Inbox: How to judge rebuilding process?
Indians beat reporter Castrovince answers your questions
-- Samil M., Grand Rapids, Mich. If the Indians finish within a whiff of .500, somebody block off the parade route on Euclid Avenue. Because this season is all about player development, and you should see that fact emphasized in the second half. Right now, the Indians are utilizing a lineup simultaneously geared toward development and contention, but that figures to change. Calling up top prospect Carlos Santana last week was an important step. Going forward, this club needs to find meaningful opportunities for Matt LaPorta and Michael Brantley in the everyday lineup. That could/should mean moving Russell Branyan and/or Austin Kearns, as neither of those guys fits into the Tribe's long-range plans. LaPorta has overpowered Triple-A pitching since his demotion last week (.435 average and five homers in six games), a sign that he just needed more consistent at-bats to gain confidence. Brantley has been a bit of a disappointment in the power department (just six of 51 hits have gone for extra bases), and he needs to take better advantage of his speed (seven stolen bases in 11 attempts). But he's 23 years old and has the tools to be a viable Major Leaguer, if groomed properly. The Indians still have a wealth of unresolved issues in the outlook for their future rotation. Fausto Carmona has shaken off the instability he had shown the last two years, and Mitch Talbot has been a pleasant surprise in the No. 5 spot. It's a little more difficult to be sold on David Huff and Justin Masterson, though Masterson's last three outings, particularly his brilliant effort against Boston last week, are encouraging. The Triple-A rotation has not lived up to expectations. Carlos Carrasco (5-2, 4.12 ERA) has been inconsistent, though has shown improvement of late. At some point in the second half, the Indians need to call him up and give him another shot. Aaron Laffey is getting stretched back out as a starter and might also get a look. Hector Rondon (1-3, 8.53) has battled injury and ineffectiveness, and Jeanmar Gomez (3-7, 6.96) has been a disappointment, coming off a strong 2009 at Double-A.
Have a question about the Indians?
E-mail your query to MLB.com Indians beat reporter Jordan Bastian for possible inclusion in a future Inbox column. Letters may be edited for brevity, length and/or content.
-- Aaron H., Steubenville, Ohio Considering the rotation issues outlined earlier and the Indians' respect for and confidence in Westbrook, I wouldn't rule out that possibility. Every team in baseball can stand to benefit from having a veteran presence in the starting five, and Westbrook's professionalism and work ethic are unmatched. He has fully recovered from the Tommy John surgery that cost him a year and a half of his career, and he should be reasonably priced on the open market. Westbrook is making $11 million this season. All that said, the Indians would have to give strong consideration to any serious offers for Westbrook this summer, as we all know how desperate contending clubs can get when looking for quality starting pitching. Westbrook would be a valuable addition to a team needing help in the middle of the rotation. And given that the respect the Indians have for Westbrook is reciprocated, you can't rule out the possibility of the Indians trading him in July, then attempting to sign him a few months later. Why trade Kearns? Why not a give him a three-year extension, because we won't resign Grady Sizemore [after 2012] and Brantley, Trevor Crowe and LaPorta can't match him.
-- Dennis Q., Brecksville, Ohio The Indians have Kearns at a bargain-basement price of $750,000 this season. His price will increase dramatically if he keeps up his current pace. Given Kearns' injury history and the Indians' desire to develop Brantley, Crowe and LaPorta, it's hard to imagine them going long term with the 30-year-old Kearns. But it's to Kearns' credit that this is even a worthy topic of discussion now, considering he was a low-key Minor League signee mere months ago. What happened to the pitchers received in the CC Sabathia trade and to Jason Knapp from the Cliff Lee trade?
-- John O., York, Pa. Obviously, the Sabathia trade was all about acquiring LaPorta and Brantley, and their performance at the Major League level is ultimately how the deal will be judged. On the pitching side, the Indians added hard-throwing reliever Rob Bryson, who underwent shoulder surgery at the end of the 2008 season and missed all of last year. The 22-year-old Bryson, a right-hander, is now at Class A Advanced Kinston, where he is 2-1 with a 2.65 ERA in 10 appearances. He's struck out 32 and walked eight in 17 innings. Left-hander Zach Jackson was a throw-in who was eventually thrown out. The Indians shipped him to the Blue Jays over the winter, and he's pitched primarily in relief for Triple-A Las Vegas this year. Knapp was viewed as the highest-upside acquisition in the Lee deal, but for now his only chance to show that upside is in Goodyear, Ariz., bullpen sessions. The 19-year-old Knapp is still working his way back from arthroscopic right shoulder surgery, but should be pitching for Kinston soon. This is as good a time as any to update you on the two Minor League arms added in the Victor Martinez trade. Nick Hagadone, a high-velocity left-hander, was bumped up to Double-A Akron and has made four starts for the Aeros, going 1-0 with a 4.26 ERA. He has struck out 12 and walked nine in 12 2/3 innings, so he obviously has had some issues with control. Right-hander Bryan Price has spent all season in the Akron bullpen, where he's posted a 4.32 ERA in 15 appearances. But note that Price has struck out 30 and walked just five in 25 innings of work. During the offseason, there were talks about a possible Shin-Soo Choo extension. With Choo and the Indians both strongly stating that Choo's upcoming military service requirement is a non-issue, I was wondering if there has been any development on a possible extension?
-- Ryan D., Columbus, Ohio None. Choo will be arbitration-eligible at season's end and could become the first Tribe player to go to arbitration in 20 years. It is my understanding that Choo's agent, Scott Boras, would be willing to talk to the Indians about a deal that buys out all three of Choo's arbitration years. But a deal that extends into Choo's free-agent-eligible years is not anticipated. And finally... In a recent Inbox, you struck down a suggestion that Santana be referred to as "Big Smooth," because he wasn't yet in the big leagues. Now that he's arrived, does the "Big Smooth" nickname stick?
-- Brad M., Solon, Ohio My real issue with "Big Smooth" was that it's a reference to the other Carlos Santana's 1999 smash hit, "Smooth," sung by Rob Thomas and overplayed by my freshman-year roommate at Ohio University. I hate that song, and I refuse to peg it to such a promising young player at this impressionable stage of his career. I'd suggest some other Santana song, but frankly I'm just not much of a Santana -- the guitar player -- fan. But please, by all means, somebody with a better understanding of the Santana -- again, the musician -- catalogue, come up with a suitable nickname for Santana -- the catcher -- before he gets the Victor Martinez treatment and becomes known as "C-Sant."
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.