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June 18, 2008

On the Beat

A Tribe Trade?

by John Perrotto

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In the minds of some, the Indians are already sellers in the trade market. Reports are rife that the Yankees are going to make a big play to pry left-hander C.C. Sabathia--who is eligible for free agency at the end of the season--away from Cleveland to replace the injured Chien-Ming Wang at the top of their rotation.

However, the Indians aren't ready to write off 2008, at least not yet. That's despite the fact that Cleveland is 33-38 and 6 games behind the first-place White Sox in the AL Central, and has a slew of key players on the disabled list, including right-handers Fausto Carmona and Jake Westbrook, designated hitter Travis Hafner, catcher Victor Martinez, and second baseman Josh Barfield, who was injured two days after being called up from Triple-A Buffalo to replace the struggling Asdrubal Cabrera.

Despite all that, general manager Mark Shapiro hasn't reached the point where he is ready to start selling. "You prepare for both sides of it," said Shapiro, referring to the Indians climbing back into contention or falling further out of the race. "Then, when it's clear which direction you need to go, you have to be prepared to act quickly. I can't give you the date or the number for when that is, but when that time arrives, we need to know what's out there."

At the request of Sabathia, contract talks have been tabled until after the season. That is seen by many as a sign that Sabathia will bolt, despite his statements in favor of staying in the only organization he has ever known. It would therefore seem prudent for the Indians to try to trade him if they feel they are out of the race.

Shapiro, though, says two criteria must be met before the Indians consider trading Sabathia, or any other player. "One, we have to get the right value in return, and two, we have to feel it's the thing to do for the team," Shapiro said. "Both conditions have to be there for us to make a move."

The Indians made no major moves over the winter after winning the AL Central last season and coming within one game of getting to the World Series in a seven-game loss to the Red Sox in the ALCS. Shapiro, though, felt he did the right thing by standing pat. "Every night I look back on that and I can honestly say we would have done nothing differently," Shapiro reflected. "Given the free agents that were out there, the year we were coming off, the track record of the guys we were bringing back, given all of that, there is nothing I would have done differently."

The Indians nearly pulled off a trade with the Pirates for left fielder Jason Bay. The deal would have sent Bay and catcher Ronny Paulino to the Indians for left-hander Cliff Lee, catcher Kelly Shoppach, and right fielder Franklin Gutierrez. However, the Pirates decided they did not want to take on the $10.5 million owed Lee this season and next, and the Indians also had second thoughts about giving up so much. "We could have made a very painful trade for a corner bat that maybe would have added one or two more wins to our total," Shapiro said. "But to counter what has happened to us this year, looking back, I see nothing we could have done in the offseason that would have prevented this."

So, what has happened to the Indians this year? "Some of the things that have happened to us are disappointing, but the magnitude of those disappointing things is beyond what we could have foreseen," Shapiro said. "Injuries are a part of it, but what's been unique is the injuries combined with the disappointing performances we've gotten from certain guys, and that there have been no positive surprises."

---

On pace to become the first team in major league history to lose 100 games with a payroll of at least $100 million, the Mariners decided to fire the man who constructed the roster, jettisoning GM Bill Bavasi on Monday. Lee Pelekoudas, the Mariners' assistant GM and a 29-year veteran of the organization, was given the GM job on an interim basis.

It appears Pelekoudas will hold the job for the remainder of the season, as team president Chuck Armstrong has told him to start formulating a plan for the July 31 non-waiver trading deadline. Pelekoudas is likely to begin a revamping of the roster by making three starting pitchers available: left-handers Erik Bedard and Jarrod Washburn and right-hander Miguel Batista. Armstrong said he will begin compiling a list of GM candidates while evaluating the job performance of Pelekoudas, son of former National League umpire Chris Pelekoudas.

"We want to leave no stone unturned, and come up with a comprehensive search for the person to be our permanent GM," Armstrong said during the news conference to announce Bavasi's firing. "If we decide it's Lee Pelekoudas, it won't be because we haven't turned over every stone in our search."

The Mariners' job is considered a plum because of ownership's commitment to spending money while staying in the background. That is why two current GMs, the Padres' Kevin Towers and Yankees' Brian Cashman, are already being mentioned prominently as potential candidates, along with three highly-regarded assistant GMs: the Indians' Chris Antonetti, the Athletics' David Forst, and the Dodgers' Kim Ng.

Mariners CEO Howard Lincoln, meanwhile, sounded like a man whose patience has been exhausted and who might be willing to pull the trigger again, as his team has the worst record in the major leagues at 25-46. "I expect the manager, the players and the coaching staff will get going," Lincoln said. "We are open to all ideas. Nothing is off the table. We are prepared to make other changes. Ultimately, the buck stops with me. We have a seven-person board of directors and I'm the representative of Nintendo [and majority owner Hiroshi Yamauchi]. I have let both know that I'm ultimately responsible."

---

That Willie Randolph was fired as the Mets' manager early Tuesday morning came as no surprise. The move had been rumored for weeks, and the Mets were 34-35 at the time Randolph was axed, that after the hangover from last season, when they blew a seven-game lead over the Phillies in the National League East during the final 17 games.

However, the way GM Omar Minaya handled the firing besmirched his reputation as one of the game's good guys. Minaya gave Randolph the news at the team hotel after the Mets beat the Angels 9-6 in Anaheim on Monday night. That came after the Mets had made a cross-country flight the previous night following a double header against the Rangers in New York.

It seemed rather inhumane that Minaya would force Randolph to fly across the country and then fire him along with pitching coach Rick Peterson and first base coach Tom Nieto. The news was also announced via an e-mailed press release at 3:14 a.m. ET.

However, Minaya defended himself during a Tuesday news conference in which bench coach Jerry Manuel was officially introduced as the interim manager. Manuel rates a good chance to keep the job on a permanent basis, as he had a 500-471 record in six seasons as the White Sox's manager from 1998-2003, winning AL Manager of the Year in 2000.

"I want to be clear with this, because the actual implementation of this was my biggest fear once the decision was made, was that a third party would let Willie know, and then he is managing the game knowing that he was let go," Minaya said. "I would think myself I did not want that to happen. If we were on the East Coast at 11 o'clock at night or West Coast [at] 2-3 in the morning, and it's standard procedure. In reality I am looking [at] 11 o'clock at night after a game--standard procedure in letting a manager go in this game."

Minaya also said he had not made up his mind before the Mets left New York. "I could not do this on Friday," Minaya said. "I could not do this on Sunday. The reality is, I made the decision myself after sleeping on it on Sunday. I told Willie the moment I made the decision. I wanted to go directly to Willie myself and tell him."

---

A heavy rainstorm brought an even earlier end to a baseball tradition Monday, as the last scheduled Hall of Fame Game between the Cubs and Padres was washed out at Doubleday Field in Cooperstown, New York. The game had been played every year since 1940. It started out being played on the day of the induction ceremonies until 1979, when it was shifted to the day after. In 2002, the game was moved to June.

The Major League Baseball Players Association had all in-season exhibition games except the Hall of Fame Game eliminated in the last collective bargaining agreement, and now the Hall of Fame Game has been lost because of the difficulty of finding two teams with the same open date to meet in a central New York village that is not easily accessible by airplane.

"As you know, our teams play 162 games in 180 days," Commissioner Bud Selig wrote in response to the congressional inquiries on why the game is being eliminated. "With interleague play and interdivision matchups, finding two teams that could be scheduled into Cooperstown during an off day has become exceedingly difficult."

Not everyone is taking this lying down. Kristian Connolly, a former Cooperstown resident who now works for a non-profit organization in Washington, is hopeful that the Hall of Fame Game can be saved. She has a website devoted to the cause.

---

NL Rumors and Rumblings: Reds GM Walt Jocketty continues to evaluate his roster and is no rush to overhaul his team. The rumors of right fielder Ken Griffey Jr. being traded to the Rays appear to be overblown. The Mets are interested in Rockies closer Brian Fuentes after unsuccessfully trying to trade for him in the offseason. Brewers infielder Bill Hall continues to hope for a trade to a club that will play him everyday, but there has been little interest in him.

AL Rumors and Rumblings: Though right-hander A.J. Burnett insists he may not opt out of the final two years of his contract with the Blue Jays at the end of this season, Toronto is prepared for that to happen, especially in light of him telling the Chicago Sun-Times over the weekend that he would relish pitching for the Cubs. Blue Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi and manager John Gibbons are safe for now, and probably through at least the end of this season. The Yankees' backup plan if they are unable to acquire Sabathia is to trade for right-hander Derek Lowe if the Dodgers feel they are out of contention. The White Sox had interest in signing free-agent outfielder Kenny Lofton, but balked at his asking price of $2.5 million. The Athletics have started to explore the idea of signing second baseman Mark Ellis to a multi-year contract extension before he can become a free agent after the season. It is looking more and more likely that Brandon Inge will be the Tigers' starting catcher next season, with Ivan Rodriguez leaving in free agency. Veteran right-hander Aquilino Lopez is being converted from a reliever into a starter at Triple-A Toledo, giving the Tigers another potential option for their rotation.

---

Scouts' views of various players around the major leagues:

  • Braves rookie right-hander Charlie Morton: "It's hard to believe this kid spent four years in Class-A ball. He's got dominant stuff. His fastball hits 96 mph, he's got a nasty curveball and his sinker and changeup aren't bad pitches. This kid has a chance to be the Braves' next great pitcher."
  • Marlins catcher Matt Treanor: "He's done a really nice job in his first chance as a starting catcher, but I think you're starting to see him get exposed. Guys who are 32 and are backup catchers are in that boat for a reason. He's a nice No. 2, but he's stretched as the main guy."
  • Rays center fielder B.J. Upton: "He's really growing as a player. He's no longer just getting by on sheer talent. He understands the game. He has a plan when he steps in the batter's box, and he's playing smart in the field and on the bases."
  • Mariners center fielder Ichiro Suzuki: "He's the one guy on that club that the losing is really eating up. You can tell by the look on his face and by his actions that he is miserable. He's not playing with a whole lot of life."
  • Orioles rookie right-hander Radhames Liz: "He was overmatched when they brought him up from Class Double-A last year but he's ready now. He's got great stuff and he's a lot more aggressive with it now. He's not scared to throw strikes anymore. He has a chance to be a really good one."
  • Indians center fielder Grady Sizemore: "He's always been a very good player, but now he is taking that last step to superstardom because he is learning to turn on more pitches and drive them out of the park. Some people say the Indians should move him out of the leadoff spot of the batting order, but I disagree. What's wrong with having a 1-0 lead right off the bat?"
  • Cardinals right fielder Ryan Ludwick: "My head tells me he's got to come back to earth pretty soon, but my heart is telling me this kid is a late bloomer and for real. We'll see, but he certainly hasn't looked like a fluke so far this season."
  • Royals catcher John Buck: "He's really starting to take charge of that pitching staff. He's always been a pretty decent offensive player, but now he's becoming a leader behind the plate, which is something the Royals need."
  • White Sox reliever Scott Linebrink: "I thought the White Sox were crazy for giving him that big contract [four years, $19 million as a free agent] but [GM] Kenny Williams is having the last laugh. [Linebrink's] been ridden pretty hard over the years, and I really thought he was burning out last season, but he's just one of those guys with a rubber arm."

John Perrotto is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see John's other articles. You can contact John by clicking here

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