Tribe Talk: Indians Fans' Wait for Next Year Starts Now

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Tribe Talk: Indians Fans' Wait for Next Year Starts Now
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Shin Soo Choo

Welcome to Tribe Talk, where Bleacher Report's Cleveland Indians fans weigh in on the ups and downs of the club each week throughout the season.

With our Tribe deeply buried in the AL Central cellar, this week we start looking ahead to next year.

Exploring Chris Antonetti's transition to the GM position at the end of the season, venturing a few guesses as to what action the Indians will take on the free agent market this winter, and predicting what the future holds for the 2011 starting rotation and lineup. 

I would like to thank this week's participants Lewie Pollis, The Coop, and Nino Colla. This discussion is open to all, so please feel free to comment below and share your thoughts on the questions we're addressing this week.

Go Tribe!

1. With just over a month left in the season and the Tribe 21.5 games out of first and firmly entrenched in the AL Central basement, it's time to do what we in Cleveland do best: Wait til next year. 

With that in mind, let's make an attempt at an early assessment of how things will shake out for the Tribe in 2011, starting with the front office. 

Mark Shapiro will step down at the end of this season and move to the team president role, and Chris Antonetti will take over as GM. How do you feel about this change? 

Do you think Antonetti will be an improvement over Shapiro? Are you part of the camp that wanted Shapiro out? 

Given that Shapiro will still retain a role with the team, and that Antonetti is his protege, do you think this move will really make things any different? And for those of you who are satisfied with the job Shapiro has done, do you think Antonetti will follow suit?

Samantha Bunten: Seems like once again, it's time to bring up that trusty old "swapping deck chairs on the titanic" analogy. By bringing in Shapiro's long-time right-hand man as GM, and allowing Shapiro to stay on as team president, the Indians aren't really making any attempt to change course; they're just shuffling the deck. 

The move has a pointless feel to it. It won't result in a change from the current front office philosophy, which has largely failed us. It's like bickering over seating arrangements at a dinner party taking place in a burning building. 

Okay, okay, now that I've gotten to take my shots, I suppose I'll give Antonetti a chance for at least a season or two before condemn him to keeping us in the losing holding pattern we've been in under Shapiro. 

The optimism of that sounds a little lame even as I type it now, given that Antonetti has been groomed (crippled?) by Shapiro for years now, but who knows? Maybe he'll surprise us by bucking the trend.

Dare to dream. 

Lewie Pollis: The last 10 years have been extremely frustrating for every Indians fan, but that's not Shapiro's fault. He's made his share of mistakes, but I have no doubt that he is one of the best GMs in the game. 

Think about how he revolutionized the rebuilding process. For many teams, the word "rebuilding" means a decade of cellar-dwelling misery. 

We had it good—just three losing seasons separated the end of our Glory Days in 2001 from our 93-win resurgence in 2005. We were one game away from the pennant in 2007; now we have arguably the deepest farm system in the game and are likely to be serious contenders before the end of the Mayan calendar. 

And let's not forget the trades.

Shin-Shoo Choo, Asdrubal Cabrera, Carlos Santana... talk about great pick-ups. It's too early to judge the Lee and Martinez trades. Even if they haven't done much yet I'm quite pleased with getting Michael Brantley and Matt LaPorta in exchange for two months of CC Sabathia. 

Then, of course, there's the Bartolo Colon deal, which has to be remembered as one of the most lopsided trades in baseball history. 

I don't know what Antonetti will do once he takes the reins, but I'm betting that things won't change very much. I just hope that when Weglarz, Chisenhall, & Co. start tearing up the AL Central, people will remember who really built the team.

Nino Colla: I'm excited for the move. I can't wait to see a fresh type of leadership on the baseball operations side of things. It will remain to be seen if Antonetti will be an improvement, but I think Chris has the tools to be successful. 

I think the biggest thing for him is to establish his own way of doing things. I think in ways he is much like Shapiro, or else he wouldn't have been Mark's right-hand man all these years.

However, Chris is his own person and he has to do things his way while still following the organizational philosophy. I did not want Mark Shapiro to be fired because I think he has done what he could do with the budget and circumstances he's been given. 

Will things really be different?

The circumstances might be tougher for Antonetti and he may have a shorter leash with the fans because of all the recent talent brought in, but I think while it will be business as usual, Antonetti is going to be the guy calling the shots when it comes to that talent.

The Coop: The only good thing I can say about Mark Shapiro is that Larry Dolan didn’t do him any favors by being cheap. Shapiro was faced with the unenviable task of slashing payroll and rebuilding an entire organization. 

A lot of people have vilified Shapiro for cleaning house over the last few years (demolishing the house, really), but I don’t think Shapiro is so dumb that he wouldn’t have signed Sabathia, Lee and Martinez if his owner would have let him. 

Still, the “cheap owner” excuse only goes so far.

There are many, many playoff contenders (some perennial), who have done much more with much less.

Ultimately, Shapiro was a disaster. 

People thought he was a genius when they saw the returns on the Bartolo Colon trade. Looking back, we know that deal was very overrated. 

When he was given the chance to spend some money, he gave it to guys like Travis Hafner and Kerry Wood. Shapiro failed the Indians when it came to scouting and player development. Only until recently has the farm system gotten to where it needs to be. 

How many years did we have to put up with Jhonny Peralta because we couldn’t find or develop a third baseman? Oh, and he hired Eric Wedge. 

But what matters most is results. The Indians had two above-.500 seasons under Shapiro and zero World Series appearances. Who knows what Shapiro’s role will be as team president – but one thing is for sure: He (and Dolan) will be Chris Antonetti’s boss. Can you really expect anything different?

 

2. The Tribe will close 2010 with a lot of uncertainty regarding the future of the starting rotation. They have a lot of potential talent in the system, but whether there are five pitchers ready to take on a starting role in the majors remains to be seen. 

Who do you see as the five starters in the rotation at the beginning of 2011? Are there any dark horse candidates who don't get much press but who you think might be a long shot to grab one of the available spots? 

Are there any current starters for the Tribe who you don't see hanging onto their role next season?

Samantha Bunten: I think the most likely scenario is Carmona, Tomlin, Gomez, Talbot, and a free agent to be named later. 

There has been plenty of buzz that the Indians might bring back Jake Westbrook. I wouldn't rule out Carl Pavano returning either. 

They could fill the spot internally, but I think having a veteran in a rotation of mostly youngsters is important to their success as a group in ways that go beyond how said player will perform on the mound. This group needs a leader. 

Depending on the length/cost of the contract given to this pitcher, it's certainly conceivable he'll be flipped for prospects before the deadline, but by that point there's a good chance that at least one of the long shots from within the organization will have established himself as a viable candidate for the job. 

I don't think that person will be Masterson (like Coop always says, move him to the 'pen!). Rondon, Carrasco, Kluber, and even Alex White (if he's far enough along in his development) could all be in the running. I'm still hanging on to a shred of hope that Huff will finally get it together. 

Lewie Pollis: Unless they're traded in the offseason (certainly possible), Carmona and Talbot are shoe-ins. With or without Shapiro, the Indians' front office understands BABIP well enough to keep Masterson around, barring complete collapse. 

There's a chance we'll bring in another low-risk, high-reward veteran like Carl Pavano (there are rumors of re-signing Westbrook), but if not, it will be between Carlos Carrasco, Jeanmar Gomez, and Josh Tomlin for the last two spots. 

Personally, I'd pick Carrasco and Tomlin, but Gomez has the edge of being the rotation now. Don't count out Yohan Pino or Zack McAllister, though.

Nino Colla: I think the Indians do have a lot of uncertainty, but they've answered a lot of questions in regards to it, which is what this season was for. 

Fausto Carmona is a part of the rotation, I think we know that. I think we also know he is more of a No. 2 guy rather than an ace. I think we also know Mitch Talbot is a viable option at the back-end. 

I think we've found out that Justin Masterson may not be able to cut it in the rotation. We know he has the stuff. We know that if he were to be a viable starter, he would be a middle of the rotation guy. 

The problem is his two dominant pitches aren't enough for him to be a starter. Do the Indians truly believe he can develop another pitch or two? If they do, they probably should go with him again to start the year in the rotation. 

I think the rotation should shake out as: Carmona, Talbot, Gomez, Carrasco, Free Agent. I would add a veteran arm, a la Carl Pavano, to fill innings in the beginning of the year. 

Why?

To start the year, this team needs some veteran leadership. A rotation full of young guys isn't going to cut it and I think the rotation really benefited from having Jake Westbrook around this year. 

Carmona can't be that guy, so I'd bring someone in who could. Eventually, Huff, Tomlin, McAllister, Kluber, Rondon, etc. will all get their shots.

The Coop: I’ve got four for you: Carmona, Gomez, Tomlin, and Talbot seem like no-brainers. 

I’ve been saying it for awhile, but I am really hoping the Indians take a look at Masterson coming out of the ‘pen. Will they? Probably not. 

In my view, Gomez is probably the least likely of those four to land (or be given) a job. If you replace him with Masterson, I think you’ve got the core rotation for 2011. And while this isn’t exactly the ’71 Orioles staff, I have been impressed with all of these guys at certain points this season. I think it’s a very young but very talented group. 

That of course leaves the fifth spot.

I don’t normally think about the fifth spot in the rotation because normally it provides very little, but the job is wide open and I always like some good competition in the spring.

Gomez or David Huff seem the most likely candidates, but Huff is battling demons and I don’t think he’s going to turn it around anytime soon. 

After that, my money is on Carlos Carrasco, but I’d like to see if Hector Rondon or Alex White can give the other guys a run for their money.

3. Please list the position players who you believe will start on Opening Day next season. 

Are there any established starters who you believe are in danger of losing their job? 

Are there any long shots in the minor league system who you believe will surprise everyone and win a starting job next spring?

Samantha Bunten: Let's start with what we know for sure: Santana at catcher, LaPorta at first, Cabrera at short, Sizemore in center, and Choo in right. 

That leaves second, third, and left field as question marks. 

The left field job should be Brantley's to lose, which he's done an excellent job of doing this year on several occasions. Hopefully this was just him getting adjusted and working the kinks out, and next year he'll play up to his potential and win the left field spot permanently. 

I think Jason Donald has the best shot at the starting second base spot, though Cord Phelps may challenge him for it later in the season. 

Third base will continue to be the bane of our existence unless we go out and get a stopgap third baseman on the free agent market this winter to hold down the fort until Chisenhall is ready. Or at least until Goedert figures out how to field a hot grounder. 

Lewie Pollis: Obviously Carlos Santana will be behind the plate. Matt LaPorta and Asdrubal Cabrera will have first base and shortstop on lockdown. I'll be bold and say that some combination of Jared Goedert, Josh Rodriguez, and Cord Phelps will round out the infield. 

The outfield is tricky—Choo and Sizemore have spots for sure. Brantley, Crowe, and Brown having to battle it out in left. Assuming Sizemore rebounds, my bet is on Brantley winning regular playing time, with one of the other two getting traded. 

And it's hard to imagine benching Travis Hafner when we're paying him eight digits.

Nino Colla: Santana, Sizemore, LaPorta, Choo, and Cabrera to me are the only locks. 

Brantley needs to get back in the lineup, stay healthy, and continue to do what he was doing pre-injury and he could join that list. 

I think Jason Donald is doing enough to be a starter at second and be that guy until Cord Phelps or Jason Kipnis can take that spot over and thus shift Donald to the utility position. Or better yet, Donald takes off and makes it tough for the Indians to replace him. 

Obviously, third base is a hole. I don't think anyone can guess as to what will happen there. Jared Goedert apparently won't get a shot this September, which leads me to believe he could be on the outside looking in during the spring, but he still could win that post.

The Coop: C – Carlos Santana 1B – Matt LaPorta 2B – Jason Donald 3B – Jayson Nix SS – Asdrubal Cabrera LF – Trevor Crowe (sorry Samantha) CF – Grady Sizemore RF – Shin-soo Choo (Note: You asked for position players which is why I didn’t name Travis Hafner.) 

The thing is, the Indians don’t really have many established starters – not in my mind anyway. I’d say Choo and Cabrera are established and don’t have anything to worry about. 

I'm not holding out much hope for Grady. I have been burned too many times, which means we might be looking at more of Michael Brantely or Jordan Brown in left and Crowe in center. 

I expect Luis Valbuena to compete for a job somewhere in the infield. I don’t think that Brown or Brantley are ready. I’m hoping Andy Marte takes up a career in broadcasting.

Other than that, I don’t really expect any current “long shots” to earn a job. If they were even remotely ready to be in the majors, they’d be here already (and not in September). 

But, if you ever wanted to make it to the show for the Indians, learning how to play third or left field wouldn’t be a bad idea. And of course, no one can predict which over-the-hill veteran the Indians will overpay for in the offseason.

4. Given the team's financial constraints and where they are in the rebuilding process, the Tribe isn't likely to be too active on the free agent market this winter. 

Still, there are some holes that need to be filled, even if only in a temporary sense while the team waits for prospects to become major league ready. 

What position(s) do you see the Tribe seeking to fill on the open market this winter? Are there any specific players who will be free agents this year who you see the Tribe making a run at?

Samantha Bunten: Again, filling the void at third base is a top priority. Obviously we can't afford someone like Adrian Beltre (and honestly, we don't need him since we have Chisenhall in the system), but we do need someone who can stand next to the bag and at least pretend to be a real third baseman for one season. 

If possible, I would love to get someone over there who actually has the glove for the job. I was and still am very fond of Blake, Boone, and even Fryman, but let's face it: The last time we had a truly good third baseman? Matt Williams. Eek.

We'll also need that veteran pitcher mentioned previously. I'd be happy with Jake returning, but ideally I'd rather have Pavano. 

Beyond that, I wouldn't mind picking up a utility infielder with a truly good glove, but that's really not a priority. I would rather see the money put into long-term contracts for guys like LaPorta, Santana, and (if he straightens out) Michael Brantley.

Lewie Pollis: With Westbrook, Wood, and Peralta off the books, we'll save more than $25 million next year. 

Let's assume that arbitration raises cost us $10 million (not likely, but still)—we still have $15 million to play with without raising payroll. There's no real hole in the team that won't be filled with prospects, and wasting time with second- or third-tier free agents isn't likely to do us any good. 

If we want to improve via the free agent market, we'll need to make a big splash. 

Ready? Here goes: The Indians should trade Hafner for whatever they can get. Salary relief and a fringe prospect? That's fine. A promising prospect, but we have to eat a ton of money? Sold. Just make it happen. 

Then, we go out and sign Adam Dunn to DH and anchor the lineup for our future contending teams. Four years, $50 million would probably be more than enough to land him. That's a small price to pay for one of the most consistent power hitters in the game.

Nino Colla: They are going to look for third baseman, I think that is a given. They like Nix, but he can't play defense there. 

They won't make any big signing there. They could bring in one, maybe two, wouldn't shock me if they went with three, players on minor league deals in an attempt to fill that third base void. Pedro Feliz, Melvin Mora, Wes Helms, all guys that are older, potential minor league free deal guys that they could go after. 

Also, as I said earlier, they should go after a veteran starter. They shouldn't be spending any money at all, but a Carl Pavano incentive-type deal would make a lot of sense. 

I don't see a whole lot of names that jump out. I don't know if Jamie Moyer is getting a major league contract somewhere, but that wouldn't be a bad idea.

The Coop: When was the last time the Indians had above-average talent at third base or in left field? When Casey Blake is (was) your best third baseman since Travis Fryman, you’ve got problems. 

Meanwhile, the Indians haven’t had a fearsome left field slugger since Albert Belle (unless you count the “major league hitter” David Dellucci). 

So, in a perfect world, the Indians would be able to address these needs. Realistically, the Indians largely have no business being involved in the free agent market this off-season.

Sure, they’re going to need role players and some veterans just in case things don’t pan out with all of their young guys, but what’s the point? 

I mean, how many times do we have to watch the Indians rent guys like Mark DeRosa, Austin Kearns, and Carl Pavano, only to flip ‘em for a prospect or two? 

Sure, those types of guys can and have contributed, and it’s nice to see them fetch prospects, but is it really worth it to take innings or at bats away from the guys who we hope will be the long-term solution at their respective positions?

 

5. Fun Question of the Week: As stated above, limited budget and rebuilding plans will limit the Tribe's activity on the free agent market this winter. But just for fun, let's assume money is no object. 

If you were the Tribe's GM, and you had unlimited funds, which three free agents would you pursue for the Tribe?

Samantha Bunten: In my imaginary baseball Utopia, the first thing the Tribe does is bring back Cliff Lee. But much to my dismay, and the dismay of deluded Yankee fans, Lee will likely be staying in Texas. Since this is purely hypothetical though, I'll bring him in to be our ace and pay him $7 for the privilege. 

Beyond that, I'd love to see Matt Holliday in left field. I'd love to bring in Adam Dunn to compete for the DH job with Hafner, or to spell Matt LaPorta at first when we want to watch someone different strike out for the sake of variety.

Lewie Pollis: I already mentioned Dunn, and Cliff Lee is pretty obvious. 

Beyond that, I'd say Adrian Beltre—because if we could afford to get anyone we wanted, I'd say screw this whole rebuilding thing. Brantley, Choo, Beltre, Dunn, Santana, LaPorta, Sizemore, Cabrera, Nix. That would be the best lineup in baseball.

Nino Colla: I probably wouldn't actually pursue much. 

I like the guys we have at the locked positions, I think our outfield is set and if it isn't, Nick Weglarz is close enough to the point where I'd have no problem rotating the likes of Brantley, Zeke Carrera, Jordan Brown, and the infamous Trevor Crowe in at left field until he is ready.

Ditto for second base, as much as I'd love to have a guy like Orlando Hudson on my team. 

At third base, there really is nothing. Adrian Beltre is probably the best available if he doesn't exercise his option, but if it isn't a one year deal, I don't toy with Beltre. Part of what made him a great value for the Red Sox this past offseason was the fact that it was a cheap one year deal and how he produces in those situations. 

As for starting pitching... Cliff Lee.. Go bring him back, for real.

The Coop: Only three free agents? If we want the Indians to win more than 81 games, we’re gonna need more than three! 

My three would be Adrian Beltre (third base), Matt Holliday (left field), and Cliff Lee. 

Mediocrity, here we come!

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