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The Sunday Drive with Masty, Carlos, Cody and birthdays

The Sunday Drive with Masty, Carlos, Cody and birthdays
Masterson and Santana (Joshua Gunter/ The Plain Dealer)
March 9, 2014
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It’s funny how odd things pop into your head at odd times during Spring Training, but it truly is the nature of the beast. There is a lot of time between analyzing Carlos Santana’s fluidity at third and Justin Masterson’s true desire to stay in Cleveland long-term and Danny Salazar’s slow crawl back to throwing meaningful innings.

While there is a lot to talk about every day, most of it is minutiae that ultimately proves to be either ridiculous in scope, or meaningless with regards to longevity.

I still love it nonetheless.

For example, today I woke up thinking about my birthday and all of the games that I’ve attended on that sacred mid-summer date. My parents thankfully never put me through having my name up on the scoreboard, and while I respect those that seek out the four seconds of spotlight joy that brings, I have never been one to want that aforementioned spotlight. To me, July 15 was all about the green of the field, the blue of the sky and the crack of that bat.

If I wasn’t in Cleveland watching a game when they were at home, I was at home either watching the game on channel 43, or playing ‘baserunner’ or at the sandlot shagging fly balls. I never ceased to wonder about those years in which the Tribe was in another city…pondering why the schedule-makers were against me.

My first birthday game memory came in 1982, when Rod Carew and Reggie Jackson waltzed into town and crushed the Indians. I left the game hating Reggie. I yelled for his autograph and he looked me dead straight in the eyes and said “give me a second.” I turned and looked at the elderly gentleman next to me and said, “Did you see that, REGGIE’S GOING TO GIVE ME AN AUTOGRAPH!”

The man simply responded with, “Don’t hold your breath.”

I’m glad I didn’t. I’m still waiting.

The very next year, the Kansas City Royals were in town. I don’t know how many people were in the stadium that day, but it literally felt like 1,000. That’s the day I got to talk to George Brett about playing third base. I asked him how hard it was to field major league “screamers,” is how I think I put it.

Before he answered, he took some vested interest in my career. “Do you play third,” he asked.

“I sure do Mr. Brett, and shallow, just like you,” I said with the confidence of Brooks Robinson.

He laughed and said, “I only play shallow because I can barely move. Watch Toby play today, he’s a lot better than I am.” Toby became my favorite player that day, even if Brett was likely trying to make a hometown kid feel good about his hometown team.

The Indians lost 10-0 and Brett hit a first inning homer. I’m convinced it was a birthday present to me.

I spent the rest of the day chanting “Tobeeeeeeeee,” and “Juuuuuuuuuuuuliooooo!” It echoed in the vast emptiness of Municipal Stadium. At one point, I believe I had an intimate conversation with a fan sitting behind first base.

I was sitting behind third.

The next game I attended on my birthday was in 1989. For those that don’t remember the importance of July 15, 1989 to the Indians (I mean, other than my birthday of course), it’s the day that Joey Belle made his major league debut.

Now, I’d like to give you some kind full-detailed report that I drove down to the stadium that day looking to see the future of the Indians. That wasn’t it at all. Nolan Ryan was pitching that day, and so was Greg Swindell.

You need to understand something.

I loved Greg Swindell.

To me, Greg Swindell was the next Nolan Ryan. Seriously. He graduated from the University of Texas and he was truly something special. He had surpassed the last great University of Texas pitcher, some kid named Clemens, and when the Indians drafted him, I saw a better version of Clemens, and yes, a better version of Nolan Ryan.

C’mon…I was a kid.

What do I remember from the game? There was a buzz about this kid Joey prior to the game. I didn’t follow the minors much and was much too caught up in being in high school, but there were people talking about him. The crowd was a big one as well, and I don’t remember how many, but I know it was more than the 1,000 or so that came to most games.

The rookie, Joey Belle, stole a base that day off of Mr. Ryan, and I thought, “Hmmm, this Belle kid must be a speed demon on top of the power.”

I remember Joe Carter hitting a triple, something I hadn’t seen much of. I remember Greg Swindell pitching a complete game, and I remember Kenny Rogers pitching at some point. I have no clue what he did when he pitched, but I do know that the throngs spent a lot of time singing songs from “The Gambler.”

Little did I know that Belle was the first major piece to the 90’s puzzle and that Joe Carter, Mr. 30-30, would provide many of the other pieces at season’s end.

In 1993, I returned for my next birthday game, the last for me at Municipal Stadium. That was a magical year for me in many ways, and not for just positives. It was, of course, the season after Steve Olin and Tim Crews were killed in a boating accident at Winter Haven, with Bobby Ojeda suffering severe injuries.

I loved the Muni, and while I couldn’t wait for Jacob’s Field to open, I remember stopping out in front of Gate D that day, staring up at Chief Wahoo and thinking that this would be my last birthday at the biggest stadium in baseball.

I truly remember nothing about that game, other than an Albert Belle blast and an Indians’ win.

My next birthday game was during the World Series, strike-shortened year of 1995, and this is the first game I remember vividly. While my first game was as a wee-little kid, by now, I was out of college. My season tickets were mine, and this team was all mine as well.

Orel Hershiser pitched the Indians to victory, making it through seven. It’s funny how good Hershiser was back then, past his prime, but still such a solid pitcher. Manny also hit a shot in the eighth inning. I left right after that. I didn’t usually leave games early, but had a party to get to back home.

In 2000, I would see my last birthday game, and my first game as a married man. My wife and I were married on June 2 of that year, and we spent many a date heading to Jacob’s Field to see a baseball game. We had taken our talents to Raleigh, North Carolina at the end of June, but had returned to Cleveland to see the series against the Pittsburgh Pirates. They had won the first two games, and I was hoping for a repeat on my birthday.

There’s nothing like a birthday sweep, is there?

The team had been struggling up to that series and really nothing stood out in that game. I remember the Indians put together some runs thanks to some small ball and some errors. They scored a lot early, then held on for the win.

It was a sad day, because I left the stadium that day knowing that it was going to be really tough to get back home for games. I didn’t think it would be my last birthday game, but you know that road we call life.

Like baseball, you never really know where it’s going to take you.

This year, the All-Star game falls on July 15, and my fear is that All-Star weekend has moved permanently into the realm of mid-July. Last year it was on the 16th. There will be no joy in birthday-ville for me in 2014, but my solemn vow is to return to Cleveland to see the Tribe the very next time they have a home-date on July 15.

Who knows, maybe I’ll be home as well.

Talk about a long segue into my Sunday column.

I absolutely love how the Indians are handling Danny Salazar, and I equally love how Salazar has handled his situation over the past 2 ½ years. When I saw him in Carolina in 2012, it was immediately clear how special this kid’s arm really was. I also completely understood why they took their time with him that season.

He was just making his full-time return from Tommy John surgery and they wanted to make sure everything was copacetic prior to unleashing him with long-term innings.

When talking with Mudcats personnel, they were fairly clear that he wouldn’t go past five innings unless something really special happened. I just figured that things would change in 2013.

They started off much the same and they slow-burned him again through much of his early stint. Even when they uncorked him as the season progressed, it was only for six-inning stints. Then he joined the Indians,and things changed dramatically. While there seemed to be an innings limit, Francona and company were clearly okay with him going longer if they saw fit.

This season, I thought, for sure it was time to take off the kid’s gloves with a guy that would have to fill a long-term role for the team with the loss of Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir.

Instead, Salazar has yet to make his spring training debut in a real game against major league competition.

The Indians are taking their time.

And why not? It’s important that they do a couple things with Salazar going forward. The first is fairly simple: keep him healthy. Salazar’s rookie season was abundantly impressive. He can do things with the baseball that, on paper, only a couple of guys have done in the history of the organization. With his injury history, it’s important that the Indians are ensuring a safe pitch count this season and allow Salazar to mimic a safe and healthy delivery.

The second may be even more important, and that is to continue to improve Salazar’s secondary offerings. Yes, his plus-plus fastball is something to behold, but he has to continue to improve the rest of his repertoire to continue to take it to the next level.

Let me put it this way: If Danny Salazar every makes that slider of his a slightly above-average offering, he will be the best pitcher in baseball. I know I’m, in general, an optimist, but that’s not hyperbole. He’s that good. I’ve talked to some guys I respect a whole lot that think that if he’s handled properly, he could be the best pitcher of a generation here in Cleveland. Considering we have two Cy Young winners since 2007, that’s high praise indeed.

I love the analysis of Carlos Santana. It’s utterly painful to watch the paid Cleveland media discuss his every move as though it’s a window into his future. Look, he has an aptitude for the position, or Terry Francona wouldn’t be playing him at third base.

What more do you truly need here?

Seriously, do you really think that a guy of Francona’s ability would even bother with this if he didn’t think Santana couldn’t be a factor down the road. I’m not a scout, but I’m also not a moron (that truly depends on who you ask). Santana has the ability to be a third baseman.

Now, does that mean he’ll be a good third baseman? Does that mean he’ll have the glove of Brooks Robinson or the four-foot range of Miguel Cabrera? Does that mean he’ll remind us of Travis Fryman or Mark Reynolds?

Are we going to find out this spring?

No.

So why bother worrying about how he handles a short-hop or gets to a slow roller between the pitcher and third base. Why concern ourselves with the fact that sometimes his throws make it into the first base glove and sometimes they bounce ten feet in front.

Is it a concern now?

Well, why don’t you go and grab a baseball today, tape a two-foot by two-foot box and try throwing at it from about 110 feet. It won’t be easy. Now throw into the equation a smashed ball coming your way. Then add foot position, glove position, pivot, and all the other factors that come into play at the highest level.

For normal human beings, that’s impossible. For a major leaguer, it’s much more plausible, and possible. My guess though is that it will play out over the season. Santana has already proven that he has the aptitude to play well there. The key will be consistency, and guess what folks, that only comes with time.

If it’s July and we’re still talking about all this with the same results, it’s another thing entirety. What I trust is that Francona will make the right call, but clearly not any time soon.

I’m going to say this one more time, because it’s been chuckled at nearly every time I’ve brought it up. Steve Orbanek first brought up this idea a few weeks back, and truth be told, we “debated” this point for hours, and that’s the distinct possibility that Cody Anderson could have an impact as a starter for the Cleveland Indians in 2014.

Okay, debated is the nice way of saying we argued a whole bunch. I thought he was absolutely nuts thinking that Anderson would be a factor for the Indians this year. Anderson would probably tell you the same thing.

Then I realized that I was looking at Anderson through my pre-2013 eyes, without taking into account what he did in 2013. Here’s Steve’s piece from January, and it’s really worth taking a look, if you haven’t done so already.

I watched Anderson all season long and was his biggest proponent. I can’t believe I let Orbanek jump on this catch before I got to it.

Do I think Anderson is going to explode upon the scene, as Salazar did in 2013? No, I just don’t think he has the same kind of stuff. But, he does have MORE offerings, and his velocity continues to improve. Like Salazar, the Indians believe he has a high IQ and an even higher work ethic. What’s different is that at 6’4” and 220 pounds, he has a body that better fits a rotation horse.

It also doesn’t hurt that the Rays wanted him first.

What’s my point here?

If the Indians find themselves in need of a starter come August, and if injuries or chances have shallowed out the candidates to fill in, Anderson could force his way onto this team and be exactly what Salazar was to the 2013 team, in 2014.

Yes, a lot has to happen for that to occur, but it is a distinct possibility. Anderson is that good, and what’s really interesting is that he’s getting better as he goes.

What is the ‘a lot that would have to happen?’ I don’t want to speculate on injuries, so I’ll tread lightly. For Anderson to see the light of day, one of the top four would have to have lost his spot for whatever reason you choose. On top of that, the fifth spot would have to either be unsettled for the season, or for when Anderson would be primed to move up from Columbus, if he even gets there.

In other words, Carrasco and Bauer would have to fail to grab the spot, and Marcum and Harang would have to go the route of Brett Myers and/or Daisuke Matsuzaka. Sure, there are other interesting starters in Columbus, such as T.J. House, but I would love to debate on whether or not he can be as good as Anderson with regards to upside.

I’m not standing on the mountain proclaiming a lock. What I’m saying is that he is someone to watch in 2014. Orbanek nailed it.

Finally, I know I touched upon this earlier this week with my Corner of Carnegie and Ontario column, but I really wanted to follow up with regards to the Indians signing Justin Masterson.

It’s really not about the numbers people, and we don’t even know the numbers.

I’m not going to rehash them here. If you want to see those numbers I pondered, feel free to go back and read that piece.

What I really want to reach out to here is just the common sense of signing Masterson. Please understand that not only does Justin Masterson want to stay, but he’s painted himself into a bit of a corner in signing. I surely understand that what you say to the media isn’t a jail, but it certainly doesn’t help with bargaining power.

Now I know you can argue the numbers, even with the parameters that have been set by Masterson’s proclamation that he would take three-to-four years and $40-to-60 million. I honestly don’t think Masterson even threw out the money value, as I think that was overzealous local media rolling out numbers after they got scooped by national media.

It seems to be something that happens with regularity here in Cleveland…but I digress.

To the Indians, Masterson is the ace of the staff. Again, you can argue the numbers of it all about whether or not he’s a #1 or a #2 or a hybrid or inconsistent or whatever you want.

To the Indians, Masterson is the ace of the staff. When Zach McAllister was pitching well in late April and May last year, Masterson was the ace. When Corey Kluber was dominating in June, Masterson was the ace. When Kazmir was dominating in July, Masterson was the ace. When Danny Salazar was touching 100 and striking out 10, Masterson was the ace. When Ubaldo Jimenez was dominating over the last six weeks, with Masterson on the bench injured, MASTERSON WAS THE ACE OF THE STAFF.

Argue numbers all day and all night…then go out and ask the players.

Ask Yan Gomes who the ace of the staff is. Go out and ask Danny Salazar who the ace of the staff is. Ask Kluber and ask McAllister. More importantly, go and ask Terry Francona who the ace of the staff is.

Masterson is special, and when I say that, understand that as old school as I am, I understand the value of performance and character, over just character. I love Jason Giambi for example, but think there are better options.

Justin Masterson isn’t Jason Giambi, but character-wise, he’s exactly the same thing. Like Giambi, Masterson is respected by the entire team as a guy that does the right thing. He leads by example, and by all indicators, is a guy that teammates gravitate towards.

Giambi is old.

Masterson is not.

While a long-term deal for a pitcher is rarely smart, especially for the money that Masterson will likely get no matter what, sometimes there’s more to it than that.

I often talked about a domino effect last season that the Indians’ starters seemed to be a part of. They seemed to work off of each other. They seemed to try and one-up each other. I thought that it was simply a performance thing, and I do still believe that was a part of it, but the more I look at that window into last season, the more I realize that it started and ended with Masterson.

This isn’t saying that the other guys weren’t talented. They are and were. As a matter of fact, it happened exactly because there was finally equal talent and coaching around him. Kazmir had been there before, and was returning to ace-like status. The same goes for Ubaldo. Kluber finally met his “stuff,” and Salazar exploded. McAllister pitched above his head.

The anchor?

Justin Masterson.

Mickey Callaway provided the instruction. Terry Francona provided the opportunity. Justin Masterson provided the model. How will he affect Danny Salazar in his second year? How will he affect Carlos Carrasco, who HAS to make the team as a starter this year or be relegated to the bullpen? How will he affect Kluber, who like Salazar, is starting his second year in the Indians’ rotation? What about a guy like Trevor Bauer, who is trying to find his ace-like stuff again? Ultimately, what will a guy like Cody Anderson learn from Masterson, as I see the two residing in the same ultimate landing spot?

What Masterson provides the Indians is something that is rare in sports; he is a legitimate influence that backs it up with, at times, electrifying performance. Sure, his downside is 2012, and that’s a risk a team has to take. That’s when the numbers jump back into the equation.

But let me ask you this.

Is there a Justin Masterson out there? Is there a guy that the Indians could sign or trade for that can guarantee you a perfect blend of performance and stability, as well as that character that Terry Francona values above all else?

Hardly.

If the Indians sign Masterson to a three-year deal in the coming three weeks, it gives the Indians a locked rotation for the coming years. He’s the anchor of a promising pool of young starters, and could be the first domino in a series of dominating dominoes behind him. I ask you this: if in three years the Indians are staring at a rotation that has Danny Salazar, Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer and Cody Anderson as your top four, would you be complaining about Masterson’s deal then?

I doubt it.

Of course, there are two sides to every coin, aren’t there.

Jim is currently the senior editor and Columnist, as well as  the host of IBI's weekly online radio shows, Smoke Signals and Cleveland Sports Insiders. You can follow Jim on Twitter @Jim_IBI, or contact him via e-mail at jpete@indiansprospectinsider.com.

User Comments

Hawk1228
March 10, 2014 - 11:41 AM EDT
The beginning of this article could have been written by my cousin. My cousin and I grew up in the era of Max Alvis, Woody Held, Vic Davalio, Fred “wingy’Whitfield , the names changed the memories are the same. Biggest difference being games were not on TV every night, caught them on Channel 8 with Jimmy Dudley and Garfield 1 2323. That was perhaps one of the best lead in to an article that I have ever read. On a side note, if they continue to play the all-star game mid-July, you may want to consider Rock-N-Blast night as a night to celebrate. My wife’s birthday is July 27th and one year Rock-N-Blast landed on her birthday, we now celebrate her day on the Friday of that event. Great night for a date night celebrating a birthday.
shy
March 9, 2014 - 11:08 PM EDT
Good stuff per usual JP. I believe the rotation this year begins with Masterson, Salazar, Kluber, McCallister and Tomlin. I think Carrasco begins in the bullpen where he is better able to practice the art of pitching to one batter at a time. Bauer looks different to me - good different, but I think Francona will place a higher value on Tomlin's projectability and experience and Bauer starts in Columbus. And Cody Anderson could soon be what Kluber and McCallister are now- very good middle of the rotation horses that eat up innings and give you a chance to win most starts. There is a problem here though- there are no lefties in any of the projected rotations and I don't like it. There is really not that much of a difference between Kluber, McCallister and Anderson and I think you have to have a lefty in there somewhere to give an opponent a different look in a long series and try to put them a little off kilter. The good news is the Indians may actually have some RH pitching other teams would be truly interested in. If an opportunity to add a good left handed starter presents itself I think we should listen.
Sam Seaborn
March 9, 2014 - 4:58 PM EDT
An absolutely brilliant read as usual. No one on site can match these last two columns, as a reader I am always waiting for the next piece by Jim Pete.
SuperJoe
March 9, 2014 - 4:20 PM EDT
I was at that game on July 15th, 1989. I think there were 30 grand at that game, and they were there to see Joey for sure. What a buzz, the first buzz of those great 90's teams.

Love the passion about Masterson. I'm not sure the Indians see it that way, but we will see. I don't see them spending even $15 million on him, but you are right. He's a leader. I read somewhere that Tomlin and others have stated that Masterson is the team lead in the rotation.

I totally buy it.

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