Tribe Happenings: Athletics are the model to follow
Some news, notes, and thoughts from my Indians notebook…
Moneyball II: The Sequel
The Indians are playing the Oakland Athletics this weekend, a team in worse financial shape than the Indians and with one of the worst stadiums in baseball, yet they somehow find themselves in the mix of contention once again this season. (Fun fact: Did you know that Progressive Field is now already the 12th oldest ballpark in Major League Baseball?)
The Athletics have not had a winning season since 2006 when they went 93-69, won the AL West, and then lost in the American League Championship Series. That loss ended a streak of eight consecutive seasons they won at least 87 games and made the playoffs in five of them. In the middle of all that a book was written about them that you may have heard about and later made into a movie.
While the Athletics went through a down period from 2007-2011, they certainly look to be on the upswing again. They are winning this season with a $53 million payroll and they won from 1999-2006 with a payroll that was never more than $62 million.
This season the Indians have a $65 million payroll and have had a $62 million or greater payroll in nine of the 14 seasons since 1999. In other words, the Indians had spent just as much and actually a considerable amount more than the Athletics, yet the Athletics have been much more successful over the past decade-plus since the financial climate in the game made a sizable shift at the turn of the millennium.
The Athletics are living large right now thanks to some fantastic offseason moves, and while they struck out one a few – namely giving Coco Crisp two years $14 million – they have hit on most everything else and hit a few long home runs. They were very efficient with every dollar they spent and every move they made, and did it all through every possible avenue.
They did it through free agency with a major splash.
A lot of people questioned how they could give Yoenis Cespedes four years and $36 million as a free agent when he had never swung a bat in a game on American soil. But they did. And he has responded with a very good season hitting .304 with 15 HR, 57 RBI and .874 OPS heading into last night’s game.
They did it through free agency in the discount bin.
Aside from that big splash on Cespedes, they made two small free agent signings that have proved to be key. They signed Bartolo Colon for one year $2 million and he has responded by going 9-9 with a 3.55 ERA in 23 starts, and they also picked up Jonny Gomez for one year $1 million and he is hitting .252 with 14 HR, 35 RBI and .844 OPS.
They did it by trade.
Lefty Tommy Milone is one of the key players they received from the Nationals when they dealt Gio Gonzalez in December, and Milone is 9-9 with a 3.96 ERA in 23 starts all while making league minimum and under team control another five seasons. They made an even bigger splash dealing Trevor Cahill to the Diamondbacks and in return acquired starter Jarrod Parker (7-7, 3.71 ERA, 20 starts) and one of their best relievers Ryan Cook (5-2, 2.68 ERA, 12 S).
They traded for Seth Smith who is hitting .237 with 11 HR, 39 RBI, and .766 OPS in 92 games all while signed to a one year $2.4 million contract. They traded for Josh Reddick, a second year pre-arbitration player making just $485K, who is hitting .253 with 25 HR, 60 RBI, and .817 OPS.
They did it through waivers.
They picked up Brandon Inge off waivers and are paying him the pro-rated portion of his remaining $5.5 million salary this season. He is only hitting .224, but he has also hit 11 homers and has 50 RBI in 73 games. They claimed lefty Travis Blackley off waivers from the Giants back in May, a pitcher who since joining the Athletics is 4-3 with a 3.66 ERA in 17 games (11 starts).
In all they are spending about $8 million total this season on the likes of Colon, Gomez, Milone, Parker, Cook, Smith, Reddick, and Blackley. They definitely gave up a few talented arms in those trades, and took on some risk in signing Cespedes, but their offseason to date looks like stuff destined for textbooks in GM 101 on how to efficiently run a small market ball club.
The Indians have the same financial constraints as the Athletics have, though the Indians have had more money to work with over the years. The difference is they have lacked an aggressive approach in making moves and quite simply have not spent wisely on the players they have paid and brought in via free agency. That approach is something that they are hopefully re-evaluating right now, and if this front office returns intact next season, hopefully we see some changes with their strategy and decision-making process and use the practices used by the Athletics as a guideline to any changes they make.
If anyone has ever read the book “Moneyball” or even seen the movie, there is a lot of truth to some of the behind the scenes stuff where the GM has to manipulate the roster and try to maximize the production they get on the field to every dollar spent. Billy Beane has proven to be a master of this, and hopefully the Indians are watching and taking note of how they have done things in Oakland because they continue to be a model franchise for small market clubs to look up to when trying to be competitive in an unfair system.
Deciding on Hernandez and Jimenez
There is no question that the Indians have a huge offseason on the horizon for them. Not only are there possible coaching and front office changes coming following the season, but they also need to make some key decisions on their roster and figure out how they can maximize every dollar spent via trade and free agency so they can address as many holes as possible on the team.
There are many holes, so with that, there are several decisions to be made.
Two big decisions which could affect how much they have to spend to attempt to fix those holes are what they decide to do with the club options for Roberto Hernandez and Ubaldo Jimenez next season. Hernandez holds a $6 million club option, and Jimenez a $5.75 million club option which includes a $1 million buyout.
A lot of people seem to think Jimenez’s option will definitely be picked up and that Hernandez is pitching for his contract next season, but I wonder if this is truly the case. Both Hernandez and Jimenez have been maddingly inconsistent and not lived up to their contract value, and both are set to make about the same money next season if their options are picked up.
The Indians are stuck in a tough spot with Jimenez. The fact he was part of such a high profile trade barely a year ago is going to be a big reason why they may ultimately decide to go one more year with him and pick up his option. He also has a $1 million buyout, so if they decline the option they have to pay him $1 million not to be in Cleveland next season.
Said one AL scout I recently talked to about Jimenez: “Well, in 2010 he was a #1 starter. For whatever reason(s) his stuff (and subsequently numbers) have been in a decline. A look at his PitchFx from 2010 had him with a 96.1 MPH FB, last year 93.5 MPH and this year 92.1 MPH. His delivery can be complicated--- and difficult put together. When he does, he can still have a strong outing, but when he doesn't put the delivery together, then you get the walks, missed location for a home run, etc. Take away the extraordinary season of 2010 and you have a career .500 pitcher.”
He was being generous on calling Jimenez a .500 pitcher as even though the win-loss record may indicate that, his other numbers show a pitcher that the past two seasons has been one of the worst starting pitchers in all of baseball.
That’s not something a team with a limited budget can mess around with, and why as hard as it may be to do so, why I would seriously consider declining his option for next season. If there is not a true, realistic belief that he can be rounded into form to be even just a league average pitcher next season, then they absolutely have to make the tough call, swallow their pride, and let him go.
Which brings us to Hernandez. While he is the same ultra-talented pitcher as Jimenez that shows flashes of brilliance, he is also the same head case that is a mechanical mess and too inconsistent to throw away $6 million at for one last season with the team.
Starting pitching costs a lot on the open market, and typically $6 million is at the low end when it comes to what league average starters get in free agency. But the Indians may need to roll the dice and let those two go so they have much more financial flexibility to improve all the holes on the roster, and be ultra-creative in the offseason to maximize all the available money that is freed up from possibly letting Jimenez and Hernandez go.
The Athletics found not one, not two, not three, but four starting pitchers through free agency, trade and waivers over the past year. And they are paying those four pitchers less that $4 million total this season. That’s one third of what the club options for Jimenez and Hernandez total for next season.
Tomlin hits the DL
Right-hander Josh Tomlin hit the disabled list this week with a right elbow injury. He recently saw doctors in Cleveland and had tests done on his right elbow, and is scheduled to visit the renowned Dr. Lewis Yokum on Tuesday for a second opinion.
There has been no word what exactly was found by the first set of tests in Cleveland, but anytime a player goes for a second opinion that can’t be good news. Hopefully Tomlin can avoid surgery, but after he sprained his right elbow back in 2006 going into his draft year, sprained it again last year, and had it flare up again this season, you have to wonder if this season is his third strike and if surgery is in his future.
Tomlin’s performance this season certainly seems to show a pitcher that has been pitching less than 100% all season. After he hurt his elbow last year, there were concerns going into the season on whether he was truly healthy, and his numbers show a pitcher that was not himself. In 21 games (16 starts) this season he was 5-8 with a 6.36 ERA, his walk rate has doubled, his hit-rate has jumped from 8.5 H/9 to 11.0 H/9, and his already high 1.3 HR/9 rate last year climbed to 1.6 HR/9 this season.
Tomlin, 27, is still a valuable piece to the pitching staff going forward, so the hope is he is fine, and if there is any setback it is hopefully just for a short period of time. He has all three option years remaining, can pitch out of the pen or start, and will once again make around league minimum next season if he is in Cleveland.
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As the owner wants out of Oakland so bad, the trades made the past few off seasons, (please look at the trades from the previous few seasons, the pitchers given up and the prospects gotten, not so good.), have been made to slow any rebuilding progress, until the league owner's cave, and allow the A's to move to San Jose.
Dont be fooled, this team is winning in spite of Beane and the owner, and while Beane may have envisioned these prospects panning out in the future, there is no way he envisioned them doing it this season.
There is a difference between Ubaldo/Hernandez and Gomez/ Huff, etc. Expected performance is higher and upside is way higher. As much as I knock the Ubaldo trade, it would not be utterly shocking if Ubaldo came into camp next year throwing 96 mph again. It would not be utterly shocking if Hernandez put together an innings-eating season with an ERA in the upper 3s. It would also not be shocking if both pitched themselves out of baseball next year, but that is the house of cards that Antonetti has built. I don't see a feasible way to fix it without ownership deciding to take on more financial risk than they are obviously inclined to take.
So go with those guys and hope for a rebound, though I wouldn't be against dropping Hernandez depending on his performance from here on out.
That's what I was trying to say. Considering the performances of Ubaldo and Carnandez over the last two years, there's no reason to think either of them would pitch any better than Carrasco, Kluber, or even Gomez. The $11 million could be used to sign or trade for a quality starter, or fill one of those holes Manny mentioned - first base, left field, or DH.
And I disagree with the notion that the Indians "may not find two better starting pitchers in FA than Ubaldo and Hernandez for $12M". Sure they can. They can use two guys from within, pay them a total of $800K, and save $11.2M and get practically no worse performance.
Neither is an ideal scenario however.
But there's no way they drop Ubaldo, unless Antonetti and Shapiro are removed and another GM does it. I don't necessarily think it would be a good move by this theoretical other GM. This is what they signed up for. All they can really do is hope he rediscovers some velocity in the offseason, or figures out how to pitch with reduced velocity and movement on his fastball so he can at least be average. It's not like they're going to sign a feasible alternative for $5 million, and they're not willing to spend more, so even without considering the horrendous PR, they can't just cast him aside. Look at Rich2's alternative rotation, it's putrid. I think Gomez' major league ceiling is a right-handed Rafael Perez bullpen arm, Kluber is wildly inconsistent in the minors and majors, and while I like Masterson, Carrasco and McAllister, Masterson is inconsistent, Carrasco is injured, and McAllister is a bottom of the rotation guy.
I think they should go all in, bring back Ubaldo and ex-Fausto and sign Francisco Liriano, then hope that all three pitch like it's 2010. That would epitomize the Antonetti team-building philosophy: "What if?" Take some low financial cost and combine with hope and prayer. Maybe bring back Grady at the league minimum (if he doesn't retire) and slot him in as DH. If they find in spring training that Sizemore can't go, they always have Lars Anderson.
I would have to say a Masterson, Carrasco, McAlister, Kluber, and Gomez. Rotation would have to be the worst in the bigs, you'd have to prove it to me otherwise.
If Tomlin needs surgery and will miss next season, that could affect their decision on Ubaldo. They lack major league ready pitchers in the farm system, and they need to put somebody out there every five days. If nothing else, Ubaldo has been reliable.
Also, if Kluber finishes strong, that could play into it. Carrasco will be back, so they could go with a high risk rotation of Masterson, Carrasco, McAlister, Kluber, and Gomez. If they declined the options of both Ubaldo and Hernandez, that would free up about $11 million, so they would surely acquire a veteran starter or two via trade or free agency to add to that mix.
Hernandez has put up ERA's north of 5.25 for four of the last five seasons. He'll be 33 next year. I wouldn't give him $6 million. Time to move on.
Ubaldo is trending down, with no reason to believe that will change. I'd jettison him as well. Who we traded to get him is not relevant. The only question is whether he'll be worth $14 million over the next two years. There's no reason to think he will be.