Player Reviews: The Arbitration Eligibles

My original goal was to have this done before the completion of the World Series, so I’ll get this going a little faster:

2B Ronnie Belliard – Age 28
2004 Salary: $1.1M
2004 EQA: .265 (.282/.348/.426)
Contract Status: Arbitration Eligible (FA in 2005)

He’s an interesting player. Belliard has several nice abilities: he can mash left-handed pitching, he can turn double plays very well, and he has a good arm. Mark Shapiro lost out on Todd Walker last winter and ended up with Belliard, who was a much better player this season. Now Shapiro has an interesting decision to make. Belliard is still only arbitration-eligible, but will get a substantial bump in salary. There really aren’t that many good 2B options out there in the free agent market, and several teams are going to need a second baseman. This makes, in my estimation, Belliard a real nice trading chip. If Shapiro can turn Belliard’s career year into something useful, like a starting pitcher or a bullpen arm, he should go for it. Belliard’s defense is ok, as far as I can tell; he plays the deepest second base in the majors, and the mainstream defensive stats say he’s pretty average.

3B Casey Blake – Age 31
2004 Salary: $352,400
2004 EQA: .278 (.271/.354/.486)
Contract Status: Arbitration Eligible (FA in 2007)

Blake was originally slated to take over for Ben Broussard at first base next season, but since Broussard’s nice second-half showing, he’s going left on the defensive spectrum to second base. Of course the big question is whether Blake can play there, and I don’t think we’ll know that until next spring. What we do know is that Blake should be back in some capacity; he’s turned out to become a really nice pickup for the Indians, posting a very quiet .840 OPS this season. There was a time when I thought Blake would be a low-budget Joe Randa, but Randa never had as productive a season as Blake just had. If he can actually play second base, he’ll become that much more valuable. But that’s a big if.

RHRP Bob Howry – Age 31
2004 Salary: ~$400,000
2004 VORP: 15.8
Contract Status: Arbitration Eligible [Just signed to a one-year contract]

Chalk Howry up to the Indians’ burgoning rehab program. Howry was signed to a minor-league deal coming off arm surgery, and he came back after the All-Star Break and simply became the team’s best reliever. Re-signing him is a pretty big no-brainer for the Indians; he has the coveted Proven CloserTM mantle so he could step and close if needed, and if the Indians keep Wickman or acquire a closer elsewhere, he’ll be pretty good in setup.

IF John McDonald – Age 30
2004 Salary: $324,400
2004 EQA: .194 (.204/.237/.344)
Contract Status: Arbitration Eligilble (FA in 2007)

McDonald had the misfortune of being drafted by an American League team. In the AL, defensive specialists like McDonald are used sparingly, and with John’s offensive ineptitude, isn’t going to be any kind of pinch-hitter. He should find a home in the National League, where double switches and the pitchers’ spot will allow for him to get more playing time. He’s either going to be traded or non-tendered; I’m betting on the latter.

RHRP David Riske – Age 27
2004 Salary: $1.025M
2004 VORP: 22.0
Contract Status: Arbitration Eligible (FA in 2006)

Riske’s 2004 has to be seen a step backwards from his stellar 2003 campaign, but he made enough progress in the last couple months of this season to warrant a return. He shouldn’t get a big bump in salary, even with arbitration. Now that Riske seems closing-adverse, he should settle down into a 7th/8th inning role for the forseeable future.

RHSP Jake Westbrook – Age 27
2004 Salary: $925,000
2004 VORP: 54.4 (1st among Indians starters)
Contract Status: Arbitration Eliglble (FA in 2006)

Jake is going to receive a very large bump in salary after what he did this season. You shouldn’t expect this every year from Westbrook; as with most ground-ballers, Westbrook allows a lot more balls to be put in play than your typical starter. That being said, the Indians should have a nice 3rd starter for the next couple seasons. It should be interesting to see if the Indians take this opportunity to sign Westbrook to a long-term contract, or if they are a bit leery of locking up a player with one good season following three mediocre ones.

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