Inbox: What will the 2011 infield look like?
Indians reporter Anthony Castrovince fields fans' questions
As the baseball season winds down, it is time for the voters to make some difficult decisions and fill out their ballots.That's right, I'm talking about the 2011 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductions. The ballot was announced this week, and it is, as usual, an eclectic collection of nominees: Bon Jovi, Alice Cooper, Tom Waits, Donovan, Neil Diamond, LL Cool J, J. Geils Band, Beastie Boys, Donna Summer, Chic, Dr. John, Laura Nyro, Joe Tex, Darlene Love and Chuck Willis. Although I love the Rock Hall and visit it frequently, the list of inductees is disturbingly watered-down. Paul McCartney inducted as a member of the Beatles? I'm all for it. McCartney inducted as a solo artist? Uncle. ABBA, the Mamas and the Papas and the Bee Gees are all in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Just let that thought roll around in your brain for a minute. If the National Baseball Hall of Fame operated this way, we would have seen Matt Williams, Mark Grace and Mo Vaughn at the podium this year. Yes, they all had their moments, but they're not Hall of Famers. So go ahead, Rock Hall voters, cast your ballots. And go ahead, Jon Bon Jovi, get your induction speech ready. I'll be over here cringing ... and responding to the latest batch of e-mails in the Indians Inbox. Do the 2011 Indians have an infield? Obviously, there is a question at third base, and the answer is not Jayson Nix, Luis Valbuena or Andy Marte. First base currently features Matt LaPorta, who is starting to look more like Ben Broussard and Ryan Garko than Jim Thome. Second base has the most action with guys like Jason Donald, Cord Phelps and Jason Kipnis, but they are still just prospects. And what's up with shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera? All of a sudden you see his name being brought up by the Cleveland media as a liability.
-- John L., San Diego I have checked with my sources, and they inform me that the Indians do intend to field an infield next season. Stepping away from offensive performance for a moment, the porous infield defense is one of many reasons the Indians lost in excess of 90 games for the second straight season. As of this writing, the Indians have the third-most errors in the AL. That's not encouraging, considering that defense was a primary point of emphasis by manager Manny Acta and the coaching staff during Spring Training. But Acta believes a little more stability in the infield makeup would go a long way toward addressing the issue. "A lot of the stuff that happened, the guys couldn't control," Acta said. "The fact that Cabby went down, and we had to use multiple guys there. Then with Valbuena struggling, we had to use a few guys [at second]. And then the other carousel we had at third base, once Jhonny [Peralta] left. So it's about having the right guys and having some stability. Other than first base, which has been split between Russell [Branyan] and LaPorta, we haven't had any stability." Although I'm sure the Indians will kick some tires in the free-agent market at third -- an uninspiring market, unless you want to overpay for the likes of Brandon Inge, Jorge Cantu and Juan Uribe -- I see Nix as the favorite to stick. The Indians are sending him to the Puerto Rican Winter League for December to fine-tune his defense at the hot corner. If nothing else, Nix adds a little thump to the lineup. If you believe in zone rating, then it's worth noting that Cabrera has the second-lowest of any shortstop this season. He has made some amazing plays this season (that assist from the seat of his pants on a ball that bounced off Justin Masterson's foot might have been the defensive highlight of the year), but he has also looked a bit unmotivated at times, at the plate and in the field. Missing two months with a fractured forearm wreaked havoc on his season, so I suppose we should give him the benefit of the doubt, for now. This was Donald's first season in which he played primarily at second, and he appeared to look more comfortable as it went on. And perhaps I'm in the minority, but I thought LaPorta was better than expected at first. Certainly better than Branyan. But both Donald and LaPorta have plenty of room to improve at the plate, obviously. Acta said he gives LaPorta a mulligan for this year, as he spent his entire winter recovering from two surgeries, rather than getting in baseball shape. Stop me if you've heard this one before, but internal improvements from still-developing players are going to be the key to the 2011 infield taking shape. Outside answers aren't likely to be an option.
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.
-- Anthony C., Cleveland Yes, I'm the one who submitted this question. But only so that I could have a place to give you this information released by the club Thursday: In addition to Nix playing in Puerto Rico, third baseman Jared Goedert and outfielder Nick Weglarz will be playing in Venezuela, and right-hander Josh Judy, catcher Luke Carlin and first baseman Matt McBride will be playing in the Dominican Republic. Although not included on the official release, Cabrera (Venezuela) and Andy Marte (Dominican) told me they would be playing this winter, as well. I noticed during Saturday night's game with the Twins that the measurement on the center-field wall at Progressive Field is 400 feet. I remembered it being 405 when Jacobs Field opened in 1994. I know it's only a measly five feet, but what's the scoop on the revised distance this year?
-- Mike A., Mount Vernon, Ohio You are incredibly perceptive, Mike. I'll readily admit that I hadn't noticed this. But after checking with the team, I can confirm that you are correct. In fact, the Indians made the change two years ago, after re-evaluating the measurement and determining the original to be off by five feet. I want to say something. I'm going to put it out there. If you like it, you can take it; if you don't, send it right back. What do you think the Indians' chances are of finishing above .500 next year?
-- Adam H., Webster, Mass. We're talking about an 11- to 13-game improvement (depending on how many games the Indians win this weekend) for the Tribe to top .500 next year. If you can count on a lineup with a healthy Grady Sizemore (big "if") and Carlos Santana, and if what we've seen from Carlos Carrasco and Justin Masterson down the stretch this season is not a mirage, then I don't think that's totally out of the question. But a lot would have to go right for the Indians, and little has gone right for this organization over the last three years. I think a 2012 return to form looks more likely, at this point, but I've been wrong before. It's great to see all the success in the Minor League playoffs, but, historically, how often does that translate into Major League success down the road?
-- Kieran J., Manchester, England For the sake of my own sanity, I'm going to limit my research to the last four years of the Triple-A title, which the Columbus Clippers just won. In 2006, the Tigers' and D-backs' affiliates won the titles in the International and Pacific Coast Leagues, respectively. The Tigers made the playoffs that year (obviously on the strength of players on the Major League club, not the ones that won in the IL), and the D-backs did in '07. Neither team has been back since. In 2007, the Braves' and A's affiliates won the titles. Atlanta might win the National League Wild Card this year. Oakland hasn't won anything. In 2008, the IL and PCL titles went to the Yankees' and A's affiliates. The Yankees won the World Series last year. We've already covered the A's. Last year, the Triple-A titles went to the affiliates of the Rays and Cardinals. The Rays are in the playoffs this year. The Cards won the NL Central last year but will finish second this year. I think it's certainly helpful for young players to experience the postseason ride and establish a winning attitude. But all the old rules apply when building a championship club. You need pitching and defense, a little thump in the lineup and a dependable bullpen. Having a handful of guys who have experienced the "Bricktown Showdown" is nice and all, but it also might be the equivalent of being, to quote "Spaceballs," somebody's father's brother's nephew's cousin's former roommate. In other words, it might not mean much. I don't know if I missed something, but what's the status regarding Choo and his military obligation with South Korea?
-- Jose T., Utuado, Puerto Rico The status is that the Indians are sick of talking about it, I'm sick of writing about it, and Choo is sick of thinking about it. Choo will represent South Korea in the Asian Games in November. If the South Korean baseball team wins the gold, its players would likely receive military exemptions. If not, Choo will take other measures to ensure he can continue his baseball career without interruption. U.S. citizenship is one possibility. Why is it up to Sizemore if he wants to play left field? I think the Tribe should strongly urge him to play left.
-- Bill S., Perrysville, Ohio Players of Sizemore's caliber are usually consulted in such a move. But after three surgeries in the span of two years (and considering the difficulty of returning from microfracture surgery on the knee), it might indeed be time to make that move, especially with Michael Brantley on hand. If Acta decides the move is necessary, Sizemore ultimately must do what the manager decrees. My husband and I are watching Wednesday's Indians game against Detroit, and the stands look empty. How many people actually attended the first game of the doubleheader?
-- Priscilla M., Pomona, Calif. Would you believe me if I said you happened to tune in during the mass bathroom break? Do the Indians still hold the rights to Anthony Reyes? And if so, is there any chance he's healthy and can make an impact next season?
-- Micah S., Cleveland Heights, Ohio Reyes will be arbitration-eligible this winter, which means he could be a non-tender candidate. Then again, considering he has missed virtually all of the last two seasons (arbitration raises are based on the last two years' worth of performance), it's not as if he's due for a major pay raise. The Indians have the right to retain him, hope he works out his mechanical issues and consider him a depth piece for 2011. But Reyes is the first to admit he got into some bad habits while trying to adjust to elbow pain over the years, and ironing those out won't be easy. And finally ... Your prediction for the "shocker at 'The Shoe'" by the Ohio Bobcats over the Ohio State Buckeyes didn't quite come true. In fact, it was the complete opposite, followed by the Buckeyes' complete thrashing of Eastern Michigan the next week. Care to eat your words?
-- Rob F., Ashtabula, Ohio Hey, none of our players were decapitated, our mascot made national news (any publicity is good publicity), and, above all else, we still have Court Street. That's a victory, in my book. That's all for this time, folks. But the Inbox will be back on a more regular basis this offseason, beginning Monday, Oct. 11. Please keep those questions coming.