Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Suck It, Steinbrenner: Santana Goes to Queens

It appears Johan Santana will be pitching in the National League for the foreseeable future. Minnesota will trade their ace to the New York Mets for minor league outfielder Carlos Gomez and pitchers Deolis Guerra, Philip Humber, and Kevin Mulvey. The Mets have until Friday at 5pm to complete a contract extension with Santana or the trade is void.

I'm not sure who benefits the most here: the Mets or the teams involved in an arms race with the Yanks and the Sox. Cleveland is just one of many AL contenders who no longer have to worry about Santana standing in their way in the playoffs for the next six years. Was anyone else sweating the idea of the best pitcher in baseball getting run support from New York or Boston instead of the anemic Twins?

The dangerous part is that Santana's AL East suitors are built to win now and probably would have guaranteed themselves another championship in acquiring the crown jewel of Minnesota. I may be overestimating the robustness of New York and Boston's farm systems, since each team must have hit their talent threshold for this deal not to go down earlier. I'm fairly confident both teams could have taken a substantial loss in prospects and still be playoff-ready for the next several years anyway.

The funny part is few media outlets were even discussing the Mets as a major player. Minaya was able to swoop in after everyone else had given up and vault his team to the top of the heap in the National League. Keith Law points out that besides giving the Mets a legit ace again (Pedro's health is still unclear), it takes the pressure off John Maine and Oliver Perez and allows them to move down to a more appropriate spot in the rotation. Law breaks down the prospects the Mets shipped out and doesn't come away too impressed. At first glance, I'd agree that the Mets had the lesser trade package in terms of the amount of "raw" talent and lack of major league-ready prospects involved.

Judging by the way the deal went down, I'd guess Minnesota may have ended up with a lesser package than originally advertised if they stuck with the Yanks or the Sox (maybe negotiations went south after their initial snub) and decided to cut their losses by sending Santana to Queens. Tribe fans owe Omar Minaya for removing one less obstacle for Cleveland next season, both in the Central and the playoff field.

In regards to a potential Sabathia trade, the lack of blockbuster prospects in the Santana trade is troubling. I honestly thought the Twins would walk away with a Phil Hughes-Ian Kennedy type deal, but ended up with AA baller Carlos Gomez and company. Judging by Shapiro's recent comments though, a Sabathia trade seems to be a remote possibility now:
I don't see us ever closing the door, there's no reason to do it. Even if he files for free agency, I still think we'll be an active player.
I had been an early advocate of trading Sabathia if the Front Office was certain a deal couldn't get done, but I suppose Shap's stance is somewhat encouraging. Either the contract negotiations are making positive strides or that's Shapiro Speak for "we need C.C. to win in 2008, so stop asking."

The fun part comes when Santana's new contract leaks out. Hopefully Sabathia doesn't get any ideas from his fellow lefty or that negotiating table is going to get a lot longer overnight.


I kinda dropped the ball on the Betancourt extension, but I think it may end up as the Tribe's most significant move of the offseason. Raffy signed a two year extension with a club option for 2010. According to the Indians' website, "Betancourt will make $5.4 million over the two guaranteed years in the deal, and the option is worth another $5 million. Without revealing the details, Shapiro said the contract includes bonuses, should Betancourt ever take over as the Indians' closer."

Not that Betancourt was going anywhere soon, but he has as much potential to be the team's closer as anyone once Borowski's contract runs out after this season. Bullpen performance is hard to project (see 2006), but Cleveland has the depth to handle the late innings in a pinch, with Betancourt, Kobayashi, Lewis, and Perez under team control until 2010.

With all the crazy contracts being thrown at mediocre relievers these days, locking up Betancourt for $5 mil a year is the definition of a bargain. The three-year option setup also leaves the club with minimum risk, given the volatile nature of relief pitching (/knocks on wood). Overall an excellent contract for the Tribe.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Contract Roundup

All three Cleveland teams were busy negotiating or finalizing contract extensions for key personnel this week, so I thought it would be useful to recap this week's transactions:

The Crooked Cap

Just so there's no confusion, Sabathia did not sign a contract extension this week. Negotiations are still ongoing between the Front Office and Sabathia's agent. Word on the street is that the Tribe has placed a four year contract with an option year on the table. No monetary values were provided, but a lot of fans have been pointing to the number of years as the potential snag for both parties up to this point.

The Diatriber countered with a comprehensive breakdown of pitchers awarded five year-plus contracts in the past and how those pitchers fared for their team(s). The article makes for a very interesting read; I hadn't realized just how spectacularly bad some of those hefty contracts were (my favorite one is Mike Hampton, I honestly don't know how the man can sleep peacefully). According to the article, only "[seventeen contracts] have been signed by starting pitchers for 5 years or more in the last 10 years, only six for 6 years or more, and merely three for 7 years or more." Most of those signings ended up as poor investments as the pitchers succumbed to age, chronic injury, or just plain stunk for the duration of the contract.

It's difficult to comprehend how Major League GM's continue to get sucked into this vortex of stupidity where 7-year contracts even enter the discussion. Actually, I'll just go ahead and say it: Brian Sabean, is a moron. The unfortunate part is that a ridiculous contract like Barry Zito's can cause a ripple effect in the pitching market, causing guys like Santana and Sabathia to expect no less than five years per contract.

Obviously, there isn't a single team that wouldn't like to have an ace of that caliber, but the team is paying more than just a salary. They're taking on a certain amount of risk as well and when the stakes (payroll flexibility, health, etc.) are so high, teams have to protect themselves. Taking on a player for a guaranteed four years is risky enough, but seven? How does an agent even ask for that kind of contract with a straight face?

I understand the pitcher is looking for the best job security possible and a long contract is their insurance against injury or a poor season. Before I go off on a tangent here, I guess the bottom line of any discussion about contracts is risk. Some team's can afford to take on more risk (read: years and money) and gain a competitive advantage when recruiting free agents. As long as some nutty GM thinks believes its worth rolling the dice on a potential stud pitcher, players will keep seeking them out. Fortunately these contracts do not have as much of a precedent as some agents would like you to believe; not yet anyway.

As far as Sabathia is concerned, I think he should take a long, hard look at the contracts Carlos Zambrano (5 years plus option, $91 mil) and Jake Peavy (4 years plus option, $14.5 mil) signed recently. Peavy's contract is a true hometown discount and I wouldn't expect Shapiro to low-ball C.C. with that kind of salary. Zambrano's may be close to Cleveland's ceiling for Sabathia. It's important to remember that Zambrano was in his walk year when he signed the contract mid-season and expressed interest in staying with Chicago.

If Cleveland offers Sabathia Zambrano's deal and he turns it down?

Trade him.

If it were up to me, I'd give Sabathia a deadline before Spring Training to get this extension done. If he truly wants to stay in Cleveland, he'll make some concessions (like Zambrano and Peavy did) to stay here, be it a little less money or one less guaranteed year. He'll get paid, no doubt about that, but if he wants to play games with this and wait until the last minute where the Tribe may get nothing in return if/when he walks then I'd ship him out for a cost-controlled replacement, like Phil Hughes, in a heartbeat.

Cleveland does have other options to take Sabathia's place, but once you start bringing Adam Miller and Fausto Carmona into the "ace" discussion, the future becomes a bit hazy. Miller has yet to throw a pitch in the Majors and has had a few injuries slow down his development already. Carmona may very well develop into an ace, but I doubt Shapiro and Wedge would want to place the burden of anchoring the rotation on either young pitcher just yet.

Coach Brown Gets a Raise

The Cavs inked head coach Mike Brown to a two year contract extension through the 2010-2011 season. Official numbers haven't been released yet, but according to Brian Windhorst, Brown will see his current $2 million salary jump to $4 million in addition to the two extra years being tacked onto his old contract.

I've always been a fan of Brown's defense-first philosophy and think he's done a great job keeping the team together this season despite all the contract B.S. and injuries. Brown's track record has been outstanding: two straight 50-win seasons, four playoff series wins in two appearances, and a franchise best .592 win percentage since 2005.

I was a little concerned Brown may take the fall if things turned ugly following the team's championship run last season. Apparently the Cavs' Front Office got something right this year as they reward Brown's solid work thus far.

In the meantime, Cleveland has won 8 of their last 10 games, including road wins in Dallas, New Orleans, Toronto, and San Antonio.

The Browns

Head Coach Romeo Crennel and starting QB Derek Anderson are in line for new contracts this off-season. No specifics have been released while preliminary negotiations take place. I don't have much of an opinion on Crennel, but I am glad to see a head coach for the Browns finally pan out. If the Front Office and players have faith in Crennel, then that's good enough for me. Stability often gets overlooked in pro sports, but the extension is a good move to take pressure off the coaching staff and their players.

Re-upping Anderson makes perfect sense to me, although I'm sure a lot of fans are itching to get those Brady Quinn jerseys out in the open. The success of Anderson last season allows the Browns to take a slow approach to breaking in Quinn and may leave them with a tough decision depending on how 2008 plays out. Look for either Quinn or Anderson to get shipped out of town by the end of next season. For now, the Browns can afford to bide their time and evaluate their options at QB.

Bringing back first-year offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski didn't make a big splash, but could prove to be just as important as Crennel's contract. Chudzinski maximized his resources in Anderson, Edwards, and Lewis and molded Cleveland into an elite offensive unit. It would have been a shame to see him leave for Baltimore's head coaching vacancy after just one year of running his offensive juggernaut. Cleveland was smart to get Chudzinski's extension wrapped up quick because Baltimore had been knocking on the door.

The Browns are also exploring an extension for running back Jamal Lewis and his 1,304 rushing yards this season.


Just in case you missed out on Tony Lastoria's Top 50 Prospects list for the Tribe, check out the link here. If you're like me and have always wanted to learn more about the Tribe's farm system, this is a great place to start. It's really an impressive piece of work and deserves all the praise it's received around the blog-o-sphere.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Hey, At Least It's Not Called U.S. Cellular Field

The home of the Cleveland Indians was officially renamed Progressive Field on Friday. Since Dick Jacobs' original naming rights had run out at the end of the 2006 season, it was only a matter of time before someone else slapped their name on the stadium. As much as I wanted the name to remain, you can't blame Jacobs for not renewing the contract; it just doesn't make any sense for him financially to maintain a stake in the stadium. I suppose one could argue Mr. Jacobs would have done a service to the fans by fending off the name change, but even that contract would have run out eventually. To the Tribe's credit, they did approach Jacobs about renewing the naming rights before beginning their search.

I was always very proud that Cleveland's stadiums maintained real names and didn't just sell ad-space to the highest bidder (at least until the Gund was changed). Stadium's fronted by corporations just seemed to lack the character and integrity of the old school fields. It's no coincidence that some of the oldest stadiums in baseball have been able to hold onto their original names, it's part of tradition at this point. Can you imagine the marquee at Wrigley Field with any other name? Of course not, that would be sacrilege in many baseball circles.

There's more to a baseball stadium's name than just the letters on the sign. Many stadiums become a part of the community. There's something special when someone mentions the Jake because of all the memories associated with it; it's like talking about an old friend. I might be going overboard with this whole thing, but I feel like a part of the city has been altered. It just doesn't feel right knowing that a famous Cleveland landmark won't be there to greet people entering downtown anymore.

Seeing owner Larry Dolan and the Progressive rep holding up a "Progressive #1" jersey at their press conference was incredibly lame and only added to my bitterness on the subject. Why do owners insist on draping every financial acquisition in a custom jersey as soon as it walks in the door? Progressive isn't even a player, it's a freakin' car insurance company. Whatever.

So what do the Indians get out of all this (besides a lot of irritated fans)? Well, Progressive is paying an annual fee of $3.6 million for the next 16 years. I was hoping the extra revenue would be a bit more than that (wishful thinking, I know). Instead of going into the "Re-sign Sabathia Fund," the $3.6 mil is more likely to pay for the Tribe's bench players. I suppose any type of guaranteed income is a good thing for a small market team, so there is that. At least now we don't have to worry about how Shap was going to juggle Jamey Carroll's contract into the payroll (phew!).

Also, Progressive is based in Cleveland, giving the name at least some local relevancy. I found it curious that the Plain Dealer's article on the re-naming reminded fans of how Progressive laid off 341 employees (many in Cleveland) and saw a dip in their stock value recently. Is there anything this paper isn't pessimistic about? Apparently Progressive "expects the local and national exposure to boost consumer awareness." Um...they do realize the Indians play in Cleveland right? Last time I checked, the only local team getting consistent national media exposure are the Cleveland LeBrons.

Do consumers even care if a company owns the name to a sports facility? Petco Park doesn't make me want to run out and buy a bag of dog food every time I see Jake Peavy pitch. It does make me feel sorry for Jake Peavy though, because he pitches in a drop-dead gorgeous stadium with a fugly name.

Despite all my ranting, it really could have been worse. I probably wouldn't even put Progressive Field in the top ten as far as worst stadium names in baseball. I also realize that Jacobs was paying to keep his name in lights for those 14 years and it could have easily been Progressive Field a long time ago. Selling the naming rights is actually a smart move by the Tribe and is just another aspect of baseball as a business. There are many things that I dislike about the way the sport operates in that regard, but this is by far a lesser offense from that list. I guess I just don't like change.

On a brighter note, the Plain Dealer reports that "the team hopes to preserve the Jacobs Field marquee in some way" once it is removed from its home at the intersection of Carnegie and Ontario. I'm guessing it will end up in a local museum, similar to the giant neon Chief Wahoo that used to sit on top of old Municipal Stadium (the relic currently resides in the Crawford Auto-Aviation Museum in Cleveland).

In tribute/stubborn defiance, I'm going to post a picture of the original sign next to Jobu down below. Rock on Jacobs Field. Rock on.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Congress Reviews Mitchell Report; Cavs Hit .500

I don't suppose anyone out there wants to talk about hockey?


Well, it was worth a shot. Like most of you, I'm getting pretty desperate for some baseball news, but there are a few noteworthy items this week:

On Baseball and Congress

The day after George Mitchell speaks to Congress on his well-publicized investigation into steroid use in baseball, some of the named players will get their turn. The House Oversight Committee has invited several witnesses associated with the Mitchell Report to testify at a January 16 hearing on Capitol Hill. Day one features former Senator Mitchell, Commissioner Bud Selig, and Players Union leader Donald Fehr. Day two should include testimony from Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, Chuck Knoblauch, former Clemens trainer Brian McNamee, and former Mets clubhouse attendent Kirk Radomski. Each invitee is expected to show up, with Clemens viewing the hearing as the best opportunity to clear his name.

I'm not expecting any major revelations from Radomski or Pettitte this time around. I think Mitchell did his homework as far as the originally published information is concerned and their stories shouldn't be changing. The thing I'm most interested in is how Clemens' testimony holds up to McNamee's under oath. Clemens has vehemently denied any steroid use and claims his former personal trainer injected him with legal supplements like vitamin B-12 and the painkiller lidocaine (enough with the puns on this one, please). On the other hand McNamee seems to be sticking with what he originally told Mitchell: Clemens took steroids and HGH between 1998 and 2001.

Somebody's got to be lying here. No one in the media knows what was discussed between Clemens and McNamee in a recent phone conversation, but my guess is they were trying to get their story straight before the hearing so one of them doesn't end up accused of perjury. Clemens could not make his view any clearer at this point. He's going to maintain his innocence right up to the hearing. The evidence and my gut tells me Clemens is lying through his teeth, but logic says he can't possibly be that stupid. He just got done calling McNamee's claims, one of the pillars of Mitchell's evidence section, "totally false" on national television. McNamee has remained fairly quiet in the meantime, suggesting he has no intention of changing his story at this point.

I'm of the opinion that Congress should find something better to do than investigate baseball, but hopefully the whole "under oath" deal will finally close the book on this Clemens mess. The hearings will also give some official credence to the occasionally shaky Radomski testimony. These hearings can't be any worse than watching Mark McGuire cry (probably one of the saddest things I've ever witnessed in baseball) and Sammy Sosa duck behind an invisible language barrier. Sheesh, just get it over with.

On the Cavs

The Cavs have won 7 of their last 10 games to even their record at 17-17. The Cavs have one of the ugliest winning streaks around; it's amazing that they continue to win games. Their latest game came against Toronto on the road Sunday. On a night where Toronto shot 49% and led by 13 going into the final quarter, Cleveland came all the way back and won. So much for that defensive resurgence I was hyping up in my last post; this game was won on offense.

Instead of rolling over against a tough team, LeBron James went nuts. As in 24 points in the fourth quarter (a franchise record) nuts. Toronto's Jamario Moon "knew it was going to be a long quarter" once James got going late in the game. James finished with 39 points, 11 boards, and 8 assists. Larry Hughes rounded out the scoring with 14 points, while Drew Gooden finished with 10 points and 12 rebounds.

I say the Cavs have an ugly winning streak because they really had no right winning some of these games. Against Atlanta, James scored 32 points in the second half. The Kings should have been pushovers with three starters injured, but Cleveland needed a last minute surge to knock them off. Sunday was just another rerun of Bron-Bron's Variety Hour. Don't get me wrong, I'm ecstatic that Cleveland has made it to .500 (that tells you how low my expectations are), but it would be unrealistic to expect LeBron to keep up this kind of pace. Maybe James' play will inspire the rest of the team to step their game up.

On a random note, Larry Hughes started at guard against Toronto, but ended up with nine less minutes than Gibson. It'll be interesting to see if Coach Brown continues to give Gibson more of Hughes' minutes.


Good luck to Ohio State as they compete in the BCS National Championship game against LSU on Monday. A lot of the OSU players were around for the loss to Florida in the last championship, so you can bet these guys will be fired up. Go Buckeyes!

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Cavs Look to Defense for Help

The Cavaliers may be struggling, but at least they know where their faults lie. Coach Brown’s approach last season focused on defense and turned out to be the Cavs’ calling card en-route to a second 50 win season. The Cavs’ seemed to have forgotten what made them so tough to beat though, slipping to the middle of the pack in many defensive categories. In Saturday's Plain Dealer, Brown admitted his coaching strategy had changed going into the preseason:

I came into training camp talking offense. I felt we understood defense and that we had the technical stuff down and we just needed to be more efficient offensively.

Through 31 games, Cleveland is just 14-17, sharing the 9th spot in the East with Philly. With all the discussion on the Cavs’ neglected defense, I expected their stats to be in decline. Rebounds, blocks, and steals are all about the same, but the bottom-line is how many points are surrendered. Cleveland is giving up 6.3 more points per game while teams are shooting 46% against them. Cleveland’s stats from ’07-’08 are average compared to the rest of the league. Below are Cleveland’s defensive stats from the last two seasons:

YearGamesWin Pct.Opp. PPGOpp. FG%RPGBPGTOSPG



That’s a huge difference on defense and has a lot to do with the Cavs poor season so far.

Cleveland has shown encouraging signs on defense lately. In their last five games, the Cavs have gone 3-2 (don’t nitpick, that’s above .500) and held the opposition to 90 points or less in four of those games. They’ve been turning the ball over less and played solid defense against the Mavericks and the surging Lakers. It’s a small sample size, but still counts as a step in the right direction for a team that seems to have lost its identity. Below are the Cavs’ defensive results from their last five games:

OpponentResultOpp. PtsOpp. FG%TO Differential*


Golden StateL10552.1+5



New OrleansL8641.9-5

*(Opp. - Cle)

Cleveland isn’t quite in a groove yet (see their ugly loss to New Orleans), but they are playing some of their best defense of the season and getting positive results. According to Coach Brown:

It's encouraging to see us win the right way. I've emphasized that end of the floor [defense] more and the guys have embraced it. I've done this with more drills in practice and showing more clips of us defending the right way and not the right way. The guys [now] understand what we have to do.

Hopefully the renewed approach will help smooth over those 2-point nights from Larry Hughes and diffuse any big runs from the other team with LeBron on the bench. The offense may have its warts, but that’s all the more reason to emphasize stout defensive play.

Another contributor to the Cavs' upswing is health. When was the last time Cleveland’s personnel were healthy and accounted for this season? Between the early holdouts, depleted bench, and LeBron’s finger, Cleveland’s projected starting five has not had a ton of opportunities to play together. The bench is still among the NBA’s worst, but fortunately for the Cavs all their key players are coming together as a team now.

On the Browns

This was a rough way to end the season. Brown’s fans essentially got burned twice as they suffered through last week’s game against the Bungles and Sunday’s debacle in Indy. The Colts had every right to blow their final game; it had no impact on them, win or lose. The worst part is that Tennessee was horrible against the Colt’s reserve corps. I bet Indy could have won handily if they had two or three more series with their starting offense in. If Dungy had put Manning back in and he got injured it would have been incredibly bad for Dungy (where else can you get this type of hard-hitting analysis?). So despite the big middle finger Tony Dungy gave Cleveland as he benched Peyton Manning early in the game, you can’t truly fault him. Cleveland missed their boat in Cincy when they coughed up a completely winnable game. Simple as that.

The Brown’s deserved to be in the playoffs, but I think they’ll have a better chance to go deep into the playoffs with the experience they picked up this season. Just as long as Pittsburgh gets destroyed by Jacksonville, it won’t feel so bad.

On the other hand, Cleveland had a great season. Edwards and Anderson emerged as stars, Jamal Lewis resurrected his career in orange and brown, no one got fired (except Frye), Chudzinski had an outstanding first year as offensive coordinator, the O-line is finally fixed, and a downtrodden franchise finally earned back some of the respect it used to command. Just to put it in perspective:

2006: 4-12

2007: 10-6

I always feel a bit awkward talking about the Browns, since I haven’t been a diehard like most of the fans, but I think the fans have plenty to be proud of this year. I’m still not used to all the positive coverage the national media outlets have been sending Cleveland’s way, so apparently they’ve been turning some heads. This season is just a building block too; these guys are only going to get better as the talent matures. When was the last time fans could truly look forward to football season without that feeling of dread in the back of their minds? Just wait ‘til next year…