Saturday, March 29

FCF evaluates the 2008 Tribe

Welcome to Forest City Fanatics' roundtable discussion of the upcoming 2008 Indians season. JHH, Andy, Nick, and Figgs will be taking a look at some of the questions that will define the campaign, as the Tribe seeks to defend their 2007 AL Central title and end their 60-year championship drought. Let's see what our writers have to say:

How many days will it be until people totally forget that the park was ever called Jacobs Field?
JHH: I suspect longer than you think. It was Jacobs Field for 14 years, but the Progressive deal is for 16. If I need to give a number I'll say until the All-Star break, of next season. Snarky note from Andy: the All-Star break of next season is not a number :)

Andy: Like a month. I would have said shorter, but I'm still subconsciously calling it Jacobs Field myself. The real question is: how long before ace Tribe broadcasters Tom Hamilton and Mike Hegan consistently call it "Progressive"?

Figgs: Definitely longer. I think it will be over a month before most people even start calling it Progressive. It'll always be "The Jake" in my heart.

Nick: "Never. I'll never turn to the Dark Side." [Nick stands proudly, casts his lightsaber aside in defiance.]

Will CC be an Indian at year's end? Beyond?
JHH: Yes. C.C. is too important to this team to be traded away, unless the team was way out of first. There may still be some hope somewhere, not in this blogger's mind though, that C.C. may still sign after the season is over.

Andy: Yep. Nope. I fully expect the Tribe to be in contention and they won't move him if that's the case. Keep in mind: they don't need to be in first; just within striking distance. This is too good a club for them to be far out of the race in July. As for the end of the year: I think Shapiro has too much confidence in his organization's pitching depth and too strong a desire not to make a long, risky investment and hamper the club's finances to resign the big guy. I look forward to some team being stuck with him in 2014.

Nick: Obviously, whether or not the Tribe trades CC is contingent upon their performance, but there's no reason to think that they'll be out of contention at the trade deadline, so I don't think CC will be traded. I've addressed this before.

Which Hafner will we get: the 2007 decent hitter, the 2005-06 monster, or something inbetween?
JHH: Hafner has struggled against lefties more and more, which is a concern. When it is all said and done I think he'll do better than last season, but not near the 2005 numbers. He was just so good, but we don't really need him to be that good to be a successful team. What we really need is more consistent contributions from the fringe players, but that wasn't what this question was about.

Andy: Most saber guys and numerical predictions have Hafner going to the mean, and the smart money is on just that: an improvement on last year's slump but not quite the dizzying heights of 05-06, when he was the league's best hitter. Since I'm a bit of a homer, I think his numbers will be slightly better than such estimates.

Nick: I think we'll see a Pronk who won't eclipse his '05-'06 numbers, but will come damn close. Hafner might work harder than any of the Indians' hitters, and he's too good of a hitter to be held down for long. He'll get things straightened out this season.

What minor league position player and pitcher do you expect to contribute in the way that so many did last season?
JHH: It's tough to not immediately blurt out Ben Francisco, but he is the obvious answer to this question. Not to be overlooked is the bullpen depth the Tribe is controlling in Buffalo. My real wish here is that Marte will finally become a player we can be proud to have traded for but I don't see that happening.

Andy: Ben Francisco has some skills - I think he's expected not to make the club out of Spring Training but I see him contributing this year. In a small sample size, he OPS'd .803 last season and played superb defense. His K/BB isn't great, but in his last two minor league years his OBP was about .350 and OPS around .800. He'll prove to be a better option than Dellucci and Michaels. As for pitchers, I'll go with Aaron Laffey, for reasons to be discussed shortly. I considered picking Chuck Lofgren here but went with the safest bet.

Nick: I'm going to go with our forgotten outfielder: Shin-Soo Choo. I'd like to see Choo and Francisco forming the LF platoon by season's end. Pitching-wise, Laffey's the obvious choice, and he'll definitely contribute either as a starter or out of the pen at some point. I like Jeff Stevens to come up and be this year's version of Raffy Perez/Jensen Lewis.

What do you expect from Andy Marte?
JHH: Oh man I didn't look at this question before answering the last one. OK, from spring training Marte hasn't exactly been a Brooks Robinson at the hot corner. That and his hitting has been spotty. I suspect he'll do an OK job as a utility infielder to be eventually traded or released and go on to having a mediocre career with 2 or 3 different teams, but I hope I'm wrong.

Andy: Splinters in his baseball pants. I want Marte to be great, but I don't see him getting enough at-bats and displacing Blake on a team ready to win right now.

Nick: I think Marte will do alright. He'll hit about .270 in limited ABs, show decent power, but will strike out too much because his swing isn't very compact. Marte will show enough in about 200 ABs for the Tribe to pencil him in as their 2009 starting third baseman.

Barring injuries, who do you expect to make up the Tribe's starting outfield by midseason?
JHH: Albert Belle, Kenny Lofton, Manny Ramirez. Oh wait its 2008? So Sizemore, Frank the Tank, and Dellucci/Michaels.

Andy: Sizemore and two other guys. Alright, fine: Sizemore, GutiƩrrez, and a Choo/Francisco platoon. I think maybe Wayne Kirby can get some AB's as well.

Figgs: I'll go with John's first one, with Candy Maldonado playing a key role off the bench.

Nick: Sizemore, Gutierrez, Choo/Michaels, with a sprinkling of Casey Blake.

How well will the Rafaels do this season?
JHH: Perez is still an unknown and I suspect he'll do fine. Senior Slo-mo will also be OK but not the superhuman he was last year. I'm worried that Betancourt may be ripe for injury due to his use last season. This is actually a worry for every pitcher we have. The post-season is a lot of extra work for a pitching staff and seeing how the Tribe's starters and rotation handle that will be something to look for.

Andy: Did I already say regression to the mean? I did. Bullpens are, as Shapiro is fond of saying, "volatile," and I expect the Raffys to come back to Earth this year. What they did last year was ridiculous; they'll still be good because they throw hard strikes, but the dropoff this year might just cost the Tribe a few games in the standings.

Figgs: I think Perez can be a stud again this year. Betancourt will do well, but I think we'd all be dreaming to expect him to repeat last year.

Nick: Very good, not spectacular. The Tribe should be careful with Betancourt early in the season. He threw a ton of innings last year and it wasn't long ago that he had career-threatening elbow surgery. Wedge should be wary of the dreaded "tired arm." Perez struggled a little in last year's playoffs, so the league may be developing a bit of a book on him.

Will Cliff Lee stay in the rotation?
JHH: I'll be daring and say yes. I just like the change of speed he can bring.

Andy: Nope.

Figgs: He'll stick a round for awhile, but I see Laffey getting into the rotation at some point this year. Or, (fingers crossed) we get the Jeremy Sowers we've been waiting for and he makes his way to the show.

Nick: I put the over/under at seven starts. Shake dat Laffey Taffy.

Will there be any Chief Wahoo phasing-out in 2008?
JHH: I suspect they could make him smaller on the batting helmets, or start wearing the "I" hats more, but I suspect that phase is not planned for a year or two.

Andy: I'm not sure how they can really accomplish this; the "I" has already been introduced and the Chief on their hats is already microscopic. Facing a minor backlash over selling the field naming rights already, the time isn't right to further irritate Wahoo loyalists.

Figgs: It's gonna be a dark day in Cleveland when Wahoo's gone.

Nick: If the Tribe ever eradicates Wahoo, it's tattoo time for this fellow. They won't be able to take my Wahoo away; it will be in my skin! Seriously though, I don't see it, at least not this season. The disgusting "el vesto" (Figgs' translation for "vest" in our Espanol class - no idea how I remembered that) alternate jerseys are toast, as are the script "I" hats, replaced by these bad boys. Very classic, way cooler.

Do you think the Tribe's lack of off-season acquisitions will come back to haunt them?
JHH: This is my question and its tough to look at Detroit and see where they went wrong. I guess Pudge and Magglio aren't getting any younger. But then I tell myself that isn't the Indians' style, its just not their way. Depth is what this team is about and you can see it in the OF and in the pitching. OK, the infield prospects are a little thin but we'll win our way with our guys.

Andy: I think their off-season patience will come back to benefit them long-term. There wasn't much they really needed out there, except maybe a hitter like Bay, and by again not making bad free-agent deals they maintain financial flexibility and continue to draw from their good farm system.

Nick: Andy's right - as much as fans may be irked by the Tribe staying put this offseason, you can't spend money if there's nothing to spend it on. Carlos Silva got $48M over 4 years. Spending money is one thing, wasting it by making a move simply to make a move is another. I would have thrown the kitchen sink at the Dan Haren deal, but I'll trust Shapiro on that one. The Tribe stayed disciplined in their Moneyball-like strategy, and it was the right decision.

Will the Indians' staff's personal love affair with Casey Blake continue unabated?
JHH: I guess I should have asked this question as well as Andy's love affair, etc. Anyway Casey Blake is the kind of player no one hates. I have a particular theory that the more I personally hate him the better he does. So out of the best interest for this team, I hope Casey Blake is traded soon.

Andy: Fourth-wall breaking: I didn't write this question and I think it's silly. You know exactly what you'll get with Blake; very good defense, versatility, OPS around .800, 25 home runs, and subpar situational hitting. I don't understand why fans are so down on him considering how he's stepped into positions and really helped the club the past few seasons. Is he a star? No way. I'm sure if the Tribe had better options they'd love to use Blake as more of a utilityman, but it hasn't worked out that way and he's done well as a fill-in. Also: JHH's stance on Blake mirrors that of my Dad and Danny Ferry back in the day - Dad would constantly demand that the Cavs trade Ferry and he always responded with a big shot.

Nick: Hating Blake makes no sense. Stepping in for Marte (who played like shit before his injury), Blake provided great defense (the best we've seen since Matt Williams) at third base and was one of the Tribe's most valuable players in 2008, simply because they were out of options at the hot corner. I have no problem with Casey Blake and I'd love to keep him on the team as a super-sub or a third baseman, but it looks like his contract demands will punch his ticket out of C-Town next season.

With the Tribe still in contention in late summer, what position do you see them most likely trading for?
JHH: A real closer. While the depth in the bullpen has been noted that doesn't mean some guy can just waltz in there and do the job.

Andy: No position. Deadline deals don't usually play a big role down the stretch (Carlos Beltran being a notable exception) and the Tribe just doesn't make big splashes. They'd probably only be able to snag a depth guy in the outfield or bullpen, and that's what they already have plenty of.

Nick: Possibly a matchup lefty, but it's more likely that they'll just stand pat.

What will be the order of finish in the AL Central?
JHH: I can imagine more than three games will separate the Indians and Tigers. For the rest of the division its ugly and I can only hope the old man White Sox are dead last, sorry honey.

Andy: PECOTA and Bill James both have the Tribe in first, so who am I to argue? Naturally Detroit finishes second, and Kansas City isn't leaving the basement. I like the Twins in 3rd and Sox in 4th. While I'm at it, the Angels are the class of the West (David West just now made a buzzer-beater to beat the Cavs. Darn.) and the Red Sox should claim the AL East. Slot the Tigers in the Wild Card spot. As for the NL: eh.

Figgs: I'll take the chalk on this one. Tigers, Indians, Twins, White Sox, Royals. The Tigers/Tribe race will be thrilling all the way to the finish. Whoever just misses out will take the wild card.

Nick: Tribe, Tigers, White Sux, Twins, Royals. The Tigers' pitching issues will prove more serious than most anticipate. Detroit will seriously regret trading away their starting pitching depth (Andrew Brown and Jair Jurrjens).

How many games will this team win, will they qualify for the postseason, and how successful do you expect said postseason run to go?
JHH: 99. The postseason run will be at least as long as last year.

Andy: 93. Yes. I'm not even going to bother to answer that question even though I wrote it.

Figgs: I'll be pessimistic and go 90 with the Wild Card. I truthfully picked them to win it all last year, but I think if I did it this year it might be more of my heart talking.

Nick: (Docking Bay) 94, and the division crown for the second straight season. "What's that? Playoffs? Don't talk about playoffs! You kiddin' me?"

No comments: