Addressing Some Needs
Anyone who watched the 2008 Indians season go up in the flames of Joe Borowski's career can speak to the lack of effectiveness by the Tribe's bullpen.
It's been a pretty simple equation over the last four years for the Indians: have a bullpen you can count on and you can make some noise. It was a solid pen in 2005 and 2007 and the Indians either challenged for the division lead (2005) or challenged for the pennant (2007).
In 2006 and 2008, well, not so much.
With that in mind, after the '08 season wrapped up, Tribe GM Mark Shapiro stated that the bullpen was his first priority heading into 2009. Shapiro took a couple big, bold steps toward solidifying the bullpen with his moves at last week's winter meetings in Las Vegas.
The Indians finalized a deal Saturday with free agent Cubs closer Kerry Wood. The money was worked out to the tune of about $20million over two seasons with another $10million or so due to Wood if he reached a certain number of appearances. With the financials worked out the Indians had only to sweat out Wood's physical before announcing the deal.
You're all familiar with Wood's injury history. It's as long as a Pacman Jones rap sheet and nearly as scary. But in this economy, general and baseball, a team like the Indians has got to roll the dice and make some bold moves if they hope to improve.
You can't fault the Indians for taking this chance. As was noted by Wood's agent when he was asked about the health of his client, Wood's final pitch of the '08 season was clocked at 97mph. Wood also has a knee-buckling slider that he can throw when his body is willing and his only injury from last year was a pesky blister that sidelined him for a few weeks.
If he can stay healthy (and I can almost hear tendons and ligaments tearing as Kerry Wood shakes the hand of the oft-injured Tribe uber-prospect Adam Miller) Wood is the first Indian closer since Mike Jackson or Jose Mesa who can actually blow hitters away.
Shapiro wasn't finished with the bullpen either. He shoe-horned his way into the Mets deal with Seattle that landed NY JJ Putz. Shapiro got involved by trading Franklin Gutierrez as part of that deal and receiving RP Joe Smith from the Mets and 2nd base prospect Luis Valbuena from the Mariners in exchange for a 4th outfielder with a man-hole cover sized hole in his swing in Gutierrez.Smith is just 24 and will be entering his 3rd major league season. He's a side-armer who is death on right handed hitters (.192 BAA in 2008). Valbuena came out of the depths of the Mariners prospect list last season to become a highly regarded middle infielder. He was impressive enough to earn a September call up with the M's and could battle for the 2nd base position in spring training if the Indians don't find a 2nd baseman between now and then.
Nothing against Gutierrez. He's a wonderful defensive outfielder. But a late inning defensive replacement is a luxury this team couldn't afford with the holes they had elsewhere.
Shapiro still needs to find a middle of the rotation starter and, hopefully, a 2nd or 3rd baseman to round out the club. But the bullpen issue and the lack of depth in the middle infield has been addressed. Knock on Wood.
A Bump in the Road
I was so hoping for a 79-3 Cavaliers record heading into the playoffs.
Not going to happen after the Cavs 11 game win streak ended Saturday in Atlanta. The Cavs were playing their 4th game in 5 nights and the 2nd game in 24 hours and they were doing it down a couple big pieces on their roster in Zydrunas Ilgauskas (ankle) and Daniel Gibson (toe). They still gave it all they had before the Hawks edged them Saturday.
In fact, the Cavs showed me almost as much in regard to their growth and maturity in that loss as they have in steamrolling teams on their way to a 20-4 record. Despite the schedule and the injuries and getting down by 14 against Atlanta in the 3rd quarter they came back with a vengeance and actually took a lead before running out of gas. Simply put, what happened in Atlanta is going to occasionally happen when you combine all of the factors noted above and combine it with the fact Atlanta can play.
That doesn't bother me. What would bother me is if Z's injury is one that lingers and costs him more than a week or two of time on the court. This team needs him because of offensive spacing issues. Z is a good enough shooter fro 15-18 feet away from the basket that opposing big men have to go out that deep with him. That clears the lane of a big body and allows Mo Williams, LBJ and Delonte West to penetrate to the basket. And that creates easy shots and open looks for everyone on the court.
Z is a huge reason why the Cavs offense works. When you move Anderson Varejao into the starting lineup you essentially have just three offensive players playing along side Varejao and Ben Wallace. Neither of the two is an offensive-minded post player (though Varejao does a nice job on the pick and roll and on occasionally having nights where he can knock down 12-15 foot shots) and defenses can collapse in the paint and make life miserable for the Cavs offense. Atlanta did a nice job of just that Saturday.
Get well soon Z. I saw enough shorthanded offense the last 3 years to last a lifetime.
I'd Be Remiss
I think I'm contractually obligated to at least mention the Browns at this time of year. So, for the 25 people interested, they have a game Monday night at Philadelphia. If you really enjoy watching the Browns in prime time I suggest you watch this one for as long as you can stand it. Chances are it will be your last such opportunity for a few years.
I'll watch. But I'm not sure for how long. I'm convinced that if Ken Dorsey was a front seat passenger in my car that he couldn't hit the driver-side window with a throw. And that's going to make it a very long night in Philadelphia.
Mark Your Calendar
Monday, January 5th, 2009. 8pm start. The Ohio State Buckeyes get a chance to shut up the doubters and haters when they meet the Texas Longhorns in Glendale, AZ. The Tostitos Fiesta Bowl has been good to the Buckeyes over the years.
Ohio State goes into the game as 10 point underdogs against the Longhorns. It'll be interesting to see just how much developing Terrelle Pryor has done since mid-November. The Buckeyes will need him to lead the way and they'll need to show Texas more defense than the Longhorns have seen in Big12 play this season.
Personally I think you, me and 9 guys off the street could show Texas more defense than the Big12 teams did this season. But the Buckeyes can begin to redeem their bruised national reputation with a win in the desert.