Winter Plans

With the off-season predictably quiet, this blog would be boring as heck if I just concentrated on Ron Belliard, Cliff Bartosh, and whoever the Indians sign to be the 4th starter.

Therefore I’m going to use January and February to look back on the previous 103 seasons in franchise history. I’m in the process of revamping my Indians history section, which is currently on my geocities site. Eventually (and I mean eventually), I’d like to have on file a profile of every player who’s played for the Indians. While that isn’t happening this year (or even this decade), I’d like to start it. A very good place to start this massive undertaking is to profile the 100 Greatest Indians, announced during the 2001 season. With roughly 100 days before the 2004 season starts, I’m going rank them and count down one each day, with #1 announced in early April, just before the season starts. Meanwhile, I’ll continue to tweak the site. As you may have noticed, I’ve switched the sidebar to the left side. Some of the links may not work just yet, but I’ll get to those shortly.

Don’t worry..if something happens (anything, please!), I’ll cover it. During February, I’ll start gearing up for the season with previews of the Indians and the rest of the American League. But for now, it’s time to look back instead of forward.

Number #100 on the list will appear on January 1st, 2004

Merry Christmas!

This is as good a time as any to expound a bit on what you’ll be seeing on this site in the next couple of weeks:

First, to the left, you’ll notice virtually every player in the Indians’ organization, all the way down to Rookie ball. Each player has his own profile, and is organized by alphabetical order. If you find a missing/broken link, don’t hesitate to e-mail me. The address is in the top left-hand corner of the screen.

Shortly after the first of the year, my geocities site will cease to exist as it is currently constituted. I feel that a blog format is much easier to update and keep up with. The geocities site was relatively easy to maintain when I started it after the 2002 season, but as I started to add more and more features, it’s become too difficult to keep up with. Don’t worry; all the profiles will remain, but you’ll have to access them through this site.

During the next couple weeks, I’ll finish adding the features links to this page. I’m also messing around with different templates, so don’t be surprised if the site may look different one day.

I’d appreciate any feedback you might have, especially on what you specifically want from the site. You, rapid Tribe fan, are the reason I’m doing this, so any suggestions will be welcomed.

2B Free Agent Update

1) Todd Walker signed with the Chicago Cubs for around $1.75M for a one-year contract. He’ll split time with incumbent Mark Grudzielanek.

2) Pokey Reese signed a one-year deal worth $1M with the Boston Red Sox

Non-Tenders

Three players with direct ties to the Indians were non-tendered on Saturday; Danys Baez and Carl Sadler from the Indians, and Derek Thompson from the Dodgers. I’ll get to Thompson and his situation in a little bit.

I’m sure most of you have heard at least snippets of the various moves involving Baez, so I’ll try to summarize things. Danys Baez was signed out of Cuba in November of 1999, and was given a four-year, major-league contract. This meant that he was placed on the 40-man roster; his contract was very similar to the contract given to 2002 draft pick Jeremy Guthrie in years, but not dollars.

Baez spent all of 2000 in the minors, and parts of 2001. So at the end of this season, he had not accumulated enough service time to be eligible for arbitration. The Indians declined the option for a fifth year, which was worth $5M if picked up. Therefore, Baez was without a contract, and since he was not eligible for arbitratration, the Indians could sign him to any amount of their choosing, as long as it was at least 80% of his 2003 salary, which would have been $4.1M. Since his past performances didn’t warrent that amount of money, the Indians were looking at non-tendering him on December 20th. However, the front office came across a possible loophole that would allow them to keep Baez at less than $4.1M. On November 15th, they placed Baez on waivers. Because no one wanted him at his present salary, and because he was going to be non-tendered anyway, no team claimed him. The Indians then re-purchased his contract on November 20th, which they thought would nullify his previous salary and allow the Indians to sign him at a lower price. Obviously, Baez, his agent, and especially the players’ union, did not agree with this reasoning and threatened a grievance if the Indians tendered Baez a contract less than $4.1M/year. If the Indians would have lost the grievance, they may have been fined for the period of time Baez was not able to pursue offers on the open market. These damages could have approached $5M, much more than Baez would have gotten on the open market, so the Indians finally decided to back away from any protracted legal issues and cut ties with Baez.

The Indians can still sign him, but it’s not likely the Baez will return. All this goes back to the fact that Baez was given a lot of guarenteed money at an early age, and with the CBA, he would have gotten salary increases each of the next three years. Baez is still a great talent, but with his performances as a closer, he simply wasn’t worth the money. He’ll probably get no more than what the Indians offered him (2 year, $4M) on the open market, but that didn’t prevent him from declining the offer.

Carl Sadler is a lot more simpler. He’ll probably be re-signed to a minor-league contract this week or next. This non-tender was done mainly to make room for a free agent signing. With Baez and Sadler off the roster, the Indians should have enough room to sign a 2B (most likely Ron Belliard) and a free agent starter. The Indians did almost the same thing with Chris Magruder last year. If more room is needed, the obvious choices would be Tim Laker or Chad Durbin. Another middle reliever may be signed to replace Baez, but someone should emerge from an NRI (Howry, David Lee, Carrara, or a minor-leaguer).

The Dodgers non-tendered 2002 Rule 5 pick Derek Thompson on Saturday as well. I don’t know if this means he has to returned to the Indians, but unless this is another loophole, the Indians should be getting him back. Although it’s been a year since Thompson was selected, an arm injury prevented him from spending any time on the active roster. The rules stipualate that a player must spend a minimum of 90 days on a 25-man roster to be kept permanently, and this rule has not been met.

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.