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October 31, 2003  

CLEVELAND INDIANS REPORT -- Friday, October 31  

Which of the following is most unbelivable?

A) The hype surrounding LeBron James

B) His performance the first two games

C) The fact he plays in Cleveland

D) All of the above

For me, the answer is C (but I'll accept D).

It's only two games but WOW!

WOW!

WOW!

WOW!

The Cavs are going to be very good, very quick, once they learn how to play defense. Of course, that may take awhile. I haven't seen a team give up that many backdoor layups since my days as a stationary defender at the Lakewood Y. Have I drank the kool-aid? Dude, I emptied Kool-Aid man himself. Oh yeah!

As for the Indians, while it's true that the Cavs are now a major competitor for corporate loge and club seat dollars, could it also be true that the Tribe could potentially piggyback off the LeBron phenomenon with Cleveland being viewed as a cool destination in the sports world in a few years? Let's hope.

Jason Stanford started the opening game of the Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Panama this morning and tossed seven shutout innings against Nicaragua to lead the U.S. to a 7-0 victory. The southpaw allowed just two hits and a walk while punching out two. Grady Sizemore (hitting third) walked twice, singled, and stole two bases. The field is down to 10 teams after the Dominican Republic, Aruba, and Venezuela dropped out of the tournament earlier this week. Fernando Cabrera was expected to be on the Puerto Rican team but he was not listed on the final roster. Anyone know what's up?

In AFL action, Luke Scott belted his second homerun and Corey Smith tripled in a 7-4 Desert Dogs victory on Monday. Scott followed that up on Tuesday with a pair of roundtrippers (#3-4) while Smith took the collar. Kyle Evans tossed five innings of one-hit ball on Wednesday to lead the Desert Dogs to a 4-3 victory over the Solar Sox. He fanned one and walked none. Scott walked and Rodney Choy Foo (.308) singled and made an error at third in the field. Yesterday, Scott (.348) banged out three more hits, including a double, while Smith (.220) took an 0-fer.

Is it time to start taking notice of Kyle Evans? In five AFL starts, he's 2-1 with a 1.80 ERA and has allowed just 14 hits in 20 innings with five walks and 11 punchouts. He hardly registers a blip on the prospect radar but he keeps getting guys out. How about Luke Scott, whose nine extrabase hits (four doubles, one triple, four dingers) have him slugging at a robust .739 clip? Note that he also has fanned 16 times in 48 at-bats. Both are likely to be exposed in the Rule 5 draft in December. You can listen to the Desert Dogs this afternoon at 3:00 PM EST on MLB Radio.

Under the Knife reports that Ryan Ludwick's knee injury may have been related to the hip injury Ludwick suffered in 2002 and was still recovering from last season. Will speculates that Ludwick could be one of those players "who's always a bit balky due to a past problem" but then goes on to say that "he's got the talent to make you forget all about it when he's on". Speaking of Will, he's got a new blog that is worth checking out.

Terry Mulholland, Ellis Burks, and Mark Wohlers have officially filed for free agency.

Grady Sizemore checks in at number five on the first Winterball edition of
the Prospect Hot Sheet.

Grady Little was fired ERRRRRRRR the Red Sox declined to exercise his option after he led the Sox to 188 wins the last two years and into game seven of the ALCS this season. Peter Gammons has some interesting thoughts on the topic in which he reports that the mandate for Little's dismissal came from above general manager Theo Epstein. Personally, I think Les Levine hit it right on the head when he said that this is probably a move that the Sox had to make regardless of whether they believed that Little managed himself out of the job in the playoffs. The Red Sox nation (fans and media) is ruthless and they would have been all over Little this offseason and next year over every minute decision he made and that's never a healthy situation for a manager or a ballclub.

Grady Wilson was highly underrated.

Eddie Murray remains a candidate for the Orioles vacant managerial position although the list of potential skippers continues to expand with Yankees first-base coach Lee Mazzilli being the latest name mentioned. He'll join Murray, Orioles bench coach Sam Perlozzo, Orioles first-base coach Rick Dempsey, and former Oriole and current Brewers bench coach Rich Dauer as potential replacements for Mike Hargrove. Murray was interviewed in early October and the longer the interview process is extended, the less likely I think it will be that he is offered the job.

The same holds true for Buddy Bell, who is a candidate for the White Sox vacant managerial position along with Cito Gaston, Terry Francona, Wally Backman, and now Ozzie Guillen. The former Sox shortstop and Marlins coach looks like the hot candidate coming off the Marlins world series championship and his status as a former Sox icon.

Joel Skinner is a possibility for the Red Sox opening, according to the Boston papers. I'm not sure that Skinner's personality would be a good fit in the Boston market.

The Kansas City Star reports that the Yankees and Royals are considering a Alfonso Soriano for Carlos Beltran trade which is interesting enough on its own merits. The portion of the article that I find particularly fascinating is the disclosure that "Allard Baird has long coveted Soriano, whom he nearly snagged along with first baseman Nick Johnson a few years ago for outfielder Jermaine Dye before the Yankees nixed the deal at the last moment."

Wha-wha-wha-What??

They ended up with Neifi Perez but could've had Alfonso Soriano AND Nick Johnson? Wow. Any trade involving Beltran will likely (possibly?) allow the Royals to be more active on the free-agent market, and from an Indians perspective, that's especially worth noting in regards to Brian Anderson.

According to the Cincinnati Enquirer the Reds are expected to nontender Ryan Dempster next month. It wasn't that long ago (2000) that Dempster was an all-star but he's now expected to miss most of 2004 after having Tommy John surgery in August. If you could sign him to a minor league contract, Dempster would make a great reclamation project a la the Chad Durbin and Paul Rigdon signings last year. Low risk, potentially high reward.

In that Enquirer article, there's also a brief note on the Reds missed opportunity to sign Marlins phenom Miguel Cabrera in 1999. Apparently, the Reds passed on Cabrera for $800k because they had already spent $1.9 million on Alejandro Diaz who has since spent the last five seasons at the Reds double-A affiliate in Chattanooga. I mention this for the torment of my Reds friends but also to note that the person who made the call on Diaz was then-Reds scouting director (and now Indians Director of Professional Scouting) DeJon Watson. I'm not inferring anything by noting this, backstories on player signings always fascinate me and this one just happened to have an Indian twist.

Bartolo Colon turned down a reported 3-year / $36 million contract offer from the White Sox and will explore the free-agent market. It will be interesting to see if Colon can match or exceed that amount in a crowded free-agent marketplace.

John Gall was added to the Cardinals 40-man roster after hitting .312/.368/.473/.841 with 16 home runs in triple-A this season. Gall was selected by the Indians in the 50th round of the 1999 draft as a college junior from Stanford but did not sign.

Simon Pond (split 2001 between Kinston and Akron) was added to the Blue Jays 40-man roster after hitting a combined .321/.392/.485/.877 with 38 doubles and 12 homeruns in AA and AAA this year. Pond turned 27 on Monday so don't be too distraught that he's no longer with the Indians although he did post some tasty numbers this year. The Bisons sure could have used him.

Jim Crowell resigned with the Phillies on a minor league contract.

Two Cuban baseball stars defected this week with the intention of playing professionally in the United States. Right-handed pitcher Maels Rodriguez is the bigger name of the two as he's just 24 years old (reportedly) and throws 100 mph although he (reportedly) was bothered by injuries this season which cut his velocity. Second basemen Yobal Duenas, a 31-year old former stolen base leader, is the second defector and his potential impact on the second base free-agent market is what interests me. I would not expect the Indians to be actively involved in the bidding for either of these two players but if Duenas enters the high-end of the market and forces a player down towards the Indians, I'm all for it.

Speaking of second base, the Twins declined their option on Chris Gomez while the Rockies declined their option on Chris Stynes. If you're talking bargain-basement second base candidates, these guys would fit into that discussion. I've always kind of liked Stynes but, let's be honest, that discussion would suck.

(Editor's note: I'm expecting a "Jerkstore" moment to finish off the above sentence within ten minutes of clicking publish.)

In that Sprint commercial that ran endlessly during the playoffs, is the dorky "new boyfriend" actually the girl's boyfriend or is it meant to be a goof? I can go either way on it.

Happy Halloween!


MLB RADIO UPDATE  
The Mesa Desert Dogs are on MLB Radio right now.

 

October 29, 2003  

MLB RADIO UPDATE  
The Mesa Desert Dogs and Corey Smith, Luke Scott, and Rodney Choy Foo and company are on MLB Radio right now. It's a free broadcast.

 

October 27, 2003  

CLEVELAND INDIANS REPORT -- Monday, October 27  

Jason Stanford and Grady Sizemore were among the 30 players invited to try out for the US Olympic Qualifying Team which went 9-3 in 12 games against AFL teams in preparation for the Qualifying Tournament that runs October 30 through November 11 in Panama. Sizemore will likely start in centerfield for the US after hitting .472/.548/.667/1.215 (17-for-36) in 11 games. Team skipper Frank Robinson was quoted in an mlb.com article as saying that Sizemore "has played a better centerfield than we expected" and that he wished that Grady was still in the Expos organization (sorry Frank). Stanford is likely to be the number three starter for the U.S. (behind Horacio Ramirez and Justin Duchscherer) after posting a 3.97 ERA in three appearances this month. Stanford also tossed five innings of three-run ball in an exhibition game against Canada on Saturday. Since the top two teams in the tournament qualify for the 2004 Olympics in Athens, the key games to win are the quarter and semifinals with the actual championship game being somewhat anti-climatic. In that sense, don't be surprised if Stanford is on the mound should the U.S make it to the finals after Robinson throws his top two hurlers in the quarters and semis. You can follow the progress of the U.S. squad at www.usabaseball.com.

Baseball America unveiled their annual ranking of the top prospects in each of the minor leagues and the Indians were well represented on the lists.

The Bisons fared well in the International League rankings as Victor Martinez was rated the third best prospect in the league, Cliff Lee was number eight, Jeremy Guthrie number nine, Coco Crisp number 14, and Jason Cooper number 17. Martinez was noted for his strong knowledge of the strike zone as well as his struggles in throwing out baserunners (14%). Lee throws three solid pitches but can lose command when his mechanics are off. Guthrie was praised for his pure stuff and compared to a young Mike Mussina but needs to command his fastball better and finish his pitches. Crisp was cited as the most exciting player in the league but needs to continue to work on improving his strength. Escobar was compared to Reggie Jackson for his skill set and it was noted that he has the tools to be a gold glove right fielder. Of course, he still strikes out way too much (once every 3.3 at-bats) and has obvious holes in his swing.

In the Eastern League, Grady Sizemore was listed as the number three prospect behind the Twins Joe Mauer and the Blue Jays Alexis Rios. One manager compared him to Johnny Damon but with more power while another called him the best all-around player in the league. Jeremy Guthrie was ranked number 16 after his two months of double-A dominance where he flashed command of four pitches and an advanced feel for pitching. Fernando Cabrera checked in at number 18 on the strength of another strong season and his mid-90s fastball while it was noted that his secondary pitches need further development for him to move back into the rotation. Rounding out the list was Francisco Cruceta at number 20, who was noted for his deceptive delivery and good changeup although it was also noted that his command needs to improve.

Wily Taveras was the only Indian to make the Carolina League list and he checked in all the way down at number 19. Taveras was praised for his range in the field and understanding that speed is his asset at the plate and that his job is to get on base. Unfortunately, that's pretty much all he brings at the plate as his power is virtually nonexistent (.350 SLG) and he was compared to Jason Tyner in a recent Ask BA.

In the Sally League, Fausto Carmona's 17 wins and league leading 2.06 ERA earned him the number seven ranking. BA noted that Carmona works with a heavy 90-95 mph fastball but lacks a true strikeout pitch (83 K in 148.1 IP). Michael Aubrey also made the list at #19 despite missing a month after signing with a hamstring injury and playing in only 38 games for the Captains. Opinions varied on his long-term power potential but his advanced approach at the plate and gold glove potential at first base were noted. Jason Cooper, Nathan Panther, Dave Wallace, Shaun Larkin, and Jake Dittler also received serious consideration.

Brad Snyder was the lone scrapper among the NY-Penn top 20 list. The first-rounder was acknowledged for his four solid tools while it was also noted that his below-average arm may limit him to left field.

Despite throwing only 32.2 innings and posting a 4.96 ERA, first round pick Adam Miller was ranked as the #1 prospect in the Appalachian League while Appy League Pitcher of the Year Rafael Perez was ranked #10. Miller was praised for his "nasty slider" as well as a sinking 90-92 mph fastball and "one of the Appy League's better changeups". It was also noted that he has tremendous composure on the mound and has a nice loose delivery with a solid feel for pitching. After leading the league in wins and ERA, Perez was noted for throwing strikes (pitching ahead in the count) and a plus slider and sink on his 86-88 mph fastball which tails away from right-handers. Fellow Burlington hurlers, Nick Pesco and Aaron Laffey were also considered for the top 20 but fell short according to Ask BA. Pesco was considered the third-best prospect on the Burlington staff and was noted for his good change and excellent fielding skills while his overall command was noted as needing work. Laffey was ranked as the fourth-best prospect on the staff and was noted for his change and improving curve but it was also noted that he relies on the change too much. It's interesting that they failed to mention Nelson Hiraldo who struck out a batter an inning (52K in 52 IP, 3.81 ERA) with an impressive K/BB ratio at 52/11 and 93-94 mph fastball. Hiraldo also pitched well in a late-season stint with the Captains (14K in 14.1 IP, 3.14 ERA).

In the "one that got away category", 2000 draft pick (31st round) Conor Jackson (did not sign, enrolled at California) was named the number two prospect in the California League by BA after hitting .319/.410/.533 with six homeruns and 35 doubles in 257 at-bats. That's right, 35 doubles. Jackson was a first round pick of the Diamondbacks this year, one selection after the Indians took Brad Snyder with the #18 overall pick. 2001 draft pick (34th round) Aaron Marsden was listed as the #11 prospect in the Cali League after posting a 2.79 ERA and .217 BAA in 61.1 innings (49H, 18W, 46K) for the Rockies.

Winterball update...
Rodney Choy Foo, Corey Smith, Ryan Church, Luke Scott, Dave Wallace, Kyle Evans, Mike Hernandez, and Todd Pennington are playing for the Mesa Desert Dogs in the Arizona Fall League. Choy Foo is off to a strong start (.313/.404/.333) playing second base, Scott has a homer and is hitting .300, and Smith is hitting .243 with a dinger and 17 strikeouts. Evans has a 2.40 ERA in four starts with 10 punchouts in 15 innings. Wallace, Hernandez, and Pennington have seen spot duty so far. Church has a strained left hamstring and has left Arizona.

Ignacio Montano, Luis Garcia, David Cortes, Derrick White, Benji Gil, and Nick Bierbrodt are playing in Mexico.

Oscar Alvarez, Rafael Betancourt, Armando Camacaro, Luis Gonzalez, Jesus Colmenter, Maicer Izturis, Kenny Rayborn, and Jorge Moreno are playing in Venezuela.

Ricardo Rojas, Carl Sadler, Wily Taveras, and Chris De La Cruz will play in the Dominican

Jake Robbins and Fernando Cabrera will play in Puerto Rico. Cabrera is also expected to play for the Puerto Rico Olympic Qualifying team.

Baseball America listed the following 20 players as six-year minor league free agents: Nick Bierbrodt, Chad Paronto, Kenny Rayborn, Paul Rigdon, Jake Robbins, Jose Santiago, Angel Bastardo, Josh Goldfield, Brian Luderer, Vic Valencia, Dusty Wathan, Luis Garcia, Benji Gil, Louis Lucca, Angel Santos, Mark Little, Chris Magruder, Dennis Malave, Lyle Mouton, Derrick White.

Luis Gonzalez, Greg LaRocca, and David Lee should also be added to the above list. I don't believe that Magruder should qualify for minor league free agency under the six renewable years rule since he was drafted in 1998 and has had only had five renewable contracts (1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, and 2003). I do believe, however, that he had the right to become a free-agent when the Indians designated him for assignment earlier this month since he had been previously designated in 2002. Perhaps that's how he made the above list. Josh Goldfield (drafted in 1999) qualifies since he was released by the Diamondbacks in June 2002 and subsequently became a free-agent thus removing his six-year requirement (for the most part, see the FAQ for details).

Former Indian draft pick Daylon Monette was released by the Cardinals.

 

October 24, 2003  

CLEVELAND INDIANS REPORT -- Friday, October 24  

Has it really been over a month since we last talked? I suppose it has. As easy as it is to drop the exercise program after skipping a day or two, I've discovered the same can apply to writing, especially after a long baseball season and a particularly grueling (but successful) stretch at work in the real world. Thanks to everyone who inquired about my whereabouts. Everything is cool and I'm looking forward to getting back into the swing of things (no pun intended). I've also started to work my way through the stack of e-mails in my inbox so if you've sent me something recently, a response should be forthcoming in the next week. Today's report will serve as a recap of the last six weeks. Following in the next few days will be a recap of the minor league news and then we'll move into the regular offseason publishing schedule. I also have some site news to discuss but we'll save that for upcoming reports. As always, thanks again for your continued support of the CIR. I hope you've all been enjoying this outstanding postseason.

FINAL 2003 UPDATE

The Indians final 68-94 record placed them fourth in the AL Central and was the third-worst in the American League. This means they will draft sixth next June which is their highest draft position since they selected Paul Shuey with the second overall pick in 1992.

Among regular American League players, Jody Gerut posted the 29th best OPS at .830 while Casey Blake was number 64 at .723. Blake tied for ninth in sacrifice flies with eight while he and Coco Crisp were tied for fifth in times caught stealing with nine. Gerut's .494 SLG and .830 OPS led rookies while his 22 homeruns and 33 doubles were second behind Mark Tiexiera and Hideki Matsui respectively. Brandon Phillips was the worst player in the American League this year (at least according to Lee Sinins and not that we're really going to argue it either) as he posted a -30 RCAA. Milton Bradley's 34 RCAA was just outside the top 10 in the AL (number 10 was 37) despite missing 61 games to injury. Click the link for more info on RCAA: RCAA definition. As a team, the Indians finished 13th in BA (.254), OBP (.316), SLG (.401), OPS (.717), and (hey, what a coincidence), 13th in runs scored (699). They also had the third most strikeouts (1062) in the league and were gunned down attemping to stealing (61) the second most times in the league.

On the mound, CC Sabathia finished the season with the 10th best ERA in the American League at 3.60 and he also tied for tenth in quality starts with 20. David Riske's 9.88 K/9IP tied for ninth in the circuit. Danys Baez tied for sixth in appearances with 73 and finished ninth in saves with 25, eighth in games finished with 46, and tied for first in blown saves with 10. Jake Westbrook tied for second in hit batsmen with 12. He also finished third in inducing double-plays with 26 while Brian Anderson was fourth with 25 GIDPs. Jason Davis tied for sixth in wild pitches with nine and Davis and Sabathia were tied for seventh in balks with two. Davis also finished third among AL rookies in wins with eight. Brian Anderson led AL hurlers in caught stealing percentage at 89% (8 of 9) while Jason Davis was fourth at 73% (8 of 11) and CC Sabathia was fifth at 64% (9 of 14). As a team, the Tribe posted the fifth best ERA in the league at 4.21 and were second in inducing doubleplays with 149. They were eleventh in strikeouts (943) and sixth in homeruns allowed with 179.

Fielding statistics can be difficult to analyze, especially the most common statistics of fielding percentage and errors, but anytime you rank 13th in the league in both categories it's safe to say that you didn't do a good job of catching the ball.

Baseball Prospectus conducted the Internet Baseball Awards earlier this month. Final results were released today and here's how I cast my ballot....

AL MVP: Alex Rodriguez, Carlos Delgado, Manny Ramirez
AL Cy Young: Roy Halladay, Tim Hudson, Pedro Martinez
AL Rookie: Jody Gerut, Angel Berroa, Hideki Matsui
AL Manager: Ken Macha, Grady Little, Carlos Tosca
NL MVP: Barry Bonds, Albert Pujols, Eric Gagne
NL Cy Young: Eric Gagne, Jason Schmidt, Mark Prior
NL Rookie: Brandon Webb, Dontrelle Willis, Jose Valverde
NL Manager: Jack McKeon, Frank Robinson, Jim Tracy

ROSTER UPDATE

The Indians ended the season with a full 40-man roster and a mess of guys on the disabled list. After a flurry of minor moves, the 40 now stands at 33 with a few more changes to come. Here's the breakdown of who went where...

Jason Boyd was claimed off waivers by the Pirates (for whom he made his major league debut in 1999) after going 3-1 with a 4.30 ERA in 44 appearances for the Indians. Signed to a minor league contract last offseason, Boyd provided solid relief for the Tribe and if you subtract the six runs he was charged with in 1/3 of an inning on May 11 against the Rangers, his ERA drops to 3.29, which is more in line with the .200 BAA and .619 OPS he held opposing hitters to this season. He was especially tough on righties (.176 BAA, .563 OPS) and at Jacobs Field (3-0, 2.35, .141 BAA) and if he would have had better overall command (26 BB in 52.1 IP), he would likely have had a stellar season. It should also be noted that he allowed 44% (11 of 25) inherited runners to score which sounds like an awfully high percentage to me. Obviously, this isn't a major loss for the Indians but it should be recognized that Boyd was a decent minor signing last offseason. Look for the Indians to bring in a few more Boyd's this spring to compete for a spot in the 'pen and provide depth in triple-A.

Alex Herrera was claimed off waivers by the Rockies and the left-hander concludes his once promising Indians career with a 5.11 ERA in only 15 major league appearances. Those numbers include a 9.00 ERA this season that included eight walks and three homeruns in seven innings highlighted by a disastrous appearance on July 20 in Yankee Stadium in which he did not record an out and all four Yankees he faced scored. Once regarded as a top prospect (#10 Indians prospect in 2002 by BA) after his sensational 2001 campaign when he struck out 105 in 88.1 innings with a 1.32 ERA in Kinston and Akron, Herrera's star dimmed significantly when he aged three years in the 2002 "agegate" scandal and it was revealed that his breakout season happened at the age of 24 instead of 21. Herrera suffered through a rough 2002 season that included a bout with the chicken pox and dealing with his mother's serious illness and it got worse in 2003 as he lost command of his fastball and walked 45 in 56 innings in triple-A with the Bisons. I think his stuff has also fallen off as the few times I saw him on the mound this year he was only throwing in the upper 80s and did not seem to possess the mid 90s heater that had been his calling card in the minor leagues. Couple that with the fact that he turns 27 in November (even with "agegate" doesn't that seem old?) and the prospect label is no more. Although it should be noted that like Jason Boyd above, he remains a candidate to "find it" and put together a decent season or two in the future.

Greg LaRocca, Jose Santiago, Angel Santos, David Lee, Zach Sorenson, and Chris Magruder cleared waivers and were outrighted to triple-A and removed from the 40-man roster. For LaRocca, Santiago, Santos, and Lee the outrighting is a procedural move as they will become minor league free-agents in a few weeks. LaRocca is expected to sign with another organization or play in Japan next year. Santiago will likely explore the market as well and I would be surprised to see him back in the Indians organization next year. Santos may hang around with second base wide open (for now) unless he finds a better opportunity elsewhere. Lee falls into the same category. Both Magruder and Sorensen were drafted in 1998 and should still be under the Indians control as they've only played five full seasons in the minor leagues and you need six full years to become a "six-year" minor league free-agent. I could be wrong, but right now, I think they're headed to triple-A for one more season on the Cleveland-Buffalo shuttle.

Dave Elder was activated from the 60-day disabled list and placed on unconditional release waivers. Elder put up some impressive numbers for the Indians the last two years out of the bullpen but was plagued by shoulder problems. If healthy, I think he can help a team out of the 'pen but that appears to be a big "if" right now. If he can't come back, at least he'll always be the answer to the "Who gave up Rafael Palmiero's 500th homerun?" trivia question. Don't be surprised if he signs with the Brewers (lot of ex-Ranger front office people in Milwaukee) this offseason.

Ellis Burks' option was bought out for $500k in a move that makes him a free-agent and likely signals the end of his tenure with the Indians. Burks started slowly this year (although he was hitting for average) and did not hit his first homerun until April 20 against the White Sox. He followed that up with a two-homer game the next day but his numbers steadily declined over the next two months (OPS of .884 in April, .718 in May, .618 in June) before he was placed on the disabled list in early June after reporting numbness in his hand and a tingling sensation in his elbow that left him unable to hold a bat without experiencing pain. He was eventually diagnosed with ulnar neuritis of the right elbow that resulted in season ending surgery and left EB with final numbers of .258/.355/.414/.769 and only six homeruns. The Indians have indicated they would like Burks to return in 2004 but it would have to be in a reduced role where he would be sharing at-bats at DH with some combination of Matt Lawton, Travis Hafner, Ben Broussard, Victor Martinez, and (insert young outfielder here). Personally, I don't see how they're going to fit him on the roster. Burks has purchased a home in the Cleveland area, purchased Cavaliers season tickets, and the Indians have let it be known they have a place for him in the front office if he decides to retire. He's likely to be offered incentive-laden contracts to serve as the designated hitter for Oakland, Seattle, Texas, etc., and it will be interesting to see if he's tempted by those offers. I would really be surprised if Burks is on the Indians roster next April. If he's not, his Tribe career would be highlighted by a .280/.369/.542/.911 and 28 homerun season in 2001 and a .301/.362/.541/.903 and 32 homerun season in 2002.

Mark Wohlers had his $8 million 2004 club option bought out for $1 million after he missed all of the 2003 season with elbow problems that led to two separate surgeries. The first occurred in spring training when Wohlers went under the knife on March 11 to remove bone chips from his right elbow. While recovery from that operation, Wohlers again felt soreness during a rehab assignment in Akron on May 23 (in which he could not get out of the first inning before reaching his pitch count) and was shut down pending review of a subsequent MRI. A trip to Dr.Andrews in Birmingham soon followed after which Wohlers was shut down for a minimum of six weeks. In August, it was finally determined that the right-hander needed his second Tommy John operation (the first was in 1999) and Wohlers was cut by the good doctor on August 14 and he'll be out for the next nine-to-twelve months. Wohlers finishes his Indians career with a 3-4 record, 7 saves, and a 4.79 ERA in 71.1 innings (all in 2002).

Jason Bere remains on the 60-day DL (and off the 40) but he'll become a free-agent after the World Series.

Tim Laker was signed for 2004 and I'm going to assume it was a major league contract since it was not specified as otherwise. On the surface, this move may appear a bit strange since the Indians already have catches of the future Victor Martinez and Josh Bard on board. Plus, there are dozens of Tim Lakers on the free-agent market every offseason and you would think the Indians could just have easily signed Laker (or a similar player) to a minor league deal and freed up a spot on the 40 for a younger player.

So does this mean Josh Bard is trade-bait this offseason? Perhaps, but probably not anymore likely than he already was. Does this mean the Indians are going to carry three catchers next season? Perhaps, but I think that depends more on how many at-bats will be made available for Victor Martinez at first base or designated hitter than it has anything to do with Laker. Does this mean that Bard is headed to Buffalo? Perhaps, but I don't think so. So what do I think? Well, I think that the Indians like Laker as a low-cost insurance policy whom the coaching staff and pitchers are extremely familiar with. I think he's ticketed to start 2004 in Buffalo (barring injury, of course) and that the Indians are keeping him on the 40 with the firm belief that they will be able to designate him for assignment (if necessary) later in the offseason with little risk of him being claimed by another organization. In other words, he's a "waivable" player and you'll see what I mean by that and why players like that have a ironic value in a few paragraphs.

So after all of the above, the Indians 40-man roster now consists of the following 33 players....

CATCHERS: Victor Martinez, Tim Laker, Josh Bard
INFIELDERS: Ben Broussard, Travis Hafner, Brandon Phillips, Casey Blake,
John McDonald, Omar Vizquel, Jhonny Peralta
OUTFIELDERS: Milton Bradley, Matt Lawton, Covelli Crisp, Alex Escobar, Jody Gerut, Ryan Church
PITCHERS: Danys Baez, David Riske, Terry Mulholland, Jack Cressend, Rafael
Batencourt, CC Sabathia, Jake Westbrook, Cliff Lee, Jason Davis, Billy Traber, Jason Stanford, Chad Durbin, Fernando Cabrera, Francisco Cruceta, Jeremy Guthrie, Brian Tallet, Carl Sadler

-- Note that the roster count will shrink to 32 when Terry Mulholland becomes a free agent after the World Series.
-- It will grow to 35 when Bob Wickman, Ricky Gutierrez, and Ryan Ludwick are activated from the 60-day disabled list.
-- It will grow to 36 when Grady Sizemore is added in November to protect him from the Rule 5 draft.

That leaves the Tribe with four open spots to play with as they firm up their roster by the November 20 deadline in preparation for the Rule 5 draft in December. One of those spots is likely to go to Kinston left-hander Mariano Gomez with contenders for the remaining three spots being (in no particular order) Luke Scott, Wily Taveras, Corey Smith, Hector Luna, Joe Inglett, Eric Crozier, Maicer Izturis, Kyle Denney, Ivan Ochoa, Rodney Choy Foo, Matt White, Ryan Larson. One thought to keep in the back of your mind while reviewing the above list of prospects is that the Indians are likely to sign two or three major league free agents (second basemen, starting pitcher, left-handed reliever) this offseason and all of them will need to be added to the 40-man roster once they sign. Based on the above, they have open spots to accomplish this but if they decide to go with a full 40-man roster (by protecting three of the above-mentioned prospects) prior to the Rule 5 draft, that means that a player will need to be removed from the 40 to make room for any free-agent signees. That also means that the dropped player will be exposed to waivers with the Indians running the risk of losing that player to another organization.

All of which begs the question, is it better to expose a player to the Rule 5 draft (where you have a chance of getting him back like Hector Luna and Matt White in 2002) or expose him to waivers where, if he's claimed, you lose him completely (unless, of course, you pull him back from waivers and waive someone else but in the end you're still losing someone you would probably like to keep). We'll get into this a lot more over the next couple of weeks but don't be surprised if the Indians simply keep those last three spots open or use them on a "waivable" player (from within the organization or early free-agent signing) whom they know will slide through waivers and remain in the organization. In short, there's no sense adding Hector Luna to the 40 and protecting him from the Rule 5 draft now when you're going to lose him on waivers in January to make room for free-agent signee Brian Anderson. You might as well expose him to the Rule 5 draft where you at least have the chance of getting him back.

Miscellaneous roster notes... Carl Sadler likely joins Tim Laker as "waivable" players currently on the 40. An additional open roster spot would be created if the Indians non-tender Danys Baez (which we'll talk about in the upcoming weeks). MLB.com lists Luis Garcia on the 40-man roster but I'm pretty sure he cleared waivers and was outrighted to triple-A in September.

MEDICAL UPDATE

Billy Traber underwent Tommy John surgery on September 29 (Dr.Yocum in Anaheim) and he's expected to be out until at least July 2004. Traber was originally diagnosed with ligament damage when he was drafted by the Mets in 2000 (which caused his bonus to drop from $1.7mil to $400k) but the damage kept healing with scar tissue so Traber kept pitching. The scar tissue finally tore away, however, and that's what the Indians found in a September MRI after Traber disclosed that he been pitching in pain for the last month. I'll choose to remember his 2003 season for the one-hit shutout he tossed against the Yankees in July rather than the pounding he took over his last three-four starts. It's likely we won't see much from Traber until 2005.

Brian Tallet continues to recover from his Tommy John surgery (Dr. Andrews in Birmingham) and he's one month ahead of Traber in the rehab cycle (June return). Note that the return date typically means a return to competitive pitching (i.e., rehab assignment) and is not necessarily the date when he'll return to the major leagues.

Matt Lawton had surgery on his right knee in mid-September in what was described as a "routine procedure" and a general clean up of the knee joint. He's expected to be 100% for the start of spring training.

Cliff Lee had successful hernia surgery earlier this month and is expected to be ready for the start of spring training.

John McDonald had successful knee surgery and he's also expected to be ready for the start of spring training. The healthy knee is expected to correct the back problems that plagued him for most of 2003.

Alex Escobar sat out the end of the season after injuring his neck on September 23 while diving into second base. I haven't seen or heard any new concerning Escobar's neck, so hopefully, no news is good news.

Congratulations to the Sabathias, who had a baby boy, CC III.

Ben Broussard, Jhonny Peralta, and Victor Martinez will spend their winters in Cleveland getting stronger. Travis Hafner is expected to spend January in Cleveland. Josh Bard will be doing yoga and pilates to improve his flexibility. Jody Gerut will continue his conditioning program this offseason in Arizona.

Sad news to report out of Burlington as Stephen Gates, Director of Media Relations for the B-Tribe, was killed in a hit-and-run accident on October 4. Our condolences to the Gates family.

FORMER INDIANS UPDATE

AJ Hinch was sent outright to triple-A by Detroit.

The Newberg Report noted that the Rangers may eventually try Marshall McDougall at catcher, most likely to increase his value as a utility player. McDougall hit a combined .261/.332/.403/.735 with 15 homeruns in AA and AAA this season. Why should you care? He's a link in the chain that runs from Brian Giles to Ricardo Rincon to Marshall McDougall to Derrick Van Dusen.

Long-time Indian farmhand Mike Edwards finally made it to the big leagues when the A's promoted him from triple-A. Edwards, originally drafted in the 9th round of the 1995 draft by the Tribe, played in the Reds organization in 2002 before signing with the A's last offseason.

Likewise, Mike Glavine was called up by the Mets where he joined his brother Tom for the last few weeks of the season. He has since been outrighted back to triple-A after clearing waivers.

Roy Smith was designated for assignment by the A's and removed from the 40-man roster. Entering the season, I liked Smith's chances of being a sleeper in the A's bullpen but he had a disappointing year as he posted a 5.23 ERA with 48 BB and 47 K in 72 innings in triple-A.

Former Indian farmhand Hank Thoms has been pitching for Team USA (which was eliminated from medal contention by Chinese Taipei on Wednesday) in the 35th baseball World Cup in Cuba. Thoms made two starts for the Red, White, and Blue in the tournament, losing to Cuba and tossing six innings of one-run ball against China. Thoms spent the 2003 season pitching for the Fargo-Moorhead Redhawks and the Joliet Jackhammers of the independent Northern League, going 6-2 with a 2.42 ERA in 15 starts.

Steve Reed will be a free-agent this offseason after Colorado declined to exercise their 2004 option on his contract. Reed is the Rockies all-time leader in appearances and went 5-3 with a 3.27 ERA this season.

The Phillies picked up their 2004 option on Rheal Cormier but declined their option on Jose Mesa. Kelly Stinnett declined his player option and will become a free-agent.

Shane Spencer refused an assignment to the minor leagues by the Rangers and will be a free-agent again this offseason.

Marcus Scutaro was claimed off waivers by the Oakland A's and he immediately moves atop my $1 middle infield sleeper list for next year. To make room for Scutaro on the roster, the A's designated John Halama for assignment which is a name the Indians have been linked with in the past and will likely be again this offseason (if for no other reason than they have been linked in the past).

SLY FOX UPDATE
The mighty Foxers exited the playoffs in dramatic style as they lost a 28-27 thriller to heavily favored Slam Jams that took nine innings and nearly two hours to complete. Taking the field with only nine players, the good guys jumped out to an early lead but found themselves trailing 14-9 after four innings. That changed in the top of the 5th when the Fox put a seven-spot on the board capped by a monstrous H.Ballgame two-run shot. Slam Jams rallied back, though, and tied the game at 20 in the bottom of the 7th to send the game into extra innings. In the 8th, the Foxers erupted for seven runs, sparked by a Janimal triple, a Frankie double, a Komacho three-bagger, and another H.Ballgame longball that still hasn't landed. In typical Fox fashion, however, seven runs wasn't enough as Slam Jams rallied to tie the game at 27 aided by a late-arriving ringer to the lineup. Clever strategery by the Fox kept the game tied as they walked two batters to load the bases and face a weaker hitter who promptly flied out to right field to send the game to the 9th. The good times finally came to an end in the final inning as the Fox went scoreless in the top half of the frame. Not even an appearance by the Fox's own late-arriving ringer Jake could spark the exhausted Fox nine as Slam Jams pushed a run across in the bottom of the 9th for the 28-27 victory. The top five in the order went a combined 23-for-33 (.697) as the Captain banged out four singles, Frankie scored six times with four singles and a double, Komah tripled twice with a double and three baseknocks, H.Ballgame drove in six with two dingers and two singles, and Joe drove in five with four basehits. Pit also singled four times, all coming in the later innings. H.Ballgame went the distance on the mound.

 

October 21, 2003  

CIR UPDATE: Gerut named Sporting News Rookie of the Year  
Jody Gerut was named the American League Rookie of the Year by the Sporting News. Gerut is the fifth Indian so honered by the venerable mag, joining Sandy Alomar (1990), Super Joe Charboneau (1980), Chris Chambliss (1971), and Roy Foster (1970). The official (or writers) Rookie of the Year will be announced on November 10.

 


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