January 26, 2008

Standing Pat

When the temperature hits single digits in January, it's baseball time. The Indians have had a quiet offseason, but Peter Gammons says it's because Mark Shapiro and his staff have laid the groundwork in previous years for a young, talented team, pushed and fed by a strong farm system. As tough as the Tigers lineup looks now with Cabrera, Gammons says they still have an unproven pitching staff.... but he likes the Tribe's pitching.

The Indians, meanwhile, will start the season with seven starting pitchers. Can they count on C.C. Sabathia and Fausto Carmona combining for 38 wins and a 3.15 ERA again? Probably not. But, remember, they left the city limits of Winter Haven, Fla. last spring thinking Cliff Lee and Jeremy Sowers were their second and third starters based on being a combined 21-15 in 2006 (Sowers was second in the AL in ERA in the second half), and both ended up at Triple-A Buffalo after they combined to go 6-14, 6.32.

Both Lee and Sowers are a lot better than that. Jake Westbrook is better than 6-9 and Aaron Laffey demonstrated consistent sink, athleticism and an ability to hold runners in his September and October stint. Adam Miller believes his arm and finger problems are behind him. But with Sabathia likely headed into free agency at the end of the season, Miller likely will be groomed to take his extraordinary talent into the rotation in 2009.

Joe Borowski is always going to scare Cleveland fans (that 5.07 ERA might have something to do with it), but he still had 45 saves and bounced back from virtually every derailment. With Rafael Betancourt, Jensen Lewis, Rafael Perez, Aaron Fultz and Kobayashi, the bullpen is deep and versatile.

Remember, Travis Hafner's home runs and OPS dropped from 42 and 1.098 in 2006 to 24 and .836, and Grady Sizmore's OPS dropped from .908 to .852 last season. This year, they will have Asdrubal Cabrera in the lineup from the start of the season. And don't forget, they finished the Yankees' season in New York last October and had the Red Sox down 3-1 in the ALCS before Josh Beckett slammed the door of momentum in their faces.

David Pinto's Baseball Musings uses something called the Lineup Analysis Tool to predict each team's 2008 offense. Cleveland's given runs per game is 5.6 (which would have been second in the league in 2007), Detroit's 5.58, Boston's 5.78 and the Yankees' 5.89.

Fortunately, Mark Shapiro is far from dead. He along with several of the other Indians front office executives, Chris Antonetti, Mike Chernoff, John Mirabelli and Ross Atkins and that very well put together organization are working on who and what will be in place when Sabathia leaves, or Casey Blake starts to age.

This winter's quiet is testament to all the work the Indians have done the previous seven years, with all that is in place to repeat as the winningest team in baseball.

One thing that Shapiro has tried to pull off is acquiring a power-hitting corner outfielder without giving up too much young talent in return. Who can blame him for holding back so far when the asking price usually starts with Adam Miller? My fond hope is that Ben Francisco, who arrived with such a splash last season, will grab on to the left field job in the Spring, and not let it go. Jason Michaels stays as the fourth outfielder. Then with talented young outfielders like Jordan Brown (#2) and Nick Weglarz(#6) coming up through the system, maybe Shapiro can focus his attention on other things.

Check out Baseball America's ranking of Tribe prospects. And here's a detailed look at a ranking of theTop 50 Indians prospects, a must for hardcore Tribe fans. Lots more at the home page Cleveland Indians Minor League Insider. I ended up there via The DiaTribe, a blog written by Paul Cousineau. If there's a better Indians blog, I haven't found it.

UPDATE 1/27: Terry Pluto's take in the Sunday PD.

Posted by dan at January 26, 2008 9:41 PM