Springtime Storylines: Are the Indians the worst team in baseball?

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Cleveland Block C Cap.jpgBetween now and Opening Day, HBT will take a look at each of the 30
teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally
breaking down their chances for the 2010 season.  Hello, everybody, Harry Doyle here, welcoming all you Friends of the Feather to another season of Indians baseball!

big question: Are the Indians the worst team in baseball?

We won’t get to the Pirates until next week, but the Tribe has a good argument.  Mostly because of the rotation. Pop quiz, hot shot: how many other teams’ rotations would Jake Westbrook, Justin Masterson and Fausto Carmona make? A few? Sure, probably. Now on how many teams would they make the top 3?  Hard to see any to be honest, but they’ll be anchoring Cleveland’s staff. Rounding things out will be Aaron Laffey and David Huff. If the scoreboard at Progressive Field wasn’t electronic the team would have to place a special order for extra crooked numbers this year.

What’s more, the pitchers won’t get much help from the defense, especially on the infield. Cabrera, Valbuena, and Peralta may be the most lyrically-named infield in baseball, but all three of them had negative UZRs last year.  Outfield is better, but not significantly so. Grady Sizemore can cover ground, so that’s nice, but Shin Soo-Choo and Matt Laporta (or Michael Brantley) aren’t any great shakes. They’ll get some offense from that crew, though, so it’s not like the outfield is a black hole or anything.

But really, it does all come back to pitching here. The Indians’ were 29th in the majors in ERA last year, and that was with Cliff Lee on the team until July 29th. Having a healthy Westbrook will be nice, I suppose it’s hard to imagine Carmona being worse this year than he was last year and the youngins are bound to improve a bit, but there’s no escaping the fact that this team is gonna get utterly destroyed by opposing hitters night-in and night-out.

So what else is going on?

  • While the Indians may be the worst major league team this year, they are far from the worst organization.  The trades of CC Sabathia, Casey Blake, Victor Martinez, Cliff Lee and others were depressing for Indians’ season ticket purchasers, but between those moves, good drafts and good scrap heap pickups there is a lot of young talent in the Indians’ system.
  • The stylish Manny Acta takes over in the dugout. When he was given the job in Washington people thought it was a good move because he’s supposed to be a guy who can help young prospects develop and stuff. Only problem is that Jim Bowden never gave him any. He’ll have some in Cleveland towards the end of the season and definitely in 2011. In the meantime, though, his life is going to seem a lot like it did in D.C.: poor talent, little chance to compete and a mandate to keep morale up. With better talent in the pipeline he may find it easier to be optimistic with the Tribe than it was with the Nats.
  • Believe it or not, the Indians are still in the process of trying to unload veterans.  If Kerry Wood has anything more than a weak pulse this summer you can bet he’ll be shopped. Same with Jhonny Peralta.  Any other guy over the age of 25 or so who does anything this season is likely headed to the trading block too, at least for a look-see. Only problem is that the guys they want to move the most have rather ugly contracts: $11.5 million for Travis Hafner, $11 million
    for Jake Westbrook and
    $10.5 million for Wood.
  • The most interesting question in Cleveland this year — at least for people who don’t get off on rebuilding and prospect watching — will be whether Grady Sizemore can return to elite status. Sizemore underwent surgeries to repair his left elbow and abdominal wall last
    September, ending a very disappointing season for a guy who, before then, was considered one of the best players in the game. It’s almost certain that it was the elbow injury and not sudden-suck syndrome that led to the down year, so I’m fairly confident that he’ll rebound.

So how
are they gonna do?

It’s not a team that’s built to compete in 2010, but it will be
competing again soon. In the meantime, Tribe fans should enjoy the fact
that there are plenty of available seats in a pretty nice ballpark. The media will focus on the near-empty stadium and the dismal nightly performances, but the Indians’ situation is not totally hopeless. Just hopeless for 2010.

Prediction: Last place in the AL Central and challenging for the worst record in baseball.

NOTE: Unlike I have for every other team, I will not use the official logo for the Indians (or, like with the Tigers, a vintage official logo).  Why? Because while I don’t get bent out of shape at the team being called “The Indians,” Chief Wahoo is a racist freakin’ logo and I’m not giving him any time face time.  If you insist on it I will write a post next week explaining in brutal detail why I feel this way, but I have covered this before (and here’s a wonderfully comprehensive take on it from some Indians fans).  Besides: the block C alternate cap Cleveland uses is by far the coolest cap in the game. They should totally wear that all the time.

UPDATE: I’m a moron. That cap I had previously pictured above was not the official Block C cap the Indians have used as alternates the past couple of years. It was an original design made by Paul Cousineau at The DiaTribe blog, for a post he did back in January re-imagining the Indians’ uniforms. The real hat — which is up there now — doesn’t have the white piping It’s a great post, by the way.

Erik Johnson likely to open 2016 in the White Sox rotation

DENVER, CO - APRIL 09:  Starting pitcher Erik Johnson #45 of the Chicago White Sox delivers against the Colorado Rockies during Interleague play at Coors Field on April 9, 2014 in Denver, Colorado. The Rockies defeated the White Sox 10-4.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
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With the White Sox losing Jeff Samardzija to free agency, Erik Johnson will likely get a shot to contribute out of the rotation to open up the 2016 season, GM Rick Hahn said in a conference call on Wednesday, per a report from MLB.com’s Scott Merkin.

“As we sit here today, I think it will be an opportunity for Erik Johnson to convert on sort of the return to form he showed back in 2015 when he was International League pitcher of the year for [Triple-A] Charlotte,” Hahn said. “Obviously, he got some starts in September and continued to show the progress in Chicago he had shown in the Minor Leagues over the course of the last season.

“So if Opening Day were today, then I think Johnson is penciled in to that spot in the rotation right now. In all probability, once we get closer to spring, there will be some competition for him to earn that spot. But if we were strictly looking at today, then I would think Johnson has the inside track on filling Samardzija’s innings.”

Johnson was called up from Triple-A Charlotte in September and made six starts, allowing 14 runs (13 earned) on 32 hits and 17 walks with 30 strikeouts in 35 innings. That followed up an impressive five months in the minors where he compiled a 2.37 ERA and a 136/41 K/BB ratio across 132 2/3 innings.

Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, and MLB.com each included Johnson on their top-100 prospect lists, ranking him 63rd, 67th, and 70th, respectively. The right-hander was selected by the White Sox in the second round of the 2011 draft.

Major League Baseball will investigate Yasiel Puig for his role in Miami nightclub brawl

Yasiel Puig
AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi

It was reported on Friday afternoon that Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig was involved in a brawl at a Miami nightclub. Details were scant at the time, but he reportedly left with a bruise on his face.

Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times reports that Major League Baseball plans to investigate Puig under the league’s new domestic violence policy for his role in the brawl. Citing a report from TMZ, Hernandez notes that Puig shoved his sister, “brutally sucker-punched” the manager of the bar, and instigated the brawl.

The Dodgers and Puig’s agent have thus far refused to comment on the situation.

Rockies shortstop Jose Reyes was the first player to be investigated under the league’s new domestic violence policy earlier this month, as he allegedly assaulted his wife. Reyes has pleaded not guilty after he was charged with domestic abuse in Hawaii.

As our own Craig Calcaterra pointed out, commissioner Rob Manfred does not need to wait for Puig to plead guilty or to be found guilty to levy a punishment.

Dayan Viciedo close to signing with Japan’s Chunichi Dragons

Dayan Viciedo
AP Photo/Carlos Osorio
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Patrick Newman is reporting that the Chunichi Dragons of Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball and outfielder Dayan Viciedo are close to an agreement on a contract. Newman notes that the Dragons are close to signing pitcher Jordan Norberto as well.

Viciedo, 26, has struggled since making his major league debut in 2010 with the White Sox, batting an aggregate .254/.298/.424 with 66 home runs and 211 RBI in 1,798 plate appearances. He spent the 2015 season with Triple-A Charlotte (White Sox) and Nashville (Athletics), hitting a composite .287/.348/.450. While Viciedo can hit the occasional home run, he hasn’t shown the ability to do much else at the big league level. Given his age, he could prove himself in Japan and parlay that into a renewed shot in the majors in the future.

The White Sox signed Viciedo out of Cuba in December 2008, agreeing to a four-year, $10 million deal. The club re-signed him to one-year deals in 2013 and ’14 for $2.8 million each and $4.4 million ahead of the 2015 season.

Blue Jays sign J.A. Happ to a three-year, $36 million contract

J.A. Happ
AP Photo/David Zalubowski

Update (8:45 PM EST): Per Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi, Happ will get $10 million in 2016 and $13 million each in 2017 and ’18.


MLB.com’s Gregor Chisholm reports that the Blue Jays have signed lefty J.A. Happ to a three-year deal worth $36 million.

Happ, 33, had a rebirth as a member of the Pirates last season after starting the season with 20 subpar starts with the Mariners. He made 11 starts for the Buccos, boasting a 1.85 ERA with a 69/13 K/BB ratio over 63 1/3 innings.

Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported this past August that Happ’s newfound success had to do with a delivery tweak suggested by Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage. The Blue Jays are certainly hoping that adjustment is the full explanation for his success.

The Jays’ signing of Happ most likely signifies they won’t be pursuing free agent lefty David Price.

This will be Happ’s second stint with the Blue Jays. The Astros dealt him to Toronto in a July 2012 trade. He posted a 4.39 ERA with a 256/113 K/BB ratio in 291 innings with the Jays, then went to the Mariners in a trade this past December that brought outfielder Michael Saunders to the Jays.