Tribe Happenings: Santana is catching on
May 6, 2012
Some news, notes, and thoughts from my Indians notebook…
Santana proving to be an elite backstop
We are only a month into the season, but catcher Carlos Santana looks like he is finally back to the player he was when he first made his Major League debut in June of 2010.
Santana, 26, had a solid season with the bat last year as he hit .239 with 27 homers, 79 RBI and .808 OPS in 155 games. But he really struggled defensively last year as he looked tentative behind the plate, his throws were often off target, and he was inconsistent with blocking balls.
Santana’s problems last season were probably the result of the knee injury he suffered in July of 2010 which sidelined him for the rest of that season. He was good to go at the start of last season, but between that injury and a hamate bone procedure in the offseason, he did not have the opportunity to have a normal offseason with his workouts and come into the season in the best shape possible. Without a good base and strong legs, it looked like it affected his throwing and overall defense behind the plate last season, especially as the season wore on.
Santana struggled so much behind the plate last year that a lot of people started to publicly campaign to have him moved to first base full time. He only threw out 18 of 74 would be basestealers (24.3%) and was sloppy behind the plate, and at the same time backup catcher Lou Marson was extraordinary with his defense and throwing (38.5% caught stealing).
But all of that was a big premature, and thankfully, the Indians kept their senses and left Santana as their catcher for this season and beyond. They were so sure about him that they signed him to a five year $21 million extension last month.
So far this season Santana looks like a completely different defender behind the plate. His movement is much better, his blocking while not perfect is noticeably better, and most importantly his throwing is much, much better. His throws are often right on target and on a line and he is gunning down would be basestealers at a good clip (36.4%).
For those that knew of Santana in the minors, this is no surprise. He was always viewed as an above average defensive catcher in the minors with a very good arm by almost everyone in the game, so when he struggled last year with his defense and throwing a lot of it was chalked up to the return from the injuries. There may have also been a psychological thing at play as he may have lost some of his confidence after sustaining the knee injury when a player slid into his leg at home plate.
First base is always an option for Santana down the road if injuries mount up or he is in the twilight of his career – though by that time he will likely be with another team anyway (i.e. Victor Martinez). But he is an elite catcher and gives the Indians an elite player at a premium position on the field, so leaving him at catcher is a must. Getting him a few games at first base is fine in order to give him a break behind the plate and keep his bat in the lineup, but he has to be catching at least five to six games a week.
Probably the play that best shows Santana’s potential to impact a game behind the plate was the throw he made against the White Sox on Thursday night with A.J. Pierzynski batting and a runner on first. With two strikes the runner went to steal second base, but Pierzynski swung and missed at a ball low and inside and in the dirt, but Santana simply backhanded it as it bounced, slid to his right and to the side of Pierzynski, and fired a strike to throw out the runner at second base. That’s an exceptional play and shows how good he can be defensively and how he can impact a game without a bat in his hands.
There is no question that Santana is a very good hitter, but with the defense he is a well-rounded player and a true elite player at a premium position. A guy that has the potential to be a perennial All Star and be one of the best players not only at his position, but in the league.
The Ubaldo trade (so far) has been a disaster
I consider myself to be a pretty patient person and fair. Where some people see a guy struggling the first two to three weeks of the season, or even the first month, I am usually one that will respond and say to give the guy at least 40 games or two full months before passing judgment.
But I am finding it harder and harder to have any hope that right-handed starting pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez is ever going to be the ace or top of the rotation arm the Indians believed they acquired when they picked him up from the Rockies last July. A trade which saw the Indians pay a steep price when they gave up their top two pitching prospects lefty Drew Pomeranz and righty Alex White along with two other solid prospects right-handed pitcher Joe Gardner and outfielder/first baseman Matt McBride.
Based on the returns to date from that trade, it has been a major disappointment. Jimenez has now made 16 starts as a Cleveland Indian and is 6-6 with a 5.07 ERA and 1.54 WHIP. He is averaging less than six innings a start, over a homer allowed every nine innings, 4.5 walks every nine innings, and 7.3 strikeouts every nine innings. Hardly ace-like if you ask me. In fact, that’s the kind of performance you’d expect from a fifth starter.
The Indians have absolutely not gotten back anything close to what they paid for. What makes it worse is just nine months after the trade one of the pitchers the Indians sent to the Rockies is already outperforming Jimenez. In eight starts for the Rockies, Pomeranz is 2-2 with a 4.70 ERA and 1.46 WHIP, is giving up half as many homers as Jimenez, less walks, and is striking out the same number of batters.
Pomeranz and White may be gone and are sunk costs in the deal, but they were valuable currency at the time of the trade. They could have been used to get a major impact bat, a different major impact starter, or simply kept and hopefully a part of the rotation for a long time. The deal is so one-sided at the moment that it is like the Indians spent $2000 on front row seats with backstage passes to see Bruce Springsteen (or some other major headline entertainer), but the ticket broker pulled one over on them and gave them front row seats and backstage passes to some crappy cover band.
There is still time for Jimenez to salvage this trade, but based on what we have seen so far how does anyone have any hope that he will turn it around? At this point I see absolutely no light at the end of the tunnel with Jimenez. Only darkness.
The trade is shaping up as one of the worst in Indians' history, and maybe the worst if Pomeranz and White become core pieces in the Rockies' staff the next six years. I gave the Indians' the benefit of the doubt at the time of the deal as I thought they knew something or saw something correctable, but wow, were they ever wrong. It happens and is the way the game is, but you just can't be this wrong on trades of this magnitude.
Entering this weekend’s home series with the Texas Rangers, the Indians have been a very poor draw in the early going at the gates. Through 11 home games they are averaging only 14,486 fans a game (33.3% capacity), which is dead last in baseball and an amazing 5,000 fans per night less than the 29th ranked team in attendance the Chicago White Sox who are averaging 19,900 a night.
For a team like the Indians that needs the revenue from gate receipts to compete and have any semblance of a payroll, this is not good.
Everyone has their reasons and theories as to why the Indians do not draw well. I still maintain that the reason is simply because 1.) the fans have lost faith in ownership and 2.) this is not a baseball town. (I much more believe in point two, but point one is noted.)
People will flock to go see the Browns no matter what the product is because it is football and this is a football town. But when it comes to the Indians – and the Cavaliers – people simply are not going to come unless the team is a winner and has players they can identify with.
The Indians attendance at this point may be unsalvageable. If the Dolan’s were to sell the team tomorrow and a new owner came in and spent $100M in payroll (he wouldn’t) and the team went out and won a World Series that year, I have a hard time believing that even in such a scenario that Progressive Field would be packed. Attendance would surely surge, but it would come nowhere near the nightly sellouts the team had in the 90s.
One thing to remember is that before Jacobs Field opened in 1994, the Indians drew pretty lousy. The outlier is the run in attendance they had from 1994-2001 as that was a unique situation with a brand new state-of-the art stadium, a winning team for the first time in almost two generations, and no Browns from three years from 1996-1998.
Throwing out 1993 since a lot of people made it to old Municipal Stadium simply because the ballpark was closing and was going to be torn down, here are the yearly attendance figures and ranks in what was at the time a 14 team American League: 1992 - 1.2 million (14th), 1991 - 1.0 million (14th), 1990 - 1.2 million (14th), 1989 – 1.3 million (13th), 1988 – 1.4 million (12th), 1987 – 1.1 million (14th), 1986 – 1.5 million (9th), 1985 – 655,000 (14th), 1984 – 734,000 (14th), 1983 – 769,000 (14th).
So over that ten year span before the opening of Jacobs Field (and eliminating the surge from the final year at the stadium), the Indians were dead last in attendance in the American League seven out of ten years, and second or third to last in two others. The only season they saw any kind of surge in attendance was that 1986 season, which is the year they got off to a good start and finished 84-78.
What this illustrates is that the concern with attendance is maybe overstated because it is a problem that has always been there. The new stadium and winning team in the 90s helped cover up the issue for a little bit, but it is a problem that never went away and looks like it is here again and to stay.
One thing is certain, and that is Manny Acta’s teams get off to good starts, at least in Cleveland. This of course is a stark contrast to the starts the Indians had under previous manager Eric Wedge.
This is Acta’s third season as manager of the Indians, and his 24-game starts to the season are 14-10 (2012), 16-8 (2011), and 10-14. This is good for a 40-32 record (.556) in the first 24 games of each season.
In Wedge’s seven seasons as manager the Indians’ record in their first 24 games were 9-15 (2009), 12-12 (2008), 16-8 (2007), 13-11 (2006), 9-15 (2005), 11-13 (2004), and 7-17 (2003). This was good for a 77-91 record (.458) in the first 24 games of each season.
They always say it is not how you start, it is how you finish. But slow starts can also put teams into catch up mode too early and bury them in the standings, which can make it awfully tough to come back from. Whatever Acta is doing in spring training to get these guys ready for the season, it is obviously working. Now if only he can get his teams to finish as strong as Wedge’s teams always did, then this team would really be going somewhere.
On Friday the Indians traded Triple-A Columbus outfielder Ryan Spilborghs to the Texas Rangers for cash considerations. The 32-year old was hitting .250 with 1 homer, 13 RBI and a .675 OPS in 21 games with Columbus this season. In seven Major League seasons he is a career .272 hitter with 42 HR, 218 RBI, and .768 OPS in 619 games.
The Indians signed Spilborghs to a minor league contract in the offseason and invited him to Major League spring training to win a job on the opening day roster. He was considered up until the final days of spring training, but the Indians chose to have Aaron Cunningham open the season as their fourth outfielder in Cleveland.
Right-handed pitcher Carlos Carrasco is still working his way back from Tommy John surgery. He is not expected to be a big league option this year, but may make a few appearances in some minor league games in August to help get him prepared for the 2013 season. … The Indians designated infielder Jose Lopez for assignment when they added outfielder Johnny Damon to the roster on Tuesday. Lopez has cleared waivers and been outrighted to Triple-A Columbus. … The Indians are now 9-3 on the road this year and have won all four road series’ they have played, which is the first time they have done that since 1961.
Follow Tony and the Indians Prospect Insider on Twitter @TonyIBI. Also, his new book the 2013 Cleveland Indians Baseball Insider which profiles the Indians' Top 100 Prospects and more is available for sale.
The risk on Colorado's part was can Pomeranz and/or White take the next step? Just go through Baseball America's top 100 prospects from five years ago and see how many have fallen by the wayside due to injury or poor performance. Especially pitchers.
It will take some time to know if this was a good deal. It wasn't made for last year, contrary to what you suggest. Pushing them over the top last year would have been just a side benefit. The Indians had to know they had a very low likelihood of taking over the Tigers at that time. It would have been the miracles of miracles with all the injuries they had. The trade was made primarily for 2012 and 2013.
We are five weeks into this season. For crying out loud, at least give them until the All-Star break to see if Ubaldo can turn it around. Yesterday is a good indication of what he can be. I wouldn't be surprised if he rattles off 10 in a row. And if he does, the Indians will be in first place on August 1.
Knowing what we know now, do the Indians even make this deal if it were presented to them now? Hell no. They probably don't even trade one of Alex White or Pomeranz for Ubaldo.
There were some glimmers of hope from today. He got some swinging strikes, though they were on his off speed pitches. He struck out 6 in 7 innings. But he also actually increased his walk rate. His FIP still stands at 5.76. If he can find his fastball, he can turn it around, but finding of said fastball is still entirely hypothetical at this point. I've been hoping since the day of the trade that one day I'd be happy he's an Indian. Hopefully, one day I will be.
1. Attendance is the worst in baseball and it is due to two things: 1. ownership that seems happy to just own a team and not do what it takes to field a winner, and 2. the Cleveland economy. HDTV is available in all other markets and it doesn't affect them. Weather is not a factor...we just had our best April in a long time.
2. Seth suggests Kluber or McAllister would be a better option than Ubaldo. That is so stupid it doesn't deserve a rebuttal. Pomeranz and White didn't even make the Rockies rotation out of spring training, so I don't see how anyone can say they are better options RIGHT NOW than Ubaldo. Readers of IPI way, way overvalue Indians prospects.
3. I didn't suggest waiting 5-7 years or 2-3 years to see if it pans out. I'm saying you don't know if it is a good deal or bad deal until you know if Pomeranz and/or White are major league pitchers, and until you know if Ubaldo turns it around. If today is any indication, Ubaldo is well on his way to doing just that. Saying the deal is a "disaster" after three months of baseball is ridiculous.
In the end, I think we'll be very happy Ubaldo is an Indian.
On the attendance thing....I don't see it changing at all. Last year even with a 30-15 start, it was barely affected and was awful. It simply is just not a baseball town. And with modern technology with HDTVs and great comfort at home in 68-71 degree indoor weather, who wants to bother planning to go to a game in April/May with crappy weather and bad temps? There really is no incentive for people to go to the games....even if they win or spend ridiculously. People will be excited, but I think people are just more inclined to watch on TV than bother going to the games. And, I think a small bit of it is still this feeling that "why bother" since MLB is so unfair and a lot of people have no faith in ownership. They are always waiting for the other shoe to drop....because it often does.
The Slowey trade is also not looking very good.
Fukodome trade = good
Thome trade = good
Jiminez trade = really bad
Lowe trade = great
Sizemore signing = looking poor
Kotchman signing = poor
I'm sure there was a ton of laughing in the Rockies camp last August 1st....
It would be interesting to compare the prospects the Indians gave up for Jiminez and the prospects the Tigers gave up for Fister and the Nationals gave up for Gio Gonzales. My guess is that it is close. Indians needed a return like the Tigers and Nationals received for their prospects.
Seth, I have all the games...will check it out after this game is over...
He does seem to have a little better velocity the last couple starts, but he's up in the zone again today. I'd be curious if someone's looked at the video of his first KC start, in the 5th and 6th innings to see if he was doing something different. Only time I saw him look dominant since he came to Cleveland. He was throwing 96, and with a pitch count around 100, and keeping it low in the zone, I remember him getting Butler on a particularly nasty set of pitches. The at bat against Young just now was also not bad too.
Now, as far as Ubaldo goes...point to one start in which you said to yourself, Yes, he's worth it. He did have a couple of solid starts last year...but past that...what is there...30 pitch innings and struggle...bad mechanics that coaches are afraid to touch, because it could hurt his psyche and his velocity...which, by the way, is already down via pitch fx by four MPH from two seasons ago.
If, as you say, they drafted him for the future, they have club control for two years after last season...and are through a month of that. How long do you figure it takes to fix the mechanics and the psyche and the potential for an injury that has the velocity down?...if he has one good start...can he replicate that twice?
You call Pomeranz a lock for a #2 or a #3...and while I think that thinking is suspect, I'd gladly take that over the #5 we got in return.
Now, Alex White. Anyone who calls White's ceiling a great bullpen guy either hasn't seen him pitch, or has been listening to a bunch of people that haven't seen him pitch saying that's his ceiling. He's currently starting at Colorado Springs, and doing quite well...and while rumors are circulating that he may be moved to the bullpen as a back-end set-up guy or closer, that's all it is...rumors. The fact is...Jeremy Guthrie just went down, and White is all but assured of claiming that spot on Tuesday...you know...as a starter, and that's the #4 slot, as their #5 slot is up as well.
...as it stands, a #3 and a #4 starter, and if you look at the Rockies rotation, do you really think Jamie Moyer is better than Pomeranz...or even White for that matter? What's that make them...#2 and #3?....just sayin'
The Indians did try and sign free agents this offseason, but they just didn't have the clout to beat out contending teams, and to be honest, there just weren't great free agents to be had...would have loved Beltran, but they finished second...and they went after Willingham and Pena, as well as some others, but didn't overspend on them either.
Point is, you could make a case they could have actually picked up a need...a better need than a struggling pitcher...like...I don't know...a right handed hitter for Pomeranz and White, but we'll never know, because they vastly overspent for a guy like Ubaldo...
Nobody wants the guy to succeed more than I do...but he not only hasn't...but has been horrible in the process...
What's the point of finishing second to the Tigers a couple of times in this hypothetical window with Pomeranz as a #2 or #3?Pomeranz will not be a number 1 before the window closes in 2015. The best White will be is a solid bullpen guy.
I don't see how anyone can say Pomeranz is a better option RIGHT NOW, after just a handful of major league starts.
You say the Indians have an inability to sign free agents. Let's face it, they aren't even trying. They'll take leftovers if they can get them for a bargain. If you aren't going to sign free agents, you have to use your prospects as currency and load up via that method. If it doesn't work out, so be it. Just sitting back and letting the minor league system produce a winner will never work.
Trading for Ubaldo may not work out, but I like the fact they are trying.
The fact of the matter with regards to Jimenez is when you deal two of your top five prospects, your traded for a #1...period...end of story. You aren't dealing for a guy who's going to take a year and a half to get right...
So...let's say it takes him the rest of this year to get right...then we get him for what...a year of being right...and let's face it, that's a big if...
How many years of control would we have with your if...Pomeranz? Yeah...a few more than Jimenez...
You said it yourself...possibly injured, and horrid mechanics...AND EVERYONE KNEW IT...and they still made the deal...
it can still be salvaged...but he has to turn it around...today...
Herb Score said pitchers are always traded for a reason. We now see why Ubaldo was traded. He may not be healthy, he seems a bit timid (the Tulo plunking notwithstanding), and his mechanics make even the best pitching coach shudder.
But, do we know why the Indians traded their pitching? White seems destined to be a middle reliever. Pomeranz could be an elite pitcher, but "could be" is the key. A couple of off-the-field incidents might be an indication of lack of maturity. Arm tightness earlier this year might mean Tommy John in the future. Who knows exactly why the Indians let him go. But I'm sure there was a reason.
While I, too, am disappointed Ubaldo hasn't come in and blown our socks off, I think we are still in a wait-and-see mode.