Mailbag: Can Valbuena start for Tribe?
MLB.com reporter Anthony Castrovince answers fans' queries
In his youth, Elvis Presley sang about Las Vegas' bright lights setting his soul on fire. And in his older years, it became clear that Vegas had done a number on The King's stomach, as well.I know the feeling. The Vegas casino buffets are a wrecker of willpower. You don't just make one run through the buffet. Every guest in this grandstand of gluttony makes at least three trips -- the "feeling-out" phase, the second run through the items you couldn't fit on your plate the first time, and the final run through the desserts. The more determined diners pound a third plate, before they get to dessert. This plate usually consists of experimental items such as butternut squash ravioli and teriyaki halibut. And the genuinely gritty gorgers manage to involve a fourth plate. This is the "greatest hits" portion of the program, as it involves all your favorites from the previous three trips. A few years ago, I made it to the "greatest hits" at the Mandalay Bay buffet. I then went into a food coma for four hours and woke up sweating -- and still full. I tried to walk it off but instead found myself sitting on a bench, wondering if this was how it would all end. Thankfully, I survived to eat another day. So here I am, post-Winter Meetings, trying to work off another week of Vegas' take on fine dining. And I'm also here to take your questions on a week in which the Tribe took Elvis' advice and pushed those stakes up higher. The 12-player swap seems like a great move by Mark Shapiro. Are the Indians thinking of handing the second base job to Luis Valbuena right at the start? And Joe Smith seems like a young, great situational pitcher to shore up the 'pen. To only give up one player for two promising ones seems like the Indians got one of the better ends of the deal. Thoughts?
-- Alex D., Duluth, Minn. The Indians got a pretty nice package in return for Gutierrez, who, as I've written before, simply doesn't strike me as an everyday player, given his offensive inconsistencies. Gutierrez is out of Minor League options and a year away from arbitration eligibility, which further complicated a Tribe outfield picture that already has Grady Sizemore and Shin-Soo Choo as locks for starting spots, David Dellucci eating up a roster spot with his contract, Ben Francisco worthy of big league consideration and prospects Matt LaPorta, Michael Brantley and Trevor Crowe knocking on the door in Triple-A. Valbuena adds depth to the middle-infield picture. He's left-handed, which makes him a valuable complementary piece (he could potentially share second with Jamey Carroll), he possesses patience at the plate (a respectable 59 walks in 523 plate appearances in the Minors last season), and he's on the cusp of big league readiness. Plus, Valbuena has three Minor League option years remaining and is three full seasons away from arbitration. Then you toss in Smith, who, in addition to bringing in a name straight out of the Witness Protection Program, adds another option to the always unpredictable bullpen. Smith is a ground-ball pitcher, which is always a plus in the 'pen, and he should match up well against right-handers. He also has an option year remaining. Are these high-impact acquisitions? Not really. But when you look at what the Indians gave up and what they got back, it was a sound swap that dealt from a position of depth, added to two areas of need and did so with sound economic rationale.
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-- Mike A., Mount Vernon, Ohio The Indians have already expressed interest in Wigginton, who became a free agent Friday. But he might be out of their price range, considering he could have made upwards of $7 million or $8 million in arbitration. The Indians don't have the dough for any more high-profile, free-agent expenditures. So if they fill their infield void, it will likely be with a much cheaper alternative. "With what we've done thus far," Shapiro said, "we've given ourselves the chance to be a little more patient with our offseason and look for the highest-upside guy." I'm curious as to how CC Sabathia will be viewed by Tribe fans when he returns with the Yankees. When he was traded, I personally had no ill feelings and figured, when CC returned, he would be greeted much better than, say, Jim Thome or Manny Ramirez. But signing on with the Evil Empire is worse than if he'd not been traded and left via free agency. Still, I'm hard-pressed to want to have ill will toward a guy who, without a doubt, in his time in Cleveland left his heart and soul on the field every time he stepped on it.
-- Ian H., Findlay, Ohio I'm just as curious as you, Ian. I am hopeful fans will do the right thing and give Sabathia a hearty cheer the first time he's announced as a Yankee at Progressive Field, then go back to business as usual, treating him as they would any other opposing starting pitcher. But that scenario is completely unrealistic. The bitter ones will boo, the classy will cheer and the rest will have their hands and mouths full of hot dogs and nachos. Sounds like an electric atmosphere to me. Given LaPorta's less-than-stellar Dominican Winter League showing (.164 average, two homers, 12 RBIs in 17 games), do you think he has a realistic shot at winning a 25-man spot out of camp?
-- Jeff K., Sacramento, Calif. LaPorta never really had a realistic chance of making the club out of Spring Training to begin with. His immediate future is at Triple-A Columbus. The Indians do not appear overly concerned with the uninspiring numbers LaPorta's put up since joining the organization in early July in the Sabathia trade, because they recognize this has been an abnormal year for him on several fronts. He'll be in Cleveland in January for the annual Minor League conditioning program, and he'll be in big league camp, as well. I was wondering how many players from the Indians are going to be participating in the World Baseball Classic? I know Shin-Soo Choo wants to play for Korea, but do the Indians have other players representing their countries?
-- Hanbom Y., Scarsdale, N.Y. Not much has been confirmed when it comes to potential rosters, though I did see an Italy provisional roster that includes mailbag favorite Sal Fasano. U.S. manager Davey Johnson will probably make a push to get Sizemore involved, though Sizemore has not indicated whether or not he is interested. Victor Martinez could play for the Venezuelan team, but, because he missed so much time on the disabled list last season, it's my understanding that the Indians have the right to prevent him from going. The same goes for Fausto Carmona and the Dominican Republic. Provisional, 45-player rosters will be released in mid-January, with the final rosters set in late February. I'm sure we'll see some information leak out in the coming weeks. Johnson, for one, said he'd like to have his roster confirmed by Christmas. And finally... Any chance of Paul Byrd returning to the Indians?
-- Rick G., Dublin, Ohio Not really. Byrd will be out of the Indians' price range -- largely because that price range might not even exist. The club has made it clear it might not be able to afford fill its need for a middle-of-the-rotation starter externally. Byrd, for the record, is trying to land with a team close to his Georgia home.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.