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February 27, 2002  

Wendesday, February 27

The Indians held their first intra-squad game yesterday and Bartolo Colon pitched 2 scoreless innings to earn the win in the 4-1/2 inning game. Also pitching scoreless innings were Bob Wickman, Roy Smith, Sean DePaula, Heath Murray, and Dave Maurer. Martin Vargas gave up the only 2 runs on a double by Einar Diaz. John McDonald made the play of the day with a line drive stop and also had a hit as he starts his quest to make the big league club.

Milton Bradley pulled himself out before the start of the game with a sore shoulder. Apparantly, the shoulder was sore at the end of last season as well and it's unclear whether the Indians were aware of this in the offseason. For someone who is being handed a golden opportunity to earn a starting position, this cannot go over well with Charlie Manuel and the coaches. Early reports are that it is not serious, but Bradley apparantly did not play in today's intrasquad game as well. Given the importance of Bradley to this years ballclub, how this plays out over the next several days bears watching very closely.

Bruce Drennan had an interview on WKNR this morning with Mike Brown and I'll paraphrase Brown by saying that he envisions Bartolo Colon and CC Sabathia as his version of Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling. Let's hope this is simply early spring enthusiasm and not indicative of the planned workloads facing Bartolo and CC this season. We won't know until April and May exactly how Manuel and Brown plan to work the staff but when combined with the earlier comments by Charlie Manuel on how he wants to build CC up to 120 pitches per start, the above comments are certainly cause for a little concern.

Tomorrow is the first exhibition game against the Twins and it's scheduled to be broadcast on WTAM at 1:00 PM. Isn't it nice to have baseball back?


February 26, 2002  

Baseball America subscribers can read a nice article about Ryan Drese online today. Here are some exercpts from the article...

"In that year’s draft (1994), Drese, a fifth-round pick, turned down a chance to sign with the hometown Athletics but instead embarked on a college career at Cal. Drese’s decision initially appeared wise, as he broke into the Golden Bears rotation immediately in 1995 and gained international attention that summer by leading Team USA starters with a 5-1, 2.15 mark. His record included a dominating win against Cuba, when he struck out 10 over eight innings in a 4-1 victory."

"Drese was a preseason first-team All-American in both 1996 and ’97 though he was coming off 1996 elbow surgery. He made just three appearances in 1997 and didn’t sign when the Athletics drafted him in the 14th round. After a 3-6, 7.06 season for Cal in 1998, Drese went to the Indians in the fifth round and finally signed."

"Drese’s potential was clear in his first full minor league season, when he struck out 122 batters in 98 innings and limited opponents to a .183 average. But he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee while working out over the winter, then needed surgery when his knee collapsed as he covered first base in his only start of the 2000 season for Class A Kinston.

"Quitting never crossed my mind," he says. "Once you start focusing on other things, you lose focus of what you set out to do."

Drese kept his arm in shape while rehabbing vigorously to pitch in instructional league, and he earned a spot on the 40-man roster before the 2001 season."

Tuesday, February 26

The Indians are scheduled to play their first intrasquad game this afternoon. Tomorrow they'll play another which means every pitcher in camp will be able to throw 1 inning over the next two days. Thursday brings the exhibition league opener against the Minnesota Twins and Chuck Finley will get the starting nod. The rotation setup for the exhibition season puts Bartolo Colon on schedule to start the season opener on March 31 in Anaheim.

Lots of talk in both the PD and ABJ today about various lineup combinations and the realization that Matt Lawton is both the best leadoff hitter and #3 hitter on the ballclub. As we have discussed previously, leading off Lawton leaves a big hole in the middle of the lineup that the Indians cannot fill. Milton Bradley is the player the Indians need to develop into a leadoff hitter and keep Lawton hitting third. Publicly they have still wisely not mentioned him as a candidate, but privately, they have to be enamored with his combination of speed and power and what that could bring to the top of the order.

Charlie Manuel was quoted in the ABJ today as saying that he likes having two backup infielders on the roster. That bodes well for the chances of both John McDonald and Mike Lansing breaking camp. With 12 pitchers, 2 catchers, and 6 infielders (based on the quote above) on the roster, that leaves room for 5 outfielders. Considering that Ellis Burks, Matt Lawton, Russell Branyan, and Milton Bradley have 4 of those spots locked up, that leaves Wil Cordero, Brady Anderson, and longshot Alex Escobar battling for the last spot.

Yesterday on the website, we linked to an article which stated "The Indians say they're down about 200,000 in tickets sold from this point a year ago. So other clubs say they may not be through trading away payroll, especially from their suddenly deep pitching staff" . I still don't buy the notion of a deep pitching staff, but regardless, the Indians really do not have any good candidates for salary dumping on their staff. Colon, Sabathia, Baez, Drese, Wright are all young, talented, and cheap. Chuck Finley is a candidate but given his age (39), health (39 and coming off an injury marred season, and contract ($5mil, last year of contract) would the price returned in trade be anywhere near his value as the third starter? Probably not. Charlie Nagy is another contract the Indians would love to get out of, but his market value is nil until he can prove he can pitch with no cartilage. In the bullpen, Wickman, Shuey, Riske, Riggan, and Radinsky are signed to club-friendly deals. Ricky Rincon may be a candidate but what kind of spring must Scott Radinsky have to give the Indians the confidence that he can replace Rincon as the prime lefty out of the pen? And given the reports that the Indians essentially bid against themselves for Mark Wohlers, it's unlikely another team is going to want to take on his contract. All the other pitchers in camp are either at the league minimum or non-roster invites.

For the Indians to cut payroll, it will probably have to come from the offense with the primary candidates being Wil Cordero and Omar Vizquel. The market for Cordero is very small, if one even exists at all. Seattle has long been mentioned as a possible trade partner, but the signing of Ruben Sierra fulfills their quota of one inconsistent, questionable character, good hit, no glove outfielder. Even with a good spring, the Indians would most likely have to agree to pick up part of Cordero's salary this season as part of any deal. Omar, on the other hand, does have some market value, although it's probably not as great as most Indians fans would like to believe. For the time being, the Indians have said that Omar is not on the block so we'll go along with that and save this discussion for another day.

Continuing with our "Where are They Now" segment from yesterday, here are the rest of the ex-Indians trying to catch on with a big league club this spring.

Mike Jackson (NRI) is in camp with the Twins and is expected to be a late-inning setup man although he could see some save opportunities if Ron Gardenhire elects to not use lefty Eddie Guardado as the closer.

Dennis Cook is in the Angels camp and looks to be one of their primary lefty setup men.

Joe Roa (NRI) is in Melbourne with the Marlins but has very little chance at breaking camp with the big club.

Kane Davis is in camp with the Mets and has an outside shot at a long relief role.

Justin Speier is in the Rockies camp and projects to be one of their middle relievers. He had a pretty good season after being traded from the Tribe last summer (4-3, 3.70, 1.053 in 56 innings).

Kent Mercker (NRI) is also in camp with the Rockies on yet another comeback attempt.

Tom Lampkin, long-ago Indian, is still hanging around, this time in San Diego, where he will battle Matt Walbeck for the right to backup Wiki Gonzalez.

Alan Embree and Steve Reed (NRI) are also in camp with the Padres and have excellent shots at winning setup roles in the Padres bullpen.

Scott Morgan (NRI), former Tribe farmhand, is yet another ex-Indian in Peoria with the Padres although his chances at breaking camp with the big league club are basically nil.

Jim Brower is back for another season with the Reds and is in contention for a spot in the rotation or a long-relief role.

Willie Martinez is also in camp with the Reds and will battle the other 18 NRIs for a spot in the bullpen and a job in AAA.

Jesse Levis is also in Reds camp but is ticketed for another season in AAA.

Zach Day, traded to Montreal in the Milton Bradley deal, is in Les Expos camp and while he is among the contenders for the 5th spot in the rotation, he will most likely start the season in AAA.

Marcus Scutaro, former Tribe farmhand, is in camp with the Brewers but will start the season in AAA with Eric Young, Ron Belliard, Mark Loretta, and Lenny Harris blocking him at the major league level. Scutaro never got an opportunity with the Indians but I think he could help a club in a utility role if given the chance.

Andrew Lorraine (NRI) is in Brewers camp and has a shot as a lefty out of the pen.

Jared Camp (NRI), of the Rule 5 claim to fame, is with the Tigers but has little chance of sticking with the big club.

Jacob Cruz (NRI) is also in Tigers camp and has an excellent shot of making the opening day roster as a 4th-5th outfielder.

Travis Driskill (NRI), former Tribe farmhand, is in Orioles camp as a longshot for the 5th spot in the rotation.

Tom Martin (NRI) is with the Devil Rays trying to hang on as a lefty out of the pen. The odds are against him with Doug Creek and Bobby Seay in front of him.


February 25, 2002  

Jayson Stark has some Indians notes in his latest rumblings and grumblings column on Most interesting is his note that states "The Indians say they're down about 200,000 in tickets sold from this point a year ago. So other clubs say they may not be through trading away payroll, especially from their suddenly deep pitching staff". More on this tomorrow.

Monday, February 25


Jaret Wright showed a good fastball during batting practice yesterday while the Indians reasserted that their plans are to bring him along slowly 1 inning at a time. With 6 spots in the pen already claimed (Wickman, Shuey, Rincon, Wolhlers, Riggan, Riske) and Scott Radinsky being told the last spot (and 2nd lefty) is his job to lose, there doesn't appear to be room for Jaret on the opening day roster, barring injury of course. The best place for him to start the season is Buffalo where there will be less pressure and it will be easier to monitor his usage and pitch counts.

Jolbert Cabrera is due to have an MRI in Cleveland this Friday and the PD is reporting that Jolbert informed the Indians that he no longer needs a cane to walk. Not to make light of the seriousness of the situation, but I can't help but think of the Cheers episode where Sammy shot himself in the rear after taking a gun away from the husband of one of his many floozies who confronted him in the bar. Classic. Anyway, the Indians are now saying that Jolbert is not expected to be ready by opening day which opens up a roster spot for either John McDonald or Mike Lansing as the backup infielder. It may also increase the liklihood that Brady Anderson starts the season with the Tribe due to his ability to play CF, although if he has to play there for an extended period of time, the Indians are going to be in trouble.

Carlos Baerga is the highest profile ex-Indian trying to land a job this spring, but there are plenty of others still trying to keep the dream alive. Here's a list along with some brief comments.

Danny Peoples, Indians #1 pick in 1996 and traded to the Mets in the Robbie Alomar deal, is a non-roster invite (NRI) to the Mets camp. The Mets have an abudance of outfielders (quantity, not quality) and his odds are not particularly good at making the roster. More than likely, he's headed back for his 3rd straight year in AAA where he will have to battle Jorge Toca for at-bats. Peoples is thisclose to being classified as a triple-AAA slugger and 1st round flop.

Mike Bacsik, also traded to the Mets in the Alomar deal, is on the Mets 40-man roster and should start the season in AAA. With all the left-handed starters in St.Lucie, there has been talk of moving Bacsik to the bullpen.

Juuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuulioooooo Franco is back with the Braves as a non-roster invite and in the mix at 1B along with Wes Helms and BJ Surhoff. The man can hit, but he can run and play defense for a full season?

Jose Cabrera, traded to the Astros in 1997 for Alvin Morman, looks to be one of the primary set-up men for John Smoltz in Atlanta after posting a solid 7-4, 2.88, 1.298 season in 59.1 innings in 2001.

Rich Rodriquez (NRI) is also with the Braves trying to backup Mike Remlinger as the second lefty in the pen.

Jason Jacome (NRI) is trying to stick with the Astros as a second lefty in the bullpen. He's spent the previous three seasons bouncing around the minors and overseas since throwing his last big-league pitch with the Tribe in 1998.

David Bell was traded by the Mariners to the Giants in the offseason and enters the spring as the Giants starting 3B.

Jamie Brewington (NRI) is in camp with the Red Sox and trying to stick as a long reliever, along with every other 6-year free-agent pitcher, it seems.

Carlos Baerga (NRI) is on yet another comeback attempt, this time with the Red Sox. He claims to be in shape and had a pretty good winter season in Puerto Rico. With all the age issues that have been popping up, I am really surprised that Carlos is truly his listed age. With a good spring, he could force his way onto the roster and even supplant Jose Awfulman as the Sox starting 2B. Stranger things have happened.

Todd Betts (NRI), former Tribe minor leaguer, is also in camp with the Sox and is in the mix, along with Baerga, for a backup infield spot.

Ricky Ledee is in camp with the Phillies and projects to be their fourth outfielder while allowing the Phils to give prospect Marlon Byrd a half-season of AAA seasoning.

Dave Hollins (NRI) is also in camp with the Phils and is expected to be a backup 1B/3B and pinchhitter.

Herb Perry was acquired by the Rangers in the offseason and is keeping 3B warm for uber-prospect Hank Blalock. If Blalock starts the season in AAA, Perry will share time with Mike Lamb and backup Rafael Palmiero at first.

We all know about Dave Burba and John Rocker, but former Indians Rudy Seanez, Steve Woodard and Pat Borders are also among the cast of thousands brought into Rangers camp by John Hart this spring. They will have to have dominant springs to make the club with all the players in camp.

Marquis Grissom and Dave Roberts will battle Tom Goodwin for the rights to be the Dodgers starting CF. Roberts looks to be the odd-man out due to the large contracts of Grissom and Goodwin.

Mark "Hard Hitten" Whiten is also in camp with the Dodgers but figures to continue his tour of triple-A.

We will continue the Indians edition of "Where are They Now" tomorrow.


February 23, 2002  

Saturday, February 23


Pitchers began throwing live BP on Thursday but rain forced everyone indoors yesterday and it may do the same again today.

Of course, the big news out of camp yesterday was the official revelation that Bartolo Colon is 28 years old, not the 26 he was thought to be in the offseason, nor the 27 he was thought to be entering camp, and (thankfully) not the 30 he was reported by Tracy Ringolsby in the Rocky Mountain News. In the grand scheme of things the Indians are correct when they say that this does not affect Bartolo's short-term status with the Indians. He is still in his prime, still relatively young, and still the best pitcher on the staff. But long-term, it obviously takes away 2 years of his career and, in the end, may cost Bartolo a few big-money years on his "retire an Indian" contract in his 30s.

Oddly enough though, his aging provides a better indication of why he has been able to sustain such a heavy workload at such a young age (since he wasn't all that young). Looking at his stats, from 1994-1997 at the revised ages of 20-23 (opening day age), Bartolo pitched 66, 128, 77, and 150 innings pitched. From 1998-2001 at the revised ages of 24-27, Bartolo has pitched 204, 205, 188, 222 innings and become the Tribe's workhorse. Yes, he did have nagging injuries which limited his minor league innings, but the Indians careful monitoring of his workload in the key years of 20-23 is a big reason why Colon has avoided the breakdowns that tend to hit young pitchers with a heavy workload. The Indians would be wise to review his career workload as a benchmark for their current crop of young hurlers.

Two other members of the Indians mid-to-late 90s "Latin Invasion" have also had visa problems reporting to their respective camps. Enrique Wilson reported to Yankess camp two years older than thought, aging from 26 to 28 which changes his career outlook from fading prospect to journeyman middle infielder. Julian Tavarez has still not left the Dominican Republic for the Cubs camp due to paperwork issues; birthdate is the prime suspect. Given how much older he looked than the "20-year" old phenom he was supposed to be when he made his major league debut in 1993, it would not surprise me if Tavarez has an additional 2-3 years added on.

Baseball America has a page that lists all the players with age issues. I wonder if any teams are contemplating using this as a means to void a player's contract? Without knowing all the legal ramifications of such a move, the negative PR amongst the players would probably outweigh any short-term savings, but I wager it is being discussed poolside in Florida and down at the Pink Pony in Scottsdale. It seems like it would present a golden opportunity for a team like the Royals to get out from the $4.1mil they owe the vastly overrated Neifi Perez, but then again, this is the Royals and smart financial decisions have been few and far between in Kansas City the last decade or so.

In the Ask BA section of Baseball America, JD Martin is listed as the #3 impact pitcher from the 2001 draft, behind college pitchers Mark Prior (Cubs, #2 overall) and Dewan Brazelton (D-Rays, #3 overall). Martin is the highest HS pitcher listed. Ryan Drese and Alex Escobar did not make the top 20 list of rookies to watch for in 2002, although they have been listed in other publications.

On the injury front, Jake Westbrook is headed to Birmingham to see Dr. Andrews (a pitcher's best friend) for a second opinion. It is expected that Dr.Andrews will confirm the need for surgery and that it will be a minimum of 6-8 weeks before Westbrook can begin throwing again on a rehab program.

Former Indian mega-prospect Sean Casey (.310-13-89-.827 in 2001) signed a $20.4mil contract for 3 years with the Reds. With Griffey, Dunn, Casey, and potentially Austin Kearns, the Reds could have one of the most explosive middle of the lineups for the next 4-5 years. Of course, we all know Dave Burba is now in Texas after a disappointing 2001 with the Indians and that's all that really needs to be said about that.

Kane Davis, one of the multitudes who pitched in the Tribe bullpen in 2000, was traded from the Rockies to the Mets for a minor leaguer. Davis (2-4, 4.35, 68-66-32-47 in 2001) actually had a pretty good season with the Rockies last year posting a 3.34 era on the road with decent enough supporting numbers. The Mets have a lot of Kane Davis types competing for the last 2-3 spots in the bullpen but a ground-ball pitcher in Shea with a gold-glove infield behind him always has a chance at success.

Can someone please tell the Cavs to quit winning?


February 21, 2002  

Thursday, February 21

5 days until the first Intra-Squad Game
7 days until the first Exhibition Game
37 days until Opening Day

In the continuation of the Jake Westbrook saga of the last few days, the Indians disclosed that he will have surgery on his right elbow within the next two weeks. Depending on which paper you read, he could start a rehab assignment sometime between May and July and potentially make it back to the big leagues later in the year.

With Westbrook removed from competition for the 5th starter spot, the opportunity is there for Tim Drew to claim the spot with a good spring and some struggles by Ryan Drese. Mike Brown is working with Drew on his mechanics, specifically on making his delivery more deceptive and making it more difficult for hitters to pick up the ball coming out of his hand. It will be interesting to see if this work also results in increased velocity. When you can't overpower hitters, anything you can do to keep them off-balance and prevent them from digging-in is the key to success. Drew has slipped in the eyes of most prospect-hounds, but it's important to remember he's been rushed through the system and the Indians are still very high on him.

Perhaps the best news coming out of camp yesterday came in the form of this quote that was in the Morning Journal...."Manuel talks confidently about Brady Anderson's chances of being on the Indians' opening day roster, even though Anderson is 38 years old and coming off a year in which he hit .202 for Baltimore. However, when asked if Anderson could have a bad spring and still make the team, Manuel said, ''I don't know if I want to go that far."". It's pretty obvious from that statement that Brady Anderson will have to earn his way onto the opening day roster which is a definite change from the starting LF and leadoff hitter hype that accompanied his signing in November. I would love to see Brady rebound with a solid season but at age 39 the odds of that happening are very slim. It now sounds like we may have an open competition for that last spot which bodes well for the likes of Karim Garcia, Bruce Aven, Brooks Kieschnick, and perhaps even Alex Escobar. Brady is probably still the front-runner but it looks like the Indians have not closed the door and that is a very good thing.

Coinciding with the above is the revelation by Charlie Manuel in the PD that Russell Branyan will be given full-time ABs this season. More than likely he will be the starting LF and will also see time at 3B (to spell Fryman) and DH as well. With the Indians in a transition year, it is the perfect opportunity to see what Branyan can do over the course of 500 ABs. Call this a make-or-break year for Russ as we should finally find out if he's the next Jim Thome or the next Kevin Maas. And keep this in mind, with Branyan's best defensive position being DH and Jim Thome apparently preparing to test the free-agent waters in the off season, a good season by Branyan might make it easier for the Tribe to let Thome walk, especially with Alex Escobar being groomed for a 2003 arrival in the outfield.

On Monday, February 25, will have a chat session with Mark Shapiro. Judging from the messages on the Tribe forum over there, I suspect this will be a very interesting chat.

Hey, if you're reading this online, did you know that you can have the CIR delivered directly to your mailbox everyday? Just send an e-mail to to subscribe to our free newsletter.


February 20, 2002  

Wednesday, February 20

Can you believe we're only 8 days away from the start of exhibition games?

Some bad news out of camp yesterday as the Indians disclosed that Jake Westbrook has a bone spur in his right elbow and, as a result, has been closed down for the forseeable future. Surgery is an option and it is likely that he will be out for the next few months, if not the whole year. Removing Westbrook from the 5th starter competition increases the liklihood that Ryan Drese will break camp as the 5th starter, yet it also increases the odds of either Jose Mercedes or Omar Oliveras earning the slot if Drese struggles. You can also pretty much pencil in David Riske somewhere in the bullpen with Westbrook now out of the running for the 12th pitcher/long-relief/spot starter role.

A somewhat distrubing comment by Charlie Manuel in the PD this morning concerning CC Sabathia. While he sounds proactive by stating "I'll never overwork a pitcher", he follows it up by saying "I'd like to build CC up to about 120 pitchers this season" First of all, Bartolo Colon led the American League last year with 3657 pitches according to so the notion of Manuel never overworking a pitcher is certainly debatable. And while Charlie should be commended on how he tried to ration CC's workload last year, ending the season with an average of 96 pitches per start, breaking it down further reveals that CC had 3 starts of 120+, 4 starts of 110-119, 11 starts of 100-109, and 15 starts with less than 100 pitches. Of those 15 starts, 8 were beatdowns where CC was lifted by the 5th inning. So while the average (96 pitchers/per start) certainly looks respectable, it's apparent that if CC had his good stuff and was getting the ball over the plate, Charlie was going to leave him out there past 100 pitches, which is simply too much for a 21-year old arm that had pitched a total of 231 innings in his 3 previous minor league seasons. Below are two pitchers comparable to CC in terms of usage in their professional career.

Matt Morris 45 175 217 113.2 OUT (15.16 and 14.66 PIT/IP in years before injury)
Kerry Wood 7 114 151 166.0 OUT (17.03 PIT/IP in year before injury)
CC Sabathia 18 67 146 180.1 ??? (17.50 PIT/IP last season)

Now I realize that many other factors, such as mechanics, body-type, genetics, pitch-type, etc., can contribute to pitcher injuries, but workload and overuse at a young age is by far the best indicator of the potential for a future breakdown and the simple chart above are two obvious examples of that fact. All of which makes Charlie's statement above reason for tremendous concern amongst Indians fans.

On the brighter side, Charlie is also quoted in the ABJ that Travis Fryman "looks stronger" and "the ball was really jumping off his bat". While you can't base recovery from injury on one BP session and I'm sure a lot of this is managerial spin, any good news about Travis is, well, good news. He's a key component in the batting order this year and the Indians need him healthy.

Jayson Stark has an article on today about Scott Rolen and the various reasons why he turned down the Phillies rumored $140mil offer last season to persue free agency after this season. Yes, he does realize he is a fool, but anyway, about halfway through the article, Rolen makes the following comment: "I just told him I wanted to keep my options open, and whether I was a Philadelphia Phillie or a Cleveland Indian, that was irrelevant to the way I approach the game.". Now he could have just picked the Indians out of thin air, but with Rolen hailing from the Midwest coupled with the Indians need for a 3B to replace an aging and ailing Travis Fryman, could this have been a Freudian slip of one of the teams he will entertain offers from in the offseason? Very interesting, especially when you consider the Indians will have approx $15-20mil in freed-up money with the departures of Chuck Finley, Wil Cordero, Charles Nagy, and perhaps Travis Fryman. Some of that money will undoubtably go towards a Thome renewal and CC long-term deal, but you have to think the Tribe would certainly be interested in a gold-glove 3B entering his prime hitting years.

And finally, the Minor League Scouting Notebook is finally in the house and over the next few weeks, we'll discuss some of the ratings and comments made by John Sickels concerning our future Tribesmen. If you have never read before, I cannot recommend this book enough.


February 19, 2002  

Tuesday, February 19

Both the Beacon Journal and the Plain Dealer have stories this morning about the Indians search for a leadoff man this spring. While neither comes out and says it, they both back up our assertion here at the CIR that one of the key questions for the spring is to determine if Milton Bradley can handle leadoff duties. If he can't, the lack of alternatives (Brady Anderson, Omar Vizqual, puh-leeze). will most likely force Matt Lawton into the leadoff spot which leaves a pretty big hole in the middle of the lineup. The Indians are wisely not stating publicly that Bradley is a leadoff candidate but if he can show the ability to work the count, make contact, and take a walk, he should start seeing ABs at the top of the order this spring.

CC Sabathia has missed the first few days of throwing due to a case of strep throat and the flu and is not expected to join team workouts until later in the week. And while the Indians are publicly putting on a good face, Ken Silverstein reported yesterday on WKNR that both CC and Bartolo Colon look like they enjoyed some home cooking in the offseason, although it doesn't appear to be out of control. Except for being a little behind in conditioning during the first part of camp, both pitchers should be fine for the start of the season.

Paul Hoynes reports in the PD that the Indians have 44 visas for foreign-born players and that the Indians are expecting all of them to report to camp on time, even with the increased security checks in place because of September 11. Don't be surprised, though, if we see some accelerated aging of our minor leaguers in the next few weeks. 35 of the higher-level minor leaguers will report to camp on Friday. Pitchers and catchers are due on March 1 and position players are scheduled to report on March 6. All told, the Indians will have 170 minor-leaguers in camp.


February 18, 2002  

Monday, February 18

This early in camp, no news is generally good news as pitchers are just starting to throw and position players are just starting to filter into camp. It's very difficult to make "CC Sabathia played catch for 15 minutes" newsworthy, although I'm sure Fox 8 will give it a try. So unfortuntely, most of the news this time of year tends to be worrisome as it concerns injuries, players reporting late, and other similar issues. On that note, the following items come from the Plain Dealer.....

Jake Westbrook threw yesterday and reported more pain in his elbow. While the Indians await results on his MRI, Westbrook will continue to throw as the Indians team doctors do not believe he will further injure the elbow by doing so. Westbrook also revealed that he has had this problem in the past and that once he would start throwing it would usually fade away once it got loose. Now the pain stays and it appears to be getting worse. I'm no doctor, but this does not sound good and it would not surprise me if they found some damage that has been progressively growing and needs to be taken care of now. If so, does this increase the pressure on Ryan Drese? It will be interesting to see how Drese responds in his first start of the spring.

Ricardo Rincon has still not reported to camp and may be having visa problems getting out of Mexico. Could it be Rincon is actually 42 instead of his listed age of 31? :-)

Charlie Manuel confirmed that the Indians will break camp with 12 pitchers and also noted again that Scott Radinsky will be the second lefthander in the pen barring a complete meltdown on Radinsky's part. The Akron Beacon Journal has a nice article about Radinsky today.

Sean DePaula reported to camp in the best shape of his life after two injury-plauged seasons. Much like Jaret Wright, this season will be all about proving he is healthy. While no timetable is set, current plans are to start him off an inning at a time in the minor leagues and gradually increase his workload through the summer. Like we have mentioned previously, DePaula is a prime candidate for extended spring training.

The Indians official website added 3 players (Nerio Rodriguez, Ted Rose, and Carlos Garcia) to the list of non-roster invites so we'll give them the same treatment we gave everyone else in our spring training preview.

NERIO RODRIGUEZ: Converted from a catcher to a pitcher by the Orioles in 1995, he was once considered a top prospect with the Birds before eventually bouncing around to the Blue Jays, Red Sox, and finally the Indians. Rodriguez started 11 pretty good games for Akron last season (6-2, 3.91, 1.135 ratio) and finished the year pitching in 11 games (5 starts) with Buffalo (2-3, 5.35, 1.448). A starter throughout most of his career, the move to the bullpen late last year should be viewed as indicative of his potential role as a future major leaguer. You can't teach a good fastball and Rodriquez has that. What he needs is to concentrate on developing a solid second pitch and pitching from the pen will allow him to that. There's no telling whether it will ever "click", but once it does, guys like Rodriguez tend to have a 2-3 year stretch where they can be valuable middle relievers at the major league level. He's a good project to have down in Buffalo.

TED ROSE: Spent last season pitching for the Expos AAA affiliate in Ottawa, posting a 7-9 record with a 4.03 ERA in 120 innings. Over those 120, he gave up 125 hits, walked 35, and struck out 98. Tony LaCava, the Indians recently signed national cross-checker, was with the Expos organization last season and may have had some input into this invite.

CARLOS GARCIA: Yes, this is the same Carlos Garcia who was an all-star 2B with the Pirates in 1994. Yes, this is the same Carlos Garcia who was rumored to be 3-4 years older than his listed age back then. And yes, I'm pretty sure this is the same Carlos Garcia who was in the Indians camp back in 97 or 98 on another non-roster invite. Back in the day, he was a decent enough player although probably not deserving of all-star status. His last major league sighting was in 1999 with the Padres when he hit .182 in 11 games and further research would probably find him to have spent the last two seasons in one of the US Independent leagues or overseas. But if Julio Franco can be the Braves starting 1B in the playoffs and Carlos Baerga can be a serious contender for the Red Sox starting 2B and 3B positions, then Carlos Garcia should be worth a look see too, right? Heaven help us.


February 17, 2002  

Sunday, February 17

Of the 31 pitchers expected in camp, only Chuck Finley and Ricardo Rincon remain absent. Finley is due to report on Sunday after visiting his father in Louisiana and Rincon is also expected in camp sometime today.

Sheldon Ocker reports in the Beacon Journal this morning that Jolbert Cabrera is scheduled to be examined February 28 for nerve damage in his right buttock and that the Indians are not expecting him to be ready for opening day. Following what we discussed earlier in the week, this would open up a roster spot for John McDonald, who is out of options, and a player that Charlie Manuel "does not want to lose" due to his defense and ability to play three positions in the infield. This would also improve Mike Lansing's chances of sticking with the big club if the Indians decide to break camp with two utility infielders, although with the number of OFs in camp and Russ Branyan's ability to play 3B, his best chance is a Fryman injury or simply to have a Marty Cordova type spring.

It was also noted in the ABJ that no one reported to camp carrying "excessive baggage". While no players were singled out for their offseason workouts, the fact that Bartolo and CC reported in reasonable shape is a very good sign.

Charlie Manuel named Ryan Drese as his 5th starter opening camp. This is simply confirming what has been speculated for most of the offseason based on Drese's strong finish with the Tribe last September.

Jake Westbrook, one of the contenders should Drese or Baez struggle, reported to camp with a sore right elbow but it is not expected to be serious. He underwent an MRI yesterday and the Indians are awaiting results on the test.

As speculated here in our pitchers spring training preview, Charlie Manuel confirmed that the second lefty spot in the bullpen was Scott Radinsky's to lose. What this means is that the last spot in the bullpen should boil down to a battle between David Riske, Jake Westbrook, and the other 5th starter candidates. Riske should win that battle with a solid spring.

Paul Hoynes reports in the PD this morning that the Indians may soon learn that Bartolo Colon and Martin Vargas are the latest major leaguers found to have aged in the offseason due to the September 11 influenced security checks of passports and visas. Colon is reported to be 27 instead of 26 and Vargas is reported to be 25 instead of 24, neither of which should diminish their status as "ace-in-waiting" and "prospect". Don't be surprised if we start to hear more of this in upcoming weeks, especially with minor leaguers headed to short-season leagues.

And finally, Tim Laker is expected to miss most of spring camp as he recovers from a pancreatic infection.

Next week: AL Central offseason review


February 15, 2002  

Friday, February 15

Sad news to report this morning as Padres outfielder Mike Darr was reportedly killed last night in a car accident. Details are available on ESPN, Sportsline, etc and our deepest condolences go out to the Darr family as well as the families of the others involved. If this is alcohol-related though, as suspected, the tragedy would have been far more severe if they had involved others. Let's just be thankful that the only ones affected by their stupidity and irresponsibility was themselves. Darr was in line for a 4th-5th OF spot with the Padres and if he had been in camp with the Indians, he would be among the contenders for the starting spots in CF and LF.

It's time to continue with our Spring Training Preview. Earlier we looked at the pitchers and hitters coming to the camp and today we'll ask 20 questions that need to be answered by March 31. So without further adieu, here is today's CIR...

1) Can Danys Baez make the transition to the rotation?
No player will be more closely watched by the coaches, media, and fans this spring than the young Cuban. With a question mark already at the 5th spot, it is imperative that Baez hold down #4 and give the Indians six quality innings every time out. He added a splitter with his move to the bullpen to go along with his plus-fastball and curve, but he's going to need something off-speed to keep the hitters from digging in.

1a) Does Milton Bradley have game?
Bradley has to be the CF and leadoff man for the Indians to contend this season. Why? Well for one, if he's not in CF, who is? Jolbert Cabrera? He's a fine utility guy, but he's not an everyday player plus his health still has question marks. Brady Anderson? He can barely cover left these days, let alone center field as age has taken its toll on his legs, arm, and bat as well. Alex Escobar? Perhaps, but he's rawer than Bradley and could really use another year of AAA seasoning. Matt Lawton? Sure, but his range is better suited for right and if he's in CF, who the heck is playing right? So as much as the Indians are trying to lessen the pressure on Bradley (and we applaud them for that), he has to be playing CF on opening day. Defensively, he is already capable.

The leadoff spot is another issue, but if Bradley can show signs of moderate plate discipline, he is the best candidate for that spot. Why? Because the only other viable candidate is Matt Lawton and his bat is needed in the middle of the order. If Bradley leads off, you would probably see the following lineup, Bradley, Gutierrez, Lawton, Burks, Thome. If Lawton leads off, you would probably see the following lineup, Lawton, Gutierrez, Burks, Thome, ?????. If Bradley can provide an OBP of .350-.360, which he has minimally done every year in the minors since 1998, he should be the leadoff hitter for this team.

3) Can Eddie teach?
For all the problems he had with the media, it has often been said that Eddie Murray was a special player in the clubhouse and a mentor to the younger players. As the new hitting coach, we'll have an opportunity to see if Eddie can work some magic on our young hitters. And for his first pupil, they don't come any tougher than Russ Branyan, although he will also spend a lot of time with Milton Bradley and Alex Escobar. The Indians envision those three players as cornerstones for the future and it's going to be up to Eddie to make sure the foundation is solid.

4) Will Omar buy into the "new energy" sell?
Much was made of the jogging to first base of Robbie Alomar last season, but the same could easily be said about Omar Vizquel as well. With the recent reports that the Indians were actively shopping him during the offseason, it's going to be extremely important that Charlie Manuel and the coaching staff get Omar to buy into the "new energy" of the ballclub. Viewed as a leader, if Omar doesn't buy in, there could be serious problems in the clubhouse.

5) Can Ryan Drese pitch every 5th day?
Drese has been under the rader of most prospect hounds, but over the last few weeks, he is starting to become a very chic "deep-sleeper" pick for rookie of the year. If he cannot hold the 5th spot though, the Indians will be forced to turn to the likes of Jake Westbrook, Omar Olivares, and Jose Mercedes, and not much good can become of that.

6) Is Travis healthy?
This hasn't gotten a lot of talk this offseason, but if Travis is not healthy and posting his traditional .280-20-90 numbers at the plate, the Indians are going to struggle. They need him at 3B defensively and they need him to be productive in the middle of the order. Russ Branyan and Mike Lansing are the alternatives the Indians would love to avoid.

7) Can CC avoid the sophomore slump?
Over the weekend we should start seeing reports of what CC weighs in at and let's hope it's a manageable number. The Indians did a fair job watching his pitch count last season and they will need to do the same again this year. With his size and arm angle, he should be able to improve against lefties (.254 last season) and if he can do that, the next step will be to ace status.

8) Alomar Returns?
As in, what kind of early returns will we see from the three youngsters, Alex Escobar, Billy Traber, and Earl Snyder? They don't have to make the team or have phenom camps, but steady progress with flashes of potential would be nice to see.

9) Is this the year Bartolo breaks out?
He's been a good major league starter for 4 years. He has the stuff to be dominant at all times. He is the unquestioned leader of the pitching staff. It is time for him to take the next step.

10) Can Matt Lawton add lift to his swing without sacrificing BA?
No one is expecting Lawton to replace Manny and Juan Gone, but he has to show more power than the 13 HRs he has hit each of the past two seasons. Sacrificing some average to improve his power stroke will be a key if he is going to hit in the middle of the order.

11) Is Jolbert sitting pretty?
Ok, that was in poor taste, but his health is a major question mark as his verstatility provides the Indians with a lot of roster flexibility when they get down to deciding the last few roster spots.

12) Who will backup Einar Diaz?
Einar may be a workhorse but he can't catch 150 games. Ed Taubensee will get the first crack, but if he is not healthy, the Indians have very few options beyond that.

13) Can Finley still chuck it?
At age 39, health is always going to be a concern.

14) How quickly will the Indians cut bait?
If Brady Anderson and Wil Cordero struggle this spring, how willing are the Indians going to be to cut them and give the roster spot to someone more deserving. Simply due to contracts, Brady is the more likely of the two to be gone.

15) Where does David Riske fit in?
We talked about his role, or apparant lack thereof, a few days ago. With a good spring he should force his way onto the roster further demonstrating why the Mark Wohlers signing was unnecessary.

16) What's up with Jaret and Charlie?
These two are going to get a lot of media attention this spring, but the Indians aren't expecting much from them this year and neither should we. If either of them can make it through the spring injury-free while showing any signs of life in their arm, the Indians will be happy.

17) Will there be a second lefty in the pen?
It's Scott Radinsky's job to lose.

18) What will happen to Johnny Mac?
We talked about this at length yesterday and the Indians will have an interesting decision come the end of March.

19) Will free agency awaken Cordero?
His contract keeps him around. Can the lure of another big-money contract put some spark into his bat?

20) Will the fans still care?
Even though they are just exhibitions and don't mean anything, will a poor spring record further turn the fans against the new regime?

Tomorrow: AL Central Offseason Review


February 14, 2002  

Thursday, February 14

Happy Pitchers and Catchers Day everyone!!

The 20 Questions report will be delayed one day and we'll make sure to touch on the Tribe's central division rivals over the weekend.

Last night, I had the opportunity to participate in an online chat, setup by the Newberg Report, which featured Jim Callis from Baseball America. Jim is a well-known prospect guru and while the chat focused mainly on the Texas Rangers, he did offer a few nuggets of information concerning the Indians.

The first is that the Rangers may actually be forced to compensate the A's with a player for the signing of Grady Fuson as Assistant General Manager and that player may well turn out to be one of the players acquired from the A's in the Carlos Pena deal. Most specifically, either Ryan Ludwick or Mario Ramos, who was the centerpiece of the deal from the Rangers side. So what does this mean for the Indians? Well, they also have filed a grievance with the Rangers over the hiring of John Hart. If you recall, Hart was signed to a 5-year contract with the Indians as a special advisor and supposedly Rangers owner Tom Hicks had an agreement with Larry Dolan to agree to compensation for Hart before a hiring was announced. They didn't and the Indians filed a grievance. Through the past two months, the A's have been much more vocal in their request for compensation but this news might bode well for the Indians in the form of a player from the Rangers well-stocked farm system. Unfortunately though, Jim noted that he did not think the Indians grievance was that big of a deal and it's doubtful the Tribe will recieve much in return. The whole thing should be resolved in the next few weeks and here's hoping Mark Shapiro and Co. are making a silent push behind the scenes. The Rangers have a nice backlog of OF/1B types (Travis Hafner, Jason Mench, Jason Hart) stuck behind Hank Blalock and Mark Texiera that should very much interest the Indians.

The second interesting piece of information came when Jim named Victor Martinez among a group of 6-7 players he listed as the best catching prospects in the minor leagues. It's often said that the toughest adjustment a player has to make is the transition from single-A to double-A so this year will be a major test for Victor. If he can maintain the hitting stroke he showed last season in leading the Carolina League in batting average, he should skyrocket up the top prospect charts.

And finally, when asked who he thought was the best "Jimmy Rollins breakout at the major league level candidate", he answered "Ryan Drese". Hope springs eternal on pitchers and catchers day, but it's always nice to see that third-parties are excited about your players.

Interesting interview with Mark Shapiro in the PD this morning that we'll comment on tomorrow. Make sure to check it out if you get the chance.

Tomorrow: 20 Questions


February 13, 2002  

Wednesday, February 13

With pitchers and catchers reporting to Winter Haven this week, the CIR kicks off the start of the Grapefruit season with its Spring Training Preview. Yesterday, we looked at the pitchers reporting to camp. Today, we'll examine the hitters. Thursday, we'll ask 20 questions that need to be answered by Opening Day and on Friday we'll take a look at what the Indians Central Division rivals have been up to this offseason. So without further adieu, here is today's CIR.

CATCHERS (2 spots claimed, 0 open)
EINAR DIAZ: Look for Einar to receive as light a game workload as necessary to get him ready for opening day while reducing the risk of injury.

EDDIE TAUBENSEE: The "power-hitter" is now two years removed from an injury-free, productive season. Look for him to get a lot of ABs this spring to prove he's healthy. If he struggles, expect the Indians to be prowling the waiver wire towards the end of the spring for a veteran backup. Barring a complete collapse, guaranteed to be on the opening day roster.

TIM LAKER: Still hurt and will start the season on the DL. While the Indians were "Yankeed" out on Chris Widger, the signing of another Lakeresque catcher is still possible in the next few weeks or towards the end of spring (see above)

VICTOR MARTINEZ: After leading the Carolina League in hitting and being named the CL's best defensive catcher by managers, Martinez will start the season in Akron and may be in line for a September callup.

JOSH BARD: It will be interesting to see if the Indians push him to Buffalo this season to avoid sitting behind Martinez in Akron. Did not play all that well in the Arizona Fall League. For those wondering "who?", this is one of the prospects acquired in the Jacob Cruz deal last June.

CHRIS COSTE: Will share time in Buffalo with Bard, Laker, and any other veteran catchers the Tribe accumulates. Interested in learning more about Chris Coste?

INFIELDERS (4 spots claimed, 1 spot contingent on health)
JIM THOME: This is his team now.

RICKY GUITERREZ: If he sees time at SS in the spring, the talkshows will be buzzing.

OMAR VIZQUEL: The Indians starting SS, but for how long? Will the new energy have him hustling to first again?

TRAVIS FRYMAN: One of the most important players in the spring. A healthy Fryman is a must have for the offense. Don't worry if he doesn't see a lot of time early, do worry if it continues into late March.

JOLBERT CABRERA: If healthy, Jolbert has a roster spot locked up. The Indians need his versatility on the roster

MIKE LANSING: Any of the following could happen to place Mike Lansing on the opening day roster. Jolbert Cabrera starts the season on the DL. Manuel elects to go with 11 pitchers. Brady Anderson is cut. Wil Cordero is traded. Travis Fryman starts the season on the DL. Mike Lansing hits .400 with 5 HRs. I doubt he's going to head to AAA, so it will be interesting to see what the Indians do with him if Cabrera is healthy.

JOHN MCDONALD: Johnny Mac is probably the odd man out with Lansing around so his Opening Day hopes really hinge on the health of Jolbert Cabrera. I believe that McDonald is out of options after callups in 1999, 2000, and 2001 so the Tribe will have an interesting decision on their hands come the end of March. His defensive prowess is well documented but the lack of any offensive skills really make him a utility player at best and it's doubtful the Indians would engage in much roster shenanigans to keep him around. But having said that, one of the best times to sneak a player through waivers is right at the end of spring training as most teams have their 25s set and are dealing with their own McDonald type problems. A return to Buffalo is not out of the question.

EARL SNYDER: The only real infield "prospect" in camp clearly shows the lack of positional player depth in the system. He'll get plenty of ABs in Buffalo.

ANTHONY MEDRANO, GREG LAROCCA, BILL SELBY: Early ABs give a chance to leave an impression for a mid-summer injury replacement callup. Other than that, it's back to Buffalo.

OUTFIELDERS (4 claimed by talent, 2 claimed by contracts)
ELLIS BURKS: Fulltime DH. Stay healthy Ellis.

MATT LAWTON: Starting RF. Should see most of his ABs this spring in the middle of the order. Can he add more lift (and power) to his swing without sacrificing a lot of average?

MILTON BRADLEY: Next to Baez, the most important player in camp. He *has* to be the starting center fielder and leadoff man. Bradley should receive the most ABs and playing time of all the regulars this spring.

RUSSELL BRANYAN: He'll start in LF if he can cut down on the strikeouts or he could also start at 3B if Travis is still hurting. This is a make-or-break season for Branyan. Good Luck Eddie.

WIL CORDERO: Roger Brown notes this morning that Cordero has been a workout warrior this offseason. That's great and all, but when the ABs are limited and minus good friends Robbie and Juan, what are the odds that Wil is going to stay a happy camper all season? And as we learned in Boston, an unhappy Wil is a dangerous Wil. His contract pretty much guarantees him a spot on the roster.

BRADY ANDERSON: Why is he here? What's sad is that unless he completely bombs in spring, he will probably see the 1st pitch of the 2002 season and take away ABs from more useful players like Aven, Kieschnick, and Garcia.

ALEX ESCOBAR: Could be the starting LF with a great spring, but more than likely the Indians will err on the conservative side and start him in Buffalo. All things considered, keeping him away from the Jacobs Field masses still angry over the Alomar trade may be the best thing for his development. I don't think it would take much for the fans to turn on him if he were to struggle to start the season. He should still see a lot of playing time with the big club in the spring and, although it's tough to do with spring training boxscores, keep an eye on the walk totals for improved plate discipline. If you hear a lot of long ABs on the radio involving Escobar, that would be a very good sign.

BRUCE AVEN: In the days of Manny, Kenny, and Albert, Aven would have made the perfect 4th outfielder. Decent bat, decent glove, and he can hit lefties and righties. Unfortunately, the contracts of Cordero and Brady mean his only realistic shot at the opening day roster is if an injury or trade creates an opening.

BROOKS KIESCHNICK: Brooks is in the same boat as Aven. He could be a nice spare part in a platoon or lefty off the bench filling in at 1B, LF, or DH. More than likely, he'll add Buffalo to his AAA tour.

KARIM GARCIA: Seems like he's been around forever, but he won't be 27 until after the season ends. Even with his hot September callup last year, his only chance to make the opening day roster is to have an Albert Belle 11-HR type spring and force the Indians into dumping Brady or Cordero. I really wish the Indians would give him the same opportunity that Russell Branyan has gotten/will get.

DONZELL MCDONALD: Showed some promise after he posted his best season in 1999 in AA with the Yankees. But after an injury-plagued 2000, he left his plate discipline in the dugout in an attempt to boost his numbers. It didn't work. Might be an interesting 4th OF given his speed if he can remember how to get on base. For now though, he's headed to Buffalo.

TODD DUNWOODY: Strictly a 4A player. Buffalo this year, who knows where in 2003.

Even with the overhaul of the outfield, the position player roster slots are pretty much already claimed. The infield starters have 4, Ellis Burks has 1, the outfield has 3 (Lawton, Bradley, and Branyan), and the catchers have 2. If they take 12 pitchers north, that leaves 3 spots open. Jolbert Cabrera will claim one if he is healthy and, due to their contracts, Anderson and Cordero should claim the final two providing they don't have a complete collapse in the spring (Brady) or are traded (Cordero). So the roster would break down like this...

C: Diaz and Taubensee
INF: Thome, Guiterrez, Vizquel, Fryman, Cabrera
OF: Burks, Lawton, Branyan, Bradley, Cordero, Brady

If they choose to break camp with 11 pitchers, the most likely addition would be either Mike Lansing or John McDonald as backup infielders. Such a move would also serve the dual purpose of freeing Cabrera to also serve as the backup center-fielder. Even with 12 pitchers, I think they would still like to carry an extra infielder but unless they make a move involving Brady or Cordero, that does not seem likely.

Tomorrow: 20 Questions


February 12, 2002  

Tuesday, February 12

With pitchers and catchers reporting to Winter Haven this week, the Cleveland Indians Report kicks off the start of the Grapefruit season with its Spring Training Preview. Today, we'll look at the pitchers coming to camp. On Wednesday, we'll examine the hitters. Thursday, we'll ask 20 questions that need to be answered by Opening Day and on Friday we'll take a look at what the Indians Central Division rivals have been up to this offseason. So without further adieu, here is today's CIR.

BARTOLO COLON: Must step up to be a true #1 this season, especially with new contract talks on the horizon.

CC SABATHIA: Must avoid the sophomore jinx and cut down on the walks.

CHUCK FINLEY: Must demonstrate he is healthy. A solid 6 innings is all the Indians ask.

DANYS BAEZ: Perhaps the most important player in camp. With a question mark already at the 5 spot, if he cannot handle the switch to the rotation, the Indians will be scrambling. Look for Baez to have a frequent but light workload as they gear him up for 5-6 innings by opening day.

BOB WICKMAN: The Closer.

PAUL SHUEY: The #1 right-handed setup man. No longer the closer in waiting, but still a very important part of the ballclub.

MARK WOHLERS: Will be asked to work the 7th and 8th innings in tandem with Shuey. Somewhat controversial signing given the Indians depth in the pen, it will be interesting to see how he is used if he struggles in the spring. The guaranteed contract secures his place on the roster though.

RICARDO RINCON: After two injury plagued seasons, he's finally starting to resemble the pitcher who dominated with the Pirates in the late 90s. And while that's small consolation for losing Brian Giles, he is the Indians #1 left-handed setup man and a pretty good one at that. It will be interesting to see if the Indians try to put him in a mentoring role with Alex Herrera.

SCOTT RADINSKY: All he has to do is show he can get lefties out in the spring and he will claim the second lefty spot in the pen. Barring a complete collapse, he'll be in Cleveland on Opening Day. If he does collapse, the Indians will most likely keep another righty on the staff unless Herrera forces the Indians to bring him north with a dominating spring.

JERROD RIGGAN: I like Riggan and think he can do a solid job for us this season, but with all the GM-speak Mark Shapiro gave him in the Alomar trade aftermath on how he was going to contribute immediately and strengthen the bullpen, wasn't it odd they went out and signed Mark Wohlers a month later? Converted from a starter in 98 (like most good relievers), Riggan steadily increased his dominance as he moved through the Mets system. Don't be surprised if he and Wohlers have reversed roles by the All-Star break.

RYAN DRESE: After his performance down the stretch last season, this is Ryan Drese's job to lose. He's got four quality pitches, throws strikes, and can hit the mid-90s with the fastball. While expectations are high, it's important to keep in mind that Drese only has 14 starts above AA which includes his 4 starts with the Tribe. Ideally, you would like to see him receive a 1/2 year of AAA experience to further refine his stuff, but if he pitches well in the spring, he should break camp as the #5 starter.

TIM DREW: Drese may have passed him on the Indians depth chart, but that doesn't mean that Tim Drew is out of the Indians plans. In fact, Drew is probably the top candidate to replace Chuck Finley in the rotation in 2003 and could start the season as the #5 starter if Drese falters in the spring. Rushed through the system, he's struggled in previous big-league stints, but it's important to remember that he won't turn 24 until August and it generally takes longer for finesse-type pitchers to get comfortable at the big league level. The best thing for Drew's development is to have him start the season at AAA and experience success for a sustained period and build confidence. If you see reports of improved velocity this spring, all the better.

CHARLES NAGY: Everyone's sentimental favorite to rejoin the rotation, the odds are firmly stacked against Charlie as he continues his rehab minus any cartilage in the elbow. The most likely scenario is that he will start the season on the DL in extended spring and gradually work his way through a series of rehab assignments in Akron and Buffalo in the early summer to build arm strength and determine whether or not his comeback can continue at the big league level.

JAKE WESTBROOK: His value right now is the ability to start or relieve. Don't be surprised if he starts the season as the twelfth pitcher while the fifth starter gets some every fifth day work in Buffalo until he's needed in Cleveland.

OMAR OLIVARES and JOSE MERCEDES: Strictly insurance against a complete breakdown by Baez and/or Drese or injuries to the big 3. If either of these start the season with the Indians, something has gone wrong. Although Mercedes did have a very solid Dominican winter season, finishing 3rd in the league in ERA while only walking 5 batters in 55 innings.

DAVID RISKE: What does this poor kid have to do to prove to the Indians that he is for real? After recovering from 2000 injury problems, he bounced back with a very good 2001 split between Buffalo and Cleveland. So how do the Indians reward him? By bringing in Riggan and Wohlers and putting his roster spot in jeopardy once again. With 6 bullpen spots claimed, Riske's opening day roster hopes hinge on an injury or his ability to prove he can pitch 2-3 innings as the long-man. Of interest from 2001, he held lefties to a .143 average in 28 ABs.

ROY SMITH: Well, he wasn't the next Jeff Zimmerman, but he still put together a pretty good 2001 in AAA. Unfortunately, the offseason pickups of Wohlers and Riggan mean he's headed back to Buffalo to start the season. He's nice insurance for the Tribe when injuries start to hit during the season.

JARET WRIGHT: Thank goodness the Indians have apparently endorsed the Matt Morris rehab plan and have Jaret targeted for short and middle relief duty this season in an attempt to salvage his arm. Like Nagy, the most probable scenario for Jaret is to start the season in extended DL and work his way through the rehab stops before forcing a decision to be made sometime in May or June, similar to last season.

SEAN DEPAULA: Troubled by injuries, DePaula has only pitched 42 innings since 1999 and is another forgotten man on the staff. If he has options left, he'll head off to Buffalo to get in steady work. If he's out of options, don't be surprised if the Indians try to stash him on the DL to buy some extra time before making a decision on him.

PROSPECTS (Charlie wants a look-see)
ALEX HERRERA: Hard throwing lefty dominated winter ball this offseason and with a great spring (and some Radinsky struggles), he could break camp with the Indians. More than likely though, he's going to be working in Buffalo while the Indians closely monitor his progress and target him to replace Rincon in the pen in 2003.

MARTIN VARGES: Yet another reliever who had a good spring, Varges should team with Herrera to give the Bisons an intriguing lefty-righty punch at the back of their bullpen.

BILLY TRABER: Acquired from the Mets in the Alomar deal, Traber is strictly in camp to give the big league coaches an opportunity to see him throw. He'll start the season in Buffalo and will compete with Tim Drew for the first "prospect" callup.

JASON STANFORD and JASON PHILLIPS: The Jasons are both coming off a fine showing pitching for Team USA in the 2001 World Cup. Phillips earned the nod to start the championship against Cuba after pitching 11 scoreless innings in his prior two starts. Both are slated to start this season in Buffalo, although depending on the 'fillers' who stay with the organization, Stanford could find himself back in the Akron rotation to start the season.

FILLERS (or Meet your 2002 Buffalo Bisons)
Jason Beverlin, JD Brammer, Dave Maurer, Heath Murray, Jeff D'Amico, Chad Paronto: Only Paronto is on the 40-man, the other five are non-roster invitees. It's your typical mix of situational lefty wannabes, and one-pitch ponies brought in to eat up some early spring innings to avoid overusing the regulars. All of them should be with the Bisons come April.

If everything follows according to the master plan (i.e. Baez and Drese), there should only be one spot open for competition this spring and that is the 12th man long-relief role. However, when you're dealing with a lot of first and second year players targeted for key roles in the rotation, nothing is set in stone and that is one reason why there will be 31 pitchers in camp. The quieter the spring, the better, as that should mean the youngsters are developing on schedule.

Rotation: Colon, Sabathia, Finley, Baez, Drese
Bullpen: Wickman, Shuey, Rincon, Wohlers, Radinsky, Riggan, Riske

Tomorrow: The Hitters.


February 10, 2002  

Sunday, February 10

As we semi-predicted here a few days ago, the Indians announced the signing of Jose Mercedes to a minor-league contract with an invite to the big league camp. Coupled with Omar Olivares, this now gives the Indians two of the worst starting pitchers in major league baseball over the last 2 seasons to compete for the 5th starter spot. Hopefully, Ryan Drese will have a solid spring and these signings can be safely forgotten about.

For the record, Mercedes was 8-17 with a 5.82 era in 184 innings and 31 starts with the Orioles last season. He gave up 214 hits, walked 63, and struck out 124. Mercedes best recent season was in 2000 with the Orioles when he went 14-7 with a 4.02 era in 20 starts and 145 innings. However, he did give up more than a hit per inning and had a K-BB ratio of barely 1.0. Both of which were fair warning signs of the beatings to come. He started his career with Milwaukee and then bounced around for a few years with San Diego, Florida, and the Mets before ending up with the O's in 2000.

With this signing, it's pretty evident he's on the careerpath to being a AAAA pitcher whose best hope is to get hot (and lucky) for a few months like he did with the Orioles in 2000. He doesn't throw particulary hard (90mph) and his other pitches are average at best. Teams hit .321 off him in the 1st inning of work, .292 in 1st-6th innings, and .313 from the 7th inning on so it's hard to say whether he would be more effective as a reliever. Guys like Mercedes have to rely on command and pitch mix to succeed. The command slightly improved in 2001 but he still got hammered. At age 31, you liked to think he would have an idea of how to mix his pitches by now.

Much like Olivares, this signing can be summed up in one word.....Ugh.


February 08, 2002  

The Indians officially announced their 2002 uniforms today. The biggest change is the ridiculous sleeveless number that will be worn on home weekends and home holidays. Did they not notice how awful the Reds and Angels have looked the last few years? Tell me that jersey does not look like something a very pregnant Mom would be wearing. When the team stores are bargain-pricing these rags by August, you can say you heard it first. More attractive is the home weekend/holiday navy blue cap with a red script letter I. That may be worth a purchase.


February 07, 2002  

Baseball America published their annual top 10 list of Indians prospects and listed Corey Smith as #1. Subscribers can check out the entire top 10, everyone else can only read Corey's scouting report.

Thursday, February 7

Some Tribe odds and ends as we close in on 1 week until the start of spring training...

Single-game ticket sales go on sale this Saturday via the usual methods. I noticed in the PD this morning that 1,000 bleacher seats per game will also go on sale this Friday from 5 to 10 PM. At $17, that's a cool $1.377mil if they sell out. Or rather, enough to keep Mark Wohlers in the employ of the Indians for the rest of the season

Could the Indians somehow benefit from Bud's contraction mess? Here's an interesting note from Baseball America..."A couple of members of the organization (Marlins) decided to take their chances with other teams. Highly respected farm director Tony LaCava resigned in the second season of a three-year contract. He was essentially forced out, but was hired quickly by the Indians as a national crosschecker." Even if Lacava stays for only a season, this upcoming draft is going to be crucial in stocking the farm system with position players and any opportunity to add quality personnel in the talent evaluation areas should be viewed as a very good move. Well done Mark Shapiro!

And finally, the other day in Roger Brown's column it was reported that CC Sabathia is dating Serena Williams. This follows last years Indians-Tennis relationship of Roberto Alomar and Mary Pierce. All of which begs the question, can Anna Kournikova be far behind? I'm sure there would be no shortage of volunteers in the clubhouse. Can someone in the Indians PR please put Chuck Woolery to work on this?


February 05, 2002  

ProtospectWatch has just published its top 10 list of Indians prospects. Please note that the analysis of Corey Smith does not make any reference to porky ham-hocks or skinny little alligator arms.

Tuesday, February 5

I was all prepared to write up a brilliant, in-depth analysis of the remaining free-agents available when this note crossed the wire...



I mean, I understand why guys like this are brought to spring training and what their role is and what is expected of them. But Omar Olivares? With the Indians? Who's next, Jose Mercedes? Is Pat Rapp packing his bags for Winter Haven? Guys like Olivares are reserved for the Royals and Orioles, not the Indians. This is a pitcher who over the last two years has combined for an ERA of 6.65 with a ratio of 1.647. He's walked 102 batters in 218 innings with 27 homers. So basically, he can't find the plate and when he does, hitters clobber him. I'm sure the official spin will be in the "catch lightning in a bottle" vein, but this is more like catching lightning in an eye-dropper.

But as the AP notes in the wire story.... "He pitched a three-hit shutout against the Indians on May 10, 1997, while with the Detroit Tigers." Ahhh, the silver lining :-)

For the record, Olivares' career numbers are 77-86 with an ERA of 4.67 in 349 appearances in 12 major league seasons and he did receive an invite to the big league camp. Add him to the 5th starter candidate list along with front-runner Ryan Drese, Jake Westbrook, Tim Drew, and Charles Nagy.


February 03, 2002  

Sunday, February 3

Bartolo Colon got the OK from the Dolans to pitch one more game in the Dominican Playoffs and pitched a hitless 5 innings working with mostly curves and changeups before being removed in the 6th with the bases loaded. Hopefully, Bartolo will remember this kind gesture when he and his agent are negotiating a new contract in the next 12 months.

The PD also reports that Sean DePaula is throwing all out and will be ready for Spring Training and that Jaret Wright and Charles Nagy are on schedule with their throwing. Mike Brown is also quoted as saying that Chad Paronto, waiver claim from Baltimore, was impressive in throwing sessions at the Jake this winter. Just another name to remember for the last spot in the bullpen at this point.

Paul Hoynes makes a comment about the Blue Jays in today's PD that reads "Tribe fans are outraged because Shapiro has had to cut payroll. But what if they had to watch rookies Eric Hinske and Felipe Lopez play the left side of the infield like they do at Skydome". By the end of the season, I think most Tribe fans will look jealously to the North and wish they had a young, dynamic twosome manning the left side instead of an aging Omar and hobbled Fryman with no replacements in the farm system ready to step in. It's even money which group will have the better numbers for this season and that doesn't even begin to address their upside over the next 5-10 years. But that's another discussion for another time.


February 02, 2002  

Saturday, February 2

The Indians announced the signing of two OFs to minor league contracts with an invitation to big-league camp for spring training.

Bruce Aven, who was originally drafted by the Indians and had a September callup in 1997, is back with the team after spending the last 3 seasons with Florida, Pittsburgh, and, most recently, the Los Angeles Dodgers. His best season was with the Marlins in 1999 when he hit .289-12-70-.814 in 381 ABs. During the 99 offseason, he was dealt to the Pirates for Brant Brown and suffered through an injury-plauged year and was never able to take advantage of openings in the Pirates outfield. Aven, 30 years old on opening day, spent last season with the Dodgers mostly in triple-A and posted mediocre numbers in hitter-friendly Las Vegas (.260-8-32-.726). Over the last 3 seasons, Aven has hit lefties as well as righties so he does not suffer from a platoon disadvantage.

Brooks Kieschnick, 30 in June, was originally drafted by the Cubs after a stellar two-way career at the University of Texas. He never lived up to the hype after two cups of coffee with the Cubs, he's spent the 5 years in the Tampa Bay, St.Louis, and Colorado organization developing into a AAAA slugger (excellent in AAA, overmatched in the big leagues). Although he was initially drafted as an OF and worked hard with the Cubs to become an average LF, he really is best suited for 1B or DH at this point in his career. Of some note, Kieschnick hit .269 with a HR as a PH last season with the Rockies. With little hope for a fulltime major league career as a hitter, I wonder if Brooks has ever considered a return to the mound. Given the ever-present need for live arms, I have to think he would be given an opportunity.

At any rate, neither of these signings should have much of an impact on the 2002 season for the Indians, although the fans in Buffalo should be happy. With the lack of position players in the Indians system, both of these players should see significant time with the Bisons. Aven has the better shot at sticking with the big-club as he can play all 3 outfield positions and doesn't suffer from a platoon disadvantage as mentioned earlier. Barring injuries, Aven's chances most likely hinge on whether or not Brady Anderson completly falls apart this spring and decides to hang it up. Failing that, a starting spot in Buffalo awaits him, where he'll be battling with Karim Garcia for the first short-term injury callup.

The Indians also announced that Chris Antonetti and John Mirabelli have been promoted to Assistant General Managers, joining the recently promoted Neal Huntington in that position. This should round out the reshaping of Mark Shapiro's front office as these three, along with Director of Scouting John Farrell will be the influential members of Shapiro's cabinet. An interesting note in the PD mentioned that Antonetti was approached by Toronto regarding a similar position with their organization. It did not mention if this happened before or after J.P. Ricciardi was hired as General Manager, but if it was after, you have to be encouraged that someone as highly regarded as Ricciardi would be interested in Antonetti.

The Indians are also reportedly looking into a new spring training facility in the Tampa area and have started soliciting bids from architectutal and design firms. Their current contract with the city of Winter Haven runs through 2003 with four 5-year extensions as a club option. Bob DiBiasio was quoted in the PD as saying "there is also a plan in place to renovate the ballpark in Winter Haven. We could still stay there".

And finally, Kenny Lofton signed a 1-year deal with the Chicago White Sox for $1.25 million yesterday. The trade of Chris Singleton to the Orioles earlier in the week created a CF opening and Kenny Williams apparantly thought Lofton was a better fit than turning it over to 24-year old Aaron Rowand. The one year contract is a good indication that Kenny will be keeping the position warm until mega-prospect Joe Brochard is ready to take over in 2003 and also demonstrates that barring a huge spring, the White Sox plan on letting Borchard get some AAA experience which is a wise move.

As an Indians fan, we should all be excited by this signing as the White Sox are probably going to expect Lofton to be their leadoff hitter. With his OBP dropping from .405 to .369 to .322 the last 3 years, Lofton is best suited for the 8th or 9th spot in the batting order, if he could be considered a candidate for full-time play at all. Regardless of how much he claims his legs have returned, it's not going to make a bit of difference if he's not getting on-base and plate discipline has little to do with how well your legs are feeling. And for an Indians fan, the less runners on base for Frank Thomas, Magglio Ordonez, and Paul Konerko, the better.

Friday, February 1

The Indians announced the signing of Mike Lansing to a nonguaranteed minor-league contract. If he makes the big league club, he'll earn $500k, which is a far cry from the $7mil he made with the Boston Red Sox last year which was the final year of a huge contract he originally signed with the Colorado Rockies in 1998. Lansing is a career .271 hitter with a career OPS of .725 and his best season was with the Montreal Expos in 1997 when he hit .281 with 20 HRs and an .810 OPS. He also stole 27 bases in 1995 but his steals have been steadily declining since then and at age 34 (opening day), it's safe to say that he is no longer much of a threat on the basepaths. Last year, he posted a pedestrian .250-8-34-.678 season filling in at 2B and SS for the Red Sox, although he did hack his way to a .349 month of July and .333 season against the Indians in 27 ABs. Hmmm, could this be the attraction?

So what does this signing mean for the Indians? Hopefully, not much. Mark Shapiro likened the signing to Marty Cordova last season and expects Lansing to provide insurance in case Ricky Gutierrez gets injured or Jolbert Cabrera is not ready to start the season. In the sense both were signed to minor league deals with a chance to make the club, the signing are similar. However, Lansing has not had a decent season since 1997 while Cordova was above-average with the Twins in 1999 (.285-14-70-.829 in 425 ABs) and suffered through an injury-plauged season in 2000 before the Indians plucked him off the free-agent list last offseason. The odds that Lansing is going to "rebound" like Cordova are very slim.

And while this is a minor signing, it does continue the aging of the Indians even though the new organizational mantra is to get younger. It also makes finding a roster spot for John McDonald wholly dependent on whether or not Jolbert Cabrera can make a full recovery by opening day. While McDonald is not a potential all-star, his defense and versatility makes him useful and doesn't he fit the mold of the "high-energy" players Shapiro is trying to bring to the clubhouse? Furthermore, I believe that McDonald is out of options so unless the Indians keep him in the bigs, they will lose him to another club. McDonald brings high-energy, stellar defense, little ball. Lansing brings occasional power, but "veteran leadership" If McDonald goes, what does this say to the kids in the Indians system working their way up, not to mention the supposed youth movement the Indians are embarking on?

Call me a conspiracy theorist, but it also certainly looks like the Indians have a replacement lined up at 2B should they decide to trade Omar and move Gutierrez back to his natural home at shortstop. Shapiro denies this, but then again, he also denied that Robbie Alomar was on the trading block. If you read between the lines, which increasingly seems to be the case with the new Indians GM, you'll find similar Alomar-type statements regarding Omar in his history. While I generally would not be adverse to trading Omar, a double-play combination of 34-year old Mike Lansing and 32-year old Ricky Gutierrez is none too appealing.

And finally, does this signing silently speak to the health of Travis Fryman? Although he's played only 2 games at 3B in the last 7 years, Lansing did play 81 games there in 1993 and 27 in 1994 with the Expos. Do not be surprised if you see him spending a lot of time there early in the spring. The more time he gets there, the more I would suspect all is not well with Travis.

Overall, this is a minor signing that should not have much of an impact on the 2002 season. If Lansing gets more than 200 ABs, something has gone wrong (injury, trade, etc) and it could be a long season. But then again, you could probably say that about 80% of these types of signing throughout major league baseball.


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