Thursday, December 01, 2005

The Indians' Dilemma

I have not read any Indians message boards or listened to Cleveland sports talk lately, but knowing Indians fans(actually, probably all fans, it's just those are the ones I'm most familiar with) it's probably not pretty. Larry Dolan is probably being called cheap, and people are complaining that the Indians now have a chance to contend, and said they would spend money when they were ready to contend, so why aren't they?

It is true that the Indians have been hit by the free agent market, losing Bobby Howry to Cubs, and almost certainly they will lose Kevin Millwood. Howry signed a 3 year for $4 million a year--not completely unreasonable with the prices for relievers, but still not a contract that I would be rushing to give out. Howry missed 2003 with an injury, and had half a season in 2004. The Indians then worked him extremely hard in 2005(79 games, 73 innings). And Howry had a huge season--I have him ranked as the 5th best reliever in the AL, with +29 RAR and a 2.36 RRA(as he was +4.8 on his inherited runners, one of the best figures in the league). He had a brilliant 2.01 eRA which was second only to Mariano Rivera. On the downside, though, are the injuries, his age(33 next year), his 3.98 G-F(anything under 4 is pretty good, but that's not a dominant figure or anything), and the fact that he allowed a %H of just .220 last year. His GRA is 3.62, not nearly as dazzling as the 2.01 eRA.

The story is similar with Millwood. Great season, but not great peripherals. Solid peripherals that indicate that he should continue to be a quality starter, but not the 5th best starter in the league as he was this year. He had a 3.44 RA, but his eRA was 4.08 and his GRA was 4.33. He also was in Cleveland only because he had injury concerns coming in to last season. He will be 32 next year and pitched only 192 innings and 99 pitches/start, lower then many of the other top pitchers.

Millwood and Howry will probably be better then whoever the Indians bring in to replace them, but will they be better at the end of their contracts then the guys the Indians could replace them with then? The answer to that question bodes better for the Tribe then the first one.

As far as I'm concerned, if you're going to spend a lot of money in the market, you should save it and buy the real quality. A guy who would have been great is Brian Giles for a 3 year deal. His power has declined( just a .187 ISO), but he led the NL in OBA. If the Indians had Giles in RF instead of Casey Blake last year, they would have won the division. Giles resigned with the Padres for just $10 million/year, which is not unreasonable. Perhaps there was a hometown discount factor in that Cleveland and other teams could not match.

The unfortunate thing is that the Indians will probably spend money on fairly mediocre free agents because they feel obligated. One hopes that they wouldn't overspend for Trevor Hoffman, or Paul Byrd, or Braden Looper, but you never know. There are also no really good options at the outfield corners and first base, the positions the Indians really need to address. Giles would have been nice, but the pickings are slim past that.

As the AL Central race begins to take shape for next year, the big move has been Jim Thome traded to Chicago and Konerko retained. They overpaid big-time for Konerko, who was just +18 RAA at first base; very good, but not a star in any meaningful sense. He was +7 in '04 and an atrocious -2 RAR in '03. Again, he's better then his likely replacement, but it's a horrific signing. The White Sox offense may even improve, but there is no way that their pitching can maintain what they did a year ago--not only did a number of guys have career years, they already beat their eR by 44 runs. The Twins should bounce back, but with essentially a .500 team last year, they have a ways to bounce. I would rate the Indians a slight favorite, even despite their losses, but it should be a good race.

1 comment:

  1. If the Tribe signs Weaver, the rotation is about equal to last year's. Byrd will be disgustingly overpaid, but he is Elarton's equal.

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