Monday, May 3, 2010
The Cleveland Indians are at a point in their developmental history where we have to resign ourselves to the truth that there are four ways in which we can hope to have talent:
1) Draft (or otherwise sign, as in Latin America) & develop
2) Trade for prospects & develop
3) Trade for or sign second-tier-salaried major-leaguer
4) Sign an NRI and get lucky
We've had some recent success with (1): Lonnie Chisenhall, Jason Kipnis, and Cord Phelps are performing well enough in the minors, and recent successes like Jhonny Peralta, Fausto Carmona, and the recently-departed Victor Martinez show we have had success in non-draft-elligible players in the past. (Tony Sipp is a draft product who is actually useful in the majors.) Most people accept that (2) is actually one of Mark Shapiro's strongest suits, yielding (for example) Grady Sizemore, Shin-Soo Choo, and Luis Valbuena. It's also resulted in some busts (Andy Marte) and guys of questionable value (Tofu Lou) and the jury's out on a bunch of last year's haul (LaPorta, Hagadone, Knapp, Carrasco, Barnes), but it's been one of the things Shapiro has done well at times.(3) is a clear weakness: recognizing major-league value is simply not done well, from Matt Lawton to Jason Michaels to David Dellucci to Oldberto Hernandez, there's a lot of Bad to go around. The most-successful (4) to date is the current Austin Kearns, although some relievers have had their moments.
(I don't know what class to consider Mitch Talbot in: he had a taste at the majors and never spent a day in the Indians' farm system, but it was just a taste and he wouldn't have made Tampa's Opening Day roster. Is he a (2) or a (3)? I'd say (2), but the point is not wholly clear-cut.)
The days of signing Kerry Wood et al are over. Until the economy improves and/or the team is sold, these are the methods for talent acquisition.
Now, trading for prospects or anything else for that matter requires trade-desirable assets, normally in the form of a soon-to-be-expensive or already-expensive player. If the guy is cheap and worth acquiring in a trade, we probably still need him. The exception would be something like the bevy of 2B prospects we have, where we could deal from a position of depth and get something we need more, like the right-handed masher Matt LaPorta was supposed to be, or a starter with strikeout stuff. We don't have a lot of these, and the ones we do come with gigantic question marks:
*) Kerry Wood hasn't pitched in the majors this season
*) Jake Westbrook is erratically recovering from UCL replacement
*) Jhonny Peralta has to lift himself to desirability
*) Grady Sizemore may never be GRADY SIZEMORE! again
Now, I don't think you can count on getting Shin-Soo Choo for Ben Broussard again. There are a whole lot more Jason Johnsons and Brian Sikorskis out there than Austin Kearnses. So one thing we are going to have to do more of is identify and target "perceived damaged goods." In fact, that's kind of how we got Choo: he had a bum elbow and a reputation as having to be a platoon player without sufficient pop, and it turned out to be wrong on all accounts. His elbow needed surgery, but he's not a pitcher and the recovery was relatively short; it turns out he can hit lefties and for power as well. So why did Seattle trade him? Because they saw his weaknesses and did not think the chances for developing the strengths to overcome them were high enough.
(In a sense, this is what happened to us with Franklin Gutierrez. Frankly, I make no apologies for my views on F-Goot. I'm impressed and pleased on his behalf, and I knew he was a superior defensive CF, but I did not believe in his bat. I didn't. The Tribe brass ALWAYS said he was the best defensive CF in the system, but they, too, did not think his bat was likely enough.)
Anyway, this is the type of player the Indians need to spend more time identifying: the damaged good, or the missing-tool player.
Now, frankly, it's hard to argue that Alex Gordon ISN'T damaged. He's missed huge chunks of time with injuries, and has performed poorly when not on the DL. His left-right splits are frightening, and his attitude has never been lauded.
But see, I think at least PART of his attitude is KC-specific: they don't value what he does well (power and patience) and jerk him around in favor of guys with low ceilings like Chris Getz, Yoon Betancourt, and Alberto Callaspo (not to mention Willie Bloomquist, which we won't). His power actually hasn't been that great, and I think they're looking at that and seeing "failure" where I think there is room for growth. His hand and other injuries can explain at least part of this. But the organization has also all but screamed in his face that he's not on board with "the Royal Way," and that has to get discouraging after a while.
Yes, a professional athlete should face adversity and treat it as a challenge to overcome, redoubling his effort and all that. But there is a chance ... I can't tell you how large ... but a chance that getting out of the KC organization with its organizational philosophy and being the hometown team (he went to Nebraska and wanted to play for the Royals) and not being The Next George Brett (which is kind of a lot to ask of ANYONE) ... well, it's possible that Alex Gordon won't become the best player he can be until he plays for another team.
So you gauge: is Cleveland that place?
Well, consider: I would like to believe that Lonnie Chisenhall is the Future of Third Base. He is not ready. He is in his third professional season and is at AA. He looked overmatched in Spring Training. So we need a gap bridger. RIght now, it's a combination of Peralta and Fryin' Pan Hodges, not a very palatable mix. It's not inconceivable that Gordon could be that bridge. And, frankly, if he is terrible, there is little lost (I do not believe in Hodges, and I do not want to pay Peralta in 2011 unless something changes this summer), while if Gordon actually blossoms, well, you could flip him or move him to first or squeeze another year out of him or make him DH and turn Travis Hafner into glue.
I think Kila Ka'aihue could be a find, too: he is at least as Russ Branyan and Russ Branyan is, and is 26 with a functional back. Ka'aihue is not so much "damaged" as simply "wrong for the team:" he's a patience bad-D guy in an organization that values swinging and defensive effort. I'm not even going to say "defense," because it's not clear that the Royals value ACTUAL defense, but rather PERCEIVED defense, like diving and running and generally Willie Bloomquisting.
So these are two examples of the kind of commodity I mean: either a guy with injury/attitude issues who the target team is tired of, or a guy who goes against the organizational grain as a bad fit. I don't see that KC would really ask for the moon for EITHER of these guys.
There is one caveat here: Gordon and Ka'aihue are both left-handed, and Gordon has a big split. Right now we're already carrying a Sizemore-Choo-Hafner-Branyan bias through the heart of the lineup: a guy like Peralta is all that stands in the way of leaving Austin Kearns as the only legitimate right-handed bat in the lineup, Marson's recent 4-game hot streak notwithstanding. It would be an issue as the roster is currently constructed. Also, the time to strike is likely not now: the Royals are aware that they've just floored Gordon's trade value and would like to give him a chance to re-establish his worth. Fine, we can wait a month or two. We're not going anywhere.
But we probably ought to call before June 1. Just sayin'.