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March 30, 2004  

CIR UPDATE: Stanford named fifth starter  
Jason Stanford was officially named the Indians 5th starter by Eric Wedge today. Chad Durbin will be the long-man in the bullpen and Jake Westbrook will work in middle relief. More in the next CIR.

CIR UPDATE: Grover to Toss First Pitch  
Mike Hargrove will throw out the ceremonial first pitch at the home opener on Monday, April 12. Nice to see Grover being honored.

CIR UPDATE: Baseball opens in Japan  
Didn't I see Peter Gammons live in-studio with Dan Patrick last night on the 6:00 PM Sportscenter? If so, how did he manage to make it all the way to Japan to announce this morning's game between the Yankees and Devil Rays? Please tell me that ESPN didn't bother to send announcers. What is this, the 1930s? Is the Dream Job guy in the background making the crack of the bat sound? I'm all for expanding the reach of baseball but I'm not a fan of opening the season in Japan (before the start of the season), just for the sake of expanding that reach. Good idea, poor execution.


March 28, 2004  

CIR UPDATE: Indians send down six  
The Indians optioned Cliff Bartosh to Buffalo and re-assigned Dave Lee, Matt Miller, Brian Luderer, Zach Sorenson, and Ernie Young to minor league camp. No big surprises here. More in the next CIR.

CIR UPDATE: Gutierrez dealt to Mets  
It's official. The Indians traded Ricky Gutierrez and cash to the Mets for a player to be named later. John McDonald and Lou Merloni will both make the opening day roster as backup infielders. More in the next CIR.


The New York papers are reporting this morning that the Mets are close to acquiring Ricky Gutierrez with a deal expected to be announced within the next day or two. Last night, I placed an update on the website that read "The Mets traded outfielder Timo Perez to the Chicago White Sox for reliever Matt Ginter today. Why this seemingly minor deal may be significant for Indians fans is that the Mets saved themselves $850k by ridding themselves of Perez' contract and that $850k is pretty close to the difference between the 2004 salaries of Ricky Gutierrez ($4.5 million) and David Weathers ($3.7 million). Coincidence? Maybe, maybe not. It definitely makes you wonder if a trade is brewing though.". While a deal does appear to be in the works, whether or not Weathers (or another reliever) is involved remains to be seen. None of the New York papers speculate that a major league player would be headed to the Indians in return with only the Newark Star-Ledger stating that the Mets would send the Tribe a minor league player. The New York Post says that the lone issue is how much of Gutierrez's salary the Indians would be willing to pick up. That's another reason why the Perez trade could be important for the Indians as it should reduce the amount of salary the Indians would have to cover. Incidentally, the Denver Post is also reporting this morning that the Mets have lost interest in Damian Jackson because they are going to acquire Gutierrez from the Indians. Meanwhile, the Indians are denying the reports. Stay tuned.

As speculated yesterday, Jeff D'Amico was officially named the Indians number four starter by Eric Wedge. He also narrowed the candidates for the number five starter to Jason Stanford and Chad Durbin by announcing that Jake Westbrook will open the season as the long-man in the bullpen. Durbin was also told that he will make the big league club regardless of whether he beats out Stanford for a spot in the rotation. Stanford will start on Monday and a final decision on the number five starter will be announced shortly thereafter. My crazy scenario from yesterday is starting to play itself out, huh? It's possible that Stanford's roster spot hinges on whether the Indians acquire another reliever for the bullpen (like perhaps Weathers or someone else from the Mets). If they can find someone, Durbin will slide into the rotation and Stanford heads to triple-A. If they can't, Durbin will work out of the 'pen and Stanford joins the rotation.

The skipper also announced that Jason Bere will start the season in the Buffalo rotation, joining Jeremy Guthrie, Francisco Cruceta, Kyle Denney, and perhaps Jason Stanford.

Cliff Lee starts today against the Pirates. Jason Davis was roughed up by the Reds yesterday. I only saw the first couple of innings but it seemed like JD was pitching from behind to almost every batter.

Josh Bard left the game yesterday in the second inning with a strained groin and is listed as day-to-day. How much this affects his competition with for the backup catcher role remains to be seen.

Giovanni Carrara was released after posting a 8.00 ERA for the Tribe this spring in nine innings (11 H, 3 BB, 7 K) of work. Luther Hackman, Matt Miller, Dave Lee, Cliff Bartosh, and Matt White remain in competition for a final spot in the bullpen that may or may not still be open depending on where Chad Durbin ends up on the pitching staff.

Carrara's release leaves 43 players remaining in camp. We should see a roster cut soon to further reduce that number.

Luis Gonzalez needed only a homerun for the cycle yesterday as he singled, doubled, and tripled to drive in four runs for the Rockies. I think he's pretty much a lock to make Clint Hurdle's opening day roster.

It's looking more and more like Hector Luna will make the Cardinals opening day roster with the St.Louis Post Dispatch reporting this morning that "the team will fight to keep Rule 5 draftee Hector Luna". The Cards still need to decide whether Tony Womack or Marlon Anderson will be their second-basemen but that decision doesn't appear that it will have an impact on Luna's roster status. Luna is hitting .255 (13-for-51) this spring.

Willy Taveras is hitting .167 (3-for-18) for the Astros and would seem a likely candidate to be offered back to the Indians with Lance Berkman, Richard Hidalgo, Craig Biggio, Orlando Palmiero, and Jason Lane locked in the 'stros outfield. Unless, of course, they try to stash him on the disabled list to start the season.

Lino Urdaneta has a 3.24 ERA in 8.1 innings with the Tigers, allowing nine hits and three walks while striking out four. He still has an outside shot at breaking camp with the big league club.

Eric Crozier, who hit six homeruns last spring, is off to another hot start this year, hitting .458 (11-for-24) with two doubles, two triples, and one home run.

The Captains, who dominated the South Atlantic League last season, look like they're going to pick up right where they left off as they two-hit Rome in a 10-0 victory on Friday, their fifth straight of the spring. Nelson Hiraldo tossed four innings of two-hit ball and Javi Herrera belted a two-run homerun.

Justice B.Hill reports for that Brad Snyder, battling an eye infection, still has not been cleared to face live pitching.

Hill also notes that Carl Sadler will throw in the bullpen next week and start the season in extended spring training.

I got UConn and Oklahoma State to the final four yesterday with Duke a possibility today. Only Kentucky has let me down so far.


March 27, 2004  

CIR UPDATE: Mets preparing for Gutierrez?  
The Mets traded outfielder Timo Perez to the Chicago White Sox for reliever Matt Ginter today. Why this seemingly minor deal may be significant for Indians fans is that the Mets saved themselves $850k by ridding themselves of Perez' contract and that $850k is pretty close to the difference between the 2004 salaries of Ricky Gutierrez ($4.5 million) and David Weathers ($3.7 million). Coincidence? Maybe, maybe not. It definitely makes you wonder if a trade is brewing though. More in the next CIR

CIR UPDATE: D'Amico named 4th starter  
Eric Wedge officially named Jeff D'Amico as the number four starter today. He also narrowed the candidates for the number five starter to Jason Stanford and Chad Durbin by announcing that Jake Westbrook will open the season as the long-man in the bullpen. Durbin was also told that he will make the big league club regardless of whether he beats out Stanford for a spot in the rotation. More in the next CIR.


With only nine exhibition games remaining until the April 5 opener against the Twins in Minnesota, five spots on the opening day roster remain unsettled. On Friday, the Indians front office gathered to discuss their options. While it's likely they now have a clear picture of what the 25-man roster will look like, nothing official has been announced. It's also likely that the Tribe will use this last week of spring training to shop those players they do not plan on carrying on the big league roster come opening day and that is another reason for the continued uncertainity (at least publicly) regarding those last five roster spots.

Starting with the rotation, the one thing we know for sure is that Jason Bere is no longer a candidate to start the season in the rotation. After he was bombed on Tuesday, the Indians reached the conclusion that his shoulder is still not 100% recovered and that he needs to continue to build arm strength before he is ready to join a major league rotation. Whether that happens in Buffalo or extended spring training remains to be seen. In 9.1 innings this spring, Bere surrendered 14 hits and posted a 10.61 ERA.

Chad Durbin helped his cause tremendously yesterday by tossing five scoreless innings against the Braves. He punched out four, permitted just three hits, and walked none against a lineup featuring seven of the eight Braves expected to be in their opening day lineup. Durbin now has a 1.69 ERA in 16 innings this spring, allowing 13 hits and just three walks while striking out 13. The only cause for concern in my mind regarding Durbin in the rotation is that he's only a year removed from surgery and I wonder if he will hold up for 30 starts and 180 (or so) innings. It may be better for him to work out of the 'pen this year.

Jeff D'Amico also turned in a fine outing this week, tossing six scoreless innings against the Expos on Thursday while allowing just four hits and no walks while striking out two. The difference between his outing and Durbin's above, however, is that the Expos used what was essentially a triple-A lineup and Carl Everett, Jose Vidro, Nick Johnson, Brad Wilkerson, Orlando Cabrera, and Tony Batista were nowhere to be found. Still, you would expect D'Amico to have success against such a lineup and that's exactly what he did. For the spring, D'Amico now has a 3.50 ERA in 18 innings with 19 hits allowed, just two walks but only nine strikeouts. Most importantly, though, D'Amico is a veteran which gives him the edge over his three competitors as the Indians would be less concerned about him exceeding his pitch count if he reaches that limit in the early innings of a start, thus saving some wear and tear on the bullpen. Of course, D'Amico is not exactly a horse either given his injury history but if the Tribe is going to overuse someone in the rotation, you'd rather it be a guy like D'Amico than Jason Davis or Cliff Lee.

Jake Westbrook, coming off two poor outings, also turned in a good start this week as he did not allow an earned run (one unearned) in 5.2 innings against the Devil Rays which featured a lineup including Rob Fick, Aubrey Huff, Jose Cruz, and Tino Martinez. For the spring, Jake now has a 4.58 ERA in 17.2 innings but he's allowed 23 hits and only struck out eight while walking seven.

Jason Stanford has thrown well in his last couple of outings and has a 5.25 ERA in 12 innings this spring, allowing 13 hits while walking five and striking out only four.

Mark Shapiro continues to search for a starting pitcher on the trade market but the pickings are very slim. How slim? How about this sampling of starters who are likely available: Aaron Sele (Anaheim), Glendon Rusch (Texas) Omar Daal (Baltimore, injured), Jesus Sanchez (Florida), Denny Stark (Colorado), Jared Fernandez (Houston), and Jose Lima (Los Angeles). I would just as soon go with we got, thank you very much. If the Tribe is willing to up the ante a little, Ramon Ortiz (Anaheim), Kris Benson (Pittsburgh), Odalis Perez (Los Angeles), Jeff Weaver (Los Angeles) are among the starters who might be available but such a deal would likely involve a much higher financial and prospect cost than the Indians would likely be willing to take at this point in the season.

The Fort-Worth Star Telegram reported this week that the Indians had scouts in Ranger camp on Monday to watch that night's game against the Royals and they also "made their way to the back of the complex to get a close view of Glendon Rusch, Joaquin Benoit, and Ryan Drese throwing in the bullpen". The article goes on to note that "Rusch pitches Thursday against the Seattle Mariners in Peoria, and the Rangers aren't the only ones who noticed he's pitching much better than last year. The Indians are foremost among those...". Rusch went 1-12 with a 6.42 ERA for the Brewers last year but posted a 3.12 ERA with a .227 BAA in July before a groin injury sidelined him for all but 20 innings the rest of the season. This spring, Rusch has a 4.22 ERA in 10.2 innings and held the Cubs to one run in four innings on St.Patrick's Day. Rusch may also have an escape clause in his contract allowing him to become a free-agent on March 31 if he's not going to make the Rangers opening day roster. Benoit is an interesting arm who is out of options. Drese we know about and it's likely the Twins (also mentioned in the article) were checking him out. In an update, Rusch was decent on Thursday, giving up a two-run homer to Raul Ibanez, and will likely start again on Tuesday before the Rangers are forced to make a decision on his status this coming Thursday.

I'm not sure if (or to what degree) the Indians had interest in these guys but three young starters were traded over the past two days with Juan Cruz and Chris Reitsma going to the Braves and John Patterson to the Expos. All have interesting pedigrees but have not been able to transfer that potential to continued success at the major league level. Cruz, especially, would have looked great (in my opinion) in an Indians uniform either as the 5th starter or in the bullpen.

If I'm a betting man (they call me Mr.Vegas), I'd go with D'Amico and Durbin in the rotation, Westbrook as the long-man, and Stanford sent to Buffalo. But how about this for a crazy scenario. What if all four make the opening day roster? It could happen if D'Amico and Stanford are given spots in the rotation and Westbrook and Durbin are placed in long-relief roles. Why would the Indians go this route? For one, if they can't find anyone via trade to step into the rotation or fill a spot in the bullpen. Remember, there is one open spot in the 'pen aside from the long-relief role that will go to either Westbrook or Durbin. Secondly, if the Indians are not confident in the current choices for that open bullpen spot (Luther Hackman, Matt Miller, Dave Lee, etc.), they may simply decide to keep both Westbrook and Durbin, use them to fill in the middle innings, and let things continue to sort themselves out during the month of April.

One quick note: the Indians will only need a fifth starter three times in the month of April, likely on April 9, April 19, and April 24. Rainouts can and will likely change that schedule.

Eric Wedge also announced this week that the Indians will carry two middle infielders and only one backup outfielder when the big league club heads north next week. The reason for this is the strong spring of the X-Factor, Ricky Gutierrez, who has hit .375 (12-for-32) and demonstrated that he can play consecutive games without any health issues. Since there will only be one "true" backup outfielder, one of the backup infielders will also have to be able to play the outfield. That would appear to give the advantage to Lou Merloni over John McDonald since Merloni has seen time in left-field this spring. Merloni also has an advantage at the plate over McDonald and is hitting .286 (12-for-32) with three homeruns (one in a B game) this spring. McDonald, who is defensively superior to both the X-Factor and Merloni, is hitting .242 (8-for-33) this spring. I would not be surprised to see McDonald dealt sometime this week.

Two days after the Denver Post speculated that rule 5 pick Luis Gonzalez could be a victim of numbers in his bid to make the Rockies opening day roster thanks to as many as 8 or 10 non-roster players expected to break camp with the Rox, the paper then reported that Gonzalez is impressing Rockies manager Clint Hurdle in his bid to win a utility job with the Rockies. The article also notes that the Indians want Gonzalez back. In a strange twist, the odd-man out in Denver should Gonzalez make the Rox opening day roster could be former Indian Damian Jackson, whom the Mets are reportedly interested in. The Mets are also reportedly looking at John McDonald with the likely return being a reliever for the Tribe's bullpen. If Dan O'Dowd is successful in dealing Jackson to the Mets, the Tribe could be out Gonzalez as well as a potential suitor for one of the three middle infielders battling to head north with the big league club. It's interesting how these disparate situations all tie together. Gonzalez is hitting .313 (10-for-32, as of earlier this week) with a double and homer this spring. The Post also notes that the Rockies are shopping several players in order to clear 40-man roster spots, among them right-hander Denny Stark whom I mentioned above in the available starter list. Just speculating here, but perhaps a deal could be made in exchange for the Indians allowing the Rockies to keep Gonzalez with the right to send him to the minor leagues. Note that Stark has really struggled this spring, although he pitched decently in his most recent outing. The Rocky Mountain News also commented on Gonzalez. Coincidentally, Mike Berger, the scout quoted in the article, was on this week raving about the talent that he saw in Indians camp this spring, particularly Grady Sizemore and Mike Aubrey.

In what may be a related move to the Gonzalez discussion above, the Indians acquired second basemen Brent Abernathy from the Tigers on Friday for cash considerations. Originally drafted by the Blue Jays in the second round of the 1996 draft, Abernathy has spent parts of three seasons in the big leagues with the Devil Rays and the Royals, hitting .245/.295/.327/.622 in 801 career major league at-bats. He spent most of last year in triple-A, hitting .291/.354/.408/.762 with 7 homeruns and 13 steals. Abernathy signed with the Tigers in the off-season but was made expendable thanks to the off-season acquisitions of Fernando Vina and Carlos Guillen and the young middle infielders in the Tigers system. He's got a little pop, a little speed, a decent glove, and is probably a decent guy to have in the system for insurance purposes. John Farrell is quoted in the papers as saying that the Indians have liked him for a long time. I'm not sure if he has played (or can play) anywhere else in the field, but I'm sure he'll learn.

I say this signing could be related to Gonzalez because I wonder if this hints at the fact that the Rockies have already informed the Indians that they're going to keep Gonzalez on their major league roster to start the season (or perhaps it's a reflection of the Indians belief that Gonzalez will not be offered back). If he had been returned, Gonzalez would likely have slid into the second, short, third-base rotation with Brandon Phillips and Jhonny Peralta and if he's not there, they need someone to fill that role. Perhaps it will be Abernathy. What this says about the role(s) of Chris Clapinski, Zach Sorenson, Scott Pratt, etc., remains to be seen.

Getting back to the Mets and John McDonald, it was the New York Daily News that reported that the Mets were looking at Johnny Mac. One reliever that the Indians may target is Dan Wheeler who retired all five batters he faced in his last outing, striking out three in the process. Wheeler now has a 0.84 ERA with 10 K's in 10.2 innings this spring but he's still not guaranteed a place in the Mets 'pen. Based on last years splits, the right-handed Wheeler could also possibly function as the "second lefty" as he held left-handed sticks to a .208 BAA last year.

Sports Weekly reports that the Indians are willing to pay up to $4 million of the $4.75 million owed to Ricky Gutierrez this season in a trade. The rag also notes that the Giants are disappointed in Neifi Perez (go figure that, huh?) and are looking for a shortstop. Could John McDonald or perhaps even Gutierrez be a fit here? How about Gutierrez to the Mets for David Weathers, who's scheduled to earn upwards of $3 million this year (I believe). Some additional money may have to change hands but that could be a deal that works for both clubs (which also allows the Indians to keep McDonald).

In the outfield, Alex Escobar and Coco Crisp are staging a spirited battle for the backup outfielder role. Escobar is hitting .375 (18-for-48) with two doubles and has demonstrated that he is fully recovered from the knee surgery that sidelined him for all of 2002. Crisp, meanwhile, is raking at a .393 clip (20-for-51) with five doubles, a triple, and five stolen bases in eight attempts. Both have an option remaining so either can be sent down to Buffalo to start the season without fear of losing them on waivers. I would think that Escobar has the edge, if only because he can play all three outfield positions while Crisp's arm really limits him to left, although he can play center as well. On the other hand, Crisp may be deemed more major-league ready with the Indians preferring to let Escobar continue to work on improving his plate discipline at triple-A. Both have earned the chance to start the season in the big leagues and it's going to be interesting to see if this numbers victim lets the demotion affect his performance in Buffalo.

Ugueth Urbina signed a one-year contract with Detroit yesterday for a reported $3.5 million, thus ending the Tribe's brief flirtation with the would-be closer. After meeting with Uggy on Monday and watching him throw on Tuesday, the Indians were concerned that Urbina, by his own admission, had not picked up a baseball since the end of the World Series. They also had some doubts about his overall state of conditioning since Urbina had not been working out this winter. The Tribe's doctors developed a throwing plan to get Urbina ready for the season but when it was determined that the right-hander would not be ready for the big leagues until May 10, talks hit a snag. The Indians (correctly, in my opinion) felt that Urbina's contract should be pro-rated for when he actually pitched in the major leagues while Urbina (and his people) felt he should be paid for the whole season. Urbina also felt that he could be ready in three weeks. It's a shame this fell apart because Urbina would have been a good addition for the Indians.

The non-signing means that a spot remains open in the bullpen with Luther Hackman, Giovanni Carrara, David Lee, Matt Miller, Cliff Bartosh, and Matt White all fighting for one spot. Hackman is likely the front-runner but both Lee and Miller have thrown the ball well at times this spring. A trade or signing of a reliever is a distinct possibility as well, as is the possibility of electing to carry both Westbrook and Durbin in the bullpen as noted above.

Sheldon Ocker reports in the ABJ that Bob Howry is throwing his fastballs at 85% and will start throwing breaking stuff next week. Howry is expected to remain in extended spring training until the end of April before heading out on a minor league rehab assignment. It's possible he could join the Indians sometime in May but a June return is more likely.

As to the bullpen help that might be available, most every team in baseball has a few NRIs who could be had via trade or will be available as free-agents in the next few days. Specific relievers currently available include veteran right-handers Todd Jones (signed with the Reds yesterday) and Mike Williams who were released by the D-Rays this week. Both are former closers who are at (or rapidly approaching) the end of their careers. I'm not sure if they're even worth a look but they're names worth mentioning. Jones signed with the Reds yesterday. The Astros also released veteran Dave Veres, who posted a 2.25 ERA in eight innings this spring. Like Jones and Williams, Veres is nearing the end of his career and you have to wonder how much he has left in the tank. Still, he may be a more appealing alternative to Luther Hackman and company.

Adam Piatt, who left camp earlier this week for personal reasons, informed the Indians that he is retiring.

The Indians are ranked sixth in Baseball America's annual minor league talent rankings. Last year the Tribe ranked first but don't be discouraged by the drop in ranking. Number six is pretty impressive considering the Tribe graduated the likes of Brandon Phillips, Cliff Lee, Jason Davis, Jody Gerut, Victor Martinez, etc., to the major leagues last year.

Sean McAdam talks about the rebuilding of the Indians on

Justice B.Hill notes on that Jake Dittler threw four hitless innings in a AA game on Tuesday. The Captains website notes that Ryan Garko has blasted three longballs this spring.

Jaret Wright, who took a line drive from Albert Pujols off his pitching hand on Sunday, tossed six shutout innings against the Indians yesterday to strengthen his hold on the fifth spot in the Braves rotation. Wright entered the game having allowed 15 hits in 9.2 innings this spring but held the Tribe to three hits and a walk while punching out five.

Simon Pond, who spent two years in the Indians farm system before being cut during spring training in 2002, is expected to head north with the Blue Jays when they break camp next week, according to the Toronto Sun. Pond is hitting .348 with three homeruns this spring.

Blake Stein (Pirates), Chris Coste (Brewers), Derek Thompson (Dodgers), Russ Branyan (Braves), Bill Selby (Cubs), Trenidad Hubbard (Cubs), Calvin Murray (Cubs), Chuck Smith (Braves), and Travis Driskill (Rockies) were sent down to the minors by their respective clubs.



March 25, 2004  

CIR UPDATE: Urbina close to one-year deal with Tigers  
Ugueth Urbina, whom the Indians worked out on Tuesday, is close to signing a one-year deal with the Tigers, according to The Indians were concerned that Urbina would not be ready to pitch until mid-May since, by his own admission, he had not picked up a baseball since the end of the World Series. More in the next CIR.

CIR UPDATE: Gonzalez making an impression in Colorado  
The Denver Post reports that rule 5 pick Luis Gonzalez is impressing Rockies manager Clint Hurdle in his bid to win a utility job with the Rockies. The article also notes that the Indians want Gonzalez back. In a strange twist, the odd-man out in Denver should Gonzalez make the Rox opening day roster could be former Indian Damian Jackson, whom the Mets are reportedly interested in. The Mets are also reportedly interested in John McDonald with the likely return being a reliever for the Tribe's bullpen. If Dan O'Dowd is successful in dealing Jackson to the Mets, the Tribe could be out Gonzalez as well as a potential suitor for one of the three middle infielders battling to head north with the big league club. It's interesting how these disparate situations all tie together.


March 23, 2004  

CIR UPDATE: Luis Gonzalez to be offered back?  
The Denver Post speculates that rule 5 pick Luis Gonzalez could be a victim of numbers in his bid to make the Rockies opening day roster thanks to as many as 8 or 10 non-roster players expected to break camp with the Rox. Gonzalez is hitting .313 (10-for-32) with a double and homer this spring. The paper also notes that the Rockies are shopping several players in order to clear 40-man roster spots, among them right-hander Denny Stark who's another name to add to the list of potential starters the Indians may take a look at (note that Stark just gave up 12 hits and 9 earned runs on Sunday). Just speculating here, but perhaps a deal could be made in exchange for the Indians allowing the Rockies to keep Gonzalez with the right to send him to the minor leagues. Just a thought, probably a poor one given the line above :-)

The Rocky Mountain News also comments on Gonzalez today. Coincidentally, Mike Berger, the scout quoted in the article, was just on raving about the talent that he saw in Indians camp this spring, particularly Grady Sizemore and Mike Aubrey.

CIR UPDATE: Tribe looking at Ranger pitching  
The Fort-Worth Star Telegram reports this morning that Indians scouts were in Ranger camp yesterday for last night's game against the Royals and they also "made their way to the back of the complex to get a close view of Glendon Rusch, Joaquin Benoit, and Ryan Drese throwing in the bullpen". The article goes on to note that "Rusch pitches Thursday against the Seattle Mariners in Peoria, and the Rangers aren't the only ones who noticed he's pitching much better than last year. The Indians are foremost among those...".

Rusch went 1-12 with a 6.42 ERA for the Brewers last year but posted a 3.12 ERA with a .227 BAA in July before a groin injury sidelined him for all but 20 innings the rest of the season. This spring, Rusch has a 4.22 ERA in 10.2 innings and held the Cubs to one run in four innings on St.Patrick's Day. Rusch may also have an escape clause in his contract allowing him to become a free-agent on March 31 if he's not going to make the Rangers opening day roster. Benoit is an interesting arm who is out of options. Drese we know about and it's likely the Twins (also mentioned in the article) were checking him out. More in the next CIR


Is the Indians bullpen about to get Uggy?

Free-agent closer Ugueth Urbina was in camp yesterday for a physical and Paul Hoynes reports in the Plain Dealer this morning that Urbina is expected to throw for the Tribe today and could sign a one-year contract as soon as Wednesday. Mark Shapiro maintains that the Indians are not close to discussing terms with Urbina and are simply doing their medical due diligence. He also indicated that his number one priority is finding a starting pitcher but, so far, the guys that are available aren't much better than what the Indians currently have.

Urbina would be a major upgrade for the Indians at the back of the bullpen. Last season, he saved 32 games for the Rangers and Marlins while posting a 2.81 ERA in 77 innings while limiting opposing hitters to just 56 hits (.204 OBA) with 78 punchouts. He was an instrumental factor down the stretch in helping the Marlins win their second World Series, dominating the late innings in a setup role during the regular season and then saving four games in the postseason for the Fish. In his career, Urbina has 206 saves with a 3.32 ERA and an impressive 661 strikeouts in 563.2 innings. He's particularly nasty against right-handers, holding them to a .193 BAA over the last three years.

So why is Urbina still on the free-agent list with less than two weeks until opening day?

Money, money, money, mo-ney. Mo-ney.

Urbina made $4.5 million last season which was a cut from the $6 million-plus he earned in 2002 and he has indicated that he is not interested in taking another pay cut this season. The Twins, Pirates, and Giants all sniffed around Urbina this off-season but their overtures were re-buffed when the dollars were not to Urbina's liking. He even went so far as to explore the possibility of pitching in Japan this season as well as saying that he'd just as soon sit out than play for less dollars than he felt he was worth.

So how can the budget-conscious Indians afford him? First, Urbina's asking price is going to have to drop and you have to think the Indians are expecting that to be the case with less than two weeks until opening day. Secondly, the Tribe may be somewhat awash in cash depending on how much insurance money they receive for Bob Wickman spending (at least) the first half of the season on the disabled list. Sheldon Ocker reports in the ABJ this morning that the Tribe could stand to receive as much as $2.3 million if Wickman misses 3-1/2 months and the insurance company covers 70% of his salary. That money would undoubtably be ear-marked towards Urbina.

(A quick note on insurance before we move on. It's confusing. I believe that most player insurance typically covers 70% (or so) of a contract as noted above but I've also heard that it takes 90 days of DL service before it kicks in and it may or may not be retro-active to the previous season, i.e, would the Indians be covered for the first-half of 2004 with Wickman since he spent all of 2003 on the DL. Let's hope so.)

The other reason Urbina remains on the free-agent list ties into money, or rather, one reason why teams may be reluctant to pay him his asking price is that Urbina has been viewed as a hot-head in the past. One thing the Indians will likely hold deep discussions about is Urbina's likely reaction (clubhouse impact) if he is not made the Indians closer. Although he pitched extremely well for the Marlins last year working as a setup man after being acquired from the Rangers, I seem to recall that he wasn't exactly happy about pitching in that role. Now that it's a new season and the immediate prospects of a playoff berth are not on the horizon, his attitude towards pitching in a non-closer role may not be amicable as it was last season.

Of course, it's highly possible the Indians could simply sign Urbina and make him the closer. David Riske would move back to dominating the 8th inning and the Indians would have a dynamic pair of arms to control the end of the game. Since Urbina has not pitched competitively since the end of the World Series it's highly unlikely that he would be ready for the start of the season, so Riske should open the year as the Indians closer (making all of us who have him cheap in rotisserie leagues very happy).

One final note on Urbina: Tom Hamilton stated yesterday on WTAM that, years ago, the Indians and Expos were close to a deal that would have sent Manny Ramirez and Jaret Wright to Montreal in exchange for Vladimir Guerrero and Urbina. He gave no indication of what year these talks took place or what killed them (and no one followed up on it which really surprised me) but....WOW!

So why has Mark Shapiro made finding another starting pitcher his number one priority? Check out these numbers...

Jake Westbrook: 6.75 ERA, 12 IP, 20 H
Jeff D'Amico: 5.25 ERA, 12 IP, 15 H
Jason Stanford: 5.25 ERA, 12 IP, 13 H, 5 BB, 4 K
Jason Bere: 7.36, 7.1 IP, 11 H
Chad Durbin: 2.45, 11 IP, 10 H, 3 BB, 9 K

Not exactly an impressive group to select two starters from, is it? Durbin has the most impressive numbers on the surface and threw four scoreless innings in his last outing but the Indians have been relatively quiet regarding Durbin this spring. Part of that could be that Durbin's velocity, which Chad himself admitted is around 87 mph right now, is not yet where it should be at this point in the spring. Yes, it's possible to have success in the big leagues throwing in the mid-80s but your off-speed stuff better be in the 70s so there's enough separation between the heater and the off-speed stuff to keep hitters off-balance. A few years ago, Charles Nagy had a pretty good early part of the spring throwing in the 80s but, eventually, the lack of velocity caught up to him. I wonder if that's the case (or fear) with Durbin. The same could be said about Bere, as well. While listening to one of his starts on the radio, one of the broadcasters commented on his velocity seemed down as well. Bere, incidentally, will pitch today against the Blue Jays.

As for the other guys, Jason Stanford reached his pitch count against the Reds yesterday in just three innings but managed to escape with only one run crossing the plate despite allowing three hits and three walks. Westbrook, depsite his recent rough outings, remains a favorite to win either a spot in the rotation or a long relief role. D'Amico continues to take his turn and could assert himself with a couple of solid outing these last two weeks.

In the outfield, Alex Escobar went 4-of-4 yesterday to raise his average to .385 (15-for-39). Coco Crisp is also red-hot as his average has climbed to .421 (16-for-38). He's also been caught stealing three times in seven attempts which is one of the skills the Indians are looking for Crisp to improve on this spring. With the continued strong play of Ricky Gutierrez in the infield (two hits yesterday, hitting .440, played three straight games with no ill effects), it's looking more and more likely that the Indians will carry two backup infielders and only one extra outfielder. Both Escobar and Crisp are doing their best to make this a very difficult decision for Eric Wedge and company.

Jason Davis threw six innings of one-run ball in a "B" game against the Tigers yesterday. Cliff Lee will throw in a AAA game against the Astros today as the Indians continue to use the "A" games to evaluate their 4th and 5th starter options.

The spring roster count was reduced by seven on Friday when the Tribe optioned Fernando Cabrera, Jhonny Peralta, Brandon Phillips, and Grady Sizemore to Buffalo and re-assigned Kazuhito Tadano, Victor Valencia, and Tim Young to minor league camp. The latter three are not on the 40-man roster and thus the re-assignment. Phillips and Peralta will split time at short with Phillips playing second and Peralta third when they're not at the six spot in the field. John Farrell said on Tribe Time that it potentially could be a 50/50 split and that they're likely to spend two-to-three games at a position before they switch to their other position. He also stated that he has no worries with either defensively at any position.

Other interesting notes from John Farrell on Tribe Time...

Kazuhito Tadano will stretch out to 75 pitches and work two, three, and four inning stretches. By late April/early May, the Indians anticipate that he will be ready to help out as a long man in the Indians bullpen. Now that is interesting, not only for how they plan on using him but also for how quickly they believe he could arrive. Remember that Tadano was a starter in Japan so the increased pitch count would not be foreign to his right arm. Farrell also noted that the game would not speed up on Tadano at the major league level, meaning that he can control the running game and field his position well, two important fundamentals that can often cause young pitchers trouble when they reach the show for the first time.

Fernando Cabrera will start the season in the bullpen unlike the previous two years when he started in the rotation to build arm strength and work on his secondary pitches. This spring, he showed better command of his fastball and made huge strides with his split and slider but further improvement is needed.

Mike Porzio was re-assigned to minor league camp. He pitched two innings this spring before being sidelined with a bum shoulder.

Adam Piatt left camp for personal reasons. Albeit as a longshot, he had been in the running for a backup outfielder position and was hitting .280 this spring with a homerun. The Indians are expected to make a formal decision on his status later this week. Aside from anything more serious, I can only speculate that he was unhappy with his lack of playing time and the prospects of being sent down to triple-A to start the season. If the Indians decide to keep five outfielders, Alex Escobar and Coco Crisp are the clear front-runners now (as if they weren't already, huh?).

The above series of moves leaves 44 players remaining in major league camp.

This is not good. Jim Ingraham reports in the Morning Journal that Matt Whitney has returned to Cleveland to have his left ankle examined by Indians doctors and may not report to Lake County until May or June. According to John Farrell, Whitney still is "having some issues with the ligaments in the ankle" and "it's affecting his mobility". Whitney missed all of last season after breaking his leg during spring training in a freak accident.

This is good, however. Peter Gammons notes that "one extremely credible baseball man compares Indians first baseman Michael Aubrey to Todd Helton". Sweet. Gammons also reports that "the consensus in the Cleveland camp was that Grady Sizemore was the Indians best player this spring." In his first big-league camp, Sizemore hit .409 (9-for-22) with four doubles and two triples.

Former Indians coach Joe Nossek resigned as the White Sox' bench coach due to health reasons. Nossek, a native of Cleveland and, (I believe) a current resident of Amherst, coached for the Tribe from 1977-1981 and was reportedly known throughout baseball for his ability to steal signs. He's expected to remain with the Sox organization but the exact position and duties have yet to be determined.

The Cardinals acquired Tony Womack from the Red Sox this weekend to add another competitor for the backup role that former Indian, and rule 5 selection, Hector Luna is attempting to win this spring. Womack is recovering from Tommy John surgery so it's possible he could start the season on the DL although he's expected to be ready to return to the field early in the season. I haven't seen the St.Louis papers comment on Luna's chances to make the opening day roster in regards to this transaction but, on the surface, this would appear to be a disadvantage to Luna.

The Indians lost one of their all-time top 100 when Gene Bearden passed away on Thursday at the age of 83. Bearden, as any long-time Tribe fan knows, was instrumental in the Indians last world championship in 1948 when he pitched the Tribe into the World Series with a steller performance against the Red Sox in a decisive playoff game after the two teams ended the regular season in a tie (note that this was when the AL and NL were one-team leagues). Joining a pitching staff anchored by future hall-of-famers Bob Feller and Bob Lemon, the knuckle-balling Bearden led the American League in ERA (2.43) and the Indians in wins (20) as a rookie in that magical summer of '48. Amazingly enough, however, Bearden only won 25 more games in his major league career and lasted just one and a half more seasons in Cleveland before he was released in the summer of 1950 after posting a 6.15 ERA in 14 appearances for the Indians. Claimed off waivers by the Washington Senators, Bearden would later pitch for the Tigers, St.Louis Browns, and the White Sox before his career came to an end in 1953. While the career numbers are not overly impressive (45-38, 3.96), Bearden turned in one of the greatest single-season and single-game performances in Indians history and his name will forever live in Indians lore.

I mentioned Eric Chavez' contract extension in the last report and here's another tidbit from the deal. The Indians are one of eight teams, including the Marlins, Brewers, Twins, Expos, Mets, Devil Rays, and Blue Jays, that Chavez cannot be traded to without his permission. I wonder what he (or his agent) have against the Indians, Jacobs Field, or both?

Mike Bacsik was sent down by the Rangers, Jose Santiago by the White Sox, John Gall by the Cardinals, and Aaron Myette by the Reds.

Mark McLemore will be out six-to-eight weeks after tearing cartiledge in his right knee in Orioles camp.

Nick Bierbrodt signed with the Rangers after he refused assignment to the minor leagues by the Red Sox.

My brackets are in shambles. I'm still dancing but it's more like Elaine Benes than Wade Robson or The Wiggles (thanks James and Kelley).


March 19, 2004  

CIR UPDATE: Indians send down seven  
The Indians sent down seven players today by optioning Fernando Cabrera, Jhonny Peralta, Brandon Phillips, and Grady Sizemore to Buffalo and re-assigning Kazuhito Tadano, Valencia, and Tim Young to minor league camp. Note that the latter three are not on the 40-man roster. The cuts leave 46 players remaining in the major league camp. More in the next CIR.


Did I mention something in the last report about how things have been pretty quiet in camp in regards to injuries and no news is good news? I need to learn to keep my mouth shut.

Bob Wickman will miss the first half of the season after an MRI revealed that he has a moderate sprain of the ulnar collateral ligament in the same elbow that underwent Tommy John surgery in December of 2002 and forced him to sit out all of 2003. Up until this point, Wickman's recovery and rehab from that operation had gone without a hitch but that changed on Monday when he felt soreness after throwing an inning in a simulated game. The Indians initially pronounced it as "general soreness" but you had to think something was up when they immediately scheduled an MRI for the next day. It will be four to six weeks before Wick starts throwing a baseball and then he'll begin a six week throwing program which will eventually lead to a rehab assignment in the minor leagues. If all goes well, the right-hander could find himself back in the Indians bullpen sometime around the All-Star Break. Given Wickman's age that may be optimistic and Tribe trainer Lonnie Soloff is quoted in the papers as saying that this injury should be viewed as a setback, it's not a common injury for players who have undergone Tommy John surgery, and that his age may have played a role in this. The direct quote was "I think what you will see is a majority of those surgeries are being done on younger pitchers, and there is a larger population outcome for older throwers out there." By age, I'll take that to mean years of wear and tear on the elbow. Wickman appeared in one "A" game for the Indians this spring, allowing three runs in one inning of work.

David Riske is the Indians new closer, returning to the role in which he saved seven straight games late last season. Riske has picked this spring up right where he left off, tossing six scoreless innings and punching out five in five appearances. I have no doubts that he's going to be just fine as the Indians new main man in the 'pen.

Where Wickman's injury will have the biggest impact is in the shuffling behind Riske. While it's likely just going to be everyone moving up one spot (or actual inning where used), we're now looking at Jose Jimenez and Scott Stewart as the primary setup men with Rafael Betancourt and Jack Cressend in support. Both were officially declared "on the team" yesterday by Mark Shapiro with the additional note that Betancourt will work in the later innings and Cressend will profile more towards a middle relief role. I'm not completely sold on either Jimenez or Stewart (or Betancourt or Cressend for that matter) but out of those four, two names should emerge to secure the 7th and 8th innings.

As for the final two spots, one will likely go to either Jake Westbrook or Chad Durbin to serve as long-relief and there is now an open competition amongst Luther Hackman, Dave Lee, Cliff Bartosh, Matt White (see below), Giovanni Carrara, and perhaps even Fernando Cabrera and Kazuhito Tadano for that final spot. Hackman has pitched the strongest this spring, tossing six scoreless innings with five strikeouts and just one walk. Dave Lee is also unscored upon in four frames but he's also walked four. The southpawedness of Cliff Bartosh may give him the edge should the Tribe elect to carry two left-handers but he's hardly impressed this spring, allowing four runs in 5.1 innings (6.75) and that does not include the two unearned runs that crossed the plate during his 1.2 innings on the mound yesterday. If I'm a betting man, Hackman's the choice but I would definitely not rule out a trade or waiver wire pick up and I would not be surprised if they run a bunch of people through this spot early in the season until they find someone who sticks (like last year when we went through Jose Santiago, Chad Paronto, Dan Miceli, etc.).

In the overall scheme of things, this is obviously a pretty big blow to the bullpen, not to mention the loss of a potentially valuable trading chip this summer. I'd be much more concerned, however, if we we were talking about CC Sabathia, Jason Davis, or Cliff Lee given the lack of depth behind the rotation big three (which we'll discuss in the next report). While I'm still not necessarily sold on Jimenez or Stewart, the Indians do have a lot of options in the 'pen and I'm fairly confident that four or five horses will eventually emerge and form a solid group.

Speaking of a trade, the New York Post reports this morning that Mets are looking at the Indians roster for possible middle infield help. Since only two (and perhaps only one) of John McDonald, Lou Merloni, and Chris Clapinski will break camp with the big league camp, the paper speculates that the Mets may be willing to part with some of their relief depth for one of the above. Some names to remember (as they are very forgettable) are Dan Wheeler, lefty Pedro Feliciano (lefty), and Ricky Bottalico (whom the Indians have shown interest in previously). I know you John McDonald fans are going to cringe reading that that's all the scrappy defensive whiz may bring in trade but it's not exactly a seller's market when you're shopping guys with a .577 career OPS.

(If you're wondering why I left Ricky Gutierrez off the above list it's because his contract would be extremely difficult to move in such a minor swap, let alone a larger swap. I'm sure the Mets would love to try and dump Roger Cedeno's contract (2 years, $10 million) on us in exchange for Gutierrez but I don't see that happening, do you?)

One name who might attract a little interest if the Indians start scouring the waiver wire for help is right-hander Mike Crudale who was released by the Brewers this week. Crudale, 27, struggled mightely this spring, posting a 24.00 ERA (8 R in 3 IP) for the Brue Crue in Arizona, but he has a 2.13 career ERA in 71 big league innings and works with a slider and low-90s fastball. Brewers GM Bob Melvin was quoted in the papers as saying that Crudale fell behind several other pitchers in camp and was not going to make the big league roster. Milwaukee also saved themselves a little coinage by cutting Crudale on Tuesday which was the last day a major league team could release a player and only be responsible for one-sixth of their 2004 salary.

Don't forget about Bob Howry and the impact he could bring to the bullpen if healthy.

Back in Winter Haven, the Indians reduced the spring training roster by eight by optioning Ivan Ochoa to Kinston, Mariano Gomez and Corey Smith to Akron, Francisco Cruceta and Jeremy Guthrie to Buffalo, and re-assigning Mike Aubrey, Kyle Denney, and Dave Wallace to minor league camp. None of the above were expected to contend for big league jobs this year, although that will change next spring for a few of these guys. Perhaps the biggest surprise in this group was that Ivan Ochoa was optioned to Kinston where it appears he will repeat the high-A level, at least to start the season. With Ochoa in Kinston, this would appear to open a spot in Akron for rule 5 pick Hector Luna should he be returned from the Cardinals this spring and should he clear waivers and should he not elect to become a free-agent (if he has that right) and if the Indians should want him back. Whew. If Luna does not return to the organization, perhaps Eider Torres will move up a level and across the bag or the Aeros will use a variety of utility players at short until Ochoa is ready for Akron. It will be interesting to see how this all plays out.

Left-hander Mike Porzio, a long-shot for a long-relief role, has been temporarily shut down with shoulder tendinitis. He had pitched two scoreless innings this spring.

Mark Wohlers will not pitch at all in 2004 after he informed the Indians that he has decided to sit out 2004 for undisclosed personal reasons. Wohlers, recovering from elbow surgery, was not expected to be ready to pitch until later in the summer so he didn't figure heavily into the Indians plans this year. Although the Indians say this is not the case, you have to wonder if this is it for Wohlers.

Jim Ingraham is very excited about a future Indians outfield of Jody Gerut, Alex Escobar, and Grady Sizemore. It's interesting that Milton Bradley was not included in that mix.

The South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported on Sunday that the Marlins are trying to acquire Cubs right-hander Juan Cruz with the cost reportedly being only a lightly regarded double-A shortstop in return. If accurate, this would be an absolute steal for the Marlins but both sides are denying the reports. Cruz throws in the mid-90s and was in line to be the Cubs fifth starter until they signed Greg Maddux late in the offseason. He does have some command problems (so he may profile best as a reliever, at least until he can harness those command issues) but I would love to see the Indians strike a deal with the Cubs and make Cruz the fifth starter until he pitches himself out of the role.

Another starting pitcher who has been the subject of trade rumors this spring is Pirates right-hander Kris Benson, mostly in part due to the $6.1 million he is scheduled to earn this season. If you're thinking Benson might make a nice addition to the Indians rotation, perhaps in a salary swap involving Matt Lawton, you may be right. He's certainly an interesting alternative to the current contenders for the last spot in the rotation but there's a couple of things preventing such a deal from happening. The Pirates are already commited to Raul Mondesi and prospects Jason Bay and Tike Redman in their outfield with fellow prospect JJ Davis waiting in the wings. Benson will also be a free-agent at the end of the season so the Indians would likely have to absorb some of Lawton's 2005 salary to placate the Pirates bottom line. I'm also not entirely certain that Benson's shoulder is fully healthy. It's an interesting thought but one that is not likely to happen.

Matt White was claimed off waivers yesterday by the Indians and added to the 40-man roster. Billy Traber was moved to the 60-day disabled list to make room for White. As we've talked about previously, White was selected from the Indians organization as a Rule 5 pick by Colorado this past December. Under the normal rule 5 process, White would clear waivers and then be offered back to the Indians for $25,000 (half of the Rule 5 selection price) who would then outright him back to the minor leagues. It's interesting that this appears to be a straight waiver claim and that White was added to the 40-man roster by the Indians. If this was a normal Rule 5 return, I suspect it would have looked something like this in the transactions column: "Atlanta: re-acquired pitcher Alec Zumwalt from the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and sent him outright to Richmond". Note that this is an actual transaction from earlier this week. What this leads me to believe is that our speculation that White can refuse assignment since this would be the second time he would be assigned (removed from the 40-man roster) and become a free-agent is accurate. The Indians made a pre-emptive waiver claim on him and added him to the 40 so they can take a look at him over the last two weeks of camp before making a decision on his roster status. He could make the big league roster, he could remain on the 40 and simply be optioned to Buffalo, he could agree to not become a free-agent and report to Buffalo if the Indians designate him for assignment and he clears waivers, or the Indians could decide he is not 40-worthy and let him become a free-agent once designated if that is his desire. What's important to note is that, if accurate, Hector Luna, who is a better prospect, would fall into the same situation if placed on waivers by the Cardinals. I should also note that White now takes up a roster spot that could be needed to add a non-roster player who makes the opening day roster (Lou Merloni, Jason Bere, etc) to the 40.

Speaking of Luna, he had a nice day at the plate yesterday, going 2-for-4 with a homerun. He's now hitting .233 for the spring and the St.Louis Post-Dispatch reports that Tony LaRussa is becoming increasingly smitten with Luna and hints that the Cards may want to try and work out a deal with the Indians to keep Luna while being able to send him down to the minor leagues.

In other Rule 5 news, Willy Taveras is learning a new bunting technique from Jimy Williams in Houston.

Here's another potential arm for the bullpen, although we're talking of the 2005 variety. The Indians are reportedly in the hunt, along with the Pirates and Red Sox, for free-agent left-hander Scott Sauerbeck who is expected to miss all of this year with a bum shoulder. Sauerbeck pitched in 79 games last season for the Pirates and Red Sox and specializes as a LOOGY (Lefty One Out GuY), holding lefties to a .203 BA and .603 OPS over the past three seasons. A minor league contract with some sort of Indians control for 2005 (or assurance he would stick with the organization once healed) would likely be offered.

The future home of the Indians spring training operations remains very much up in the air with two local papers reporting two separate scenarios on Sunday. Sheldon Ocker noted in the ABJ that the Indians and Disney are seriously negotiating to bring the Tribe to Orlando to share the Braves complex at the Wide World of Sports facility. On the other hand, Andy Call noted in the Canton Repository that a recently approved plan by the Florida House of Representatives in which the city of Winter Haven would receive at least $15 million to help the city renovate their existing facilities or construct new ones greatly improves the odds that the Tribe will remain in Winter Haven. A new facility is the Indians preference with the city also preferring a new facility so they can sell the current Chain of Lakes site to a developer. Stay tuned.

Omar Vizquel told ESPN Dream Job that he would like to try managing when his playing days are over. Much like the Dream Jobbers did, I'm going to gloss over that piece of information and instead offer my television critic's opinion of Dream Job: Interesting concept, decent execution, horrible casting. Out of the twelve finalists, only one is remotely close to having what it takes to be a Sportscenter anchor. If Aaron Levine is not the chosen one, it'll be the biggest upset since Shakespeare in Love beat out Saving Private Ryan for best picture (hey to Bruce Drennan).

Several people have e-mailed me with questions regarding how and why Mike Hargrove is back in the Winter Haven with the Indians. Coincidentally enough, the Baltimore Sun ran an article yesterday on the former Orioles skipper in which they noted that, as a senior advisor, Grover helps out the coaches at the morning practives, conducted a two-day seminar for the team's minor league staff, scouted a few players for the June draft, and watches the exhibition games in uniform a few seats down from Eric Wedge.

In a strange twist, the Borowitz Report is reporting that "Major League Baseball reversed its longstanding anti-steroid policy today, permitting the Detroit Tigers to take the performance-enhancing drugs for the duration of the 2004 baseball season." Looks like the Tribe may have some additional competition in the AL Central this year.

Eric Chavez signed a 6-year, $66 million contract extension with the A's this week thus removing him from the free-agent market this off-season. While the Indians likely would have been long-shots to sign the gold-glove third basemen, his presence in the market may have served to push another player down to the Indians price range, which is important to note given that the Tribe is expected to have between $15 and $20 million to spend this off-season.

Andrew Lorraine signed a minor league contract with the Twins. Jesse Levis was re-assigned to minor league camp by the Mets. Luis Garcia was sent down by the D-Backs and Jeff Baker was sent down by the Rockies. David Cortes was re-assigned by the Tigers. Mark Budzinski was re-assigned by the Phillies. Ryan Church was optioned to triple-A by the Expos.

Belated congratulations to and the A.Word.A.Day mailing list which celebrated their tenth anniversary on March 14. There is truly no better source to discover the magic of words.

Are you still dancing? I had Manhattan and Nevada yesterday but still missed on four others. No sweet 16 and beyond losers, however, and that's always the key.


March 18, 2004  

CIR UPDATE: Wickman to Miss First Half  
The results of Bob Wickman's MRI are in and they are not good. Wick has a moderate sprain of his ulnar collateral ligament and he's expected to miss the first half of the season. According to Justice B.Hill on, Wickman will "go four to six weeks without throwing a baseball and then he'll enter a six-week throwing program. He'll do rehab work in the minors before returning to the Indians, if all goes well, around the All-Star break." David Riske would seem the likely candidate to assume the closer role. More in the next CIR.


March 16, 2004  

CIR UPDATE: Indians off today  
The Tribe has a rare off-day today in Florida. They'll return to action tomorrow against the BoSox.


March 15, 2004  

CIR UPDATE: Indians send 8 to minors  
The Indians reduced the spring training roster by eight today by optioning Ivan Ochoa to Kinston, Mariano Gomez and Corey Smith to Akron, Francisco Cruceta and Jeremy Guthrie to Buffalo, and re-assigning Mike Aubrey, Kyle Denney, and Dave Wallace to minor league camp. More in the next CIR.


March 13, 2004  

CIR UPDATE: Wohlers to miss all of 2004  
The Indians announced that Mark Wohlers will sit out all of 2004 due to personal reasons. The right-hander had been expected to miss at least half the season due to an elbow injury.


No news is good news for the Indians this time of spring. Sure, you always like to hear about the hot rookie (Grady Sizemore, hitting .412 with three doubles) or the potential breakout bat (Travis Hafner, hitting .500 with three longballs) but when you look around baseball and see the Phillies talking about Jim Thome's finger, the Padres talking about Phil Nevin's shoulder, the Yankees talking about Bernie Williams and Gary Sheffield's injuries, and the Dodgers talking about prized prospect Greg Miller going under the knife for arthroscopic surgery on his shoulder, well, I'm glad things have been pretty quiet in Winter Haven.

Things should start to pick up this week, though, as the starters pitch counts are extended and they start working four and five innings per outing. Since that means a reduction in the number of available relief innings, we should see a roster cut in the next couple of days to thin out the pitching and catching ranks a little. The position players will also start to play further into games, meaning more at-bats and more opportunities for the bubble players to play their way on or off the roster. In short, we're starting to get to the at-bats and innings that really mean something.

The biggest news over the last couple of days was the official announcement that Ryan Ludwick will not be ready for opening day and will start the season in extended spring training. His exact timetable for returning to the big leagues has not been announced but since he will not have a regular spring training, we'll probably see him spend a minimum of two-to-three weeks in extended spring, followed by a rehab assignment in the minor leagues, and then, depending on available roster spots on the big league roster, he'll either rejoin the Indians or head to Buffalo. This is just speculation but I wouldn't think we'll see Ludwick ready to play in the big leagues until sometime in mid-May at the earliest. But again, that's just me playing with the dates and is not based on any kind of facts.

Ludwick's absence dramatically increases the already high odds that Alex Escobar will start the season in the major leagues and Escobar is certainly doing nothing to hurt himself earning a berth outright by hitting .412 in 17 at-bats this spring. I'd pretty much consider Escobar a lock (barring injury) at this point so the real question becomes will the Indians carry a fifth outfielder or a second middle infielder for that final spot? Here's a quick breakdown: 13 position players will be carried on the roster and spots are already locked up by Victor Martinez and Josh Bard behind the plate, Travis Hafner, Ben Broussard, Ronnie Belliard, Omar Vizquel, Casey Blake, and a utility infielder to determined in the infield, and Milton Bradley, Jody Gerut, Matt Lawton, and Escobar in the outfield which leaves only one spot open for an additional outfielder or infielder.

Up the middle, Johnny Mac had a great day at the plate yesterday, going 3-for-3 and spanking a double off the wall in left-center. He's now hitting .333 (5-for-15) for the spring. Ricky Gutierrez finally made an out but he's still hitting .833 (5-for-6) in limited duty. Lou Merloni has struggled since his opening weekend homeruns and is hitting just .111 (1-for-9) in "A" games. And finally, Chris Clapinski, who we really haven't talked much about in regards to heading north with the big league club is hitting .364 (4-for-11) with two doubles. As always, Gutierrez is the "X Factor". If he's healthy, he's on the roster with the other three fighting for that last spot.

Speaking of Gutierrez, Sports Weekly noted that the Indians are willing to eat some of his contract (along with Matt Lawton's) in a trade. Nothing too surprising there and the rag didn't list any interested teams.

In the outfield, Coco Crisp is raking at a .421 clip (8-for-19) with three doubles, a triple, and three stolen bases while Adam Piatt is hitting .294. Crisp has options left and it's doubtful that he would start ahead of Bradley, Gerut, or Lawton provided those three are healthy and, in the case of Lawton, playing well, so he may be the odd man out just to get him at-bats in Buffalo rather than have him sit on the bench as the fifth outfielder. Escobar also profiles better as the fourth outfielder since he can play all three outfield positions. Continuing to hit .400 would do a lot to change that kind of thinking however.

On the mound, Cliff Lee made his first appearance of the spring, surrendering a homerun in one inning of work. Despite his late start, by the end of spring training Lee is expected to be only 10 pitches (in terms of pitch count) behind the other starters. Chad Durbin tossed three innings of one-hit ball. Jeff D'Amico tossed two scoreless frames before allowing two runs (one earned) in three innings while Jason Stanford gave up two runs in three innings yesterday against the D-Rays. By the end of this week, Jake Westbrook should have two more starts under his belt and if he pitches well, I could see him officially locking up the fourth spot in the rotation. That would leave D'Amico, Bere, Stanford, and Durbin fighting for one spot. With the first three not candidates for a long relief role, Durbin would then likely become the odds-on favorite to break camp as the long man in the bullpen if he can put together a couple more good outings.

Kazuhito Tadano made his spring debut by tossing a scoreless inning against the Tigers, allowing a walk and fanning one. By the way, the spell checker in Microsoft Word does not suggest "Kazuhito Tadano, who appeared in a gay pornographic movie in Japan" when you type his name in that application. I had thought that might be the case given that's how his name appears in every article in which he is mentioned (and usually more than once). We know what he did, he made his peace, let's move on and let the kid pitch.

Luther Hackman ran his scoreless inning streak to five by tossing two scoreless frames against the Devil Rays yesterday. Hackman has now permitted just two hits while punching out five this spring. He's positioning himself well should an injury occur among the big four of the bullpen (Wickman, Riske, Jimenez, Stewart) or one of the two favorites for the final two spots, Rafael Betancourt (0.00 ERA in 4 IP, 4K) and Jack Cressend (13.50 ERA in 2.2 IP) pitch themselves off the roster. Hackman could also factor in as the long-man in the bullpen depending on what Chad Durbin does the rest of the month. Another longshot, David Lee, has not allowed a hit in three innings.

Among the five Rule 5 draftees, Hector Luna has received the longest look this spring, hitting .182 in 22 at-bats with a double and stolen base as he battles Bo Hart and Brent Butler for a utility role in St.Louis. Aside from his natural shortstop position, Luna has also played third for Tony LaRussa and I'm going to speculate that he's also played a little second as well given that that's the position with the most uncertainty in the Cards infield. The Indians, incidentally, despite the Rule 5 procedures which dictate that the Cardinals have to offer him back to the Indians if he clears waivers may not have an opportunity to get Luna back this spring. Since he was selected in the Rule 5 draft last year, subsequently cleared waivers and assigned to the minor leagues by the Indians, if/when he goes through that same process again this spring, Luna could have the right to refuse assignment (which is the right of any player who has been designated more than once in their career) and become a free-agent. I'm not sure if the Rule 5 process would somehow supersede that process but the more I think about it, the more I doubt it. Therefore, given the above and the Indians middle infield depth in the upper levels of the system, I wouldn't be surprised to see the Indians and Cardinals work out a minor deal towards the end of spring allowing the Cards to keep Luna and bringing the Tribe a lower-level prospect in return. The Cardinals would get around the above problem by keeping him on the 40-man roster and optioning him to the minor leagues.

In Houston, Wily Taveras has a double in nine at-bats (.111) as he battles for a reserve outfield role. Luis Gonzalez is hitting .333 (4-for-12) for the Rockies. Lino Urdaneta has allowed one run in three innings for the Tigers that includes (per the Tigers official website) an "emphatic conversation" on the mound with Pudge Rodriguez while he was in the process of walking the bases loaded against the Yankees. Matt White was bothered by a sore forearm early in camp but made his spring debut on Wednesday, allowing three runs in one inning (sounds like last spring). As a rule 5 draftee last year, White also falls into the same thought process as Luna in regards to whether or not the Indians will have a chance to bring him back to the organization.

Paul Rigdon was assigned to minor league camp by the Red Sox. Chad Paronto was sent to the minors by the Cardinals.

Andy Call reports in the Canton Repository that the city of Cleveland is considering building a 4,000 seat stadium in the exact same spot as League Park. The design would stay true to League Park's original dimensions, including its asymmertical outfield and would also include a museum and meeting center that would double as loges. $8-12 million is needed for construction and the city will be looking at private donors to raise the necessary funds. Sounds cool, but who would use it?

In today's action, Jason Bere will start against the Tigers while Kyle Denney gets the nod against the Expos in split-squad action.

I gotta run. I just heard "Hey Kelley, you wanna help me hide these popsicles so Daddy can't find them" coming from the kitchen. See you Monday!


March 10, 2004  

CP UPDATE: What the?  
Alright, this is not Indians or baseball related, but what the heck is this all about? Cedar Point is buying Geauga Lake (a.k.a. Six Flags Worlds of Adventure)? That sure came out of the blue. If anyone can clean up that park, though, it's Cedar Fair so I'm all for it because SFWOA was a dump. The best thing is that they're apparantly going back to the old Geauga Lake name. Sweet.


Well, you can't win them all, can you?

While we all know the answer to that question, it was answered officially for the final time this spring as the Indians became the last team to lose an exhibtion game as they were blown out by the Astros 14-3 in Winter Haven.

Jake Westbrook started for the Tribe and was the first starter to work three innings this spring as he was touched for two runs on four hits. In five innings this spring, Westbrook has allowed three earned runs. His competition for the final two spots in the rotation did not fare much better in earlier outings as Chad Durbin and Jeff D'Amico both gave up two runs in their two innings of work while Jason Stanford gave up three runs in two frames. Jason Bere managed to toss two scoreless innings on Monday but he had to strand five baserunners in order to escape unharmed. No one will likely pitch themselves out of the competition in their first two starts although it's probable that a certain pecking order will develop. The real competition begins in mid-March when their outings are extended and they start to face more major league hitters on successive trips through the lineup.

In the bullpen, Bob Wickman has tossed two scoreless and, more importantly, pain-free innings. Rafael Betancourt has punched out four in three scoreless innings while Luther Hackman has also worked three scoreless frames. Scott Stewart recorded only two outs and was pounded for five runs yesterday by the 'stros. Longshot Matt Miller didn't help his cause as he was reached for five runs also yesterday although they were all unearned. He still needs to close things out regardless of whether the ensuing runs are earned or not.

Lou Merloni has gotten off to a hot start in the utility infielder competition, blasting a homerun on Friday with another in a "B" game over the weekend. Ricky Gutierrez is 3-for-3 and has no shown problems with his conditioning.

In the outfield, the big news has been the revelation that Ryan Ludwick's recovery from off-season knee surgery has been much slower than expected and that it's now unlikely that Ludwick will be ready for opening day. Yesterday, it was disclosed that Ludwick has tendonitis and an MRI may be necessary to check for structural damage. Alex Escobar has seized the opportunity by going 6-for-10 (.600) to start the spring. Adam Piatt has also displayed some early spring power, going 4-for-9 (.444) with a homer and double. Piatt is an interesting guy to keep an eye on because he's right-handed power and can play first and the outfield corners. Sounds a lot like Ludwick, huh? Depending on what happens in the middle infield (i.e., how many backup infielders Eric Wedge decides to keep) and how Coco Crisp performs, Piatt could find himself with an opportunity to head north with the Tribe if he keeps hitting.

Among the prospects, neither Grady Sizemore or Corey Smith will break camp with the big league club but both have gotten off to impressive starts. Smith walked twice on Saturday, belted two homers on Sunday (a salami in the "A" game and a three-run jack in the "B" game), singled on Monday, and doubled yesterday. Sizemore also walked twice on Saturday, tripled on Sunday, and has impressed with his maturity and overall skills. Luke Scott and Nathan Panther even got into the mix yesterday with a single apiece.

Mark Shapiro told Terry Pluto that Jody Gerut's shoulder is "close to 100 percent" and that he should be back in the outfield within a week. The GM went on to add that "if this were the regular season, he'd be out there right now". Gerut returned to the lineup yesterday as the DH and banged out two hits. That's especially good news considering the hot start of the Indians primary designated hitter, Travis Hafner, who has now blasted three longballs and is hitting .636 (7-for-11). If Gerut can't go in the outfield, he'd likely start the season at DH, forcing Hafner to the bench or to first (and Ben Broussard to the bench). Gerut, incidentally, was also the only Indian to have his contract renewed after the Indians turned down his agent's attempt at negotiating a long-term contract. With some players you wonder if that will affect his performance on the field but I'm not so worried about that with Gerut.

Milton Bradley made his first appearance of the spring yesterday, making a diving catch in center and going hitless in two trips to the plate. He had sat out the first four games with a strained abdominal muscle.

Kazuhito Tadano had two wisdom teeth removed but is not expected to miss any time in camp. It's been a tough offseason for the rookie as he's still regaining strength that was sapped from a nasty bout with the flu this winter. He could make his first appearance in a game this Wednesday.

Brian Tallet suffered a "setback" on Monday, according to Andy Call of the Canton Repository, as he continues to recover from off-season Tommy John surgery. Tallet was scheduled to throw off a mound for the first time next week but that will now be pushed back a week after he reported soreness in the elbow. Depending on his recovery, it's possible that Tallet could head out on a rehab assignment in June and be ready for the major leagues late in the summer. A lot of things will have to go right for that to happen so I wouldn't count on seeing him in the big leagues this season. Just being able to throw effectively without pain in triple-A for an extended stretch this summer would make this season a success for Tallet in my book.

Bobby Howry was expected to report to camp on Tuesday, according to Justice B.Hill of, after spending the early part of spring training at home in Arizona recovering from elbow surgery. Howry was expected to compete for a spot in the major league bullpen but he now seems a likely candidate to start the season in the minors as he builds up arm strength. If healthy, I think Howry can be an impact arm in the 'pen in the second half.

Brad Snyder was re-assigned to minor league camp. He's been battling a viral infection in his eye that has kept him out of action since the start of camp.

Kevin Orie, recovering from two shoulder operations, was deemed not ready to play and was sent home to Pittsburgh.

Baseball America reports in their minor league transactions that the Indians have signed veteran right-handed pitchers Matt DeWitt and Robert Ellis to minor league contracts. DeWitt is the younger of the two at age 26 and the Indians would be his fourth organization after having previously pitched for the Cardinals, Blue Jays, and Padres. He was injured in 2002 (strained right shoulder) while pitching for the Padres and I suspect the shoulder is the reason that he sat out all of last season (at least I couldn't find any stats for him for 2003). DeWitt was once ranked as the 10th best prospect in the Cardinals season (1999 by BA) and he has a career 4.95 ERA in 40 major league innings. For the 33-year old Ellis, the Indians will be the 10th organization he has played for during his 14-year career. He most recently pitched in the big leagues with Texas last year, getting hammered to the tune of a 8.35 ERA in four starts. In 118 major league innings, Ellis has a 7-7 record with a 6.03 ERA. They will both likely compete for a spot on the Bisons pitching staff.

The Indians also announced the signing of former Tribe pitcher Roy Smith to a minor league contract. Smith spent last season in the Oakland system, going 7-4 with a 5.23 ERA in 72 innings at triple-A Sacramento, after being sold to the A's last November to free up a spot on the Tribe's 40-man roster. Smith is a side-armer who was signed by the Indians out of the independent leagues after the 1999 season. He pitched well for Kinston and Akron in 2000 and then really burst onto the scene in 2001 by posting a 2.19 ERA and 1.189 WHIP at Buffalo in 74 innings. Mixed in with those numbers were a less scintillating 6.06 ERA accumulated at the big league level in 16-1/3 innings. Smith did not fare as well in 2002, posting a decent 3.84 ERA in 70-1/3 innings in triple-A but a rough start limited to just 6 innings of September mop-up duty with the Tribe. To hear the Indians tell it, Smith's problems in the big leagues lied in the fact that his velocity would sit in the low 90s in Buffalo but only 87-88 mph when promoted to the big leagues. When he was sent back to triple-A, he would start throwing in the low 90s again. He'll likely compete for a spot on the Bisons roster.

Lee May Jr was hired as the hitting coach for Burlington. He'll replace Wayne Kirby who was promoted to Kinston after Lou Frazier (sorry Daber) was hired by the Red Sox to serve as their outfield/baserunning coordinator. May Jr played nine seasons professionally in the Mets and Royals organizations and is the son of former All-Star Lee May.

Jim Thome broke the middle finger on his right hand during fielding drills last week but is expected to be ready for opening day. It had been feared that surgery was going to be required and that Thome would have been out for four-to-six weeks but it looks like he'll now be ready to help ring in the Phillies new ballpark.

Paul Hoynes noted in the PD last week that Greg LaRocca has signed to play in Japan with the Hiroshima Carp this season. Such a move had been speculated as a possibility late last year but this is the first time I've seen an official notice in print.

John Hart has been diagnosed with skin cancer. He's had a couple of procedures done and is not expected to miss any work. Here's hoping for a speedy recovery for the former Indians GM.

Karim Garcia and Shane Spencer could face charges after they were involved in some kind of altercation with a pizza delivery man last week. Both players are in camp with the Mets battling for the right-field job in a scene reminiscent of Winter Haven 2003. Garcia, don't forget, was also involved in the bullpen incident at Fenway Pahk last October during the ALCS.

Tyler Houston never showed up for his physical and was released by the Yankees. I guess he was upset the Yanks traded for A-Rod to play third.

Mark Watson signed a minor league contract with the Reds. Jeff Juden (he's still around?) did the same with the Orioles.

It was great listening to the Tribe on the radio this weekend until I got this from the back seat: "Daddy, can you turn on music so I can raise the roof?" (with accompanying hand gesture).

Aeros tickets are now on-sale and you can order on-line at The Aeros have also partnered up with four local businesses to offer free tickets to games on April 12, May 6, June 1, and September 2. Check it out, you can't beat the price!

Tribe single-game tixs are also on-sale at as well as all the other traditional outlets. The Indians are also opening Jacobs Field each Saturday in March from 10 AM to 3 PM for prospective season-ticket buyers to scout out their seats. While you're down there, check out the progress on the new scoreboard.

This is completely non-baseball related but here's two free newsletters that come highly recommended. The Harrow Technology Report covers the convergence of computing, communications, content, telecommunications, and the physical and medical sciences and never leaves me anything but fascinated with what the future may have in store for us. Future Brief looks at that same convergence along with the equally rapidly accelerating changes in society and politics. One message last week provoided links to articles on the Impact of Climate Change on National Security, Flu Virus experimentation, RFID tags, and North Korea Nuclear Weapons. Fascinating stuff, which kind of makes you put a 14-3 exhibition loss to Houston in perspective :-).

Tim Couch, in my opinion, has gotten a bit of a bad rap over the past five years but I agree that it was time for a change. I don't mind signing Jeff Garcia but I'm more concerned with what Berea is going to do with the supporting cast around him. I also think that this signing hints at Ron Wolf targeting a quarterback for the Browns to draft in the 3rd or 4th round this year to groom as Garcia's eventual successor. Wolf, if you remember, drafted Aaron Brooks, Mark Brunell, and Matt Hasselback, and traded for Brett Favre when he was with the Packers. If I can throw out a couple of names, how about Cody Pickett from Washington or Matt Schaub from Virginia?

The Tribe plays two today with CC Sabathia starting against the Tigers in Lakeland and Cliff Lee starting against the Expos in Viera. Kazuhito Tadano is expected to make his spring debut in the Tigers game.


March 09, 2004  

CIR UPDATE: game chat has a running game chat that includes continuous live updates from Winter Haven. Not the easiest way to follow the action but it's a nice feature when there's no radio. The Tribe is down 3-0 in the 4th (I believe) and Alex Escobar just gunned someone down at third.

CIR UPDATE: Indians move to 4-0  
The Tribe remained unbeaten in grapefruit league play with a 7-3 victory over the Braves yesterday. Among the highlights...

-- Jason Bere tossed two scoreless innings but gave up four hits and a walk in the process. Aside from Jake Westbrook, none of the candidates (Bere, Stanford, Durbin, D'Amico) for the final two spots in the rotation were particularly impressive in their first outings. Westbrook starts today against the Astros.

-- Rafael Betancourt punched out three in two innings of one-hit relief.

-- Ricky Gutierrez went 2-for-2 with a walk while playing third base

-- Coco Crisp doubled, singled, and stole a base.

-- Grady Sizemore tripled and Corey Smith delivered a pinch-hit single.

-- Adam Piatt saw time at first and added another baseknock. With Ryan Ludwick likely out for opening day, Piatt is an interesting bat to keep an eye on.


March 08, 2004  

CIR UPDATE: Break up the Indians!  
Tremendous opening weekend for the Tribe down in Florida. A major update will follow later today but here's a quick recap of the highlights from the first weekend of the spring.

-- The Indians scored 42 runs in three games, beating Houston 14-2 and Detroit 10-8 and 18-10.

-- Travis Hafner went deep twice and is hitting .667 (6-for-9).

-- Lou Merloni also has two homeruns (one in a B game)

-- Alex Escobar is hitting .600 with 6 hits in 10 at-bats.

-- Corey Smith drew two walks on Saturday and then belted a 3-run jack in Sunday's B game and a salami in the A game in the afternoon.

-- Jake Westbrook tossed two scoreless frames, Chad Durbin gave up four hits and three runs (two earned) in one inning, Jeff D'Amico gave up two runs in two innings, and Jason Stanford was reached for three runs in two innings. Jason Bere makes his first appearance today.

-- Bob Wickman has tossed two scoreless innings (one in a B game)

More in the next CIR later today.


March 05, 2004  

CIR UPDATE: Hafner goes DEEP  
Travis Hafner belted the first homerun of the spring, an opposite field shot, and the Indians lead the Astros 3-0 in the bottom of the fifth. It's nice to have baseball back.

CIR UPDATE: Bonds hurls car at reporter  
"San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds, angered by a persistent reporter’s questions about alleged steroid use, picked up a 1997 Nissan Sentra and hurled it at him, eyewitnesses confirmed today."
More in the always entertaining Borowitz Report.

CIR UPDATE: Indians sign 11 for 2004  
The Indians announced the signing of Josh Bard, Casey Blake, Coco Crisp, Jason Davis, Chad Durbin, Travis Hafner, and Victor Martinez to one-year contracts for the 2004 seasons. Three players (Jody Gerut, John McDonald, and Jack Cressend) remain unsigned and face an organizational deadline for renewal of Monday, March 8.

CIR UPDATE: Exhibition Opener  
I'm going to be tied up for most of the day but don't forget that the Indians kick off the grapefruit league season today at 1:00 against the Astros. WTAM will broadcast the game. Indians single-game tickets also go on sale today and you can order online at Enjoy the game everyone!


March 03, 2004  

CIR UPDATE: We have a boxscore!  
The Indians have posted the boxscore from the first intrasquad game. Performances of note include Bob Wickman working a perfect inning, David Riske tossing two scoreless frames, Josh Bard and Tim Laker banging out two hits apiece, and Brandon Phillips stealing two bags. Man, it's nice to have a boxscore to look at again!


It's game time!

Ok, it's just an intrasquad game but, after a long off-season, you take what you can get :-).

Bob Wickman, Jason Davis, Jeff D'Amico, David Riske, Scott Stewart, Chad Durbin, Luther Hackman, Fernando Cabrera, Francisco Cruceta, Mariano Gomez, Cliff Bartosh, Tim Young and Kyle Denney will all throw in the 6-1/2 inning game today. They'll play another tomorrow and then Jake Westbrook will open the grapefruit league season on Friday against the Astros. CC Sabathia will follow against the Tigers on Saturday. Sabathia, incidentally, threw 20 pitches in a simulated game yesterday.

In the last report, we reviewed the pitchers in camp. Today, we'll take a look at the position players who have descended upon Winter Haven. The organizational position reviews will conclude next week with the pitchers.


VICTOR MARTINEZ: The number one catcher and one of the main reasons the Indians expect the offense to be much improved this season.

JOSH BARD: Not a bad option as a backup catcher, huh?

BEN BROUSSARD: The starting first basemen although Travis Hafner will also see time there. Needs to hit lefties better. Could be one of the better #8 hitters in baseball if one potential lineup I threw together is accurate.

TRAVIS HAFNER: The starting designated hitter although the outfielders will also rotate through that slot, especially if Hafner struggles at the plate. If you've been reading the CIR for awhile, you know that I'm a big Hafner guy. I'm looking forward to a big season.

RONNIE BELLIARD: Caretaker at second until Brandon Phillips is ready. I hope he gets off to a good start in April, otherwise the fan reaction will be ugly.

OMAR VIZQUEL: Back for a final season with the Indians after coming thisclose to being dealt to Seattle in December. He's 37 and coming off two knee surgeries so it's going to be interesting at what level he can return to being the old Omar we know and love.

CASEY BLAKE: Heads to Winter Haven with a guaranteed everyday job in the big leagues for the first time in his career. Wants to hit 25 homeruns this season but I think the Indians would be happy if he can just match last years numbers and provide steady defense.

MILTON BRADLEY: Established himself as one of the top young outfielders in the American League last season. Whether he can stay healthy for a full season and take his game to the next level will be one of the more interesting stories to watch as 2004 unfolds.

JODY GERUT: Nursing a sore shoulder, heck, it's a torn rotator cuff, but expected to be 100% for the start of the season. Even after leading AL rookies in OPS and SLG last year, Gerut is still pretty much an unknown on the national scene. That will change this season. He'll start in right and hit in the middle of the order.

MATT LAWTON: Reported to camp healthy and in-shape and Eric Wedge says that he's the left-fielder and the leadoff hitter. Things look good so far. There may be no more important player than Lawton this spring and this season. If he stays healthy, hits, and gets on base, the Indians will have a dynamic leadoff hitter and be able to keep Milton Bradley in the middle of the order. If he doesn't, the Indians will have an unhappy veteran and an albatross contract hanging around their necks for the next two years. As I've said before, he's a good player with a bad contract. I'm optimistic he'll rebound. Hey, it's spring training, isn't it?


COCO CRISP: Has the skills to be the prototype leadoff hitter but needs to bring the ability to get on-base that's he shown in the minors to the big leagues. Crisp also needs to improve his base-stealing techniques. Could be the odd man out in camp if the Indians are looking to have more power off the bench this year.

ALEX ESCOBAR: Once thought to be guaranteed to head north, the Indians were granted another option on Escobar this off-season so they have, well, options with Escobar this spring. His ability to play all three outfield positions with a strong arm gives him the edge over Crisp in terms of backup skills. Escobar also brings right-hander power to the bench and while knee surgery may have taken away his 30-30 potential he can still run pretty well. Of course, he still strikes out a ton and it's going to be a challenge for him to learn how to control the strike zone at the major league level.

RYAN LUDWICK: Still recovering from off-season knee surgery, Ludwick says that he'll be ready for the opener. I wouldn't be surprised, however, if the Indians use the knee as an opportunity to delay a decision and place Ludwick on the disabled list and send him off on a rehab assignment to start the season. If he is ready for opening day, like Escobar, he offers right-handed power (the Indians say 30-35 homerun potential) and would likely spell Travis Hafner or Ben Broussard against tough lefties.


JOHN MCDONALD: Eric Wedge says that if McDonald is healthy, he's the front-runner. There's no doubt about his glove but I'd personally like to see more offense than he provides off the bench.

LOU MERLONI: Journeyman infielder who would provide more offense than McDonald although he's not exactly Babe Ruth at the plate. Could make the competition interesting with a good spring at the plate.


RICKY GUTIERREZ: If he's healthy, his contract guarantees him a spot on the roster but who he replaces remains to be seen. Gutierrez could be the sole utility infielder or he could take a spot away from an outfielder. All of which makes him the X-Factor.


TIM LAKER: Needs an injury to either Victor Martinez or Josh Bard to start the season in the big leagues. Otherwise, he's a foul tip off the index finger away at Buffalo.


GRADY SIZEMORE: Baseball America and's 9th best prospect in baseball will spend 2004 patrolling centerfield in Buffalo.

BRANDON PHILLIPS: Last years spring phenom is ticketed to spend most of the year in Buffalo. Can he force his way onto the roster if he hits .500 this spring? Will he get enough at-bats to make a .500 average meaningful (i.e., there's a big difference between going 5-for-10 and 20-for-40)? It will be interesting to see if the Indians send a message by including Phillips in one of the first rounds of cuts.

JHONNY PERALTA: Like Phillips, headed to Buffalo for more seasoning. Unlike Phillips, he doesn't have to deal with busted expectations. Minus the hype, his development is as important to the Indians future as Phillips.

IVAN OCHOA: Will bring his dazzling defense to Canal Park this summer.

COREY SMITH: Returning to Akron to (hopefully) feast upon a second helping of double-A pitching.

MICHAEL AUBREY: Could be in camp contending for a job next spring but, for now, he's headed to Kinston to start the season.

BRAD SNYDER: Will be the focal point of the Lake County offense.


ADAM PIATT: Eric Wedge has mentioned Piatt as a candidate for one of the backup outfielder roles but unless he explodes at the plate this spring, he's headed for Buffalo. Still, he's someone to keep an eye on as a deep sleeper.

ERNIE YOUNG: Veteran stick whose main purpose this year is to provide protection for Grady Sizemore in the Bisons lineup.

ZACH SORENSON: Could force his way into the mix with a hot spring at the plate but he's likely going to spend 2004 backing up Brandon Phillips and Jhonny Peralta in Buffalo this year.

CHRIS CLAPINSKI: Veteran minor league infielder will likely serve as this years Greg LaRocca in Buffalo.

KEVIN ORIE: Recovering from two shoulder surgeries, Orie may open the season in extended spring training. When he returns, he'll play some first at Buffalo before moving across the diamond to the hot corner later in the summer.

BRIAN LUDERER, VICTOR VALENCIA, DAVE WALLACE, DUSTY WATHAN: All four are strictly in camp to ensure that every pitcher has a catcher to throw to and can get their required work in early in camp. Once the pitching ranks are thinned, these guys will return to minor league camp.


Catchers (2): Victor Martinez, Josh Bard
Infielders (6): Ben Broussard, Travis Hafner, Ronnie Belliard, Omar Vizquel, Casey Blake, John McDonald
Outfielders (5): Milton Bradley, Jody Gerut, Matt Lawton, Alex Escobar, Coco Crisp
DL (2): Ricky Gutierrez, Ryan Ludwick

PROJECTED OPENING DAY LINEUP (one of many possible combinations)

Matt Lawton, LF
Omar Vizquel, SS
Milton Bradley, CF
Jody Gerut, RF
Victor Martinez, C
Travis Hafner, DH
Casey Blake, 3B
Ben Broussard, 1B
Ronnie Belliard, 2B


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