Thursday, May 14, 2009

Gathering my thoughts on the Tribe

Missed a day of posting yesterday as my oldest arrived for a visit for the first time since setting off to make his way in the world in January.

A lot of things have happened since my last post just two days ago. Not surprisingly, I have a few thoughts on many of them.

Most importantly, Mark Shapiro gave Eric Wedge and his coaching staff a vote of confidence. A lot of blogs have been using the term the "dreaded vote of confidence," meaning that's the last step before a firing. But I really think Shapiro - right now - is committed to sticking it out with Wedge.

I say "right now" because that phrase preceded Shapiro's comments on the matter. Still, at this moment, I really do believe Shapiro intends to stay with his manager. Let's see how this road trip goes, at the very least, to see if the sentiments remain the same.

Shapiro has lots of time to pull the trigger if it comes to that, because no matter how badly the team has played, the rest of the division seems to want to keep the Tribe on the party invitation list. They are only 5 1/2 games out, so that buys Wedge and Shapiro some time.

One thing that can be said about the two of them, unlike last year, they are not taking the disappointing performance lying down. They are pulling out every stop I can think of to try to turn things around while everyone else in the division is treading water.

In his recent comments on the state of the club, Shapiro - correctly - said the biggest issue is to straighten out the bullpen. His most significant move to date has been to move Aaron Laffey from the rotation to the pen. Many have criticized this as robbing Peter (the rotation) to pay Paul (the pen). While that is true, I thought at the time - and still think now - that it was a move that had to be done. The bullpen was hemorrhaging runs at the time. At least the blood flow has slowed a bit since the Laffey tourniquet was applied.

The second bullpen move at the major league level has been to bring up Matt Herges and send Vinnie Chulk on his way. To me it seemed like six of one, half-dozen of the other. So far Herges has been okay, though in limited duty.

A third move came today, when Luis Vizcaino was added to the roster, with Jeremy Sowers being sent to the minors.

Vizcaino was effective with the Cubs (four scoreless appearances) and was kind of shocked to have been cut there. I remember him from 2007 when he joined the struggling Yankees mid-season and helped to settle their pen down. He is up and down and has been throughout his career. But when he is hot, he's nice to have around. He's a gamble worth taking for sure.

Although Sowers was the one sent packing today, the Tribe will need another starter soon. That figures to be David Huff. When that need arises, someone from the bullpen will be gone. The general feeling is that Masa Kobayashi will be the one sent packing.


Kobayasha - if he hadn't already done so by his pitching and his early retirement at the end of last season - likely punched his ticket out of town when he pretty much said earlier this week that MLB hitters are better than what he was used to seeing in Japan and that he - essentially - is over matched here.

There's more going on with the bullpen below ground - or at least at levels below the major leagues. The Tribe has transferred three minor league pitchers from the starting rotations of various clubs to the bullpen. The most notable among these is Hector Rondon, who was moved from Akron's starting rotation to its bullpen. The first returns were not encouraging as Rondon gave up three runs (two earned) on six hits over two innings and took the loss in his first relief outing Tuesday night.

This move is not unlike the move of Laffey in that it weakens the depth of the stable of starters throughout the organization. Normally, that is not something I would be happy about. But it seems the organization is truly taking a win-now approach to things (finally), and that is welcomed in a year in which the division winner in the Central may not see 90 wins.

Like Laffey, Rondon can always be put back on the starter track - either later this year if some members of the original pen regain their form, or next season when the Tribe undoubtedly gives the pen another face lift in the off-season.

Some have argued that it would have made sense to put Sowers in the pen (since he's effective one or two time through the lineup) and keep Laffey in the rotation. On the face of it that sounds logical, but the Tribe was so desperate to restore at least some order to the pen that they had to go with someone who seemed to be a reasonably sure bet.

Which brings us to some of the changes going on in the lineup.

We can only hope that we've seen the last of David Dellucci as a regular and that we'll be seeing a lot more of Matt LaPorta. Both Shapiro and Wedge have led us to believe as much in the past couple of days. But we'll see.

There are also strong indications that Jhonny Peralta will be playing at least some 3B (hopefully a lot of 3B) in the days ahead. That leaves 2B open for Luis Valbeuna and Jamey Carroll. An infield with either guy at 2B, Asdrubal Cabrera at SS and Peralta at 3B would seem to be a significant step up from the current lineup.

I would hope Wedge would give Valbuena fist crack and keep the versatile Carroll on the bench for late-inning duty, but Carroll may see a lot of playing time if Wedge decides to move lead-off hitter Grady Sizemore down in the lineup. (More on than in a minute.)

Mark DeRosa will, and should, still see regular duty under the new alignment, either at 1B, the outfield or giving Peralta a rest at 3B. I still see him playing every day because he has a good stick - even if he hasn't shown it yet.

LaPorta may end up being given regular time at 1B. I'm fine with that, as long as he gets regular time somewhere for long enough to prove he belongs or that he needs to go back down to see a little more Triple-A pitching. There is no justification for the in-between status that has been his until two days ago.

One final thought, on Sizemore being moved down in the order. Until this year I was against the suggestion every time it came up. But his strikeout ratio, batting average and OBP have been so bad this season it's hard to keep him in the No. 1 hole. His propensity to drive in runs (though he's left a lot on lately) would also seem to call for a spot in the middle of the order.

My only problem with all of this is who will lead off? Cabrera has been a perfect fit in the No. 2 hole. Will he put added pressure on himself if he is moved to the leadoff spot? Does Carroll bring enough to the table to be an everyday player?

No one else comes close to fitting the bill that I can think of. Do any of you have any thoughts?


Triple said...

how bout just flipping choo and sizemore?

while i agree this isn't ideal it does give someone in Choo who is getting on base at a reasonable clip although he is striking out nearly as much as grady.

I kinda like the lefty,switch,switch,lefty start to the lineup

other thought was derosa but he's not getting on base often enough to warrant hitting first

Triple said...

by the looks of this Garko is our most disciplined hitter as far as not swinging at pitches outside the zone

Ron Vallo said...

Choo does steal more bases than he looks like he is capable of doing, so it's a thought. But as you point out he strikes out a lot too.

I don't think DeRosa is the answer for sure.

I'm not sure there is an obvious choice and perhaps it would all clear up if Grady would go back to scratching his way on once in awhile and slapping the ball the other way a bit.

Anonymous said...

Why would anyone want Sizemore batting third hitting .225 when VMart is hitting .400? There is no other leadoff hitter.

Carroll is a backup.

Valbuena is a minor league hitter right now.

LaPorta is a liability at 1B. DeRosa is better there. Leave Matt in the OF.

Have little or no use for Garko (slow singles hitter), Shoppach (1 game out of 5 is enough), Francisco (4th OF at best), and obviously Delucci.

Peralta is a lot better at 3B than anyone thought he would ever be. Leave him there.

There is ZERO chance of Laffey returning to the rotation. He is now a reliever - period.

Anonymous said...

This fan love affair with Garko is really stupid. Please check his slugging numbers.

DeRosa, VMart, LaPorta are all better choices at 1B.

Anonymous said...

I'm NOT a fan of LaPorta at 1B. He played there in college but needs more practice there and right now isn't the time to experiement. It's tough enough breaking in as a rookie at 1 position. Playing 2 or 3 makes it nearly impossible. Stay in LF and let him hit.

1B should be GARKO. He's one of the 3 best cluth hitters on this team and has been the last 2 years. Led the team in RBIs last year (tied with Grady) and set a MAJOR LEAGUE RECORD for most RBIs in a season when playing 50 or fewer games (45) in 2006. This guy is a true ML hitter. He's a poor man's Edgar Martinez and should be in the lineup everyday. His 'choke up on the bat' approach is the PERFECT compliment to the hackers in this lineup. Shoppach should only be catching once a week, twice tops. He's not a good backup. He either needs to play everyday (like last year) or traded soon before his value plummets too far. It won't happen, but it should.

Ron Vallo said...

I've been around for a while and I grew up with the notion that SS and 2B is filled by guys who can really field the position. Same with CF. Hitting is bonus.

I'm not sure Valbuena is ready. I guess they should take a little longer look but I think he was brought up with LaPorta to make a splash - to try to shake things up.

LaPorta was a good move, Valbuena not so much. Not yet.

I'm not sure how good DeRosa would be at 2B. I was surprised at how bad he was at 3B. Maybe 1B is the best place for him.

I have to say I did not see Thursday night's game but saw the Peralta highlights before the game tonight and he made all the plays at 3B

I think the "regular" lineup should be

c. Martinez
1b DeRosa
2b.(see below)
ss Cabrera
3b Peralta
LF LaPorta
CF Sizemore
RF Choo
DH Garko (Hafner if he ever stays healthy)

Shoppach should play 1-2 days a week with Martinez moving either to DH or 1B (with an occasional day off)

Ben Francisco and Dellucci should see very little time. Francisco can spell LaPorta from the 7th or so on when the Tribe is ahead (give the pen all the help they can get).

Now for 2B. I would send Valbuena back because he is young and needs to play. If he's up here, play him. If it becomes obvious he needs more work, send him down and finally give Barfield a second chance. If both of those things fail, defensively Carroll is great at 2B and you can live with him as a regular offensively.

We can argue about the batting order another time.