Wednesday, July 16, 2008

More on Mr. Wonderful.

If you had any doubt that Roger Clemens is an extraordinary individual, check this out. Through some weird and errant magic, the seven-time Cy Young winner has transformed convicted drug dealers, Kirk Radomski and Brian McNamee, into credible guys. That's really something.

He's simply amazin'.

Monday, July 07, 2008

See ya' CC

"A man's got to know his limitations."
~~~Dirty Harry Callahan, Magnum Force

Sometime two weeks ago, Mark Shapiro woke up; read the sports page; stumbled to his bathroom feeling like he was gonna vomit; looked in the mirror; thought about Larry Dolan's empty wallet and preternaturally short arms; and just knew.

He knew the Indians were in last place.
He knew it was a team without its third and fourth hitters and without two of its starting pitchers.
He knew it was a team without heart; without courage; and without character.
He knew it was stuck in the basement and the likelihood of challenging for the playoffs had become a bitter fantasy.
He knew, like he did in February this year, that there was no chance that CC would sign an extension and forgo free agency.
He knew that the two extra compensatory picks he'd get for CC becoming a free agent would be wasted due to inept talent evaluation and Dolan's legendary cheapness.

In short, he knew he had gambled and lost. He'd built this team. He'd promised that it would be built to remain competitive.

He was wrong. His day of reckoning had come.

So, he picked up the phone and let it be known throughout MLB that he'd start returning the calls from other GM's he'd been avoiding. Those guys knew they had him by the short hairs. Low-ball offers started rolling in. Shapiro tried to blow smoke and let rumors circulate that the Indians would make another effort to resign CC. Do you really think that happened?

Nah. Me neither.

In the end, Shapiro grabbed the best prospect he could get---
Matt LaPorta---and some assorted junk that's just potential. LaPorta's not a bad haul. He's a big ugly mug who strikes out way too much, but boy, can that s.o.b. hit. The so-called experts thought Milwaukee overreached when they grabbed him with the 7th pick in the 2007 draft. They said he was a "signability" pick. Well, LaPorta started hitting home runs and made those same experts look like fools. This year, he kept hitting home runs and made himself into a bona fide blue chip prospect. But, don't get like those goofy optimists who think the Tribe just snagged the ever-lovin Babe. The kid is good, but he's got holes in his game. After all, the Southern League managers didn't think he deserved to make the all-star team. So, calm down a little. Having written that, he is good. His massive strikeout totals are offset by his impressive walk rate. He projects as a guy who could hit .270-.290 with 35 + home runs and an on-base average over .380 during his peak years. Folks, that's a real live middle of the order hitter.

The other two pitchers are filler. Each has some potential.

Zach Jackson, LHP, was a Blue Jays first round pick, who's sucked. He's a lefty and those guys get lots of chances. I'm guessing that the Tribe feels like it misjudged and mishandled its own former first round pick, Jeremy Guthrie, and maybe the Blue Jays and Brewers did the same with Jackson. I doubt it, but if that's what keeps Shapiro warm at night, Ok. I suspect he's really just filler for the Buffalo AAA rotation, and that's where he'll rot. Just for kicks, check out his biography. When's the last time a team tried to pawn off a guy with a 7.85 ERA as a building block for the future? That Shapiro really has some stones.

Rob Bryson, RHP, was a draft and follow guy. He was picked in the 31st round of the 2006 draft. He throws hard. He can get his fast ball up to 95, but the scouting reports say that it's incredibly straight and "flat." That means it's pretty hittable. He has a nice slider that can get big-time hitters out. He's a guy who just really needs to find himself and learn a little about pitching. Since he's only 20, he should have an opportunity to do both. This year, he's struck out 73 in 55 innings. That's pretty sweet, and it's those numbers that leave Paul Dolan and his old man giggling that they just nabbed their closer of the future. I'm not giggling, but it's at least an interesting proposition to have a guy who can really throw hard for a change.

The Tribe also gets a PTBL---player to be named later. Sometimes teams do that because they're prohibited from trading a pick until one year after the draft. I don't think that' s the case here. I've heard, but can't confirm, that the Tribe will have its choice at the end of the season between third baseman,
Taylor Green, or outfielder, Michael Brantley.

Green's a stocky third baseman, who resembles Ron Cey---The Penguin. He was Milwaukee's Organizational Player of the Year in 2007 after he hit .327. He has a nice compact left-handed stroke and walks almost as much as he strikes out. He's a nice player, but doesn't project to have a lot of power. If you can live with a 3B who hits for average, has a high on-base percentage, and hits 15-20 homers, he's your guy.

Brantley is one of the fastest guys in the minors. He's 6'2" and after last year was rated as the Brewers' minor league player with the best strike zone discipline. He's true to form in '08. In over 300 at-bats, he's only struck out 18 times. He has twice as many walks as strikeouts this year, and had more walks than strikeouts over two levels last year. He's a prototypical leadoff hitter. His problem is that he's a very mediocre outfielder and has a weak arm. He can only play left.

The best thing about the two of them is that they're both 21. They have a lot of time to fill out and refine their games. Unfortunately, the Tribe is not particularly good at helping players refine their skills. My impression has always been that it's a sink or swim organization, and that's recently been confirmed by a player in the organization. But, that's for another day.

In the end, Shapiro recognized his limitations and made a deal. Everyone hates it, but if LaPorta hits, Shapiro will be a hero. I think he will.

Not with a Bang, But a Whimper (Again)

Today's announcement that the Tribe has offloaded C.C. Sabathia to the Milwaukee Brewers in exchange for four prospects officially marks the end of the 2008 baseball season. With a bunch of guys on the DL, and mired in last place in the Division, a woeful 14 games behind the front-running White Sox, the Indians made the unsurprising decision to throw in the towel on the 2008 campaign and make the best deal that they could for the unsignable Sabathia.

So let the recriminations begin!

How did this happen? How did a team that was just one game away from a World Series appearance last season not even manage to make it the All-Star break this year before the wheels came off? The short answer is that they can't hit, they have no bullpen, and their roster looks like a M*A*S*H unit.

But there's more to it than that. This is at least the second time this allegedly talented "core group" of Indians has seen a season of tremendous promise end in a downright embarrassing fashion, and then responded to that challenge by throwing in the towel at the start of the following season.

When the going gets tough, the tough get going, huh?

It's easy to point the finger at the bullpen, or the injuries, or even --if you're a cynic--the crackdown on performance enhancing drugs. But what bothers me more than the numbers is the attitude. This team is not only bad, but it also doesn't seem to play very hard. I think a lot of fans can't figure out whether the team's just lacking in leadership or if the players just don't care if they win or lose.

Personally, I'm tired of trying to figure out the answer. I just want to see them win the World Series, and I've lost faith that this core group of players is ever going to do it. Sure, you can complain about the alleged tight-fistedness of the Dolans, you can bemoan some of the decisions that Shapiro's made in recent seasons, and you can spend hours trying to figure out whatever it is that Eric Wedge actually does to "manage" the ball club. But none of those things explains how infuriatingly passive the players seem to be about this team's performance. Where's the frustration? Where's the anger? Where are the guys knocking over the buffet? Where are the fights? Where are the snarky comments to the media?

Maybe those kind of reactions are all too "old school" to expect from today's players -- although the Red Sox aren't afraid to mix it up with each other, are they? On the other hand, I think there's plenty of anger among the fan base. I had a funny feeling that this season might turn out like this, and I doubt that I was the only one. Unfortunately, my problem isn't that the Indians didn't live up to my expectations, it's that they did.

Over the past four seasons, the Indians have played well when the wind is at their back, but they haven't shown much heart in the face of adversity, and this is just the latest example of that. Yeah, they've had more than their share of problems this season, but their reaction to them has been to quietly wilt. I said they were gutless in April, and they've spent the better part of the last three months proving that I was right.