30 Teams in 30 Days: Cleveland Indians Roundtable

Indians

Our guest bloggers is Tony Lastoria from Indian Prospect Insider.

Question 1 – Will the team be trading Grady Sizemore and, if so, when?

Chad: I don’t see it happening. He’s the most marketable player on the team and even though Sabathia and Lee were great players, they didn’t touch Sizemore in terms of popularity in the city. LeBron is number 1 in Cleveland and Grady is number 2. If the Indians trade Sizemore and James leaves in free agency, Cleveland just might turn into a black hole.

Jeff: One thing’s for sure about Grady, he is probably at or near ‘peak’ value right now — I’m confident the Tribe is not interested in just losing him to free agency, so if that seems likely, I feel they will most certainly explore their options — he should bring a king’s ransom in return — not a lot of proven 5 tool youngsters on the market.

Tony: There is absolutely no way the Indians will trade Grady Sizemore this year. For one, his value has dropped some because of the injury last year, so he needs some time to prove his health and that the production will return to get his value back to peak levels.

But that is beside the point, because the Indians simply are not trading him this year nor will even consider it. Beyond being a fan favorite, an icon of the team, and one of the best young players in the game, he is also extremely cheap and under team control for three more seasons. There is absolutely no reason at the moment to trade him given that he will make a grand total of $24M over the next three seasons, which is cheap for the level of player he is and what he brings to the table for a team starved for a high profile player. Plus, they envision contending again in 2011 and 2012, which they plan for him to be a big factor in accomplishing.

Beyond this year, the situation changes dramatically. He has a club option for 2012, which will be picked up, so he will not be eligible for free agency until after the 2012 season. He will at some point be traded because if he maintains health the next three seasons and performs as expected, he will demand a contract that far exceeds what the Indians or any small to mid market team can afford. So, if he is traded it will likely be around the July 2012 deadline. Not any sooner.

Some may say the Indians dealt Cliff Lee and Victor Martinez in the final year of their deal even with a club option for the next season, but the situation is different in that if Sizemore is traded that 2012 club option immediately turns into a player option. There is no way he decides to pick up a $10.5 million option after the 2011 season when he can get $20M+ at 5-7 years as a free agent, so that is why he won’t be traded until 2012 at the earliest as there is no extra value to the Indians or another team by trading/acquiring him in July 2011 versus July 2012.

Eugene: I see them holding onto Sizemore for at least one more season; if they won’t compete and he’s playing well, they’ll consider trading him for the right deal. With his current contract, there will be no monetary pressure to trade him until the end of his deal.

Question 2 – Which prospect that the Tribe picked up will have the biggest impact this year?

Chad: Again I answer a question based on my fantasy preferences; Matt LaPorta should finally break through this year and give the Indians a right handed power bat in the middle of the lineup. He’s coming off an injury so he should be rested heading into the season and hopefully he finally breaks through.

Jeff: Is it legal to answer “none” to question #2?

Tony: If we are talking about a prospect picked up in one of their trades over the course of the 2009 season who still has rookie eligibility, then I would say right-handed pitcher Carlos Carrasco. He has loads of talent, but his issue is what goes on between the ears. If for some reason he can find a way to manage the meltdowns in innings once guys get on base and string together some hits, then he has the chance to be a solid middle of the rotation starter for the Indians for the next several years. Jason Donald is another guy who could impact the team later in the year as he is expected to be the eventual everyday second baseman.

If we are talking about guys picked up in the last two years, then the obvious guy who will impact the team the most will be all-world catcher Carlos Santana. He has the rifle arm and potent bat to impact a game both on offense and defense and be a true difference maker in the game.

Eugene: For this season, I see Lou Marson having a pretty big impact, at least for a catcher. If he doesn’t do much, they will move onto Santana as the catcher. I think LaPorta will have a big season; if/when they trade him, LaPorta should move to first and Michael Brantley will get a shot to prove himself.

Question 3 – Which Fausto Carmona will we see this year – the impressive pitcher from a few years ago or the injury prone one from last year?

Jeff: My guess on Carmona is somewhere in between — predicting injuries is next to impossible, but my gut says even if he stays healthy he won’t be the dominant stud he once was — I think he could be a good back of the rotation guy, but the Tribe has far greater expectations (and needs, frankly) than that.

Tony: First off, Carmona was actually healthy last year. He just had a complete mechanical and mental breakdown which forced the Indians to send him all the way to rookie ball and work back through the minors for two months to try and “get it right”.

Anyway, the Indians nor anyone really has any clue what kind of pitcher they will see this year in Carmona. Past history indicates that he will be the up and down starter like he has been the past two years where he shows flashes of brilliance and dominating stuff like in 2007, but in between all that lots of inconsistency.

Right now the biggest obstacle for him to get over is the psychological barrier that has gone up because of his struggles the last two years with throwing strikes. The Indians plan to take it slow with him and don’t expect him to be like he was in 2007, but they have set the expectation that they don’t expect him to be like he was in 2008/2009 either. They have challenged him to go after hitters and attack the zone rather than working both sides of the plate early in the count, with the idea that he can hopefully find a comfort zone and rhythm with his strike throwing. I think somewhere in the middle is what people are hoping for, and he is certainly capable of that. It’s just a matter of whether he can overcome his strike throwing demons.

Eugene: I think Carmona will be in the middle, as mentioned before. I think if they had a true ace in front of him, he’d be better because it’ll take pressure off of him. They are probably hoping for Jake Westbrook to bounce back to be their ace.

Tom: This is going to be Carmona’s year of reckoning, I think. Whatever he does this year is going to be he’s pigeon-holed as going forward. Carmona’s entire issue is that he walks way too many guys. I’ve always felt like that is something that can be fixed. I think this will be his bounce back year. Maybe he won’t get back to 3.00, but maybe he can at least hit the league average again.

Question 4 – Which place will the Tribe finish in?

Eugene: I think the Tribe will need another season before they will be competitive. So, for this year, I see them in 4th place. I don’t see them being much better than last season, but with LaPorta, Marson, and Brantley getting more playing time, they should get better by the end of the season.

Tony: Youth is so hard to predict because their performance can be so volatile throughout the course of the season. Several hot spells followed up with extended cold spells and vice versa. The one thing the Indians have going for them is not only do they have a Top 5 farm system with a lot of talent close to big league ready, they also have a lot of talent still 27 years old or younger no longer considered prospects such as Grady Sizemore, Shin-Soo Choo, Asdrubal Cabrera, Fausto Carmona, David Huff, Aaron Laffey, Justin Masterson, Chris Perez, and Matt LaPorta. That’s a lot of good young talent already at the big league level.

The question is how all that youth translates to the big league level and how quickly the pitching staff can stabilize. With so much talented youth at their disposal, it will help with the mis-rate on prospects as the more you have the more you can afford to miss and the more chances you have to hit on one. This is one advantage they have over a lot of other like teams that are retooling or rebuilding this year.

With that in mind, it should be an up and down season all year long. A year long learning experience, much like the Indians in 2004 when they went 80-82. I think they will surprise and be in the hunt for the AL Central division late into August, mostly because of the lack of a truly dominant team in the division, but mostly because young players sometimes can overachieve. But they will ultimately finish third in the division and win 78-80 games, which sets them up as popular breakout pick among experts in 2011.

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