Welcome to Tribe Talk, where Bleacher Report's Tribe fans weigh in on the ups and downs of the Indians each week throughout the season.
This week we discuss how Kerry Wood inadvertently took the Indians for a ride with his laughably bloated contract, how Chris Gimenez, by contrast, isn’t really fooling anyone, and reminisce about our favorite ghosts of Indians past.
I would like to thank this week's participant, Dale Thomas, for his contribution.
This discussion is open to all, so please feel free to comment below and pitch in your thoughts on the questions we're addressing this week.
1. There is little dispute over whether Kerry Wood has been worth the $10 million contract he was signed to before the season started, but has he really been as bad as he's often made out to be?
Wood has had just 20 save opportunities this season and has converted 15 of them.
While Wood's 4.70 ERA is certainly nothing to brag about, it doesn't look so bad when compared to that of, for example, Brad Lidge, who has blown eight save opportunities, owns a very bloated 6.90 ERA, and for the record, is actually more expensive than Wood at $12 million.
So how bad (or good) is Kerry Wood? And how much is he to blame for the fact that his contract looks absurd now?
Is there any chance that perhaps the contract turned out to be a huge dud not because Wood has pitched all THAT poorly, but because the team has given him so few opportunities to earn his paycheck by providing just 20 save chances over the course of the season?
Samantha Bunten: I want to go to Vegas with Kerry Wood: He's either the luckiest guy on earth or he figured out how to beat the house. His contract is absurd. $10 million for a projected 34 save opportunities. Nice work if you can get it.
Perhaps instead of incessantly harping on the Dolans for the Indians' payroll, which is in fact very average, we should go after Mark Shapiro for making this boneheaded deal with Wood, which has sucked up such a huge percentage of said payroll.
But then again, maybe not. Who is really to blame for this is open to debate. Like so many other things that have gone wrong for the Indians this season, who would have ever guessed that Wood's ERA would be so bad, or that the team as a whole would give him so few opportunities to earn his money?
Depending on how you look at it, Wood's absurd contract is either everyone's fault or no one's.
Personally, I blame about a fourth of it on Wood, a fourth on the front office for making a deal this ridiculous, and the remaining half on the rest of the team for failing to create save situations for Wood.
If the offense can't score or the rest of the pitchers can't hold the game to within three, Wood never even gets a shot.
Take it a step further, and you have to consider that if Wood can't use the arm, it's going to get a little rusty, so even when he does get the opportunities, he won't be nearly as sharp as he would presumably have been, had he been able to keep the arm loose by closing on a consistent basis.
In the end though, no matter whose fault it is, Wood is being grossly overpaid.
Comparing him to Brad Lidge doesn't really make him look any better or the Indians look any wiser, it just makes both the Indians and the Phillies look like they fell victim to the classic "Eric Gagne Syndrome" of overpaying for a closer based on the somewhat mythical construct of the inflated value of closers that pervades the entire league.
Dale Thomas: He's posting the worst ERA of his career this year and posted about half the saves he had in 2008. I think he's a better pitcher than he's been able to show here in Cleveland, but hey! I live in Cleveland.
It's almost like his head is somewhere else when he's on the mound...like maybe in Chicago.
He has not earned his money at all in my opinion. In fact, he should give some back.
Yes, some of this can be attributed to team performance and coaching decisions, but at the end of the day he's paid to get people out.
The 15 saves in 20 opportunities become less positive when you factor in the disasters that were not save opportunities.
2. Good news for Tribe fans: It appears Fausto Carmona may have finally found his way back from catastrophe after almost two years of control problems.
Last Sunday, he got his first win since May 14, striking out eight and allowing just one run over seven innings. Based on what we've seen recently, do you think Fausto is finally back to being the Fausto we all saw so much potential in when he splashed onto the scene in 2007?
Could the fact that Carmona surrendered just one walk while striking out eight indicate that he has finally kicked his control problems? If so, what do you think is, after all this time, the reason for Carmona's marked improvement?
Samantha Bunten: Carmona still has great stuff, there's no doubt about that. The sinker that Victor Martinez once called "the nastiest stuff I've ever seen" is still in Carmona's arsenal, he just can't command it the way he once did.
I'm not sure we will ever see that sort of dominance from Carmona again, but based on his performance since his return from Arizona, I would say he is far closer to it than he has been in a very long time.
I still think walks are going to be a problem for him, but he seems to have harnessed his control at least to a degree.
I think the reason for his improvement is largely confidence. Pitching is a head game, and Carmona was pretty rattled for a very long time.
Now that he's got his head on straight again and can keep his control relatively steady, the deceptive sink on his pitches and flashes of plus-movement on his fastball have become valuable weapons for him once again.
I'm not totally sold on Fausto: The Sequel just yet, but I certainly believe there is a very good chance he's shaken whatever demons were plaguing him on the mound.
Dale Thomas: I don't think Carmona has proven himself trustworthy yet, but at least he's turned towards the plate now. I still see him as a guy with an ERA under three for 2010.
It may be 2.9999, but he's got great natural movement, which he didn't show in his earlier outings this year. Maybe the injury put a hitch in that fluidity.
Right now, he seems to have rediscovered his arm slot and delivery of 2007, so I'm going to give the pitching coach a little credit, since we saw Cliff Lee experience similar nose dives and come back and umm...dominate.
3. The Indians organization was heavily criticized during the first half of the season for allowing Luis Valbuena to languish at second base while racking up a pathetic .195 average from the time he was called up in early May to the beginning of July.
Things look a little different now though, with Valbuena hitting .303 with an .851 OPS since July 1. Even his defense has improved.
How impressed are you with Valbuena? Do you now agree with manager Eric Wedge's decision to stick it out with the youngster at second base, or are you still skeptical of what Valbuena brings to the table?
Samantha Bunten: Valbuena is essentially doing exactly what the entire team has done in 2009: stink it up in the first half, and then proceed to come on in the second half after it really no longer matters, at least for this season.
So given that, we'll award Wedge points for consistency, since by sticking with Valbuena, he essentially treated him exactly the same way he treated the rest of the team when they performed about the same way Valbuena did.
That said, Valbuena is a more extreme case than most of the Indians, hitting .195 for the first half. I'm not sure the fact that he followed that up with hitting .303 for less than two months is any indication that he's a whole new player. Consider me very skeptical.
Still, his defense has improved noticeably, and I'll ask this of anyone who thinks he shouldn't have held the second base job: Exactly who else were you going to put there every day?
The bottom line is that Valbuena was the best option the Indians possessed for an everyday second baseman. Whether he can truly hold onto the job from season to season remains to be seen.
Dale Thomas: When a guy steps up and wins games for the Tribe as Valbuena has done recently, I get pretty impressed.
That said, I'm still holding at about 50-50 in confidence level as he's spent about half his time being truly horrible, and the other half showing some flash.
I think Wedge really wants to pair up Luis and Asdrubal to create a double-play machine for Fausto and the ground balls he gets.
I also think that Wedge sticking it out with this guy is part of creating a defense that Wedge thinks will work well together as a team, instead of being a tossed salad.
At the plate, I'd say he has average skills. He can't really bunt, and shows very little in his ability to hit situationally. His power seems to be whacked pretty good by legitimate ball parks and major league pitching.
4. I've been hearing a slew of complaints about Chris Gimenez remaining on the Indians big league roster while Matt LaPorta waited in AAA. LaPorta has been called up now, but what of Gimenez?
The Indians seem to want to mold him into a Mark DeRosa/Jamey Carroll type utility player, but does Gimenez have the bat (or the glove, for that matter) to hold up even as a second-stringer on a major league roster?
Considering his .161 average and .542 OPS through 35 games, are you frustrated that Gimenez continues to get playing time?
Do you truly think he can fill the role of the Tribe's go-to utility player for the future? Does it help his case at all that he can play the catcher's position?
Samantha Bunten: Gimenez's biggest problem is that he's decent at everything but he's not particularly good at anything. I like his versatility on defense, but I'm not particularly impressed with his fielding at any one of the positions he plays.
As far as catching goes, I would rather re-sign Kelly Shoppach. Sadly, as bad as Shop has been at the plate this year, he's still a better hitter than Gimenez overall and he's definitely a better catcher.
As far as Gimenez's hitting is concerned, I think he will get better. Unfortunately, I don't think he has a high enough upside for his hitting to improve enough to even hold down a utility role.
He's young and cheap though, so the Indians will surely let him stick around to try to work it out. As for whether that decision will pay off someday, I wouldn't hold my breath.
Dale Thomas: Hey, he'd be close to .300 if we were measuring strikeouts! I don't see him as a go-to guy ever...He's shown nothing.
I see him as a catcher only after catchers one and two go down with season ending injuries, and catcher No. 3 is on the mound closing a game for the give-back money from Kerry Wood.
5. Fun question of the week: As much as we still love the Tribe despite their many faults this season, it's tough to form attachments to players who are, for the most part, performing very poorly.
Thus, it might be a good time to allow ourselves to indulge in a bit of nostalgia. Who are your five all-time favorite Indians players and why?
Samantha Bunten: 1. Kenny Lofton: he was the best centerfielder of his time aside from Ken Griffey Jr., and his speed, scrappiness, and the zeal with which he played the game are what made me fall in love with baseball.
2. Omar Vizquel: absolutely the best defensive shortstop of all time, an underrated hitter, and the first guy I'd want in my clubhouse.
3. Tris Speaker: without a doubt one of the best defensive centerfielders in the history of baseball, and impressive at the plate too. .345 lifetime average and 3,514 hits, not too shabby for a guy who played a good part of his career in the Deadball Era.
4. Charlie Nagy/Dave Burba: a nod to everyone who has ever been average at anything. These guys made the most of what they had, and the Indians benefited from it immensely.
5. Manny Ramirez: yes, I've completely lost respect for him, but the Manny who played for the Indians, the bumbling kid affectionately known as "Baby Bull", was a very different person than today's juiced up ManRam, and one I'll always think of fondly.
Dale Thomas: 1. Omar Vizquel because he's the best defensive shortstop ever, and because of his clutch hitting and love for Cleveland.
2. Manny Ramirez: pure hitter and hilarious on the base paths.
3. Bob Feller is the franchise leader in wins, innings (3,827), strikeouts (2,581), complete games (279), starts (484) and walks (1,764). He's second in shutouts (44), games (570) and losses (162). He holds single-season records for strikeouts, innings, shutouts, complete games and walks.
4. Kenny Lofton: he was good to the fans, good for the city, a solid leadoff hitter.
5. Jim Thome: maybe a stretch but the guy hit 40 home runs every year!
6. Sam McDowell: Best lefty Cleveland ever had...and the guy could party!