The Tigers Get Swept, Your Boy Rejoices, And The Tribe Decisions Three Days Away

Ubaldo Jimenez

It is funny to me how once the World Series rolls around, most people I know are all but done with baseball. It is almost the exact opposite of the NBA and NFL where the sport becomes even more popular at the end. In case you missed it, the San Francisco Giants used their incredible pitching, great defense, and clutch hitting to dispose of the big bat lineup of the Detroit Tigers. On the east side of Cleveland, as the clock struck midnight, your boy was lying in bed with a smile.

The free-spending Tigers desperately wanted to win a World Series for owner Mike Illitch (and his hair). Illitch, Dave Dombwoski, and Manager Jim Leyland thought they were built for this title. They had their pitching lined up the way they wanted it and came in smokin’ hot off a sweep of the New York Yankees. The Giants, who faced  six straight elimination games and won them all heading in, seemed to be the big underdog. Their best two pitchers wouldn’t go until games three and four and they were sending Barry Zito up against Justin Verlander in Game One.

If you had the Giants sweeping four straight with all of that factored in, then you are either a liar or you had a copy of “Grey’s Sports Almanac.”

If anything was learned in this series, it’s that once again great pitching always beats great hitting. Two years ago the Giants did the exact same thing to the Texas Rangers and their All-Star laden lineup. Need I remind you of the 1995 World Series?

There is no doubt the Tigers will be back though. They have too much talent not to, not to mention an owner who has already proven he wants a World Series before he dies so badly that he will deficit spend to the hilt to do so. The top three of their rotation, Justin Verlander, Doug Fister, and Max Scherzer are all back and in their primes. Anibal Sanchez, who was so good after the Tigers after coming over at the trade deadline from Miami, is a free agent, but expect the Tigers to do what they can to bring him back. Dombrowski already has said re-signing Sanchez is a top priority. With Rick Porcello in the fifth spot, the Tigers rotation will be amongst the best in baseball. Throw in the return of DH Victor Martinez and 2013 could be their year.

In the meantime, your very own Cleveland Indians, with new manager Terry Francona in tow, get to hang in the same division with the Motor City Kitties. They too have decisions to make in a winter than could change the course of the franchise for the next five years. It’s obvious to anyone who has watched this team that there are gaping holes in left field, first base, and in the rotation.

The first of these big decisions will come in just three days when the Indians have to choose to either pick up or decline the team options on three players. Each of the three have had a big impact on the organization during their time in Cleveland. Lets examine them one by one.

Travis Hafner – $13 million option, $2.75 million buyout. Will the Indians pick up his option? No.

Ah, Pronk. He was such a cuddly figure wasn’t he? The gentle giant of a man hit moon shot homers and was passed the torch from Jim Thome as the next great Indians left-handed slugger. Hafner earned that four-year, $57 million extension that wouldn’t kick in fully until the 2009 campaign. His 2008 salary would get a bump as a part of the contract as well. At the time, most people lauded the move, as the Indians were actually ponying up to keep one of their own.

Instead, essentially from the second he signed the deal, Hafner’s career took a dip straight down. On top of the diminishing skills, he could never stay healthy. From 2008 to 2012, Pronk played in an average of 86 games a season. The most games he appeared in was 118 in 2010. The most homers he hit in a season during that five-year span was 16. His strikeouts went up and his walks went down.

During the final year of the deal (2012) when he was healthy, he was close to an automatic out in clutch spots. He hit just .128 (10-78) with no homers with runners in scoring position. With runners on, Pronk hit .161 (18-112) with just six extra-base hits. He was also 0-9 with the bases loaded and hit .191 against lefties.

So lets see, the Indians could exercise a $13 million option on a 35-year old, glorified singles hitter, who can’t play the field and hasn’t been able to appear in more than 118 games since 2007 or pay him $2.75 million to walk.

Put it this way, if they pick up the option, they should cease to exist as a Major League Baseball franchise. They obviously won’t, but the biggest concern I have is that they would bring him back for another year at a low salary. I’ve said this until I am blue in the face – it is time to move on from the Travis Hafner/Grady Sizemore era.

Roberto Hernandez – $6 million option. Will the Indians pick up his option? No.

Fauxberto’s situation is much different from that of Hafner’s. The Indians are bereft of any sort of rotation depth and will be on the market for cheap starting options for 2013. The question is do you ride with the devil you know or the devil you don’t?

Hernandez’s situation has been well documented but to me it comes down to execution on the field. When Roberto Hernandez was the hard-sinker balling machine in 2007 known as Fausto Carmona, picking up this option seemed like all but a formality. He was going to be the future of the rotation. We all knew CC Sabathia would leave via free agency. Carmona was supposed to be the next ace in line. With Fausto and Cliff Lee 1-2 for the next few years, the Indians window would be wide open.

Instead, Carmona’s game fell straight off the table, he was a mental mess, and then we came to find out he was not who we thought he was, both on and off the field. Other than the 2007 gem season, the best Fauxberto could be was a back end of the rotation, innings-eater. That’s a far cry from what we all hoped he would be. Obviously we didn’t see much of him in 2012 thanks to the identity issues plus the league suspension, but when we did, he made just three starts (allowing 12 earned runs in 15.1 IP) and missed the rest of the season with an ankle injury. A year earlier he was 7-15 with an ERA of 5.25 and a WHIP of 1.40.

So explain to me again why the Indians would pick up his option? The only reason to do so is that $6 million is essentially just above the going market for back end of the rotation free-agent starting pitchers with a decent track record. To me, I’d rather see Corey Kluber at under $1 million dollars do the same thing.

Ubaldo Jimenez – $5.75 million option – Will the Indians pick up his option? Yes

Ubaldo has been a hot-buttom topic since he set foot in Cleveland. I, along with many others on this site, have dissected him over and over. Talk about an enigma. Tribe GM Chris Antonetti decided to put all of his eggs in Ubaldo’s basket a season and a half ago in attempts to get his team a front of the rotation starter, who was under club control through 2014. He sent his two best pitching prospects to Colorado to get him. It was a gigantic risk that to say the least has been a complete disaster.

Not only has Antonetti’s talent evaluation skills taken a major hit, but you look up and at times question how could he have taken on a guy with such obvious red flags while giving up so much to do it? The Rockies were more than willing to give him up with a club friendly contract in his prime years, and their wasn’t any hesitation of questioning why?

I can’t get into this again. I’m already fuming. Regardless, Ubaldo as an Indian has been essentially a fourth or fifth starter. The stats tell part of the story. 42 starts/13-21/5.32 ERA/1.57 WHIP/205 K’s/122 BB’s.

On top of that, Jimenez is a five and fly guy who taxes the bullpen and a mechanical disaster.

With all of that said, the Indians have invested so much in him, giving up on Ubaldo now wouldn’t be prudent. $5.75 million is well worth giving him another shot to turn things around under a new pitching coach, yet to be determined. Francona is known as a master motivator with his players and maybe he can help light a fire under Jimenez. There were times last season where he looked like a beast. Yes, they were very few and far between, but if Ubaldo could ever get it all together, he would still be a very productive pitcher.

Maybe a renaissance season from Jimenez could help clean some of the egg off of Antonetti’s face.

To me, all three decisions are pretty easy. Then again, this is the same front office that gave Grady Sizemore a $5 million paid vacation last season.

(AP Photo/Duane Burleson)

  • Steve

    I don’t get this sentiment that we absolutely have to move on from Sizemore and Hafner. If you can get them on cheap deals, (minor league contract for Sizemore, less than $5 million for Hafner) why not take a flier? It’s not like you’re going to get that kind of upside anywhere else. Whether they are here or not says little about the direction of this franchise. There’s no bonus gained by ending their time here. Also, if you think Sizemore was taking a vacation last year, I just don’t think you can be reasonable about this at all. The guy busted his butt in trying to get back, but his body didn’t respond.

    And the Rockies gave up Jimenez because they needed to rebuild (they were worse than the Indians this year), and got back three legit minor league pitchers, two of them being big time pitching prospects. Let’s not pretend that the Rockies were looking to unload him.

  • Dee P

    I disagree. Yes cheap incentive laden deals minimize the risk, but these two guys are not what is best for this team and the position they are in right now. And let me prime this by saying I am perhaps the biggest fan of both Hafner and Sizemore. This Indians team needs to begin building up again with players who can form a core for the next 3-5 years. Sizemore and Hafner don’t fit that blueprint anymore. Both cannot be counted on day after day, as they have been basically reduced to “game time decisions” for 162 games. They would clog up two key roster spots while we are in the middle of trying to figure out which pieces we have that are going to be long term pieces. Plus Hafner destroys our lineup flexibility, which would be nice to use for matchups and players that need a break from the field. Bottom line is, if we were on the doorstep going into this season then maybe there is a spot for them, but we aren’t. We are trying to figure out who the next core is going to be. On a team like that, there is no room for players like Hafner and Sizemore who are hanging on in the twilight of their careers.

    I can maybe listen to a case for Sizemore, seeing how thin we are in the outfield, but it would be tough to convince me. Just can’t count on them, and they’re a bad fit for this Indians team as it stands – that’s my bottom line.

  • Steve

    So, who are you counting on in LF and DH? Also, if Sizemore is a minor leaguer until he can prove he can make a major league roster, he’s not taking anybody’s spot. Hafner, I can see. A part-time DH can eat up a roster spot, but until we find someone else who can hold down the spot, I’m not going to start eliminating options.

  • Dee P

    then you are either a liar or you had a copy of ”Grey’s Sports Almanac.”

    “Marty, I didn’t invent the time machine for financial gain!”

  • Steve

    To make it more clear. I’m not saying we should sign the two. I agree that we should try to find two younger players instead. But, we still need an OF and a DH, and I’m not going to start turning guys at those positions away because of emotion.

  • Jones

    Really enjoyed this TD. And not just the Back to the Future reference

  • Dee P

    Emotion is a non-factor. If emotion was a factor I’d bring them both back.

  • Steve

    Call it whatever you want, but treating these guys as zero-value players (which is what TD is doing, at least) to the Indians requires something beyond objective analysis.

  • ChicagoKid

    Steve, I’m not sure I agree with your comments about Sizemore and Hafner but you are SPOT ON about Jimenez.

    TD, as Steve mentions, “more than willing to give up (Jimenez)” is a bit of an exaggeration. The Rox were simply selling high on Ubaldo before his hot start in 2010 (where he was the best pitcher in baseball for the first half of the year) was a distant memory. I applaud Antonetti for taking that kind of risk with the Ubaldo trade, something that he has to in a city which is hard to attract free agents without overpaying for them. As everyone knows about top pitching prospects (Adam Miller anyone?), major league success is far from a sure thing.

    Besides, TD, what “egg” does Antonetti on his face? Pomeranz and White were a combined 4-18 this year. It’s not like the Indians got taken to the cleaners or anything. Maybe he knew something about our “two pitching prospects” that we didn’t?

  • Dee P

    I don’t agree with that. In my opinion, they just aren’t good fits.

  • CBI

    Steve, I have to agree with you. With Choo all but gone (and assuming we keep Cabrarra), the Indians will need to address their starting pitching, two outfield positions, DH, and first base. That’s a tall order for one off season even with the 18 million coming off the books.

  • CBI

    I don’t know what’s worse, Ubaldo, or having potentially “won” the Ubaldo trade and admitting Pomeranz and White were just two more bust Indian draft picks. Sigh…

  • mgbode

    I agree the only option to pickup is Ubaldo.

    Hafner: you know my views on the situation and I know they are not popular. $3mil/1year deal to be a DH when healthy is valid IMO because he still hits at a good rate when he is healthy (but we cannot overpay).

    Sizemore: he, on the other hand, hasn’t hit when he has been healthy lately and has been a bigger injury risk to boot. if he wants to come back at the Johnny Damon special price, then I wouldn’t complain, but I also wouldn’t be expecting anything.

    Roberto Carmona-Hernandez: just walk away and give that $6mil to someone else. maybe increase our chances at getting Blanton or someone in that tier if nothing else.

  • matt underwood

    Its not the fact that Pom and White were/are/maybe busts, it is the use of those bullets and how they were obtained to damaged goods.

    The idea was sounds, the execution was god awful. especially when pitchers like gio gonzalez and fister moved teams.

    Not to mention, the tribe’s inability or unwillingness to follow the trade up with anything else of substance on the player acquisition front for the next year and a half. Makes you think, what the hell was the point of the trade?

  • Harv 21

    not sure why we bring back Ubaldo because we’ve invested so much in him but not Hernandez for the same reason. Top prospects for Ubaldo, over $10m to Roberto for spotty to bad pitching waiting for him to regain a semblance of his ’07 form.

    I don’t want either of them because there should be a pitcher (or two) out there who at $6m would present a safer bet or higher downside than these two. But if I had to choose my money would be on Hernandez, with a full winter and spring training, and maybe a new attitude, rather than trying for the umpteenth time to fix Ubaldo’s scarecrow mechanics and inconsistency.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    If you can’t win anything rejoice when another team loses, um okay.

  • woofersus

    Agreed 100%. Even though people have a bad taste in their mouths with Hafner and Sizemore, there are guys every year who sign low cost, low risk contracts and see if they can make the team. If nobody else wants to give much money to those guys, it could be a very low cost insurance policy. In the case of Carmandez, I don’t care what the going rate for a back-of-the-order innings eater is. There are young guys in the organization who can do that for far less. Even if Kluber is only so-so, it will probably be a net wash against the alternative, and that’s 6 million we can add to the budget for a decent left fielder.

  • Steve

    The point was to get a front of the rotation pitcher, which we still need more than anything else, sadly. I would guess that if the trade worked out like we hoped, that other moves would follow.

  • Steve

    But what good fits are available and in the Indians’ price range? We have to operate in a real world scenario here. The Indians need someone to play LF (and a 4th OF) and a DH. Maybe we get Thome and Delmon Young instead.

  • Steve

    Over 2009-2011, Sizemore still put up a 98 OPS+. Nowhere near his usual self, but still pretty good, especially at CF. Obviously the injury risk is huge, but I don’t see why you don’t try to bring him back for Spring Training just in case things finally go right.

  • Dee P

    Completely understand the Indians “real world scenario”….I fully understand us having to find value without money to spend. So…to answer the question of “what good fits are available and in the Indians’ price range?”….here is my response.

    I’d like to see the Indians go after (these players one year incentive deals, or multi-year):

    Lance Berkman
    Kevin Youkilis
    Scott Hairston
    Ryan Ludwick
    Juan Rivera
    Cody Ross

    and if they go after a bigger contract:

    Nick Swisher

    B.J. Upton

    I’d take any of these players over bringing back Hafner and Sizemore on “cheaper” deals.

    I’d be very happy with Youkilis at 1B, Berkman at DH, and Hairston/Ludwick/Ross/Rivera in LF.

    Kipnis 2B
    Cabrera SS
    Youkilis 1B
    Santana C
    Berkman DH
    Choo RF
    Hairston LF
    Chisenhall 3B
    Brantley CF

    100% happy with that….and it’s possible in the real world.

  • mgbode

    Berkman spent a good portion of his career in Houston toiling away. He has repeatedly stated that he has made enough money and now is about going to a great organization that competes every year.

    St.L. may let him walk as he is a bit of a luxury for them, but he’s a NL guy and he’s not going to a team like us. I would expect the Phillies, Nats (depending on their FAs), Dodgers, Giants, and possibly even Pirates all to be way higher on his list than us.

    I don’t mean to be disparaging, just that he’s a bit of a local hero out here so I am force-fed more Berkman info than I would otherwise want.

  • mgbode

    on a veteran’s minimum deal with incentives. sure. anything more? no.

    he is averaging 35games/season the last 3 years.
    his OBP was .285 and .271 the last 2 seasons he played.
    his WAR has been negative the last 2 seasons he played.

    he was able to get a bit of a power stroke going in 2011, which saved his OPS+, but he did so while striking-out at career rates. if we are going to go with a boom-or-bust power hitter, then I don’t think he is the guy I’d want.

    and, at CF? are you crazy? IF and it’s a big IF he can come back and play there is no way that he should see CF unless we get absolutely dogged by injuries. Beltran rarely even plays CF at this point of his career and his injuries are much less severe than Grady.

    it’s a shame because Grady had a chance at being one of the better speed/power combo guys. but, that is why there are so few of those guys. it’s brutal on your body to try to be both.

  • Dee P

    I hear you as I live in STL, and have been force fed Berkman-hero stuff for the past two years also….

    If not Berkman – I’d be happy with a Ludwick or Rivera then.

  • mgbode

    fair enough.

    I will note that Berkman grew up outside of San Antonio, went to school at Rice (in Houston), then was drafted in the first round by the Astros. So, they are all-in on the Big Puma here.

    In fact, the writer that wrote about how he was out of shape the last couple of seasons in Houston and all of a sudden got into shape for St.L. was nearly sent out of town on a rail for that article.

  • Steve

    The Indians are supposedly already working on Youkilis, but who knows for sure. That covers 1B. Sure, find a whatever RH stick in LF. That still doesn’t prevent you from taking a flier on Sizemore and giving Hafner a few bucks to be a part time DH.

    Your “good fits” are basically better players. They are still mostly older guys who won’t be around too long. I’m not seeing how the “fit” is any different for Sizemore and Hafner.

  • Steve

    I’ve already stated that I’d be looking at a minor league deal.

    And I didn’t say he was any great shakes, but that his offense hadn’t completely cratered when he played, like you seemed to suggest. And he did it while still playing in CF.

  • mgbode

    ok, we are in basic agreement. minor league deal or even veteran minimum MLB deal and I’m game.

  • Dee P

    I guess our opinions on those players vary greatly, because I don’t consider Hairston, Ludwick, Rivera or Ross “whatever RH sticks”….but it really doesn’t matter. You want Hafner and Sizemore, I’d prefer other options, in the end the only thing that matters is what the brass wants, and you and I aren’t a part of that.