Mailbag: Quick start critical for Tribe?
Beat reporter Anthony Castrovince answers fans' questions
Sleep is not my specialty. I come from a long line of tossers and turners, and I'm pretty functional on short rest.That being said, enough already with this daylight savings nonsense. Why are we saving all this daylight? What are we going to do with it? Are we rolling it into some 401(k) plan that we'll cash in sometime in 2178 with a full week of sunshine? I just don't get it, though I'm now bracing myself for the slew of e-mails I'll get from would-be meteorologists explaining how necessary it is. If I sound a little cranky, it's because it's Spring Training, I'm still trying to adjust to a new early morning wakeup schedule and daylight savings has once again cost me a valuable hour of my life. Perhaps your bright and shiny e-mails will snap me out of my foul mood ... Do you expect a strong start for the Indians this year, or will they struggle as they have in previous years under Eric Wedge? If Wedge has another slow start, I don't know if I'd even hire him as my latex salesman.
-- Phil J., Stow, Ohio The gist of this question appears to be: Is Wedge on the hot seat, and should he begin applying for work at Vandelay Industries? (Thanks for the "Seinfeld" tie-in, Phil.) The short answer is no. Or, at least, not yet. But Wedge's job security could very well change in a hurry if this team doesn't perform to internal expectations. And, yes, that includes getting off to a better start, which, for the record, I do believe is possible. General manager Mark Shapiro is on the verge of a contract extension, but Wedge is not. The GM is deferring judgment on Wedge's club options for '08 and '09 until later in or after the season. You might have read this elsewhere, because it's true: Wedge appears more relaxed than ever this spring. He seems genuinely confident in the offseason moves that were made, in the talent of his young core and in the depth options assembled at various spots. Already, though, Wedge is facing hurdles. His bullpen took a hit with the unexpected retirement of Keith Foulke, and his rotation took a blow with the injury that will sideline Cliff Lee at the start of the year. This will be another stern test for a guy who's never managed a team with a payroll that ranks higher than the bottom 25 percent of baseball. I hear that Jhonny Peralta had a pair of RBIs in the game against the Mets, but that's all I've heard of him. How is he doing?
-- Brent F., Lexington, Ohio Peralta's impressed so far. He went 2-for-4 with an RBI in Sunday's game against the Yankees, raising his spring average to .350. But where I was more interested to watch Peralta was the field. And if the first couple of weeks of games are any proof, it appears that his offseason condition work has helped quite a bit. Peralta has never had much trouble with the routine play, but now you're seeing him doing a much better job of moving side to side and getting to balls behind the bag. Peralta and Josh Barfield have also looked like an effective double-play combination. "We've seen some good all-around baseball from Jhonny," Wedge said on Sunday, "and it's been every day." Are the Indians going to have a short leash on Paul Byrd this year like they had with Jason Johnson last year? I would love to see Fausto Carmona or Adam Miller as the fifth starter.
-- Bob P., New York Carmona will be the fifth starter at the outset of the season, thanks to the Lee injury. The Indians aren't likely to leapfrog him with Miller, who still needs time at Triple-A Buffalo, or Brian Slocum, who's lower on the food chain. But when Lee comes back, you're right that there will be added pressure on Byrd to improve on his '06 season. The performance of Carmona, Miller and Brian Slocum could force the issue further. But will the leash be as short as it was with Johnson? Probably not, when you factor in Byrd's salary, his history and the fact that he's simply a better clubhouse presence than the aloof Johnson was. Byrd is the first to acknowledge that his '06 was a disappointment, and he's been working diligently on his breaking pitches this spring to improve his performance against lefties. Matt Miller has been racking up the K's. What are the chances he makes the team?
-- C.J. B., Greenwood, Ind.
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-- Walter T., Austin, Texas Per my request last week, the "Seinfeld" references are rolling in fast and furious now. New closer Joe Borowski might cause some Wickman-like moments. He'll get your heart rate jumping a bit, as he's not a pure strikeout pitcher and he is not afraid of the inconvenience posed by baserunners. Last season, for instance, Borowski gave up 63 hits and 33 walks in 69 2/3 innings. But he converted 36 of 43 save opportunities. How do you feel about Aaron Laffey?
-- Harrisonburg, Va. Well, it doesn't quite matter how I feel about Laffey, does it, Jeff? But I can tell you the Indians are feeling a lot better about Laffey now than they did at the end of the 2004 season, when he struggled with Class A Lake County. The left-handed Laffey, who was reassigned to Minor League camp on Sunday, put up nice numbers at Class A Kinston (4-1 record, 2.18 ERA in 10 appearances) and Double-A Akron (8-3 record, 3.53 ERA in 19 starts) last season. He's not afraid to attack the strike zone, as evidenced by his 85 strikeouts against just 39 walks in '06. Laffey doesn't have great pure stuff, so that confidence and control in the zone is important. He'll likely open the year in the Akron rotation. Jim Rosenhaus has been a great radio broadcaster for the Buffalo Bisons for many years, and I think the Indians fans will enjoy his professionalism and knowledge of baseball. I just want to thank him for all the years of service to the Bisons and their fans. I wish him all the best.
-- Paul B., Hamburg, N.Y. I'm sure that Rosenhaus, who was recently called up from Buffalo to be the pregame host on the Indians Radio Network, will appreciate the kind words, Paul. And I'm sure that Tribe fans will grow to enjoy his talents as much as you did. I read last week's mailbag and couldn't help but notice your mention of the Magic Bullet. As the owner of one, let me tell you, it really is incredible. As for my question, what are the chances that the Indians carry more than one lefty in the bullpen?
-- Kevin K., Chicago I've never used the Magic Bullet, but I find its claims difficult to believe. Based on the infomercial, one would assume you could put a large carrot, half a turnip, a batting-practice baseball and a woman's sock into the blender and come out with alfredo sauce. The Indians aren't likely to carry more than one lefty (Aaron Fultz) on Opening Day. But Rafael Perez, Juan Lara and Tony Sipp are all in the mix to join Fultz by the end of the year. Shapiro said that he's been particularly impressed with what he's seen from Lara and Sipp in the early stages of camp. Sipp strikes me as the kind of guy who could be closing games for this team in a couple years. In last week's mailbag, you wrote: "Luis Rivas has really impressed Wedge and infield coach Luis Rivas." Infield coach and battling for a utility job? Wow! That's impressive. Did you get sunburn on your brain down in Florida?
-- Matt K., Youngstown, Ohio There's an argument (and a solid one) that I didn't have much of a brain to burn. But thanks for the correction, and I apologize to Luis Rivera and his entire family. That's all for this week. We'll be on a bit of a funky schedule next week, so the mailbag will run Wednesday, instead of the usual Monday slot. But please keep those questions rolling in.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.