Sunday, March 30, 2008

Opening Day: the Sequel and Fun with Rosters

It's Opening Day! Again.

It seems Major League Baseball decided to expand the (much deserved) hype of Opening Day for as long as possible. Technically, the season started last Tuesday when the Tokyo Red Sox faced off against the Oakland A's for two games. Was anyone else frightened by the sight of 50,000 Japanese Sox fans crammed into the Tokyo Dome? I guess if you put down $100 mil for a pitcher, it doesn't seem so bad knowing you just gained an entire country as a fan base. Either way, more Red Sox fans is not what this world needs. I'm curious how Boston's obvious lack of enthusiasm to represent MLB abroad by playing in Japan went over with the fans there. Yeah, real classy to publicly hold out for more monetary compensation Boston, it's not like you couldn't handle that in private. But I digress....

Opening Day Part II is on Sunday, but only features one game. I know it's a historic event, with the Nats kicking off the season in their brand-new, uber-cool stadium, but the schedule makers couldn't find room for the rest of the teams to play? I wish the regular season would start all at once or at least split the games over a couple days, preferably on the weekend. Many fans treat Opening Day with such reverence that it might as well be a national holiday. Just think of all the marketing and media coverage that goes into the early rounds of the NCAA Tournament; now imagine that same frenzy over two full days of baseball games. I doubt anything like that is going to happen, but there's plenty of money to be made if MLB were to play its cards right.

The Tribe starts their defense of the Central Division crown on Monday against Chicago. Unfortunately, we didn't make the national broadcast that day, but that doesn't mean Tribe fans can't enjoy the first of 50 games ESPN has set for the Yankees this season! That Steinbrenner kid is such a character, I can't wait to hear what he'll say next. I bet A-Rod hits for the cycle twice in that game. Hello? Where'd everybody go?

Marte In

Andy Marte became one of the final players to make the Tribe's 25-man roster earlier this week. He will join Jamey Carroll, David Dellucci, and Kelly Shoppach on the bench. According to Manager Eric Wedge:
We'll see Andy mixed in at third base when we give Casey a day off. I think we'd be comfortable putting him [at first] if we needed him over there.
Backup third baseman is obviously the best fit for Marte this season, but how much playing time can he expect behind Blake? Last season, Blake had 145 appearances at 3b, 12 at 1b, 7 in RF, and 1 as DH. It's doubtful Blake will see any significant time in the outfield with Gutz, Dellucci, and Michaels already on the roster and Francisco and Choo waiting in the wings. Assuming Blake remains relatively healthy, that would mean Marte would get just 17 appearances at third; not a realistic number. If Marte were to start once a week at third (similar to the rotation of Martinez and Shoppach at catcher), that would translate to roughly 30 starts, or 120 at-bats.

I agree that the starting third base job is Blake's to lose and he has done nothing to merit a demotion. This puts Wedge in a tricky situation when dealing with Marte though. The Indians really need to find creative ways to get Marte up to the plate on a regular basis. Marte has had several cups of coffee at the major league level, but never a large sample of at-bats in a single season. Below are Marte's previous appearances in the majors:

2005 21 ATL 66 8 0 0 7 13 .227 .211
2006 22 CLE 178 37 5 0 13 38 .287 .421
2007 23 CLE 60 11 1 0 2 9 .233 .316

There are two things that stand out in Marte's old stat lines. The first is how few plate appearances he's had. Marte was supposed to start 2007 on the roster, but an injury and the steady play of Blake left him stranded in Buffalo. Considering Blake had 662 PA in 156 games last season, Marte has not been given a legitimate chance to prove himself yet. The second item of interest is Marte's age. He may have been an elite prospect in Atlanta, but how many 22 year olds are capable of making an immediately successful transition from the minors? Not many. Marte also has a reputation as a slow starter. It seems every time he starts to settle in somewhere, he gets moved, resetting his progress.

There is some uncertainty with Marte, like his inconsistent defense and what he'll really do at the plate if given the chance. Marte helped his cause by posting a .333 OBP, .519 SLG, and 5 HR in 54 AB in spring training. Unfortunately, he also committed 6 errors at third. If Cleveland sees any substantial value in Marte for the future they will have to perform their final evaluation on the fly this season. With no minor league options left, Marte may be off the team by 2009 if the Tribe doesn't like what it sees in 2008.

Francisco and Barfield Out

Josh Barfield and Ben Francisco will be starting the season in AAA. I agree with the Barfield move, but Francisco really should be in Cleveland this year. If there was a better platoon alternative than Dellucci in left field I could understand, but sending Ben back to Buffalo is a waste of everyone's time. Francisco had 12 HR, 22 SB, a .382 OBP, and a .496 SLG and won the International League MVP in Buffalo last season. There's nothing left for him to prove in the minors, especially at 25 years old. Lets take a quick look at stats for Michaels, Dellucci, and Francisco for 2007:

J. Michaels 295 72 7 20 3 50 .324 .397 87
D. Dellucci 199 41 4 17 2 40 .296 .382 76
B. Francisco 66 17 3 3 0 19 .303 .500 105

Not to jump to conclusions due to the small sample size, but Francisco clearly outplayed Dellucci during his stint in Cleveland. Francisco's .814 career OPS against righties also fits in nicely with Michaels' career OPS of .842 against lefties. Dellucci may not even be 100% healthy this season (he had surgery last year to repair a torn hamstring). His salary would be easy to dump and after putting up with the Trot Nixon experiment last year, I'm not sure Dellucci has really earned a spot on the roster. If his veteran status and $3.75 million contract are the main reasons for him making the roster, that hardly seems fair. Not giving Dellucci a chance to defend his job after an injury-filled season is no way to treat a player either, so maybe I'm being a bit harsh. Regardless of salary, I can't see Dellucci getting much leeway this season with two viable alternatives in Francisco and (later on) Choo. I predict a mid-season call up for one of the two young outfielders.

There's really not much to say about Barfield. I had a hunch he would at least start the season in Buffalo, which is good because his offense has been terrible since arriving in Cleveland. Josh had a .270 OBP and .324 SLG in 444 PA for 2007 (no, that OBP isn't a typo). The good news is, Barfield still has an above average glove and has just two full years of major league experience. If he can find his swing again in AAA, Josh will certainly be in the running for the 2009 starting infield. The bad news is, it will take a mammoth effort in AAA from Barfield and an abysmal start from Asdrubal to dislodge him from second base. I'm rooting for him, but don't expect to see much of Barfield this season.


I haven't had much time to investigate Fultz's replacement, Craig Breslow, but that's what the internet is for. Jay over at LGT has a nice breakdown of Fultz's departure, while the community chimes in on Breslow. Good stuff.

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