Welcome to Tribe Talk, where Bleacher Report's Cleveland Indian fans weigh in on the ups and downs of the club each week throughout the season.
This week, we wonder if the Indians can find a viable replacement for David Huff in the starting rotation, debate whether there is any merit in keeping Austin Kearns around for the long haul, and cast our votes for AL All-Star game starters, all while wishing we didn't have to watch pitchers bat.
I would like to thank this week's participants Nino Colla, 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.
1. Huff has been optioned to Triple-A after going a dismal 2-9 in 13 starts.
This leaves the Indians with a difficult decision to make about what to do with his roster spot. Do you think the Indians should call up Laffey or Carrasco to take the roster spot?
Would you consider instead calling up a reliever to spell the tired bullpen for a few days and waiting to name a new starter until the team needs one on Friday?
What do you think will become of Huff? Does he truly have a chance to refine his skills and make it back to the bigs, or are his struggles an indication that he will never succeed a major league starter?
Samantha Bunten: The Indians were right to call up a reliever for a couple of days before they had to make a decision about the fifth starter. As to what happens after that, ideally, I wouldn't call up either one of them. Neither has shown any indication that they deserve the spot in the rotation. But the Indians have to work with what they've got, so I suppose I would go with Carrasco.
I really like Laffey, but he just doesn't seem to have the stuff to be a viable starter. Laffey has proven that he can pitch very well for a couple of innings, but he starts to fall apart after four or five, and our overworked bullpen can't spell a pitcher every time he starts for half a game.
I don't know if Carrasco can do any better - he certainly didn't look like he could when he was given a shot to do so last season - but the Indians have nothing to lose by giving it a try. We know Laffey can't handle the job. Let's see if Carrasco can.
I still believe Huff can come back from this. He has great stuff, he just can't seem to control it right now. I think he needs to make a mechanical adjustment to his delivery, maybe change his release point. I also think it's possible he's tipping his pitches. These are things that can be corrected, and triple-A is the right place for him to do that.
Nino Colla: There will be no consideration, you will see a player called up before the game on Tuesday and it will likely be a reliever, maybe Joe Smith or Jess Todd. The more likely is Todd because it is likely this person called up is sent right back down on before Friday's game.
When the time comes, I think they will pick Laffey, but that isn't necessarily the choice I'd make. I think the club believes they owe Laffey an opportunity in the rotation after what he did in the spring and how they had to move him into the bullpen. He hasn't been great transitioning into a starting role, but he's been alright and like I said, I think it has more to do with the club wanting to make up for moving him.
I'd pick Carrasco though because I think it is time to get an extended look at him. I know he hasn't had the greatest season down in Triple-A, like Laffey's small stint, but I'm ready to see what he has in tryout number two.
If the club really wanted to reward the pitcher who deserves a call-up the most, and truly bring up the pitcher that has pitched the best, they'd call up Josh Tomlin. He would require a 40-man roster spot, but he's pitched better than all the other current options the club has and sooner or later, especially if he keeps it up, he's going to require some sort of shot, bullpen or rotation.
As for Huff, I think this is a move that is needed. His mechanics are all messed up and the only way to fix it is to work on it in a game setting. He can't be doing that up at the major league level because no one will be able to tolerate that. Since he has the options left, send him down and let him fix his issues there. I think he'll come back and be a better starter for it. I love Huff's stuff, he just has to remain consistent and part of that is fixing his mechanics.
The Coop: As I’m writing this, the Indians have made their decisions about how to juggle the pitching staff. Not sure why they didn’t consult me, but I digress…. Actually, it seems if they did consult you, Samantha, by calling up Smith for an extra bullpen arm until Friday, like you suggested. Now all you need to do is figure out how to get these guys to get some hitters out.
As you said, the Indians were left with a “difficult” decision. In my view, the reason this decision was difficult was because neither Laffey nor Carrasco exactly dominated at Columbus. Had either one been particularly impressive, the decision would have been easy (and probably would have been made sooner).
Basically, I’m fine with both of these moves. I’m not really sure what other options the Indians had. In some cases, I’m okay with letting a guy work out his issues in the majors, particularly when the team isn’t going anywhere. But when you have guys who have roughly the same talent level, as well as major league experience, hanging out in the minors, making a move is the right thing to do.
I do have hope for Huff. He pitched very well at the end of last season, and I really thought he was turning the corner. Setbacks are common. He’s only 26, and time is on his side. Huff pitches to contact (not a lot of walks, not a lot of strikeouts), so he really needs to focus on how to improve on the little things that will make that pitching style successful. Developing his curveball and learning how to keep hitters off-balance are things that he can do to get better, and indeed, these things are best worked out in the minors.
Lewie Pollis: I think a trip to Triple-A is just what the doctor ordered for Huff; he really needs to recapture his control and ability to miss bats.
A look at his strikeouts and walks shows you exactly why he was touted as a prospect yet has floundered in the Big Show. 8.1 K/9 and 2.4 BB/9 in the minors, 4.5 K/9 and 3.2 BB/9 in the majors.
He's been a completely different pitcher since he got the call last year, and he needs to rediscover the skills that got him this far in the first place. As for his replacement, why in the world are we getting Aaron Laffey? I'm sorry, but when you follow up a mediocre start to the season by walking almost a batter an inning in Triple-A ("For the most part, he's thrown the ball over the plate," Manny Acta said in a moment of unprecedented thoughtfulness), you don't reward him with a rotation spot over Carlos Carrasco and Yohan Pino. I have nothing more to say.
2. The Tribe still has six road games left to play against NL teams this week, which is bad news when it comes to the nine-hole in the lineup.
The Tribe staff is just a terrible group of hitters, even by "pitcher standards". C.C. Sabathia they're not.
As a manager, is there anything you can do to compensate for the dreaded "easy out"? Do you think the Tribe has enough solid bats off the bench to solve the problem with well-timed pinch hitting?
Who is the best hitter and worst hitter on the Tribe staff right now? Who is the best hitting pitcher you've ever seen?
Samantha Bunten: The "easy out" isn't something anyone ever wants to cede to an opponent. But it would be much easier to swallow if the rest of the lineup wasn't looking like a bunch of "easy outs" too.
The problem here isn't that the pitchers can't hit; they're pitchers. Of course they can't hit. The problem is that the hitters can't hit, and so the fact that pitchers have to bat in NL stadiums contributes to a problem that shouldn't exist in the first place.
The pitchers do need to learn how to bunt more effectively, but the bottom line is that it really isn't their job to hit. Blame the rest of the lineup, not the guys who can't make contact because they only have the opportunity to try it twelve times a season.
I'm not sure there's a "best" hitter on the staff right now. They're all pretty bad. None of our starters are guys who have spent a significant amount of time pitching in the NL though, so you really can't blame them when they've never had much opportunity to face major league pitching.
Best hitting pitcher I've ever seen? Hands down, without a doubt, it's Dave Burba.
Nino Colla: You can't compensate for the easy out, unless you get runners on base in front of the pitcher and use the bunt effectively. I really don't care for this because it is just something every club has to deal with, including the NL pitchers, even if they get more time at it.
I do want to say something in concerns to this and my problem is with the schedule, and this is something Manny Acta pointed out. What is it with the Indians getting nine NL road games in a row like this? It effectively cools off their hottest hitter in Travis Hafner by removing him from planet earth for nine straight games. No DH, no cleanup hitter...for nine straight games? That's bogus.
I'm all for interleague and it is cool that they play by the rules of the home ball park, but could the schedule makers not mix up these interleague games a little better so we aren't without our cleanup hitter for nine straight games, especially since he was just getting hot as this road trip started?
The NL is getting the advantage in interleague play, whether it is taking away the other team's DH, or gaining an extra hitter of their own. So why not make sure the AL teams aren't getting screwed in this situation?
The Coop: Let me put it this way – if the Indians’ first hitters get the job done and the pitcher does what he’s supposed to do on the mound, I’ll give up the “easy out” every time. Pitchers are there to do one thing: advance runners (usually by bunting). Not even National League teams count on their pitchers to do anything more than that.
The hitting ability of the Indians pitching staff is a red herring. That being said, seeing as how none of the Indians pitchers have any hits this year, I can’t refer to any of them as “best.” Some are less bad than others, but at this point, “bad” would be an upgrade for most of them.
In my opinion, the worst hitter on the team is Fausto Carmona. I almost feel bad for him, because it looks like no one ever even taught him how to hit. Two K’s and some terrible bunt attempts against Pittsburgh make him the hands-down winner.
The best hitting pitcher I’ve ever seen is probably either Sabathia or Rick Ankiel. I think I’d give the nod to Ankiel, because he was good enough to still play in the majors as an outfielder, even when he completely lost his ability to pitch. Then again, his career average is only .250, so I’m sure his career will be over soon. But at least he made it last a little longer because of his bat.
Lewie Pollis: An AL team's pitchers are unprepared to step to the plate? That's absolutely unacceptable. I hope some heads are going to roll over that one.
My memory is clouded by my youth at the time, but I remember being really impressed by Dave Burba's swing. Other than that, I'd say Carlos Zambrano. Dan Haren has looked pretty good this year too.
3. Given his unexpectedly stellar performance so far this season, Austin Kearns has become a valuable asset to the team.
Generally, Kearns is considered a veteran player whose stay with the Tribe is temporary. Kearns is not thought to be part of the team's future plans, but might that be a mistake?
Kearns is only 30, and the uncertainties about the health of Grady Sizemore and the true potential of Michael Brantley may mean that the outfield won't be as crowded as we once thought.
Do you see any merit in the Tribe looking to hang on to Kearns beyond the 2010 season? If not, is this because you would prefer to see another player in left in the future, or is merely because the Tribe might not be able to afford him?
Would you be willing to spend the money to keep him around? How much would Kearns be worth to you, contract-wise?
Samantha Bunten: I really like Kearns. There's nothing I would like more than to keep him around for a couple more years. But is that really the best way to spend our limited financial resources? Probably not.
The system is full of outfielders with potential. Even if Kearns can outplay them all, what good is one guy who can hit well if the team as a whole is still miserably bad? Spend that money on something that will be a bigger step toward improving the team as a unit, like relief pitching or some middle infield depth.
That said, if Kearns was willing to sign for a hefty discount for the next few years (three years at $4M per year, tops), I don't think I could say no to that. It's not the wisest move strategically, but it's definitely appealing.
Nino Colla: If this club didn't have a stock of outfielders waiting around in Columbus that includes Nick Weglarz, Michael Brantley, and Jordan Brown, I'd sign Kearns to a three-year contract. I love this guy that much and now that he is healthy, he's finally coming into that talent everyone thought he had.
Now, because we have that glut of outfielders in Columbus (and heck if you want to throw in Jose Constanza, and the three guys in Akron, McBride, Drennen, and Henry, that's fine as well) I would only consider bringing Kearns back as a fourth outfielder. Throw in the idea that the club has Wes Hodges potentially at first, which could shift LaPorta to left if you really really want to make things work offensively, and the fact that the club is getting some good play out of Trevor Crowe...
Yeah I think the club is better off trading Kearns at the deadline and settle with thanking him for his service. There are just too many options to see. It would be nice to have that solidarity in left field that Kearns has been provided, but economically, it would make more sense to find out if you have an answer in one of the five other options you have.
I love what Kearns has brought to the table and love that he's been able to revive his career in Cleveland. He wouldn't go for being a fourth outfielder though, and he shouldn't. Either way, he provides more value to the club in a trade than he does playing once or twice a week.
The Coop: I might take exception with calling Kearns’ season “stellar,” but I will agree that what he has given the Indians was unexpected.
It’s sad, really, that we’re talking about the value and long-term future of a so-called “power hitter” who is hitting .280 with only seven dingers and 32 RBIs. It’s more of an indictment of how hapless the Indians have been.
While Kearns’ season is good – relative to the rest of the Indians – it’s pretty mediocre by league standards. Kearns is fine as a veteran used to fill a hole, but he has very little overall value. If the Indians can trade him for anything worthwhile, they should. He’s on the downside of his career, and while he’s “only” 30, he’s not a guy the Indians should be building around.
I’d rather see the Indians give the job to a young guy who wins his spot in the spring. Ok, so if they can’t trade him, maybe the Indians can resign him to a one- or two-year contract for a little bit more than the league minimum. But any more time or money than that would be troubling to me.
Lewie Pollis: If Kearns is willing to sign for a discount—around $3-4 million a year, definitely not more than $5 million—as thanks for giving him the chance to revive his career, I'd be interested. Unless we can guarantee that, though, I'd rather trade him at mid-season.
Say what you want about the Indians, there aren't many holes on our depth chart (or at least, there won't be once a couple more middle infielders and pitchers gain some experience). Looking at our farm system, we're not going to have trouble trotting out a solid player at each spot in the next few years. We've got a decent supporting cast; what's missing is the stars.
Even forgetting about his inconsistent past, Kearns is good, but he definitely isn't great. I'll flesh this out more fully in another article soon, but given our depth and the fact that we've got a significant chunk of change coming off the books after the season, I'd rather see us splurge on a star. Namely, Adam Dunn.
4. A commenter weighing in on last week's Tribe Talk article suggested Josh Rodriguez as a possible replacement for the hapless Luis Valbuena.
What do you think of Rodriguez? Is he ready for a promotion to the majors?
Assuming you've seen enough of Valbuena, is there anyone else in the system who you might consider a viable replacement for him?
Samantha Bunten: I like J-Rod. He's got great potential. But is he ready for the majors? No way. But hey, apparently Valbuena isn't ready for the majors either, and he's been allowed to spend a significant portion of two seasons on the big league roster anyway. I don't see the harm in giving someone else a shot, even if the player might not be any better. Obviously, he can't be any worse.
Specifically, I would have some misgivings about whether Rodriguez's bat can handle major league pitching, and whether he's truly kicked the injury bug. But defensively, he's worlds better than Valbuena. Any way you look at it, J-Rod would be an upgrade.
Aside from J-Rod, Jordan Brown and Jared Goedert are the only other viable options. Neither of them are ideal either, but all three are probably a better choice than Valbuena. Heck, my dog is probably a better choice than Valbuena, and she drops pop flies all the time while chasing a tennis ball and doesn't have the opposable thumbs required to hold a bat.
Nino Colla: I love Josh Rodriguez, always have. The injuries knocked me off the bandwagon, because like with many minor leaguers, if a player isn't playing or is out of sight, they are usually out of mind. But now that he's healthy he's really earning his way back onto prospect status and he really deserves a shot sooner rather than later.
He started the year on the bench in Akron and has moved into a more regular role with Columbus since. Josh is a hard worker and good team player evident in his willingness to move around the diamond and the dedication he's put into coming back from injury. He's got a good glove at both short and second, so I know we can depend on him on either spot, unlike we can with Valbuena.
We'll need to see if his stick translates, but I say the most famous line you can when a player is hitting as poorly as Valbuena is. Could we really do any worse? I'm done with Anderson Hernandez and was before he even got here, ditto with Brian Bixler. Give me Rodriguez. And if you can't do that, inject Jordan Brown with the gene to play second base and get him up here because Valbuena is putrid right now.
The Coop: Admittedly, I don’t know much about Rodriguez and haven’t seen him play, but from what I understand about him, he’s still a few years away (at least) from contributing at the major league level. Hopefully, he develops sooner rather than later, because the Indians middle infield depth is severely lacking in the entire organization.
However, as Nino has pointed out, Valbuena is definitely a problem. As I have said here in the round table, I’ve been a supporter of Valbuena, but even my patience is wearing thin. He is just dreadful at the plate. Unfortunately, there aren’t a whole lot of viable replacements. Given that, I think the Indians are stuck with Valbuena for at least the rest of the year.
The Indians have enough guys that can spell him as needed, but they will need to seriously re-evaluate this position in the off-season. Where’s Jamey Carroll when you need him?
Lewie Pollis: I'm all for giving J-Rod a shot. He's showing great plate discipline and power, which can't be said for any of our MLB middle infielders. It's too early to call him up, as Jared Goedert has been raking in Columbus.
I would give him some time at the keystone, see if he can handle the transition. With Lonnie Chisenhall waiting in the wings, he'll need to learn a new trick anyway if he wants to be a part of the Tribe's future.
5. Fun Question of the Week: Two weeks ago, we shared our picks for what we would like the starting lineup at the All Star Game to look like for the NL.
This week, it's time to do the same for the AL. Please list your votes for who should be the starter at each position for the AL team.
Additionally, which player do you think should represent the Indians at thee All Star Game this year?
Samantha Bunten: C - Joe Mauer 1B - Billy Butler 2B - Robinson Cano SS - Derek Jeter 3B - Evan Longoria OF - Josh Hamilton, Alex Rios, Carl Crawford DH - Vlad Guerrero SP - David Price
As for the Indians representative, you have to give the nod to Kearns. Choo might be the guy I want to get it, but Kearns is the guy who has earned it.
Nino Colla: C - Joe Mauer; 1B - Miguel Cabrera; 2B - Robinson Cano; 3B - Evan Longoria; SS - Elvis Andrus; OF - Magglio Ordonez, Alex Rios, Josh Hamilton; DH - Vlad Guerrero; SP - David Price
I think the only tough choice comes down to shortstop, but I refuse to vote for Derek Jeter if it is ever close because I'm firmly a believer of giving someone new a chance once and awhile. Andrus has been studly.
I think the Indians representative should be Santana. Wait, too early? Okay fine... Shin-Soo Choo by a Choo because of his stolen base numbers. Kearns has similar offensive numbers, but Choo means more to the lineup and also provides the running spark, not to mention his arm in right. His route running not so much, but he's got a gun out there that Kearns doesn't.
I'd give Carmona some consideration and he still has some time to get consideration. It all depends on what pitchers make it and what outfielders make it, but I think it should be and will be Shin-Soo Choo.
The Coop: It’s worth noting that you asked who should be the Indians’ representative – singular – at the All-Star Game. There is only one, and it should be obvious to everyone, so does it even need to be said?
Here are my votes. If you think there are glaring omissions, I can explain. I hate the Red Sox and I hate Ichiro.
C – Joe Mauer 1B – Justin Morneau 2B – Robinson Cano 3B – Evan Longoria SS – Derek Jeter OF – Josh Hamilton OF – Magglio Ordonez OF – Carl Crawford DH – Vlad Guerrero SP – David Price
Lewie Pollis: Mauer is my catcher, but at this point I'd vote for V-Mart because the difference in their vote totals is a lot bigger than the difference in their talent. I have to go with Morneau's 4.4 WAR at first base, and I'll take Pedroia at second because I can't bring myself to vote for a Yankee. I'm divided at shortstop and third, so I'll take the underdogs: Gonzalez over Scutaro and Beltre over Longoria. Outfield is Crawford, Rios, and Choo, and I can't resist taking Big Papi as my DH.
Anyway, in response to your second question: CHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO