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Right on or way off: Is LaPorta up for good?

Right on or way off: Is LaPorta up for good?
June 5, 2012
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In this edition of ‘Right On, Way Off’, I’ve added another element by including both a case for and against the thought-provoking statements. I still ultimately agree or disagree, but it seems more cohesive and informed if both sides are articulated this way. With that, and the Tribe fresh off back-to-back series losses at home to Kansas City and Minnesota, it’s time to get to it:

Matt LaPorta is finally on the roster, for good…

For: The Tribe lineup is so starved for production from a right-handed hitter in the lineup that there may be no other choice than running LaPorta out there. The expectations, for him, personally and for anyone starting in left field, are so ridiculously low that a batting average of .220 could be good enough for him to keep a starting gig for the foreseeable future. He could even spell Kotchman, who has been better of late, but is still hitting .209, a game or two a week while splitting time in left field. If nothing else, LaPorta is certainly more deserving of a roster spot, than say, at least two-thirds of the Damon-Duncan-Cunningham trio, none of whom offer any sort of long-term answer as a starter.

At 27 years old, he’ll either demonstrate that he can hit offspeed pitching, or he won’t. This is a make or break time of the season for the Indians, who still remain only two and a half games out of first place in spite of recent losses. The team is facing a proverbial crossroads, and to avoid a repeat of last year’s swoon the team must make every effort to try to win now before Detroit gets hot. Sending him back to the minors before the team gets a good look at him will only stunt any fleeting chance he has for progression.

Against: LaPorta needs more seasoning at Triple-A. Putting him in or near an everyday role now will put the pressure on the once top prospect, causing him to press. The more he presses, the more likely he is to swing at bad breaking pitches. LaPorta realizes he needs to start performing and to throw him into a division race now will not give him the best chance to succeed. He’s hardly a better option than what the Indians currently have at first base and left field. The best course of action is to let him continue to build on his success in the minors so his confidence and psyche remain intact, then give him a shot once an injury hits a starter during a less crucial time of the year.

Plus, once Damon is back from paternity leave, his clear path to a starting role is blocked by the recent emergence of Jose Lopez who has played well enough to start at designated hitter while Hafner is on the disabled list. If LaPorta is starting at first over Kotchman, then the Tribe is taking a massive risk with the need for superlative infield defense because of a sinkerball-heavy starting staff.

Verdict: Right on, LaPorta needs to be on the roster for at least a month. His career .238 batting average at the big league level is still an upgrade over all other options in left field. Plus, it’s time to see if LaPorta can finally hit offspeed pitching; by now, he’s either capable of it or he isn’t.

The Tribe will be sellers at the trade deadline…

For: With an eerie repeat of last year’s collapse starting to take shape, it seems inevitable that the Tribe will continue its tumble. The glut of injuries has started to translate to losses, as the Tribe is 2-7 in its last nine games. With a stiff road trip up next featuring stops to Detroit, St. Louis, and Cincinnati, another 2-7 record, or worse, over the next nine could land Cleveland in third place and potentially for the remainder of the summer. Detroit is bound to catch fire at some point and if Cleveland is still dealing with injuries to the lineup and issues atop the rotation, it’s hard to believe they’ll be a threat to the Tigers and hot-hitting White Sox.

If Cleveland does freefall out of contention, they’ll be tempted to part with enticing trade chips that could net prospects, which would in turn strengthen a farm system that has few major league-ready options. As a small market team, who has little chance to contend all year, restocking the farm system is the key to any sort of future success. Players like Chris Perez, Derek Lowe, and Jack Hannahan would be logical trade bait because they have the best trade value and less chance of remaining in Cleveland on a long term basis.

Against: Regardless of the Indians’ division standing near or at the trade deadline, they should not part with players that can help them win now. Selling at the deadline is an admission of defeat, not only in the short term, but in the long term as well. It concedes that the team is still in the dreaded ‘rebuilding mode’, which will do nothing to help fan attendance or support of the organization. If the Tribe makes any trades, it should be for a legitimate right-handed bat that can start, ideally in left field. This team is only a couple pieces away from legitimately contending, both now and for the next few seasons, so selling at the deadline is a big step backward.

In addition to the perceived regression of selling, it doesn’t make sense for Cleveland to sell off important pieces since there is only eleven million dollars committed to the Tribe’s 2013 payroll. There are 12 players on the team eligible for arbitration at the end of the season, so the team should focus on retaining the pieces that are important for long term success, and, with any luck whatsoever, look to add a piece or two in free agency. With a high-ceiling, young core on the team, it’s time to add complementary pieces, not blow up the team.

Verdict: Right on, the Tribe will, and should be, sellers at the trade deadline. With holes on offense and big questions atop the rotation, this team is not ready to compete for the postseason this year. The most logical solution is to trade players who will be free agents at the end of the year. This will revive an organization that burned two of its top prospects to acquire Ubaldo Jimenez last season; plus, in the case of Perez and Hannahan, there are younger, cheaper options that can start now— and for years to come.

Ubaldo Jimenez should continue to take the ball every fifth day…

For: Jimenez is still only 28 years old and has time to straighten out his mechanics. The only way he is going to regain form is to keep pitching, in an effort to achieve a repeatable, mechanically-sound delivery. His fastball has touched 95-96 this season, so he still has enough zip to make hitters swing and miss. This is the same pitcher who won 19 games in 2010 and demoting him out of the rotation would be premature. Not to mention, he’s already won five games, as well as notching quality starts in half of his ten starts, all while underachieving.

Furthermore, yanking him from the starting five is a huge symbolic loss. It admits, after less than a full season, that Cleveland was fleeced by Colorado which would fuel fan criticism of management and ownership. It could derail any progression he’s made since coming to Cleveland and do some serious damage to his psyche, potentially causing him to become frustrated and disengaged from achieving his best. Jimenez is supposed to be the number two in the rotation and a demotion now implies little faith in his ability to turn it around.

Against: For the sake of brevity, I’ll try to be as succinct as possible here. Jimenez leads the American League in walks (42) and has the worst or near-worst (depending on minimum number of starts) WHIP (1.79). By the way, his ERA is still over five, as it’s swollen to 5.79, the worst it’s been all year. With numbers like those, he’s not only the worst pitcher in the Indians rotation, but one of the worst in the American League. Jimenez has shown little in the way of consistency or in figuring out how to demonstrate long-lasting control over his pitch location.

Jimenez has now had 21 starts with Cleveland, laboring his way to a 5.41 ERA. It’s fair to say that he’s been given long enough of a shot to prove himself. Clearly, something is still off about Jimenez, be it a hidden injury, mechanical issues, a velocity drop, or some combination of these and more. If Cleveland has any intention in contending this season, the best thing they can do is find an excuse to pull Jimenez from the starting rotation. Ideally, the Tribe could put him on the disabled list with some sort of phantom injury, allowing him pressure-free rehab starts in the minors to clear his head and return to his previous form.

Stubbornly tying the fate of the team to a trade that is looking worse by the day is just that, stubborn. It takes no responsibility for the ineffective manner in which he’s pitched. Cleveland’s roster is made up of many players who were siphoned out of other teams’ organizations (i.e. Santana, Masterson, Brantley, Choo, Hagadone, C. Perez, etc.) and losing in one trade, even if it’s one that is supposed to allow the team to take the next step, is not the end of the world. It’s baseball.

Verdict: Way, way off. I’ll admit, I’ve been a supporter of Jimenez in the past, but the time has come to make a change. His stats are irrefutably abysmal; and with a capable Zach McAllister waiting in the wings, the team desperately needs to do something to stabilize the starting rotation. A demotion doesn’t mean the end for Ubaldo in Cleveland; it just means it’s time to put the up-to-now-disastrous experiment on hold, at least while there is a chance of tasting the postseason.

User Comments

CC
June 5, 2012 - 11:26 PM EDT
Couldn't disagree more strenuously on the sellers vs. buyers thing. The Tribe is right in the middle of the AL Central race and probably has the edge over CHW and DET. I know I'm more optimistic than most, but even you shouldn't need rose-colored glasses to see that it's not a stretch to think the current lineup can stay healthy, Lonnie contributes, the starting pitching improves (it can't get worst can it?), and the Tribe finds 1 bench/role player to improve what they've got.

On LaPorta, just because our bench is horrible, doesn't mean that he helps this team. In fact, I would argue that he hurts the team from a morale standpoint. All the other guys play hard, some play over their heads, and they're all scratching their heads about LazyPorta who's only up because he was in the CC trade.
Tony
June 5, 2012 - 9:38 AM EDT
Yep, I agree on LaPorta. Time to keep him up for good. At worst he is the guy that played in 2011, and even that is a significant improvement in LF for the Indians. He's better than Duncan and I think at worst he takes his role in the future.

I completely disagree on them being sellers. I actually have something along those lines coming in my Sunday piece this week where I talk about the damage selling could do. I have no problem maybe jettisoning some FAs off like Lowe, Lopez, or gulp Damon....but anyone under control for beyond 2012 makes no sense unless we are cutting ties with a poor performer.

I think Ubaldo gets until the All Star break. If his struggles continue and more options present themselves (Carmona?), perhaps he moves to the pen then. I just don't see the Indians putting up the White flag on him yet.
Norm
June 5, 2012 - 9:31 AM EDT
I am not sure we can make a definitive statement about being buyers or sellers but one thing we can be sure of is that guys like Lowe and Perez will be happy to put Cleveland in its rear view mirror. Choo should probably be near the top of the list but I don't think any of these guys will bring much in return. Not sure the fans care enough to do anything but their usual bitching since they don't come to games anyway which is the prime reason for being sellers.
SgtCarter
June 5, 2012 - 9:03 AM EDT
In LaPorta's first game back he started off with a bang. Looking clueless in his first at bat, he struck out and his bat sailed off near the stands. Later on a Twins bunt. Matty pivoted and tossed the ball to....the invisible man on first base.

Cut your losses and get rid of LaPorta and Ubaldo.
Jeff
June 5, 2012 - 8:56 AM EDT
I shudder to think what the fan backlash would be if the Tribe became sellers again.
Rich
June 5, 2012 - 8:07 AM EDT
1. Agree on LaPorta. He doesn't need more "seasoning" at AAA; he's proven on multiple occasions he can hit at that level. The Tribe desparately needs a right-handed power bat now. Give him one last chance to sink or swim.

2. Buyers or sellers? We won't know for a few more weeks, but I suspect they'll be sellers again unless Ubaldo and Masterson turn it around quickly.

3. Ubaldo was given an extra couple of days to tweak his mechanics. Let's see how he looks against the Tigers tonight. He's pitched much better on the road this year, so if he has a good game he stays in the rotation. If he walks six batters and throws 100 pitches in five innings again, then they have to seriously consider putting him in long relief and bringing up McAlister.

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