Sunday, March 28, 2010

Who's on first?

Funny how fate works sometimes, isn't it? Indians officials on Sunday made what was hardly a surprising announcement: that Russell Branyan will start the season on the disabled list. Many of us were wondering why the Indians signed Branyan in the first place. Now it looks as though the baseball gods wondered the same thing.

The Indians didn't need to add a first baseman in the off-season. They had no need for another left-handed hitter. And since the club is rebuilding for the future, they certainly didn't need to sign a 35-year-old, left-handed hitting first baseman.

But that's exactly what they did when they signed Branyan. Branyan's presence on the roster almost certainly would have bumped promising young outfielder Michael Brantley to Class AAA Columbus, even though Brantley is ready for the big leagues, and the Indians have a ready-made spot for him, left field.

Why would a rebuilding team with one of the top prospects in minor league baseball choose to block the progress of that player by signing a veteran nearing the end of his career, to play first base on a team that didn't need more age, much less another first baseman? A team, moreover, that isn't expected to contend?

Many of us were still asking ourselves all those questions when the Indians announced Sunday that Branyan will start the season on the disabled list. Oh yeah, Branyan also has a history of back problems, which is still another reason why the Indians' decision to sign him was so baffling.

Sure enough, Branyan hasn't even played in a spring training game yet, because of his back condition. So he'll start the season on the disabled list, which will presumably give Brantley the opportunity to play every day in the big leagues, an opportunity he should have had anyway.

What comes next? Stayed tuned. If Brantley gets off to a good start - remember, he was very impressive during his September callup last year - what will the Indians do when Branyan is ready to come off the DL? It would make no sense to send Brantley down. They conceivably could send Matt LaPorta down. But what if Brantley and LaPorta are BOTH playing well when Branyan is ready to be activated?

Then, and maybe only then, Indians officials might have to ask themselves, "why DID we sign Branyan?''

Saturday, March 20, 2010

No Wood? Not good

Well that didn't take long. The Indians have already suffered their first major injury of the 2010 season - two weeks before the start of the 2010 season. Closer Kerry Wood, who the Indians were counting on to get the last three outs in games they are winning, will miss from six to eight weeks with a strained muscle in his upper back.

That Wood is injured isn't really news. This will be the 13th trip onto the disabled list for Wood in his 11-year major league career. Wood will begin the season on the DL, meaning the Indians will play the first four to six weeks of the season without their $20 million closer. But it's not like the Indians figured to wear out Wood in those first six weeks. Last year, Wood had six saves in the first six weeks of the sesaon.

So the loss of Wood is unfortunate, but not exactly crippling.

On the other hand, there is nothing more devastating to a team than blown saves leading to ninth-inning losses. So the Indians may be in danger of having some of those while Wood is out. But the injury to Wood will give the Indians a chance to look at Chris Perez in the closer's role.

Perez is the projected closer of the future for the Indians, a future that could start sometime this season, should Wood be traded, or next year for sure, since the Indians won't re-sign Wood, should he not be traded or fails to finish the 55 games that would automatically vest his option for 2011.

So while Wood is out it's a chance to see how Perez handles the closer's role. And it also means a reliever who otherwise wouldn't have been on the opening day roster, will open the season with the Indians. That will give the Indians a chance to further evaluate another pitcher early in the 2010 season.

The bottom line: if the Indians had been projected to be contenders in 2010, the injury to Wood would have been a bigger deal than it is now. As it is, with the Indians not expected to contend, it's unlikely that a blown save or two in April, due to the absence of Wood, will come back and haunt the Indians in September.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Meaningless games?

Spring training games, in terms of winning or losing, are meaningless. So is it important for the Indians to win as many spring training games as possible? No. . . No, wait, yes.

Yes, in this case, winning some spring training games - preferably a lot of them - is important for the Indians. There are several reasons why.

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Monday, March 1, 2010

View from the bottom

In the last couple years the Indians have had trouble living up to expectations going into the season. That shouldn't be a problem this year because there are no expectations.

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