Placed 1B/DH Travis Hafner on the 15-day Disabled List (post-concussion symptoms)

Thanks a lot, Buerhle. Hafner has been hitting on the side, but unfortunately whenever he starts running or exercising, he gets dizzy. So after nine days of hoping the dizzyness would go away, the Indians had to DL him on Tuesday or lose the retroactive option. If the dizzy spells go away, Pronk would be eligible to come back when the Indians return home.

Purchased the Contract of 1B/OF Jeff Liefer and Recalled him to Cleveland

Liefer is one of Buffalo’s several good AAAA players. A plus for the Indians is that he can play in the outfield some, so I’m hoping against hope that Casey Blake is out of the lineup at least a couple times on the road trip. Liefer’s line in Buffalo: 321 AB, .321/.388/.595, 27 2B, 19 HR. Keep in mind that Liefer is 30, lest you entertain any ideas about him. He’ll probably be DFAd when Hafner returns.

Optioned RHP Fernando Cabrera to Buffalo (AAA)

Recalled LHP Brian Tallet from Buffalo (AAA)

This happened because of CC Sabathia’s meltdown on Monday; the Indians used both of their longmen, and needed some insurance for Tuesday. It turns out that Jake Westbrook spun a gem; of course, Tallet hasn’t had much luck at all as far as getting into games is concerned. His next major-league appearance, whenever that happens, will be his first since undergoing Tommy John surgery in August of 2003.

GM for a Day

I have to admit I go from thinking the Indians should be sellers to buyers from day to day. But the trade (non-waiver) deadline is upcoming, and Mark Shapiro has a major decision to make. He has to not only make decisions based on the players involved, he has to consider the PR implications as well, like it or not; if the Indians deal Kevin Millwood or Bob Wickman for guys the average Joe doesn’t know, then the team will take a PR hit. Of course, the team could be absolutely correct in making that move, but that’s the way professional sports seems to be heading. If the Indians land a “name” player for the rest of the season, more fans might start to believe in what the Indians are doing; of course, in doing so, they might have to give up a Brad Snyder or a Jake Dittler in order to do so, which would tick off the die-hards, who would bring up Richie Sexson and Brian Giles. Or they could just stand pat, which would anger a whole other class of fans.

Here’s what I would do if I were GM of the Indians for a day:

(1) Deal Bob Wickman if you can shore up an area of weakness. Since there aren’t that many true sellers out there, see if you can trade Wickman to another buyer for a player that can fill a need. Baltimore could be a possibility, as would Florida, Texas (if they still think they’re in it), or Boston. Since Bob doesn’t know if he’s going to pitch next year, there’s no guarantee that you’d get draft pick compensation, so you might as well deal him now. Wickman for Juan Encarnacion plus a prospect would seem a nice fit, but I’m sure there’s other possible deals out there. Bob Howry would probably move up to closer, and David Riske could take his place as primary set-up man. Once Matt Miller comes back, you’d have a bullpen of:


(2) Keep Kevin Millwood unless you get blown away. Millwood’s been the best pitcher on the staff, and although you figure he’s not going to be back, he’s going to fetch some compensation via the draft. Keep in mind that Jim Thome’s departure to Philadelphia netted the Indians Brad Snyder and Adam Miller, so you can get some pretty good prospects if you draft right. But if a team that loses out on AJ Burnett offers you a great package of players, you jump on it. Possibilities include Texas, both New York teams, Baltimore, and the Cubs. Again, deal Millwood only if someone makes you an offer you can’t refuse.

(3) Get Adam Dunn. I don’t care if he hits left-handed. I don’t care if he strikes out a lot. The guy is one of the best hitters in baseball, and he’s 25 years old. And you can have him under your control through 2007. The Reds are paying Ken Griffey, Jr a lot of money, and Dunn is probably going to get $7M+ in arbitration, so I would think he’s the outfielder the Reds would deal. He isn’t going to come cheap; the Indians would probably have to give up at least two of their better pitching prospects or a major-league pitcher to get him. But if you park him in right field and hit him fifth in the order behind Hafner and Martinez, he consolidates your offense.

(4) Deal Jose Hernandez if you can get a decent return. He can be replaced by either Ryan Garko or Jason Dubois. Again, you deal from your strength in order to shore up an area of weakness.

It is possible for a team to be a buyer and a seller at the same time. In this year’s market, it looks like the only way to fix a hole is to do both; there are a lot of teams still in contention, and the teams that are out it don’t have much that the Indians would want. I do admit that making the above deals is more difficult than I make it seem, but creativity in deals seems to be one way to make both trading parties happy.

I invite you to play GM for a day: what would you do (within reason) between now and the deadline? Oh, please use the comments on the left (Blogger); I’m phasing out HaloScan over the next two weeks.

Weekend in Review

  • It wasn’t pretty, but the Indians finally won their first series since the All-Star Break. And again, the pitching has kept the Indians in the Wild Card race. As bad as Cleveland has looked, they are now 2.5 games behind Oakland and Minnesota. The problem going forward is that there are eight teams still within 5 games of the Wild Card lead, so the percentages still aren’t good. But just the same, making the playoffs isn’t out of the question. They have a key series with Oakland coming up, and next week play the Yankees at home, so the Indians still can control much of their own destiny.
  • Does Kevin Millwood’s 4-9 record convince even the most ardent supporters of win-loss records that wins are team statistics and not pitcher statistics? I also laughed a bit when Sanders mentioned increduously that the Mariners’ bullpen has the league’s second-best ERA, yet has the fewst wins. Reading anything into a reliever’s win-loss record is even more suspect than a starters’ record. For example, assume that the score is tied in the 9th inning with two outs, and Reliever A walks the hitter. He’s pulled from the game; Reliever B enters. He grooves a fastball to the next batter, who hits a home run. Player A gets the loss. How does this loss tell me anything about Reliever A’s effectiveness? This is one of my pet peeves, but despite sterling examples to the contrary (see Jeriome Robertson), writers and announcers continue to concentrate on a pitcher’s win-loss record as the gold standard for pitching.
  • As of July 24:
    Jhonny Peralta 262 AB, .302/.360/.538, 17 2B, 13 HR
    Omar Vizquel 343 AB, .294/.353/.388, 20 2B, 2 HR

    Just sayin’.

  • Of course, I’m also more than willing to admit when I’m wrong, especially when me being wrong means good things for the Indians. And boy was I wrong about Scott Elarton. Far from being out of the rotation by June, like I predicted, he’s been a pretty nice innings-eater for the Indians. Probably the biggest key to his success is that he’s lowered his walk totals dramatically, allowing him to stay in games longer. He also seems to spotting both his curve and fastball well; this keeps hitters off his high fastball. And of course you can’t discount that Elarton has a good defensive outfield behind him. Will this last? It looks like it will the rest of the season, barring injury. Heck, Elarton has a better VORP (11.3) than CC Sabathia (10.0), although this probably says more about Sabathia than it does Elarton.
  • Something else I find interesting about Jhonny Peralta: he has the most home runs by a Indian shortstop in a season since Woodie Held’s 19 in 1962. Held holds the team season record for home runs by a shortstop with 29 (although I think this is incorrect, as Held played 49 games at other positions in 1959, the year he set the mark).

    EDIT: Omar Vizquel has the most home runs in a season since 1962 with 14 in 2002. This article, therefore, is incorrect.

Outside the Top 20 – The Relievers

After I broke out my midseason updates, I received a couple of emails regarding some relievers that I left off the list, namely Chris Cooper and Edward Mujica. While both pitchers may make the majors and succeed, I don’t rank them highly due to the highly volatile nature of relief pitchers. I listed only one true reliever (Fernando Cabrera) among my top 20, and his age, statistics, and closer potential made the decision for me. The other, Tony Sipp, is thought of as a future reliever, but has been starting for much of his professional career. This organizational philsophy (start first, relieve later) is one of the reasons why the following relievers are all in Akron or Buffalo. So, in no particular order, my top reliever prospects:

(1) RHP Fernando Cabrera. See my comments on him here.

(2) LHP Tony Sipp. See my comments on him here.

(3) RHP Andrew Brown
Acquired: Trade, 2004 (Milton Bradley)
Born: 2-17-1981
2005 Stats (AAA): 48.1 IP, 4.28 ERA, 44 H, 62 SO, 15 BB
Trend: Up
ETA: September (or sooner)

The ERA is a little bit misleading, because Brown has been dealing for a couple of months now. Brown is a big dude (6’6″ 230), and he throws an “effortless” 93-95 mph fastball. The Indians left him in a starting role after they received him last year, but finally moved him into a full-time relief role in April. After a slow start (presumedly an adjustment period), Brown has settled into his role nicely. He’s probably ready if the Indians need any further help in the bullpen, and may make parting with Bob Wickman and/or Bob Howry much easier.

(4) LHP Chris Cooper
Acquired: 2001 Draft (35th Round)
Born: 10-31-1978
2005 Stats (AA): 48.1 IP, 2.05 ERA, 41 H, 50 SO, 17 BB
Trend: Level
ETA: 2006

I don’t have access to minor-league splits, but Cooper looks like a prime LOOGY candidate. Chris served as the Aeros’ closer before his promotion to Buffalo. The 26-year-old has moved up the organizational ladder slowly, but if Scott Sauerbeck isn’t back, Cooper could get a shot in 2006 at being the second lefty in the pen. If he isn’t added to the roster, he’s prime Rule 5 bait, his age notwithstanding.

(5) LHP Rafael Perez
Acquired: Non-Drafted Free Agent, 1-25-02
Born: 5-15-1982
2005 Stats (A+): 77.2 IP, 3.36 ERA, 54 H, 48 SO, 32 BB
(AA): 27.1 IP, 0.99 ERA, 20 H, 21 SO, 5 BB
Trend: Up
ETA: Late 2006

Speaking of LOOGYs, Perez looks like a perfect candidate if the Indians convert him to relief. His 2004 Baseball America Prospect Handbook entry mentions ” a slider [that] is tough on lefthanders,” which is a staple of most good left-handed relievers. He was fairly old for his league this year, but upon a promotion to Akron seems to have gotten a bit better. I’d almost guarantee he gets taken in the Rule 5 Draft, so I would think the Indians would aggresively promote him in order to make a good decision on whether to protect him or not. Perez could start or relieve in the majors, but I’d probably lean towards relief right now.

(6) RHP Edward Mujica
Acquired: Non-Drafted Free Agent, 10-22-01
Born: 5-10-1984
2005 Stats (A+): 26.0 IP, 2.08 ERA, 17 H, 32 SO, 2 BB
(AA): 12.1 IP, 1.46 ERA, 10 H, 14 SO, 1 BB
Trend: Way Up
ETA: 2007

When you combined strikeouts with control, you have yourself a nice relief prospect, especially considering how young he is. Mujica was a fairly medicore starter until this season, when he was thrust into Kinston’s closer role. He performed above expectations, going a perfect (I think) 14-14 in save opportunities. Now he’s in Akron, and peripherals look similar or even better when compared to his Kinston line.

Getting to the Bottom of the Offense

Let me try to examine why the Indians can’t seem to score any runs lately.

(1) Lack of patience. The Indian hitters are allowing starting pitchers for the most part to coast through six or seven innings a night, as I’m sure you’ve learned listening to RoboAnnouncer. What are the causes of this? I’m sure pressing has something to do with it; because the Indians haven’t been scoring many runs, each hitter seems to take it upon himself to make up for everyone else. Besides Victor Martinez and Travis Hafner, I see a lot of players swinging at the first fastball they see. And while that’s great if you can hit that first pitch hard somewhere, it isn’t so great if you pop it up or ground weakly to second base.

(2) Lack of Travis Hafner. Pronk has been by far the best offensive player in the lineup, and losing him for four games has made a mediocre offense downright anemic. Obviously the team isn’t going win without him, but his absence illustrates the lack of other consistent offensive weapons. Right now, the Indians have a lot of just plain mediocre hitters in their lineup, which is fine if you have those two or three consistent run producers, but in the Indians’ case there’s no one that can carry an offense besides Hafner.

(3) Facing Good Pitching. The White Sox have by far the league’s best pitching staff, and moreover the best starting rotation in baseball. But that doesn’t totally excuse the lack of production against them last weekend. It’s one thing to get shut down by a great pitching performance; it’s quite another to just give up outs and hack at the first fastball you see. That’s what made the four game series so frustrating; it wasn’t just that the Sox shut the Indians down, but that the Indians themselves were willing accomplices.

(4) A Collective Slump. This has happened before with this team, and happens with other teams as well. I can’t explain why these things happen, just observe that they do happen.

(5) Some bad luck. The Indians are hitting .258 with RISP; that’s worst in the league. Their team BABIP (Batting Average of Balls In Play) is .290; only two teams have lower averages. This bad luck doesn’t explain away all the Indians’ problems, but it has a place in the discussion.

Just for kicks, here’s the July OPSs of the Indians that regularly play:

Grady Sizemore: .479
Coco Crisp: .735
Travis Hafner: 1.277
Victor Martinez: .678 (mostly OBP driven)
Aaron Boone: .767
Jhonny Peralta: 1.007
Ronnie Belliard: .519
Ben Broussard: .575
Casey Blake: .478

I don’t like to use three-week stretches to pass judgment on a player, but I think is useful to see where the problems are currently. Casey Blake has no earthly business in right field every day, given his age and career stats, but I’ve harped on that enough over the past year. Grady Sizemore’s slump has really hurt the Indians in that Hafner has been coming up to bat with no one on base, and therefore, no one to drive in but himself. I’m for sticking with Grady in the leadoff spot, but that doesn’t mean he should be exonerated of all blame. Ben Broussard is in one of his patented cold streaks. Ronnie Belliard generally fades down the stretch, but not usually this badly.

Jason Dubois probably isn’t much of a short-term answer, but I’d feel a lot better about things if at least the Indians took a chance on him playing consistently, for at least you know there’s some upside.

Defense for Offense

Traded OF Jody Gerut to the Chicago Cubs for OF Jason Dubois

Mark Shapiro got his white whale, or at least this version of it. Jason Dubois is a masher, a guy who can hit for power, but doesn’t really have a position. He’s been playing left field for the Cubs, but he’s a poor outfielder. He’ll be under the team’s control for the next 5+ years, and will be cheap for the next two seasons.

The problem (for me, at least) is figuring out where he’s going to play. In the short term, the Indians might take the hit on defense to get Dubois in the lineup, but ultimately he looks more like a first baseman or DH. And you already have one guy (Hafner) who is pretty much a full-time DH, and another guy (Ryan Garko) who looks like a first baseman or DH. The other problem is that guys like Dubois tend to be a “boom or bust” player; if he sticks, the Indians will have themselves a 30+ HR player. Offensive, Dubois has a lot going for him; he can hit for power the other way, which is critical for a major-league power hitter. He’s proven himself in the minors (2004 AAA numbers):

386 AB, .316/.389/.630, 31 HR, 26 2B, 97 SO, 41 BB

The problem is figuring out how to get him in the lineup. Hopefully, the Indians will run him out to right (or left) field for the rest of the season and see how he does. If he works out, you figure out where to put him next year. I don’t want to see him given the Josh Phelps treatment and banished to the bench, only to see the light of day against left-handers. In his limited major-league at-bats, he seems to hit equally against righies and lefties. Note that he’s been the right-handed half of a left field platoon for the Cubs, so he hasn’t been receiving regular at-bats. Recently he was shipped back to Iowa, and went 9-18 in his short stint with the AAA Cubs.

As for Gerut, I’ve made my feelings known recently. The Indians lose a very good defender in the outfield, and he’s a nice contact hitter, but with the production problems the team has been having lately, the Indians can’t afford an outfielder with a defensive specialty. Now if they turn around and give the everyday job to Casey Blake, another miscast fourth outfielder, then there’s something wrong here. Blake should probably be a late-inning replacement for Dubois, or spell Aaron Boone or the other two outfielders against southpaws. But he shouldn’t be taking at-bats away from Dubois; the Indians owe it to themselves to find out what Dubois can do given an extended opportunity.

UPDATE: Some other opinions on the trade: BTF’s Transaction Oracle, Tribe Report, Cleveland Indians Report, The Transaction Guy, and Cub Reporter

In other news, the Indians won a game in which Cliff Lee went the distance! Hey, it was only a five-inning game, but Lee got credit for the complete game. Cliff, after a shaky first inning, looked really good; he was spotting his curve and change for strikes. The Indians scored six runs, which almost matched their series total against the White Sox.

Reinstated RHP Rafael Betancourt from the Suspended List

Optioned RHP Fausto Carmona to Buffalo (AAA)

Believe it or not, no rookie has made their major-league debut for the Indians this year. And because Fausto didn’t get in Sunday’s game, he’ll have to wait at least ten days in order to make his debut. Incidentally, Carmona pitched a gem for the Bisons tonight (8 IP, 6 H, 1 ER, 6 SO, 0 BB) but got tagged for the tough-luck loss.

Assorted Depressing Topics

Why yes, folks….not only do I have depressing, vomit-inducing news and notes, but I also have various types of them!

Pitching prospect JD Martin is having Tommy John surgery. For those unfamiliar with the surgery, Martin needs the elbow ligament in his pitching arm replaced. If all goes well, JD should be fully recovered (ie, pitching normally) within 18-24 months. The good news is that most pitchers who have the surgery come back from as good as they were before. The bad is…well, he’s probably going to miss the entire 2006 season, and probably won’t be pitching normally until 2007.

Placed RHP Matt Miller on the 15-day Disabled List (forearm)

Recalled RHP Kazuhito Tadano from Buffalo (AAA)

I have no idea how long this stint will be for, but hopefully it’s just a short stay; Miller has been one of the bullpen’s unsung heroes, and I think has been misused as a longman. Tadano hasn’t been all that great in Buffalo this year (75.1 IP, 4.54 ERA, 82 H, 64 SO, 17 BB), but he should be all right as a mopup pitcher. I believe Rafael Betancourt is technically off the disabled list, but I have no idea how much longer his suspension lasts. But whatever the case, Betancourt should replace Tadano when he returns. If Miller’s injury isn’t serious, it could be a blessing in disguise; most bullpen pitchers could use a couple of weeks off during the season to keep them effective.

Speaking of Betancourt, he’s blaming his positive banned substance test on an OTC drug purchased in his native Venezuela. Juan Rincon, also from Venezeula, said last week that the league’s testing program unfairly targets Latin players:

“Look at the percentages. How many guys (in the majors) are from Latin America? And how many tested positive?” he said.

While I still remain skeptical of this being the case, I do admit that Bud Selig is running the program, and he has been known to screw up before.

Travis Hafner left Saturday’s game after being struck in the mouth by a Mark Buerhle pitch; He went to an area hospital for testing. It should go without saying that Hafner is pretty much the Indians’ entire offense right now, so hopefully there isn’t anything seriously wrong with Pronk.

I think this Buerhle quote after Saturday’s game summarizes the Indians offense perfectly:

“This was one of those days I should have gotten hit around harder more than I did,” Buehrle said. “I got lucky. My control wasn’t what I wanted it to be.”

The more I think about it, the more I believe that right field is the area that despately needs an upgrade. If you could combine Gerut and Blake into one player hitting .273 with 10 home runs, you could take them in the lineup, but having one-half of a decent outfielder in the lineup every day won’t cut it. You can live with Ben Broussard in the lineup, but having to hit him cleanup is a sign that help is needed. The trade market looks pretty unattractive, though, unless Moises Alou decides he can spend a couple months away from his father.

2002 Retrospective – Foreward

In June 2002, Indians GM Mark Shapiro made a trade that shocked the baseball community: he dealt Bartolo Colon to the Montreal Expos for Lee Stevens and three prospects. At least that’s how I saw the trade on ESPN’s Bottom Line. Colon, after several years of disappointment, had finally seemed to make good on his massive potential. And given the organization’s recent inability to procure pitching, trading the team’s best pitcher with another year left on his contract angered a lot of people, especially the fans of Cleveland. After all, this deal followed on the heels after Shapiro dealing away Roberto Alomar, a popular player, to the Mets the previous winter.

Shapiro had decided that the time had come for the team to undergo a rebuilding process, and the Colon deal was the opening salvo of a massive demantling of a franchise in order to shorten the rebuilding window as much as possible. And with the farm system barren and not much money to use for free agents, Shapiro essentially nuked the roster, and over the next couple of months dealt pretty much everyone with some value for prospects. It was a very risky course of action, given the volatility of prospects, and given the backlash by the fans that still seems to exist today. But three years after the Colon deal, the Indians sit two games behind the Wild Card leader, and are six games above .500. And unlike last year’s team, most of the key contributors are under the team’s control for the next 4-5 years. While Shapiro has made plenty of mistakes since then, his decisions in 2002, including the one to break up the team in the first place, have placed the Indians in a great position going forward. This series will recap the context, the media coverage, and of course the trades themselves.

We start after the 2001 season, a year which saw the Indians win their sixth AL Central title in seven years.

Players Under Contract for 2002 (2001 WARP):

2B Roberto Alomar – $7.9M (11.6)
RHP Danys Baez – $4.125M (2.3)
OF Ellis Burks – $6.667M (5.0)
RHP Bartolo Colon – $4.925M (7.3)
1B Wil Cordero – $4.167M (0.2)
C Einar Diaz – $1.087M (6.3)
LHP Chuck Finley – $7.9M (1.5)
3B Travis Fryman – $5.82 (-0.1)
RHP Charles Nagy – $6.00 (0.8)
LHP Ricardo Rincon – $1.50 (2.1)
RHP Paul Shuey – $3.25M (2.3)
C Ed Taubensee – $1.8M (-0.2)
1B Jim Thome – $8.0M (8.0)
SS Omar Vizquel – $4.50M (4.7)
RHP Bob Wickman – $3.40M (6.0)
RHP Jaret Wright – $4.312M (0.2)

By this time, Travis Fryman, Charles Nagy, and Ed Taubensee were pretty much done thanks to injuries. Jaret Wright was in the midst of several arm surgeries, so he wasn’t going to be counted on for much in the coming year. The bullpen looked to be in decent shape, with Baez, Wickman, and Shuey coming off stellar seasons. The rotation, on the other hand, didn’t look so good. Bartolo Colon and CC Sabathia both had good seasons in 2001, but the back end of the rotation looked pretty bad. The offense remained more or less intact, although the team had to replace the entire outfield (Cordova, Lofton, Gonzalez).

Overall, this looked like a good team, but it was getting old and expensive. Of the starting nine, only Einar Diaz was under the age of 30.

Here’s the pending free agents for the Indians (2001 WARP):

OF Marty Cordova (4.2)
OF Kenny Lofton (2.9)
OF Juan Gonzalez (8.3)
RHP Dave Burba (1.6)
LHP Rich Rodriguez (1.0)

Obviously the biggest name of the bunch was Juan Gonzalez. Kenny Lofton looked done as an everyday center fielder. There was some thought to bringing Cordova back, but only at the right price. But overall, there weren’t too many holes to fill. The Indians were going to plug Milton Bradley in Lofton’s place, but they needed two corner outfielders. And obviously they needed pitching.

Here’s an excerpt from the Cleveland Plain Dealer, talking about the pending free agents (12/3/01, Paul Hoynes):

Gonzalez hit .325 with 35 home runs and 140 RBI in 140 games for the Indians. After Barry Bonds and Jason Giambi, he’s probably the most desirable available talent.

But agent Jeff Moorad is going to have to create a market because of Gonzalez’s history of injury. Moorad took a step in that direction by taking out a $50 million insurance policy on Gonzalez.

He has also crunched some numbers.

“In the last four years, Giambi has 141 homers and 490 RBI,” said Moorad. “In the last four years, Juan has 141 homers and 492 RBI. And that includes Juan’s season in Detroit.

“Giambi will play next year at 31. Juan will play next year at 32. That’s something people don’t realize.”

The Mets are interested in Gonzalez. To a lesser degree, so are Atlanta and Seattle. There’s a remote chance that Texas, where Gonzalez started his career, could make an offer.

Moorad says Gonzalez, a lifetime American Leaguer, will keep an “open mind” about switching leagues.

But friend Luis Mayorial said: “Juan considers himself an American League kind of player because of the DH.”

Gonzalez started 119 of 140 games in right field.

“Juan would like to sign a six- or seven-year deal,” said Mayorial. “He’s very focused on reaching the Hall of Fame and winning a World Series. He put up his numbers this year. He doesn’t need to be the highest-paid player in the game. He just wants to be paid his market value.”

Lofton, 34, left the Indians as their all-time leader in stolen bases with 450. He was third in runs scored at 951 and ninth in hits at 1,463.

Agent Casey Close says the New York Yankees, Oakland and Baltimore have expressed the most interest in him.

“There is an obvious need for quality leadoff hitters,” said Close. “If Kenny can stay healthy and get off on a good roll, he could definitely help a team. People can say what they want about Kenny’s year, but it was still a solid year and a good second half.”

Lofton hit .261 with 21 doubles, four triples, 14 homers and 66 RBI. He stole 16 bases in 24 attempts.

If the Yankees don’t re-sign leadoff hitter Chuck Knoblauch, Lofton could replace him in left field with Bernie Williams playing center. In Oakland, leadoff hitter/center fielder Johnny Damon is a free agent. Lofton could replace Damon, or could play left if Terrence Long moves back to center. With the release of Brady Anderson in Baltimore, Lofton could hit leadoff.

“It all comes down to the need of the club,” said Close.

Said one National League scout: “Lofton may have to move to left field, but I still think he could play center field two or three times a week on a championship club. He showed that in Cleveland.”

Lofton’s 16 steals were the fewest in any of his 10 seasons. His 66 RBI were the third most in his career.

“The game has changed,” said Close. “The emphasis is on power and smaller ballparks. There aren’t a whole lot of players out there stealing 60 to 70 bases a year. But if Kenny can stay healthy, I think he can still steal 40 to 50 a year.”

Seth Levinson, Cordova’s agent, talks to Indians General Manager Mark Shapiro a lot. The two-way conversation is always the same – Cordova would love to return, but the Indians need to make a trade to create enough room on the payroll to pay him.

The Yankees and Dodgers have expressed interest in Cordova, but only if they can trade Shane Spencer or Gary Sheffield, respectively.

Kansas City has promised Cordova an everyday job. The Royals need somebody to protect Mike Sweeney in the lineup.

Cordova, 32, hit his way onto the Indians in spring training. Then he hit .301 with 20 homers and 69 RBI in 122 games in the regular season.

“Cleveland is the perfect place for Marty,” said Levinson. “He was playing on a great team, in a great ballpark in front of great fans. That’s why he wants to go back, but we may not be able to wait.”

Levinson says Cordova will get a three-year contract.

Other developments included the shopping of John Rocker, rumors of the Indians dealing Roberto Alomar to the Yankees, and talk of a long-term deal for CC Sabathia.

Back in Action

Is it just me, or is the Wednesday after the All-Star Break the longest day of the baseball season?

There are a couple baseball games on TV, including the AAA All-Star Game. Three Bisons were starters: 2B Jake Gautreau, C Ryan Garko, and DH Ernie Young. Young is obviously not part of the club’s future, but Gautreau and Garko both could figure considerably not only for the long-term future, but also in the second half. Gautreau, who’s probably better as a third baseman, is probably coming up to Cleveland very soon, and Ryan Garko is moving permanently to first base within the next couple weeks. Gautreau is probably going to be backing up Belliard and Boone at first, and may end up taking some bats away from Aaron if he hits well enough. Either way, he’ll be an offensive upgrade over Cora off the bench.

A quick update of the 2005 Draft Picks:

OF Trevor Crowe (1st Round): He hit .255/.345/.392 for Mahoning Valley before moving up to Lake County; he’s hitting .333/.375/.367 for the Captains in 30 AB. I’d love to see the Indians move him to second base; that’s the only spot where the Indians don’t have any long-term solutions, be it at the major-league or minor-league level.

OF John Drennan (Sandwich): He’s hitting .162/.238/.270 for Burlington, not surprising for a high-school player. The Indians don’t have a Gulf Coast or Arizona League team, so high-school players have to break in a level too high.

1B Stephen Head (2nd Round): Absolutely mashed in Mahoning Valley: .432/.533/1.027 (6 HR, 4 2B). He’s skipping Lake County, going instead to Kinston, where there isn’t any true first baseman. In his K-Tribe debut, Head went 2-4 with a double, so he apparently didn’t have too difficult a time in making the jump.

1B/OF Nick Weglarz (3rd Round): Has done a lot better than I expected: he’s hitting .333/.379/.444 for Burlington. Nick won’t turn 18 until December.

RHP Jensen Lewis (3rd Round): 14.0 IP, 0.00 ERA, 9 H, 9 SO, 1 BB. Pretty good.

In preparation for the upcoming White Sox/Indians series, Vince Galloro of Exile in Wrigleyville invited me to chat about the two teams. Here’s the transcript.

I’m working on a 2002 retrospective. I’ll include excerpts from the local press regarding some of the moves, as well as give you a ton of background info on the players and the situation. I really think you’ll enjoy it.

Survival Mode

The Indians have had one of the roughest first-half schedules in baseball, so right now the number one goal should be to remain within shouting distance of the Wild Card lead. Today’s victory over a the sizzling New York Yankees is exactly what the team needed; it kept the team at most two games back of the Twins, it stopped a four-game losing streak, and kept the team in sole possession of second place in the Wild Card race.

The win wasn’t easy. The Indians were leading by four going into the eighth inning, when normally reliable Bob Howry gave up a cheap base hit to Robinson Cano, walked Gary Sheffield before somehow getting Alex Rodriguez to pop up to the first baseman. In came Arthur Rhodes – the left-hander miscast as a LOOGY – who promptly gave up a three-run bomb to Hideki Matsui.

After getting a crucial insurance run in the 9th inning, Bob Wickman was his usual self. First batter of the inning – home run. Second batter – base hit. Third batter – botched bunt. Thankfully Robinson Cano whiffed on his first bunt attempt, for later in the at-bat, he grounded into a 4-6-3 double play. Wickman then walked Gary Sheffield, bringing up Alex Rodriguez. At this point I was in the fetal position, waiting for the end. But, like most of Wickman’s other saves, he somehow extricated himself by getting Rodriguez to harmlessly ground out to short. Is there another player in baseball who has great numbers yet is almost universally reviled by the fans?

Before the game, the Indians swapped out Brian Tallet for a position player:

Recalled 2B/SS Brandon Phillips from Buffalo (AAA)

Optioned LHP Brian Tallet to Buffalo (AAA)

During Friday night’s game, Ronnie Belliard tweaked his hamstring running out a ground ball, so the Indians needed a middle infielder for the last two games of the series. I don’t think Phillips is going to be up for too long (they’ll probably option him back after Sunday’s game), and judging by his at bats, it looks like the same Phillips. Mark Shapiro was talking up Jake Gautreau on the pregame show, so I wouldn’t be shocked if he got the call after the break.

I already detest David Wells, so this comment didn’t really make any difference as to how I feel, but just the same, the comlete and utter stupidity that comes out of his mouth continues to amaze me:

Boston pitcher David Wells said he understands why Texas pitcher Kenny Rogers shoved two cameramen, comparing the situation to a sexual assault.

“Some guy’s being aggressive with a woman, and she says no, and he keeps on doing it. Well, you know what’s going to happen. No is no in anything, when it comes to sexual or you know, whatever it is. No is no,” Wells said during an appearance on Rhode Island radio station WSKO on Friday. “And I’m sure Kenny said, ‘Hey, get it out of my face, don’t do it.’ But no, they want the big story, they want the scoop, you know?”

Wells added: “I probably would have done the same thing.”

Rob Dibble’s rant on Derek Jeter’s absence from the All-Star game is a humerous read as well. I especially liked this blurb:

Second, can you imagine an NBA All-Star game without Michael Jordan or Magic Johnson? Neither can I, and Jeter is the Jordan of baseball.