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Tribe Happenings: Cabrera settles for silver

November 6, 2011
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Cabrera was a highlight reel at shortstop
in 2011, but fell short in the eyes of voters
for the Gold Glove (Photo: AP).
Some news, notes and thoughts from my Indians notebook…

Cabrera loses out on gold but wins silver

On Tuesday night in front of a live television audience Major League Baseball and ESPN unveiled the 2011 Gold Glove winners for both the American and National Leagues. Shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera and right-handed pitcher Fausto Carmona were both finalists in the American League at their respective positions and in the end neither one of them won.

Cabrera ended up losing the Gold Glove to Erick Aybar of the Angels, and Carmona lost it to Mark Beurhle of the White Sox. But the news was better on Wednesday night as Cabrera won the Silver Slugger Award for the best offensive performance by a shortstop in the American League.

A lot of Indians fans considered it an upset that Cabrera did not win a Gold Glove and wondered how he could lose it after so many highlight worthy plays this past season that had him a part of ESPN’s Web Gems segment all season. But five or six highlight plays do not make a good defender as it is the consistency day in and day out, and compared to other shortstops Cabrera was just a little short and did not measure up. Had he won there would have been many people – including me – wondering how he won it.

There is no doubt that Cabrera had a breakout season offensively and that he was the heart and soul of the Indians this past season, and he was rewarded as such with the Silver Slugger Award on Wednesday. But he still has yet to live up to the promise he had defensively when the Indians acquired him back in June of 2006. Back then he was considered an excellent defender with great range and hands, but so far in his big league career he has been average to slightly above average at best as a defender.

Cabrera did not rank well in just about every stat category this season among American League shortstops. Among 12 shortstops who qualified he ranked 6th in fielding percentage (.976), tied for the 4th most errors (15), and was 6th in total chances (617). He did not rank well among other more advanced fielding stats either as he was 10th in range factor (4.08) and dead last in ultimate zone rating (-11.8). In fact, his 2010 season defensively was arguably better with a .972 fielding percentage, 4.57 range factor and -7.7 UZR.

The statistics did not support Cabrera as being the top shortstop in the American League in 2011. Fans may say he passed the “eye” test to them, but there is also a huge bias there with him being an Indian. Not to mention that highlight plays can often create a false perception on how well a player is playing over the course of the season.

Also, the “eye” test is just as flawed as any of the new and old fielding stats. How does one truly quantify what a good defensive performance is? Was that performance evenly compared against the other players at the same position? Was too much stock put into what were perceived to be a handful of great plays? Or were those great plays the result of the player getting a poor jump on the ball or because they have limited range?

Baseball has always been a game based on stats as people have used them to judge both hitters and pitchers since the game was invented, but due to the lack of very good traditional stats for fielders there has always been a lot of grey area in truly evaluating the defensive performance of a player. Sometimes the best defenders are those who consistently make the routine plays day in and day out and are not as flashy simply because they make it look easier because of far greater range, quickness, hands, and by reading balls better off the bat.

As for Carmona’s inclusion as a finalist for the American League Gold Glove for pitchers, I can’t explain that one at all as I do not recall him ever being considered a good defender. In fact, his own teammate Josh Tomlin is arguably two or three times the defender and probably should have been up for the award instead and it would not have been a surprise if he won it. Carmona’s inclusion is yet another reminder of how the voting system and who ultimately wins a Gold Glove is seriously flawed.

It’s official: Sizemore gone, Carmona returns

The Indians made it official this past Monday when they announced that the $9 million club option on outfielder Grady Sizemore was declined and the $7 million club option on right-handed starter Fausto Carmona was picked up. With the moves Carmona is still under club control another three years and Sizemore is now a free agent.

Neither decision came as much of a surprise. Yes, when looking at it emotionally I am sure there were a few Sizemore fans out there that were upset by the news, but if looking at the decisions logically and taking the emotion out of it the Indians absolutely made the right decisions.

The Indians have a very finite budget and to blow roughly 1/7th of their payroll on Sizemore’s option would have seriously hindered any financial flexibility they would have had this offseason to improve the roster. Sizemore has played just 210 games the last three seasons and is coming off an injury plagued season and more surgery and it made sense to let him go.

The Indians and Sizemore’s agent talked about restructuring the $9 million option, but supposedly the agent was not interested in doing that as he either wanted the option picked up or it to be declined so his client could become a free agent. There is a small chance Sizmeore could return to the Indians later in free agency, but once the new CBA is agreed to there is a belief that we will see a spike in spending by clubs this offseason. This may help Sizemore and his agent get the deal they are searching for and push him to a bigger market club with more financial flexibility to take a gamble on him.

Carmona’s option was a no brainer to pick up. For as much of an enigma as he is and how frustrating he can be to watch at times his $7 million salary for 2012 is still actually below market value and somewhat of a bargain for the Indians. Picking up the option also keeps Carmona’s 2013 ($9 million) and 2014 ($12 million) option years intact, so the Indians maintain control of him beyond this coming season and it also adds more value to him as a potential trade option.

With Sizemore gone the Indians now absolutely need to acquire a starting outfielder. Whether that comes via free agency or a trade remains to be seen, but they are going to acquire one at some point this offseason. With the rotation shored up it is probably their number one focus.

Rotation upgrade?

Speaking of shoring up the starting rotation, the Indians made a surprising move on Monday by completing a trade with the Atlanta Braves. The Indians sent High-A left-handed reliever Chris Jones to the Braves for right-handed starting pitcher Derek Lowe and cash. He is set to make $15 million in 2012 in the last year of his four-year $60 million contract he originally signed with the Braves, but as part of the deal the Braves are paying $10 million of his 2012 salary leaving the Indians on the hook for just $5 million of it.

The 38-year old Lowe did not have one of his better seasons in 2011 as he went 9-17 with a 5.05 ERA in 34 starts. The numbers do not look pretty if you simply evaluate a pitcher on wins and losses and their ERA, but there are far better ways to evaluate the value and effectiveness of a pitcher than that.

Lowe proved last year that he is still a capable back-of-the-rotation pitcher. Most teams are happy to get 20-25 starts from their fifth starter and any form of effectiveness, but what Lowe brings is consistency and durability which is something the Indians’ staff needs next year. Since being moved from the bullpen to the starting rotation in 2002 he has had ten consecutive seasons of at least 32 starts and 182 or more innings pitched. That’s just what the doctor ordered, and on top of that he comes with a great reputation as a guy who works well with young pitchers and could maybe help fellow sinkerballer Fausto Carmona become more consistent.

Long term I would prefer someone like right-handed pitchers Jeanmar Gomez and Zach McAllister or left-handed pitcher David Huff to get a crack at the fifth spot in the Indians’ rotation, but they erred on the side of caution for the rotation to get more consistency. It is hard to fault them for that when they are trying to contend next season, and the move now potentially allows them to trade one of Gomez, Huff and McAllister as part of a deal for a need in the lineup.

On top of that the Indians are only paying Lowe $5 million. It looks like a good gamble when you consider the free agent options available have just as many warts and are probably more expensive. When you also consider that there are several unknowns with the rotation with regard to the health of right-handed pitcher Josh Tomlin and Carmona’s Jekyll and Hyde mound persona, it makes sense to add a veteran starter.

Yes, Lowe is 38 years old and he is not the pitcher he probably was three to five years ago and may be a flop this year. He used to be such a sinkerball heavy pitcher, but with age his sinker has become less effective and he now incorporates a cutter and slider more into his regular repertoire. While the sinker has declined his slider has actually improved and it has now pretty much become his go to pitch to strike batters out.

But Lowe’s history shows that he will go out there and do what he is paid to do which is to compete and give his team innings. Besides, the last time he had what was viewed as a poor season in 2004 when he went 14-12 with a 5.42 ERA he came back the next few seasons and had the best four-year stretch of his career. The Indians can only hope the same happens again and that a move back to the American League serves as somewhat of a spark for one last good season from him.

The speed at which the Indians operated to acquire Lowe is compelling, though the deal may have been agreed to days or weeks ago but they were unable to announce it until after the World Series. General Manager Chris Antonetti’s aggressive style he started with the Ubaldo Jimenez trade in July and now a trade at the start of the offseason are a great sign that the Indians will be busy this offseason.

Rising stars

On Tuesday the Arizona Fall League (AFL) announced that right-handed bullpen pitching prospects Cory Burns and Preston Guilmet were selected to participate in the Rising Stars game. The game serves as a showcase for the top talent participating in the AFL and was played last night in Surprise, AZ.

Hot hitting first baseman Jesus Aguilar was the most deserving of any Indians’ prospect and probably would have been named to the team, but he is no longer participating in the AFL after he left for home to Venezuela last weekend. It was a pre-planned departure as he was to only play in the AFL until the end of October before going home to play the rest of the offseason for Caracas in the Venezuelan Winter League. Outfielder Carlos Moncrief has replaced Aguilar on the Arizona roster.

Roster shenanigans

On Wednesday the Indians outrighted outfielder Trevor Crowe off the 40-man roster and assigned him to the minors. Earlier in the week he had been designated for assignment and cleared waivers. He is not a free agent and the Indians control him for the 2012 season.

Also on Wednesday the Indians removed right-handed pitchers Josh Tomlin and Carlos Carrasco and outfielders Michael Brantley and Shin-Soo Choo from the 60-day disabled list and added them back onto the 40-man roster. Players on the 60-day disabled list do not count toward the 40-man roster, but since there is no disabled list in the offseason they had to be added back to the active roster.

Parting shots

Outfielder Jerad Head was outrighted a few weeks ago from the 40-man roster, but as a second time outright he declined the assignment and is now a free agent. While there is mutual respect between the Indians and Head, due to the depth of outfielders in Cleveland and Columbus he probably will seek a better opportunity elsewhere and not resign with the Indians. … Former Indians player and coach Charlie Nagy had his contract renewed earlier this week through 2013 as pitching coach for the Arizona Diamondbacks. … The Boston Red Sox are interested in Indians bench coach Sandy Alomar Jr. as a candidate for their managerial opening.

Follow Tony and the Indians Prospect Insider on Twitter @TonyIPI. Also, his latest book the 2011 Cleveland Indians Top 100 Prospects & More is available for purchase for $20.95 to customers in the US (shipping and handling extra).

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