Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Fixing The Indians This Off-Season: Part 1

With the MLB Winter Meetings right around the corner I thought I'd put myself in the shoes of new Indians General Manager Mike Chernoff and President of Baseball Operations Chris Antonetti and create my own plan for the Indians' off-season. This is complete wish fulfillment but I'll try and stay as close to reality as possible (so they'll be no 'Hey, how about a trade for Mike Trout' stuff here.) Here's a few moves I would like to see happen between now and Spring Training 2016:

Upgrade The Outfield Part 1: Internal Solutions & Free Agency

The Indians' outfield during the 2015 season was a Frankenstein-like monster, with the only real bright spot being Michael Brantley. Despite an incredible comeback season by Jason Kipnis, Brantley was once again the best hitter in Cleveland and is the star player on this team outside of the rotation. Over 137 games, Brantley batted for a .310 average, 379 OBP, .480 SLG and a .859 OPS. He hit 15 homes runs, 84 RBIs, stole 15 bases and drew 60 walks, all contributing to an outstanding OPS+ of 130, a team high among batters with at least 200 at bats.

Brantley did all this whilst playing hurt and getting very little help from the rest of the Indians lineup. Not only does Brantley need help but his injuries eventually led to him being shut down towards the end of the season and he's since had arthroscopic shoulder surgery that will see him miss 5-6 months, almost certainly ruling him out for the beginning of the season. His rehab from that kind of surgery could be lengthy, so I'm not expecting a 100% healthy Brantley until late May/early June at best.

So the Indians are in a tricky spot, especially since the front office decided not to retain outfielder Ryan Raburn for $3 million, buying him out for $100,000 instead. Excluding Brantley, the current outfielders on the Indians 40 man roster right now are:

Abraham Almonte
Lonnie Chisenhall
Michael Choice
Tyler Naquin
James Ramsey
Jerry Sands
Zach Walters

A major league outfield looking for a division title that list does not make. Half of those guys are still Triple-A players and as much as Almonte endeared himself to me after coming over to Cleveland via trade, I'm still not entirely sold that he's a long term answer. I'd be willing to give Ramsey a chance to shine at the MLB level, but only if we already had the luxury of three healthy, productive outfielders (we don't). And Lonnie, well we know he's had his ups and downs, but he was remarkably decent in right field in 2015 which was a pleasant surprise. Can he stick there? On his previous experience with consistent production at the plate, the odds are he won't but I'd be willing to see if he can finally put it all together one final time. Cleveland has two potential star outfield prospects in Clint Frazier and Bradley Zimmer but realistically neither of them will contribute to the major league team in 2016, and they would have to post exemplary numbers in the minors for the Indians to even consider rushing them up the ladder to the big league club.

What can the Indians do to fix the outfield then? The club usually have a limited budget for free agents (rumored to be around $15 million this winter) but the market for outfielders is quite deep this off-season. There's a lot of guys who are likely out of the Tribe's reach but here's some outfield help I've singled out that could be picked up:

Nori Aoki
Dexter Fowler
Gerardo Parra
Rajai Davis
Drew Stubbs

Nori Aoki will be 34 on Opening Day but he's been very consistent over the course of his four year career in the majors since arriving in the States. He's averaged a .287/.353/.386 battling line (BA/OBP/SLG), has great speed (81 stolen bases over four years) and plays good defense. Katrina Putnam over at Wahoo's On First believes the club could get Aoki for somewhere in the range of $10 million over 2 years and I'd be happy with that. I'd probably prefer a 1 year deal with Aoki not getting any younger but if a 2 year deal is what it would take to get him, I'd sign him to it there and then.

However, if I had to make just one free agent signing this winter, a big splash of a signing, I think I'd go for Dexter Fowler. The premium outfield free agents like Yoenis Cespedes, Jason Heyward, Alex Gordon and Justin Upton are all going to fetch a price tag out of the Indians' range but Fowler might be in reach. He recently declined the Chicago Cubs' qualifying offer of $15.8 million for 1 year but if the Indians could put together a deal of around $15 million per year over 3 or 4 years, that might tempt him to the corner of Carnegie and Ontario. Committing between $45-60 million over that time frame is a risk that a small market club like the Indians are likely hesitant to make but Fowler could be worth it.

The switch-hitting center fielder has a career OBP of .363 and showed signs of power last year, hitting 17 home runs, a career high. He has great speed as well, stealing 20 bases in 2015 and plays a passable defense, although defensive metrics don't rate him. Fowler will be 30 years-old on Opening Day so he still has some youth left, plus he's remained remarkably healthy during his career, playing in a career high 156 games in Chicago last season. Apparently the Indians would only lose a second-round draft pick, not a precious first-rounder, if they acquired Fowler (due to him declining the qualifying offer) so that's a bonus too. Fowler could be a terrific leadoff hitter for the Tribe and if the club are willing to push the boat out just a little bit, I think they could bring him on board.

If the Indians don't want to spend that much and would also like somebody a bit more defensively-minded, then Gerardo Parra would be a suitable alternative. Parra is a Gold Glove caliber outfielder who can play across the entire outfield and he's also handy with the bat. He's a career .277 hitter and finished 2015 with a .291/.328/.452 batting line, despite his production falling off quite a bit after his mid-season move to Baltimore. Still, the 28 year-old Parra presents a significant upgrade and is within the Indians price range, reportedly around $27 million over 3 years. Both Fowler and Parra will have plenty of suitors during the off-season but if we could sign either one, I would be incredibly happy.

Rajai Davis and Drew Stubbs are strictly back up options, who I would both like to see offered minor-league contracts with invitations to Spring Training. Davis could provide a bit of pop off the bench and can still steal a base (20 SBs in 2015) and I really liked Stubbs in 2013 and would like to see him given another chance, despite an awful 2015 (a batting line of .195/.283/.382). Neither of these guys are the answer to Cleveland's outfield woes but some veteran insurance for depth can't hurt.


That's a wrap for Part 1. In the next segment I will look at how the Indians could explore some trades to fix the outfield, probably involving a starting pitcher or two leaving the club.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Baseball Cards: Two Mariners Pickups

I got two new cards in the mail yesterday, two Mariners in fact, so thought I'd share them here:

Up first is a 2014 Topps Chrome Rookie Autograph #12 of Abraham Almonte, formerly of the Seattle Mariners and now the lightning bolt of a center fielder for the Indians. Ever since the almighty Almonte debuted for Cleveland, he has played above expectations and has been one of the sparks pushing the Tribe into playoff contention. Despite being considered short for a center fielder (he's a stocky 5'9 and 210 lbs), he does a more than admirable job out there and his bat has been instrumental to the Indians offense. In 29 games with us he's batting .267 with a .324 OBP and a .505 SLG, and a very respectable .829 OPS. He currently has 3 HR and 19 RBI with 9 walks.

I'm a big fan of the 26 year-old Dominican and I hope he can use the rest of this season to stamp his mark on the team and cement a spot on the 2016 roster. This card set me back just $1.50, which is a steal for a beautiful on-card auto.

We come to the main event now, a card I've wanted for some time. It's a 1989 Topps Traded #41T Ken Griffey Jr. card, PSA graded to a Mint 9. This is the first sealed PSA card I've bought, and I am hoping to add a few more in the future, as they look great.

Ken Griffey Jr. was the first baseball player I ever knew. When I was very young, my brother came back from a trip to the States with a Rawlings Ken Griffey Jr. glove and I saw his printed signature in the pocket of the mitt and always wondered who he was. When I started to take a serious interest in baseball I thought back to my glove and remembered the name, and ever since I wanted to get one of his cards.

Now most fans go immediately for his his iconic 1989 Upper Deck rookie card but I actually prefer this Topps card as far as overall appearance goes. His Upper Deck rookie has him sporting a bit of a goofy grin, whereas I think his Topps card has a better, more serious pose. I don't care that these were mass produced and have little to no value; that's not why I collect these cards. 

It cost me $7.55, which makes it my most expensive card in my collection to date, but I was happy to pay that for a PSA card. It's one of, if not the best, looking cards in my fledgling collection.

I don't know if I'll be buying any more cards this season, but if I do I'll make sure to share them. 

Saturday, 1 August 2015

Baseball Cards: Retro Legend Additions

It's been a while since I posted any cards here at England Tribe (nearly two years actually). I recently picked up a few nice looking ones and thought I'd share them. They're nothing too special, but I think they look good.

Up first are two Jackie Robinson cards. Before you get too excited, no that is not an original 1952 Jackie Robinson on the left. I'm not that lucky, or rich. Instead, it's a 2001 Topps Through The Years #5 reprint of the 1952 Robinson. It has a nice shiny Topps 50 Years Anniversary badge on it, on his bat. I really like this card, and it's from a really iconic set too. 

The card on the right is a 2010 Topps 206 #25 Jackie Robinson. I love the design of the Topps 206 cards, with their faded cigarette card look. The picture of Jackie is really nice too, and I've not seen many cards of him without a hat on. 

Jackie is right up there with my favorite players of all time, maybe even number one on the list. I wrote my dissertation at university on the man, spending an entire year researching and writing about his exploits on and off the field. The guy is the definition of the word legend. Somehow these are the first two cards I own of him. They definitely won't be the last.

Here we have a 2006 Topps Rookie of the Week Card Shop Promotion (Base) #7 of Pirates Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente. It's a similar design to his 1955 rookie card, the Topps #164 from that year, but Topps have changed the photos from the original (here is what his rookie card looks like). I think it's pretty nice and for $0.55 I thought why the hell not.

Clemente sits next to Robinson on my shelf of baseball legends, the greatest Latin player in history. He's a total boss in my book and he has some of the nicest cards around too. I'll be looking at getting many more of them.

More Roberto Clemente's up next. Here we have, from left to right:

1998 Topps Roberto Clemente Reprint #7. It's a reprint of the 1961 Topps Clemente #388, and is a damn fine card. In the top left-hand corner, you can see a small bronze Clemente 25th Anniversary badge which I love. I don't know if you can make it out from the photo, but it has 1972-1997 on the bottom and in the center is Clemente tipping his cap. It's a really nice card I had to grab, for just $1.85. A near-mint version of the 1961 original goes for nearly a grand. I'm happy with my 1998 reprint thanks.

In the middle is a 1998 Topps Roberto Clemente Reprint Finest #9. What makes it "finest" you ask? It's a shiny chrome card, and it's all the better for it. I really nice reprint of the 1963 Topps Clemente #540, it cost me $2.65, the second most expensive card in my haul. The 1963 original in mint condition goes for over $2,200. Yeah, my reprint doesn't seem so pricey anymore. I'm fine parting with $2.65 for this excellent card.

Last but not least is a 2012 Topps Archives Reprint Insert #440. It's another reprint (sensing a theme now are we?), this time from the 1964 Topps set, one of my favorite card sets in Topps history. These cards look so good and I made sure to get a Clemente. Just $0.95, not bad value for under a dollar.

Something a little more recent now. Here is a 2014 Topps Heritage #250.1 base card of the reigning AL MVP, Mike Trout. It's hard not to be a Mike Trout fan. Following on from what I was saying about my love for the 1964 Topps set, in 2013 I pulled a Trout shortprint from a pack of 2013 Topps Heritage. I couldn't believe my luck because, A) I don't really buy packs and B) I got a Trout card in my first pack, just as he was blowing up after his sensational rookie year. Since then I've always wanted to get more Trout cards and couldn't pass up this 2014 Heritage card. It's such a nice design and the photo is awesome too. It cost me $1.45, which isn't bad for a card from the year he won his first MVP.

This one I didn't purchase with all the others but it came recently so I thought I'd include it. Here we have a 2015 Topps Series 2 #616 Kris Bryant rookie card. I quite often buy team sets of Indians cards from a UK seller on eBay and decided to get the Cubs Series 2 set essentially for the above card alone. Bryant has been everything we expected in the majors this year and to own his rookie card is great. I wasn't going to pass up the opportunity to get this one, especially if he goes on to become something special. If you had the chance to get a Mickey Mantle rookie card back in the day, you would right? Which leads me onto...

OHMYGOD IS THAT A 1952 TOPPS MICKEY MANTLE ROOKIE CARD?! No, no it isn't. I told you already, I'm loving these reprints. The card on the right you mistakenly thought was the infamous 52 Mantle (admit it) is actually a 1996 Topps Mickey Mantle Commemorative Reprint #2. I will never, ever be able to own a real 1952 Mantle rookie so to own this beautiful replica will just have to do. It really is a very nice card and I can see why people go crazy over the original. Mine has that golden badge in the top left corner, commemorating Mickey's life (1931-1995). I'm a big fan of these little holofoil badges, as they're a really nice addition to what was already a very iconic card, arguably the most iconic card of them all. It set me back a whopping $2.75, the most expensive card from this bunch. A mint condition of the 1952 original is going for over $650,000. $2.75 doesn't feel so bad now.

The card on the left is another Mantle, a 1996 Topps Mickey Mantle Commemorative Reprint Finest #13. Again with the "finest." Yeah, these chrome cards are just too nice. This one even comes with a Topps protection coating on the top, hence the black writing sprawled across it. It's a reprint of the 1963 Topps Mickey Mantle #200. It cost just $1.40, a bargain, so I snapped it up. There are 19 of these 1996 commemorative Mantles and I already have 2 of them. I'm tempted to see if I can get the whole set. As long as they're not more than $3...

That's it for this haul from the fine folks at COMC. This is the third time I've ordered from them and I will definitely be returning for more. I have my eyes on a Ken Griffey Jr. card or two and of course I'd like some Indians players too. Watch this space.

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Indians trade David Murphy to Angels

Indians outfielder and all-around good guy David Murphy has been traded to the Los Angeles Angels for shortstop and Ohio native Eric Stamets.

With the trade deadline looming, there's been a flurry of activity around the league and the Indians made their first move before the deadline. Murphy has been with Cleveland since 2014 and was hitting a respectable .294/.344/.437 in 84 games this season, mostly out of a platoon role in right field. Murphy was never going to be a superstar for this Indians team and I recall his signing before the 2014 season being met with some trepidation. However, the 33 year-old outfielder made a good impression with the fans last year and got off to a hot start in 2015, often batting in the heart of the order (hitting over .300 in May and June), before his production dropped off significantly this July. I'll always remember him fondly for having a habit of slapping singles just out of the third baseman's reach into left field. Plus, Murphy always rocked the high socks, a gold star in my book. The Tribe have called up Tyler Holt from Columbus to take Murphy's spot in right field for the foreseeable future (probably until Nick Swisher makes his return to the club). Good luck on the west coast David, be sure to tell Mike Trout lots of nice things about Cleveland. You know, just in case he wants to demand a trade to the Indians suddenly...

In return for Murphy's services, the Angels dealt 23 year-old shortstop Eric Stamets. Born in Dublin, Ohio, Anaheim's 2012 6th round draft pick has spent the year in AA Arkansas with the Travelers, batting .248/.306/.360 over 62 games. Not exactly eye popping numbers with the bat, but scouts rave about his defensive prowess and speed. Stamets hold a .974 career fielding percentage and is well known for his strong arm, as well as swiping 79.5% of his stolen base attempts during his young career. With the Indians seemingly set at shortstop for the next decade plus (we hope) with Francisco Lindor manning the position, it seems a strange pickup by the Indians to add Stamet to an already busy infield. One can only imagine the 23 year-old being converted into a utility guy or maybe even a third baseman. There's still a possibility Stamets could be flipped in another trade also. Regardless of where his future lies, Stamet has already endeared himself to the Tribe faithful via Twitter with this adorable photo of himself as a youngster. He'll likely report to AA Akron to begin his career with the Indians organisation. Welcome to the club Eric.

Now Cleveland, how about giving your suffering fanbase a win? Six game losing streaks suck.