Friday, July 31, 2009

"This is my house. I'm leaving my house."

Those are the words of the now former Indian catcher Victor Martinez. As most of you are aware he was dealt to the Boston Red Sox today as a part of a four team deal.

As vapid MLB news consumer I am not shocked by this deal in the least, but as an Indian fan I still feel a bit taken aback by the last few days.

Since the Mark DeRosa trade way back on June 28th, the Indians have made five deals stripping the team of their opening day starting pitcher, left fielder, first baseman and third baseman, not to mention their back-up first baseman and set-up man.

Of course the team got quite a haul in return. Besides saving payroll for the 2009 season the Indians have now shed $17 million from their 2010 payroll (only Lee and Martinez were guaranteed money next year).

Since it's been a whirlwind the past few weeks we'll recap everything that the Indians have brought in prior to today's deadline.

Position Players

Lou Marson, C (from Philadelphia via Cliff Lee trade)

The 23 year old catcher was rated as the third best prospect from within the Phillies system by Baseball America and was evaluated by General Manager Mark Shapiro as "at least an average everyday catcher."

At bat he is known for his ability to work the count and it has shown in his OBP (.382). He has hit well for average, hitting a solid .294 for Lehigh Valley, and has carried that average through high A and AA. Behind the plate Marson is highly regarded for his game-calling and receiving and many scouts describe him as a natural leader.

Where he fits within the organization is somewhat ambiguous, however. At the moment Wyatt Toregas has been called up from AAA and Marson has taken his place in Columbus. With Kelly Shoppach and Chris Giminez (to a lesser extent) also able to play behind the plate and the future of the team Carlos Santana killing time in Akron, Marson's place seems tenuous.

His acquisition could signal an end of Shoppach's Tribe tenure during the August waiver period, either that or Marson could become trade bait in the off-season given the Indians will have some payroll flexibility.

Jason Donald, SS (from Philadelphia via Cliff Lee trade)

Like Marson, Donald joining the Tribe comes with a bit of confusion. Directly ahead of him in the middle infield are the likes of Asdrubal Cabrera, Luis Valbuena and to a much (much) lesser degree Josh Barfield.

Currently Donald is playing in Columbus, but the idea is to have him compete with Valbuena in the spring for the 2B position or perhaps fill the "Jamey Carroll" role and compliment Luis as the right handed bat to his left. Another possibility is that Donald could be moved in the off-season to a team in more desperate need than the Indians.

Donald started the year slowly after recovering from off-season knee surgery. At Lehigh Valley he was batting a paltry .236, but he did have a good offensive season at AA in 2008. He was the Phillies fourth best prospect according to Baseball America, but scouts see him filling a utility role rather than a starting role in the big leagues.

Starting Pitchers:

Justin Masterson, RHP (from Boston via Victor Martinez trade)

Mark Shapiro has changed his mind a bit about the teams 2010 chances since acquiring Masterson on Friday. The 6'6", 250 lb. Jamaican born right-hander is expected to join the big club immediately, starting in the bullpen and slowly getting stretched out to a starting role; by the end of the season Masterson should be pitching in the rotation.

With the Red Sox this season he has gone 3-3 through 31 games, six as a starter. Masterson has notched 68 strikeouts and only 25 walks this season but has had a slightly inflated ERA at 4.50.

His big body makes for an ideal pitchers build and he throws the ball from a three-quarters motion that makes him appear to sling the ball to home plate. His best pitch is his sinker which he varies between 84 and 94 mph along with a heavy, late sink. His slider is also a plus pitch which sits in the low 80's. Added to that arsenal is a circle change that he keeps between 77 and 81. Primarily Masterson will use the sinker as his out pitch, but he compliments it well with his secondary pitches. Along with Carlos Carrasco he gives the Indians rotation a chance of being decent despite losing Cy Young Award winner Cliff Lee.

Carlos Carrasco, RHP (from Philadelphia via Cliff Lee trade)

Though Carrasco is currently in AAA his impact could be felt to the North before September call-ups. The young (22) righty has already spent six years in professional baseball, but '09 (his first full season at AAA) has been one of his poorest to date.

At Lehigh Valley he has gone 6-9 with a 5.18 ERA through 20 starts. Despite those poor baseline statistics Carrasco has managed to stike out 112 batters through 114.2 innings and only walked 38. His fastball has been clocked as high as 94-95 but it is his change-up that is his bread and butter. Sitting in the low 80's Carrasco is unafraid to use the change-up and against anyone and according to one scout "it can be a big league out pitch at it's best."

The Phillies front office still valued Carrasco and took most of the blame for his start, claiming that they imposed some changes upon him to make him a better major league player.

His raw stuff are inspiring and the scouting report on him project his stuff at major league average or above. The Indians believe that he can slot in to the middle of the rotation and make an impact as early as 2010.

Jason Knapp, RHP (from Philadelphia via Cliff Lee trade)

His raw stuff alone make this 18-year-old the centerpiece of the Lee trade. Standing in at 6'5" Knapp has the size to intimidate the opposition and the arm to back up that size.

Knapp works with three pitches and reaches the mid-90's consistently with his fastball, however, beyond the fastball his stuff is marked with inconsistency. Of course, that is to be expected from a player who has yet to reach his 19th birthday.

Mechanically Knapp has already cleaned up a few of the issues that have plagued his young career, which could have led to his poor start to the 2009. Pitching for Class A Lakewood this season he went 2-7 with a 4.01 ERA but he has averaged 11.7 K/9 and kept his WHIP at 1.195.

Knapp hasn't thrown since July 11 because of shoulder issues but he should be back to throwing for Lake County sometime in August. Though his future remains unsettled he is currently projected as a high end rotation starter. He was listed as the 10th best prospect in the Phillies organization prior to the trade.

Scott Barnes, LHP (from San Francisco via Ryan Garko trade)

Barnes, the ninth best prospect in the Giants organization by Baseball America, is often compared to another Giant arm: Madison Bumgarner. The lanky left-hander skipped low A this season and accelerated to high A and has flourished since.

At San Jose Barnes has gone 12-3 over 18 starts with a 2.85 ERA, good enough for tops in the California League in wins and second in ERA. His 99 strikeouts tied him for ninth in the league and kept his average per nine innings slightly above 9.0.

Jason Grey of ESPN describes his motion as "whippy" and "slingerlike" making the ball tough to pick up out of his hand. His delivery has been cleaned up while in the minors and he has shown consistency and the ability to repeat his delivery with nothing that would cause alarm. Grey predicts him to spend more time in the minors, obviously, but projects him as "a solid starter down the road."

Connor Graham, RHP (from Colorado via Rafael Betancourt trade)

The lone return from the Raffy Right deal jumped from A ball with the Rocks directly to AA Akron for the Tribe. Graham, an Ohio native, is another big bodied pitcher standing in at 6'6" and 235 lbs.

He is a hard thrower with the numbers to prove it (9.7 K/9 at Modesto) but he also struggled with his command allowing nearly five walks per nine innings. Terry Pluto of the Plain Dealer thinks that he Graham has a future in the bullpen, though he has spent his career as a starter, and likens him to former Indians power relievers Jose Mesa and Steve Karsay of yesteryear.

Currently the Indians have no plans to move Graham to the 'pen, and his win-loss (7-4) and low HR allowed numbers (two over 80 innings) while in Modesto seem to back up their assertion.

Nick Hagadone, LHP (from Boston via Victor Martinez trade)

With a fastball that tops out at 98, a plus slider and an improving change-up there is considerable upside to this lefty acquired for the former Indian captain. Rated as the number three prospect in the Sox system (ahead of Daniel Bard) his control is listed as one of his strongest assets.

In 10 starts at Class A Greenville Hagadone has gone 0-2 but allowed seven earned runs in 25 innings which calculates to a 2.52 ERA. He is averaging 11.7 strikeouts per nine innings and kept his WHIP at 1.08. However his walk numbers have been high, despite scouting that touts his control, and has averaged almost five bases on balls per nine.

Hagadone is coming off Tommy John surgery and only made his season debut June 6th. He will be reporting to Lake County. The Indians will have a decision to make in the near future as to where this young lefty will end up, in the rotation or the bullpen. His scouting report describes his motion as fluid but compact, which might indicate a future in relief work for the Indians.

Bryan Price, RHP (from Boston via Victor Martinez trade)

Since Price changed his arm action and developed higher velocity while at Rice University he has been on the Indians radar. Shapiro mentioned that he was on the Indians mind during the 2008 draft when he was selected 45th overall in the sandwich round.

Price's fastball has a good deal of velocity on it, clocking in between 92 and 95 mph. He profiles as a pitcher with a smooth three-quarters deliver but with some unnecessary movement. He also throws a two-seam fastball that has nice inward movement toward right handed hitters. His slider is described as a "plus" pitch which he relies on as an out pitch, and his change-up is still a work in progress.

Price is another one of the young pitchers that could be used in relief or as a starter. With High A Salem this season Price has gone 1-6 with a 6.54 ERA over 11 starts. He fared better at Class A Greenville, going 3-2 with 2.45 ERA. His command has been questioned under duress, but his scouting report details him as a generally good control and command pitcher.

Relief Pitchers

Chris Perez, RHP (from St. Louis via Mark DeRosa trade)

Obviously we've had some time to see this kid and so far his numbers haven't been great. However, if you take away his horrific first appearance he has only allowed two earned runs over 8.2 innings, which is good enough for a 2.19 ERA, which is much better than his current 4.64 overall ERA.

In his second year in the big leagues Perez is showing the talent to be a solid bullpen arm, which can be a rare commodity, and certainly worthy of a player like DeRosa with an expiring contract.

Perez's arsenal is best described as filthy, and Future Redbirds described his stuff as the "best pure stuff of any pitcher in the [Cardinals] system." That kind of praise does not lightly, and will certainly serve him well in Cleveland.

I see Perez as the heir apparent to Kerry Wood, thus usurping the role from Jensen Lewis, who has shown too much inconsistency in his young career.

Jess Todd, RHP (from St. Louis via Mark DeRosa trade)

I was very pleased with the Indians selection of Todd as the PTBNL in the Mark DeRosa trade, and I feel that it really swung the balance of the trade to the Indians favor.

Todd spent the first half of this year closing for AAA Memphis and has since taken over that role in Columbus. With Memphis he earned 24 saves in 41 appearances over 49 innings. During that time he struck out 59 and only walked 13 all while keeping his WHIP and ERA low at 1.061 and 2.20, respectively.

Since moving to Columbus he has earned one save in two appearance and is yet to allow a run. In those two innings of work he has struck out three and walked none.

Todd uses a 90-94 mph four seam fastball along with a two-seamer and a circle change that moves like a splitter. Though he is a bit smaller, only 5'11", he throws hard and has a strong delivery, albeit one that requires a good deal of effort on his part. Because of this Todd profiles best as a reliever and in my opinion the best man to set up for battery mate Chris Perez in the near future. It won't be long before Todd moves north, I would have to guess he would be a September call up at the latest.

What it all means

The Indians have netted a strong core of young, promising prospects for two proven stars, two decent utility men and two young players without a future in Cleveland. Overall I would say that these deals have the potential to be very lucrative for the Indians, similar to the now famous Bartolo Colon deal (which, of course, brough Grady, Cliff and Brandon Phillips to Cleveland).

But they are called prospects for a reason, and clearly 2009, and for all intents and purposes 2010, will be used solely as rebuilding years. As I mentioned previously, with Masterson and Carrasco ready to move in to the rotation shortly Mark Shapiro has some optimism for next year though it would be a long shot.

"I think in a division that's not perfect, with no real powerhouse team, it will take all things firing right, but I think [contention] next year is not out of the question," Shapiro said. "I think what's more important is that we have a multi-year opportunity to have a good team."

I have reason to believe that the Indians are not done dealing, and that August may still be a busy month. With a bad economy players are more likely to clear waivers and players like Carl Pavano and Jamey Carroll, both of whom have high value to contenders, could easily be moved with their budget friendly contracts. Even Kelly Shoppach may be made available next month since he will be arbitration eligible after this season.

Beyond that I believe that the team may be able to make a play in free agency this off-season. Thought I doubt the team will make any huge moves, the $16 million in salary that was freed up by the V-Mart and Cliff Lee deals may be able to go to good use, especially when you consider that Shapiro was never asked to offload salary.

As usual I implore you Tribe fans to stay positive and look to the future. But even as I was writing this the Victorless, Cliffless, (dare I say) hopeless Indians pulled off a 13 inning win against the Central leading Tigers.

There is hope, there is next year.

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