Saturday, February 14

Pitchers and Catchers are already in Arizona!

I originally set out to write the most spectacular comprehensive Indians Spring Training Preview ever. Of course that got shelved and this post is what you get. The easy part of this whole thing is that Shapiro and Wedge hate going into Spring Training actually having to make decisions. So, much like last year, there aren’t a lot positional question marks. The only possible major shakeup I would suspect could even come close to happening is Pavano sucking it big time in spring training and not making the team out of Goodyear. But again, that still isn’t something I expect to happen. Much like how NBC decided to run 46 episodes of Joey the Indians front office aren’t ones to not give guys a chance to get established. While this often helps out the sports talk shows more than the team, I appreciate the Indians' patience.

In years past, far too often a depressed (or normal, whatever) Indians fan would grumble about how Shapiro didn’t do enough in the offseason. Pre-2008 it was hard to watch the Tigers coming off an OK season adding the kind of talent they did. Of course we all know that pitching was their real problem and they didn’t do anything there to help them out. I often sided with Shapiro on these things, saying that the free agent market wasn’t where the Indians will ever build a team and trades are where Shapiro usually makes his hay, so to speak.

With that said, what Shapiro did this off-season is commendable. First, signing Kerry Wood to a two-year deal was the biggest free agent non-returning signing Shapiro has made in a long time, maybe ever. Supposedly this was driven by Eric Wedge wanting a ninth-inning guy he could go to without having to be second-guessing himself. Wood is that guy, and for the first time in a long time I think Indians fans can be excited, in a good way, when the Indians take a lead into the ninth. Last year I pondered that not all losses were equal, wondering if these late-inning relief pitching collapses weren’t eventually going to get to the Indians mentally. It would appear Wedge had grown tired of mustering his troops day in and day out only to watch the relief fail. On top of the Wood signing, Joe Smith was added. I think Smith could be a sleeper this year. Sure, I’ve railed against this guy’s plain Jane name, but I suspect he’ll provide more stability to the bullpen then say, Masa provided in 2008.

As far as the infield situation with the trade of Casey Blake (man that was a good trade) third base was a big question mark. Marte isn't going to get it done and Wes Hodges is at least a year away from contributing. So what to do? There was talk of a trade for Brian Roberts to take over second and slot Jhonny and Asdrubal over to 3rd and SS respectively. I never liked this trade of Shoppach for Roberts since we got only a year of service from Roberts and Jhonny at 3rd is still a complete unknown (I don't count winter league). So the trade for DeRosa right before the New Year was a pleasant surprise to say the least. My only real regret is again that all we get from DeRosa is a single year of service. Jhonny took the winter to play third in the Liga Dominicana and says he was OK there but still needs to work on fielding bunts. All things considered, adding DeRosa even for just a year was a brilliant move that still allows for Luis Valbuena to take over second in the not too distant future.

So what are the things you should be looking for this spring? Here are some key questions to be answered:

- Is Hafner lifting the ball? When the shoulder went what was really lost (besides average) was his ability to hit for extra bases. Average may take a while to come around, but hitting the ball deep would be nice enough in spring.

- Is Choo for real? Can his amazing second half translate into a real season? I wouldn’t be surprised if we don’t get a real sense of this during spring training.

- Is Pavano a viable option? All he has to do is not get lit up Jorge Julio style every time out there. Pitchers are always hard to judge in spring (remember Lee’s 08 spring) because they’re working on a pitch or delivery or timing issues and aren’t so concerned with winning the game.

- Can Dellucci be traded for cash or future considerations? No? Damnit!

- Who’s breaking spring training as the fifth starter? My list (in order) is Laffey, Lewis, Huff. Sorry Sowers.

- Minor concerns include Carmona's walk count, Reyes' elbow, how Wedge is going to break it to Marte that he's no longer welcome around here anymore, and general team health.

There you have it. Not much to look forward to this spring. Ha ha ha, I’m just kidding - baseball is back! And not just any baseball, Indians baseball! Now where is that MLB radio account of mine?

Go Tribe!

(AP Photo/Paul Connors)


Andy said...

Hooray baseball!

If Wood stays healthy, he could mean an awful lot to this club. Not having a player of his caliber blew up the '06 and '08 campaigns, and if the rotation shapes up, we're in a strong position to win the Central this year.

Hafner is a total enigma. I hope he maintains the pitch selectivity he used to have. Choo I think projects not quite as good as his monster 2nd half, but still quite good.

Jorge Julio, goodness, how that man tried to ruin Tribe Weekend '08. Fausto's control has supposedly returned after Willis corrected a flaw in his delivery.

Is MLB Radio still $15 for the year? What a deal!

John said...

I too have heard of this work Willis did with Carmona, which makes me wonder.

Did they not identify it during the season?

With Carmona's injuries did they feel they need to wait to address this problem?

Will it make any real difference?

That last one is a wait and see, but I'll take any good news at this point.

As for Hafner he is a good two months of mediocrity away from being done in my book.

Nick said...

This season, and the fate of this team for the next several seasons, rests largely on Hafner's shoulders. There's just no way around it.

The upside's that if Hafner's right, everything else gets alot easier.