For Shapiro, it’s still about the bullpen
Sunday, February 12, 2006
TRIBAL WRITES ANDY CALL
The Indians took another step forward in 2005, staying in the postseason race until the last day of the season. The team won 93 games, rekindling fan interest that had cooled during the rebuilding process that began in July of 2002.
Those who predict such things expect Cleveland to contend again this summer. The Indians lost some key cogs, however — Kevin Millwood, Coco Crisp, Bobby Howry, Arthur Rhodes and others — and the element of surprise will no longer be on their side.
General Manager Mark Shapiro recently sat down with writers who cover the team and discussed what might transpire in Winter Haven after pitchers and catchers report to spring training Thursday.
Q: What is your biggest worry entering the season?
A: My biggest concern is the bullpen. Bullpens are always a concern. If we had brought back the exact same bullpen as last year — the best bullpen in the American League — I’d still be concerned about it because of the volatility and inconsistency relief pitchers have from year to year.
Q: Might some of your young pitchers help out in the bullpen?
A: Andrew Brown was a guy we felt would get an opportunity this year. Fernando Cabrera is a guy we’ll look to work toward the back end and establish him. It’s important to increase how meaningful his appearances are. At some point, this year or next year, some young pitcher is probably going to get a chance to close.
Q: Where does Jason Davis fit in?
A: Jason will be competing for a spot in the bullpen and to be our sixth starter. I would see Jason, Jeremy Sowers and Fausto Carmona as candidates to be our sixth starter.
Q: Will Steve Karsay or Danny Graves be able to contribute?
A: We’re going to have to see some durability, maintenance of stuff and secondary pitches from Steve. Obviously, Danny’s stuff has declined. No matter how much courage he has, he needs more weapons to attack major-league hitters. We’re going to have to see some return of the quality, sharpness and velocity of his stuff.
Q: How impressive was C.C. Sabathia’s 2005 season?
A: The league made an adjustment him. And, when he made an adjustment back, they couldn’t hit him. What happened to C.C. was as good an individual accomplishment as we had last year.
Q: Is Jake Westbrook the pitcher we saw last year (15-15, 4.49 ERA) or the pitcher we saw in 2004 (14-9, 3.38) ?
A: When we analyzed it, we didn’t look at there being that big a difference. If he gives us 210 innings like last year, if that’s his downside, I’ll sign up for two more years. He was outstanding in 2004. He was very good last year. A season in between would be acceptable for us.
THE POSITION PLAYERS
Q: Could any of your young outfielders help the big-league club this year?
A: You’ll see a lot of Franklin Gutierrez and Brad Snyder during spring training. Franklin has had an unbelievable winter. He had more walks than strikeouts, which is significant because the two-strike approach was his biggest issue. He’s an exciting young player. Brad has the power, strength and athleticism to be a corner outfielder in the big leagues. Both of them still have to get to the next level. They need to continue to develop and improve. Some people in the organization think Ben Francisco could be a fourth outfielder in the major leagues, but injuries have prevented us from getting an extended look at him.
Q: Who would be your fourth outfielder to start the season, then?
A: Todd Hollandsworth is the favorite. He’s done the job before. He can play all three positions. His professionalism and intensity fit the makeup and personality of our team.
Q: Did the emergence of Grady Sizemore surprise you?
A: No one doubted this guy’s ability. But anybody who said that ability would translate at the pace it did deserves to wear a big “fraud” label on his head.
Q: Where does Brandon Phillips fit into the middle infield picture?
A: Brandon and Ramon Vazquez are the most likely candidates for that one middle infield spot. Lou Merloni could also fit in as the 25th guy. But he’s missed a lot of time the last year or so, and it may benefit him to spend a short time at Triple-A first.
Q: Could Ryan Garko be on the Opening Day roster as a first baseman?
A: Ryan is not ready defensively to be a major-league first baseman, no question. He has the bat to compete for a spot, but he definitely needs to improve at first base. It’s not his fault. He just needs more reps.
Q: Is this an important season for Ben Broussard?
A: Ben is at a crucial juncture of his career, for him and for us. At times, he’s been a prolific, run-producing corner bat. At times, he’s had slumps that have offset that production. He’s making much more money now. He’s going to have to produce like he’s capable of, and he’s capable. He knows what he has to do.
Q: Were you surprised by Travis Hafner’s success?
A: Very little about Travis surprises me any more. People don’t fully appreciate his toughness and intelligence, maybe because he doesn’t want them to. His level of preparation is already the best on this team. He’s tough. He wants to win. He’s a good teammate. I learn to appreciate him a little more every day.
Q: Do you have the budget to add a player if the opportunity presents itself?
A: Without a doubt, there remains flexibility in our budget to add a player at some point. Revisiting the offseason, we played on some players with very large contracts this winter. We’ve had ongoing trade conversations about acquiring players that have bigger salaries than we’ve had. We’ll continue to have conversations about adding those players through July. Short of a contract in the $15-to-$20-million range, I don’t see there being a player we look at acquiring where the salary is going to be the prohibitive issue for us.
Q: You have generally stuck by young players who have struggled. Now that those players have matured, are you going to be less patient with them?
A: We’re not going to wait three months. But, there also has to be a viable alternative. To pull the trigger, you need to have ammunition in the gun. For instance, we don’t have an alternative in right field unless Hollandsworth or one of our prospects goes off. But at first base, we have Garko and (Eduardo) Perez. So we have alternatives there.
Q: The team has gotten off to a slow start in each of the last three years. How can you change that?
A: Two years ago, it was the first time in the big leagues for many of our players. Last year, it was their first time with expectations. Things snowballed after a rough start. These players have been through so much the last two years, but they’ll be better for those experiences. They have gained an understanding of how important getting off to a good start is, rather than trying to make up ground.