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 argue for why Carlos Santana should be brought up to the majors now, make some early trade predictions, and share our best methods for distraction during a disappointing season.
I would like to thank this week's participants Nino Colla, Lewie Pollis, and The Coop 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.
1. The rumor mill would have it that Christmas may come a little early in Cleveland this year; June, to be exact.
No, unfortunately, no one is saying that we're getting a whole new roster. But the word on the street is that we will be getting an early Christmas gift this year in the form of Carlos Santana, who could be promoted to the majors as soon as two weeks from now.
Given the state of the team, and Santana's numbers at Triple-A (which are impressive, but not totally overwhelming: .310 avg, 9 2B, 9 HR, 39 RBI in 42 G), are you completely in favor of bringing up Santana now?
Does your decision at all relate to how poorly Lou Marson is faring, or are you 100 percent convinced that Santana is ready to handle the majors?
Even if you are completely sold on Santana's bat being Major League-ready, do you have any concerns about his defense, game-calling ability, or language issues not being quite up to snuff just yet?
Samantha Bunten: I'm completely in favor of calling him up now for two reasons:
First, he's far enough along in his development that I don't expect it would hurt him at all to be thrown into the fire. Even if he does regress a bit (at the plate, mostly), I don't think it will be severe or at all damaging, and once he gets through the adjustment period of facing major league pitching I expect he'll be fine.
Second, this team and its fans NEED someone like Santana to give them a boost. Given what we've seen from Lou Marson, Santana being called up will only help the team, even if he only hits half as well as he's hitting right now.
And perhaps most important, this is exactly the sort of thing that could serve to re-energize the fanbase. I am never in favor of bringing up a player too early just to sell tickets, but I don't believe it's too early for Santana in terms of development, so there won't be any negative side effect to selling a few extra seats.
I'm sure he's not fully developed as a game-caller, but then neither are half of the catchers in the majors.
Some of them never get there at all. If you consider the speed at which Santana has been able to develop his game thus far, there should be no doubt that he'll be in command of his game-calling abilities sooner rather than later as well.
Nino Colla: Let me go down the line here real quick. Language issues? No, I heard Chris Gimenez say that he communicates fine with his teammates and his English is actually better than people say it is.
Game-calling ability? I wouldn't know, but if anything that would probably be the one thing holding him back.
Defense? No, I saw him throw to second base on more than one occasion, he'll be able to control the running game. I think he should be sound enough in terms of blocking balls and playing defense to where it shouldn't be an issue. Even if he isn't, the guy coaching first base knows a thing or two about developing that aspect of his game.
That aside, we all know Carlos Santana is as ready as he'll ever be in terms of his bat. While I've preached giving Lou Marson a shot, I think I've reached a point where I'm ready to see Carlos Santana come June 1st after he's avoided Super Two eligibility.
I wouldn't be shocked to see that happen, but also wouldn't be shocked to see it not happen.
In a way, I'd also be okay with either outcome. If the club were to go with Lou Marson for a little bit longer, while painful, I don't think I could object because the kid is still young and he's still learning. He's shown at times he can hit major league pitching and play above-average defense, so it isn't like he's been a complete horrid show from the beginning of April.
Look at it this way. Is Carlos Santana spending an extra month (if we were to assume he is called up in July anyway) really going to hurt anyone? Will it demoralize him to a point where he becomes a complete bust? Will it cripple the Indians' chances of winning the division in 2010? The answer to all of those questions is simple, "No."
The Coop: Get him up here, sooner rather than later.
It’s not that I think Santana is ready to handle the majors; in fact, I am prepared to witness the substantial growing pains that he will endure in his early years. But let’s be honest, Lou Marson might stick around the majors for a few more years but he’s got no upside whatsoever.
He was drafted in 2004 and had played 22 career games in the majors entering this year. He’s done nothing to warrant keeping spot on the roster, and it’s not like he’s some savvy veteran who can at least make a pitching staff better by being out there.
Also, when Santana arrives in Cleveland, he’ll have daily contact with Sandy Alomar, Jr., arguably the greatest Indians catcher ever. While catcher is certainly not an easy position to learn (especially for a converted infielder like Santana), the opportunity to learn from a former All-Star is as perfect as it gets.
Santana also needs to start getting Major League ABs, plain and simple. What’s the worst that could happen? He hits .206 like Lou Marson? I’ll take the over on that one, thank you very much.
Lewie Pollis: Whoa, hold on there. This guy has a .994 OPS. He's on pace for 30 homers and 132 RBI and has a .249 ISO. He's walking more than he strikes out, and he's even stolen four bases. Also, he's a catcher. That's not totally overwhelming?
Yes, yes, and more yes, bring him up now.
I don't particularly care if the rest of his game isn't fully polished, nor do I care if we call him up early enough that he becomes a Super Two player (we already kept him down long enough to ensure an extra year of team control). He's the most exciting thing that will happen to the Tribe this season (I'm still predicting that he'll be Rookie of the Year), and I want him NOW.
2. It's time to take another look at the state of the Indians' rotation.
Westbrook, Carmona, and Talbot are firmly entrenched as permanent members of the starting five, but things get a little fuzzier when it comes to the last two spots.
There has been talk of the struggling David Huff being sent to the minors, of Justin Masterson moving to the bullpen, and of Aaron Laffey being moved into the rotation.
Do you want to see Laffey get a shot at being a starter? If so, would you prefer to see him take Huff's spot (with Huff being sent to Columbus) or Masterson's spot (with Masterson being sent to the bullpen)?
Do you have any interest in seeing both Masterson and Huff taken out of the rotation for the moment? If so, who are the other pitcher aside from Laffey that you would like to see take over the additional spot in the rotation?
Samantha Bunten: I think Laffey deserves a shot at joining the rotation, and I think he should have had that shot from the beginning of the season. The only problem is, I'm not sure whose rotation spot he should be given.
You can argue that Masterson may be better suited to the bullpen anyway, so the switch should be made accordingly, but I'm still not entirely certain this would be the best strategy.
Despite his struggles, I do see Masterson as a member of the rotation over the long haul, so it would be foolish to put him in the pen instead of letting him continue to gain experience and develop in a starting role.
Huff is a little different; there would be no point in moving him to the bullpen, so to give Laffey his spot, he would have to be sent to Columbus. I'm not sure there would be anything to be gained from that for Huff. He's struggling at the major league level, to be sure, but I don't think that this is due to needing more seasoning in the minors.
At this point, he's better off trying to work out his problems on a big league mound.
So I guess I'm not sure what to do about this situation. I might allow Laffey a few spot starts and see how it goes. If he's impressive enough that he's able to force the issue, we might consider moving Masterson to the pen or sending Huff down if it proves to be the best solution.
Nino Colla: You know I really don't know what I want to see. I think I just want to see David Huff and Justin Masterson both do well to the point that this isn't an issue.
I've not been impressed with Aaron Laffey this season in that bullpen role and I've actually arrived at a point where I'm questioning if we should continue to bother with him. The club has shuffled him around so much, I don't think even he knows what he is anymore.
Masterson needs to keep at it, he deserves more than two months, and I said the same thing after two weeks and will probably say it again at the end of June. There is no one in Columbus busting the doors down to get into the rotation, so why bother right now?
Huff seems to be in more immediate danger, but I don't think I'd make a move on him either. It goes back to the same reason I wouldn't move Matt LaPorta, what does he have left to prove? Sure you send David Huff down to "figure things out" or give him a "wake up call." But is that really the answer? Wouldn't it be far better if he figured things out at this level?
This season is obviously going nowhere quickly so it isn't like his lack of performance is holding us back from winning the division. Now if Huff had an attitude problem (something I don't think is the case, I just think he gets too relaxed and that is what causes his struggles) then you could send a message that way, but really I see no purpose in that.
As for Laffey... Does he deserve another shot at the rotation? After what he did in the spring (in other words, nothing to NOT deserve a shot) I think so, but after watching him handle the bullpen spot with moderate success, I'm not going to scream my head off for him to get that shot. His WHIP is atrocious and he can't even get left-handers out enough to be counted on doing that if nothing else.
The Coop: Ahh, my favorite topic! I did not have much confidence in the starting rotation during spring training, but even the most optimistic observer would have to admit that they did not expect to have five consistent, above-average starters on which the Tribe could rely.
I guess I’m a little surprised that one of the guys having the most trouble is David Huff, because he caught fire at the end of last year and I expected him to carry that success into this season.
While he’s struggled, you can’t pull the plug on a guy after two months and eight starts. The other problem with sending Huff to Columbus is that there is no suitable replacement.
Aaron Laffey would be a great candidate; however, my hope is that Laffey actually replaces Masterson in the rotation. Of course, this is more of me believing that Masterson belongs in the bullpen—as I’ve previously mentioned on this roundtable—than necessarily thinking that Laffey is the long-term answer.
But, Laffey does have some starting experience and would be adequate for a fifth starter.
Lewie Pollis: First of all, I'm sick and tired of people beating up on Masterson. Sure, he's struggling against lefties, but anyone who thinks luck isn't the primary factor in his problems is just plain wrong.
His luck hasn't just been bad, it's been historically bad. To put his .399 BABIP in perspective, only three pitchers in the last 10 years have had hit rates over .350, and exactly zero have exceeded .366.
And his 19.0% HR/FB rate would be the second-highest ever recorded since tracking began in 2002. So unless you're prepared to say that Masterson is the worst weak contact-inducer in recent memory, his stats are going to improve. Period.
Send David Huff to the minors immediately. He has no redeeming peripherals, and he needs to rediscover his ability to strike batters out (8.1 career K/9 in the minors, nearly double his 4.3 career K/9 in the majors).
While we're at it, let's send Talbot down, too. Does anyone seriously think someone who walks more than he strikes out can maintain an above-average ERA? His .230 BABIP is the second-luckiest in the league. I don't have the patience to go through past years' leaderboards for him, too, but I bet that kind of fortune is similarly unprecedented.
Three words: crash and burn.
Laffey is intriguing, but I'm not sold on him either. I don't think it takes Bill James to realize that someone who walks more than he strikes out isn't a good pitcher, but the real flukiness is that he has yet to give up a home run.
There's a huge difference between his 3.64 FIP and 4.85 xFIP; even if you plug in his lucky 7.7 career HR/FB% with this year's numbers, his FIP climbs to an uninspiring 4.53. Add in the fact that relievers' numbers are usually better than starters', and Laffey wouldn't be much more than a marginal improvement.
If you're looking for rotation help, why not get it from the minors? Bring up Josh Tomlin and Yohan Pino, or maybe Scott Lewis and Hector Rondon. Any of them would be more fun to watch than Huff or Talbot.
3. We're still a long way from the July 31st Trade Deadline, but we already know the Indians will be sellers this year and are in possession of a number of players who might be moved well before the deadline.
Obviously unless one of you has bugged Mark Shapiro's office, we can only guess at who will be traded, where to, and when. Still, there's no harm in speculating a bit.
That said, do you see the Tribe making any trades sooner rather than later?
Which players do you think will be moved this season between now and the deadline? Are there any players on the roster generally thought to be on the block who you do NOT think the Tribe will choose to trade this season?
Samantha Bunten: I'm going to guess we won't see a lot of activity until we're closer to the deadline, mostly because the Indians don't have a lot to offer in terms of players anyone would be dying to acquire.
It's a lot easier to sell early if you have someone another team would kill to get their hands on no matter the price or their own very specific needs.
Thus I think the players on our roster who are potentially on the trading block won't go until closer to the deadline, when other teams are either desperate enough to overpay for a really questionable pitcher (I'm looking at you, Kerry Wood), or better equipped to assess their specific small needs down the stretch.
I don't truly think we'll be able to move Kerry Wood—the price is just going to be too high, even if the Indians are willing to sell relatively low. I imagine Jake Westbrook will at least get a few looks, and both Kearns and Grudzielanek could fetch an excellent return at almost no true cost to the Indians since neither is part of the future plan.
Nino Colla: I think Austin Kearns will be dealt if he keeps hitting like this. The club isn't going to block Michael Brantley—especially if Trevor Crowe continues to hit and Grady Sizemore misses an extended period of time—with Austin Kearns.
That also being said, with Kearns going, so too will Russell The Muscle Branyan, as he also blocks Brantley by pushing LaPorta into left field more often than not, so I think both of them are on their way out of town come July.
I think the groans about Jhonny Peralta have gotten so loud that Cleveland may end up dealing him and that isn't something I would have said a few months ago. But the fans genuinely dislike the guy to the point where I think Mark Shapiro might, for once, listen to them and rid the club of a player that the fanbase can't stand.
I think more than anything they want to do it to give Andy Marte a legitimate opportunity to finally sink or swim at third base. Lonnie Chisenhall is still a year away at least, especially with his injury setback in Akron, so this club needs a third baseman beyond this year and while they could pick up his option, they may get more value trading him now rather than next year at the deadline.
I'm on the fence in terms of trading Jake Westbrook. I think the club would like to have him back next year at a discounted rate (something I think he would feel he owes the team after spending most of that contract extension on the disabled list) because he still has the ability and is a great veteran for a rotation.
But I still think they may trade him anyway, because bringing him back in free agency isn't out of the realm of possibilities.
The Coop: It’s a funny thing about all the trades the Indians have pulled off over the last few years. Now that they’ve dealt three All-Stars, who else is left that will command any trade value?
It’s not like we’re talking about Sabathia, Lee, and Martinez. Who are we talking about? Hafner, Wood, Kearns, and maybe Sizemore? Not exactly Murderer’s Row.
Obviously, guys like Choo and Cabrera should be off the table because the Indians can still build around them, as should most of the guys who haven’t played more than a full season or two.
I think the Indians should also hang onto Grady, even though he’s clearly damaged goods at this point.
Everyone else should be officially for sale, and the Indians should trade them for whatever they can get, even if it includes a couple extra fungo bats.
Lewie Pollis: I've started a weekly column called "Cleveland Indians Trading Post," in which I'm looking at who might be traded and where they might go.
I'm not even going to try to shrink my long analyses into bite-sized pieces, but so far I predicted that Austin Kearns would go to the Mariners, A's, or Braves, while Jake Westbrook will be shipped to the Yankees, Mets, or Dodgers.
I think Mark Grudzielanek would also be attractive trade bait, and I'm sure someone will make an offer for Jordan Brown if the Indians keep pretending that he doesn't exist. Jhonny Peralta (please please please please please ) could give a contender some infield depth now that he's starting to look like a semi-respectable player again (if you squint).
I think the same will eventually be said for Kerry Wood, but it seems like he just keeps looking worse and worse. And if I'm Mark Shapiro, I'm praying that someone makes me an attractive offer for Mitch Talbot.
4. It wasn't so long ago that the Indians and that other Ohio team, the Reds, were in very similar positions: struggling at the major league level, but in possession of a system loaded with up-and-coming talent.
This season saw their paths diverge: The Indians are in last place in their division, and the Reds are in first place in theirs.
We spend plenty of time arguing about what the Indians did wrong (or even what we maintain they're still doing right), but the fact of the matter is, the Reds put a successful team on the field first.
Tell us, what do you think the Reds did right that enabled them to put themselves in the position that they currently inhabit? Is there anything specific that you think the Reds did right that the Indians failed to do?
Samantha Bunten: The Reds had one distinct advantage over the Indians in that their up-and-coming players were further along in the system. The Reds were already in the process of rebuilding for the future when the Indians were in the playoffs in 2007.
So to a significant degree, the Reds didn't truly do it better, they just got a head start on the Indians.
That being said, they have certainly made some decisions along the way that were arguably better than those made by the Indians in similar situations. I'm not sure I think the Reds are any better at player development than the Tribe, but they absolutely draft better (I would kill to hire away their scouting department for the Indians), and they've done an excellent job in choosing solid veterans to fill in holes around their prospects.
Lose? Fellow-blogger Paul Cousineau put together a brilliant entry into TheDiaTribe on Sunday that pretty much made a fantastic point that I don't think many people ever considered. Just because they are winning all of a sudden doesn't mean they've "figured it out."
Did the Rays figure it out? Yeah they got new management and that has been a big reason, but top-10 pick after top-10 pick (and hitting on those picks) certainly didn't hurt.
What have the Indians really failed at? Given the current system, their window is really small to compete and when you get injuries like some of the ones the Indians have had in the past few years to marquee players, it just compounds it all.
Let's not praise the Reds for anything yet. It's still May and while I picked them to finish second in the division, they didn't exactly recreate the wheel in rebuilding their team.
So far based off their team, they've made some good personnel decisions, point blank. They've brought in good pitchers throughout all outlets, made a few good trades (Brandon Phillips, whoops) and drafted well (Joey Votto, Jay Bruce), and mixed in some veteran signings (Orlando Cabrera, Johnny Gomes ) that ha ve panned out to be successful.
I'd hate to say they "got lucky" but in a way, they sort of did. I guess fortunate would be better. Fortunate that a lot of their decisions have worked out well.
The Indians on the other hand haven't been so fortunate.
They've made some bad choices in the free-agent aspect (both in the veterans they've signed and the extensions that they've given out, but you can't really hold injuries to Hafner and Westbrook against them), haven't drafted well (something they've addressed in the past few years), and have overall just haven't seen some of their plan formulate as they wanted.
The Coop: I certainly don’t follow the Reds as much as the Indians, but when I look at their roster, three things stand out to me: scouting, player development, and patience.
The Reds have a startling number of guys that they drafted or signed as free agents before other teams could scoop them up, and many of these guys are the reason for the team’s success. It is clear that their scouting department has done a wonderful job. It all starts from there.
Once you find the studs, you have to develop them. Obviously, their farm system is doing the job as well, molding raw talent into major league-caliber talent.
And finally, once these guys make it to the majors, the big league club has to be patient with their early struggles. Many people have been calling the Reds an “up-and-comer” for the last few years. In fact, this year, I even heard a few people pick them to win the division.
So, they have built up to the success they are experiencing this year. While those players have been the centerpiece of their success this year, they have also managed to successfully round out their roster with reliable veterans while purging their team of has-beens with bad contracts.
I’m not a fan of the Reds, but the Indians could definitely benefit from using this same approach.
Unfortunately, I think the Indians do have a similar approach; they just have not executed it nearly as well.
Lewie Pollis: To make up for my loquaciousness before, I'll make this short and sweet: their plan isn't better, it's just further along.
This is the first time in 10 years they've been over .500; we're just two years removed from reaching the ALCS, so don't think for half a second that they're better at this than we are. In fact, the Reds would have killed to have gone through the three-year turnaround between the end of the Glory Days in 2001 and our big bounce-back in 2005.
5. Fun Question of the Week: When your team is struggling, sometimes the fictional baseball world becomes more appealing than the real one. Baseball movies and books with happy endings can be a great distraction when your team is failing to provide the same sort of fairy tale ending in reality.
Do you ever use fictional baseball movies or books as a distraction from the frustrations of watching the Tribe? What are you favorites?
Samantha Bunten : Bull Durham is what gets me through the rough patches in the season, just like it's pretty much the only thing that gets me through the offseason.
Also, fantasy baseball, as the name would imply, is an excellent distraction during the season when your real, live team is struggling.
I actually think that generally speaking, fantasy is better when your own team isn't performing well; not only does it help to relieve some of the frustration of reality, but since your real team isn't doing well, you never run into one of those situations where you catch yourself hoping your team loses to an opponent because their starting pitcher is on your fantasy roster.
Nino Colla : I think every Tribe fan likes Major League , but I don't think I've ever used it as a way to distract myself from what is really going on.
For the most part I live with the pain, but I do distract myself from the real baseball world by playing both Out of the Park Baseball and whatever video game I currently have.
This year, now that I'm the owner of a Wii, that game is MLB 2k10 . Not the greatest baseball game ever (actually probably one of the worst I've ever played) but it lets me screw around enough to the point where it's fun.
I've been using Adam Wainwright and his dominate curveball to drown my sorrows. Baltimore is on a warpath that will end in nothing more than a World Series victory.
While we are at it, will there ever be baseball movies better than Bull Durham, Bad News Bears (the original) or Major League? I don't think so. Until they start making the real life stories of players (I'd pay to see them turn Hank Aaron's story into a motion picture) into movies, there probably will be nothing close.
The Coop: I’m more of a guy who limits his exposure to baseball when my team is struggling. It hurts too much to hear about league leaders and pennant contenders when I realize my favorite team is in last place. Instead, I juice myself up for baseball season by watching the classic baseball movies.
My list is the usual suspects: Major League, The Natural, Field of Dreams, Pride of the Yankees. Also, I would recommend 61* for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet. It’s also been a long time since I’ve seen Fear Strikes Out . Of course, some of those aren’t exactly the most “upbeat” flicks, but they are classics nonetheless.
I’m also looking forward to reading The Bad Guys Won , a book about the ’86 Mets. Drug addicts, womanizers, drunks… Hey, if the whole “scout, develop, have patience” strategy doesn’t work, perhaps the Indians should take a cue from those guys?
Lewie Pollis : I prefer video games. Whenever I feel depressed about the real Tribe, I turn on MVP Baseball 2005 (old school, I know) and watch my Indians destroy the rest of the league.
At the end of July 2008, Victor Martinez is on pace for 60 homers. Trade acquisition Carl Crawford is batting .400 and is likely to be the founding member of the 50/100 club, and fictional 22-year-old J.J. Nunez is on his way to his second-straight Cy Young, thanks to his 100-mph fastball, 60-mph knuckler , and wicked, diving splitter.
My Indians won the World Series in '05 and '06, setting some insane records on the way. Another trade acquisition, David Ortiz, had 96 homers in '05, then racked up 196 RBI in '06. Crawford has broken the single-season triples record (36) three years in a row, each season topping the last. And fictional Indian Johan Santana threw three perfect games between September '06 and August '07.