Saturday, March 1, 2008

Champagne or $2 Buck Chuck?

The fact that this Indians team is intact from last year has been well documented. Mark Shapiro and the rest of the Indians brass are banking on the fact that the team, being familiar with each other and comfortably set early on this spring, will be able to improve from last year and stay ahead of the retooled Tigers.
So what does that mean to Eric Wedge and his role in spring training? Based on the three games they have played to date, he is getting long looks at the guys who will comprise his minor league bench because the 25 guys that go to Cleveland at the end of this month are all but set, barring injuries or extremely poor showings. Let’s look:

Starting Pitching:
C.C. Sabathia
Fausto Carmona
Jake Westbrook
Paul Byrd
Cliff Lee

If Cliff Lee can regain his form that made him one of the Indians top pitchers from 2004 to 2006, the starting rotation is set and strong. Aaron Laffey, based on his 2007 performance will more than likely make the team as a long reliever but be ready to step into the #5 spot in case of an injury to one of the top 5. Jeremy Sowers could be the wild card here if he has a strong spring, shows that he too has regained his form, and someone else fails to impress. At any rate, Sowers is probably just a quick call away if needed.

Relief Pitching:
Rafael Betancourt
Rafael Perez
Joe Borowski
Masahide Kobayashi
Jensen Lewis
Aaron Laffey

Masa, based on his contract is more than likely a lock to break with this team and head north. Aaron Fultz appears to be the odd man out because having Masa as a set-up man frees Rafael Perez to work better in a lefty-lefty tandem with Aaron Laffey. The timing couldn't be better to trade Fultz. Although his numbers in 2007 point to a successful season, when he was bad, he was horrible! Tom Mastney will more than likely join the team as needed, when injuries dictate.

Travis Hafner

The big guy has to have a big year, bigger than his “human” year last season. Adjusting and successfully hitting to the left side of the field will neutralize the frustrating infield shift.

Grady Sizemore
Franklin Gutierrez
Jason Michaels
Ben Francisco
David Dellucci

Dellucci has to stay healthy. Where was Michaels in the playoffs last season? He was the forgotten man. It would be great to see Gutierrez and Francisco emerge as the everyday corner outfielders. Up and comer already impressive in this early spring training, Trevor Crowe is 3 for 5. When will he truly be ready?

Victor Martinez
Kelly Shoppach

What a great catching combo that work together so well and have so much respect for each other. Plus, they both produce! Ready if needed, Wyatt Toregas will work to stay ready in the event of an injury. Infielders:
Ryan Garko
Asdrubal Cabrera
Jhonny Peralta
Casey Blake
Josh Barfield
Andy Marte

Although these guys are more than likely set to come north as well, there is some tough competition already impressive in this young spring training; 1b Michael Aubrey is 4 for 5 and 2b Dave Sandoval is 2 for 7 with a huge home run. Marte, as everyone knows, is out of options and will come north, barring a trade. Veteran Jamey Carroll appears to be Josh Barfield's biggest threat at the other utility infield position but so far, Carroll is 0 for 2008. Look for Barfield to get back on track quickly this spring.

The point is, this team is already familiar with each other and now they can be fairly comfortable knowing they have all but secured a spot on the opening day roster. The advantage now should be to work together for the next 29 days and pick up where they left off last October. There could be some sound reasoning that, given the next 29 days to sync as a well oiled machine, the Indians can only improve over last year. The question remains, do they have enough to get to the World Series?

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