Transactions

Signed LHP Tim Young to a minor-league contract; Invited him to Spring Training

Signed LHP Mike Porzio to a minor-league contract; Invited him to Spring Training

Signed OF Ernie Young to a minor-league contract; Invited him to Spring Training

Signed RHP Giovanni Carrara to a minor-league contract; Invited him to Spring Training

Belliard the Choice

According to Jim Ingraham of the News-Herald and Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Indians have signed Ron Belliard to a one-year contract plus a team option pending a physical.

If you scroll down a bit, you can see a profile of Belliard plus my comments. Historically, Belliard has hit left-handers well, which helps a bit in the lineup, especially if Eric Wedge is penciling Ben Broussard, Jody Gerut, and Travis Hafner into the lineup. I’d still like the Indians to bring in a platoon parter to face some right-handers. Todd Walker is still out there, thanks to the collapse of the Alex Rodriguez trade, but he’s not realistic right now. Angel Santos, a switch-hitter with some power, is a minor-league free agent, and I’d really like the Indians to bring him back and spot him against right-handed pitchers.

Santos, who the Indians picked up from Boston for Jamie Brown last year, would make a nice bench player. He’s a much better hitter off the bench than John McDonald, can switch-hit, and can play 2B and 3B. And in contrast to Bill Selby or Zach Sorensen, Eric Wedge could actually use Santos late in the game as a pinch hitter.

I’ll get more into specific position battles as Spring Training approaches.

Transactions

Signed Bob Howry to a minor-league contract; Invited him to Spring Training

The “Failed” Physical

Well, late last night, word came down that Omar Vizquel failed his physical, nullifying the trade which would had sent him to Seattle for Carlos Guillen. More specifically, Omar’s surgically-repaired knee nixed the trade. While this does hurt the Indians in the short-term, as $3M-$4M just disappeared from their budget, this doesn’t really change anything past next year. Vizquel isn’t going to be brought back at his current salary (a mutual option), and he probably isn’t going to be traded during the season.

Seattle GM Bill Bavasi just dodged a huge bullet, and I’m sure some of the more experienced conspiracy theorists will have a field day with this. This probably helps the Indians sell more tickets, along with the 8,756,456 different Omar! products flooding Indians team shops. When Omar finally leaves after the season, fans will still bemoan the Indians for not keeping a fan-favorite around until his retirement. However, once the Indians start winning again, fans will find new favorite players, or (gasp) they’ll just root for the teams, not individual players.

Transactions

Signed Jake Westbrook to a one-year, $900k contract, avoiding arbitration

Vizquel for Guillen

The Seattle Times is reporting that the Mariners and Indians are finalizing a trade thar would send Omar Vizquel to Seattle for Carlos Guillen. Rumors have been floating around the last week or so, and intensified when Seattle lost out on the Miguel Tejada sweepstakes. As of now, the Indians would pay a couple of million of Vizquel’s $6M 2004 contract. It has also been reported by WTAM that the Mariners will give Vizquel an extension through the 2005 season. Carlos Guillen will make $2.5M next year, and will be eligible for arbitration after the season.

So what does this mean for the Indians if true? For starters, the Indians will save about $3M for next year, and it’s assumed they will use the proceeds from the trade to sign a free agent 2B and starter. Guillen will be 28 next year, and the Indians will probably get one his best offensive seasons. Guillen is definitely not the equal of Vizquel defensively, though; his Fielding Percentage and Range Factor are both below league average.

Omar Vizquel has been one of the most popular athletes in Cleveland history, and trading him will definitely create some negative reactions from various sources. But speaking strictly as a baseball move, this is a good deal for the Indians. The Indians got a younger player and saved money while doing it. However, in order for this deal to look good for the vast majority of the fanbase, the money needs to transparently be spent on a free agent, probably a decent pitcher. If the Indians follow up the trade by signing a decent 2B and a quality starter, then this trade will look pretty good.

Transactions

Rule 5: Colorado selected Matt White from the Indians

Rule 5: St. Louis selected Hector Luna from the Indians

Rule 5: Houston selected Willy Taveras from the Indians

Rule 5: Colorado selected Luis Gonzalez from the Indians

Rule 5: Detroit selected Lino Urdaneta from the Indians

Rule 5 (AAA): New York (NL) selected Lance Caraccioli from the Indians

Rule 5 (AAA): Kansas City selected Honeudis Pereyra from the Indians

Rule 5 (AAA): Philadelphia selected Miguel Quintana from the Indians

Rule 5 (AAA): San Diego selected Ignacio Montano from the Indians

Rule 5 (AAA): Cleveland selected Michael West from Milwaukee

Rule 5 Recap

The Indians lost 9 players from their minor-league system today, and 5 in the major-league section of the Rule 5 Draft. Only the Pirates lost as many. While you hate to lose this many players, it shows the type of system the Indians have. Each of the players drafted had multiple young players ahead of them on the depth chart.

Let’s take an in-depth view of the players lost (for now) in the major-league portion of the Rule 5 Draft. Remember, each of these players has to stay on the clubs’ 25-man roster for the entire season to keep him.

1) IF Luis Gonzalez – drafted by Colorado

Probably the best bet to stay with the team that drafted him. He can play multiple positions, won’t be that overpowered at the plate, and he played most of the year in AA, so a jump to the majors isn’t too far-fetched. I think this is nice pick by Colorado, as they may fill a need for $350,000 ($50,000 + the minimum). Too often, clubs go for toolsy players (see below) that are really far from being ready and neglect players that are a bit older and don’t much of an upside but could realistically contribute at the major-league level.

Chances of being returned: 25%

2) LHP Matt White – drafted by Colorado

Again, a nice pick by the Rockies. White was picked last year by the Red Sox, was traded to the Mariners, and eventually returned to the Indians about half-way through the season. After returning to Buffalo, he pitched well. He could contribute as a LOOGY, especially at Coors Canaveral. The Indians picked up Cliff Bartosh, who has historically put up better numbers than White, as well as Carl Sadler, who’s pitched well in the Dominican Leagues. Both Bartosh and Sadler have better upside than White, and both can be optioned down next year, something the Rockies will not have the luxury of doing.

Chances of being returned: 50%

3) SS Hector Luna – drafted by St. Louis

Also drafted last year, Luna has offensive potential and speed, which made him so attractive to teams. The Cardinals will try to make him the second utility infielder, but can the Cardinals, who are expected to contend next, afford to essentially have a 24-man roster all year? Luna spent the entire year at Akron after being returned by Tampa Bay before Spring Training, so he’s a more viable offensive player now. But the track record of Rule 5 picks staying on a playoff (or quasi-playoff) team isn’t good.

Chances of being returned: 75%

4) RHP Lino Urdaneta – drafted by Detroit

Urdaneta, who signed a minor-league contract a couple of weeks ago, was picked almost entirely based on his performace in Venezuela league. His minor-league stats have been average at best, and although the Tigers are team who will probably keep one of their picks, Urdaneta is not likely to be one of them.

Chances of being returned: 95%

5) OF Willy Taveras – drafted by Houston

The combination of the rawness of Taveras and the expected contention of the Astros make it an extreme longshot for Taveras to stick around past Spring Training, let alone the entire season. As of now, all Taveras can provide at the major-league level is speed. I just don’t see the Astros, especially down the stretch, keeping a one-dimensional player on their roster.

Chances of being returned: 99%

I’m not going to touch on the minor-league portion, as most of these players are roster-fillers. Unlike the major-league portion, most of the players selected stay with in the drafting teams’ organization.

Free Agency Update

1) Tony Graffanino has signed a two-year contract with the Kansas City Royals. He’ll be platooned with Desi Relaford. Obviously the sticking point was the length of the contract.

2) Todd Walker will reportedly sign a two-year contract with the Texas Rangers in the wake of an expected Alex Rodriguez deal. Again, the length of the contract played a huge role in Walker’s decision. Likewise, Shapiro is sticking to only offering a one-year contract, which I have absolutely no problem with. For a time, the Indians were the frontrunners in landing Walker, as all the other contenders wanted him to switch positions.

New Profiles

IF Chris Clapinski (signed to a minor-league contract)

RP Cliff Bartosh (Claimed off waivers from Detroit)

RP Lino Urnadeta (signed to a minor-league contract)

Site Update

I’ve added the 40-man Roster to the side, so it’ll be easier to find their profiles. Eventually, I’d like to make this the homepage of my site, but it’s going to take some tweaking. Hopefully everything will be in place by the beginning of Spring Training. Until then, I’ll continue to post every day or every other day, covering Indians baseball, as well as relevant stories from around the league.

List of Possible 2B Free Agents and/or Trade Possibilities

Here’s a fairly comprehensive list of who’s still available (in alphabetical order):

Free Agents

1) Roberto Alomar – Age 36

Last Year:

CHW 253 AB, .253/.330/.340, 3 HR, 11 2B

NYM 263 AB, .262/.336/.357, 2 HR, 17 2B

Career Hitting:

.301/.372/.444, 14 HR, 35 2B

Career Splits

vs. LHP: .267/.335/.410

vs. RHP: .315/.387/.457

Career Fielding: (League Average)

FPerc. .984 (.981)

RFactor 4.75 (4.56)

Arbitration: No

Comments: Would be a nice signing, except for the small fact that he blasted Shapiro after he was traded in December 2001. I doubt he’s coming back unless his other options fall apart. His place in the Hall of Fame is fairly assured, but he’s definitely on the downside of his career, after two years of drastic decline after 2001.

2) Ron Belliard – Age 29

Last Year:

COL 447 AB, .277/.351/.409, 8 HR, 31 2B

Career Hitting:

.266/.343/.398, 10 HR, 36 2B

Career Splits:

vs. LHP: .345/.426/.584

vs. RHP: .254/.324/.350

Career Fielding:

FPerct. .978 (.982)

RFact. 4.88 (4.80)

Arbitration: No

Comments:

Looks to be a decent signing if he’s platooned..check out his splits vs. lefties. He’s a pretty good fielder as well. I’m leery of his numbers last year, as his numbers were Coors-ified. In 2002, he had a horrible season, with an OPS under .600. Again, he might be a decent half of a platoon, but no more than that.

3) Miguel Cairo

Last Year:

STL 261 AB, .245/.289/.375, 15 2B, 5 HR

Career Hitting:

.267/.317/.361, 4 HR, 22 2B

Career Splits:

vs. LHP: .306/.346/.423

vs. RHP: .257/.308/.341

Career Fielding:

FPerc. .982 (.980)

RFact. 4.62 (4.57)

Comments:

He doesn’t really fit what the Indians are looking for, as he’s basically a utility infielder now. He’ll probably end up on a contending team as the 5th or 6th infielder.

4) Tony Graffanino – Age 32

Last Year:

CHW .260/.331/.428, 7 HR, 15 2B

Career Hitting

.258/.330/.398, 9 HR, 21 2B

Career Splits

vs. LHP: .263/.348/.438

vs. RHP: .256/.316/.369

Career Fielding

FPerct. .975 (.981)

RFact. 4.00 (4.55)

Comments

Here’s my top choice of the available free agents. He mashes left-handers (a definite need on a team with a lot of left-handed power hitters, he can play three positions at least decently, and he should be fairly affordable. One catch…it would be nice to plug in a left-handed 2B from time to time with Graffanino. The White Sox had one of the best platoons in the league with Valentin and Graffanino, and the Indians should look into acquiring (or finding) a platoon partner for Graffanino.

5) Keith Lockhart – Age 39

Last Year:

SDG 95 AB, .242/.339/.411, 3 HR. 5 2B

Career Hitting:

.261/.319/.411, 7 HR, 19 2B

Career Splits:

vs. LHP: .220/.292/.346

vs. RHP: .265/.322/.389

Career Fielding:

FPerct. .981 (.982)

RFact. 3.77 (4.62)

Comments

Not an everyday 2B anymore, and has marginal defensive value. Could be a bench player, but nothing more.

6) Pokey Reese – Age 31

Last Year:

PIT 107 AB, .215/.271/.262, 1 HR, 2 2B

Career Hitting

.251/.310/.357, 9 HR, 26 2B

Career Splits:

vs. LHP: .241/.312/.353

vs. RHP: .254/.310/.358

Career Fielding:

FPerct. .984 (.982)

RFact. 5.16 (4.72)

Comments

Here’s a guy I wouldn’t mind taking a chance on for the right price. At worst, he could be a useful utility infielder, and if everything goes right, he returns to his 2002 levels and is a league-average second baseman. He’s always been a good fielder. If he can be had for $1M or less (and it’s very possible), he’s someone the Indians should go after.

7) Todd Walker – Age 31

Last Year:

BOS 587 AB, .283/.333/.428, 13 HR, 38 2B

Career Hitting:

.290/.346/.434, 13 HR, 39 2B

Career Splits:

vs LHP: .234/.282/.373

vs RHP: .301/.352/.448

Career Fielding

FPerct. .981 (.980)

RFact. 4.42 (4.71)

Comments

If the Indians had money to burn, a Walker/Graffanino platoon at 2B would be outstanding. But it’s not going to happen. With Fernando Vina getting $6M from the Tigers, you’d have to think Walker would get at least that much from somebody. So he’s on the periphery of the possibility spectrum. He’s definitely the best offensive solution at 2B in the free agent market, but I don’t think it’s wise sinking a 2-3 year contract into him, especially where the Indians are at.

8) Eric Young – Age 37

Last Year:

MIL 404 AB, .260/.344/.421, 15 HR, 18 2B

SF 71 AB, .197/.293/.225, 0 HR, 2 2B

Career Hitting:

.285/.360/.393, 8 HR, 31 2B

Career Splits

vs LHP: .296/.376/.432

vs RHP: .281/.354/.379

Career Fielding

FPerct. .977 (.982)

RFact. 4.83 (4.62)

Comments

Wouldn’t be a bad one-year stopgap. He should provide what Ricky Gutierrez would have provided had he stayed healthy. I seriously doubt he’ll get any multi-year offers, and depending on what happens with Danys Baez, should be with the Indians’ price range.

Trade Possibilities

1) Orlando Hudson – Age 26

Last Year:

TOR 474 AB, .268/.328/.395, 9 HR, 21 2B

Career Hitting:

.270/.326/.408, 11 HR, 26 2B

Career Splits:

vs LHP: .168/.210/.221

vs RHP: .300/.357/.462

Career Fielding:

FPerct. .985 (.981)

RFact. 5.32 (4.93)

Comments

The Jays are looking for young pitching, and that’s what they’d want for Hudson. Shapiro isn’t going to give up Cliff Lee or Jason Davis, and with Traber and Tallet both done for 2004 with Tommy John surgery, the “excess” (although I hate to use this word with pitching) is all but gone. It’s doubtful anything will get done now.

2) Placido Polanco – Age 28

Last Year:

PHI 492 AB, .289/.352/.447, 14 HR, 30 2B

Career Hitting

.294/.337/.402, 8 HR, 30 2B

Career Splits

vs LHP .325/.370/.398

vs RHP .297/.338/.407

Career Fieding

FPerct. .987 (.982)

RFact. 4.30 (4.78)

Comments

As far as I know, there hasn’t been any mention of the Indians and Polanco, but it’s a possibility. The Phillies have a couple of 2B prospects close to the majors, and Polanco is arbitration-eligible, so there’s a chance he’ll be either traded or non-tendered. Polanco had a career year in 2003, so there would be a lot of interest from other teams if he’d be made available.

3) Junior Spivey – Age 30

Last Year:

ARI 365 AB, .255/.326/.433, 13 HR, 22 2B

Career Hitting

.279/.363/.453, 17 HR, 31 2B

Career Splits

vs LHP .311/.412/.572

vs RHP .262/.336/.392

Career Fielding:

FPerct. .980 (.982)

RFact. 4.18 (4.99)

Comments

By far the most realistic of the three trade possibilities listed here. Alex Escobar and Ryan Ludwick were mentioned as candidates in a possible trade, but Shapiro seems reluctant to part with either of them. If something can be worked out, Spivey is a pretty nice gamble. He could return to his 2002 level and have and OBP approaching .400, or at worst he’ll be a decent one-year fix, and he can be non-tendered next year. Milwaukee has a cheaper option at 2B, has a definite need for a corner outfielder with power, and the Indians have outfielders to burn. It seems like a nice solution, but will Shapiro give up a possible 30+ HR outfielder for a possible one-year fix?

After December 20th, I’ll cover the 2B non-tenders.

How to (and How Not To) Fill a 2B Hole

Sorry for the sabbatical, but with my classes clamping down on me in the past couple weeks, I’ve had to cut back on baseball-related stuff…and it’s not like the Indians have been a big player so far in the free agent market.

That being said, they’re probably doing the right thing and not jumping head-first into the market. Their biggest need is an adequate second baseball that will allow Brandon Phillips a year in Buffalo to sort out his hitting issues. Now, adequate is nice, but along with adequate needs to come inexpensive. And no long-term contracts, either. Ricky Gutierrez will be exorcised from the payroll at the end of this year; no need to take on another similar contract.

Witness yesterday’s signing of “slick-fielding” Fernando Vina to a 2-year, $6M contract. Yes, Albert Belle’s former speedbump is going to Detroit, where he’ll probably be paraded as an example of ownership trying to win. Now Detroit has been deemed as a small market for years, but sucking for a decade does not make a small-market team. As market size goes, Detroit is second to Chicago as far as market size goes in the AL Central. So theoretically, they should have a pretty high payroll, and they do. Unfortunately, the former Randy Smith regime left the Tigers with the highest per-capita albtrosses in the majors. Dean Palmer, Bobby Higginson, Damien Easley, and I could go on. Up until this point, I thought new GM Dave Dombrowski has done as good a job as he could with trying to build the team while waiting out the contracts.

Until now. The Vina contract fails every kind of test a rebuilding (or building, in the case of the Tigers) team should be looking at when filling a hole via free agency:

1) Is the player going to be part of the next winning team?

Well, since two years is generous by any standards for the Tigers to start winning again, the first answer is no. Compounding this is the age of Vina (34) and his injury-riddled 2003 season. This is not a player in his prime; if anything, he’ll get progressively worse over the next two seasons.

2) If no to #1, is the contract affordable?

In this instance, $3M to Vina is probably a bit over market value. Over the coming month, after the non-tenders and other signings start to happen, you’ll see some better players sign for less. I’ll cover some of these 2B options later on today.

3)If no to #1, does the contract give the team flexibility for next year?

In other words, is it either a minor-league contract or a one-year major-league contract? Well, since Vina received a two-year, guarenteed contract, this answer is no.

So, why did the Tigers sign Vina to a two-year contract again? I have no logical explanation. It’s not like Vina was in demand, so why not just sign him to a one-year deal, and then look at the free agent market next year? Vina certainly isn’t a long-term solution, and he’s not much of a short-term solution, either. His main assets are his defense and his bunting, two things readily available for close to the minimum these days. In fact, the Tigers could have had Juan Uribe for next to nothing if they wanted a young, cheap solution. And they have a couple of in-house glove-men in Andres Torres and Ramon Santiago.

What the Tigers needed at the position was an offensive upgrade, but is Vina really an upgrade of the incumbant Warren Morris?:

Career OPS+ (A player’s career OPS versus the league-average OPS, with 100 being league-average):

Vina 90

Morris 83

That certainly isn’t worth an increase of $2.7M for Vina.

OK, you may be saying, so how should the Indians avoid an idiotic signing like this, and who’s out there? I’ll get to that later today.

Offseason Mode

With the regular season completed, and free agency and related player movement a month or so away, I’d like to take this time to explore a couple issues that have been floating inside my head.

First of all, I’d like to explore the fiscal efficiency of putting together a roster. Or in other words, how much bang teams get for their bucks. In today’s game, paying a replacement-level player more than replacement-level money will quickly lead to an inefficient use of money, which, especially in medium-to-smaller markets, will lead to losing seasons.

Let me back up a second with some definitions. When I use the words replacement-level, I refer to a ficticious player who has exactly league-average statistics for his position. Baseball Prospectus rates players in reference to a replacement-level statisctics through something called VORP, or Value Over Replacement Player. If a player has positive VORP, then he is more valuable than at least half the players at his particular position. If he has a negative VORP, then he is less valuable than the average player at his position.

Now how can you relate this measurement to a team’s fiscal efficiency? By comparing his on-the-field value to his monetary value. In this instance, I’ll use my own concocted statistic called SORP, or Salary over Replacement Player. The median salary in baseball in 2003 was $2,555, 476, so I’ll use that as what a totally average player at his position should be paid. In no way am I attempting a scientific statistical analysis, but it should give us fans a realistic picture of whether a player was overpaid or underpaid.

VORP measures hitting production in runs, and is pretty difficult to use comparatively, so I’m going to use EQA instead. EQA’s baseline for average players at each position is set at .260, so it will be a lot easier to compare (and the scale is such that good EQAs and bad EQAs are fairly recognizable with the baseline being .260)

I’ll start with an analysis of the Indians’ 2003 season, and then, I’ll move onto other teams and see where the Indians rank.

Also, I’m compiling an Excel sheet with the entire organizational roster of hitters, complete with statistics. I’m trying to formulate my own grading system (on a scale of 100) for the prospects, so please bear with me.

I’ll post updates as the numbers are crunched