January 2011

Prospecting

chisenhall_all-star_250_09.jpg‘Tis the season for ranking prospects and organizations. On Tuesday night, MLB.com unveiled its Top 50 Prospects list. Among those picked as baseball’s future stars was Indians third base prospect Lonnie Chisenhall, who came in at 36th overall.

Chisenhall was the lone Cleveland representative on Minor League expert Jonathan Mayo’s Top 50 list. Had Mayo’s list included the Top 100 prospects in the game, Tribe farmhands such as second baseman Jason Kipnis, right-hander Alex White and leftyDrew Pomeranz would likely have made the cut.

Considering all the focus on the Indians’ youth and future core, and the attention that some of the club’s recent trades for packages of prospects has garnered, I asked fans over Twitter for their thoughts on having just one players named to the Top 50 list.

Here are a few of the responses I received…

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Needless to say, I was blown away by all the optimism and positive feedback! Oh, wait…

When considering MLB.com’s Top 50 list, though, @thinkkaz was one person who showed a solid understanding of where Cleveland’s system currently stands. There is good depth and many players on the cusp of reaching the big leagues, but the club lacks a pile of players that make the top-prospect-list-makers drool all over themselves.

Asking for a bunch of players to be thrown into the Top 50 is expecting a lot, too. Yes, I know the Royals had six on Mayo’s list and the Rays had four. But there were also four teams — I’m looking at you Mets, Marlins, Brewers and A’s — who had no players in the Top 50. The Indians were one of 14 teams with only one player on the list.

Rest assured, Tribe fans, the Indians’ farm system is in good shape. Sure, the jury is still out on the overall return of the CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee deals, but Cleveland’s Minor League system is widely considered one of the best in baseball. Last year’s Draft haul only added to that evaluation.

If you like going with Baseball America, then know that BA has the Indians ranked seventh in the 2011 organizational rankings (ESPN’s Keith Law disagreed, ranking them 17th). That’s the third year in a row that the Tribe has cracked BA’s Top 10 (third in 2010 and seventh in 2009). BA also rated the Indians’ 2010 First-Year Player Draft as the best in the game.

Maybe you’re not seeing the money being spent wildly on the Major League roster right now, but know that the Indians have shown a willingness to increase spending behind the scenes. The Draft provides one example. Consider that the Tribe shelled out $9.4 million in bonuses for the 2010 Draft class compared to $4.9 million the year before. For their top 10 picks in 2010, Cleveland went overslot by more than $3 million in order to sign all the selections.

So, yes, the Indians only had one player — Chisenhall, currently rated the second-best third base prospect by Mayo, and one of only two third basemen in his Top 50 — on Tuesday’s much-anticipated list. That said, the Indians could have at least three prospects (Chisenhall, Kipnis and White), probably more, impacting the Major League club in 2011.

In the end, shouldn’t that matter more right now?

–JB

Toronto did what now?

Lets_Make_A_Deal.gifI thought Jayson Werth’s $126 million contract with the Nationals was going to be the shock of the offseason. That was until Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos’ latest coup.

On Friday, the Blue Jays convinced the Angels to take outfielder Vernon Wells and the $86 million he’s owed through the 2014 season. Toronto netted Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera and did not send a single penny to L.A. as part of the deal.

Given Wells’ recent history of injury and performance, and the fact that he was set to earn $23 million in 2011 and $21 million in each of the following three campaigns, it was believed that his contract was unmovable. No one was going to agree to take on a mammoth deal for a player that was not performing as one of the game’s elite stars in recent seasons.

Well, turns out we were all wrong. Anthopoulos found a taker and suddenly anything seemed possible. Maybe this deal meant other big contracts weren’t the immovable objects we thought they were. Take the Indians, for example. Could the Wells trade mean there could be hope for Cleveland to find a taker for Travis Hafner?

Wells has a strong bounceback year in 2010 (.273 with 31 homers and 88 RBIs), but it was his best showing since his incredible 2006. That year, he hit .303 with 32 homers and 106 RBIs, posting a 6.7 WAR and .899 OPS in the process. In the four years since, he’s averaged a 1.9 WAR, and a .770 OPS while battling injuries and other issues.

Hafner last put up an eye-popping performance in ’06, when he hit .308 with 42 homers, 117 RBIs and a 1.097 OPS. He posted a 5.9 WAR that year. In the four years since then, Pronk has also battled injuries and consistency at the plate, putting up a 5.5 WAR overall (1.4 on average) with a .803 OPS.

Similar, yes. But hardly the same.

“DH — very different,” said one rival general manager.

Wells is a center fielder by trade, but can easily shift to a corner outfield spot or spend some time as a designated hitter. Hafner is limited as a pure DH, really only giving the Indians 13 potential trade partners. That list is obviously smaller when considering how many teams already have a clear-cut DH in the fold for the next season or two. Beyond that, Hafner has a limited no-trade clause, so he could possibly nix a deal to another team.

Another difference is the fact that Wells 2007-10 performance, while diminished, came between ages 28-31. Hafner heads into 2011 as a 33-year-old DH. The market for an aging DH with that recent history — plus owed salaries of $13 million in each of 2011-12 with another $13 million, or a $2.75 million buyout, for 2013 — would be small.

So while I’d expect the Indians to be open to trading Hafner, especially in the midst of a rebuilding period, I wouldn’t expect him to be dealt. What I would expect is for Cleveland to continue to hold out hope that Hafner can bounce back and avoid the disabled list. Pronk is still being counted on as a big part of the Tribe’s offense for the next two years.

TRIBE EYEING CANTU? Free-agent third baseman Jorge Cantu told the Houston Astros Examiner on Saturday that the Padres, Braves and Indians were among the teams considering his services for the upcoming season. On Monday, reports indicated that the Padres might be the front-runner to sign him, while the Braves’ interest has cooled. Messages left with Cantu’s agent were not immediately returned. When reached via e-mail, Indians GM Chris Antonetti declined to comment on Cantu specifically, but said the club continues to look at infielders and starting pitchers that the team feels would improve upon the in-house alternatives.

UPDATE: 11:16 p.m. ET — Online reports tonight are indicating that Cantu has signed with San Diego. So there goes that. Carry on…

–JB

Nice to meet you

chef.jpgWhat business did Iron Chef, and Cleveland native, Michael Symon have with the Indians this week?

No, he wasn’t overhauling the ballpark food. Symon took some time to chat with a group of Tribe prospects as part of this offseason’s Winter Development Program.

Let’s have Indians farm director Ross Atkins explain…

“We’re putting them in front of what we feel are advanced resources,” Atkins said on Wednesday at Progressive Field. “Like our sports psychologist, former players, former managers, current Major League staff and other local leaders and successful people that have figured out a way to reach the pinnacle of their careers.

“Any way we can get those types of resources in front of them, we’re trying to do that this time.”

That’s where a guy like Symon comes in. No, he’s not going to be giving second baseman Jason Kipnis tips on where he should be for relays from the outfield, or telling Lonnie Chisenhall the best way to hit a curve. What Symon can offer is advice on how to put yourself on the road to success. That’s something that can translate to young athletes trying to work their way to The Show.

So how did the discussion with Symon go?

“It actually was extremely productive,” Atkins said. “It really was. They had great questions for him. He’s a great success story. He’s a former athlete and he talked about having benefited from that. These guys know there’s no secret [to being successful].

“But the more they hear it, and the more they can connect with people that are telling them there’s no secrets, and this is what it’s going to take, and the level of sacrifice and commitment it’s going to take, hopefully the sooner in their maturation they realize that.”

That is a bulk of the training taking place this week for 14 of Cleveland’s prospects. Next week they’ll head to the team’s facility in Goodyear, Ariz., for more on-field instruction. This week was more off-field work, with some strength and conditioning mixed in, as well as stops around the area to become more familiar with the city itself.

Players in Cleveland this week for the WDP included pitchers Alex White, Bryce Stowell, Vinnie Pestano, Matt Packer, Zach McAllister, Chen-Chang Lee, Corey Kluber and Nick Hagadone, infielders Lonnie Chisenhall, Jason Kipnis, Jared Goedert and Cord Phelps, and outfielders Chad Huffman and Ezequiel Carrera.

“This is a program that’s been in place for 16 years,” Atkins said. “It’s evolved. It’s evolved mostly because of the resources that they have in addition to the resources that we provide. When it began, when [team president Mark Shapiro] started the program, they didn’t have the strength and conditioning resources that they have now.

“A lot of it is getting acclimated to us, the front office, the local media and the city of Cleveland.”

Items of note…

  • White could’ve reached Triple-A last year had it not been for an innings limit around 150 frames. As things turned out, he ended the year with 150 2/3 innings pitched. As for this year, Atkins said: “He’ll go into our Triple-A rotation this year and try to make an impact [in the Majors] at some point in 2011. That’s not etched in stone, but that’s the most realistic situation at this point.”
  • Atkins also discussed White’s ability to get quick outs last season by relying heavily on his two-seam fastball. That led to fewer swings and misses than the Indians might’ve hoped, so the club stressed working on his other pitches (including his four-seamer). This balance of getting quick outs vs. developing all your pitches is a topic I plan on diving into in an upcoming blog post or article on indians.com.
  • Is there a chance that a guy like Kipnis — with no Triple-A experience beyond a brief stay in the postseason — could crack the Indians’ Opening Day lineupe? “Sure, there is a shot,” Atkins said. There’s always a shot. That’s a better question for [GM Chris Antonetti] and for [manager Manny Acta]. As things stand right now, it seems most likely that Kipnis begins the year with Triple-A Columbus.
  • Here’s how Atkins describes Kipnis as a hitter: “Ultimately, he’s that confident competitor. It’s like, if you describe Cliff Lee, it would sound like a lot of left-handed pitchers — he throws 91-92, has a good breaking ball. But when the game’s on the line, there’s that fierce competitiveness and that elite condifence.” Quite the compliment.
  • Like Kipnis, Chisenhall, Cleveland’s top third base prospect and the No.2-rated third base prospect in the game, appears ticketed for Triple-A to open the year. That said, Chisenhall hopes to make a push for the big league job at third this spring. “I’m going to try to play hard and make the decision hard for them,” Chisenhall said. “I’ll give it everything I’ve got.”
  • If Kipnis (2B) and Chisenhall (3B) do indeed begin the season in the Columbus infield, that begs the question… where does Phelps fit in? Not even the Indians are sure at this exact moment. “Cord has created an incredible situation for himself by creating that question for us,” Atkins said. “That was not a question a year ago. Cord created that situation, as well as Lonnie and as well as Jason Kipnis. I think what we’ll do is watch the Major League team get set and then we’ll react to that.”
  • Phelps took part in the Arizona Fall League to hone his skills at third base. He feels most comfortable as a second baseman right now, but is willing to work at multiple spots. Phelps said he played some third base in college, but he needs more reps at the hot corner to get accustomed to the position again. He’ll get plenty in spring. The pile of infield prospects could push Phelps into the competition for a utility role for the Tribe.
  • Noticeably absent from the WDP was lefty prospect Drew Pomeranz, but that was by design. The Indians feel he’s at least a year away from possibly making an impact in the Majors. Similarly, White did not take part in the WDP a year ago. Atkins said Pomeranz will likely open the year at advanced Class A or Double-A. He’s on a similar progression as White and could potentially see The Show in 2012, if all goes according to plan.
  • Moving Hagadone to the bullpen last year was for two reasons. 1) To control his innings workload, and 2) To see if that might be a role that better suits Hagadone. That said, Atkins noted that Hagadone is coming to camp this spring with a shot at being either a starter or reliever. The organization has not determined which role he will fill during the upcoming season.
  • Here’s what Atkins has to say about the progress of Adam Miller in his recovery from multiple surgeries on the middle finger on his pitching hand: “That’s a great story. He’s better and better. Every time he touches a baseball it’s a little more comfortable. Every bullpen he throws is a little better. We’re exceptionally glad to still have him here. I think he’s been commited to us as much as we’ve been commited to him.”
  • As much attention as the Tribe’s starting pitching prospects get, Atkins is just as excited about the potential of the team’s relief prospects — guys like Stowell and Pestano, as well as Josh Judy and Zach Putnam. In fact, having so many talented young relievers made it difficult for the Indians to add bullpen depth with Minor League free agents. Said Atkins, “That’s a deep crew. It’s unusual that selling jobs to Minor League free agents, we had no jobs to sell. They could do the quick math and they could see, ‘Where do I go if I end up in Triple-A?'” Atkins cited the signing of Doug Mathis, for example. He said Mathis was told he’d be competing for a spot in the Major League bullpen. But, if he didn’t make the cut, it wasn’t guaranteed that there would be room in the Triple-A bullpen. Talk about a good problem to have.

QUOTABLE: “I actually just got a new one. I got a new third baseman’s glove. Hopefully it breaks in quick, because spring’s coming up.” –Phelps, asked how many different gloves he needs to bring to camp this year.

EIGHT BALL: All the Type A free agents are off the board this winter, so the first round of the 2011 First-Year Player Draft is set. Your Cleveland Indians have the eighth overall pick this coming June. The Top 10 picks are as follows: 1. Pirates, 2. Mariners, 3. D-backs, 4. Orioles, 5. Royals, 6. Nationals, 7. D-backs, 8. Indians, 9. Cubs, 10. Padres.

Before I go…

The Double-A Akron Aeros sent a press release out today that, well, I can’t even do it justice. You’ve just got to read this for youself.

AKRON, OHThe Akron Aeros today announced plans for the ballclub’s newest food item – the “Nice 2 Meat You” Burger.  This burger is a colossal creation – 1 ¼ lb. hamburger, stuffed with a ½ lb. hot dog, and ¼ lb. of bacon, cheese, and onions.

Fans can tempt their taste buds with the tantalizing two-pound “Nice 2 Meat You” Burger.  It will be another food item at Canal Park that fans will have to see to believe!!  

 “Where else can you find a two pound burger that includes other meat sensations, such as hot dogs and bacon, and with cheese and onions for extra flavor?  Along with “3 Dog Night”, the “Nice 2 Meat You” Burger will provide some extreme food options at Canal Park this summer.  We are looking forward to feeding many fans with Akron’s newest food sensations,” said Aeros Executive Vice President & Chief Operating Officer JIM PFANDER.

Where else indeed. Not sure you’d find this type of creation at any of Michael Symon’s restaurants. And, if that press release wasn’t enough to whet your appetite, I leave you with the image that was included with the announcement.

burger.jpgMmmm.

~JB

Where the payroll stands

Calculator.jpgI always hated math. The problem throughout childhood was that I was also good at it. This creates quite an issue as you go through school.

I kept testing well, so they kept putting me in increasingly complicated math classes. When you absolutely hate math, this is awful. Maybe I should’ve picked some wrong answers on all those aptitude tests.

Then, the greatest thing happened when I arrived at Michigan State University. Because I was a journalism student, match wasn’t exactly a key requirement. You had to take some math as part of your overall studies, sure, but there was a way out.

I could test out. All those tests that put me in the advanced math classes had led to this — a test to get me out of them. So I took their little test, scored high enough and never had to take a math class while I was at MSU. Go Green!

Why the heck am I rambling on about all this? Well, turns out math is a big part of what I do now. And, because I haven’t studied it in so long, I’m prone to more errors now than I ever was as a kid. Thankfully, Baseball Math mainly sticks to the basics of addition, subtraction, multiplying and dividing.

Luckily, here in the real world — unlike in that jerk of a teacher’s calculus class way back in high school — calculators are allowed. Today’s lesson is in simple addition as we take a glance at how the Indians’ payroll looks in light of Tuesday’s signings of Shin-Soo Choo and the Pitchers Perez.

On the books for 2011

1. DH Travis Hafner: $13 million
2. CF Grady Sizemore: $7.5 million
3. SP Fausto Carmona: $6.1 million
4. OF Shin-Soo Choo: $3.975 million
5. CL Chris Perez: $2.225 million
6. SS Asdrubal Cabrera: $2.025 million
7. RP Rafael Perez: $1.33 million
8. OF Austin Kearns: $1.3 million
9. RP Joe Smith: $870,000
10. RP Jensen Lewis: $650,000

Total: $38.975 million

That figure does not include incentives that are within some of these deals. This leaves us with 15 spots on the Major League roster. For argument sake, let’s say Adam Everett makes the Opening Day roster and gets his $700,000 salary. Now, we’re at $39.675 million for the big-league payroll.

The 14 remaining spots will go to players who will earn at least the league minimum. As is the case with most clubs, some will earn slightly more. With the league minimum around $414,000, let’s go ahead and argue that the last 14 spots will earn an average of $450,000. That equates to $6.3 million.

Estimated total: $45.975 million

That’s a drop of around $15 million from where the payroll stood in 2010. Over the past two years, the payroll has decreased about $35 million. In the near future, the payroll will likely remain slim given the fact that the Tribe will be fielding so much youth, with a crop of prospects on the cusp of breaking into The Show.

These estimates obviously aren’t set in stone right now, but the numbers aren’t likely to vary all that much by Opening Day. Indians GM Chris Antonetti indicated on Tuesday that he is still exploring starting pitching options on the market. A Minor League contract with a spring invite seems the most likely scenario for any pending acquisition.

*Earlier, I wrote incorrectly that Chris Perez’s new deal was worth $2.25 million. His correct salary for the 2011 season is the one listed above at $2.225 million. Apologies.

~JB

I Dont Knows on third

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for questions.jpgOne month from tomorrow, pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training for the Indians. With that in mind, it’s never too early to start glancing at how the Opening Day roster might shape up.

This spring will have plenty of competition for multiple jobs. Cleveland has holes to fill in the rotation and bullpen, at second and third base, and up and down its bench. As things currently stand, the Tribe will have 59 players* in camp with only 25 jobs to offer.

I served as a starter and closer for my high school team back in the day, and I also manned second and third base as my main positions. Maybe I should think about finding my old glove and trying to get in baseball shape again.

Maybe not…

…the only claim to fame I have as a prep ballplayer was setting my high school’s all-time record for being hit by the pitch.

Back to the matter at hand, now seems like a good enough time to take a glance at the current crop of competitors. Obviously, the Indians could make more moves prior to Spring Training, but any pending transactions would likely be more of the Minor League contract variety.

Let’s start with…

The Rotation

Front-runners: 1. Fausto Carmona, 2. Justin Masterson, 3. Mitch Talbot, 4. Carlos Carrasco
Available jobs: One
Candidates: Josh Tomlin, Jeanmar Gomez, David Huff, Anthoney Reyes, Joe Martinez, Zach McAllister, Alex White

Situation: Obviously, a poor spring could push Carrasco out of the front-runners category, but right now he’s basically in a position where it’s his job to lose. Barring an offseason addition, Tomlin, Gomez and Huff appear to be the three main competitors. Reyes is a darkhorse. Martinez might have a better shot at a bullpen role and McAllister and White are more likely to see the big league rotation later this season, if needed.

Next…

The Bullpen
Front-runners:
1. Chris Perez (closer), 2. Rafael Perez, 3. Tony Sipp, 4. Jensen Lewis, 5. Joe Smith
Available jobs: Two
Candidates: Justin Germano, Doug Mathis, Joe Martinez, Vinnie Pestano, Aaron Laffey, Josh Judy, Corey Kluber, Frank Herrmann, Zach Putnam, Bryce Stowell 

Situation: I’m including Lewis and Smith in the front-runners group due to their recently-signed deals to avoid arbitration. Also, worth noting is the fact that Lewis and Germano are out of player options. The bullpen situation could be very fluid this spring, and obviously this season. Laffey would appear to have the leg up on one of the vacancies due to his ability to serve as a lefty long man. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Tribe takes a chance on one of its younger relief prospects if there is a guy who really steps up with a strong spring.

Second Base

Front-runner: Jason Donald
Others candidates: Luis Valbuena, Jason Kipnis, Adam Everett, Jayson Nix

Situation: Kipnis has no Triple-A experience, minus a brief stay for the postseason, but he will certainly have a shot to make a push for the second base job this spring. It’s more likely that Kipnis opens at Triple-A and finds his way into the starting role later in the season, though. I’d list Donald as the leader in this group for the time being, but he’s also going to be considered for the opening at third.

Third Base

Front-runner: Jayson Nix
Others candidates: Jason Donald, Jack Hannahan, Adam Everett, Jared Goedert, Cord Phelps

Situation: Despite his defensive issues a year ago, Nix appears to be the front-runner for the job at third right now. That could easily change this spring. If Kipnis starts making a strong bid for the job at second, Donald could wind up in serious consideration for third. Another possibility is that third base could see more than one player in the mix during the early part of the season, buying time for the eventual promotion of top prospect Lonnie Chisenhall. If the Tribe opts against youth and wants more or a placeholder until Chisenhall’s arrival, Hannahan or Everett could figure more prominently into the mix. It’s worth noting here that Nix is out of options.

The Bench

Front-runners: Austin Kearns (OF), Lou Marson (C), Adam Everett (INF), Shelley Duncan (UTIL)
Available jobs: Four
Others candidates: Paul Phillips (C), Luke Carlin (C), Jayson Nix (INF), Jason Donald (INF), Luis Valbuena (INF), Jack Hannahan (INF), Jared Goedert (INF), Cord Phelps (INF),Travis Buck (OF), Trevor Crowe (OF), Chad Huffman (OF), Jordan Brown (OF/INF)

Situation: There are four bench jobs up for grabs and two will go to a fourth outfielder (Kearns is locked into this role right now) and a backup catcher (Marson leads the pack at the moment). As things currently stand, I think Everett and Duncan have the edge for the final two roles. This is assuming a couple things. First, it’s assuming Everett doesn’t win a starting role in the infield. Second, it’s assuming center fielder Grady Sizemore (left knee) and catcher Carlos Santana (left knee) will indeed be healthy in time for Opening Day. If either face a setback, that obviously would drastically alter the outfield/catching situations. Kearns would become a starter in the outfielder if Sizemore is out, suddenly opening the door for two outfielders to make a push for roster spots. I’ve excluded Kipnis from the backup infield competition because I believe he’ll be at Triple-A if he doesn’t win the second base job. I like Duncan off the bench due to his ability to serve multiple roles (outfield, designated hitter, first base). It’s also worth noting that the Indians like what Duncan brings to the clubhouse. If Kearns is going to replace an outfielder on days when a tough lefty is pitching, Duncan would be there to possibly fill in for Hafner as a right-handed option for the DH spot. Then again, a guy like Crowe could be an option as a fourth outfielder if the Tribe opts to use Kearns as a right-handed DH possibility. It could take all spring to sort out the bench.

Given the current options, how would you fill the available jobs?

*When I first posted this, the number of players in camp stood at 58. It has since been updated to 59. Today, Jordan Brown (designated for assignment last week to clear a roster spot for Kearns) was outrighted to Triple-A Columbus and will be brought into camp as a non-roster invitee. I’ve added him to the list of bench candidates.

–JB

His whole life is a fantasy camp

132x92_fantasycamp.gifEver dream of turning a double play, flipping a curveball or swinging for the fences as a member of the Indians? Well, you can take a cue from Kramer and test your mettle at Indians Fantasy Camp.

This year’s camp opens on Saturday and runs for one week. On Thursday, the Indians announced that 18 former members of the Tribe will be taking part in this offseason’s annual Fantasy Camp.

Joining the campers will be Max Alvis, Brian Anderson, Joe Azcue, Scott Bailes, Len Barker, Gary Bell, Dave Burba, Joe Charboneau, Jim “Mudcat” Grant, Mike Hargrove, Dave Nelson, Rick Manning, Chad Ogea, Kevin Rhomberg, Cory Snyder, Greg Swindell, Pat Tabler and Rick Waits.

“Fantasy Camp is truly the eof a lifetime,” Bob DiBiasio, Indians vice president of public relations, said in a statement. “The opportunity to enjoy a big-league experience amongst the backdrop of a picturesque, ballpark paired with the camaraderie established among pros and teammates creates lifetime memories for campers.

“Many Fantasy Camp attendees will tell you this is among the greatest weeks of their lives.  No other sport can bring together persons of various ages and skill levels like the game of baseball.”

Per the press release, “Continuing in 2011, all proceeds generated from Fantasy Camp will benefit Cleveland Indians Charities (CIC). Since 1989, CIC has donated more than $6.5 million to youth-oriented agencies and organizations of Northeast Ohio and annually provides educational and recreational opportunities to nearly 20,000 Cleveland-area children.”

The campers take part in a 7-game schedule and the division-winning teams play in a title game under the lights at Goodyear Ballpark. A simulated game against the pros highlights the week’s activities. Campers also get an authentic Indians uniform, roundtrip airfare, meals, hotel, gifts and more.

Unfortunately, this year’s Fantasy Camp is full. That said, it’s definitely something to keep in mind for the future. I’ve gotta say, I might have to take part in one of these in an upcoming offseason. Check out indians.com for more info.

~JB

Think warm thoughts

jacobs_field_snow_01.jpgCall me crazy, but I enjoy shoveling snow… which means I’ve been having a whole lot of fun over the past two days.

Maybe it’s because I missed out on all the shoveling over the last five years living in Toronto. No matter how high the piles got, life in a downtown condo did not require any outdoor maintenance on my part.

I’m also fortunate now to be living in Avon Lake, where we don’t get hammered with the real heavy stuff. I’ve had to shovel the driveway and sidewalks three times in the past 24 hours, so I can only imagine how much worse it is to the south and east of me. May God help you all as you try to bury yourself out of this latest snow storm.

Seemed to be good timing then when MLB announced the official Spring Training workout dates as the snow began to fall around Cleveland. For your Indians, the pitchers and catchers will begin workouts on Feb. 17 and the first full squad workout will be on Feb. 20. We’re almost a month away.

Today, the Tribe also unveiled the list of players who will be taking part in this year’s Winter Development Program. Those heading to Cleveland for the start of the two-week program will be outfielders Ezequiel Carrera and Chad Huffman; left-handers Nick Hagadone and Matt Packer; right-handers Corey Kluber, Chen-Chang Lee, Zach McAllister, Vinnie Pestano, Bryce Stowell and Alex White; and infielders Lonnie Chisenhall, Jason Kipnis, Jared Goedert and Cord Phelps.

The program runs from Jan. 17-22 in Cleveland and then Jan. 23-29 in Goodyear, Ariz. The WDP includes classroom sessions with various coaches, conditioning drills, fundamental work, guest speakers and on-field activities. The players will also take part in community and charitable events while in Cleveland. The program is now in its 16th year after being orginally developed by Mark Shapiro, now the team president.

Obviously, Chisenhall, Kipnis and White will garner much of the attention this year. That said, there’s a considerable cast of players taking part who could be in the mix for jobs with the Tribe come Opening Day. Kipnis could be a candidate at second base, Phelps and Goedert might make a push for third, and Pestano and Stowell are potential bullpen options. Before the 2011 season is up, you might see plenty of these guys getting stints in The Show.

Other items on indians.com this week…

1. A feature on new GM Chris Antonetti

2. Cleveland unveils plans for “Tribe on Tour”

3. The latest Indians Inbox

4. Castrovince weighs in on recent Tribe trades

5. Indians rework season ticket prices

and…

6. Kearns added to roster; Brown designated  

One last thing.

Not sure how many of my new Indians Nation followers out there are runners. My leftover Toronto followers know that one of my “off-field” hobbies is running — training for marathons, specifically. I’ve run five full marathons dating back to October 2008 (Chicago in ’08 and ’09, Disney World in ’09, and Tampa and Philly in ’10). Right now, I’m planning on running the Cleveland full in May for my sixth. I’ve also challenged myself to run every day in 2011, no excuses. So far, so good (even out in the snow). For anyone interested in following my running exploits, I have a Twitter account dedicated to my ongoing training: @26point2. If that sounds horribly boring, forget I brought it up!

Stay tuned for more…

~JB

Alomar, Blyleven earn Hall election

Roberto_Alomar_12_088c.jpgAfter coming agonizingly close to being elected to baseball’s Hall of Fame last January, Roberto Alomar and Bert Blyleven found their way into the hallowed halls of Cooperstown on Wednesday.

Alomar was named on 90% of the ballots cast, while Blyleven’s name was checked on 79.7%. That was enough for both to earn election after falling eight and five votes shy, respectively, a year ago. They were the only players elected and are set to be inducted in a ceremony on July 24 at the Hall.

I would expect Alomar to go into the Hall with a Blue Jays cap on and Blyleven seems a shoo-in to be elected as a member of the Twins. That said, both players enjoyed strong seasons during their time with the Indians.

Alomar elevated his game to new heights while with the Tribe from 1999-2001, averaging .323/.405/.515 over those seasons. He averaged 21 homers, 38 doubles, 35 stolen bases, 103 RBIs and 121 runs over that span. Along the way, he picked up three All-Star nods, three Gold Gloves and two Silver Sluggers.

Twice with the Tribe, Alomar pieced together seasons with at least a .300 average, a .400 on-base percentage and a .500 slugging. He had three such seasons in his career. Since 1900, only five second baseman have had at least three seasons of at least .300/.400/.500. Soe impressive names, too. Try Rogers Hornsby (9 times), Charlie Gehringer (7), Jackie Robinson (4), Nap Lajoie (3) and Alomar.

Giant_Diamond_King_Bert_Blyleven.jpgAs for Blyleven, he went 48-37 with a 3.23 in 104 career games for the Indians from 1981-85. He was acquired via trade from the Pirates in December 1980 and dealt to the Twins in August of ’85. In ’84 and ’85, Blyleven finished third in boting for the American League Cy Young Award. He was an All-Star in 1985.

I probably don’t have to remind too many of you about the balloting in 1984. Blyleven went 19-7 with a 2.87 ERA, completed 12 games and logged 245 innings. He earned four first-place votes. The two who finished higher in voting were relievers Dan Quisenberry of the Royals and Willie Hernandez of the Tigers. Hernandez took home both the Cy and the MVP.

In that group, Blyleven’s WAR of 6.2 ranked highest. Hernandez had a WAR of 4.8 and Quisenberry’s came in at 3.2. Among those who received Cy votes, only Toronto Dave Stieb ranked better than Bly with a 7.7 WAR in 1984. To put Blyleven’s 6.2 in perspective, consider that Bob Feller had a WAR higher than that four times in his storied career.

Congrats to both Alomar and Blyleven on earning election today.

Other items…

1. Here’s an update on Grady Sizemore
2. Indians signed RHP Doug Mathis today

and…

3. A glance at the Tribe’s arbitration situation

–JB

Where were you…

gavel%203.jpg… the last time the Indians went to an arbitration hearing?

I was 8 years old, growing up in Chicago and rooting on the Bulls as they pushed their way to their first NBA title. Hey, um, sorry about “The Shot,” by the way.

(True story tangent: My mom bought me a shirt that said “Air Jordan” when I was a little kid. She seriously thought it was an airline. Had no idea there was some basketball superstar with my name. God Bless her.)

Moving on…

The last time the Indians went to an arbitration hearing was 1991. Second baseman Jerry Browne wanted $1.1 million and pitcher Greg Swindell wanted $2.025 million. The sides did not budge. Arbitration hearings were required. Browne lost. Swindell won.

I’m bringing this up because tomorrow (Jan. 5) is the first day players can officially file for arbitration. Cleveland has four players — Shin-Soo Choo, Asdrubal Cabrera, and the Pitchers Perez — who fall into that category. Players file between Wednesday and Jan. 15, salary figures are due to be exchanged on Jan. 18 and the hearings, if necessary, run from Feb. 1-21.

When I covered the Blue Jays last winter, GM Alex Anthopoulos had a policy of setting an internal deadline for negotiations. In short, if he did not avoid arbitration by settling on a contract prior to the exchange date, then he would go to a hearing with the player in question. Anthopoulos believed it was an effective tool for getting talks done fast, wasting no one’s time. Either agree to a deal or we’re done talking and it’ll be settled at a hearing.

I asked Indians GM Chris Antonetti if he might use a similar policy and he said it was not something the Tribe did — not as a blanket policy anyway. Antonetti said each contract would be considered on a case-to-base basis and if an internal deadline was required, they’d implement one. Behind-the-scenes tactics aside, expect the Indians to settle with all four of their eligible players.

I’d expect Choo to reach a deal somewhere between $3 million or $4 million in his first year of eligibility. I find it hard to believe that the Tribe will sign him to a long-term contract this winter. I could be wrong, but Choo’s agent, Scott Boras, did not seem too optimistic about the possibility of agreeing to an extension this winter when he addressed the issue at the Winter Meetings.

Chris Perez is eligible for the first time due to reaching Super 2 status and Cabrera is also a first-time arbitration candidate. Rafael Perez is in his second go-round after settling on a $795K contract for last season. The Indians already avoided arbitration with Jensen Lewis ($650K for 2011) and Joe Smith ($870K plus incentives for ’11).

And, in case you missed it, here’s the latest edition of the Indians Inbox on Indians.com. Keep sending those questions to IndiansInbox@gmail.com.

Last, Go Buckeyes! That actually was painful to type for me, but after the New Years Day showing by the Big 10, I’m willing to put our differences aside and root for THE Ohio State University. Just this once.

–JB 

 

Happy New Year!

814_snowdays_fireworks.jpgIt was a quiet New Years celebration at the MLBastian household this year.

After hopping around various relatives’ homes for fun-filled Christmas gatherings, the missus and I wanted to ring in the New Year away from any chaos. Of course, the decision to stay home was made easier by the fact that we have both been fighting off colds.

Must be all those Christmas cookies we ate.

For us, 2011 is shaping up to be a pretty good year already. After living in Toronto for the past five years, we found our way back to the Midwest, to a house and town that just feels like home. With a young son now, the time has come to start introducing family traditions and that made these holidays a lot of fun.

On New Years Eve, I had MLBastian Jr. — 16 months old now — head out on our front porch to bang on a pot with a wooden spoon. He loved it and banging on pots and pans will be our New Years tradition from here on out. It’s what my family did when I was a kid. Our neighbors here will have to forgive us for doing so at 8 pm. Hayden had to get to bed.

As for the wife and I, we watched movies and tuned in to watch the ball drop in New York at midnight. We then walked outside to listen to celebrations around our neighborhood. Sure enough, we could here fireworks, noise makers and plenty of people yelling. We also heard some ticked off dogs barking away.

My point is this, we’re thrilled to be here in the Cleveland area now and looking forward to what the future will bring for us here.

And for all of you who have sent me notes via Twitter asking what the heck happened with my Spartans against Alabama… that was brutal. But, more to the point, what an awful New Years Day for the Big 10! I’ll be pulling for Ohio State so the conference can salvage the abysmal showing so far.

You won’t find that I get too worked up over bowl games, though. I personally don’t see the point of bowl games unless your school is in the national title game. Bring on some playoffs and maybe I’ll be interested. I haven’t watched a bowl game in years. Now, when there’s a Big 10 title game? That’s something I’ll care about.

MSU won a share of the Big 10 title this year. That’s good enough for me.

But, I digress…

You’re here for Indians content, but there isn’t much going on as of this moment. Cleveland has spent all of $1.3 million this winter on one Major League contract, preferring to use Minor League deals to bring in some competition for Spring Training. It’s a very young roster with a lot of growing to do, so the time to spend big is not now.

If the Tribe makes any more moves before spring, it might be to add another infielder or to bring in a starting pitcher. Cleveland might decide to head into spring with the infield options it has — third base and second base being the biggest question marks. On the mound, the Indians continue to be linked to veteran Bartolo Colon as a low risk, affordable option.

What would you like to see done with the roster before Opening Day? 

–JB

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