March 2013

Bastian’s 2013 preseason picks

cabreraWhy are you, loyal Indians fan, being subjected to a photo of Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera receiving his Triple Crown crown from baseball Commish Bud Selig?

Because I’d rather focus on what I forecasted correctly last year than what I got wrong. And, by wrong, I mean, oh, so wrong. Like, super wrong. Wrong to the point that my colleagues are still busting my chops about it.

Last spring, I predicted that Blue Jays left-hander Ricky Romero would capture the American League Cy Young Award.

Now, I wasn’t taking crazy pills at the time, really I wasn’t. But I didn’t want to do what most writers do, which is pencil in Justin Verlander or Felix Hernandez for the award. I guess I could’ve gone with lefty David Price. That wouldn’t have been too far out on the ol’ limb.

I was accused of homer-ism, considering I covered the Blue Jays for six seasons. I honestly just thought Romero was on the verge of a breakout season. From 2009-11, his win total and innings load had increased each year, and his ERA and WHIP had declined each year. Over that three-year span, he ranked within the AL’s top five in virtually every major pitching category for starters. He was an All-Star in 2011, and received Cy votes. Romero looked poised for a huge year.

OOF.

Romero went 9-14, walked 105 batters, posted a 5.77 ERA and was demoted to Class A earlier this week.

Nailed it!

“Don’t pick me for anything,” Indians closer Chris Perez said.

I think I’ll avoid any extreme darkhorse picks this time around.

That said, I did pick Cabrera to win the AL Most Valuable Player Award, and all he did was win the Triple Crown. I also picked Davey Johnson to win the National League Manager of the Year Award, which he did after leading the Nationals to a baseball-best 98 wins last season.

Those were the two major awards I correctly predicted. I also was right on 10 of the 30 team’s place in their respective division standings, including a perfect 6-for-6 for my NL Central predictions. I also had the Giants winning the pennant (though I had them losing to Texas in the World Series. Swing and a miss!).

As for your Indians, I like what they’ve done heading into this season. The offense has the potential to be really good. It had that potential even before adding Michael Bourn to lead off and take over in center field. What I’m not sure on is how well Cleveland’s rotation will hold up. Over 162 games, that group could get exposed again.

That’s why I’ve got to stick with Detroit as the favorites in the AL Central, and why I’m not ready to declare Cleveland a playoff team. The Tigers have won the division two years in a row and went to the World Series last fall. Even without a clear-cut closer, Detroit’s my team to beat again this season.

And here are all of my preseason picks for this season…

AMERICAN LEAGUE

East
1. Rays
*2. Blue Jays
3. Yankees
4. Orioles
5. Red Sox

Central
1. Tigers
2. Indians
3. Royals
4. White Sox
5. Twins

West
1. Angels
*2. Rangers
3. A’s
4. Mariners
5. Astros

NATIONAL LEAGUE

East
1. Braves
*2. Nationals
3. Phillies
4. Mets
5. Marlins

Central
1. Reds
2. Cardinals
3. Pirates
4. Brewers
5. Cubs

West
1. Giants
*2. Dodgers
3. D-backs
4. Padres
5. Rockies

*indicates Wild Card pick

PLAYOFFS

NL Wild Card: Nationals over Dodgers
NL Division Series: Braves over Nationals
NL Division Series: Reds over Giants
NL Championship Series: Braves over Reds

AL Wild Card: Blue Jays over Rangers
AL Division Series: Blue Jays over Angels
AL Division Series: Tigers over Rays
AL Championship Series: Tigers over Blue Jays

WORLD SERIES

Tigers over Braves

AWARD WINNERS

AL Most Valuable Player: Adrian Beltre, Rangers
AL Cy Young Award: Jered Weaver, Angels
AL Rookie of the Year: Wil Myers, Rays
AL Manager of the Year: Joe Maddon, Rays

NL Most Valuable Player: Joey Votto, Reds
NL Cy Young Award: Matt Cain, Giants
NL Rookie of the Year: Shelby Miller, Cardinals
NL Manager of the Year: Fredi Gonzalez, Braves

Debate away…

–JB

Decision Day in Goodyear

KazmirWhen lefty Scott Kazmir arrived to the Indians’ complex on Monday, and was asked to stop by manager Terry Francona’s office, the pitcher was not sure which direction the conversation was going to go.

Kazmir hoped he’d earned his way into the rotation, but he knows as well as anyone how the business side of baseball can often work.

“I really didn’t know, to be honest with you,” Kazmir said. “I’d like to say I thought I did enough, or I felt like I’ve proven enough, but anything can happen, it really could.”

Kazmir smiled.

“I’m just happy I’m in the situation I’m in now.”

On Monday, Kazmir was named Cleveland’s fifth starter. This is a comeback tale that will be interesting to follow this season. If the lefty can be anything remotely close to the pitcher he was in the past, the Indians caught a break here. And it’s not like they’re asking him to be their ace. He’s the fifth man, being offered a chance to resurrect his career.

Kazmir was on top of the baseball world a few years ago. He led the American League in strikeouts in 2007 and was a rising star in the game. Then came the health issues, and the subsequent mechanical problems, and the trade to the Angels, and lost velocity, and eventually, his release.

Last year, Kazmir pitched with the Sugar Land Skeeters in the Independent Atlantic League. He couldn’t get a big league job. After pitching for Sugar Land, and working overtime during the winter to get back into prime shape, and then pitching in Puerto Rico for manager Edwin Rodriguez (a manager in Cleveland’s farm system), Kazmir caught his break with the Tribe.

They gave him a Minor League deal and he responded by being the team’s most consistent starter this spring. His velocity was back to 92-92 mph (topping at 93-94) after dropping to the mid- to low-80s a couple years ago. He has more pitches now.

Most importantly, Kazmir has a spot back in the Majors.

“It’s a really great story,” Indians GM Chris Antonetti said. “As we told Scott when we met with him, he deserves a ton of credit. He overcame a lot of adversity. He went to the Independent league last year and tried to rework his delivery and get back to the point of being a competitive pitcher.

“He carried that forward in winter ball and came into camp, really from Day 1, ready to go. He impressed from his first bullpen all the way through his last outing. He deserves a lot of credit for the work he put in.”

Kazmir knows his work isn’t done, either.

“I feel like the way I’ve progressed over the last couple of years,” he said, “and the way I’ve progressed during Spring Training, it’s only going to get better. I really feel that way. It’s exciting. It’s exciting to feel that way and to be that confident, but I truly believe it.”

Throughout his sit-down with reporters, the 29-year-old Kazmir spoke softly and seemed relaxed. He said, inside, he was far from it.

“It’s kind of hard to even collect my thoughts right now,” he said. “With everything that’s gone on the last couple years, it’s kind of emotional. It really is. I think it’ll sink in a little bit later. It still hasn’t set in. At the same time, I’m so determined just to get back to where I want to be that this is not it for me.”

Decisions and moves made on Monday:

  • DH/PH Jason Giambi’s contract was purchased from Triple-A Columbus
  • Indians placed Giambi (lower back strain) on the 15-day DL (eligible 4/9)
  • OF Ezequiel Carrera designated for assignment to clear a roster spot for Giambi
  • INF Cord Phelps and C Yan Gomes optioned to Triple-A Columbus
  • RHP Matt Capps released from his Jan. 31 Minor League contract
  • LHP Nick Hagadone & RHP Bryan Shaw informed they’ll be in OD bullpen
  • RHP Carlos Carrasco will open year in MLB to serve 6-game suspension
  • Carrasco will be optioned to Triple-A Columbus once suspension is complete
  • LHP Scott Kazmir told he will be called up on 4/6 to start team’s fifth game.
  • LHP David Huff informed he will not be on the Opening Day roster
  • Antonetti said he’ll work to trade Carrera and/or Huff (both out of options)
  • Antonetti maintained interest in re-signing RHP Daisuke Matsuzaka and Capps
  • Roster moves will be needed to add non-roster players Kazmir and Raburn
  • One way to clear spot on 40-man will be RHP Frank Herrmann to 60-day DL

Tentative Opening Day roster

Rotation
1. Justin Masterson
2. Ubaldo Jimenez
3. Brett Myers
4. Zach McAllister
*5. Scott Kazmir

Note: Kazmir will not be on Opening Day roster, but is the fifth starter to open the year. Carlos Carrasco will be on the Opening Day roster, but the plan is to have him back in Triple-A after he serves six-game suspension from 2011. Carrasco was punished for throwing at KC’s Billy Butler. The pitcher originally appealed the suspension, but injured his arm and missed the rest of 2011 and all of 2012 without serving it.

Bullpen
RH Chris Perez
RH Vinnie Pestano
RH Joe Smith
RH Cody Allen
RH Matt Albers
RH Bryan Shaw
LH Nick Hagadone
LH Rich Hill

Note: When the Indians add Kazmir to the roster, one of the relievers will likely be optioned, considering Carrasco will have one game remaining on his suspension. Players who have options (Allen, Shaw and Hagadone) are most vulnerable for demotion.

Regulars
1B Nick Swisher
2B Jason Kipnis
SS Asdrubal Cabrera
3B Lonnie Chisenhall
C Carlos Santana
DH Mark Reynolds
LF Michael Brantley
CF Michael Bourn
RF Drew Stubbs

Bench
UTIL Mike Aviles
UTIL Ryan Raburn
C Lou Marson

Note: When Jason Giambi is ready to be activated from the disabled list on April 9, Cleveland could clear a spot on the active roster by optioning Carrasco to the Minor Leagues. The Indians would then be back to a customary 12-man pitching staff (seven relievers) and a normal four-player bench.

Disabled list
DH Jason Giambi (back)
RH Blake Wood (elbow)
RH Josh Tomlin (elbow)
RH Frank Herrmann (elbow)

Cookie’s conundrum

Billy Butler, Lou MarsonThe race for the fifth spot in the Indians’ rotation is down to two arms: Scott Kazmir and Carlos Carrasco. In Carrasco’s case, there is a situation that requires clarification before he is potentially added to the roster.

Do you remember July 29, 2011?

It was a 12-0 loss to the Royals, so there’s a good chance you washed that game from your memory bank. The only reason you should recall that day is that’s when Cookie Carrasco threw a fastball at Billy Butler’s head.

It slipped!

The timing of that high-inside heated was curious, seeing as it came one pitch after Melky Cabrera took a moment to admire a fourth-inning grand slam. Carrasco then threw at Butler, was tossed from the game and had his wrist slapped with a six-game suspension from Major League Baseball.

Carrasco appealed and went on to blow out his elbow, requiring Tommy John surgery. The pitcher sat out all of 2012 with the injury, watched Cleveland lose 94 games and is only now back on a mound and in the mix for a job.

I’d consider this all time served, but that pesky suspension is still hanging over Carrasco’s head. Shoot, Cabrera is on his third team since the incident took place. But, barring a pardon from The Commish, Carrasco still needs to serve his suspension when he’s back in the big leagues.

Complicating matters is the fact that Cleveland has 13 games in 13 days to open the season. The Indians are already considering opening the year with 13 pitchers (eight relievers) to guard against any setbacks with the rotation. If Carrasco is one of the starters, well then Cleveland will need a spot starter out of the gates due to the suspension.

This is all in theory, anyways.

Indians GM Chris Antonetti is still sorting through the suspension situation.

“That’s something that we have to think about,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “There’s all kinds of things to think about and that’s one of them. … The one thing we have to figure out is how that suspension [works]. We need some clarity on that and Chris is working towards that, too. We’ll get it figured out.”

In his outing against the D-backs on Thursday, Carrasco was charged with four runs on eight hits with three strikeouts and no walks in five innings. I say “charged with” because there was some defensive issues (Brantley lost a ball in the sun) that contributed to Arizona’s three-run third inning.

Some notes and quotes from Thursday…

  • Cleveland optioned starters Trevor Bauer and Corey Kluber to Triple-A on Thursday, narrowing the rotation race down to Kazmir and Carrasco. Kazmir is in camp as a non-roster invitee, but his progress in terms of command and velocity have been promising, and having a lefty in the rotation would be nice. As of now, he’s still my favorite to land the fifth spot.
  • Bauer said he has spent this spring working to “overwrite 10 years of neuromuscular programming” with his delivery. Let me translate: he’s altered his mechanics and it’s going to take time to get used to the changes. He knew tackling mechanical issues could hurt his chances of making the Opening Day rotation, but Bauer said he is focusing on his long-term future. Cleveland is on board with the changes. And, honestly, he seemed a long shot for Opening Day from the start. He has 14 Triple-A starts under his belt and can stand to improve his pitch efficiency. Chances are Bauer will come to Cleveland at some point this summer.
  • Kluber had a so-so spring between his Cactus League and Minor League outings. Francona said the Indians want the right-hander to concentrate on fastball command, and having more variation between his slider and cutter. Kluber has shown promise in spurt, but the consistency isn’t quite there yet.
  • Brantley launched a three-run homer on Thursday, making him 5-for-6 with five RBIs and nine total bases in his past two games. Prior to those games, the Tribe’s left fielder went 2-for-16 after returning from a left forearm injury. He appears to be getting his timing back.
  • Mike Aviles (Puerto Rico) and Carlos Santana (Dominican Republic) were back with the Indians on Thursday, but both were given the day off. They’ll be back in the lineup for the Tribe for Friday’s night game against Arizona in Goodyear.
  • Aviles said the atmosphere created by the fans in the World Baseball Classic was the highlight for him: “I’ve never seen that. They were so into the game and just so proud to be cheering us on. It was definitely one of those deals where you went to the park and you were excited, because you knew they had your back no matter what. That was my favorite part.”
  • Another highlight? Getting two hits off Indians teammate, and Team USA reliever, Vinnie Pestano. Said Aviles: “That was a fun part, too. That was more for the bragging rights. He had been telling me I was 0-for-6 before that. Well, I’m two-for-my-last two against him and hopefully I don’t need to face him anymore, so I can hold on tot hat until the next time.”
  • Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis has missed the past two games due to soreness in his throwing elbow. Francona said it wasn’t serious, and Kipnis could play through it if this were the regular season.
  • Indians catcher and bench candidate Yan Gomes has remained sidelined with a right hamstring issue since Friday. Francona said Gomes might be able to return to the lineup some time this weekend.
  • The Indians sent lefty Scott Barnes to Triple-A on Thursday, and also informed righty Jerry Gil that he will be going to Triple-A, too. Righty Matt Capps appeared in Thursday’s game, but he was told a couple days ago that he will not be on the Opening Day roster. Capps is currently looking for another big league job before telling Cleveland if he will go to the Minors. Francona is fine with Capps taking that approach: “I think Matt has an obligation to look around. We completely respect that. For his sake, I hope he finds a job. But, selfishly, I hope he ends up staying with us.”
  • With those moves, the bullpen continues to come into focus. Right now, it looks like it’s Bryan Shaw, Nick Hagadone and David Huff (out of options) battling for one or two openings, depending on whether Cleveland begins the season with seven or eight relievers.
  • Predicting the Opening Day roster as of today: ROTATION — Masterson, Jimenez, Myers, McAllister, Kazmir; BULLPEN — Perez, Smith, Pestano, Allen, Albers, Hill, Hagadone, Huff; REGULARS — Swisher, Kipnis, Cabrera, Chisenhall, Brantley, Bourn, Stubbs, Reynolds, Santana; BENCH — Aviles, Marson, Giambi.
  • EXPLANATION: I’m predicting a 13-man pitching staff out of the gates as of this writing. I have Huff as an eighth reliever, because he is out of options, so Cleveland could maintain its depth for a couple weeks and delay running him through waivers. Huff also has experience as a starter and is ready for a long relief role, which could come in handy given the 13 games in 13 days to begin the year. With a three-man bench, I could see a scenario where the Tribe has a handshake agreement with a utility guy like Raburn (or Phelps), telling him he’d go to the Minors until the team reverts back to a customary 12-man pitching staff. In the meantime, you’ve got a fourth outfielder in Swisher, and a super utility player in Aviles to backup multiple infield spots (and possibly the corner outfield spots) until another bench player is called up from Triple-A to pitch in.

I’ll try to do these more detailed blogs more often as we approach the regular season.

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

 

Coming down the stretch

Tito4We have hit the Indians’ first team off-day of Spring Training. It is March 12, and three weeks remain until Cleveland opens its season on the road in Toronto. Much has transpired over the past month, and there is plenty that will happen before camp breaks.

As I sit here in Starbucks, my off-day story on Mark Reynolds filed, with some time to kill, it seems appropriate to tackle some thoughts on the Tribe’s spring thus far:

  • You can take this for what it’s worth from a reporter’s perspective, and I know it sounds very cliché, but the buzz around the Indians has felt more real this spring than previous years. Maybe it’s all the new faces and great personalities added, and the fact that, when players look around the clubhouse or field, they see a team built to win. Whatever it is, there has been an energy and intensity that has been missing in recent springs.
  • The only holes to be filled at this point are the fifth spot in the rotation, a few spots in the bullpen, and one or two bench jobs. Let’s go over each…
  • Fifth rotation spot: Ask me, and I’d tell you right now that lefty Scott Kazmir (11 shutout innings between Cactus League and B games) looks like the favorite to land this job. Pitching prospect Trevor Bauer has also looked solid. I think Corey Kluber will open at Triple-A, and I think Carlos Carrasco could benefit from the same. Carrasco — coming off Tommy John — is seeking consistency, and the Tribe could better control his innings in the Minors to start the season. Daisuke Matsuzaka — his recent calf cramp aside — has looked decent enough, but not strong enough to seem like a favorite for the job. It’s really tough to say right now which way the Indians are leaning. And, hey, with three weeks left, there is plenty of time for someone to pitch their way in or out of the discussion.
  • BULLPEN: For the sake of argument, let’s say closer Chris Perez is ready in time for Opening Day. If that’s the case, then it’ll be Perez, Vinnie Pestano, Joe Smith and Rich Hill (out of options and now added to the roster) as potential locks. Righty Matt Albers, who is out of options and has a big fan in manager Terry Francona, seems like a virtual lock as well. That leaves two spots open, or three if Cleveland carries an extra reliever to help out for the first two weeks (13 straight games with no off-days). If there is an extra reliever, lefty David Huff (out of options) seems like a candidate to come north, considering he can log multiple innings. Others in the mix are righties Cody Allen, Matt Capps and Bryan Shaw, and lefties Nick Hagadone and Scott Barnes. Francona has raved about both Allen and Hagadone. Cleveland will need to make a decision about Capps on March 26. I could see a scenario (much like with Wheeler last season) where the Indians keep Capps in order to help maintain their bullpen depth at the onset of the season. Allen, Shaw, Hagadone and Barnes all have options, so there will be a tough conversation or two before the end of the spring. Now, if Perez isn’t ready for Opening Day, that frees up an extra spot for another one of these guys.
  • BENCH: It sure seems like 42-year-old Jason Giambi has a spot on the Opening Day roster, barring injury. Given the versatility and positional flexibility with the starting nine, the Indians can afford to carry a part-time DH and pinch hitter on the bench. A guy like Ezequiel Carrera (out of options) would seem like a lock for a bench job given his speed, ability to play center and contract status. But the Indians already have three center fielders in the starting lineup, and a first baseman (Nick Swisher) who can man right field if needed. There is also ample speed in the lineup, and also a solid baserunner on the bench in Mike Aviles. That makes Carrera, while valuable as a fourth outfielder, a bit redundant in terms of tools. That makes carrying someone like Ryan Raburn (second, third, corner outfield) realistic. Cleveland might try to find a trade partner for a deal involving Carrera before the end of camp, because it’s highly unlikely he’d slip through waivers. This spring, Carrera has ben getting a lot of work in right field (arguably his weakest outfield spot) and he’s led the team with eight stolen bases, while batting just .192. Raburn has hit .440 with four homers and 11 RBIs, and Francona has raved about his short swing being the perfect type of approach for handling a bench role. The writing isn’t entirely on the wall, but you can already make out some of the letters.
  • The Indians have a Rule 5 pick in camp in Chris McGuiness (first base, DH, corner outfield), but he has hit .120 — likely pressing while attempting to be impressing — and hasn’t played above Double-A. McGuiness will likely be offered back to Texas, though Cleveland might try to work out a trade to keep him. The Tribe clearly thinks highly of him.
  • Yan Gomes skipped the World Baseball Classic to focus on competing for a bench job, and there is a scenario where Cleveland could carry him — over, say, Raburn — as a backup for catcher, first, third, DH and corner outfield. Francona has made it a point to note, though, that the Indians want to see if Gomes can develop into an everyday catcher in the big leagues. That being the case, it would seem to make more sense to have him playing every day at Triple-A rather than playing sporadically as a third-string catcher/utility player in the big leagues. Gomes has hit .381 with one homer, four doubles and six RBIs this spring. He’s also gone 4-for-8 vs. LHP.
  • Most at-bats to this point in camp? Big Mike McDade, who was claimed off waivers from the Blue Jays over the winter. He’s been impressive at the plate (.400 with one homer and 10 RBIs), but he’s got a ticket waiting for him for Triple-A Columbus. He had limited exposure to Triple-A last season with Toronto, but raked in his brief stint with Las Vegas. If he builds off that, and his spring showing with the Indians, that could provide Cleveland with solid depth one rung down from the Majors.
  • Predicted Opening Day roster as of today: Rotation — Masterson, Jimenez, Myers, McAllister, Kazmir; Bullpen — Pestano, Smith, Hill, Albers, Capps, Hagadone, Allen; Regulars — Swisher, Kipnis, Cabrera, Chisenhall, Santana, Reynolds, Brantley, Bourn, Stubbs; Bench — Marson, Aviles, Giambi, Raburn.
  • NOTE: I left Perez off the OD roster prediction because it’s too early in his rehab process to know if he’ll be ready for the start of the season. So my prediction assumes a disabled list stint to begin the year. That could change as he gets deeper in his recovery program.

–JB

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