Tonight the Mets begin a 3-game series with the Indians in Cleveland. The Injuns had high hopes in the preseason, but those hopes dashed quickly after the season-ending injury to superstar Grady Sizemore and widespread underperformance by the able-bodied players on the roster.
To get a clue on what’s happening in Cleveland, we turn to fellow SweetSpot blogger Steve Buffum of “The B-List Indians Blog” for the scoop.
1. After a tough seven-game ALCS loss in 2007, the Indians have had some tough times. Were you expecting a step forward or backward in 2010?
I really expected this team to take a step forward in 2010. I wrote a pre-season series about how it was reasonable to expect significant (as defined by “a reasonable expectation for double-digit VORP improvement”) improvement from 8 different players: a couple have been able to do this (Fausto Carmona, Jhonny Peralta), but most have not (Masterson, Huff, LaPorta, Sizemore, Rafael Perez, Andy Marte).
The three most important players were Sizemore, who was pitiful before he got hurt anyway (the two may be related, it isn’t clear), Carmona, who has done quite well, and Perez, who has been awful and joined by Tony Sipp in providing the kind of bullpen support normally provided by large, flaming barrels of kerosene rags.
2. What is your opinion thus far of new manager Manny Acta?
It’s too early to tell. I like that Acta addresses issues openly and honestly, and he appears to learn more quickly from tactical errors than his predecessor, Eric Wedge. His team is pretty bad, though. The first season is far too early to judge the guy.
3. Do you think the Indians are on a path toward eventual success? Are there more hard times ahead before they take a step forward?
Well, yes and no. A significant part of the problem was a series of atrocious drafts, and they’ve been much improved over the past three or so. That sort of thing takes time to bear fruit, but players like Alex White, Lonnie Chisenhall, Jason Kipnis, Cord Phelps, and Drew Pomeranz have major-league potential. I like some of the players we’ve acquired through trades, like Carlos Santana, Chris Perez, Jess Todd, Mitch Talbot, Nick Hagadone, Scott Barnes, Jason Donald, and Jason Knapp, not to mention the major-league contributors Shin-Soo Choo and Asdrubal Cabrera.
But the Indians have a HUGE cashflow problem, which is exacerbated by the low attendance figures to date. From what I’ve read, they budgeted for a certain draw and aren’t getting it. They already traded C.C. Sabathia and Cliff Lee for financial reasons: there’s no reason to think that players like Kerry Wood or Jake Westbrook are going to be Indians next season. They’ll have to live and die with the yoots, and frankly, while there are good signs, the actual performance of players like Donald, Tofu Lou Marson, Mike Brantley, and Trevor Crowe show that … well … these young players are bad compared to full-time major-league players.
4. Austin Kearns is one of the Indians’ best offensive players — yet, his job is in jeopardy if Matt LaPorta is brought back to the big club. First, please explain how Kearns found his way to being a top producer on an AL club, and second, tell us why he’s not guaranteed to be a regular in the second half.
It’s probably simplistic to say, “Health,” but I think that’s a huge factor. The poor guy has just been so battered and snakebit over his career. This having been said, I also think he’s playing a bit over his true baseline, and I think he should be traded. By the time the Indians are ready to compete for a playoff spot, Kearns is likely to be on the downslope (he’s already 30): that is exactly the player the Indians need FEWER of, not MORE.
5. Is Andy Marte ever going to amount to anything?
No. He is a fungus.
6. Over the long run, do you believe the players obtained in the Sabathia, Lee, and Martinez deals will provide the foundation to a champhionship-caliber club in Cleveland?
They will contribute, but they’re not the foundation by themselves, no. Shoot, the best prospect we’ve received came in the Casey Blake deal (Carlos Santana). But I think that Masterson, Hagadone, Donald, Knapp, LaPorta, and Rob Bryson are all legitimate contributors … although there are no guarantees. LaPorta looked horribibble in Cleveland, then went to Columbus and hit 4 homers in 3 games. Maybe he’s actually good. Maybe he’s actually Jeff Manto. I can’t tell.
7. Give Mets fans the scoop on Justin Masterson and Mitch Talbot, two of the starters in this series.
Masterson’s last two starts have been fundamentally different from his previous ones, and the difference is reportedly that he is “getting on top” of his sinker rather than spinning “around” it. Without that bite, Masterson is INCREDIBLY susceptible to left-handed hitters, posting an enormous platoon split. He still has terrific strikeout stuff, though, averaging over 8 per 9 IP. He is terribly inefficient at times, getting up to 90 pitches by the 5th inning, but as I said: his past two starts have been great.
Mitch Talbot has been a huge surprise to me. I can see why he didn’t fit in Tampa, which has dominant stuff coming out of every orifice, but he’s a quality starter. Still, his incredibly lousy K:BB ratio and low K rate suggest a certain degree of smoke and mirrors at work. Unlike Masterson, Talbot sports a REVERSE platoon split, suggesting his normal stuff fades away from lefties and in to righties: while left-handers hit him more often, right-handers hit him a lot harder. He’s been BABIP-lucky this season, but hey, the man is 7-4 for a crummy team.
8. Do you expect Jake Westbrook to end 2010 as an Indian? Are there any other Indians you think may be moved at the trade deadline?
No chance. We will take a dead body for Westbrook if that’s what it takes. He’ll be traded in one of those “the more money we chip in, the better the prospect we get” deals. He’d be a great fit in St. Louis, Los Angeles (Dodgers), or, I should say, the Mets.
Kerry Wood will go on the same sort of deal, except I’m expecting the dead body in return.
Russ Branyan should be bait. I advocate trading Kearns. Jhonny Peralta has a team option next year for more than he’s worth, so I expect him to be offered, although he’s not actually very valuable and may not get moved. The Blue Jays were sniffing around Carmona, who has expensive team options coming soon, but I expect him to stay. SOMEONE has to pitch. Mike Redmond might get a Viking Funeral trade like Jamey Carroll did last year.
9. Tell us about any Indians we may not have heard about, who could have an impact on this series.
We have two hitters who could start for most teams: Kearns and Choo. Choo is faster than you might think, with a 10:2 SB:CS ratio (the 10 steals leads the team). Carlos Santana has been called up, and he is essentially Victor Martinez. (His stance is actually quite similar: Santana apparently idolized Martinez as a youth.) He hit a homer and a double this weekend against Washington. The outfielders (Kearns, Crowe, Choo) cover a lot of ground, and Choo has a fantabulous arm (once used to throw 95 off the mound). Our infield defense is comically bad. Chris Perez, Jensen Lewis, and Frank Herrmann are capable right-handed relievers: we have no left-handed reliever I would trust with any hitter more dangerous than Abe Vigoda.
10. Bottom of the ninth, two out, tie game, winning run on third base. What Indian do you want to see at the plate?
Choo. This may be Santana in time, but for now it’s Choo. (Oddly enough, in the small-sample “RISP, two outs”, Trevor Crowe actually has a higher AVG (.333) than Choo (.308) … but … yeah, I still want Choo.)
Many thanks to Steve Buffum for giving us his insight on the Indians. For more in-depth coverage of the Cleveland nine, be sure to check out Steve’s site “The B-List Indians Blog“.