Springtime Storylines: When will the Indians be finished with their rebuilding phase?


Between 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 2011 season. Next up: Another rebuilding year in Cleveland.

The Big Question: When will the Indians be finished with their rebuilding phase?

After three consecutive .500-or-worse seasons, including 93 and 97 losses in the past two years, the Indians have surprisingly little to show for a rebuilding effort that included trading away established stars CC Sabathia, Cliff Lee, and Victor Martinez in the middle of their primes.

Not only do Manny Acta and company look very capable of losing another 90-plus games this year, aside from stealing superstar-in-the-making Carlos Santana from the Dodgers in a trade that may go down as one of the biggest heists in MLB history surprisingly few long-term building blocks have emerged in Cleveland. Some of that has simply been bad luck, as injuries wrecked Travis Hafner, Grady Sizemore, and one-time elite pitching prospect Adam Miller.

However, none of Andy Marte, Chuck Lofgren, Trevor Crowe, Jeremy Sowers, and Michael Aubrey panned out as prospects, Franklin Gutierrez, Jeremy Guthrie, and Brandon Phillips were let go before they emerged as valuable big leaguers, and now even Sabathia trade centerpiece Matt LaPorta’s upside is in question. Santana is a stud, Shin-Soo Choo is one of MLB’s best, most underrated players, and Lonnie Chisenhall, Alex White, Jason Kipnis, and Drew Pomeranz are a good group of top prospects, but Indians fans had to be hoping that the losing would be over by now and/or the traded stars would yield a more impressive next wave of talent.

So what else is going on?

  • I drooled over Santana while selecting him as one of my breakout picks for 2011, so instead of repeating all of that praise I’ll simply note that perhaps the most important aspect of the Indians’ entire season will be keeping him healthy behind the plate. He has a chance to be an MVP-caliber player at a premium defensive position, and while the rest of the long-term cupboard may not be as fully stocked as hoped a switch-hitting, on-base machine catcher is an awfully good block from which to start building.
  • This might be Sizemore’s final season in Cleveland, as the Indians hold an $8.5 million option on him for 2012. At his peak Sizemore was worth twice that much and he’s still just 28 years old, but his production has dropped dramatically, he missed most of last season with significant injuries, and will begin this year back on the disabled list. And even if he gets healthy and is playing well the Indians could be tempted to trade him.
  • Similarly, while Choo and Fausto Carmona are under contract through 2013 and 2014 respectively the Indians may decide that cashing them in for more prospects makes sense if they feel like the current team is another couple years from contending. Of course, if Sizemore, Choo, Carmona are all playing well alongside Santana the Indians may be respectable enough to balk at blowing things up again.
  • Despite being a very smart guy with some interesting ideas Mark Shapiro’s stint as general manager was ultimately underwhelming, but I’m very optimistic about his successor Chris Antonetti and in general the Indians have done their best to be ahead of the curve when it comes to technology, sabermetrics, and even social media. They’re on the right track–including an impressive 2010 draft–but some half-decent luck also wouldn’t hurt.
  • Acta’s choice of headwear, as always, will be the best in the league.

So how are they gonna do?

Kansas City’s presence in the AL Central should make it fairly easy for Cleveland to stay out of the cellar, but it would take an awful lot of things breaking right for the Indians to make a run at one of the top three spots in the division. My guess is they’ll show some relatively modest improvement from last season’s 69 wins to somewere in the mid-70s while having some very interesting decisions to make at the trading deadline.

Cal Ripken, Jr. says he’d “answer the phone” if the Nationals come calling

Former Baltimore Oriole Cal Ripken, Jr., acknowledges fans before throwing out the ceremonial first pitch to mark the twentieth anniversary of his streak of 2,131 straight games before a baseball game between the Orioles and the Tampa Bay Rays, Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2015, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

Hall of Famer and Orioles legend Cal Ripken, Jr. was a guest on “The Rich Eisen Show” on Friday and naturally he was asked about the managerial opening with the Nationals, a job he was connected to as recently as 2013. Per Chase Hughes of, Ripken said he’d be interested if the opportunity presented itself.

“I’d answer the phone,” he said on ‘The Rich Eisen Show.’ “Everybody wants a phone call like that.”

Matt Williams was fired by the Nationals this week after two seasons on the job. While he won NL Manager of the Year honors in his first season at the helm, he reportedly lost the clubhouse this year en route to a disappointing 83-79 record.

Williams had no previous managerial experience prior to being hired. Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said this week that he would prioritize experience during his search, a factor which could impact Ripken’s chances of getting the job. Ripken acknowledged that he sees how it could be perceived a “risk,” but he still thinks he can manage at the major league level:

“The baseball background that I have — you’re a student of the game — there’s a lot said about experience or lack of experience in managers coming through. To me, it’s all about your philosophy — how you handle things, what you’re going to do. And then it’s being able to apply it.

“I haven’t had a chance to apply that, so no one knows. So that would be a risk, I suppose. I’m in the business world now and all the time, it seems like I’m asking for experts to come around and tell me what to do because I don’t have that background to fall back on. But in baseball, I have that background to fall back on and I would know how to deal with whatever situations there because I’ve seen it.”

Ripken has a good relationship with Rizzo and he’s obviously an icon in the Mid-Atlantic area, so you can understand the appeal, but there’s going to be plenty of competition for this job. After all, on talent alone, it’s not hard to envision them vaulting back to the top of the National League East next season.

James Wagner of the Washington Post reports that former Padres manager Bud Black has a “strong case” to land the job. Meanwhile, the Nationals have requested an interview with Diamondbacks Triple-A manager Phil Nevin.

NLDS, Game 2: Cubs vs. Cardinals lineups

St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Jaime Garcia throws in the first inning of a baseball game against the Cincinnati Reds, Thursday, Sept. 10, 2015, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
AP Photo/John Minchillo
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Here are the Cubs and Cardinals lineups for Game 2 of the NLDS. First pitch is scheduled for 5:37 p.m. ET in St. Louis:

CF Dexter Fowler
RF Jorge Soler
3B Kris Bryant
1B Anthony Rizzo
2B Starlin Castro
LF Austin Jackson
C Miguel Montero
SP Kyle Hendricks
SS Addison Russell

Cubs manager Joe Maddon has made a number of changes with a left-hander on the mound for St. Louis. Jorge Soler will start in right field and bat second base while Kyle Schwarber is on the bench. Meanwhile, Austin Jackson will start over Chris Coghlan in left field. Miguel Montero is behind the plate after David Ross caught Jon Lester in Game 1 on Friday. Finally, Kyle Hendricks will bat eighth while Addison Russell will hit ninth, which he did often during the regular season.

3B Matt Carpenter
RF Stephen Piscotty
LF Matt Holliday
CF Jason Heyward
SS Jhonny Peralta
1B Brandon Moss
C Yadier Molina
2B Kolten Wong
SP Jaime Garcia

The Cardinals’ lineup isn’t much different from Game 1 against left-hander Jon Lester, but there is one notable change with a right-hander on the mound. Randal Grichuk is out while Brandon Moss is in. Stephen Piscotty played first base in Game 1, but he’ll be in right field this afternoon. This means that Moss will start at first base. Yadier Molina reported no issues with his thumb in Game 1 and is right back in there to catch Garcia.

Daniel Murphy’s home run ball vs. Clayton Kershaw had his name imprinted on it

New York Mets' Daniel Murphy celebrates a solo home run as Los Angeles Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis looks down during the fourth inning in Game 1 of baseball's National League Division Series, Friday, Oct. 9, 2015 in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)
AP Photo/Gregory Bull

We often hear that someone “tattooed” a baseball. Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy took that literally with his home run against Clayton Kershaw last night.

According to Statcast, Murphy’s fourth-inning solo blast against Kershaw left the bat at 104.9 mph and traveled an estimated distance of 415 feet. He actually hit the ball so hard that his name ended up being imprinted on it from his bat. No joke. Check it out below…

Here’s the video of the home run: