Tri-State at the Plate Episode #95: Tinkering Tito and Twenty-Six Man Rosters

On this week’s episode, Andy and Bob lament their long absence from the podcast recording universe before talking about Major League Baseball’s new collective bargaining agreement negotiations and the potential impact of a 26-man roster. Then they unwittingly create an advertisement for the Australian Baseball League and talk about how it can be viewed for free during the cold, winter months leading up to Spring Training. The duo then dig into the 2016 post season that was for the Cleveland Indians and talk about making trades using hindsight. Next, they look towards 2017 and beyond for the Pittsburgh Pirates as it pertains to Andrew McCutchen, the starting rotation, and first base. They talk about the incredibly thin free agent market and wrap up with a fun fact about former Erie SeaWolf and current American League Rookie of the Year, Michael Fulmer.

Noise on the North Coast – May 5

By Jason Ruggiero

Noise on the North CoastAlong the North Coast a lot can happen in one week’s time and the Indians have done their best to prove that old adage. After being swept by the Giants and the Angels the Indians were two outs away from sweeping the White Sox before the pendulum swung back the other way. All that means there is a lot to talk about today, so let’s dig into another edition of Noise on the North Coast.

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Noise on the North Coast – March 24

By Jason Ruggiero

Noise on the North CoastWell we are finally here, one week from Opening Day (the real Opening Day that is, you know the one played in the United States at a normal time). In fact, this will be the final Spring Training edition of Noise on the North Coast.  So kick back and catch up on the last bits of news from Goodyear and try to forget about all the cruel jokes Mother Nature is playing up and down the North Coast.

 

 Pestano and Johnson Make the Cut

On Sunday, Indians GM Chris Antonetti met with Manager Terry Francona and members of the player development staff to begin the process of whittling down the Spring Training roster to 25 players. The day before it was announced that right-hander Vinnie Pestano and utility man Elliot Johnson would be on the Opening Day roster. That same day the Indians announced that outfielders Jeff Francoeur and Matt Carson would not be making the final roster. Francoeur was released while Carson was told he will finish the spring in big-league camp before being optioned to Triple-A Columbus.

 

Aaron Won’t Be Harang-ing Around Much Longer

During the meetings on Sunday the Indians staff informed Aaron Harang that he would not be on the 25-man roster to open the season. Harang has an opt-out clause that must be exercised by the end of today and it appears that he has exercised that clause and signed a deal with the pitching-starved Atlanta Braves.

Carlos CarrascoSo that still begs the question – who will grab that final rotation spot? On Sunday Antonetti and company wouldn’t say anything more specific than that the choices have been narrowed to Carlos Carrasco, Josh Tomlin and Trevor Bauer. While Bauer had a fantastic outing in a B-game last week  I think he has the lowest chance of making the team. (UPDATE – He was optioned to Triple-A this afternoon.) Tomlin has pitched great but he is out of options and the Indians need some kind of quality depth at Triple-A that they can count on. Carrasco had a decent outing today against the Reds, so I think Tomlin’s best chance to make the rotation went out the window when Harang opted-out of his contract and signed with Atlanta.

On Monday C.C. Lee was also optioned out to Triple-A Columbus. That means Blake Wood will most likely start the season as the seventh man in the bullpen. The only hitch would be if the Indians only keep seven relievers and Tomlin makes the rotation. However, the 25th roster spot is still un-decided (even after the moves explained below). If that move goes to a pitcher three of the following four could still make the team, Wood, Carrasco, Tomlin and Scott Atchison.

 

The Chiz Kid

Thankfully the Indians announced Monday afternoon that Lonnie Chisenhall would be part of the Opening Day roster. We all know that Chisenhall can succeed in Triple-A and he has nothing else to prove there. My concern going forward is that if Chisenhall begins to struggle will Tito still find the strength to write his name on the lineup card when he has another legit option in Carlos Santana? I understand this may be Chisenhall’s final chance, but I just hope he does indeed get a chance.

 

Does T-Plush Get His Own Locker?
On Monday the Indians also announced that Michael Bourn would be added to the disabled list and that outfielder Nyjer Morgan would make the Indians Opening Day roster.

Michael Bourn's injury has opened the door for Nyjer Morgan and his alter-ego T-Plush to start the year in Cleveland.

Michael Bourn’s injury has opened the door for Nyjer Morgan and his alter-ego T-Plush to start the year in Cleveland.

Obviously the news about Bourn is concerning but I’m not at all surprised. As I wrote in last week’s column the usual timetable for a hamstring strain recovery is around 4 weeks and the Indians were suggesting that Bourn could be ready in a week. While he might be ready if the ALCS started tomorrow I think it’s best to take the cautious approach with your $48 million outfielder.

With that out of the way there is one interesting thing to watch here. If Morgan gets a lot of playing time than the Indians obviously were not comfortable switching Michael Brantley back to center in Bourn’s absence. If Morgan plays sparingly and Brantley does slide back to center it seems odd that the front office would choose to keep Morgan over someone like Francoeur who at least brings a right-handed bat (and some power) to an all left-handed outfield.

 

Random Musings

–  I made my feelings about the Indians and Justin Masterson breaking off extension talks pretty clear in my piece on Friday so I won’t belabor that point anymore except to add one thing. There are already people out there talking about how the Indians will trade Masterson before the end of the season. The Indians already have a bit of a PR disaster on their hands by not extending Masterson and if they trade him they will have a full-scale revolt. Unless the Indians just absolutely tank this season I can’t imagine a scenario where the Indians trade Masterson during the season.

– When the major league players pack up and leave Goodyear later this week veteran right-hander Shaun Marcum will be staying behind in extended Spring Training. I had high hopes for Marcum but he is still working his way back from thoracic outlet syndrome surgery and has only thrown a handful of innings thus far. When he is ready for a full-scale rehab assignment then we will begin monitoring his progress again.

Opening Day Cactus League Style

By Jason Ruggiero

The Indians will open their Cactus League schedule today at 3:05 p.m. ET versus the Cincinnati Reds. Trevor Bauer will start the game for the Indians and be followed by Aaron Harang, Nick Hagadone, Colt Hynes, T.J. House, C.C. Lee, J.C. Ramirez and Preston Guilmet.

In the field Manager Terry Francona’s lineup will shape up like this:

CF – Nyjer Morgan

SS – Asdrubal Cabrera

2B – Jason Kipnis

3B – Lonnie Chisenhall

LF – Ryan Raburn

C – Yan Gomes

RF – Jeff Francoeur

1B – David Cooper

DH – David Adams

 

The Reds will start the game with Alfredo Simon on the hill and the following alignment in the field:

CF – Billy Hamilton

2B – Brandon Phillips

1B – Joey Votto

LF – Ryan Ludwick

RF – Jay Bruce

3B – Todd Frazier

SS – Zack Cozart

C – Devin Mesoraco

DH – Brayan Pena

 

The Indians and Reds will square off again on Thursday. In that game the following Tribe pitchers are scheduled to work: Justin Masterson, Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Tyler Cloyd, David Aardsma, Josh Outman, Blake Wood and Mike Zagurski. On Friday, Josh Tomlin is scheduled to work the first two innings followed by John Axford, Scott Atchison, Cody Allen, Mark Rzepcynski, Travis Banwart and Scott Barnes.

 

Allen, Shaw, Swisher and Bourn on Delayed Schedules

Nick SwisherAs you can see from the scheduled pitchers listed above Cody Allen won’t make his spring debut until Friday and Bryan Shaw won’t work in a game until sometime after that. According to Francona this is all according to plan. Francona told the Cleveland Plain-Dealer that “I’d like to start them about a week behind everyone else. This will give us a chance to look at the other guys.” Allen, who made the second-most appearances in the American League last year (77), supports the plan to ease him back into game shape.

Centerfielder Michael Bourn is expected to play on Thursday versus the Reds but Nick Swisher will be held out of the first “four to five” Cactus League game this spring. Once again that schedule is all part of Francona’s plan to ease the regulars into game action while getting a better chance to evaluate guys who are fighting for a roster spot like Nyjer Morgan, Jeff Francoeur, David Cooper, Bryan LaHair and David Adams.

 

 

Goodyear Notebook – Feb. 20

By Jason Ruggiero

Goodyear Notebook Cleveland Indians Spring Training Cactus League Arizona

Indians and Masterson Avoid Arbitration Hearing
The Indians wrapped up their arbitration hearing schedule on Tuesday by agreeing to a one-year $9.7 million deal with starting pitcher Justin Masterson. Masterson and his agent Randy Rowley were scheduled to fly to St. Petersburg, Florida on Tuesday in preparation for right-handers arbitration hearing with the Indians on Thursday. All parties seem to be thankful that won’t have to happen now.
Now that arbitration case is settled it will be worth it to keep an eye on any long-term contract negotiations between Masterson and the Indians. Those talks were put on hold about a month ago in order focus on the arbitration case but there was not a true breakdown in negotiations. In fact, Masterson admitted that those long-term negotiations continued to work their way into his arbitration negotiation. Many people are skeptical about the Indians extending Masterson but with the Ubaldo Jimenez ship fully out of the port I think there may be a renewed focus on signing Masterson.
Carlos Santana and the Continuing Tale of Third Base
It won’t be long now before we all get a chance to see Carlos Santana play third base for the Indian. Right now, only those in Goodyear have that privilege but all reports are positive.
Manager Terry Francona said that Santana has been working incredibly hard to learn the position. In fact, he has even been taking a practice ball back to his room at night so that he can continue working on his side-to-side movement.
Carlos Santana and his epic chinstrap beard have been taking groundballs at third base this Spring.

Carlos Santana and his epic chinstrap beard have been taking groundballs at third base this Spring.

Santana began playing third base this offseason in Winter Ball with his Dominican team Leones del Escogido. Initially he struggled but eventually he progressed to the point where he was beginning to look comfortable. In fact, his Leones team continued to use Santana at third base throughout the playoffs. It’s important to remember that fact since Winter Ball teams are not at the mercy of MLB teams. In other words, if Santana was struggling they could have easily moved him back to first base for the playoffs. The fact that they didn’t do that means they had confidence in his abilities at the hot corner.

If you follow this site you know that I have always been a fan of Lonnie Chisenhall so I think it will be interesting to watch Chisenhall and Santana fight for the third base job this spring. While it may seem like Chisenhall has been around forever he’s only 25. He has struggled to hit lefties throughout his career but he also hasn’t received many opportunities against lefties. Santana has no problems with left-handers so I think it’s entirely possible that Santana and Chisenhall form a platoon this season as Chisenhall get’s one last shot with the Tribe. However, the reality is that if Santana comes as good as advertised at third base Chisenhall will need to make the most of this opportunity or Santana could easily steal his position.
This Just In: Asdrubal Cabrera Trained Hard for His Free Agent Year
Everyone knew that Asdrubal Cabrera was capable of a lot more than he produced last season. In this case everyone includes Cabrera as well.
Asdrubal Cabrera did not do a lot of sitting this off-season.

Asdrubal Cabrera did not do a lot of sitting this off-season.

Cabrera disappointed by his season and his performance in the AL Wild Card game last year texted Manager Terry Francona the night of the Wild Card loss and told his skipper he could do more. Then after taking a month off to rejuvenate himself Cabrera set out to stand by his word.

He called the Indians strength and conditioning coach Nelson Perez and the two trained together for the next 2 ½ months. Cabrera also passed on his traditional entrance into Venezuelan Winter Ball. Reports from Perez are that Cabrera greatly improved his leg strength and in doing so increased his quickness and agility.
Hopefully Cabrera’s off-season work pays dividends during the 2014 season. The Tribe could certainly use his bat in the lineup and with Francisco Lindor waiting in the wings Cabrera could use a solid season before entering free agency.
Misc.
  • Tribe prospect Tony Wolters is back in big-league camp this year but as a catcher this time. Wolters made the position switch following Spring Training last year and got solid reviews in High-A Carolina. Francona said the best news for Wolters is that you can’t tell that he’s a converted catcher.
  •   Reliever Frank Herrman is working his way back from Tommy John surgery. Herrman has begun throwing to batters.
  • Former Indians Carlos Baerga is in camp as an instructor. Baerga spent the winter managing the Mayaguez Indians in the Puerto Rican winter league. Current Tribe prospect Roberto Perez was part of Baerga’s team.
  • Former Indians player and manager Mike Hargrove is also in camp. Hargrove is currently a special advisor to the Indians front office.
  • Live batting practice begins on Friday.

Noise on the North Coast – Jan. 27

By Jason Ruggiero

Noise on the North Coast

It might still be bitterly cold, but Spring Training continues to creep ever closer. With your heart warmed a little by the realization that we are now only 15 days from pitchers and catchers being due in Goodyear, let’s get started on another edition of Noise on the North Coast.

Carlos Santana & 3B

Obviously the most interesting piece of news over the last month has been the continued development of Carlos Santana at third base. While many bloggers and writers have taken Santana’s quote in an ESPN Desportes piece as evidence that the Indians are heading into Spring Training with Santana already written in at third I think they are getting a bit ahead of themselves.

Santana has become more much more comfortable at third as he has gained more experience there through winter ball but there is still a long way to go before Opening Day. Manager Terry Francona and General Manager Chris Antonetti both expressed over the weekend that while they are hopeful that Santana will be able to handle third, no one in the Indians front office has his name in ink at the hot corner.

While that might not be an exciting piece of news, it is the most realistic approach. Santana has quickly progressed from a train wreck to a capable third baseman. Over the weekend he had one game where he successfully handled all six balls hit his way without an error. In another game he made a great play on a chopper toward third where he fielded the ball and threw on the run (you can check out the video below- at about the 1:50 mark you will see Santana’s epic chinstrap beard followed by the aforementioned play). His winter ball coach has even gone so far as to say that Santana has the potential to be one top third baseman in the game.

That’s all great praise and has me more excited about the possibility of Santana at third then I was a month ago, but I won’t be ready to commit until the Indians identify their back-up catcher. According to the Indians front office Yan Gomes will be the primary catcher this year. That means that Gomes will probably catch somewhere around 100-110 games. So who will catch the other 50-60?

Frankly the idea that Santana would be the primary third baseman and back-up catcher is ludicrous. If Santana is going to play third he will need extra reps to help him learn the position and continue to develop. Extra reps at third means less reps behind the plate and Santana was a below average catcher even with everyday reps at catcher. There are not really any viable major league catchers on the roster right now. Matt Treanor will be in camp but I don’t have much faith in him. Roberto Perez is probably the closest to being major league ready and is an asset defensively but will provide nothing with his bat. Maybe Santana comes into Spring Training, blows everyone away with his development and forces Antonetti to find a back-up. But until that happens I don’t see Santana as anything other than Lonnie Chisenhall’s platoon-mate to protect him against left-handers.

Pestano Was Injured in the WBC

Vinnie PestanoTribe Fest rolled into Cleveland this weekend and with it came some interesting news and notes. Elbowing (pun intended) its way to the front of the pack was pitching coach Mickey Callaway’s public revelation that Vinnie Pestano actually injured his elbow in the World Baseball Classic before the season even began. While Callaway did not get into specifics on what the extent of Pestano’s injury was, he did say that the injury led Pestano to change his mechanics, which resulted in less-than-stellar results.

As we discussed many times last season, Pestano does not have a blazing fastball. Instead he always managed to dominate hitters with a low-90’s fastball because of his deceptive mechanics. Those mechanics saw Pestano short-arming the ball and throwing out of an arm slot near his ear. While no pitching coach (including Callaway) would normally promote those mechanics it has obviously worked for Pestano up to this point. Callaway even pointed out that while, “I’ve never told anybody to have bad mechanics,” that specific arm-action is critical to Pestano’s success. During his press conference Callaway expressed faith that Pestano will be able to regain those mechanics and his effectiveness.

Bourn’s Hamstring

During Tribe Fest Michael Bourn spoke publicly for the first time about how he tore his left hamstring on the final day of the season against the Minnesota Twins and how he played in the one-game playoff with a torn hamstring.

Outfielder Cleveland Indians Michael BournBourn said that he did not want the injury to impact this season so he made the decision to have surgery within two weeks of the injury and began his rehab about a week later. When asked how his rehab is progressing Bourn responded that while he is not at 100% yet, he is running well and should be ready for the start of the season.

Bourn also spoke about his lack of stolen bases in 2013. He said that the injury had nothing to do with the fact that he only racked up 23 steals last year, but was actually the result of trying to get used to American League pitchers and their pick-off moves.

Misc.

– Callaway also said that the team has worked with Carlos Carrasco to increase the deception in his delivery. The Indians thought that since Carrasco routinely sits around 96-98 MPH hitters should be taking uglier swings at Carrasco’s fastball than what they see on tape. In order to add that deception they have raised his lead arm.

– It was also announced over the weekend that former Indians pitcher and Arizona Diamondback’s pitching coach Charles Nagy will be joining the Indians in an as-of-yet undefined role. It’s expected that Nagy will serve as a roving pitching instructor for the minor league system. It is interesting to note that Nagy has experience working with Indians pitching prospect Trevor Bauer when Bauer was in the Diamondbacks organization.

Noise on the North Coast – Jan. 13

By Jason Ruggiero

Noise on the North Coast

While the polar vortex drove everyone inside to hunker down and wait out the cold there was some Tribe-related news that managed to survive the cold and make it out into the open. So let’s take a few minutes and catch up on all the Noise on the North Coast.

 

Is Antonetti Still Shopping?

Probably the most exciting news that leaked out last week was a rumor propagated by Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain-Dealer. In this article Hoynes explains that the Indians front office is still in contact with the agents for free agent pitchers Ubaldo Jimenez, Ervin Santana, Matt Garza and Bronson Arroyo as well as Masahiro Tanaka.

While Hoynes never comes right out and states that the Indians have the money to add a free agent starter, he does offer this statement after discussing how in 2013 the Indians patiently waited for the price on Michael Bourn to come down before signing the outfielder.

 They are trying to do the same thing this offseason with the emphasis on adding a          front-of-the-rotation starter at below sticker price. They are not in the market for another shot-in-the-dark veteran like Brett Myers.

Not adding another Brett Myers is already a step in the right direction, but patiently waiting to see how the market unfolds for Jimenez and company is definitely the right approach.

Realistically, the Indians don’t have anything more than a puncher’s chance at signing Tanaka, but it is good to pursue him and build some goodwill for future attempts to sign Japanese players.

Of the remaining four I think that Santana is the least likely to sign with the Indians. He was given a qualifying offer by the Kansas City Royals this winter, so the Indians would forfeit the 22nd pick in the draft, along with the attached bonus pool money, for signing him. While giving up the pick would be offset by the compensation pick the Indians will receive when Jimenez signs elsewhere, and the competitive balance pick they were awarded last year, the loss of bonus pool money that goes along with forfeiting the 22nd round pick makes Santana un-appealing.

It's January and Ubaldo Jimenez is still on the free agent market.

It’s January and Ubaldo Jimenez is still on the free agent market.

Jimenez is attractive to the Indians for many reasons. For starters, he won’t cost them a draft pick. Secondly, he is obviously familiar with the team, the trainers and the coaches. From the outside of course it is easy to say that Jimenez should be indebted to Tribe pitching coach Mickey Callaway for finally fixing his delivery. The reality of course is that while Jimenez may feel comfortable around Callaway this is his one chance to cash in on a free agent deal and he is likely to take it. I just can’t believe that Jimenez will sign on to the length of contract that the Indians would want in order to keep him in Cleveland. Frankly, I think Ubaldo ends up with the Yankees.

That leaves Arroyo and Garza. The Indians have always kept one eye on Garza, even reportedly trying to work out a trade for the right-hander last July. I think that the lack of draft pick compensation and the recent string of injuries suffered by Garza might just drive his price right into the Indians comfort zone. If it doesn’t, the last man standing may be Arroyo. While he hasn’t been anything special for years, Arroyo is incredibly durable. In a rotation with Corey Kluber, Zach McAllister and Danny Salazar that durability could pay big dividends.

Masterson Extension

The Tribe is reportedly discussing a contract extension with Masterson.

The Tribe is reportedly discussing a contract extension with Masterson.

With salary arbitration filings due on Jan. 14 this is the time of the year when GM’s and agents begin discussing contract extensions. This year, the Indians have three possible candidates for extensions, Justin Masterson, Jason Kipnis and Michael Brantley. Of those three, only Masterson and Brantley are eligible for arbitration.

Last week it was reported that Masterson’s agent Randy Rowley and Tribe GM Chris Antonetti are open to discussing a contract extension for Masterson. Earlier in the year, Rowley was quoted as saying that he wanted to see how the starting pitching market developed before talking about extensions. While that hasn’t really happened yet, there are a few contracts that could serve as guideposts.

Ricky Nolasco signed this offseason with the Minnesota Twins for 4 yrs./$49 million and Hiroki Kuroda re-signed with the Yankees for 1 yr./$16 million. I think Masterson will easily outpace Nolasco and probably come much closer to Jered Weaver’s $85 million. In the end, for an extension to get done I think the Indians will probably have to commit to around 5 yrs/$80 million.

Chief Wahoo Demoted?

Paul Lukas, a sports uniform blogger, reported last week that the Indians were demoting Chief Wahoo by changing their primary logo to the block C.

Ever since this logo was introduced Chief Wahoo has slowly been on his way out.

Ever since this logo was introduced Chief Wahoo has slowly been on his way out.

 

The Indians have denied any reports that Chief Wahoo has in fact been “demoted” but if you have been paying attention Chief Wahoo has been moving down the ranks ever since the introduction of the script I logo. I still distinctly remember logging on to the Indians website about ten years ago and seeing the background pattern of tiny Chief Wahoo logos replaced with a pattern that alternated Chief Wahoo and the script I. I realized then that the ownership was working on slowly phasing out Chief Wahoo and they have continued that pattern today.

The script I never took off, but the block C has and they have used it more and more in recent years. The story that Lukas seized upon is that the Indians have filed paperwork with the league so that the block C is used to represent the team on broadcasts rather than Chief Wahoo. This follows a long list of slight revisions including re-designing the batting helmets and away uniforms so that Chief Wahoo is shown less and less.

Francoeur and Atchison 

The Indians also announced last week that they signed right-fielder Jeff Francoeur and right-hander Scott Atchison to minor league deals with invitations to Spring Training.

Francoeur will hope to turn a strong spring into a spot on the Tribe's 25-man roster.

Francoeur will hope to turn a strong spring into a spot on the Tribe’s 25-man roster.

As I have said many times, I am in favor of almost any minor league signing with a Spring Training invite. They are low-cost and low-risk with the possibility of a huge reward if things work out and I think these two deals fall in that category as well.

If Francoeur shows that he has re-gained his hitting stroke it’s possible that he could benefit from a nice platoon where Manager Terry Francona puts him in a position to excel. He’s an intriguing option and definitely someone worth taking a look at in Spring Training but the Tribe’s major league roster is very crowded and I’m not sure there will be a spot open for Francoeur.