Monday, October 03, 2005

A Look at the Future

Who will the Cleveland Indians have back in 2006?


Rafael Betancourt: A solid reliever. Tried briefly at closer last year when Bob Wickman was injured. His 2.79 ERA was one of the reasons why this year's bullpen sparkled.

Andrew Brown: The 24-year old local product (Chardon, OH) was the throw-in in the Milton Bradley deal. The reliever did not see any Major League action after a solid season at AAA. He has a good shot at being a part of the future of this team.

Fernando Cabrera: Definitely a part of the future of this club, especially if there's a massive purge of the bullpen. He got a bunch of work in September, and sparkled with a 1.47 ERA.

Fausto Carmona: Didn't see any Major League action, despite a September call up. A top prospect at age 21, he may be a year or two away, but he should be a part of the future.

Jason Davis: Eric Wedge is in love with his velocity, but Davis' control leaves something to be desired. Davis very early lost his role in the rotation, and ended the season with an ERA just under five. Many self-appointed experts have said that he shouldn't have a future with this team. But, they're not the ones who make the decisions.

Scott Elarton: He pitched admirably for a number 5 starter, and that will probably get him a decent salary on the free agent market. Elarton has said he wants to come back to Cleveland, but his return may hinge on the resigning of Kevin Millwood. If the Indians can free up money for Millwood, Elarton may be let go in favor of Davis or Carmona.

Jeremy Guthrie: Once the top pitching prospect in the organization, Guthrie simply fell apart after his first promotion from AA to AAA a few years ago. How patient will the organization be with Guthrie?

Bob Howry: Howry is a free agent after this season. His re-signing is considered a top priority after a year in which he made the eigth inning a foregone conclusion. If Bob Wickman retires or can't be resigned, Howry will likely be Cleveland's number one choice for closer in 2006.

Cliff Lee: Bartolo who? The guy who was supposedly the second best piece of the Bartolo Colon trade put up Colon-esque numbers this year. An ERA of 3.79 and 18 wins to only 5 losses made the 27-year-old a dark horse for the Cy Young this year. Clifton Phifer Lee will be a staple of the rotation for years to come.

Kevin Millwood: Millwood is the key figure in Cleveland's offseason dealings. A question mark coming into the season due to his health, Millwood won the ERA title this year, beating Johann Santana by 0.01. Going into 2006, he and AJ Burnett are expected to be the top two starting pitchers on the free agent market. (Read: There is a 97% chance that Millwood and Burnett will be wearing pinstripes next season.) As stated above, it will likely be Elarton or Millwood back next year, but not most. Millwood already made $7 million this year, so his return isn't very likely.

Arthur Rhodes: Rhodes was acquired straight up for Matt Lawton. At the beginning of the season, as the top of the lineup struggled, everyone said that giving up Lawton was a bad idea. However, as the lineup gelled in its current state, and as Rhodes sparkled, it began to look like the Indians got the better of the deal. A lefty specialist, Rhodes actually did better against righties in opponents' batting average (.155 by righties vs. .286 by lefties). However, remember that LOOGIES (Lefty One-Out GuyS) often come in to turn switch hitters around to the right side. Rhodes did have to leave the team for at least a month due to an undisclosed family emergency. His contract has him around through 2006, so hopefully everything at home will be resolved for him.

David Riske: Riske is eligible for salary arbitration in 2006. If he files, there's a good chance Mark Shapiro will simply let him walk. Riske did have a 3.10 ERA in 2005, but he also had a bad habit of turning six run leads into save situations very quickly via the home run.

C.C. Sabathia: Already the cornerstone of this rotation, Sabathia is locked down for the next few years. Sabathia's year got off to a rocky start, and his emotions got the best of him. However, once it was discovered that he was tipping his pitches, and once he got his emotions in check, he was a new man. Sabathia ended the season 15-10 with an ERA of 4.03. His performance over his last 10 starts - 8-1, 1.79 ERA - is great momentum towards the 2006 season.

Scott Sauerbeck: Sauerbeck is a potential free agent. A bit inconsistent after a year out of baseball, he was able to log 58 games this season. He has hinted at a desire for more playing time, and with the popularity of left relievers, he could be fairly popular on the free agent market. This would leave Rhodes as the lone left-hander out of the bullpen.

Jake Westbrook: Westbrook is already locked up for next season. Like his sinker, his record was up and down this year. After starting the season 0-5 and 2-7, he finished with a record of 15-15. If he can keep the ball on the ground, he's a solid starter on any team.

Bob Wickman: I should have bought stock in antacid. Wickman had a career year - 2.47 ERA and 45 saves - but he always managed to make it interesting. But, his contract is up, and his return is in question. Wickman will be 37 next year, and he has considered retired. If he does come back, will his numbers cause him to ask for too much? All these questions will be answered in the months to come.


Josh Bard: Bard has the talent to perhaps start on a bad team. However, he has remained unselfish, sacrificing at bats (only 83 this year) to be Vic Martinez' backup. He handles a pitching staff very well, and that may help him stick around.

Ryan Garko: A catcher by trade, the 24-year old is still a future prospect. Garko struck out in his only Major League at bat to date. Garko is a righty, and Cleveland has been longing for power from that side of the plate for the last few years. Garko has taken ground balls from first base, so a position change may be his future.

Victor Martinez: A definite cornerstone of this franchise, Martinez signed through the 2009 season, with an option for 2010. After a slow start (nothing out of the ordinary for him), Martinez went on a tear. When the dust settled, he was again one of the best hitting catchers in the game, with a .305 average, 20 HR, and 80 RBI.


Ronnie Belliard: Another key player in the offseason free agent market. The club has an option on Belliard for 2006, and they should definitely take it. Belliard has become the Omar Vizquel of this year's team. Sure, his defense is spectacular, and he's become one of the best second basemen when it comes to turning the double play. But, he has also become an emotional leader of the team. He energizes the crowd with his hustle, and he keeps his teammates loose on the field. Omar always took it upon himself to keep Ronnie loose, and now Ronnie takes it upon himself to keep everyone else relaxed. For instance, when Bob Wickman starts putting guys on base, Belliard starts seranading Wickman in Spanish to get him to laugh. For many reasons, Belliard needs to be back on this team.

Aaron Boone: The Indians have already picked up Boone's option for 2006. Granted, his bat never got going after a year off, but his glove was clutch more often than not.

Ben Broussard: Broussard has a long swing, and this has caused him to be very streaky. His glove is OK, but he's prone to trouble on short hops. He may be expendable, but then who takes over at first? Hafner didn't play any games at first this season thanks to an injury during interleague play. Is Garko ready yet? Or will Broussard survive another year with the team?

Travis Hafner: Signed to a long term deal, Pronk is another cornerstone of the team. A darkhorse MVP candidate, the explosive and amicable Hanfer ended the season with a .305 average, 33 HR, and 108 RBI. The lefty farm boy with power to left center has at times reminded Cleveland fans of Jim Thome in his prime.

Jose Hernandez: Hernandez is a potential free agent. The versatile fielder ended up with 234 at bats in 84 games against righties, mostly filling in for Broussard at first. Utility infielders are often underappreciated as a commodity, so Hernadez may not be back next season.

Jhonny Peralta: It was a breakout season for young Jhonny. Peralta started the season hitting ninth in the order, and it wasn't sure if he was ready to be an everyday shortstop. By the end of the year, he was hitting .292 with 24 HR out of the three hole. The 24 homers were a new club record by a shortstop. He's definitely another piece of the puzzle to build around.

Ramon Vazquez: Vazquez will turn 30 next season. He was acquired from the Red Sox for Alex Cora. Cora was originally signed as insurance for Peralta. Once Peralta began to excel, the Vazquez-Cora trade was made to save $1.5 million. His contract isn't up, but he's by no means a member of the future of this club.


Casey Blake: A truly unselfish player, Blake was moved from 3B to 1B to 2B to LF to RF during the offseason. A natural athlete, he actually turned in a good performance in right this season, and he definitely had the arm for it. However, despite 23 HR, he hit only .241. Blake is already signed for 2006, but can he hit enough to be a starting corner outfielder on a pennant contender? Along with Broussard, don't be surprise if Blake is replaced by a free agent this winter.

Coco Crisp: Crisp has developed into a solid four tool player. He can hit (.300 average), hit for power when he puts a nice quick swing on the ball (16 HR, 69 RBI), field (Web Gem anyone), and run (15 SB, 86 R). The switch hitter is a solid #2 hitter. Traditionally, LF is a power position, but you can afford to put a top-of-the-lineup guy there when you're getting pop out of your shortstop. Crisp, who may be arbitration eligible, may also be in line for a long-term deal.

Jason Dubois: When the Indians acquired Dubois for Jody Gerut, it raised some eyebrows. Sure, Gerut was becoming a malcontent, and Dubois showed signs of power from the right side. But, the Indians need that power right now, and Dubois is still a few years off. Franklin Gutierrez is Cleveland's future in right field. So, unless Dubois has a great spring next season, he'll be at most a stopgap, and at least a pinch hitter.

Juan Gonzalez: It seemed like a good idea at the time: pay $600,000 to take a risk on a 400 home run guy. That $600k got the Indians one at bat before Juan Gone re-injured himself. His contract may have an option for 2006, but he likely won't be back.

Franklin Gutierrez: The 22-year old outfielder is a Baseball America Top 100 prospect. The five tool Gutierrez is a strong part of the Tribe's future, but he may still be a year or two off. He did get valuable Major League experience, pinch running in 7 games, and also picking up his first hit in The Show.

Jeff Liefer: A "what the heck" acquisition in the offseason for the AAA team, Liefer also saw 56 at bats with the parent club. His contract is up after this season; I doubt that he did enough in 2005 to warrant a re-signing.

Ryan Ludwick: When Juan Gonzalez became healthy, Grady Sizemore was playing too well to be sent down. So, Ryan Ludwick became expendable. He took the promotion with grace, but struggled in AAA. Former Indians GM John Hart seemed to have an affinity for mediocre pitchers when a great pitcher was needed; current GM Mark Shapiro seems to have an affinity for mediocre right-handed right fielders with potential for power.

Grady Sizemore: The women of Cleveland crush him; the men of Cleveland man-crush him. After a great spring, Sizemore didn't even break camp with the team. However, after a few months in Buffalo, he was called to The Show. Cleveland started the season struggling to find a leadoff hitter. Once Sizemore moved to that spot, and Crisp to the two hole, the lineup congealed. The very talented Sizemore would have run away with the Rookie of the Year had he qualified (he was just over the limit of 50 days on the Major League roster coming into this year). Sizemore finished the year with a .289 average, 22 homers, 111 runs, and countless jaw-dropping catches from center field. It's been said many times, but it bears repeating: Grady Sizemore knows only one speed: all out, and a blue-collar town can truly appreciate that. Sizemore would be the cornerstone of any franchise on the rise.

Later this week, look forward (possibly) to a guest column or two, and a look at ND players currently in the NFL. Until then, be sure to check out ND blog Bare Down, especially the two looks at potential record breaking performances by Irish players this season.