The Indians Win It! The Indians Win It! Oh My God the Indians Win It!

Jeff Sackmann noted today that his favorite American League team is probably the Cleveland Indians. Now that Boston is just another city in the Evil Empire, I’d have to say that the Indians are also my AL team of choice, surpassing even the Oakland A’s. While I love Billy Beane, I just am not as excited about Oakland’s players as I am about Cleveland’s. I started to really appreciate Indians GM Mark Shapiro when he locked up Grady Sizemore in one of the biggest steals ever, buying out his arbitration years and his first two years of free agency for what will be far below market value at just $23.5 million through 2012, and one of the league’s best offensive catchers in Victor Martinez through 2010 for $22.5mil. The fact that he also has Jhonny Peralta locked up through 2011 for next to nothing and will pay just pennies per day one of the most productive hitters in MLB is just the tip of the iceberg.
Last year before the trade deadline Shapiro picked up Shin-Soo Choo who, as an excellent defender and an above average hitter vs. RHP at only 24, figures to be a great role player. This winter Shapiro made one of my favorite signings of the off-season when he signed another OF platoon specialist, David Dellucci, who posted a sweet .904 OPS vs. RHP last year. With Choo, Dellucci, Jason Michaels, Casey Blake, and Franklin Gutierrez, the Indians have a plethora of options in the OF, even if Grady Sizemore plays everyday in CF. Blake will also see time at 1B along with Ryan Garko — who debuted impressively for the Tribe last year — and transitioning catcher Martinez. Pronk Hafner might even pick up a few games there in interleague play, though that might give the Indians a good reason to rest their best hitter. The team is taking a chance on handing the starting 3B job to the unproven Andy Marte, who they got from Boston in the Coco Crisp trade, and Peralta needs to get at least halfway back to his 2005 form at SS, but the 2B position should be solid for the next 3-4 years with the acquisition of Josh Barfield this winter. With Hector Luna in tow and the fact that Blake can step in at 3B if necessary, the Tribe has a lot of depth for not a lot of money. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that Shapiro is perhaps the one GM that’s not overpaying a single player in 2007. Taking a relatively cheap flier on Joe Borowski to shore up one of the worst bullpens of 2006 is another cost-effective move with some upside.
So what’s my point in sweating the Indians and their award winning GM on a Brewers’ blog? I think that the Crew has both a lot to learn and a lot in common with their Cleveland counterparts.
If Prince Fielder gets off to a fast start this year, Melvin and Attanasio will have to think about making him an offer like Shapiro gave Sizemore, and that wouldn’t be a bad idea. The same might be true for Rickie Weeks if he proves his health is stable. Melvin did well to lock up Bill Hall at below market value, but he’ll have to remain flexible with similar situations in the future.
The Indians let Bartolo Colon walk after 2003 when they had C.C. Sabathia waiting in the wings to take over as staff ace. The Brewers may elect to do the same with Ben Sheets after 2008, now that the rise of the ¡Gallardo! is nigh. (I should note that I really hope this doesn’t happen. Sheets is one of my favorite players and to have a rotation of Sheets, Capuano, Bush, Gallardo, and Suppan is about as good as it gets. If Sheets starts 30+ games this year, the best thing Melvin can do is give him an extension.)
The Brewers OF jam is a bit more troublesome than the Indians’ in that the Tribe has better players there, or at least the players are more likely to have their skills maximized in platoons or situational work. I still have faith that Kevin Mench can mash LHP, but he doesn’t want to be used that way, and I remain skeptical that Yost will use Mench, Geoff Jenkins, Gabe Gross, and Brady Clark in strict platoons. I don’t know if he even can do that. Gross, probably the best hitter of the four guys in question, will likely be optioned to Nashville because he’s the only one who can be optioned, and his hamstring situation isn’t helping his cause. That means the other three will probably make the team if no one bites on a trade. But I’d rather have Jason Michaels and Shin-Soo Choo platooning than Jenkins hitting against RHP and LHP. Regardless, there is some value to the players the Brewers have, and if they don’t move anyone, at least they won’t have to trade to repair an OF injury.
Unlike the Indians, the Brewers’ bullpen has plenty of solid options this year, with relievers that will have to wait in the minors, swingmen who will have to wait in the minors, and Messiahs () who will have to wait in the minors, Doug Melvin has built up depth for the rotation and in the pen on the cheap, which is something he’s been pretty good at. Guys like Dennis Sarfate and Grant Balfour give the team a few more options. Even Francisco Cordero isn’t that expensive given the going rate for closers.
In terms of farm systems, the Tribe and the Crew are also pretty similar. First off, they have both recently graduated many of their best prospects, with the rest of the best set to contribute very soon. Sizemore, Peralta, and Jeremy Sowers are all locks in the big league lineup for Cleveland, while Fielder, Weeks, and Corey Hart are in for Milwaukee. Adam Miller, a well-rounded RHP is expected to crack the 25-man roster for good by the All-Star break in Cleveland; Ryan Braun should be manning the hot corner before the end of May for the Crew, and the ¡Gallardo! will at least get a cup of coffee, and hopefully a whole pot full, in 2007. After that, each system is fairly deep, but hasn’t seen any other future stars emerge quite yet. CF/LF Trevor Crowe is the next best for Cleveland, SP Will Inman for the Brewers.
Cleveland, although they took a huge step back last year, got over the hump with 93 wins in 2005. The Brewers finally got to .500 in 2005, then took a step back last year as well. Both teams look healthier, improved, matured, and ready to make a run in 2007. If Doug Melvin can take a page or two from the Mark Shapiro handbook, and continue to work his own magic (note: the Carlos Lee trade doesn’t count as said magic), the outlook is very good indeed.
All that and I haven’t even mentioned the best connection between the Tribe and the Crew: the fact that possibly the best baseball movie of all-time, Major League, was filmed in Milwaukee about the Indians, with Bob Uecker posing as the Indians’ radio announcer, and Milwaukee natives such as Peter Whalen (my high school English teacher, baseball coach, and former colleague) playing the roles of lesser Indians like Gentry, who was a victim of the infamous red ticket.

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