Inbox: Might Duncan supplant LaPorta at first?
Beat reporter Jordan Bastian answers Indians fans' questions
My son is re-discovering what the offseason is like when your dad is a baseball writer. For the past week or so, I've had a little 30-pound leach attached to my leg every morning, afternoon and evening. He's happy to have me home after six months of travel.
There is still plenty of work to do, but the offseason is a great time for us scribes to reconnect with our families. As for my boy and I, we have come up with a few routines that play out daily. We head out to the driveway to fetch the morning newspaper. I make my coffee and he gets his milk. We relax for a bit and then engage in a heated game of basketball in the living room.
We've lived here for a little more than a year now, but that room remains relatively empty. That's what happens when you used to live in a small condo, and move into a house that came with a pile of projects. Right now, the living room's furnishings include a small tent with a tunnel coming out of one side, an inflatable ball pit and a miniature basketball hoop.
The hoop was a birthday present (go figure I'd have a son born on Sept. 1, the date that rosters expand in baseball) from one of his aunts. Junior prefers one-handed dunks while I tend to shoot from long range. This morning, he decided to put one small plastic ball in each hand for twice the points with one slam.
I shot from near the dining room and he put on a dunking clinic from the paint. In a game to 15 points, I barely came out on top and began singing "We are the champions," providing a great lesson in good sportsmanship. My 2-year-old son threw his hands down, wore a scowl and shouted, "No! Don't be the champion, daddy!"
OK, maybe I'll let the little guy win next time. Maybe.
On to this week's Indians Inbox...
With Matt LaPorta's struggles so far for the Indians, why not try Shelley Duncan as the starting first baseman?
--Gary B., Cleveland
I'm not sure that Duncan would earn an everyday nod at first base, but he certainly has put himself in position to compete for increased playing time. Duncan can provide a right-handed option at left field, first base or designated hitter. That is position versatility that the Tribe definitely appreciates.
Duncan's strong finish this past season (he hit .276 with a .353 on-base percentage, seven homers and 24 RBIs over his last 33 games) opened plenty of eyes -- from manager Manny Acta to members of the front office -- and the Indians like having him as an alternative for the 2012 season.
One thing that Acta and general manager Chris Antonetti have made crystal clear is that LaPorta has to earn the first-base role again this spring. If LaPorta is unable to convince the club that he is the right man for the job, Duncan is an intriguing possibility for splitting time at first with catcher Carlos Santana.
This, of course, would be a scenario only if Cleveland opts against acquiring a first baseman via trade or free agency over the offseason. If the Indians decide to look outside the organization for help at first, Duncan would likely enter next season as an option for left field and part-time DH duties.
The Tribe is still weighing whether to exercise center fielder Grady Sizemore's $9 million club option for next season. If the team declines the option, and Sizemore becomes a free agent, Michael Brantley might suddenly be in the plans for center field. That might create more playing time in left for Duncan.
I am not sure I get the whole concept of avoiding using Santana at catcher on an everyday basis. Buster Posey, Brian McCann, and Yadier Molina do not play first base, and they are fine.
--Brian J., Newington, Conn.
The reasoning behind having Santana split his time between catcher and first base -- most of his time is spent behind the plate -- is to keep his bat in the lineup as often as possible. Keeping him at catcher every day would remove his bat from the equation for roughly 30-40 games per season.
Consider that McCann has averaged 125 starts at catcher over the past six seasons and Molina has averaged 120 per year over the past seven. Last year, Molina led the Majors with 132 starts behind the plate, while Detroit's Alex Avila came in second with 130. I'll toss Posey out. Due to injury, he has only one full season (2010) under his belt and he split time between catcher (75 starts) and first (30) that year.
This past season, Santana ranked 26th in baseball with 151 starts at any position. He was the top-rated catcher in terms of starts on the field. Molina ranked second with his 132 starts, so he was nearly 20 games behind Santana due to playing only the one position. Avila ranked second to Santana in the American League with 131 starts.
What this shows is that Cleveland -- offensively challenged for plenty of stretches last year -- did well in keeping Santana in the lineup. That is the approach that the Tribe wants to maintain going forward with the young catcher. The Indians do not want to be in a situation where they are without one of their top hitters for roughly 20 percent of the games.
OK, Santana does have respectable "pop" at the plate, and he comes cheap for now. But please explain why (in your opinion) management is so intent on keeping a guy who bats under .270 -- and has too long of a swing -- in the batting order.
--Mark K., Lewisburg, Ohio
First, let's get something out of the way. Do you know how many catchers hit .270 last season? If we go with those with at least 100 games played, the list includes only five names. It seems that you have some pretty high standards for the men who take a daily bruising working behind the dish.
Moving on, it is important to remember that Santana is only 25 years old, and that he just completed his first full season in the big leagues. This guy is hardly a finished product. So, at this point, you have to look at the flashes of potential rather than the whole body of work, in my opinion.
As @tribeinsider (Indians PR) pointed out on Twitter on Monday, Santana was one of four players (Miguel Cabrera, Joey Votto and Prince Fielder being the others) to amass at least 25 homers, 35 doubles and 90 walks in 2011. That is a nice little list to be on. Santana also had a .351 on-base percentage despite that subpar .239 average. A year ago, he had a .401 OBP in his brief taste of the big leagues as a rookie.
I think Santana's average will rise as he gains experience. He hit .290 over his Minor League career and sees more pitches per plate appearance than most hitters. Santana also had an extreme reversal in splits over the last two years. He hit .314 against righties in 2010 and .202 against them last year. He hit .146 against lefties in 2010 and then .318 against them in 2011. Both he and the pitchers are learning tendencies and adjusting.
So why do the Indians want him in the lineup as much as possible? Because Santana is developing into a patient slugger from both sides of the plate, and he has shown the potential to become an even better all-around hitter. Beyond that, even with his struggles, Santana is one of the Tribe's most productive bats right now.
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.
--Joe M., Lakeview, Mich.
Cuddyer would definitely make sense on a number of levels, and I imagine that the Indians will kick the tires on him once he hits the free-agent market this winter. One question that Cleveland would need to ask, though, is whether the acquisition cost of someone like Cuddyer would be worth handing him a job, as opposed to rolling the dice on someone like Duncan, who is already affordable and in the fold.
Most teams feel that, even when healthy, Travis Hafner can't play every day due to his age. That being said, I think you dump Hafner, re-sign Jim Thome and have him split time with Duncan, who can also be used as a fourth outfielder. Your thoughts?
--Kevin W., Lexington, Ohio
The Indians can't just "dump" Hafner without still being on the hook for his $13 million salary for 2012. Cleveland could try to trade him, but the market would be virtually non-existent for a strict DH with that type of salary and Hafner's history of health woes. I do not anticipate Hafner in a uniform other than the Indians' come Opening Day.
Is there any word yet on whether or not Ubaldo Jimenez will be playing in the Dominican Republic this winter? Also, how about Francisco Lindor? Where is he playing and how is he doing? Where will he start next season?
--Ryan J., Cleveland
Jimenez is currently penciled in for winter work with Tigres del Licey in the Dominican Winter League. Jimenez said that he would not pitch during the regular season in winter ball, but would join the team if it made the postseason. The starter feels a handful of innings can help him be better prepped for the start of Spring Training.
As for Lindor, he just wrapped up his part in Cleveland's instructional league and will spend this winter working out at the team's complex in Goodyear, Ariz. The shortstop is not scheduled to play in any Winter Leagues. The Tribe is far from making its decisions on Minor League assignments, but I imagine that Lindor will begin at low-Class A.
Any chance the Indians sign Albert Pujols this offseason? He's a big right-handed bat that the Indians desperately need -- not to mention one of the best hitters in baseball -- and can be had at the rather affordable price of a $100-plus million contract. What's not to like?
--Andrew M., Hudson, Ohio
He'll be here all week, folks. Tip your waitress.