Tribe Happenings: Radinsky is not the only one to blame
Some news, notes, and thoughts from my Indians notebook…
Radinsky is the first casualty
With the rapid change of direction the Indians’ season has taken thanks to their recent 11-game losing streak, the Indians have already cut ties with four veteran players on the roster: Jeremy Accardo, Jose Lopez, Derek Lowe and Johnny Damon. The first coaching casualty came on Thursday when the Indians announced that pitching coach Scott Radinsky had been fired.
The Indians currently have a 4.70 ERA as a team, which is 27th worst in all of baseball. Their relief pitching as a whole has been solid – thanks to Vinnie Pestano and Chris Perez – but where they have really struggled this year is in the starting rotation. As a team the starters have a 5.08 ERA, which is 27th in all of baseball. This is a notable decline as the starters had a 4.51 ERA last year under former pitching coach Tim Belcher, though still was only good enough to be ranked 23rd in the league.
The rotation certainly took a step back this year, but it was not a giant leap. There were question marks with the rotation at the end of last season which were not correctly addressed in the offseason. Often times a coach is only as good as the talent you give him, and that has been the case this season. The Indians handed Radinsky a full year of an inconsistent, declining Ubaldo Jimenez, a rapidly declining Derek Lowe, an inexperienced unproven guy in Jeanmar Gomez, and a guy in Tomlin whose Houdini act the last two years had finally caught up with him.
Maybe the Indians expected Radinsky to be a miracle worker and have the magic touch to get Jimenez and Lowe to rekindle success from the past or for the rest of the unknowns in the rotation to come together. Either way, while Radinsky does possess some of the blame, he’s far from the lone person to blame for the failings of the pitching staff this season. The players, front office, and even Manny Acta all share that blame collectively, and if you ask me, the front office may hold most of the blame for the pitching staff they put together.
The firing came as no surprise to the fans. They expected someone to fall on the sword and “take one for the team” after the season fell apart in such grand fashion. While everyone has focused on the issues offensively all season, the pitching has been the number one problem all year and that was the area they focused on this week when they made a change. That all said, the firing of Radinsky is not going to be enough for a fan base out for blood after a very disappointing season, so this could be just the first of many staff changes to the coaching staff and front office coming this offseason.
In the meantime, the Indians filled the big league pitching coach duties on an interim basis with Triple-A Columbus pitching coach Ruben Niebla. Even though Niebla will carry the interim label the rest of the season, he now has a huge leg up on any potential pitching coach candidates the Indians may consider this offseason. He is very experienced as a coach in the minor leagues, well regarded, works well with his pitchers, and most of all knows the pitchers on the big league staff very well as he has worked in the minors with eight of the 13 pitchers currently on the staff.
Niebla was a special assistant to the big league coaching staff in 2010, which was Acta’s first year as manager of the Indians, so he was already once considered for a big league job. Barring a complete change of direction by Acta or GM Chris Antonetti with their coaching assignments in the offseason – or one or both of them being fired – it is safe to say that Niebla is currently auditioning for the pitching coach job in Cleveland next year and all signs point to him being named to the post later this offseason.
Decision time looms for Hafner
The Indians placed designated hitter Travis Hafner on the 15-day DL this week with a lower back injury. More specifically, he has a bulging disk in his spine, something that is not expected to end his season but is something that will sideline him the next few weeks. No surgery is required at this time, and instead he is taking anti-inflammatory medication and received an epidural injection to help the swelling.
Hafner has been limited to just 60 games this season thanks to the recent injury and a right knee injury that resulted in surgery on May 31st and sidelined him for about six weeks. The injuries this season are just a few more added to a laundry list of injuries he has suffered through every season since the 2008 campaign.
Hafner has battled shoulder injuries in 2008, 2009, and 2010, which landed him on the disabled list for a significant amount of time in each of those seasons. Last season he had a foot injury and right oblique issue which sidelined him for several weeks. Even when he was at his peak as a player and performing well he missed time on the disabled list in 2006 (hand), 2005 (concussion) and 2003 (toe).
The Indians can no longer rely on Hafner to remain healthy, and the question that is now beginning to surface is if this is the beginning of the end for him in Cleveland.
The Indians hold a $13 million club option on him for next season that includes a $2.75 million buyout, but sinking close to $3 million into a player to not be with the team is still much better than throwing away $13 million on a player that will miss half the season, so they will most definitely decline his option and let him become a free agent. But the real question is whether they will bring him back at a much reduced cost, sort of like what they did with outfielder Grady Sizemore this past offseason.
Don’t be surprised if this does happen. Hafner is 35-years old and when he is healthy and able to play, he is still a productive player. As a designated hitter his options are extremely limited to only the American League, and about half the teams in the league already have a designated hitter. He is still a fan favorite, his wife is from Cleveland, they live here, and he has a long tenure with the team, so it looks like something could work out to bring him back at a much reduced cost and role with the team.
In 1095 games in ten seasons with the Indians, Hafner has hit .278 with 199 homers, 686 RBI, and .892 OPS. He ranks 24th in franchise history in games played (1095), 27th in at bats (3716), 24th in runs (580), 31st in hits (1037), 13th in doubles (238), 8th in home runs (199), 14th in RBI (686), and 13th in walks (557).
The Indians parted ways with minor league right-handed pitcher Jason Knapp earlier this week when they released him from the organization. Those unfamiliar with his situation, I wrote a lengthy premium piece back in April that pretty much spelled out how his season was going to go and how he may never pitch again.
After a second shoulder surgery in June of 2011, Knapp was expected to come back this season and be ready to get on a mound and pitch again to see how effective he could be. But that never transpired as when spring training started he was nowhere to be found. As it turns out he was having more issues with his shoulder and he had gone home. In fact, he has not been in Arizona working out or anywhere with the Indians since February. He has spent the past several months at home looking for an alternative solution to a third surgery since the Indians were not interested in allowing him to have another one, and finally, after several months, the Indians released him.
It is a sad ending to what was once such a promising career. Knapp does not even turn 22-years old until the end of this month, but with all the wear and tear on his shoulder his career is about done. After one shoulder surgery a career is seriously put in jeopardy, but a second is practically a death sentence and that is what it turned out to be for him. Amazingly, this was his fourth year in the organization if you include the year he was acquired in July of 2009. Over the four years he pitched in a total of 40.0 innings with the organization during that span and did not pitch last year or this season.
Knapp came in as damaged goods, something that was beyond the Indians control as he had bicep tendonitis but the available medical information did not show anything significantly wrong. Again, teams can only review the medical information on file when trading for a minor leaguer as they cannot demand an MRI be conducted. In high profile trades for Major League players this is an exception that is sometimes made if all parties involved agree to it (i.e. Ubaldo Jimenez trade last year), but not for a minor leaguer. So sometimes an acquiring team does not know just how healthy a player is until they are brought into the system, and by then it is too late.
Even though Knapp was a disappointment on the baseball field for the Indians, he was one of the best guys I have ever come across in my time covering the minors. He was also pretty darn smart, and recently received his degree from the University of Pennsylvania. I wish him all the luck with life outside of baseball, or if he looks to continue to pursue his dream as a pitcher.
Stop the madness
With the recent ousting of Lowe, Damon, Accardo, and Lopez from the roster over the past week or so, it is time to put an end to filling up the Major League roster with so many low upside retreads. Even with the dismissal of those four players the Indians still have several of those players on the roster still with the likes of first baseman Casey Kotchman, left fielder Shelley Duncan, third baseman Jack Hannahan, and left-handed pitcher Chris Seddon. When almost a third of your roster is made up with players of this ilk, you have a roster issue, and it should be no surprise when your team plays so inconsistently.
Hopefully the struggles from the past two seasons will have the front office and the coaching staff reevaluating the idea of bringing in so many former Major League players on minor league contracts next season, or scraping the bottom of the barrel for free agent signings to fill a position. Having two or three players on your roster like this is one thing, but to the degree of late the Indians have taken it is concerning.
The Indians had a lot of success going the retread or reclamation project route early in Mark Shapiro’s tenure as general manager when he picked up Casey Blake in 2003, Bob Howry and Scott Elarton in 2004, and Kevin Millwood in 2005, but ever since they have not had much luck with the guys signed to minor league contracts before the season or guys they signed to one year deals to plug roster spots. Really the only player to adequately fill in and do a solid job since 2005 has been Jack Hannahan, but even he has been inconsistent during his tenure with the Indians and his warts show a lot more over the course of a season.
The hope here is the Indians still go out and make these signings as they look to acquire depth and potential fill-ins at positions, but that the number is greatly reduced. I understand that when you are working within a finite budget this is what a team is reduced to sometimes when it comes time to fill out a roster, but I’d rather save the few million here and there on the Kotchman’s, Damon’s, etc and pool that money together and put it toward the funds needed to keep some of the higher profile players in Cleveland longer.
By the same token, I’d then more aggressively use the resources already within the system and give them chances. The Indians roster at Triple-A lacks much as far as everyday players go, but there are players there that if given a chance could produce. The sample size is still extremely small, but we are seeing that right now with Ezequiel Carrera who has arguably done as much or more in a week-plus than what Damon (and Aaron Cunningham) did all season.
The Indians are trying to contend, so I understand their need for wanting to have more experienced players at the big league level. Even though those veteran players may have their limitations, they have been through the Major League grind before and the team would not have to deal with the ups and downs that often come with an inexperienced player. But sometimes youth and experience also brings more energy, excitement and potential, and that is something I will always side with. So hopefully next season the Indians lean more on their own internal options to fill depth needs at the Major League level, and they avoid the excess shopping in the bargain bin.
Gomez need more looks
Right-hander Jeanmar Gomez has now made eight starts for Columbus since being optioned out of Cleveland in mid-June. In those eight starts he is 6-2 with a 2.59 ERA, and in 55.2 innings has allowed 52 hits, 4 home runs, 7 walks, and has 47 strikeouts. He has pitched 7.0 innings or more in five of his eight starts, pitched 6.0 innings or more in seven of his eight starts, has a 2 to 33 walk to strikeout ratio in his last five starts covering 33.2 innings, and in his last two outings has thrown 15.0 shutout innings.
Which begs the question….why is Gomez still in Columbus?
We all know why Gomez was sent down to Columbus. After a good start to his season in Cleveland where he was 3-2 with a 3.19 ERA in eight starts – allowing more than three runs in just one appearance – things unraveled quickly and in his last six appearances he went 1-5 with a 7.92 ERA. The Indians were in contention at the time and with six straight subpar outings they had to make a move and send him down to iron out a few flaws with his delivery, command, and get his confidence back.
But with the recent losing streak that put a stake into the heart that was the 2012 season, Gomez should be one of the main starters the remainder of the season as the Indians evaluate their rotation options for next year the final seven weeks of the season. Curiously, however, the Indians called up left-hander Chris Seddon last week instead of Gomez, and at the moment there does not appear to be a rotation spot for him with Roberto Hernandez likely set to replace Seddon in the rotation this week and the other spots in the rotation pretty much locked in right now with Justin Masterson, Ubaldo Jimenez, Zach McAllister, and Corey Kluber.
Come September the Indians will surely call up Gomez and he will get some opportunities to pitch in the big leagues again. Also, maybe they avoided calling up Gomez right now in order not to send him right back down when Hernandez is activated, hence the Seddon call.
But, the 24-year old Gomez is arguably more of a pitching prospect and long term candidate for the rotation than almost anyone in the rotation, so a spot should have been opened for him as they are wasting his innings in Triple-A rather than in the big leagues where they can more properly evaluate him.
Right handed pitcher Roberto Hernandez was very good in his outing for Triple-A Columbus on Friday night as he went 7.0 strong innings and allowed one run on four hits, one walk and had five strikeouts. He is expected to replace Seddon in the rotation when his next turn comes on Wednesday. … During the week the Indians officially cut ties and released Lowe, Damon and Accardo. All three had been designated for assignment over the last week to ten days, and the Indians were unable to find any takers for them in a trade so they released them. … Second baseman Jason Kipnis has been battling some soreness in his neck which has sidelined him the last three games. He will not play today, though the Indians hope he will be available on Monday for the start of a three-game set with the Angels in Anaheim. … Lefty Rafael Perez resumed his minor league rehab assignment on Saturday at Triple-A Columbus. He pitched one shutout inning of relief and allowed a walk.
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2009: .272 AVG, .355 OBP, .470 SLG, .826 OPS, 120 OPS+
2010: .278 AVG, .374 OBP, .449 SLG, .824 OPS, 130 OPS+
2011: .280 AVG, .361 OBP, .449 SLG, .811 OPS, 128 OPS+
2012: .239 AVG, .355 OBP, .453 SLG, .808 OPS, 126 OPS+
His batting average is down some this year, but he is walking a little more and getting on base just as well as previous seasons and slugging at the same rate.
He's actually right in line with performance of that of Adam Dunn this season when you look at on-base percentage and slugging percentage. There are only two DHs in the league better and that is Ortiz and Butler.
Yes, he is not worth $13 million....but if you bring him back at $3-5 million I can see it as he has been a steady performer the last four seasons when he is playing. You just have to know if you sign him that going in he can be counted on for only 90-100 games, so maybe you platoon him. Not saying I would fully endorse this move.....but just rationalizing something that very well could happen this offseason.
Who says he is a productive player? Hasnt' been productive in 5 years!
If they sign him, it just demonstrates the lack of talent in our front office.
But you're right, it's getting excessive. I'm sure they were thinking that if Damon got hot they could flip him for another McAlister. Or hang onto him if they were in contention. You can't blame them for continuing to try a low-risk formula that has enabled them to acquire some key players in the past.
But now it's time to "stop the madness" and be a little more selective.