October 12, 2005

Gushing Over Grady

Grady Sizemore came a long way between April and October. He was scheduled to start the season in AAA Buffalo, and instead put up a big league performance that had White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen calling him the best player in the AL Central Division. At 23 he's already a baseball star, and along with the talent comes the humility, the good looks, the hustle, and the personality to complete a package that a baseball team can market as an "attraction". The ABJ had a profile of Sizemore in Sunday's paper that's worth a look for any baseball fan.

Part of the attendance problem in Cleveland this past year was the lack of established players that the average fan knew about and followed game to game. Even though Travis Hafner, Coco Crisp, and Victor Martinez had established themselves as good players in 2004, they weren't exactly household names, even in Cleveland, until this year. Now you can add Jhonny Peralta and Sizemore to that group of familiar names in the Indians lineup, and they won't have that same issue next season.

More Tribe Stuff...

I'm heartened to see that the Indians front office doesn't share the public's pessimism about the prospects of signing Kevin Millwood, even taking the Scott Boras Factor into consideration. It is Dolan's first opportunity to prove that he can and will compete in the open market to retain his own quality players. Millwood cost the team $7 million this past year, and it will probably take every bit of 3 years and $33 million to sign him, but that still raises the payroll by only $4 million for 2006.

Just as heartening are Millwood's statements that he likes the city, doesn't have any particular attraction to playing in New York, and knows that if he's here in Cleveland, the team will be in contention for the postseason.

And just maybe Dolan has caught a whiff of the fans' distaste for his "first you come to the ballpark, and then we'll spend more money on payroll" attitude. Dolan might also take a look at his marketing and ticket sales operations, which obviously underperformed for him this year based on the product they had on the field. Someone call Angels owner Arte Moreno and ask him what they're doing out there.

By the way, the Indians payroll in 2005 was $41.8 million. Here are the 2005 payrolls of the eight playoff teams:

Atlanta - $85.1 million
Houston - $76.8 million
San Diego - $62.8 million
St. Louis - $92.9 million

Boston - $121.3 million
Chicago - $75.2 million
Los Angeles - $95 million
New York - $205.9 million

The lowest of the eight, the Padres' 62.8 million would seem to be a decent benchmark for Dolan to consider as the price of entry into Major League Baseball's postseason. But I'd be surprised if the Indians 2006 payroll is more than $55 million. That's an educated guess based on some of the team's public statements. So the practical question is whether they can succesfully upgrade the team at first base, right field and possibly third base given the regrettable but real salary constraints.

It will be interesting to see if Shapiro and Wedge remain committed to Aaron Boone at third base, on the hook as they are to pay him $3-4 million in 2006. Maybe they expect that one full season removed from his long injury season off, he'll recapture his old offensive form. I just hope they'll keep in mind what that old form was. In Boone's best years of 1998-2001, when he averaged hitting about .284, he still averaged only 16 homers and just over 50 RBI. In 2002, his best power year, he had 26 homers and 87 RBI, but batted only .241. So what you saw offensively in 2005 (.243, 16 HR, 60 RBI) is about what you're going to get from the guy, even if he's "all the way back" physically. My guess is they'll bite the bullet and stick with Boone for one more year, continue the development of 24-year olds Pat Osborn (.287, 10 HR, 63 RBI at AA Akron) and Kevin Kouzmanoff (.339, 12 HR, 58 RBI in 68 games at AAA Kinston) and look to make a change in 2007. Peralta may well end up here as well. As much as I like Peralta as a hitter and as much as I like his soft hands, I think he showed this year that he doesn't have the range to ever be a top-level defensive shortstop, and I think his future is at third.

The cheap answer to the situation at first base is to platoon Ryan Garko (.303, 19 HR, 77 RBI, .498 SLG at AAA) with Ben Broussard and get Garko's solid right-handed bat into the lineup against all those Central Division lefthanded starters. I have no idea what the organization thinks of Garko's ability to play a passable defensive first base at the big league level, and I haven't seen him enough to have any opinion on that. The club had to be hoping that Michael Aubrey was the first baseman of the future, but he was able to play in only 28 AA games this year because of back and other physical problems. 1B/DH Ryan Mulhern made an impression on the team brass in 2005, splitting time between Class A Kinston and AA Akron in 2005 and hitting a combined .315, with 32 HR and 94 RBI. And I didn't see him in Akron this year so I can't speak for his glove either. Too bad for these promising prospects that for the Indians, the future is now.

In right field, the Casey Blake experiment just has to be over. He played a better brand of defense out there than I had dared to hope for in April, but he looked lost and hopeless at the plate all year, especially so in the last month of the season, and a playoff team shouldn't have to live with a rightfielder who bats ninth. The team doesn't have another Grady Sizemore in the minor league system to plug into a corner outfield position in 2007, so I'm hoping that this is where Shapiro tries to make his other key move of the offseason (after signing Millwood) either through trade or free agency. If he has to part with some of his good young pitching prospects to get a proven run-producing outfielder, so be it.

The good news of course is that the first six spots in the batting order are set and signed for multiple years into the future. Signing Sauerbeck, Elarton and Howry along with Millwood will assure that the pitching staff will remain strong.

Think how hungry the Indians will be next year.

If I remember correctly, the pain goes away in time.


2005 Cleveland Indians Complete Minor League Statistics (pdf format)

Baseball America's 2005 Minor League All Star Teams

Posted by dan at October 12, 2005 6:33 PM