Tribe Talk: Off-Season Round Table

Samantha Bunten@@samanthabuntenAnalyst IFebruary 12, 2010

GOODYEAR , AZ - MARCH 06:  Michael Brantley #61 of the Cleveland Indians bats against the Milwaukee Brewers during the spring training game at Goodyear Ballpark on March 6, 2009 in Goodyear, Arizona. The Brewers defeated the Indians 17-7.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

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 and in a special off-season edition here.
This week we address the Tribe's off-season moves (or lack thereof), voice our concerns about potential problems for the 2010 team, discuss the players we're excited to see in Spring Training, and breathe a collective sigh of relief that the Indians didn't sign Orlando Hudson.

I would like to thank the 2010 Tribe Talk Round Table panelists: Nino Colla, Scott Miles, Dale Thomas, The Coop, and Lewie Pollis for their contributions.

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. We'll resume our usual weekly schedule for Tribe Talk toward the end of Spring Training.

Go Tribe!

1. Best Off-Season Move By The Indians:

Nino Colla: Manny Acta

Dale Thomas: Mike Redmond. Our pitchers need him, the clubhouse needs him, and I think he can help bring our young catchers up to snuff with the finer points of the position.

Samantha Bunten: Mike Redmond. While we're all on Carlos Santana Watch, someone has to actually do the catching.

Scott Miles: Not signing Orlando Hudson

Lewie Pollis: Bringing in Sandy Alomar Jr. (Boy, this really has been a slow winter).

The Coop: The best move the Indians made was, without question, firing Eric Wedge. Anyone who has watched the Indians for the last several years knows that this needs no further explanation.

2. Worst off-season move made by the Indians:

Nino Colla: Brian Bixler

Dale Thomas: Manny Acta. I was worried that we would bring in another mediocre or totally unknown guy. This is far worse.

Samantha Bunten: Brian Bixler and trying to throw money we claim we don't have at Orlando Hudson.

Scott Miles: Thinking about signing Orlando Hudson/Jermaine Dye

Lewie Pollis: Pursuing Orlando Hudson

The Coop: Not firing Mark Shapiro. Rather than build a perennial contender with a mix of young talent and veteran leadership (as John Hart did in the late 90s), Shapiro has succeeded in turning the Tribe into perennial rebuilders, hoping to catch lightning a bottle once in a while (like he almost did in 2007). But hey, at least they’re turning a profit!

3. Please rate the Indians off-season progress in the following categories:

Starting pitching:
Excellent progress made by the front office - Zero Votes   
A definite improvement, but not quite satisfactory - Zero Votes   
Very little/disappointing progress - Six Votes
Poor choices, a step backward if anything - Zero Votes
Excellent progress made by the front office - Zero Votes
A definite improvement, but not quite satisfactory - Two Votes
Very little/disappointing progress - Four Votes
Poor choices, a step backward if anything - Zero Votes
Excellent progress made by the front office - Zero Votes
A definite improvement, but not quite satisfactory - Three Votes
Very little/disappointing progress - Three Votes
Poor choices, a step backward if anything - Zero Votes
Excellent progress made by the front office - One Vote
A definite improvement, but not quite satisfactory - Two Votes
Very little/disappointing progress - One Vote
Poor choices, a step backward if anything - Two Votes                   

4. What is your single greatest concern for the Indians going into Spring training?

Nino Colla: Starting Pitching

Dale Thomas: Wow, single? I have so many!

I'll have to cheat and say my single greatest concern is the Tribe's ability to close out games, which translates to our starters being able to pitch a solid six innings, our offense's ability to score early, our relievers' ability to set up our closer, which brings us to...ummm...our offense's ability to score early.

Samantha Bunten: Starting pitching, but we all know that.

I also have concerns about the infield: there are too many unknowns here, so things could go very smoothly or get very scary.

Scott Miles: The fact that 162 potentially dreadful games follow it.

Lewie Pollis: Whether all of our outfield prospects will get enough MLB exposure.

The Coop: I defy anyone to not be scared to death about the starting rotation. Let’s think about this: the projected Opening Day starter is Jake Westbrook, who hasn’t pitched in the big leagues since 2008. And let’s be honest, Westbrook wasn’t all that great before he got hurt.

Obviously, it doesn’t get much better after that. There’s potential, but I can’t hold my breath much longer.


5. What player(s) on the team are you most excited to see this Spring?

Nino Colla: Luis Valbuena and Michael Brantley.

Dale Thomas: Whereas I should take this opportunity to get fired up about our (near) rookies, I'm pretty anxious to see how Sizemore gets back into a groove, how Hafner overcomes his weaker bat, if Cabrera is for real, and if Choo continues his climb up the ol' productivity pole.

Samantha Bunten: Michael Brantley. I haven't been this excited about a player since the early days of Sizemore.

I think this guy is so, so much more than anyone seems to think. He has single-handedly restored my faith in the franchise, or at least given me the courage to turn on the TV at game time this season.

Scott Miles: Carlos Santana. He could be the lineup-changing bat we're lacking. If only he could beat out Mike Redmond...

Lewie Pollis: Justin Masterson, Matt LaPorta, Carlos Santana.

The Coop: Hector Rondon, Carlos Santana, Justin Masterson, and Matt LaPorta. If the Indians are going to start getting better, these guys are going to lay the foundation.

They might not all be ready in 2010, but they should compete hard in Spring Training and show that they can succeed at the big league level. And since the latter three were all acquired in trades, maybe we’ll finally know if Mark Shapiro knows what he’s doing.

6. Which young pitcher(s) do you believe will step up this Spring?

Nino Colla: David Huff and Justin Masterson.

Dale Thomas: Maybe this is more hope than belief, but it's the perfect time for Sowers to step up.

Samantha Bunten: I can't say enough good things about David Huff. This guy did a tremendous job of stepping up last season when no one expected anything from him. I fully expect him to take this to the next level this year and emerge as the most promising youngster on the pitching staff.

Scott Miles: Carlos Carrasco. His experience in AAA/the bigs at the end of last year gives him a leg up on Hector Rondon.

Lewie Pollis: Justin Masterson, Fausto Carmona.

The Coop: Which do I “believe" will step up? Hmm, I’m not sure if I believe in any of them, based on what I’ve seen.

More than anything, I hope that Fausto Carmona can regain his 2007 form. He’s gone to the depths of hell, but he’s succeeded before and hopefully a solid camp will vault him to a strong 2010.

7. A number of Indians who once showed great potential struggled over the past few years, namely Jake Westbrook, Fausto Carmona, Travis Hafner, and Grady Sizemore.

Whether their struggles were due to injury or an inability to perform for other reasons, they all have a lot to prove this year.

Which of the above players do you believe has the best chance of bouncing back to their original form, and why? Which player's chances are the worst?

Nino Colla: The best chance would belong to Grady Sizemore, who for all we know, struggled last year due to injuries. Now that he's fixed everything, he should at least return to regular production as far as power and speed numbers.

The consistent dip in average is concerning, but if he's healthy, there is no reason to believe he can't hit 30 home runs and steal 30 bases.

Not really the worst chance in returning to form, but maybe the most unknown is Jake Westbrook. Some pitchers are able to overcome Tommy John surgery, but it's a complete unknown on a case-by-case basis.

Who knows how Jake will respond once he gets into the grind of the regular season. It's been a good year and half since he's been on a major-league mound.

Dale Thomas: I think Sizemore will bounce back without too much of a struggle. He's going to want to prove a few things after last year, and he's shown us plenty of dedication to the game along with putting up decent numbers overall in the bigs.

Jake Westbrook seems the most likely candidate for worst chances. The odds are stacked more heavily against him when you consider type of injury, length of recovery, age and style of pitching.

Samantha Bunten: Sizemore is the front runner in this contest, far and away. Grady has had his share of struggles, but his talent and work ethic will persevere and he will once again be this franchise's MVP.

As to the worst chances, it's Jake Westbrook, no contest. Combine Tommy John surgery with the typical accelerated rate of deterioration for sinkerball pitchers, and you've got a guy whose supposedly the Opening Day starter who probably won't make it to the end of May.

Scott Miles: In order of bouncebackability: 1. Sizemore 2. Westbrook 3. Carmona 4. Hafner.

Sizemore first, because he was more hurt last year than he let on. Westbrook, because while he was a good pitcher, he was never at the level of the other three at their respective best, so it's easier for him to get back to that.

Hafner and Carmona are toss-ups, I don't know what to expect from them outside of tantalizing glimpses of what they are capable of.

Lewie Pollis: I admit, I've never been Grady Sizemore's biggest fan, but it's foolish not to expect an improvement over last year. Even if he isn't completely at the top of his game, a 25/25 season is a realistic goal.

It would help if Acta moves him down in the order--with numbers that look more like Carlos Pena's than Kenny Lofton's, he really shouldn't be a lead-off hitter.

I'm skeptical about Westbrook, simply because he was never that good in the first place. He has a career ERA of 4.31 and (discounting his five starts in '08) hasn't had an ERA under four since 2004.

He's a contact pitcher (his career K/9 mark is a miserable 4.9) backed by a defense that doesn't exactly make the highlight reel very often. Even if he isn't traded, I doubt he'll be our ace by season's end.

The Coop: Grady Sizemore will be back, and you can take that to the bank. He’s an amazing talent and a fierce competitor, and I believe he’s done everything he can in the off-season to return as one of the best centerfielders in the game.

The guy who cannot be relied upon is Travis Hafner, so thank goodness he is a DH. Every time I see the guy play, I get the feeling that he’s going to fall apart right in front of my eyes. He’s an injury waiting to happen.


8. Please BRIEFLY describe the one thing you felt the Indians should have done to improve the team this off-season that they didn't do:

Nino Colla:
I don't think they should have done anything more than they did. I trust that they did their due diligence in adding a starting pitcher who would be the right fit, but they didn't come across one.

It had to be the perfect situation because with all the other options they could potentially have sliding into the bottom two spots, it would be foolish to not see if any of them work.

So while they didn't add a starter as their biggest need, I don't necessarily think that's a bad thing.

Perhaps the biggest move was not signing Orlando Hudson.

Dale Thomas: They should have hired a proper manager. Sorry, but this move will bug me until the Tribe wins a World Series under his watch, then it will still bug me because I'll think the planet must have shifted off its axis.

Samantha Bunten: The Indians are rebuilding, so I'll excuse the lack of moves designed to quickly improve the team.

What they should have done but didn't is cut bait with the guys on the team who are just dead weight. For example, why is Andy Marte still eating up a roster spot? This guy has proven (about 50 times over) that he can't hack it at a major league level.

If we're supposed to be rebuilding for the future, then let's say goodbye to guys like Marte and give the at-bats to unproven players with potential who may represent our future like Wes Hodges, Matt LaPorta, Luis Valbuena, and Michael Brantley.

Scott Miles: Larry Dolan should have won the Mega Millions so that he could invest more money into the roster. Outside of that, nothing much.

This team is reliant on Mark Shapiro and the scouting staff's ability to evaluate prospects, nothing more. If the prospects turn into more than just prospects, then this could be the start of a good run. If not, then we might be staring at "Major League IV: The Indians Suck Again."

Lewie Pollis:
Bring back Omar Vizquel. He wanted a utility infield job and we had an opening with Jamey Carroll gone. How great would it have been to have him back in town?

The Coop: I’m going to go with a broad answer and say I wish they would have done something. They did absolutely nothing. The free agents they signed are stiffs. They’ve put all their eggs into the prospect basket. To me, it’s a crapshoot at this point.

Now that I think about it, I really wish they would have hired a credible manager. There seemed to be so many more qualified candidates, and yet, they settled on a guy whose career winning percentage is .385. Yikes.

9. Please BRIEFLY share your expectations for the 2010 Indians going into Spring Training.

Nino Colla:
This year's club reminds me a lot of the club from the year prior to making the run or even the one that made the run in 2005.

They've got a lot of pieces in place in terms of finding out what we have and if any of those pieces overachieve, then so can the club because of the division they are in.

I'm not expecting to win the division or even have a .500 record, but my expectations are about the play on the field and the play on the field alone. I'm not concerned with wins or losses, but rather the progress that is made.

I have a hope that maybe they can give us something to be proud of and maybe surpass the general expectations that many fans have.

Dale Thomas: I expect the scattered remnants of last year's implosion to become a cohesive team with attitude, win or lose.

Samantha Bunten: My crystal ball says: outlook not good. But this team is deep in the throes of rebuilding, so growing pains are to be expected.

I truly believe we have a great core of talent for the future, even if it takes a year or two to really actualize it.

I believe in Brantley and Cabrera and Huff and Choo and Sizemore...and as foolish as it may sound, I believe in the Indians. Or at least I will in 2012.

Scott Miles: This season could be like working out for the first time after a long break. It's going to be painful, you're going to be sore, reaching for the Advil, and it will leave you questioning why the heck you put yourself through it.

But if you stick with it, it'll pay off. (That's what people tell me, at least. It's been a few years since I've been on a real exercise routine.)

Lewie Pollis: We're going to suffer the hair-pulling agony of our youngsters' growing pains, but also see flashes of their tremendous talent. We're not going to be anywhere close to the best team in baseball, but there will be a few times this year that we're going to feel like we are.

The Coop: I don’t expect too much from the Indians this season. I don’t know how expectations can be high with the serious holes the Indians have in the starting rotation and bullpen.

To be any good at all, they will need several guys to have the best years of their career, including a few guys who have very little major league experience. So, what do I expect? Growing pains.


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