Monday, July 31, 2006

The Mets curse?

Just to reassure Clevelanders, freakish injuries do happen to players on teams in other cities. Even New York.
Just ask the Mets, who are now scrambling to find warm arms after right-handed setup man Duaner Sanchez was lost for the season after separating his pitching shoulder in a car accident Sunday.
The loss of Sanchez leaves a LeCharles Bentley-sized hole in the Mets bullpen. He was 5-1 with a 2.60 ERA this season. Opponents were batting .223 against him.

Banking on trades

Indians GM Mark Shapiro did his best to leave the door open for Ronnie Belliard following his trade to the Cardinals Sunday.
"That absolutely is still possible," Shapiro said when reporters asked him about Belliard returning as a free agent in the offseason. "We hope he will consider coming back."
Belliard will indeed consider coming back. What he won't consider is accepting the two-year, $8 million contract you'll offer him. Not when the Cardinals will probably offer him four years and $24 million to stay. Not when the Braves or another team might jump into the fray and also offer Belliard $20-30 million.
As I write this, baseball's trading deadline is about seven hours away. Any other major moves the Indians are going to make to improve the standing of next year's team are probably going to happen between now and then.
If there is one thing we have learned over the past couple of years, it's that the the Tribe's money is fool's gold come wintertime. Every fall, they speak of adding significant pieces to the roster, or making competitive offers to their own free agents, but every winter it's the same story. The Indians approach free agents with a handful of cash and a hopeful smile, while other teams back up the Brinks truck and sweep the free agents off their feet.
We have no reason to believe the coming offseason will be any different, certainly as the fan base is systematically turned off by a smoking crater of a season. The Indians will draw over two million fans to Jacobs Field this year. Think they will even approach two million next year? That's a palpable drop in revenue they should already see coming.
The prospect of another minimally productive offseason puts a high amount of pressure on Shapiro to make the most of the mini-fire sale he's been conducting for the past month.
Shin-Soo Choo, Hector Luna, Asdrubal Cabrera and Max Ramirez aren't the appetizer. They're the main course. You want improvements for 2007? If you're looking at Choo and Luna, you're looking at them.
It's disheartening to think that Choo and Luna might be the two best players the Indians add to the roster between this summer and next February. But until Shapiro and owner Larry Dolan team up to make a free agent splash worth noticing, or the equivalent in a trade, it's smart to assume that the coming offseason will produce another slew of Jason Johnsons and Todd Hollandsworths signed on the cheap.
The Tribe's offseason chronologically begins after the 162nd game, when this season is mercifully euthanized. But the Indians' real offseason might effectively end at 4 p.m. Monday, by when they very possibly might have made the biggest strides they are going to make toward recovering in 2007.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Give Floyd Landis a break

So Tour de France winner Floyd Landis tested positive for elevated testosterone levels. Big deal. I am ready to forgive. Why aren't you? He didn't duck the accusations. He appeared in front of the cameras Friday and addressed the issue.
In an era when suspected doper Barry Bonds is closing in on baseball's all-time home run record, and fellow suspected doper Jason Giambi offered an apology but never specified exactly for what, Landis' candid approach is refreshing.
He sat down, stared those cameras eye-to-eye, and admitted .... that he has a freakishly high level of naturally-occurring testosterone in his system.
Wait, huh?
So what exactly is he admitting to by announcing that he has a surplus of natural testosterone in his system? That's such a loaded comment, it goes far beyond whether Landis deserves to keep his Tour de France title.
It's like a bank cornering an employee accused of theft and the employee saying, "I used to run a gambling ring for the mob."
You just opened a whole other can of worms, Mr. Landis. We might never find out exactly what elevated levels of testosterone means, but we can guess:

1. Landis needs his athletic supporters special ordered in size XXXXXL.
2. Landis only learned to walk normally last year.
3. Landis needs special sperm count-friendly bike seats.
4. Landis' bum hip is the result of added weight in his pelvic region.
5. Landis refers to Lance Armstrong as "Johnny One-Nut."
6. Landis named two of his male-specific organs "John Stockton" and "Karl Malone" because they work so well together.
7. Dozens of sperm banks have briefed Landis on supply-chain management.
8. Landis would love to wear Spandex more often, but it hurts too much.
9. Landis will soon meet with fashion designers to create a line of loose-crotch outerwear suitable for "the well-endowed man on the go."
10. Landis will begin a nationwide television ad campaign called "I don't take Viagra. Suckers."

With all that in mind, I don't see how the Tour de France will revoke Landis' championship. After all, you don't want to make a man with naturally high testosterone levels angry.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Andy Marte recalled

The long-awaited day is finally here. Ramon Vazquez has been demoted to Class AAA Buffalo.
In other news, much-hyped third base prospect Andy Marte has been recalled to replace him.
The Indians reportedly had been trying to move Aaron Boone prior to promoting Marte, but have had no takers. So the answer, at least for the near future, appears to be a platoon situation between Boone and Marte.
GM Mark Shapiro has been Deadheading around the minors for the past few days to get a realistic picture of what we can all expect from Marte.
Shapiro's conclusion, as printed in The Plain Dealer Friday:
"Marte looked better in spring training. He needs work ... We've got to start the transition soon. That means he's probably going to struggle a little bit when he gets here."
Just brace yourself for the Coco Crisp trade to look like a complete Boston hose job, at least for right now. Marte was batting .261 with 15 homers and 46 RBI at Buffalo. Not the type of numbers you'd expect from a thoroughbred prospect.
He also has nearly 20 errors at third base, though reportedly most of those happened early in the season.
At first, the difference between Marte and Boone is going to be negligible. Boone might even be better. But Marte, 23, is on his way up and Boone, 33, is on his way down. On a team in possession of a season that has already been thrown in the trash, you always lean toward the guy with the upside.
So it is with a collective gulp and turn of the switch that the Indians bring up the curtain on the Andy Marte Era in Cleveland. Within a year, we'll have enough evidence to render a verdict on the Crisp deal. Shapiro's reputation as a GM is on the line, and he knows it. You don't whiff on a trade this big without some serious damage to your professional reputation.
Marte has the talent to vindicate Shapiro and then some. Marte was groomed by the Atlanta Braves, without a doubt one of the best organizations in baseball. If the Braves' brass says Marte is a good one, I am inclined to believe them.
Sure, there's always the "If he's so good, why did they trade him?" argument. But even if you don't believe in the Indians' ability to use good judgment, remember that Braves dealt him to the Red Sox, another wheeler-dealer organization that doesn't like to get taken advantage of. At the time they acquired Marte, I'm sure the Red Sox had no intention of turning around and dealing him yet again. But then Johnny Damon left for the Yankees and the Red Sox were left without a center fielder.
This is what passes for intrigue when your team sits 23 1/2 games out of first place. Marte and fellow newcomer Shin-Soo Choo will probably both be in the lineup tonight when the Indians host Seattle. If you can't hold out hope for this year, at least you can dream about what might be in 2007.

Regrouping the next day

LeCharles Bentley is out for the season. There's nothing you, I Romeo Crennel or Phil Savage can do about it.
In retrospect, it's something that was probably bound to happen. Bentley has had numerous knee problems over the course of his career. The accompanying widely-ciruclated picture shows him wearing a rather large knee brace on his non-injured right leg.
Something was probably bound to tear, break or rupture in one of his knees sooner or later.
I know we're all crying "Cleveland curse" right now. It sure seems too strange to be true that Bentley was injured on the first play of the first 11-of-11 practice of training camp, a non-contact drill.
But let's look on the bright side. As Matt Sussman points out, given the choice between losing LeCharles and another Cleveland athlete whose name starts with "Le," you'd take LeCharles every time.
It sucks, but now that we've spent about 24 hours moping, let's count our blessings.

The timing of the injury allows the Browns to regroup.
By the time the first preseason game rolls around in two weeks, the initial shock will be over and Browns will have accepted the fact that 2006 will not include Bentley in uniform. New starting center Bob Hallen will have been taking snaps with the first team for a while, and the offensive line will have formed the cohesion with Hallen that they would have formed with Bentley.
That's not to say the loss of Bentley isn't still huge, but cohesion is more than half the battle with a football line.
The early date of the injury also allows Savage time to find another veteran lineman. This is a true test of Savage's GM skills. Can he root through the clearance rack and find a serviceable veteran lineman who can at least plug the role Hallen is now vacating as the backup guard/center? If the Browns can lose Bentley and Savage can still put together a solid offensive line, he deserves Executive of the Year consideration.

Bentley will still be there.
It's not like Bentley is packing up and going home for the year, or at least he shouldn't be. The Browns can still make use of his infectious energy and team spirit, something that has been missing from the Browns' locker room pretty much since the team re-entered the league. Hopefully Bentley emerges from surgery today with his big smile and go-getter attitude intact. If he does, his teammates should be exposed to him as much as possible.

The Browns' backs will be to the wall from Day One.
How is that good? Look at the Indians, who got fat and lazy in the offseason and are now paying the price. Bentley's injury should drive home to the Browns' players that this team isn't good enough to take plays off, and had better bring the energy for 60 minutes, every Sunday. This is a good litmus test for how tough this team can be.

Curb your enthusiasm.
Admit it, Browns fans are loyal like dogs. Lure us with a Milk Bone nine times, squirt us with the hose nine times, and we'll still come back a 10th time.
It doesn't take much for Clevelanders to get their hopes up, especially when it comes to our beloved Brownies. Usually, those hopes are met with a sledgehammer and we are left kicking our TV sets, feeling like suckers.
Bentley's injury is a reminder that this team is still a minimum of two years from serious contention, maybe more. Instead of getting suckered in with some sexy free-agent signings and feeling like a dope in November, the Bentley injury should offer us a chance to step back and take a wait-and-see attitude with this team. Does a team that went 6-10 a year ago deserve anything more?

We've dodged other bullets.
Anything that can go wrong doesn't always go wrong in Cleveland. It just seems that way. The 2005 Indians dodged some major bullets. Kevin Millwood signed a one-year deal after spraining his elbow. Cleveland logic says he should have destroyed his elbow in spring training. Instead, he won an ERA title.
Bob Wickman needed Tommy John surgery in 2002, then re-injured his pitching elbow in 2004. Cleveland logic says his career should have been over. Instead, he saved 45 games last year.
LeBron James has pulled himself up numerous times after writhing on the court in pain and having every Cleveland fan thinking "This is it. He's done."
Larry Hughes broke his finger, needed additional surgery, and still made it back for the playoffs. His effectiveness was compromised due to rust, but there were no signs of crippling arthritis or bone joint disease.
Maybe with Bentley, it was time for us to pay the piper.

There was no sign of Carmen Policy at training camp yesterday.
Or Butch Davis, or John Collins, or Dwight Clark, or Pete Garcia, or Chris Palmer, or Jeff Garcia.
In other words, the Browns are now in much better hands. The spin doctoring and mollycoddling is out. We at least know Crennel and Savage will deal with Bentley's injury and the subsequent fallout in a straightforward, realistic manner that gives this team the best chance to emerge stronger. That's about all you can ask for.

And, no, Zach. Reuben Droughns did not fumble on the play.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

We had to see it coming

It appears LeCharles Bentley has ruptured the patellar tendon in his left knee. Bye bye 2006 season. Bye bye ability to stop teams like the Steelers and Ravens from relentlessly blitzing up the middle. Bye bye Charlie Frye in the pocket. Bye bye effective between-the-tackles running game.
With this loss, the Browns are now dramatically downgraded from possible fringe playoff contender to likely AFC dreg. Only the loss of Charlie Frye would have hurt this offense more.
The onus is now on the defense to pickup the slack for what is a mortally wounded offensive unit.
And to think, we still have two weeks of training camp and four exhibition games to go before the season even begins. Plenty of time for the freak injuries to mount. Plenty of time for Frye to break something.
I've noticed something about this curse we have hanging around town. When it comes to the Indians and Cavaliers, the curse toys with us. It dangles the carrot, then yanks it away. Its methods of torment are far more cerebral.
The Indians are riding high in 2005, in the gutter in 2006. We get to wait on pins and needles for a week while LeBron says nothing about his contract extension, then when he finally does sign, it's for fewer years than was offered.
That kind of torture is the equivalent of captors who kick in the cell door at all hours of the day and night for sporadic interrogation sessions, trying to disrupt the prisoner's sense of routine and normalcy.
With the Browns, the torture is far more straightforward and savage, like frequent floggings. Most of the time it comes in the form of severe injuries (Bentley, Braylon Edwards) or team leaders who appear to be losing their grip on sanity (Butch Davis, John Collins).
To use a nature documentary analogy, when it comes to the Indians and Cavs, the curse toys with us the way a cat toys with a mouse before it moves in for the kill, pawing at it and harassing it.
With the Browns, the curse strikes like a snake eating an unfortuate rodent. It clamps on our throats before we even have a chance to hope and waits for the life to quickly wriggle out of every season before it even starts.
We thought the Browns' productive offseason was a harbinger of better things to come. But in Cleveland, "better things to come" is just surviving to play next week.

Bentley: best and worst case

Still no official word out of Berea on what injury LeCharles Bentley sustained to his left knee during the very first scrimmage play of the very first practice on the first full day of training camp.
Bentley was throwing a block for Reuben Droughns when he apparently got caught in a pile of 300-pound trench oxen. Someone apparently landed on his leg.
It's the running Cleveland curse joke about the star free agent tripping over his shoelaces on the way to his very first practice and breaking his ankle, but it's come to life.
The good news, relatively speaking, from early reports have medical staffers hypothesizing about an injured patellar tendon. It's good news in that it's not a ligament they appeared to be worried about. Ligament damage means reconstucting the knee. Tendon damage is still serious, but the surgery probably would not be as involved and would require a shorter recovery time.
We likely won't know anything for certain until the MRI results hit the airwaves. In the meantime, we are left to imagine the various scenarios.

Best-case scenario
Bentley tweaked something in the knee but did no structural damage. No surgery is required, the pain subsides quickly, but as a precaution, the Browns hold him out of action for a while. He might miss the first two preseason games regardless of how he feels. No matter how minor the actual injury is, it is still going to cut into his preparation time for the season. Even if he can suit up for the Sept. 10 opener, he will probably still be playing catch-up both in his conditioning and understanding of the offensive schemes. Any way you slice this, it is going to cut into his season.

Next-best-case scenario
Bentley did damage that requires a less-severe arthroscopic procedure. In that case, he might be looking at a four-to-six week recovery time. He'd return in the first quarter of the season, but it would be like starting on the first day of camp all over again. Still, he'd be on the field for most of the season and hopefully caught up and playing well by November and December.

Really bad scenario
A total rupture of the patellar tendon. Doctors have to cut on the knee to repair the damage, almost certainly wiping out his 2006 season. But it's still not major structural damage that could require a year or more to recover from. With proper rehab, he would be good to go in 2007.

Start drinking right now
MRI results show he ruptured one or more ligaments in the knee. Reconstructive surgery is required. Bentley is on the mend for a year, and is required to wear a bulky brace next season. His mobility is compromised and he suddenly slips from Pro Bowler to worse than Jeff Faine. The Browns can no longer build an offensive line around him.

Bentley hurt

The Browns season might have just been dealt an enormous blow Thursday morning as stud offensive lineman LeCharles Bentley was reportedly wheeled off the practice field with an air cast on his left leg. is reporting it as "what appears to be a serious injury to his left knee."
Bentley, a center, was supposed to be the Pro Bowl anchor to what was a vastly improved offensive line. If he is done for the year, the continuity of the offense is altered dramatically and the chances of the Browns having a competitive season go way down.
We'll see what the diagnosis and prognosis is, but right now it doesn't look good.
Welcome back to Cleveland, LeCharles.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The fire sale continues

It took about a month, but the Mariners now have both halves of the Indians' prized first-base platoon from April.
At the start of July, the Indians dealt Eduardo Perez to Seattle for infield prospect Asdrubal Cabrera. Wednesday, the Indians sent Ben Broussard to the Mariners for outfield prospect Shin-Soo Choo.
Unlike Cabrera or Max Ramirez, who was acquired from the Braves for Bob Wickman last week, Choo has played in the bigs, albeit briefly. And he has some shiny minor-league numbers.
At Class AAA Tacoma, the 24-year-old is hitting .323 with 13 homers and 48 RBI. His 26 stolen bases suggests some real speed, something that has been missing from the Indians organization for quite some time.
In 14 big-league at-bats spanning this year and last, Choo has two hits, one of them a double.
Choo looks like he'll bring some speed to the Tribe's attack sooner rather than later. Hopefully he carries that .300-plus batting average with him to the majors. If he does, the Indians might have their leadoff hitter that will allow them to move Grady Sizemore to the third spot in the batting order.
I can't fault the trade, at least not now, but for the first time this year, it really feels like a fire sale is in progress. I was never a huge Ben Broussard fan. He frustrated me with his tendency to have intermittent hot streaks between long stretches of absolutely nothing. I chalked up his hot year (.321 at the time of the trade) mostly to having Perez and Victor Martinez platooning with him, shielding him from left-handed pitching.
But Broussard has been a part of this rebuilding process from the get-go. He's been this team's starting first baseman since 2003. Even though Broussard couldn't be considered a "core player" by the Indians front office, this was still the termination of a long-term commitment by the Indians to a player who still has the balance of his career ahead of him.
Perhaps the Indians punted the season away when they dealt Wickman. But he wasn't going to be back next year anyway. Losing Broussard feels like a major piece of the team has been sacrificed, even if the presences of Martinez and Ryan Garko should help the Indians recover quickly.
With the number of young players the Indians have, and the number of capable players at Class AAA, I know this might only been a yearlong retooling. But it's incredible how much this feels like 2002 all over again. Watching players get sent off to better teams while your own team is wallowing in the misery of the mess it created.
But I guess seasons like this are inevitable for a small-market baseball team.
Last year, the Indians gave us a taste of what they can do. This year, they are reminding us of what, from time to time, they must do.

Deadspin does it again -- 701 hits

Turns out, my 223-hit day last month was a mere stepping stone. once again linked one of my posts in their "Blogdome" section, resulting in a record-smashing 701 hits to this site on Tuesday.
The honored post this time was "Training camp quotes."
On the subject of that post, I have to offer an apology after hearing some people verbally cringe at the Chad Johnson/Hezbollah reference. I was trying to nail Johnson's unapologetic self-promotion, but perhaps the Hezbollah reference was a bit too over the top given recent current events.
Regardless, thanks to everyone for visiting this site, and keep on visiting.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Soriano to White Sox?

Reports say the White Sox are close to landing Alfonso Soriano. If that happens, the rest of the American League, with the possible exception of Detroit, can just call it a season.
If the White Sox acquire Soriano and sign him to an extension, they might be talking dynasty on the South Side, and with good reason.
I fear this is becoming a Cavs-Bulls situation for the Indians. It didn't matter how good a job Wayne Embry did putting a team together because, come playoff time, the Cavs simply didn't have an answer for Michael Jordan.
It might not matter how good a job Mark Shapiro does in shoring up the Indians roster this winter, because there is simply no way the cash-strapped Indians will be able to top an insanely deep, talented and experienced White Sox club.

Training camp quotes

As players arrive at training facilities around the NFL, so do the cameras and microphones. Here are some things I'd like to hear those recording devices pick up as training camp gets underway:

"I'm not wearing a helmet on the field anymore. They're confining, cumbersome and the ladies can't get a good look at my manly stubble. Besides, I am a careful football player. I take every precaution to make sure I don't get hurt."
--Ben Roethlisberger

"I ditched the motorcycle riding for boating. It's just as cool as motorcycles. Ask any boater. You got to dodge all those jet skiers out there. They don't give a crap about you. And I don't give a crap about them. It's every man for himself out on the lake. I'll kill them if I have to. This is war! I'm a sailor!"
--Kellen Winslow Jr.

"Stop asking my son about boating, or I'll put your head through a fiberglass hull, little man."
-Kellen Winslow Sr.

"Routes? I ain't gotta run no damn routes. They know where I am."
--Terrell Owens

"Grebsr frwqusr playbfegeh .... Quarterbafdkfsdfv shhgehf kmbfznxefel."
--Bill Belichick

"What's it like to have hot sex with Paris Hilton? I don't know. I haven't been able to get on her schedule in three months."
--Matt Leinart

"Holy shit, I signed with the Arizona Cardinals?"
--Edgerrin James

"T.O. ain't gotta run no damn routes. He knows who he has to block downfield."
--Bill Parcells

"My bunions hurt. Where are my dentures? That girl is ugly. You all suck. I'm moving my team to China."
--Al Davis

"Who needs the NFL? If you pop these little green pills and close your eyes, you can imagine yourself at a football game. Klingons versus a race of super-intelligent spider people. On the Sun."
--Nondescript Los Angeles football fan

"Hee hee.... ha ha haha ..... HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!!!!! (puff puff) .... Canada. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!"
--Ricky Williams

"It must be tough for all the other guys in this locker room, knowing they'll never be as good as me ... wait, what do you mean I'm cut?"
--Keyshawn Johnson

"Every cornerback in the NFL is my bitch. I'm taking out a full-page ad in every newspaper in the country to let them know how much they all suck, and how I'm going to embarrass them this year. And I ain't stopping at cornerbacks. I personally challenge Hezbollah to come over and try to kick my ass. Send your best over here. Just try to get me. You can't do it. I positively rule."
--Chad Johnson

"Santonio Holmes is going to be out for a few weeks. I caught him selling marijuana in the men's room, and I chin-butted him."
--Bill Cowher

"We regret to inform our fans that Donovan McNabb will miss the entire 2006 season after burning his throwing hand on a scalding hot bowl of Chunky Soup."
--News release from the Philadelphia Eagles

"We regret to inform our fans that, due to repeated failures on the part of management, we have decided to close our football operations and open a Chunky Soup canning plant."
--News release from Lions GM Matt Millen

"The beginning of football season is .... (sob) oh, I promised myself I wouldn't do this ... it's so damn beautiful (SOB). I ... I just love everything about it. I just love these guys and love their dedication (SOB SOB). I'd put a knife in my gut for these guys. I really would. It's just so damn beautiful...."
--Dick Vermeil

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Waiting on Charlie Frye

To look at him, you'd never equate Charlie Frye with an NFL franchise quarterback.
He doesn't have the broad shoulders and flowing blonde locks of John Elway. He doesn't look like David Hasselhoff in shoulder pads like Dan Marino.
Frye's skinny build, red hair and round face say "accounting firm intern" more than "hopes of an entire city resting on his shoulders."
Yet that's exactly what Frye has to bear as he heads into his sophomore NFL season.
Selected in the third round a year ago, he was a Mid-American Conference project player. Even though the MAC has had a recent history of producing good NFL quarterbacks, some wondered if Frye had the tools to make it in the NFL. His arm was suspect, he never won a championship in college, and he desperately needed to hit the weight room.
Frye was kind of the equivalent of a "draft-and-watch" player in baseball. Select him, coach him, but make other plans. Success is not guaranteed for a player with the limited physical gifts of Frye.
So the Browns did make other plans, trading for Trent Dilfer, who was thought to be a serviceable option for the next few years. Frye could sit on the bench and be given time to ferment while the latest rebuilding process took root. If he became fine wine, the Browns would have their quarterback of the future. If Frye never progressed beyond grape juice, they'd have to burn a future draft pick on another quarterback.
But, as has been the story of the Browns in recent years, their best-laid plans were wadded up and thrown in the trash.
Dilfer was mediocre at best behind a porous offensive line. With the season lost, Frye relieved and led the Browns to several late-season wins, pushing the final record to a somewhat-respectable 6-10.
The Browns moved Frye to the top spot on the depth chart with the knowledge that Dilfer remained as a competent backup. But unlike Jon Kitna, who remained supportive after losing his starting job to Carson Palmer in Cincinnati, Dilfer wanted nothing to do with a bench role and demanded a trade.
So the Browns dumped him into the 49ers' lap for unproven career backup Ken Dorsey.
Now, as training camp commences, Frye is working without a safety net. If he struggles, the Browns are dead in the water. There is no fallback, unless a late trade or signing yields a competent veteran quarterback content to hold a clipboard and be a mentor.
As Dilfer proved, veteran quarterbacks with that level of humility are a rare breed.
Due to a series of unfortunate events, Frye has been thrust into a situation where he must succeed. If he goes down, chances are he's taking the Browns with him.
It's a lot to place on the narrow shoulders of a young quarterback less than 20 months removed from the last game of his midmajor college career.
In five seasons, the Browns never placed this kind of pressure on Tim Couch. Sure, they spewed forth rhetoric about Couch's franchise quarterback status in much the same way the Indians trumpet C.C. Sabathia as a staff ace. But franchise quarterbacks generally aren't knighted as such, they usually respond to the challenge placed upon them.
With Couch, there was usually a working backup plan. He and Kelly Holcomb were subbed for each other so many times it would make a tag-team wrestler's head spin.
The Browns have no such luxury with Frye. And for that reason, he has an opportunity to become more of a franchise quarterback than Couch could have ever hoped to have been in Cleveland.
The Browns need Frye even more than Frye needs the Browns. For a gangly kid from Willard, Ohio who grew up rooting for Bernie Kosar, it's a situation he might have never envisioned, at least quite like this.
Every boy who grows up a Browns fan dreams about being the quarterback who can slay the mighty Elway dragon and take the Browns to the Super Bowl. But for the Browns and Frye, the dream has to be a lot more fundamental, at least in 2006.
The Browns desperately need Frye to emerge from the 2006 season as a competent NFL quarterback who stayed on the field for 16 games, regardless of the final win-loss ledger.
If Frye can't meet that challenge, it could set the Browns back years.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Kamerion Wimbley signs

On the eve of training camp, a forgettable streak has ended for the Browns. Their first-round pick, linebacker Kamerion Wimbley, has reportedly agreed to terms and will be in uniform tomorrow when rookies are scheduled to report to camp.
It is the first time since Courtney Brown in 2000 that the Browns have had a first-round draft pick in camp on time. Their previous two first-rounders -- Kellen Winslow Jr. and Braylon Edwards -- had holdouts that lasted for weeks and created tension within the organization.
I'd like to take this as a sign that the Browns are starting to figure out how to run a winning ballclub. Hopefully all the off-the-field drama will start to give way to on-the-field drama in the form of playoff football.
At least we know Wimbley will be on board from Day One.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Hot for Hillenbrand

Shea Hillenbrand is a man without a team for very obvious reasons. He didn't just sulk when he got benched by Blue Jays manager John Gibbons, he got livid.
You think Lou Piniella and Rob Dibble didn't see fist-to-eye? You think Davey Johnson and Bobby Bonilla got chippy with each other? You ain't seen nothing yet.
Hillenbrand and Gibbons hate each other. That's said about a lot of players and coaches, but it's true here.
After getting benched for a couple of days, Hillenbrand reportedly wrote that the Blue Jays are "a sinking ship" on a clubhouse dry-erase board, which caused Gibbons to tell Hillenbrand that he "wouldn't see the field as long as I'm here."
That set Hillenbrand off, which reportedly caused Gibbons to challenge Hillenbrand to an old-fashioned barroom brawl. Fists didn't fly, but Gibbons reportedly went to Blue Jays management afterward with a "he goes or I go" ultimatum. So the Jays designated Hillenbrand for assignment, and will attempt to trade him.
Hillenbrand is a high-temperature player. And, you know what, I think he'd be a perfect fit for the Indians, a team with a thermostat set at a constant 68 degrees.
So, how about it, Mark Shapiro? Want to put some hot sauce on your steak? Want to live dangerously? Want to make a right-hand turn without signaling? Then trade for Hillenbrand.
Eric Wedge will love you for it. Can't you just see it now?

Hillenbrand comes storming into Wedge's office after finding out he's not in the lineup....

Hillenbrand: I'M NOT PLAYING TODAY, HUH, MOTHERF&%KER?? WHAT'S UP WITH THAT?? YOU WANNA MANAGE FROM A HOSPITAL BED, BITCH?? (knocks some pencils off Wedge's desk and glares at him).

Wedge (thumbing through paperwork): Well, Shea, if you look at section eight of the team bylaws, paragraph 22, subsection 1.4, you'll see that I lawfully reserve the right to take players out of the lineup on an as-needed basis, provided the proper statutory requirements have been met and I've filed an AZ-422 form with the front office and sent requisite copies to Mr. Dolan and Mark Shapiro. It's all here in this accordion folder---


Wedge: Unfortunately, by threatening physical violence, you have now created an unsafe and/or threatening work environment, which is not permissible under the Unsafe And/Or Threatening Work Environment Act of 2003. Now we will have to fill out, co-sign and file a Form XY-22-DSH1 with the Labor Practices Board and wait for them to convene, which could take 6-to-8 weeks. I can't play you until they have made a ruling on this interaction.

Hillenbrand: THIS IS BULLSH*T! I'LL KICK YOUR ASS! (stands chest to chest with Wedge).

(In walks Mark Shapiro)

Shapiro: What's all the racket in here? It sounds like someone is creating an unsafe and/or threatening work environment.

Wedge: Unfortunately, it was Mr. Hillenbrand. I have informed him of the requisite paperwork he now needs to fill out and submit.

Shapiro: Good job, Mr. Wedge.

Wedge: And as always, a good job done by you, Mr. Shapiro.

Both Wedge and Shapiro speak: Well, now, Mr. Hillenbrand--

Wedge: I apologize. Please proceed, Mr. Shapiro

Shapiro: Oh, no, that was my fault, please continue.

Wedge: Oh, I insist. It's better you speak to the insubordinate player.


Shapiro: You know, it's time to approve the bathroom use requisitions from the past 24 hours.

Wedge: Oh, I love to do that! (motions to the office door) After you, Mr. Shapiro.

Shapiro: No, no after you.

Wedge: No, after you, I insist.

Shapiro: Absolutely not. After you....

Circular logic

Think the Indians are chasing their tails? It's not just your imagination, says The Plain Dealer's Bill Livingston today.
That organization-wide lack of urgency you have long suspected is there, and it's there by design.
It's what I, and many Indians fans, have feared since this rebuilding process got underway in 2002: the Indians are proving to be adept at grooming talent, but poor at actually translating that talent into winning baseball.
The result could be a lot of really good players who play out the string here in Cleveland without ever reaching the playoffs, then leave for another team where they become icons and win championships.
Why is this happening? As Livingston points out, you can look at the two-headed monster of Eric Wedge and Mark Shapiro for starters.
Wait, did I say two-headed monster? I meant one-headed. Newlyweds only wish they could become one body, one mind and one soul the way the Indians manager and general manager have.
I'm sure the pair have their disagreements, but they are more of the "stop leaving toast crumbs in the butter" variety. As far as bringing different philosophies to the table, you aren't going to find it here.
Wedge and Shapiro constantly rubber-stamp each other's moves in a circular pattern of back-patting that makes an organizational jump-start nearly impossible.
There is no competition like there was between John Hart and Mike Hargrove. There is no desire on the part of one or the other to prove that he is really the man behind the team. When one stumbles, as Shapiro did with his lackluster series of moves this past winter, no one gets the sense that the other is creeping ahead in the ego race.
That's not to say the Indians would be in better hands if the team were led by a pair of pompous, egotistical jerks, but a healthy underlying competition between the team architect and the field general can prod a team to get better, because they prod each other to get better.
Boats don't move on placid water. They need wind and waves to reach their destinations.
Quiet stability is a necessary incubator for young talent. Wedge and Shapiro provided that for three years. But now that the time has come to kick it up an Emeril-sized notch and start winning, Wedge and Shapiro can't seem to get out of the player-development mode. As a pair, they are way too patient with underperformers, take way too long to make decisions, and altogether seem to lack the ego-driven competitive fires that burned within Hart and Hargrove.
Wedge and Shapiro could be running a widget manufacturing company if you didn't know they were running a baseball team.
Lost in the quasi-business jargon of process management, growth philosophies and the like is the ticking clock that marks the fast-melting several year window the Indians have to win with the likes of C.C. Sabathia, Travis Hafner and Victor Martinez. Sabathia and Hafner are free agents after the 2008 season, Martinez after 2009. Unless owner Larry Dolan suddenly discovers an oil well under his house, it would be realistic to assume their Indians careers will end the instant they become free agents, or sooner should they be pawned off for prospects.
Player development will always be a big factor in the Dolan business model, but if the Indians can never win with the talent they develop, all this team will be is a farm club for teams with deeper pockets.
Wedge and Shapiro seemed to have missed a step. Player development is all about the process. Winning is more about motivation. To motivate, you have to find the right buttons to push with your players, and push each other's buttons as well.
Last season's second-half run looks like it can be chalked up to the leadership of players like Kevin Millwood and Scott Elarton, players who have been through pennant races before and have learned to thrive on them. When they left, the pilot light went out on the fire in the Tribe's collective belly.
And if you're looking for Wedge or Shapiro to stoke the flames again, you're probably looking in the wrong direction. These guys are schooled in organizational teamwork and flow charts, not kicking ass and taking names.
If nothing changes in the way this team is run, all their hard work in putting this team together will yield only two results: a noticeable lack of playoff appearances, and a bunch of ex-players returning to Cleveland in other teams' uniforms.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Wickman dealt to Braves

We didn't know it at the time, but Wednesday's save for Bob Wickman was his last appearance as an Indian. The burly closer and Indians' career saves leader was traded to the Braves Thursday afternoon for minor-league Class A catching prospect Maximiliano "Max" Ramirez.
Ramirez, 21, was hitting .285 with nine homers and 37 RBI for the Rome (GA) Braves of the South Atlantic League according to Chances are the Indians will assign him either to the Lake County Captains or the Kinston Indians, both Class A affiliates.
We've known for a while that this was a lost year for the Indians, but today's trade is a formal "reject" stamp on the 2006 season. August and September will be committed to giving the organization's young players at-bats and innings.
That means we're right back to 2003 and 2004, when player development, not winning, was the top priority.
But we can all sit and sulk, or make the best of a bad situation. Fausto Carmona, who has been just short of dynamite as a set-up man, will now get a chance to close some games. There's no question Carmona has the arm to be a great closer. But then again, there's no question Jason Davis has the arm to be a great closer.
The remainder of the season will give us a chance to see if Carmona has the head and stomach to close.
Wickman's exit probably paves the way for the exit of Aaron Boone, who has become an underperforming, multimillion-dollar impediment preventing Andy Marte from ascending to the Indians roster. We always talk about the proverbial "bag of balls" trade where a player gets shipped off for virtually nothing in return. In Boone's case, he might literally get shipped off for a bag of balls.
Ronnie Belliard, Ben Broussard, Guillermo Mota, Todd Hollandsworth and Jake Westbrook are also candidates to ship out if GM Mark Shapiro finds the right deal.
That's the story here in perpetually-rebuilding land. For Wickman, the sky is deservedly more sunny.
Wickman get a chance to finish his career in the heat of a pennant race instead of wasting what's left of his arm pitching for a bottom-feeder. The Braves are still below .500, but a seven-game winning streak has propelled them back into the National League wild card chase.
The Braves are in need of a closer, and Wickman didn't want to go anywhere where he wasn't going to close. It seems like a good match, and I hope Wickman gets one last taste of playoff baseball before he hangs up his spikes.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Sonics might leave Seattle

This is a gut-check moment if you lived through the Browns' departure in 1995.
The city of Seattle appears primed to lose its NBA franchise if reports today are correct. ESPN is reporting that an Oklahoma City-based group has purchased the Supersonics, along with the WNBA's Seattle Storm.
Don't confuse this with being just another Grizzlies dash from Vancouver to Memphis, or the Hornets bolting Charlotte for New Orleans. The Sonics are far more a part of the fabric of Seattle than either of those teams were in their previous homes.
The Sonics were Seattle's first modern major league pro franchise, founded in 1967. The Sonics predate the Mariners, the Seahawks, even the ill-fated Seattle Pilots.
The Sonics are the only modern-era Seattle team ever to win a championship. Lenny Wilkens, the NBA's answer to Don Shula, won the only title for himself and Seattle in 1979.
Pro basketball is a good fit for Seattle, an indoor sport in a town that needs something to get itself through the rainy winters.
Baseball and football needed to be conformed and altered to fit into Seattle's precipitation-heavy climate. The Mariners and Seahawks played on a pool table surface inside the Kingdome for more than 20 years. Then the Mariners moved outside, though a retractable roof was still deemed necessary at Safeco Field. The Seahawks moved next door to Seahawks Stadium, a facility of somewhat bizarre architecture reminiscent of a European soccer stadium.
But they were still new facilities. When the time came to build, the relative newbies from the dome were granted the cash. The Sonics, meanwhile, were made to do without.
They played in the outdated Seattle Center Coliseum for years. The facility was renovated and renamed Key Arena in 1995, but all the Sonics ownership saw was an aging arena their team was forced to play in while the city's football and baseball teams received brand-new palaces.
If you live in Cleveland, that should sound pretty familiar.
Let's face it: professional sports teams are bargaining chips to the billionaires who own them and the power-tripping city officials who build the castles they play in. The franchises are used for blackmail, extortion, threats, backstabbing and any other lowball tactic a hardened businessman or politician can use to get his way.
Three things you don't want to see made: laws, sausages, and stadium deals. They are ugly, ugly processes.
Uglier still if you are the fan that loses his or her team after 40 years of loyal ticket- and merchandise-buying. But that's what appears to be happening in Seattle, a city that is on the verge of losing its NBA team for reasons other than lack of fan support.
Sound familiar, Cleveland?
Prior to the Browns leaving, the concept of relocating teams was a curiosity to me. Since then, it's become a problem that can affect any city and for no good reason than bickering power brokers.
I wish there was a way fans could fight back. But sometimes, there are just circumstances beyond one's control.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Fresh start going stale

For every team, spring training is a time for renewal. Every team can be the Detroit Tigers, shedding the cocoon of losing and spreading new, beautiful wings that lift them to the top of the standings.
Unfortunately, most teams don't find themselves on an out-of-nowhere ride like the Tigers do this year. The Indians, most definitely, are not on a ride to remember.
For those teams, there is the all-star break. A time to take a deep breath, collect your thoughts and renew your vows to winning. A time to reassure your fans that the word "quit" isn't in your vocabulary.
It's like amnesty day at the library. Keep forgetting to turn in that copy of "The Sting" that you borrowed in 1998? Bring it back now, and there will be no questions asked.
Stunk like a pile of chicken dung in the first half? Deliver a rousing speech to the media at the all-star break, rattle off six or seven wins to start the second half, and come out smelling springtime fresh. Even if you don't make the playoffs, a strong second half can at least convince the ticket-buying public that you gave it the ol' college try and are building on something for next year.
The trouble for the Indians is that manager Eric Wedge did the first part, giving his best rah-rah to the microphones and cameras last week. But his team didn't back the words up.
Same stuff, different half. After a spark of encouragement with a half-opening win over the Twins on Thursday, the Indians reverted back to their lackluster selves with three straight losses, plagued by a typical mixture of defensive goofs, inconsistent offense and pitching that stumbled at the worst possible time.
Along with the series in Minnesota probably went the Indians' best chance to make anything meaningful out of the second half of the season. If you are backsliding as badly as this team has been, you need to strike quickly out of the second half gate and set a different tone.
Instead of a renewed sense of urgency, the Minnesota series has proven that the teamwide malaise is thickening. When August comes, it will be way too tempting for this team to begin counting off the days until the season ends. Especially for players like Ronnie Belliard and Aaron Boone, who almost certainly won't be back next year.
Of course, Boone and Belliard might have been traded off for beads and trinkets by then, so this mess won't be their problem anymore, even though they've had more than just a cameo role in creating it.
The only people we can rest assured will be left behind to deal with the mess are the thousands of tortured Indians fans who can't bring themselves not to watch. It's difficult for a team to follow a 90-win season with a 90-loss season when they haven't had widespread personnel turnover. But the Indians, it appears, will buck the odds and do just that.
And, just to give the knife in our guts a couple of good, hard twists, we can probably sit back this October and watch Jim Thome win a World Series MVP award with the White Sox, or watch the Tigers win a World Series out of nowhere.
Somebody, somewhere, is going to get a ring. And as has been the case for more than four decades, it won't be Cleveland.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

The law of averages

Edward Mujica isn't the next bullpen dynamo in baseball. But he's having one heck of a year.
He rode a streak of 47 1/3 innings without surrendering an earned run all the way to the majors, where Indians manager Eric Wedge saw fit to leave him in for the 10th inning of Friday's game against the Twins.
All good things must come to an end, and for Mujica, the earned run streak ended right then. And, in true Indians bullpen fashion, the result was a loss.
One flyout, then three straight singles and a 3-2 Twins victory.
Mujica's ERA jumped from 0.00 to 1.04, causing him to fall behind the ERAs of Boston closer Jonathan Papelbon (0.57) and Toronto closer B.J. Ryan (0.84). None of them have enough innings pitched to qualify for the official ERA standings, however.
After the game, Mujica reacted to his first taste of defeat in the Majors.
"I didn't want it to end," he told The Plain Dealer when asked about his streak.
No one probably expected it to last this long.
In a perfect world, Mujica, 22, would be a reincarnation of Julian Tavarez in 1995. A jack-of-all-trades rookie with limited stuff who simply spots his fastball well enough to be effective. But he has to get back on the horse and ride.
Too often, when a young pitcher gets his first taste of failure on the big stage, it spawns a huge slump as the youngster struggles to get his confidence back. That can be magnified if a young pitcher has had the the kind of absolute success Mujica has experienced so far this year.
This is where the Indians' nonexistent veteran leadership needs to finally make itself visible. Pitchers like Bob Wickman and Guillermo Mota need to pull Mujica aside and give him some encouragement before his next outing.
If Wickman and Mota depart via trade before the end of this month, there will be nobody left among the player ranks to give rookies like Mujica direction. Those of us left behind, fans and players alike, will have to deal with the consequences.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Ink you very much

Apparently, Kellen Winslow Jr. has traded in motorcycle riding for a new hobby: collecting tattoos.

Gooden going bad?

Now that LeBron James has pledged allegiance to the Cavaliers through at least 2010, attention can now shift to the back-page saga that Drew Gooden's contract negotiations are becoming.
The sides are reportedly miles apart with no immediate hope of building a bridge.
Gooden wants the type of money Nuggets forward Nene just received in his ridiculous six-year, $60 million contract extension. From Gooden's standpoint, it makes sense. Time will probably prove that Gooden is a better player than Nene, and if Nene is getting big bucks, Gooden wants his share too.
The problem is, he isn't worth it. Not yet. And the Cavs would be foolish to tie themselves to Gooden for the next four or five years with an eight-figure annual salary.
The Cavs know it, which is a credit to them. Too often, one desperate team sets the going rate for players at a give position way too high, and too often, teams cave and overpay out of fear of losing their players.
The sides are closing in on an impasse quickly. If direct negotiations with Gooden's agent yield nothing in the very near future, I expect Cavs GM Danny Ferry to pack his briefcase, leave the negotiating table, and try to figure out another way to resolve the situation.

If negotiations reach the point of no return, here are the main options Ferry has:

1. Ferry can do nothing and let Gooden test the free agent waters.
The Cavs have the right to match any offer for Gooden this summer. Ferry can bank on the educated guess that Gooden won't find much more than midlevel salary cap exemption money out there, a little over $5 million per year. If Gooden signs an offer sheet with another team for that kind of money, Ferry can match it.
But if that's all that is out there for Gooden, he'll probably come slinking back to the Cavs for another round of negotiations.
That strategy can backfire, however. If there is a team out there willing to pay big money for Gooden, or sign him to a front-loaded contract, the Cavs might be forced to let Gooden go and get nothing in return.

2. Ferry can sign Gooden to a one-year qualifying offer.
This might be what happens if Gooden finds the free agent market to be fruitless. It's the route I'd like to see the Cavs take if Gooden ends up back on their doorstep.
A one-year deal might light the biggest fire under Gooden's behind. If he plays for the one-year qualifying offer (about $5 million), he knows he's playing for an unrestricted free agent contract next summer. Either he's going to cement himself as an elite player at his position, or he's going to be cast as a journeyman.
Next summer, the Cavs would have no financial obligation to Gooden, which should offer the team a bit more flexibility. That's important since Anderson Varejao is eligible for restricted free agency next year.

3. Ferry can package Gooden in a sign-and-trade deal.
You have to be cautious with this option. If Ferry is going to take a long-term contract on in return for Gooden, he has to make sure that player is someone he can build with. If he takes on a bunch of expiring contracts and draft picks, he runs the risk of being saddled with a ton of dead weight this coming season.
As I have said before, every season LeBron is under contract is an important season. The days of foisting Shawn Kemp off on the Blazers for spare parts like Clarence Weatherspoon and Chris Gatling are over.
Some intriguing teams are interested in Gooden, such as Phoenix. If Ferry could figure out a way to pry Leandro Barbosa loose from the Suns, he could hit a sign-and-trade home run. Barbosa is widely regarded as one of the best backup point guards in the league, and might soon be worthy of running his own show. That won't happen in Phoenix, who has a guy named Steve Nash running the point. I hear he's pretty good.

In any case in which they lose Gooden, Ferry has to make sure he has a new plan in place. Varejao hasn't yet shown he's capable of playing big minutes without racking up fouls at an alarming rate, so if the Cavs part ways with Gooden, Ferry has to make sure he can line up another big man either in free agency or through a trade.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Armchair GM

In an effort to get my material out there some more, I have joined an online sportswriting community called, where I will make an effort to frequently feature selected posts from this site.
My first two posts are up. Check the site out, and if you have found your way to my blog through, welcome. Stop back early and often.

LeBron's situation sorted out

OK, here it goes. It's been a long 96 hours, but the situation surrounding LeBron James' contract extension has finally been made clear.
LeBron has agreed to a three-year extension with a player option for a fourth year. It means the Cavs will maintain his rights for an additional two years after 2007-08, the season after which he could have become an unrestricted free agent under his rookie deal.
The new deal will kick in after this upcoming season, which is the final year of his rookie contract. It is essentially one year less than the deal that was offered by the Cavaliers, which was a four-year deal with an option for a fifth year.
So why would LeBron do this? Despite what some members of the national media will tell you, it's not to throw Cleveland a bone so he can say "you had your chance" when he bolts for New York in four years.
It might come to that if GM Danny Ferry fails in putting a capable roster around LeBron, but this extension is designed to help avoid that kind of outcome.

Here are the facts, if you haven't already read them elsewhere:

1. The base part of LeBron's extension will expire after the 2009-10 season. At that point, he will have seven years' experience in the NBA, and his stock will go way up. For this extension, he is eligible to make 25 percent of the league's salary cap in the extension's first year, with percentage increases in ensuing years.
With seven years' experience, he can make 30 percent of the salary cap with higher percentage increases. Knowing that, it would only make sense that he'd want to negotiate a new deal for his eighth NBA season and thereafter.
It has been reported that fellow 2003 draft studs Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade might follow suit and sign three-year extensions with their teams. This might become a trend, and might expose a flaw in the NBA's contract procedures.
If a player can negotiate an extension after his third season in the league, and that extension can be for up to five years on top of his four-year base rookie contract, it means a rookie deal and an extension can eat up potentially the first nine seasons of his career. Yet he is eligible for a significant raise after seven years.
I think you are going to see more star players begin negotiating shorter deals, banking that their earning ability trumps any security a longer deal can offer.

2. This deal keeps LeBron in Cleveland long enough to attract choice free agents, but it also forces the Cavs to keep their foot on the accelerator with regard to winning.
LeBron signed through 2008 would mean that nobody would want to come to Cleveland. No player in his right mind would sign a four or five-year deal only to have the entire impetus for a championship run pack up and leave halfway through.
LeBron's deal means that good players should consider Cleveland an attractive destination both this off-season and next. But it's up to Ferry to manipulate the team's cap space to make signings happen.
And Ferry will have to make hay while the Sun shines. LeBron has been burned just enough by the Cavs' collapses in his first two seasons that he doesn't yet trust this team to build a champion over the long haul. Shortening the deal, keeping unrestricted free agency on the horizon, will be LeBron's way of forcing the Cavs to remain vigilant about building a winner.
Tim Duncan did much the same thing for his first contract extension in San Antonio, also signing for three years. Then the Spurs rattled off some titles, and Duncan reupped for seven more years.

3. The shortened deal doesn't mean LeBron is out of here in four years. Actually, it could mean the contrary. Forcing the Cavs to stay vigilant about winning means the odds of LeBron staying happy here and re-signing in 2009 or 2010 go up.
Look at the Indians, and look at how many players have apparently gotten lax and lazy with the combination of contract extensions and the 93-win season of a year ago. LeBron doesn't want the Cavs slacking. The shortened deal could prevent an ugly situation in which LeBron becomes displeased with the direction of the team and starts to think about demanding a trade.
I don't know about you, but after watching Manny Ramirez and Jim Thome leave and then get booed upon returning to Cleveland, I don't want to see the same thing happen to LeBron.

4. This deal shows how smart LeBron really is. This deal is a shrewd move. Duncan did it before, but because LeBron has done it, it will likely set a trend among other players.
I think that during his weeklong silence, we got the impression that LeBron was somewhere obliviously flipping a coin to decide whether he wanted to stay in Cleveland or not. But LeBron is acutely aware of this situation in his camp, and the situation in Cleveland.
Perhaps I exaggerated the language a bit in previous columns, but I think LeBron truly wants to win a title for Cleveland. Even though he has never particularly been a fan of Cleveland teams, he grew up around here. He knows about The Drive, The Fumble, The Shot. He was in junior high when Jose Mesa blew Game 7 of the World Series. He knows the pain that exists here, and he would get a major kick out of being able to be the guy to deliver this area a championship.
He knows what a devastating blow it would be to Cleveland and the Cavs organization to lose him, so I don't think leaving Cleveland is ever a decision he'll take lightly.
Having said that, he also knows he is supremely talented and has a limited number of years to work with that talent. He's not about to waste his time somewhere where he gets the impression that the commitment to winning is anything under 100 percent.
I have said before that LeBron is a generation-defining player, and I mean both on and off the court. At 21, you and I were cramming for college finals. At 21, not only is LeBron's understanding of basketball well beyond his years, his understanding of the business of basketball is off the charts.
We are truly blessed to have him here.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Tribe trade values

We know that the Indians are seven games under .500. We know their 18 1/2-game deficit in the division is their worst since the abysmal 105-loss season of 1991.
We know that all logic states that this team should throw in the towel on 2006 and look to next year. Still, letting go of a season with 70-plus games remaining seems so defeatist. And when you factor in what the Indians could receive by purging the roster of most of its veterans, it almost makes sense to hold onto your seasoned players and let the season ride, wherever it's going.
But that would be too inactive for my tastes. Which means the Dolans will probably love it.
If GM Mark Shapiro succeeds in trading off all of his expendable veterans, it would leave the Indians with a pool of grit to try and sift through, looking for a few gold flakes that might or might not be there.
Below I size up with the Indians could reasonably expect to get for some of the team's tradeable veterans, and whether trading the player would even make sense.

Bob Wickman

What the Indians could get for him: A halfway-decent major league bullpen pitcher, fourth outfielder and/or a solid minor-league pitching prospect.

Trade value is: Increasing. Bullpen help is hard to find, and if they wait until right before the trade deadline, the Indians might find a desperate team willing to overpay.

Would trading him make sense? Yes. Wickman will almost certainly not be back next year. He might even retire. Fausto Carmona has looked good enough to merit a shot at the closer's role for the remainder of the season, at least when a save situation comes up.
On pace for 90 losses, this team is not in need of a fulltime closer right now.

Aaron Boone

What the Indians could get for him: cash and a marginal prospect or two.

Trade value is: Steady. Let's face it, it can't get much lower.

Would trading him make sense? Yes. The only reason for the front office to hold prospect Andy Marte back is the fear that he will struggle and make the Coco Crisp trade look like a bust. Sooner or later, Marte is going to need to be given his shot to stick in the bigs.

Ronnie Belliard

What the Indians could get for him: another big-league infielder (a must), maybe a solid minor-league prospect at Class A or AA.

Trade value is: Steady. He's already been a commonly-spoken name in trade rumors. I expect Shapiro has been and will continue to field calls concerning Belliard.

Does trading him make sense? Only if they get another second baseman in return. The Indians have virtually no organizational depth in the middle infield, so if they don't get a replacement for Belliard, the options are to play out the string with Ramon Vazquez (eek!) or rush recently-acquired Asdrubal Cabrera to the majors. And we saw what wonders a premature major league debut did for Brandon Phillips. It's like saying, "Here, Reds. We want to destroy this kid's confidence so we can get fed up with him and trade him to you guys, where he'll turn into an instant all-star."

Paul Byrd

What the Indians could get for him: A good-to-decent prospect depending on how desperate a team gets. Also the likely knowledge that they will continue to pay a part of his $7 million salary this year and next.

Trade value is: Increasing. He's a pitcher. He's healthy. He's pitching fairly well. Some team would bite.

Would trading him make sense? Not this year, but maybe next year. If the Indians trade him this year, they'll get a prospect or two, but might have to continue paying a portion of his salary next season. If they trade him next year during his contract season, they could still get the same caliber of prospects without the ensuing financial obligation.
Also, history has shown Byrd tends to pitch better in his contract years. Hold onto him.

Guillermo Mota

What the Indians could get for him: another middle reliever and a marginal prospect or two.

Trade value is: Steady. Though he is a veteran bullpen arm who has been pitching well of late, interest will be cooled by his recent history of arm problems.

Does trading him make sense? If either he or Wickman yields another major-league bullpen arm, yes. Considering that Wickman would probably be the first out the door based on demand, the Indians can't thin out their bullpen too much, at least until September callups. Mota might be a good candidate for a waiver-deadline deal at the end of August.

Todd Hollandsworth

What the Indians could get for him: Maybe a decent lower-level hitting prospect.

Trade value is: Increasing. The more he plays, the better he has done. The fact that he's signed for one year at a dirt-cheap price helps.

Would trading him make sense? Only if Jason Michaels and Casey Blake can stay healthy. The Indians' outfield is not very deep, and without Hollandsworth, Wedge would be one pulled hamstring away from using Joe Inglett seven days a week. I don't think anyone wants to see that.

Ben Broussard

What the Indians could get for him: A decent upper-level hitting prospect.

Trade value is: Increasing. The Indians had just better hope he doesn't go into one of his trademark six-week slumps that knocks his batting average down to .260.

Would trading him make sense? Yes, but at a price: Victor Martinez would have to abdicate his prized catcher's role for a gig as a fulltime first baseman, at least for the remainder of the season. For the Indians, that could be toying a bit too much with a very important heart of the order hitter.

The LeBron rumors won't die

A recent post on Zach's blog has alerted me to an unfortunate truth, and it should alert all Cleveland fans:
Just because LeBron signs his contract extension doesn't mean the rumors will stop.
The leeches and vultures in the national and big-market media will continue to hammer away at Cleveland's collective sanity, using every opportunity they get to insist that LeBron is sending telepathic brain waves to the the Nets, Knicks, Lakers or Bulls.
The latest is the ESPN article Zach linked in his post. ESPN's own braying mule, Stephen A. Smith, reportedly has found out from a mystery source that LeBron will sign a four-year deal with a opt-out clause after the third year, meaning he could become a free agent as early as the summer of 2010.
ESPN hails the move as a "smart deal." Keep in mind that we won't likely know any actual facts until LeBron signs the deal, reportedly later this week.
If the shortened deal is a fact, we should half-expect Greater New York-based ESPN to start a "LeBron ticker," counting down the days until free agency. The ticker's graphics would include a picture of LeBron wearing a Photoshopped Nets jersey if ESPN knew the Cavaliers wouldn't serve them with a tampering lawsuit.
This is all going to be a fact of life for years to come. LeBron could sign a 20-year deal with the Cavs, and at the first sign of trouble -- a three-game losing streak, a public argument with a teammate -- the "LeBron wants to be traded" rumor mill will rumble to life.
Every time he's seen with Jay-Z, every time he's seen wearing a Yankees cap, even every time he gives a quick hug to Vince Carter prior to a Nets-Cavs tipoff, it will serve as LeBron rumor fodder for the East Coast media machine.
Get used to it all. Cleveland is a small burg in fly-over country that has someone the New York market desperately wants, and probably feels it deserves. A once-in-a-generation talent like LeBron spending the balance of his career in a Midwestern speck of a city like Cleveland just doesn't add up to those in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago or Boston. But that attitude should be expected.
As sports fans, residents of those cities are brought up to be boorish, obnoxious, selfish, whiny, arrogant and altogether insufferable. Consider that the vast majority of national media members grew up in a big market, and you can see the obvious carryover of that attitude to ESPN and the like.
If it all gets under your skin a bit too much, the best thing might be to reduce your intake of national sports news for a while. The LeBron rumor machine will never die. The only way you can fight back as a Clevelander is to make sure it falls on deaf ears.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

LeBron likes us! He really does!

We can now take a deep breath a get a good night's sleep before we find something else to worry about. LeBron James is, in fact, staying in Cleveland.
This afternoon, he made public his intention to accept the five-year, $80 million contract extension offered by the Cavaliers on July 1.
The contract will begin after next season and run through the end of the 2011-12 season, though LeBron reportedly has an opt-out clause after the fourth season of the deal.
Sam Smith, Bill Simmons and all the other national media vultures fantasizing about LeBron getting picked away from Cleveland's rotting carcass can now unofficially stuff it.
The can officially stuff it when LeBron actually signs the deal, reportedly on Wednesday or shortly thereafter. LeBron's agent, Leon Rose, has said LeBron wants to get the contract signed before he reports to USA Basketball on July 19.
So, what do we worry about now? The chance that something could go horribly awry before LeBron inks the deal? A catastrophic injury while playing for the U.S. team?
Outsiders would call it an anxiety disorder. Clevelanders call it creative worrying.
The plain truth is that, if you are any kind of basketball fan at all, LeBron is going to make you enjoy the Cavs in spite of yourself. Aside from money, it's the reason he is staying.
While many residents of this area speak in derogatory terms of the city they call home, LeBron is proud of this place.
We already know we can learn a thing or two about basketball from LeBron. Maybe we can learn a thing or two about regional pride.
You look at Cleveland and see an unsalvageable hulk of a city, a place to be abandoned, a place with no hope. LeBron sees a city he can pick up and place on his shoulders and carry to great things, if only within the 94 feet of the basketball court.
As ESPN's Marc Stein says, the truth is that LeBron wants to be here. That might be tough for a lot of Northeast Ohioans to grasp, but LeBron could go anywhere in two years, and he wants to stay here. In little, old, burned-out, past-its-prime Cleveland.
He is spurning millions in endorsement deal money to do it, too. That's devotion, my friends.
Sooner or later, LeBron will make you stop worrying, sit back and enjoy the ride he is giving us. He wants to be the man who brings Cleveland its first professional sports title since 1964. He just might do it, too.
We have now passed the "possibly just keeping him warm for another city" phase with LeBron and have moved on to "Undisputed King of Cleveland and Ohio." Which is what he has been, and has wanted to be, all along.

Pronk has a beef

Usually, I try to stay away from all-star snub posts this time of year. Every baseball team, with the possible exception of the Royals, has one or two players who could make a case for getting the shaft.
But in the case of Travis Hafner, I can't keep quiet any longer. The man deserves to be playing in the All-Star Game this year, and thanks to his position as a designated hitter on a sub-.500 team, he won't be.
I'd go so far as to say Hafner is one of the biggest all-star snubs in recent history.
The basics: he's hitting .318 with 25 home runs and 74 RBI. Project that over the course of the season, he'll hit nearly .320 with 50 homers and about 150 RBI. Those are triple crown numbers in some years. They are MVP-caliber numbers in any year.
Even if those were the only numbers with which to make a case for Hafner, it would still be a strong argument. But his average, homers and RBI only scratch the surface.
Looking for weaknesses in his hitting game? You won't find it against left-handed pitching. The lefty hitter is batting .319 versus lefties and .318 versus righties.
Not only that, he leads the American League in home runs against left-handed pitching with 10. You read that right. As a lefty, he outpaces righty hitting terrors like Manny Ramirez, Paul Konerko, Jermaine Dye and Vladimir Guerrero when it comes to hitting southpaws.
Hafner leads the AL in on-base percentage (.460), slugging percentage (.657), so it follows that he leads the league in on-base-plus-slugging percentage (1.117).
And he's done it all with spotty protection behind him in the lineup. Opposing pitchers have repeatedly pitched around Hafner to take their chances with Victor Martinez, who only recently has started to pick up his pace at the plate.
The proof is in the pudding. Hafner also leads the league in walks with 70.
And the piece de resistance: his five grand slams, the most recent coming in Friday's 9-0 win over Baltimore. It is the most slams by a single player prior to the all-star break, and one shy of the single-season record of six, set by Don Mattingly. Hafner has 77 games to break the record.
Hafner appears to be the victim of a confluence of circumstances. He is a tremendously productive hitter, but he doesn't come with a lot of imagination-capturing frills like Jim Thome's moonshot homers or Alex Rodriguez's GQ glamour. He's from North Dakota and likes hunting and professional wrestling, two decidedly uncool things to the East Coast jet set.
An arthritic elbow prevents him from playing a position, though he is a first baseman by trade. The All-Star Game will be played in National League Pittsburgh this year, meaning anyone who wants to stay in the game will have to play a position.
Last but not least, his team is in the midst of a sub-par season that has quelled fan interest. If Hafner's following can't rise above cult status in his own town, how can he expect to become a household name around the country?
Just about everything that is preventing Hafner from playing in the All-Star Game on Tuesday is beyond his control, which makes his snub all the more unjust. But if there's any consolation, Hafner probably won't take it especially hard.
Pronk strikes me as the kind of guy who will say, "Three days off? Cool! Time for some pizza and Wrestlemania!"
And he's not popular enough to appear in Pittsburgh?

Joel's new blog

Joel Hammond, the author of the "Hammond Bacon" blog you have seen linked in the right column of this site, is focusing his efforts on a new blog published through his day job at Crain's Cleveland Business.
The blog focuses on Cleveland sports and the business of sports. Check it out by clicking on the link "Joel's sports blog" at the right.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Somebody understands

Someone out there gets what's happening in Cleveland. Ironically, it's a guy from Detroit.
In his latest column on, Michael Rosenberg of the Detroit Free Press sympathizes with Clevelanders over LeBron James' silence.
His contract offer will be a week old at 12:01 a.m. Saturday, and LeBron has yet to even offer a grunt of public acknowledgement, let alone make a decision.
What does it mean? What is he thinking? Is he yanking our chains? Is he wavering? Is he listening to everybody on both sides make their cases as to why he should or shouldn't sign?
Where will this all end up? Will this be another sorrowful chapter in the history of Cleveland sports?
As Rosenberg notes, in any other city, the fans would probably be content to ride this out and go about their daily lives without checking the Internet every 60 minutes for LeBron updates.
But this is Cleveland. As Rosenberg so aptly puts it in terms big-market fans can understand, "every team is the Cubs."
It's the bad luck of the Cubs. It's also a lack of money, poor personnel decisions and freak injuries.
Several weeks ago, I sent Sam Smith of the Chicago Tribune an impassioned e-mail after he tried to stoke the "LeBron might want out of Cleveland" fires in one of his columns. I told him that he might just be a great player to Chicagoans, but to Clevelanders, he's far more. He is the embodiment of a chance at a championship.
Look at the Cleveland sports scene, I told him. It's way too early to tell if the Browns' latest rebuilding project will be a success, or yet another failure. The Indians are fighting an uphill financial battle they might never win.
That leaves the Cavs as the only solid hope for a championship anytime in the foreseeable future. If LeBron leaves, so do the chances of a title.
Chicago doesn't care if Cleveland goes 100 years without winning a title in any sport. We're almost halfway there already. If LeBron leaves, I told Smith, that could mean an entire generation of Clevelanders could be born, live full lives and die without ever having experienced a single championship in this town.
Smith's answer: "Wow, you need to relax. It's just sports."
And to an American visiting Iraq, it's just an election. Happens every year, right?
Smith doesn't get it. Not when he's in a city that's seen six NBA titles, a Super Bowl title and a World Series title in his lifetime. There's no way he can get it.
In a city where we've watched players, coaches and owners consistently fail, go on to another city and bring home the hardware, you can excuse Clevelanders if they can't totally shake this awful feeling that LeBron is somewhere trying to figure out the best way to say "I'm out of here in two years."
He's probably not. And yes, fans like me need to relax. But too often, our worst case scenario nightmares have come true in this town. The one time we exclude the worst case scenario is the one time it will come up and bite us.
So we wait, we worry, we hope that LeBron's silence doesn't mean what we fear it means.
And my thanks goes out to Michael Rosenberg for humoring us. We're kind of pathetic with our worrying in this town, but we have our reasons. Any big-market fan and media member who greets us with an encouraging pat on the back instead of a dismissive roll of the eyes is appreciated.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

One day later

Now you know why I didn't post on the Indians' 19-1 win over the Yankees on Tuesday. As surely as Tuesday comes, Wednesday will follow.
And this week, Wednesday brought pinstriped payback in the form of an error-plagued 11-3 rout.
Tuesday, the Indians tormented Yankee pitching with six home runs. Wednesday, the Yankees tormented Victor Martinez to the tune of six stolen bases in six attempts. Sixty of 66 base stealers have been successful against Martinez this year. With Martinez's weak arm and a pitching staff that just can't seem to grasp the concept of holding runners on, it's a wonder Martinez has even thrown out six.
(Incidentally, if you saw Jason Johnson give up a straight steal of home in Wednesday's Red Sox-Devil Rays game, you know the ineptitude doesn't end just because you leave the Indians.)
Martinez wasn't the only victim. Indians starter Paul Byrd was sabotaged by his own third baseman.
Aaron Boone, who has been quite good at flashing the leather recently, apparently needed a reminder that he falls somewhere behind Brooks Robinson in the pantheon of defensive third basemen.
Boone committed three errors, two in an eight-run fourth inning that knocked Byrd out of the game. The third was a slapstick bobble-and-drop of a foul pop in the seventh inning.
It was a microcosm of the Indians' entire season. Any good momentum is quickly quashed, usually by the Indians' own Mr. Magoo bumbling.
That's why, even if I was happy that the Indians pasted the Yankees Tuesday night, I wasn't about to get too high. Revenge is only 20 hours away in the middle of a series. The Yankees proved that theory true Wednesday night.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

A different perspective on LeBron

I received an e-mail today in response to my post below on LeBron James.
In the post, I get a little pushy in asking for LeBron to accept his contract extension offer from the Cavaliers. If you read the post, it sounds like I am taking his acceptance for granted.
I used the wrong language. What I should have said is that if LeBron is going to accept the extension, he needs to do it soon so that the Cavs have the best chance to re-sign Drew Gooden and make a splash in the free agent or trade markets.
If you are assuming LeBron is going to accept the five-year extension hook, line and sinker, you might have another thing coming, the e-mailer warns.
He is convinced LeBron will not sign a contract extension for the full five-year amount offered.
He says LeBron might sign a two or three-year extension, but will not sign a five-year deal because he doesn't want the Cavs to get lax in building a winner around him.
I could see that happening. LeBron was burned with near playoff misses in his first two seasons. He had to carry the team through two playoff rounds this year. All in all, the Cavs still have some upgrading to do if they want to build a championship team around LeBron. A LeBron-worthy roster is not something GM Danny Ferry can simply make materialize. It takes time and some misfires to put that type of team around LeBron, considering what a total abomination the Cavs were when the team drafted him.
LeBron might want the threat of him leaving hanging over the Cavs' heads to ensure that they remain as vigilant as he is about winning.
If LeBron keeps the threat of departure in place, it also dramatically increases his leverage within the organization. Right now, LeBron says "jump" and the rest of the organization says "how high?" Right now, LeBron's mother and girlfriend are treated like royalty whenever they set foot inside The Q.
If LeBron commits to the Cavs for another five years, will that continue, or will the special treatment for LeBron and his family start to wane?
If LeBron tells the Cavs "no" or "I don't want five years," many fans will probably throw up their hands and say, "I knew it. He's gone. Start stitching his last name across a Nets jersey." But that might not necessarily be the case.
The Cavs stand to lose something if LeBron doesn't commit to Cleveland for the next half-decade. But LeBron might stand to lose something if he does.
There are two sides to every story. In Cleveland, sometimes we forget that in our rush to feel sorry for ourselves.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Please commit now, LeBron

Pardon me for sounding impatient. I know I'm probably speaking for a majority of fans, though.
LeBron James needs to agree to his contract extension as soon as possible.
For him to drag his feet is to hurt his own team's chances of making headway in what is becoming an eventful and highly competitive offseason.
All of the other studs of the 2003 draft are signed and sealed. Carmelo Anthony has agreed on an extension with the Nuggets. Chris Bosh has agreed with the Raptors. Earlier today, Dwyane Wade agreed to terms with the Heat.
Other teams are wheeling and dealing. In the Cavs' own division, the Bulls have nabbed Ben Wallace from the Pistons, reports say. The Bucks have traded T.J. Ford for Charlie Villanueva, brining another potential frontcourt star into the division.
And while all that is going on, the Cavs are stuck in suspended animation, waiting for LeBron's wavering thumb to move up or down.
Drew Gooden is said to be waiting on what LeBron does. If he signs his extension, Gooden will probably jump at what the Cavs offer him. If he doesn't sign, Gooden will probably begin pursuing other options, forcing the Cavs to match an offer and pay more than they wanted.
Gooden won't wait forever. If LeBron sandbags for too long, Gooden will be forced to make a move before all the money dries up. If Gooden signs an offer sheet for too much, or signs a front-loaded offer sheet like Carlos Boozer did in Utah, the Cavs might be forced to let Gooden go.
The longer LeBron's silence goes on, the more it is going to hurt the Cavs.
I don't know if LeBron is simply too busy to sign his extension, is legitimately undecided, or simply loves the fact that he is in total control right now, but pausing for dramatic effect is not a good idea at the moment.
If LeBron truly wants to give his team the best chance to contend in a very good division, he'll settle on his deal before the end of this week. To wait any longer could do lasting harm to a critical Cavs offseason.

Central Division shakeup

The NBA's free agency period is less than a week old, and already we can see the Cavaliers' Central Division is going to look quite different when the season starts.
The two biggest free agent moves of the offseason so far have occurred in the Central. Late last week, the Pacers' Peja Stojakovic announced his intentions to bolt Indiana for the Hornets.
But the real bombshell hit yesterday, when a disappointed Ben Wallace announced he intends to leave the Pistons to sign with the Bulls.
Reportedly, Wallace is upset with the Pistons' offer to him, and felt the two sides weren't going to bridge the gap anytime soon.
Two years ago, the Pacers and Pistons were the Eastern Conference's biggest rivalry. They were unquestioned as the top two teams in the Central.
Now, depending on what type of offseasons the Cavaliers and Bucks have, Indiana and Detroit might be the bottom two teams in the Central once training camp starts.
(I should note that being the bottom teams in the Central is still pretty good, considering all five division teams made the playoffs this year.)
The really surprising thing is the Bulls could trump the whole division.
Adding Wallace and first-round pick Tyrus Thomas to the mix gives the Bulls a deep, strong, athletic frontcourt to go with a very good point guard in Kirk Hinrich and very solid role players in Ben Gordon, Luol Deng, Chris Duhon and Andres Nocioni.
If GM John Paxson hasn't succeeded in finding an heir apparent for Michael Jordan's Chicago legacy, he has certainly succeeded in building a deep, talented roster that should look very familiar in structure if you are a Pistons fan.
The only downside to Wallace is his advancing age. He's 32, and his athleticism will begin to wane on the Bulls' watch. But for at least the next couple of years, the Bulls now have an unparalleled defensive presence in the frontcourt.
It's not too much of a stretch to say the Bulls are going to be playing deep into May next spring, and might even broach June.
Don't count out the Pistons and Pacers just yet. They have among the most resourceful front offices in the league. You can bet Pistons GM Joe Dumars is plotting his next move already. But the playing field has been dramatically leveled among the Central's five teams in the past week. Suddenly, it's Paxson, not Dumars, who looks like the alpha dog among division GMs.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Indians midterm grades

Monday's game against the Yankees is game No. 81, the midway point of the season for the Indians. Needless to say, it's been a disappointing season overall. Following Sunday's win in Cincinnati, the Tribe was 37-43, and they needed a 4-2 road trip through St. Louis and Cincinnati to get even that close to .500.
From the roster to the coaching staff to the front office, this team has been lacking something all year. Pin the blame where you want. Everybody has a culprit -- GM Mark Shapiro, manager Eric Wedge and owner Larry Dolan are the big three fans love to blame. All deserve some of it, none deserves all of it.
Below are the organization-wide midterm grades for a team trying to pilot itself through a season gone awry.

The lineup

Ronnie Belliard, 2B
.291, 7 HR, 37 RBI
Belliard is kind of a what-you-see-is-what-you-get hitter. He'll hack, he'll swing from his heels, he'll go into long slumps, but the numbers usually color him productive. This season is following suit.
This will probably be Belliard's last season in Cleveland. As a free agent-to-be, he'll be able to get more money elsewhere if he keeps up his current statistical pace.
Grade: B

Casey Blake, RF
.304, 10 HR, 36 RBI
He's probably still a glorified utility player, but it's hard to argue with results.
Blake struggled with a drastic position shift a year ago, and it killed him at the plate. He became a favorite whipping boy of fans whenever the offense struggled. This year, he's been smarter at the plate, a far more opportunistic hitter, and a solid defensive presence in right field (his arm is actually quite good).
How's this for irony? Blake has missed the past several weeks with a strained oblique muscle, and the Indians actually miss him. The offense has been scuffling without his bat.
Grade: B-plus

Aaron Boone, 3B
.253, 4 HR, 32 RBI
Boone has never been a terribly productive hitter, but the past two seasons are showing that the 30-something infielder has bought a one-way ticket to the land of has-beens.
Fans will be screaming for Andy Marte the more Boone struggles at the plate. But if Boone is traded, it probably won't be a very advantageous deal for the Tribe. It will probably involve getting next to nothing in return and assuming a large part of his remaining salary. In other words, the Indians brass might think it's worth it to just hang onto Boone for the rest of the year.
Marte's production at Buffalo will determine how much of a bite he takes out of Boone's playing time in the second half.
Grade: C-minus

Ben Broussard, 1B
.329, 10 HR, 38 RBI
He is hitting the quietest .329 in the big leagues, largely due to the fact that he has been platooning with Eduardo Perez and seldom facing tough left-handed pitching.
With Perez gone to Seattle, it will be interesting to see if Broussard's weaknesses are more readily exposed. Victor Martinez has been playing a lot of first base recently, but if Martinez struggles defensively, or backup catcher Kelly Shoppach proves to be a liability as an everyday player, Broussard will have to shoulder more of the load.
If that happens, I predict a second-half swoon for the notoriously streaky hitter.
Grade: B

Franklin Gutierrez, OF
.229, 0 HR, 0 RBI
As he has been throughout his minor league career, Gutierrez has shown flashes of tremendous athletic potential, but has yet to put it all together. He is a likely candidate to be sent back down to Buffalo once Jason Michaels is reactivated from the disabled list.
Grade: C

Travis Hafner, DH
.312, 22 HR, 66 RBI
Pronk is putting together yet another solid season, largely under the radar. Much like last year, he is poised to be a leading snub for the AL all-star team.
Grade: A

Todd Hollandsworth, OF
.229, 4 HR, 21 RBI
The stats show a player who belongs in the minors. But the stats lie, at least recently. Hollandsworth should be this team's everyday left fielder even when when Michaels comes back. With the increased playing time, he has become a regular visitor to the basepaths, hitting well over .300 in the past week. And he has shown an ability to flash some leather in the field as well.
Grade: C-plus

Joe Inglett, IF/OF
.143, 0 HR, 0 RBI
His offensive impact will probably be minimal, but he is a true seven-position utility player who could save the defense some nights.
Grade: Incomplete

Victor Martinez, C
.296, 10 HR, 51 RBI
Much like Hafner, he is putting together another good season under the radar. The only real blemish in his game is a weak throwing arm that allows baserunners to steal almost at will. But the pitching staff -- notorious for doing a poor job of holding runners on -- deserves a huge assist there.
Given his strong bat and weak arm, Martinez's future is probably as a first baseman.
Grade: B-plus

Jason Michaels, LF
.277, 5 HR, 25 RBI
A definite downgrade from Coco Crisp, but at least he hustles and gets the most out of his limited athletic ability. Having said that, he best fits as a platoon player, the role he filled in Philadelphia. Hollandsworth should get the lion's share of innings in left field with Michaels getting the start against lefties, where he has historically excelled.
Grade: B-minus

Jhonny Peralta, SS
.250, 7 HR, 35 RBI
He has been the victim of a textbook sophomore slump as pitchers have adjusted to him. His seven homers are a dropoff from last year's pace, but probably more realistic of the type of hitter Peralta will be over the long term. He seldom had gaudy power numbers in the minors.
Peralta's bat has shown some signs of life in the past few weeks. Now his glove has to follow suit. Shortstop is simply not a position where a team can have inconsistent defense. If Peralta's defensive struggles continue, a position shift for 2007 might be in order.
Grade: C-minus

Kelly Shoppach, C
.222, 0 HR, 2 RBI
He dropped a pop-up in St. Louis last week that helped pave the way for a loss, but Shoppach still has the makeup of a good defensive catcher. He moves well behind the plate, has a strong, accurate throwing arm and has had little trouble quarterbacking the pitching staff so far.
If Shoppach's bat is even adequate, it might help pave Martinez's move to first base. But it's still too early to tell.
Grade: Incomplete

Grady Sizemore, CF
.299, 15 HR, 41 RBI
Some say Sizemore is headed to the heart of the order. I say, who is going to replace him at the top?
Sizemore is quickly becoming an elite leadoff hitter. If the Indians don't have an ultra-fast Kenny Lofton type to bat leadoff anymore, they might as well have someone with the quick bat of Sizemore.
Sizemore is the closest thing to a five-tool player the Indians have. He hits for average and power, is quick (though not lightning fast) on the bases and has very good range in the outfield. The only thing missing from his cache is a strong throwing arm. But he gets by without it.
Next week, he'll make a well-deserved first appearance in the All-Star Game.
Grade: A

Ramon Vazquez, IF
.159, 0 HR, 5 RBI
Politics won out over talent when the Indians kept Vazquez and traded Brandon Phillips. It probably wasn't going to work between Phillips and the Indians, and nobody could have foreseen the success Phillips would have with the Reds, but after watching Vazquez play, only one question comes to mind:
"The Indians traded Phillips, and kept this guy?"
Grade: D

The pitching

Rafael Betancourt, RHP
0-3, 5.40 ERA
Earlier this season, it looked like Betancourt would hold down the fort as the eighth-inning setup man. Then he hit the skids, and we now realize we are seeing a middle reliever pitching out of position. Betancourt works hard, but his stuff isn't good enough for him to be a late-inning fireman.
Grade: C

Paul Byrd, RHP
6-5, 4.10 ERA
After a slow start, he's become pretty much what the Indians expected him to be. He's a .500 pitcher with limited stuff who usually pitches well enough to give his team a chance to win most games.
Grade: C

Fernando Cabrera, RHP
1-1, 5.86 ERA
We can only hope this is a sophomore slump, because this is not the aggressive pitcher we saw last year. Cabrera's stuff has looked downright average this year, and he has the lukewarm stats to prove it.
Grade: D

Fausto Carmona, RHP

1-2, 4.46 ERA
He began the season as a starter, but found his way to the back of the bullpen, where he has flourished. He has electric stuff: a mid-90s fastball and a slider with bite, perfect for late-inning pressure situations.
Carmona's future might be at the back end of the 'pen, particularly if fellow young guns Cabrera and Jason Davis continue to struggle.
Grade: B

Jason Davis, RHP
2-1, 5.04 ERA
Davis has been downright maddening to watch. He has so much potential, yet is apparently incapable of harnessing it to the point of consistency. Send him down to Buffalo, he becomes a legend in the making. Bring him up to Cleveland, he's a 5-ERA mop-up boy. Only the Indians front office knows how many more chances Davis is going to get.
Grade: D

Jeremy Guthrie, RHP
0-0, 6.59 ERA
Call it a hunch, but I don't think the Indians have had a good read on this guy since the day they drafted him.
Grade: Incomplete

Cliff Lee, LHP
8-5, 4.69 ERA

After a brutal start to the season, Lee is once again showing his knack for picking up wins in bunches.
He has now won his last five decisions, and heads into the second half with an outside chance at 20 wins, though 15 to 18 is more realistic. At the end of the season, he will reclaim his place as a front-of-the-rotation pitcher.
Grade: B

Guillermo Mota, RHP
1-3, 6.53 ERA
One of the supposed veteran anchors for the back of the bullpen, Mota has been anything but a steadying force. Unfortunately, the Indians are paying for the sins of the Dodgers and Marlins, who abused Mota's arm in recent years.
Mota's arm has begun to show signs of life. But he is no longer a top-shelf reliever. I'd be surprised if he's back with the Indians next year.
Grade: D

Rafael Perez, LHP
0-0, 2.84 ERA
It's way too early to tell if Perez is a future bullpen stalwart, or just riding a hot streak. But he has given the sagging unit a lift. Along with Carmona, the two comprise the only real lefty-righty setup combo the Indians have.
Grade: A-minus

C.C. Sabathia, LHP
6-4, 3.90 ERA
He was injured on opening day, rebounded for a fabulous May, then regressed in a big way in June. Will the real C.C. please stand up?
C.C. gets docked points for mailing it in during a June start against the Cubs. Not exactly a way to gain your teammates' trust.
Grade: B-minus

Jeremy Sowers, LHP
0-1, 7.20 ERA
For a kid who was just thrown into the fire, he is adapting well. After a tough-luck loss to the Reds in his first major league appearance, he is rebounding with a strong effort against the Yankees as I write this.
Grade: Incomplete

Bob Wickman
12/15 saves, 4.68 ERA
He saved his first eight of the year with no difficulty. Since then, it has been a roller coaster ride. Wickman still has some gas left in the tank, but nobody knows how much. Sooner or later, his arm is going to say "no more," and the Indians had better be developing a successor to the closer's role in the meantime.
Grade: B

Off the field

Eric Wedge, Manager
It is a manager's job to make sure he has a good read on his team emotionally. Wedge failed at the outset of the season when he let his team get too high on themselves. Teams like that are ripe for a fall.
Instead of nipping a mentality problem in the bud, Wedge let it grow into full bloom. That's his share of the blame in a disappointing first half.
Grade: C-minus

Mark Shapiro, General Manager
Shapiro has gained fame for his ability to spin scrap heap straw into gold. That didn't happen this winter. He whiffed badly on Mota and Jason Johnson. He was forced to settle for his third closer option by re-signing Wickman. The Coco Crisp trade was a calculated risk aimed at adding a top prospect to the organization in Marte, but downgraded the team for this year.
In terms of attempting to build upon the success of 2005, Shapiro's moves this past winter did anything but that, at least as far as 2006 is concerned.
To the front office, it might be taking a step back to take a step forward. To the ticket-buying public, it looks like the Indians spent all winter blowing smoke into a certain bodily orifice.
Grade: C-minus

Larry and Paul Dolan, Owner and President
The ground rules: you have the owner you have, not the owner you want. Mark Cuban is not going to swoop in and buy the Indians.
The Dolans have a very good picture of the role a farm system plays in building a mid-market team. But beyond that, I don't know if they have a realistic idea of just how much money it's going to take to build a contender in Cleveland.
Shapiro has had two main channels for building a roster so far: the farm system and the bargain bin. Bargain hunting is great, but it's not a recommended pillar for continued success.
Sooner or later, the Dolans are going to have to fork over the cash to add at least one or two moderately expensive free agents, or this team will never rise above "catch lightning in a bottle" status.
Nobody is expecting the return of Manny Ramirez, but the ability to sign a good player to a three- or four-year deal in the $20 million to $30 million range is a must.
Maybe the Dolans were burned by the four-year Matt Lawton deal. But they have to get over that debacle. The Dolans have to be at least somewhat of a player in free agency, or be able to assume some salary of note in a trade, or this team will simply tread water over the long haul.
Grade: C