Inbox: Is there a first baseman out there?
Beat reporter Jordan Bastian answers questions from fans
It's that time of year again. The time of year when I start empathizing with Jack Torrance, the lead character from "The Shining." Being trapped in that big old hotel all winter long was enough to drive him insane. I'm not quite at that point, but I'm certainly getting a serious case of cabin fever.
I'm even starting to have some crazy dreams. Like the one a couple of days ago, when I went to the garage, grabbed a sledgehammer and locked myself in our basement. Down there in a dimly-lit corner, I swung away and smashed apart the large ancient work bench that has been sitting there since we moved in more than a year ago.
I woke up in a sweaty panic and thought, "You know? That's not the worst idea I've ever had."
Each winter, my wife pieces together a long to-do list filled with projects to complete during the offseason. I almost always put them off until the last few weeks before I leave for Spring Training. I tell her that I'm a sportswriter. I work better on deadline. Cleaning up that back corner of our basement made the list this time around.
All the junk that the former homeowners left behind had already been removed. Everything except a big pile of scrap lumber and that god-forsaken work bench, that is. This behemoth of a bench had probably been sitting there since the 1960s and Mr. Johnson was kind enough to leave it behind for me.
He also left his sledgehammer.
I retrieved it from my garage, retreated to the basement and summoned the mighty baseball swing that made me second-team all-conference back in my days as a cleanup-hitting high school designated hitter. By the end of the ordeal, I was standing in a pile of splintered wood, hammer in hand. I let out a satisfied scream.
My wife called down, asking if I was OK. Yeah, honey, I'm fine. I'm just ready for baseball season to arrive again.
Here's this week's Indians Inbox ...
Mark Trumbo is the PERFECT FIT to fill the Indians' first base needs. Right-handed hitter, sick power (29 HR/87 RBI in 2011) and low cost (2011 salary: $414,000). He is expendable due to the Angels' logjam at first, and the Angels are desperate for bullpen help, which is the Indians' strength and depth. What would it take for Cleveland to acquire Trumbo?
-- Colin, State College, Pa.
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That said, I agree that Trumbo is an interesting candidate to fill the Tribe's hole at first base. He's young -- under control for five more seasons -- and, as you noted, he showed sound power potential in his first full year in the big leagues in 2011. Trumbo does, however, have a few flaws, too.
Consider that Trumbo has just a .287 on-base percentage in 589 career plate appearances in the Majors. Last season, his 0.21 walk-to-strikeout ratio was the second-worst figure in the American League. Trumbo whiffed 120 times and had the second-worst OBP among the 17 AL hitters with at least that many strikeouts.
So, while Trumbo would fill the Indians' desire to add some right-handed power to a lefty-laden lineup, he also would bring a lot of outs with him. The Indians struck out 1,269 times in 2011, marking the most in one season in franchise history and the fourth most in one season in American League history. Trumbo would not help that issue.
It is also worth noting that recent reports have indicated that Trumbo's recovery from a stress fracture in his right foot has been slow. He has yet to resume baseball activities and his rehab could extend into the early portion of Spring Training.
I would be stunned if the Indians had not at least inquired about Trumbo's availability and the potential acquisition cost. Among my emails, plenty of fans have floated the concept of a Chris Perez-for-Trumbo swap. That isn't a one-for-one that I'd necessarily do, and if L.A.'s asking price is higher, I'd be very hesitant to make that move.
After the Tribe approached Carlos Beltran with an offer that was reportedly "close" to the Cardinals' offer that convinced him to sign with St. Louis, rumors about signing Carlos Pena and Derrek Lee have resurfaced. Are those first basemen still on the Indians' radar?
-- Jake D., Akron, Ohio
As has been written countless times by multiple reporters, the Indians continue to keep tabs on every first baseman not named Prince Fielder. The winter has dragged on, but Cleveland's need for a first baseman remains. That certainly keeps guys like Pena and Lee on the team's radar.
The hope would be that the asking price would decline as the offseason nears its close and Spring Training approaches. If we're limiting it to just Pena and Lee, I think Pena is of more interest. Things could change, but it has been reported that Lee's camp did not return the interest that the Indians showed.
Like Trumbo, Pena is an interesting option given his power potential. Similarly, though, Pena also brings a lot of strikeouts. He somewhat makes up for his low average with decent on-base ability and above-average defense. A one-year deal wouldn't be the worst idea, but agent Scott Boras will likely seek more. And if the cost is high, Cleveland might need to use a subsequent trade to shed some payroll.
Another con is the fact that Pena is a left-handed hitter. That said, if Pena was willing to sit on days a lefty started, allowing switch-hitting catcher Carlos Santana to man first while Lou Marson (.297 average against LHP in 2011) catches, that is not the worst scenario. I'm not sure if Pena is willing to enter a platoon-type situation, though.
With the recent giveaway of Carlos Zambrano by the Cubs, have there been any serious talk of a trade for Alfonso Soriano? Surely the Indians wouldn't mind paying a slugging right-handed left fielder $3 million right?
-- Colin A., Los Angeles
Chicago might be willing to eat a bulk of the $18 million Soriano is owed in 2012, but I hope this is one move the Indians would pass on. Over the last three years, the aging (36 years old) Soriano has shown a lack of durability (134 games on average) and has hit just .248 with a .305 on-base percentage. He could bring 20-plus homers with 70-plus RBIs, but I'm not sure it's worth the trouble. Soriano is also signed through 2014, so this would be more than a one-year gamble.
Could you please rank the following outfielders in order of most likely to make the team: Thomas Neal, Felix Pie, Zeke Carrera, Aaron Cunningham, and Shelley Duncan (the scenario being the Tribe brings on a first baseman, making Duncan more of a fourth outfielder).
-- John L., San Diego
Before offering my explanation, I'll give you my ranking: 1. Duncan, 2. Cunningham, 3. Pie, 4. Carrera, 5. Neal.
Duncan and Cunningham have a leg up on the competition for the fourth outfielder job due to being out of Minor League options. That means they can't be sent to the Minors without first being exposed to waivers. Duncan would have the edge in my book given his recent history with the Tribe and his strong finish in 2011.
I'd put Pie third due to his Major League experience. True, he is not on the 40-man roster -- he'll be in camp in Spring Training as a non-roster invite -- but he was signed to compete for a bench job. Carrera and Neal are on the 40-man roster, but both have options. It'd take a few injuries for them to climb the depth chart. I think Carrera gets the edge here due to his experience with the Indians last season.
I hope this isn't too crazy, but maybe the Tribe could go after Manny Ramirez? He has made a reference in the past about a potential Cleveland return, and he is just what Cleveland needs (right-handed power). I know he has to serve a 50-game ban, but by that point I am sure injuries would open up a roster spot for him.
-- Jordan A., Cleveland
If the Indians are in contention and in need of a hitter as the calendar approaches June or July, I think they'd be better off exploring options on the trade market. I'm not one who thinks Ramirez is worth the risk, especially with him being out the first 50 games. I'm also not sure his return would create the same warm fuzzy feelings that Jim Thome's homecoming did last year.
I just realized that Ryan Ludwick is still a free agent. Is it still possible that the Indians might think about signing him?
-- Evan W., Hudson, Ohio
If it takes a guaranteed Major League deal, I'm not sure the Indians would bite. Cleveland did have interest in Ludwick prior to last season's July 31 Trade Deadline, though. Last year, Ludwick hit .237 with 13 homers, 75 RBIs and a .310 on-base percentage between tours with the Padres and Pirates. I think the addition of Cunningham and Pie decrease the chances of someone like Ludwick being added.
It is also worth considering the positional issue adding someone like Ludwick would create. Cleveland has three starting outfielders in place and a handful of outfielders vying for the backup role. Adding more would likely push someone to the Minors or into a situation where they might have to switch positions to make the team.
This is why first base remains the most logical position to upgrade.
Jordan, the Indians inked Robinson Tejeda, a reliever with shoulder problems coming off a year in which his ERA was over 6. Is there any end to this madness?
-- Joseph D., New York
Joseph! What's up, my man? My Inbox isn't the same without you.
To be fair, Tejeda's 6.14 ERA last year with the Royals was only over 7 1/3 innings. But, you're right, he had shoulder woes and saw a drop in pitch velocity last season, which he spent mostly in the Minors. That's why the Indians signed him to a Minor League contract and not a big league deal. It's a low-risk move and, hey, if he bounces back that's a decent middle relief option to add to the depth chart.
I am tired of going on the Tribe's website and seeing the headline, "Tribe's pitching in good shape going into 2012." IT IS NOT!!!
-- Daniel Z., Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio
I'm going to summon my inner Jeffrey Lebowski here. Yeah, well, you know, that's just, like, your opinion, man.
In closing ...
Jordan, my favorite part of the Inbox is keeping up-to-date with what's going on with my beloved Tribe. That's followed very closely by someone submitting a ridiculous question, and you giving an answer that has me in stitches. What are the odds you hit the comedy circuit after you retire the computer? GO TRIBE!
-- Rex H., Cedar Rapids, Iowa
Thanks, Rex, but I'd surely be booed off the stage. It's hard enough when fans boo me at the ballpark.