve stayed in the U.S., applied for citizenship, but it would’ve made going home a big issue.

Choo used his bat to swing his way out of the obligation legitimately. All he did in the five wins for the South Koreans was hit .571 (8-14) with three homers, six walks, eight runs scored and 11 RBIs. In the gold medal game, he went 2-for-4 with two RBIs and a stolen base.

Now maybe the focus can shift to trying to sign Choo — a Scott Boras client — to a long-term extension. The Indians obviously have their financial limitations, but wrapping Choo up is certainly a priority for the club. With those 30 months of military service off the table, however, the Tribe can proceed with more clarity.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT…

Baseball America revealed its Top 10 Indians prospects earlier this week. The list is as follows: 1. 3B Lonnie Chisenhall, 2. RHP Alex White, 3. 2B Jason Kipnis, 4. LHP Drew Pomeranz, 5. OF Nick Weglarz, 6. RHP Jason Knapp, 7. OF Levon Washington, 8. SS Tony Wolters, 9. RHP Joe Gardner, 10. LHP Nick Hagadone

GET ‘EM WHILE THEY’RE HOT…

Opening Day tickets (April 1 vs. White Sox) go on sale Monday at 2 pm ET. You can purchase them at indians.com, Indians Team Shops, 1-866-48-TRIBE and at Ticket Master Ticket Center locations. Single-game tickets for the entire 81-game home slate will go on sale at 10 am ET on Feb. 28.

–JB

No pressure…

Choo_Korea.jpgThere’s suiting up for your home country for national pride. And then there’s suiting up for national pride combined with required military service on the line.

Indians outfielder Shin-Soo Choo is currently experiencing the latter.

On Thursday, at the Asian Games in Guangzhou, China, Choo launched his third homer of the tournament to help South Korea to a 7-1 win over China. That puts the South Koreans in Friday’s gold medal game against the defending champs from Taiwan.

According to Korean military regulations, athletes will receive an exemption from 30 months of military conscription if they capture the gold. All able-bodied South Korean men are required to serve two years in the military by the end of their 30th year. Choo, who turned 28 in July, is using his bat to escape that obligation.

Through four games, all Choo has done is go 6-for-10 at the plate with three home runs, five walks, eight runs scored and nine RBIs. In Thursday’s win, he went 1-for-1 with a homer. China walked him in his other three plate appearances, but that didn’t stop him from crossing home plate twice.

The question is, however, if South Korea slips to the silver, what does that mean for Choo? The Indians would like to explore a long-term extension with the outfielder as he is entering his prime on the big league stage. Rest assured, Choo plans on doing all he can to sidestep the possible military obligation.

One option that exists is for Choo to potentially apply to become a United States citizen. He does have a home in Buckeye, Ariz., so such a move is certainly a possibility. One way or another, it appears as though Choo will remain in a Tribe uniform and not one issued by the South Korean military.

–JB

Im going back down south now

Map.jpgThe title of this post — my first as MLB.com’s beat reporter for the Indians — is a kind of tribute to the scribe I’m replacing here in Cleveland. I love Anthony Castrovince’s creative use of song lyrics on his Castroturf blog and look forward to seeing him continue that style in his new columnist role for MLB.com.

Castrovince is a great reporter and a strong writer and I know — as many Tribe fans have already informed me via e-mail and Twitter — I indeed have some sizeable shoes to fill. For all you “Castronauts” out there, you can at least take comfort in knowing that Anthony is sticking around in Cleveland and his voice won’t be too far away.

Now, however, is the time of the “Bastianauts!”

Too soon?

Many of you might recognize my byline from MLB.com or from Twitter. Since 2005, I have covered the Toronto Blue Jays for our website. It was a great experience working north of the border, but the time has come for my family to get closer to home. I’m not a Cleveland native, but I am a Midwest boy at heart and Ohio just feels right.

I was born in California, but moved before memories of palm trees and beaches could be planted in my brain. Home is originally in the south suburbs of Chicago and my wife and I still have a large portion of family in that area – both on the north and south sides. I graduated from Michigan State University in ’05 and jumped at the chance to follow my dream of writing about baseball when the opportunity came up to cover the Blue Jays.

With a wife, and now a 1-year-old son, I had been looking for a chance to return to the Midwest. When I learned that Anthony was transitioning into a new role with MLB.com, I immediately wanted the chance to assume the Indians beat. Having lived here since the end of this past season, I can already tell that taking my talents to Ohio was a great decision.

You will have to get used to a few changes now that Anthony is no longer on the beat, though.

First of all, there will not be as many Bruce Springsteen references (Sorry, bro). With me, you’ll have to get used to the fact that Pearl Jam is the Greatest Band of All-time. You’re also going to have to put up with me talking about my Spartans from time to time. Go Green! Hey, at least it’s not maize and blue. (We share a mutual hatred in that regard). I’ve already had a few of my new neighbors roll their eyes upon seeing my giant MSU flag hanging in my garage. I’m sure they’ll try to turn my son into an Ohio State fan as he grows up here.

You’ll find that I’m very active on Twitter. You can find me under @MLBastian and follow along. I’ve already received a wave of kind words welcoming me to the Tribe beat and I appreciate it very much. It was great to hear from so many Indians fans right after it was made known that I was taking this job.

And, despite what some people might say, I think this is a great time to be a fan of the Indians. Maybe the wins and losses aren’t there at the moment, and the playoffs might seem far away, but the team is young (youngest in the Majors at the end of the season) and in a position to grow as a group in the next few seasons.

I was in the pressbox in Cleveland in 2007 when the Tribe sat only a few outs away from a World Series berth, so I’ve witnessed first-hand the frustration the city feels. It wants a winner and it’s been a long time. I grew up living and dying with the Cubs, so I know the feeling. It’s tough to say “be patient” when so much time has already flown by.

As a reporter, I think this is a good situation in which to begin my career in Cleveland. With a young cast of players, a relatively new Tribe manager in Manny Acta and a first-year GM in Chris Antonetti, this club is in a transition period and looking to build on the successess it experienced down the stretch in 2010.

Tossing a new Indians reporter into the mix can’t hurt, and I’m definitely happy to be here.

Now, let’s get this thing started…

~JB

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