2011 Season Forecast: Cleveland Indians

Last Five Years:

2010:  69 – 93  (Fourth in AL Central)
2009:  65 – 97
2008:  81 – 81
2007:  96 – 66
2006:  78 – 84

Remember 2007, anyone?  the Indians were a game away from getting to the World Series.

Runs Scored: 646 (12th in the AL)
Runs Allowed: 752 (12th in the AL)

With this combination of runs scored and allowed, the Indians would have been expected to win 69 games – which is what they did.

Season Recap:

Most experts had the Indians and Royals battling for the bottom of the AL Central, and the Indians did just that – edging the Royals by two games to claim fourth in the division.

The Indians got off to a moderately slow start, but fell way off the pace in May, going 9 – 18.  Other than that month and a rather poor August (10 – 18, but played better than that), the Indians roared down the stretch with a 15 – 12 September, catching the Royals to get out of the cellar.  Part of this was adding a few nuggets – like rookie catcher Carlos Santana and infielders Jason Donald and Jayson Nix – who were happy to get playing time and helped lead the charge.

Starters:

Fausto Carmona returned to form, tossing sinkers and sinking fastballs, and giving the Indians 210.1 innings of solid baseball.  Justin Masterson’s first season as a regular in the rotation wasn’t a complete loss.  Sure, he allowed a lot of runs, but he had decent strikeout numbers and hung in there for the whole year.  He needs to work on his control, but there’s something to build on here.  Mitch Talbot won 10 games, but I’m not sure how.  He doesn’t strike a lot of guys out and he tends to walk even more guys than Masterson.  Jake Westbrook returned to make 21 fair starts before being shipped off to St. Louis for the stretch run.  David Huff, Josh Tomlin, and Jeanmar Gomez served as fifth starters – only Huff looked way out of place and of the three, Tomlin looks to be ready to take a turn 30 times and be successful.

Looking forward, a rotation of Carmona, Masterson, Talbot, Tomlin, and another kid named Carlos Carrasco has some potential for growth.  I see Talbot falling off a little, but if Carmona can hold form, the other three guys could certainly shave 30 – 40 runs off the runs allowed side of the ledger.

Relievers:

Chris Perez did a great job as the closer and returns for another season.  Tony Sipp, Rafael Perez, Joe Smith, Jensen Lewis, and Frank Herrmann will tote some innings as well.  Justin Germano did an okay job last year and gets a non-roster invitation to training camp.  He has a shot at being the 11th man on the staff.  Of these, I am less inclined to believe that Perez and Smith will be as successful, so Lewis, Herrmann, and SOMEBODY will have to step up.  I think the bullpen may be off by 10 runs over the course of the season.

Catching:

Carlos Santana had a great first 40 games.  He’s a convert – came to the Dodgers in 2005 as a third baseman and played all over the infield and outfield – an Elmo Plaskett sort of career.  I 2007, he was switched to catcher and has shown himself to be a quick learner with a strong arm.  As a hitter, he has a .401 OBP in the minors with 25 homer potential.  His backup, Lou Marson, has solid defensive skills but struggled at the plate last year – even after being sent to AAA.  I don’t think this will happen again.

Infield:

Last year’s infield started out as Russell Branyan, Mark Grudzielanek or Luis Valbuena, Asdrubal Cabrera, and Jhonny Peralta.  By August, Grudzielanek was released and now is retired.  Branyan was returned to Seattle, and I have no reason why they would have done that – but what the hey.  Matt LaPorta came in to play first.  Jayson Nix outplayed Andy Marte to win the third base job, and Jason Donald earned a shot at second base.  Only Cabrera played most of the season – but even he, by the end of the season, was seeing less playing time because his bat had tanked from where it was in 2009.

Looking forward, Donald or Nix looks to be the third baseman, LaPorta will get one more shot at first base, and Asdrubal Cabrera will get a shot to return to form at short.  More importantly, the Indians have imported Reds infielder Orlando Cabrera to play second base.  Jayson Nix and Valbuena return as depth.  I like adding Orlando Cabrera, though he’s getting long in the tooth and hasn’t really played a whole lot of second base in his career.  Donald can hit as well as Peralta these days, and LaPorta has room for growth.  Defensively, it’s not awesome – but it’s not bad either (well, LaPorta didn’t impress me).  If nothing else, it’s an infield that gives a manager a lot of daily options if necessary.

Outfield:

In right field, Shin Soo Choo is awesome – 20/20 with a high batting average and on base percentage.  He’s one of the best in the game.  The problem is the other two positions.  In center, the Indians are hoping that Grady Sizemore can return from microfracture surgery on his left knee.  At peak, and Sizemore is just 29, Sizemore is a potent bat in the middle of the lineup.  He hasn’t had centerfield range in years, though, so I’d rather see him play left field.  That leaves Michael Brantley or Trevor Crowe in left (or center) and neither impressed at the plate, being low average, low power guys with speed.  Crowe might be the better defensive option in center, but neither has 1000 innings in the field yet, so it’s still open for debate.  Austin Kearns returns to be a fourth or fifth outfielder and DH option.

DH:

Travis Hafner, no longer the threat he once was, still helps put runs on the board.  Carlos Santana, Shelly Duncan, or Austin Kearns will be the other half of a platoon arrangement.

Down on the Farm:

The guys at AAA who looked like they could play a little, Brantley, Crowe, Donald, LaPorta (who caught in AAA), all got shots with the parent club.  Of those who did not, Jose Constanza hit .319 with less power and a lower OBP than Brantley, so that won’t work.  Cord Phelps moved up from AA, is just 24, and hit .317 with a little power.  Phelps is a 3rd round pick out of Stanford in 2008 who has been moved up quickly and played better at each level.  That being said, the entire Columbus AAA team hit .285, so I wouldn’t put stock in those averages holding up at the big league level.  None of the guys who hit .300 in AAA hit anywhere near .250 in the bigs in 2010.  A couple of pitchers were rushed to the bigs, including Gomez and Huff, while Carlos Carrasco pitched better than all of them (10 – 6, 133Ks in 150.1 innings, good control, 3.65 ERA in a hitter’s park).  So of the young arms in camp, I like his the best.

AA Akron features a couple of pitchers who might make you look for them in a year or two.  Alex White is just 22, had a 2.28 ERA in 17 starts, and had good control, decent K numbers, and kept the ball in the park.  The UNC grad was the #1 pick of the Indians in 2009 and appears to have a fast track to the majors.  Chen Lee pitched relief, fanned 82 and walked just 22 in 72.2 innings of work.

The second round pick of the 2009 draft, Jason Kipnis, hit well at A+ Kinston, batting .300 with a .387 OBP and power, earning a trip to Akron, where he continued to hit well (.311/.385/.502).  I like him because he’s from Northbrook, IL – a graduate of Glenbrook North, where a bunch of my cousins went to school.  He’s still figuring out second base, but he will be in the majors before you know it.  The 2008 #1 pick, Lonnie Chisenhall, has migrated to third base and shows power – but right now projects out as an Andy Marte clone – and that’s not MLB ready yet.

2011 Forecast:

Let’s call it guarded optimism.  The young pitchers should be able to build on 2010, but I think the defense will suffer if Sizemore is allowed to play center and with Orlando Cabrera learning a new position (and LaPorta likely getting 1000 innings at first).  It’s not a total wash, but it’s at least mitigating some of the potential improvement.  If Sizemore plays left and Crowe plays center, the team will remove 30 runs from the runs allowed side.  If Sizemore is still in center, I don’t see any change.

The offense will certainly be better at catcher, and if Sizemore can hit, that’s another huge plus – possibly 80 extra runs on the board between the two positions.  Cabrera or Donald or Nix will be better than a full season of Luis Valbuena, too.  When I feel optimistic, the system says that the team should score 725 runs and allow about 740 – but managerial decisions and Sizemore’s health aren’t guarantees, so I’ll hedge my bet and guess it will be more like 700 and 750 instead.  That puts the Indians at 75 wins – a nice step in the right direction.  On the other hand, the potential is there to get to 80 games if a lot of things work in their favor.  Besides, Cleveland could use some good news from a sporting standpoint.  As such, I’ll be rooting for the pleasant surprise…

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2010 Top AL Third Basemen

Evan Longoria – TB (125.6 Runs Created, 31.1 Runs Saved = 156.7 Total Runs Productivity)

Not sure if people thought he was as good as Robinson Cano last year (including me), but once you add up the numbers, he was the most valuable player in the AL last year.  A remarkable ballplayer.

Adrian Beltre – BOS (116.5 Runs Created, 19.0 Runs Saved = 135.5 Total Runs Productivity)

Now THAT’s a contract year season, huh?  He has this kind of ability, and if he did this every year he’d be headed to the Hall of Fame.  Instead, he’s heading to Texas.  Kevin Youkilis, certainly capable of this kind of productivity when healthy, will get the nod in 2011.

Jose Lopez – SEA (60.7 Runs Created, 36.9 Runs Saved = 97.6 Total Runs Productivity)

Handled the move from second to third very nicely, playing with surprisingly good range and avoiding mistakes often made by first timers to the hot corner.  Doesn’t have much power left, and I don’t think he can repeat this performance.  Now, he’s in Colorado, which means that Chone Figgins will return to third base.

Miguel Tejada – BAL (75.8 Runs Created, 21.2 Runs Saved = 97.0 Total Runs Productivity)

Wasn’t really cutting it offensively, but did a great job as a third baseman.  Was sent to San Diego for the stretch drive where he returned to the shortstop position and gave him a little bit of life.  He can still play well enough to help somebody.  Josh Bell didn’t cut it as his back up, and former Snake basher, Mark Reynolds, will get the job in 2010.

Michael Young – TEX (94.0 Runs Created, -10.3 Runs Saved = 83.7 Total Runs Productivity)

Plays every day, hits a bit, and got better defensively in his second year at the position.  Yes – Beltre is a step up from Young, but you don’t want guys like Young to go away.  Could get 150 games backing up both Kinsler and Beltre and playing DH from time to time.

Alex Rodriguez – NYY (85.0 Runs Created, -2.4 = 82.6 Total Runs Productivity)

Superficially, he hit the 30/100 milestones.  Defensively, he’s gotten better the longer he has played third base, but his bat is slipping (age, lack of chemical help) and his health is no longer dependable for 150 games.

Mark Reynolds, your new Oriole 3B, would rank here at 79.7 Total Runs Productivity…

Brandon Inge – DET (67.6 Runs Created, 11.0 Runs Saved = 78.6 Total Runs Productivity)

Can still play the position well, but is – at best – a league average hitter.

At 71.8 Total Runs Productivity, former Indian Jhonny Peralta would rank here.  I just can’t tell if he’s moving back to third base soon.

Kevin Kouzmanoff – OAK (64.0 Runs Created, -1.5 Runs Saved = 62.5 Total Runs Productivity)

A dependable player, but not one you can build a team around.

Alberto Callaspo – KC/LAA (66.4 Runs Created, -7.5 Runs Saved = 58.9 Total Runs Productivity)

Has had better years, but I’m not sure he’s a long term solution for the Angels, who gave up on their other options in 2010.  The Royals gave the job to Wilson Betemit, but he’ll be a bench option before too long.  For the Angels, it’s hard to see who might be the third baseman of the future – so Callaspo better put his career back in gear.

Danny Valencia – MIN (48.8 Runs Created, -1.2 Runs Saved = 47.6 Total Runs Productivity)

The Boca Raton native and Hurricane grad got the call in 2010 and did well enough, helping produce a few runs and battling the position to a draw.  He might show a little more power as he ages, but isn’t going to be a bomber.  I’d call him the new Joe Randa.  Nick Punto and Brendan Harris are both pretty good third baseman (Punto with the glove and Harris, occasionally, with the bat), but Punto will start 2011 on the DL following surgery to repair a sports hernia and Harris is in Baltimore where he may or may not play 100 games.

Edwin Encarnacion – TOR (48.1 Runs Created, -4.5 Runs Saved = 43.6 Total Runs Productivity)

Not very consistent, but he really can be a good player.  Bautista, if he played here every day and hit like he did last year would move WAY up the list, and he handled the position defensively better than Edwin did.

Jayson Nix – CLE (35.0 Runs Created, 1.8 Runs Saved = 36.8 Total Runs Productivity)

Not even sure he’ll start, since MLB.com lists Jason Donald as the prospective starting third baseman (and he didn’t log an inning at third in 2010) – which makes it hard to figure who to draft in a full AL Only fantasy league.  Neither Donald, Nix, or Andy Marte cut it last year after Peralta left.

Wilson Betemit – 53.4 Runs Created, -21.4 Run Saved = 32.0 Total Runs Productivity)

Hit better than he would have expected (13 – 43 – .297 in 84 games), and fielded much worse than expected.  He’s really somewhere in between there and worth having on the team.  However, the Michael Moustakas era will begin in 2011 – and the question is how long will the Royals wait for that to get started?  Opening Day?  June – to push back arbitration eligibility a year?  Moustakas hit 36 homers in AA and AA last year and is just 22.

Mark Teahen – CHI (28.0 Runs Created, -9.9 Runs Saved = 18.1 Total Runs Productivity)

Reason #2 why the White Sox didn’t win the AL Central.  Teahen was brought here from Kansas City to at least give league average production, and he couldn’t stay healthy, he couldn’t hit enough, and his glove wasn’t working either at three positions.  May get another chance, but I’m not sure I’d want to be the guy to give it to him.  Brett Morel may be the man of the future, having earned a shot after three solid years of growth in the minors.  Morel looks like he has a little power and a little speed – and at 24 just after Opening Day, he has room for growth.

Omar Vizquel – CHI (38.8 Runs Created, -27.0 Runs Saved = 11.8 Total Runs Productivity)

Reason #1 why the White Sox didn’t win the AL Central.  Vizquel was pressed into playing more than 500 innings here, after never being a third baseman before.  He’s not the run producer most teams expect at this position, and he looked very much old and out of place.

Brandon Wood – LAA (8.9 Runs Created, -11.4 Runs Saved = -2.5 Total Runs Productivity)

Can we declare his days as a prospect over now?

Top AL Third Basemen in 2009

Evan Longoria (TB):  No sophomore slump here, huh?  One of the better offensive performers (33 – 113 – .281), draws a few walks, and is as good a defender at his position as there is in the game.  Other than a couple of first basemen and maybe Joe Mauer, nobody was more valuable in the American League.  (114.0 Runs Scored, 31.91 Runs Saved = 146.76 Total Run Production)

If he was a full time third baseman, Kevin Youkilis would rate next.

Chone Figgins (LAA):  Gets on base, runs the bases well, and had an above average season with the glove – a sign that he’s getting more comfortable over there now that he’s not being used like a super utility player. Seattle will like having him at the front of the line up.  (104.3 Runs Created, 7.5 Runs Saved = 111.86 Total Run Production.)

If you are an Angels fan, you probably want to know more about Brandon Wood.  Wood has been the power hitting infielder in waiting for what seems like a small eternity.  Wood was a first round draft pick back in 2003, and has had seasons at Rancho Cucamonga and Salt Lake City that would suggest that he’s the next Troy Glaus.  Personally, I don’t buy it.  Now, he’s struggled to hit .190 in the majors because he’s spent a lot of time going back and forth between Salt Lake City and Los Angeles.  He’s really only had one month where he got some regular MLB playing time – and that month he hit about .250 with a little power.  And that’s where I think he’ll be.  As a rule of thumb, you can usually look at PCL stats and knock 50 points of the batting average and about 40% of the power off the top.  In three seasons of AAA ball, Wood has hit between .270 and .295 with 25 homer power.  That translates to about 15 homers and a .245 batting average.  I’d like to think, hitting at the bottom of the lineup, he’d be okay.  Wood might do a bit better than that – the way Kendry Morales jumped up and hit like a monster.  A bit better than that is 20 homers and .260 – which is decent enough if he brings a solid glove and improves his strikeout/walk ratio.  Wood turns 25 in March, which is a bit long in the tooth for a prospect.

Alex Rodriguez (NYY):  Missed a month following hip surgery, and then needed some time to get back into playing shape.  After the all-star break, he was dominating at times – including during the playoffs.  Is getting better defensively, but has never been an above average fielder.  Would he still be this good had he not spent years on the juice?  (100.3 Runs Created, -6.50 Runs Saved = 93.76 Total Run Production)

Jhonny Peralta (CLE):  As a hitter, he’s declining but tolerable.  As a fielder, he was surprisingly solid at third base.  I don’t know if he’s a long term solution, but what else do the Indians have?  Besides, I’m ranking him as the fourth most productive third baseman in the AL! Andy Marte is penciled in as a backup here and at first base – and in more than a year’s worth of MLB at bats has struggled to hit .220.  Marte looked good at Columbus in AAA, but so far he has not progressed beyond prospect.  (75.6 Runs Created, 10.6 Runs Saved, 86.19 Total Run Production)

Adrian Beltre (SEA):  Couldn’t stay healthy, and his bat suffered mightily.  He’s now at the age where the chances of him returning to his 2006-2008 form are getting slimmer, but his stats might come back playing in Fenway.  He’s never been a GREAT hitter, but he’s always been above average until last year.  He remains a great fielder, though – and he will help Boston’s pitchers.  (55.5 Runs Created, 28.6 Runs Saved = 84.14 Total Run Production)

Brandon Inge (DET):  His body broke down as the season progressed, but he still played in 161 games.  I’m just not so sure he was helping in, say, September.  A surprising number of homers made up for a lack of batting average.  He remains a pretty good fielder.  (71.9 Runs Created, 9.4 Runs Saved, 81.31 Total Run Production)

Melvin Mora (BAL):  Now in Colorado.  Like Beltre, his bat fell in the tank.  Defensively, he was solid – so he can still help.  He’s not getting any younger, though…  Welcome back, Miguel Tejada, who – if he doesn’t age two more years – should be a step up here.  (51.6 Runs Created, 21.70 Runs Saved, 73.32 Total Run Production)

Adam Kennedy (OAK):  Played all over the infield, but had the most innings here.  He’s really NOT a third baseman and having been signed to play second base for Washington, is returning to his old home…  Kevin Kouzmanoff arrives from San Diego to play for the As, and Eric Chavez could always come back from injuries to play for a month at some point in the season.  Kouz is NOT a step up from what Kennedy did overall – and if we ranked him using the numbers he put up in San Diego, would rank in this exact same spot anyway.

Mike Lowell (BOS):  His hip injuries have become problematic, but he’s more productive than most.  Last year’s fielding numbers were below average and his offensive numbers weren’t great but still above the league norm.  Somebody is going to give him 400 at bats and he’s not going to be a problem.  I still predict that he’ll join the Marlins radio booth in a few years…  (69.7 Runs Created, -4.2 Runs Saved = 65.51 Total Run Production)

Gordon Beckham (CWS):  Actually, not a bad tally for a rookie and if he were staying at third, I’d like his chances to move into the top five in this group next year.  Instead, the White Sox are moving Beckham to second base and giving his job to Mark Teahen – which isn’t a great idea (I’d rather have kept Beckham at third and signed Orlando Hudson), and it might take a while for the new infield to gel.  Beckham’s OBP and SLG numbers were solid.  I like him.  (60.5 Runs Created, 4.2 Runs Saved = 64.67 Total Run Production)

Michael Young (TEX):  Newly found power source gave Young perhaps his best offensive season ever.  However, he looked out of position at third after years as a shortstop and his overall production numbers dropped him to eleventh.  Hopefully he can maintain the offense and improve his range in 2010.  (102.8 Runs Created, -39.0 Runs Saved = 63.83 Total Run Production)

Scott Rolen (TOR):  Had a remarkably productive run for Toronto, hitting .320 with a little power.  He was so good, Toronto sent him to Cincinnati…  Like Lowell, you wonder how many years he has left, but if he can hit like this, he’s got plenty.  Glove is no longer a strong suit.  Edwin Encarnacion may not have this job for long unless he finds some stability and to be honest, this is a step down for Toronto.  (63.2 Runs Created, -5.6 Runs Saved = 57.61 Total Run Production).

Joe Crede (MIN):  The best of what Minnesota threw out there (Brendan Harris, Matt Tolbert, Brian Buscher, Nick Punto), Crede isn’t horrible but he isn’t dependably healthy either.  Minnesota will go in a different direction, but it’s hard to say what that direction will be.  As of this writing, Harris is listed at the top of the depth chart but he is NOT a third baseman.  (38.2 Runs Created, 6.8 Runs Saved = 45.01 Total Run Production)

Mark Teahen (KC):  Alex Gordon will get his old job back, but it’s not like Gordon has been as advertised since arriving with the Royals three years ago.  Teahen struggled mightily in the field for some reason – he’s usually pretty dependable.  Now, he’s a White Sox third baseman, and that may not be a good thing.  We’ll see.  (67.4 Runs Created, -23.9 Runs Saved = 43.53 Total Run Production)

Top AL First Basemen in 2009

Let’s put some of this fun data together and look at the top players by position.  Today, we’ll start with the AL First Basemen.

What I have done is taken the basic runs created data (an older Bill James formula modified to account for the park in which that player played) and my defensive runs saved data and combined them into a Total Run Production number.  The best players will create the most runs offensively and prevent the most runs defensively.

Kendry Morales (LAA) – Now THAT’S an impact season.  You start with the power and average – 34 – 108 – .306.  He didn’t walk a lot, but he added more than 40 doubles, too.  Morales is also a very mobile first baseman – more mobile than Teixeira.  I show him creating about 115 runs of offense and then saving his team about 38 runs defensively.  This isn’t the first time that he’s had impressive defensive stats at first.  In more than 450 innings there in 2006 he was very good and in 121 innings in 2007 he had similar range numbers.  (115.4 Runs Created, 37.8 Runs Saved = 153.20 Total Run Production)

Mark Teixeira (NYY) – It was close, but Morales’ defensive numbers put him over the top.  I’m not suggesting that Teixeira is BAD defensively.  He’s not.  He’s got soft hands and makes many, many impressive plays.  However, in the last four years he’s been all over the map.  Not so good in Texas, decent in a half season in Atlanta.  Then, after a slower start in ATL in 2008, he was very good with the Angels.  He was above average last year with the Yankees.  As a hitter, Tex was worth 20 more runs, but as a fielder, Morales made up for it with about five runs to spare.  I think I’d rather have Tex on my fantasy team, though.  (135.6 Runs Created, 12.7 Runs Saved = 148.32 Total Run Production)

Miguel Cabrera (DET) – An alcohol problem surfaced in 2009 and yet he was still very productive.  Hopefully, a cleaner Cabrera will have a breakout season in 2010.  In 2009, he wasn’t half bad at first base and he remains one of the most productive hitters at any position.  I’d draft him.  (132.7 Runs Created, 0.9 Runs Saved = 133.62 Total Run Production)

Kevin Youkilis (BOS) – A great fielder at two positions, Boston looks to get more time for Youkilis at first base with Adrian Beltre playing the hot corner.  Where the top three guys were all 30 – 100 – .300 types, Youk was 27 – 94 .305 – just a notch below them in power, but just as patient (if not more so) at the plate.  (109.6 Runs Created, 14.9 Runs Saved = 124.45 Total Run Production)

Russell Branyan (SEA) – Finally getting a full season of at bats (well, he was injured at the end of the year), Branyan delivered the goods.  Solid power and patience, but a lower batting average (.251) than the top tier guys.  And, Branyan was surprisingly good at first base, showing well above average range.  Seattle turned a negative to a huge positive in 2009.  That being said, he still didn’t get to 500 plate appearances and he’s 34.  I bet Branyan would like a second shot at his career – but this might have been his best chance and it took forever for someone (Cleveland) to sign him.  People must not think he can repeat what he did last year.  (81.2 Runs Created, 24.4 Runs Saved = 105.66 Total Run Production)

Paul Konerko (CHI) – The really slow start messed with what was really a pretty good season.  Konerko had an average season defensively and a shade more than 90 runs of offense.  The issue, of course, is that he’s running out of prime years, turning 34 in Spring Training…  (92.5 Runs Created, 7.3 Runs Saved = 99.85 Total Run Production)

Billy Butler (KC) – If you are looking for a sleeper for your fantasy team, you could do worse than drafting this guy…  Butler can hit .300 with some power – which will likely get better as he ages.  He’s still young and his defense, while not great, wasn’t miserably bad.  Personally, I’d rather have Butler than Konerko next year.  (103.1 Runs Created, -10.8 Runs Saved = 92.29 Total Run Production.)

Carlos Pena (TB) – Still has world class power (39 homers despite missing a month), but his batting average tanked to .227.  He’s NOT a .300 hitter, and I don’t think he’s really a .227 hitter.  However, he’s coming off a bad wrist injury and is now 32 (well – he will be in May). His defense is still solid, but it’s not what it once was.  Watch how he does in the spring and steal him if he gets off to a decent start.  (91.3 Runs Created, .7 Runs Saved = 92.02 Total Run Production)

Lyle Overbay (TOR) – His defense, normally awesome, slipped in 2009.  His offense, normally tolerable, slipped in 2009.  Overbay isn’t going to hit 20 homers and unless he’s hitting close to .300 and hitting a bunch of doubles and cutting down grounders and line drives to right field, he’s gaining on losing his job to Adam Lind…  He might bounce back some, but he’s not high on my draft list.  (76.1 Runs Created, -1.8 Runs Saved = 74.31 Total Run Production)

Justin Morneau (MIN) – If healthy, Justin Morneau will likely move back up the list in 2010.  However, with stress fractures in his back last year, his batting tanked in the late summer and he couldn’t move well enough in the field.  He generated 90 runs of offense (most of it before the All-Star break), which is okay, but he gave 20 back with his defense – hence the low rating.  (91.4 Runs Created, -20.51 Runs Saved = 70.92 Total Run Production)

Ryan Garko (CLE) – No longer an Indian, Garko was replaced by Andy Marte after being dealt to San Francisco – and Victor Martinez got several innings here, too.  Garko’s net production among two teams was 64.50 (56.5 Runs Created with 8 Runs Saved).  The job may well get split again this year among Marte and Travis Hafner.  Marte, a long time prospect who turned 26 in the offseason, looked like he hadn’t spent much time there and Victor Martinez looked like a catcher trying to play first base.  To be fair, a full season of Garko wouldn’t be horrible – it might be better than having Lyle Overbay these days.  Roster Update!!! The Indians signed Russell Branyan to a one-year deal as spring training started – so if Branyan is healthy, the Indians could have a solid answer for 2010.

Aubrey Huff (BAL) – Now plying his trade for San Francisco, Huff had an off season to say the least.  Between two teams, Huff’s total production was 58.70 runs (63.8 Runs Created, but -5.1 runs saved).  The new first baseman could be Michael Aubrey, a former Indian prospect who has some skills and the same, albeit displaced, name.  He’s going to field a little better than Huff and he MIGHT hit pretty well, too.  Suffering through injuries in the minor leagues, Baltimore hopes this Aubrey is a late bloomer.  God forbid they have to play Garrett Atkins there.

Chris Davis (TEX) – Shared the role with Hank Blalock, none of which is the answer…  At least Davis has some range and a little power but he sure does strikeout a lot.  If you combine Davis and Blalock, the total production is close to the production of Carlos Pena and his backups…  (47.4 Runs Created, 10.1 Runs Saved = 57.44 Total Run Production)

Daric Barton (OAK) – Barton took over for Jason Giambi and wasn’t horrible.  He fielded the position well and he gets on base some – though you wish he had a little more power.  He’s 70% of Mark Grace, but he’s 24 and has a little room left to grow…  The A’s could choose to go with Eric Chavez here if they let Kevin Kouzmanoff play third base all season.  Barton also serves as the emergency catcher, having started his career as a catcher out of high school.

Quick Notes… Having done this, the median starting first baseman in the AL produced about 92 runs for his team and the replacement level would have been about 70 runs of production.  The latter seems a little low in that Minnesota’s final number, if you included the time spent at first base by Michael Cuddyer, would have been closer to 85 or 90 runs.  So, more realistically, your first basemen have to generate at least 90 runs of production lest they need to be replaced.  Morales and Teixeira were, in essence, about six wins better than the average first baseman.

Trade Analysis: Indians Send Cliff Lee and Ben Francisco to Phillies for Four Prospects

Maybe the Blue Jays were asking too much for Roy Halliday…  Philadelphia, already building a comfortable lead in the NL East and still the reigning World Series Champions, dealt away four prospects for last year’s AL Cy Young winner, Cliff Lee.  Along for the ride is a right-handed hitting outfielder, Ben Francisco.  Cleveland gets four ranked prospects, Jason Knapp, Carlos Carrasco, Lou Marson, and Jason Donald.

Philadelphia Gets:  A starter who as every bit as good as Roy Halliday, but with a lower price tag.  Lee’s salary is about $6 million per year less than Halliday, and he can stay through 2010 because of a club option…  Don’t look at Lee’s record – the Indians haven’t done diddly when Lee is on the hill.  Check out his control and ERA, which are both solid.  Hamels, Lee, Happ, and Moyer (who has been better), with a dose of Joe Blanton makes for a killer rotation down the stretch, and you have two aces at the top for the playoffs.  The Phillies have to be the favorite to make the 2009 World Series.

The Phillies also get a decent outfielder in Francisco – someone who can play left or right field (he looks more comfortable in left, though), hits with power and still retains a little speed.  He’s certainly an upgrade over John Mayberry, Jr. – who may never be as good as Francisco.  And – none of the prospects that Toronto asked for – Kyle Drabek, J.A. Happ, or outfielder Dominic Brown – were part of the deal.  Happ has been a god send, and Drabek is frequently cited as the best pitching prospect the Phillies have.

Cleveland Gets:  It’s not that Cleveland got NOTHING.  They just didn’t get anyone who might immediately help, the way J.A. Happ could obviously step into the rotation and pitch today (or whatever day he was scheduled to pitch).

Jason Knapp was selected #2 in 2008 out of high school.  He has a tender shoulder right now, which isn’t a positive and may actually hold up the completion of the deal.  As a pitcher, though, Knapp has SERIOUS tools.  He throws high 90s, fanned 111 in 95 innings at Lakewood in the SAL.  When he arrives in 2011, Knapp could be a #2 starter.  Granted, this is early, but this is the kind of prospect you want to see in a trade.  Upside and at least a little proven ability.

Carlos Carrasco is a bit further along – learning a new pitch in AAA.  The good news is he has good control and decent strikeout numbers.  He’s just 22 and yet has had some success in the minors.  Right now, I think he translates out to a #4 starter at best, but he could surprise you.  He may get to make a few starts in September (or sooner) for Cleveland, and prove to be a positive.  The best news is that he has improved his control at each level and that bodes well for him the more he pitches.

Jason Donald is a shortstop who, until this year, had been a decent hitter – mixing a little power with nice patience and a touch of speed.  He suffered a knee injury this year, though, and in AAA has struggled to hit .240.  In time, he might serve as a potential replacement for Jhonny Peralta should he move to third (where Andy Marte has failed to make an impact).  I see Donald as a Rich Aurilia type and could be helpful for a couple of years if he can make one more step up.  Donald might move to second, with Asdrubel Cabrera manning short next year, too.  Either way, it should be a solid infield.

Lou Marson is a catcher with skills – Scott Bradley with more walks.  I thought he might become the Phillies catcher for the next decade.  He’s a good contact hitter, has some patience – and has shown improvement at every level.  And, he’s just 23.  Adding Marson means that Victor Martinez is still (more?) expendable – though you’d like to see someone who can play first base emerge (or, in the case of Travis Hafner, get healthy).

In summary, I like the trade for both teams.  Obviously, Philadelphia could be a solid winner not just for 2009, but 2010, and retains three blue chippers.  If you are a Cleveland fan, though, you have to feel a bit cheated out of what should have been a tiny dynasty over the last three years.  Two aces are gone and a third (Fausto Carmona) fell by the wayside.  The Indians SHOULD have been in the playoffs every year since 2007.  Someone is to blame for that, and I don’t know who.  On the other hand, in the last three days, the Indians have picked up five guys (Jess Todd, in the Mark DeRosa deal) who could be on the major league roster in three years, and four might be on the roster next year.

Buehrle Retires 45 Straight; Wang and Johnson Done?

The Cub fan in me was supposed to watch their game with Houston last night; instead I watched Mark Buehrle figuring I should watch to see how long he could keep getting batters out.  Buehrle didn’t disappoint – cruising through five innings as if he’d never allow a batter to reach base again.  His streak reached 45 batters when he got the first two out in the sixth inning and suddenly people were wondering if he’d throw a second straight perfect game,  Then, Buehrle he got up 0 – 2 to Alexi Casilla and I was thinking, “grounder to short.”  Instead, Casilla coaxed a walk, followed by Denard Span’s liner into center for a single.  When Scott Podsednik misplayed Joe Mauer’s fly ball into a ground rule double, the magic was over.  (They only give errors when you get a glove or body part on the ball, but never when you slow up or short arm the reach.  It clearly should have been caught.)

Still – 45 straight!  The record of 41 was first set in 1972 by Jim Barr of the Giants, and later tied by Bobby Jenks (Buehrle’s teammate) a couple of years ago.  I was listening to SportsCenter this morning, and the comment about Barr and Jenks was “these guys were relievers…” as if it was easier for a reliever to get that many outs in a row.  As I see it, they got it wrong on both counts.  At that time in his career, Barr was a starter.  He got the last 21 in a row in a complete game shutout of Pittsburgh on August 23, 1972, and then got the first twenty out before allowing a double to Bernie Carbo of the Cardinals in his second complete game shutout six days later…  Barr threw a perfect game in the middle there – but it didn’t count.  Later in his career, with a burned out arm, Barr was a reliever.  As for what Jenks did – working one inning at a time, he didn’t allow a hit for over a month in the 9th inning protecting a lead.  How is that any easier?

Buehrle got roughed up in the seventh and took the loss to Minnesota – which is what happens when you are coming off of perfect games.  Too much magic needed to win two consecutive games when so much is spent on the first game…

On to Other News…

Chien-Ming Wang’s season is over – shoulder surgery is next.  [ESPN]

Randy Johnson’s season, and possibly his career, may be over as he learned he has a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder.  Johnson laughed that his days of doing an instructional hitting video are over.  The Big Unit hopes to return in September.  [ESPN]

Houston pitchers are running into back problems…  Roy Oswalt left last night’s start against the Cubs in the second inning and will have his strained back looked at.  For Latroy Hawkins, he heads to the DL with shingles in his back.  Yuck.

Oswalt’s injury (and, for that matter, Hawkins’) opens the door for prospect Bud Norris to join the Astros.  Norris has great stats – big strikeout numbers, even in the PCL, and occasionally fights his control.  Baseball America says he’s the #2 prospect in the Astros organization.  If there is a “but…”, it’s his minor league W-L record, which stands at 12 – 25.  You’d like for your top prospects to have winning records – even on bad minor league teams.

Ian Kinsler strained his left hammy running out a grounder and is day-to-day for now.  This is a tough loss for the contending Texas Rangers.

The latest blockbuster trade?  Boston sent Mark Kotsay to the White Sox for outfielder Brian Anderson.  Kotsay used to be a good fielding outfielder, but his back has taken away that mobility.  Anderson’s reputation is that of being a good outfielder, but at 27 he’s never had the stats to back that up and his bat reminds you of someone who might never get out of AA – heck, he had just been sent back to AAA.  Kotsay is a good pinch hitter and can play first a little – so the White Sox would seem to have gotten some value out of the deal.  [SI]

ESPN has a good rundown of current trade rumors, as we await the trade deadline on Friday, as does FanNation.  Or you could read about trade rumors on MLB.com…  [ESPN/SI/MLB]

Welcome Back!  A bunch of guys came off the DL in the last 24 hours…  Houston reliever Doug Brocail, Blue Jays pitcher Scott Richmond, Cubs starter Ryan Dempster (looked rusty last night), Arizona catcher Chris Snyder, Padres catcher Henry Blanco and infielder David Eckstein…

Make it Work!  Andy Marte was called up by Cleveland…  Three years ago, he was a top prospect, but it hasn’t worked in more than 500 MLB at bats – hitting all of .211 with nine hommers.  It’s time for Marte to make his mark in the majors or he’ll be an afterthought before long.