Monday, February 13, 2006

Bad bats

Zach thinks Indians management needs to apologize to fans for making us watch Class AAA legend Casey Blake play right field for 147 games last year.
I am among the fans who think an Indians ballclub that truly wants to view itself as a contender shouldn't have a spare part with a questionable hitter's eye manning a power position like right field for most of the season.
I also know that, love it or hate it, manager Eric Wedge has his reasons for sticking with Blake. And Aaron Boone. And Ben Broussard. And most of it has to do with the roster GM Mark Shapiro hands him.
Fans are antsy. They don't want another season of the Rally Killer B's batting seven, eight and nine in the order. But with a shackled payroll, Shapiro won't be wiping all three off the roster anytime soon.
Farm system analysts on and give prospects an estimated time of arrival, or ETA, in the big leagues. Below, I'll give you an estimated time of departure (ETD) for the much-maligned bottom third of the Indians order. My estimates are based on several factors, including who is in the farm system and how valubale Wedge and Shapiro view the player in question.

Aaron Boone, 3B
Age 32
2005: 143 games, .243, 16 HR, 60 RBI
ETD: End of 2006 season
Aaron Boone is an Eric Wedge type of guy. He's a company man who buys into the system and uses his veteran status to get the younger players to buy in as well. Wedge loves the leadership Boone brings to the table. But there is no secret that Boone is an old 32 with surgery-scarred knees. His .243 average last year is 22 points below his career average. And he needed a productive second half to even get that high.
The Indians made the Coco Crisp trade for one player above all else: third-base prospect Andy Marte. When Corey Smith fizzled, the Indians were left with no high-level prospects for the hot corner. Marte got his feet wet at the major league level with Atlanta last year. If he isn't ready to take his turn at the position at some point during the upcoming season, he should be ready by spring training 2007, spelling the end of the road for Boone in Cleveland. He can be a free agent after the '06 season.

Casey Blake, RF
Age 32
2005: 147 games, .241, 23 HR, 58 RBI
ETD: 2007 or 2008
Not what you expected? Sure, Blake can be a free agent after this season, but four factors will probably cause Shapiro to offer Blake a one- or two-year extension beforehand: he's affordable, versatile, plays a position with no top-flight prospects in the minors and, like Boone, is a great clubhouse guy.
Brad Snyder is the closest thing the Indians have to right field prospect. Even though he will likely start the season at Class AAA Buffalo, no one seems to know when/if Snyder will be ready for the big leagues, or if he will hit for enough power to play right field. That puts Blake on much more stable footing for 2006, despite his lackluster numbers.
Even if Snyder or someone else emerges as a right fielder of the future, Blake has proven he will make a drastic position change with no public complaint. In a sport saturated with huge egos, that is one of the quickest ways to a manager's heart. Whether in a starting role or off the bench, Wedge will probably always find a use for Casey Blake.

Ben Broussard, 1B
Age 29
2005: 142 games, .255, 19 HR, 68 RBI
ETD: 2006 or 2007
If Broussard were a catcher, his stat line would be easier to swallow. But he's a first baseman, and if you don't hit for either high power or a high average, you aren't cutting it.
Something is going to get re-configured in the Tribe's lineup either this year or next, and push Broussard out. Either Ryan Garko will move in at first base, or newly-acquired catcher Kelly Shoppach will step in behind the plate and allow Wedge to move Victor Martinez to first.
Broussard, with adequate power potential, could be a serviceable pinch hitter for a National League team. My guess is he gets traded.

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