Inbox: How will Carmona situation affect club?
Indians reporter Jordan Bastian answers questions from fans
When I opened my inbox this morning, I had 55 new messages awaiting me. That seemed fitting, considering that is the number the Indians pitcher known to date as Fausto Carmona has worn on his uniform for the past six seasons.
Most of the inquiries sent my way were related to the pitcher and the sudden uncertainty surrounding his future in Cleveland. Carmona was arrested on Thursday in his native Dominican Republic on charges of using a false identity for the extent of his pro baseball career.
The authorities in the D.R. are investigating the matter and the Indians are sorting through their options as the 2012 season approaches. There are still many unknowns, but I'll do the best I can to tackle a few of the questions that are clearly on many fans' minds right now.
The question I want to ask about the Carmona situation is, "Why?" Why does someone have to lie about being three years younger and assume another name? I could understand if it was the Little League World Series, but not the big leagues. Can you please make sense of that for me?
--Rex H., Cedar Rapids, Iowa
I can't sit here and pretend I know what the pitcher known to date as Fausto Carmona -- his real name is believed to be Roberto Hernandez Heredia -- was thinking some 11 years ago when he signed with the Indians. What I can say is this isn't the first time baseball has seen this happen.
I also can't imagine the pressure felt by a young player who has a chance to sign a professional contract, which could change his life and the lives of his family members. Had Carmona (that's what I'll call him in this space for the sake of clarity) said he was really 20 years old, and not 17, at the time, he might not have been signed.
This does not excuse his actions. Carmona has allegedly carried on with this lie for more than a decade, deceiving the Indians and their fan base. First and foremost, though, this is more of a legal matter than a baseball matter. Cleveland is trying to sort through the mess to determine its own course of action.
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The Marlins are dealing with a similar situation with pitcher Juan Carlos Oviedo (known previously as Leo Nunez). Oviedo's issues began in September and he's still trying to obtain a visa in order to leave the Dominican Republic. He's on baseball's restricted list and won't see a dime of his $6 million 2012 salary until he is back in the United States.
What do you think the rotation will look like without Carmona? I have not been a fan of his after his struggles the last few years. I think Ubaldo Jimenez and Derek Lowe will do a better job of anchoring the rotation.
--Jeff H., Columbus, Ohio
The good news is that Carmona wasn't being counted on as the Indians' No. 1 starter, as was the case heading into 2011. Justin Masterson has emerged as a leader on the staff and Jimenez has front-line potential if he can find his old form. Josh Tomlin and Lowe will fill two more spots.
Carmona likely would've opened the season somewhere within the Nos. 3-5 slots in the rotation. With his status unknown, Cleveland will have three arms -- lefty David Huff, along with righties Jeanmar Gomez and the recently-acquired Kevin Slowey -- vying for the lone vacancy on the staff.
Slowey, who was acquired from the Rockies via trade on Friday, might enter camp as the favorite for a spot in the rotation. Indians general manager Chris Antonetti denied that the Slowey trade was a direct response to Carmona's situation, but the move does seem like an insurance policy of sorts.
Right now, the Indians do not know how long it will be until Carmona is back in the United States. His legal battle, and subsequent visa application process, could take weeks, or even months.
I hope everything with Carmona (or whatever his name is) clears up fast and he is pitching for the Indians this season, but if he is unable to play in 2012, do you see the salary saved by losing him going toward the first baseman Cleveland needs?
--Patrick G., Chagrin Falls, Ohio
The Indians might have a good case for voiding Carmona's contract, but it does not seem as though the club is going to go that route. He would not receive any of his 2012 salary ($7 million) while on the restricted list, so that is definitely one scenario Cleveland is considering.
The issue right now is that the Tribe doesn't know at this point when Carmona might be available to them. Say what you want about the pitcher, but his deal is still affordable (for a pitcher with his career performance) and club-friendly (the Indians have club options for 2013 and 2014).
Essentially, Carmona is under contract on a one-year deal, but he would not receive any of his salary if he remains on the restricted list all season. Maybe Cleveland could reallocate some of the money tied up in that deal, but it is hard to know how much is available in light of the uncertainty surrounding his return.
The Indians are still looking into signing or acquiring a first baseman, but I'm not sure how much (if any) of the money used for that would come courtesy of Carmona's contract.
On to some other topics. ...
I look at this Indians team on paper and see a team that once again is going to struggle mightily against left-handed pitching. Is this is legitimate concern at this point?
--Mike M., Cleveland Heights, Ohio
Oddly enough, the lefty-laden Indians had a better team average (.258) and on-base percentage (.325) against lefties than against righties (.247/.314) last year. That said, your concern is understood, considering Cleveland could have as many as eight left-handed hitters in its lineup.
This issue is not lost on the Tribe's decision makers. That is one reason a right-handed outfielder such as Aaron Cunningham was added to the mix to compete for a bench job this spring. Cleveland projects to have an all-lefty outfield (Michael Brantley, Grady Sizemore and Shin-Soo Choo), so having a righty in the fold seems important.
Cunningham hit .395 against lefties in the Minors in 2011 and he hit .364 against lefties in the Majors in 2010. He struggled against left-handers in the big leagues last year (.205), but the potential to turn things around is there. He has hit .328 against southpaws in his Minor League career versus .256 in the Majors.
Another player who will get a serious look again this spring is utility man Jason Donald, who hit .377 against lefties last year. Other solid performers against left-handers in 2011 included catchers Carlos Santana (.318) and Lou Marson (.297), third baseman Jack Hannahan (.296) and shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera (.291).
Couldn't the Indians spend all the money they're using on these Minor League deals towards a legitimate lineup threat? I get what they are doing provides depth, but why not use that money to make a big difference and add some pop?
--Thomas C., Powell, Ohio
One Major League signing can't protect a team at every position. May I remind you that only one team in the American League (Twins) used the disabled list more than Cleveland in 2011. The Indians were without their entire outfield and two-fifths of their rotation for much of the year. Some of these Minor League signings might be underwhelming on paper, but there is no doubt that the Tribe's depth behind the big league roster is stronger now than it was a year ago.
Where do you stand concerning Josh Tomlin? Will he become a low ERA guy or will it stay at 4.00-ish? He really has some stuff, but I want to know what you think.
--Jonny L., Cleveland
I'm a sucker for pitchers who work fast by pounding the strike zone and limiting walks -- maybe that's because I had the pleasure of watching Roy Halladay work every fifth day for five years in Toronto -- so Tomlin has a fan in me. This will be a big year for the young righty, though.
The key for Tomlin is to keep the hitter's guessing and that's something he struggled with once he was on his second or third time through a lineup last season, especially in the second half. If he improves on mixing up his pitch patterns, and cutting down the home runs allowed, he should keep that ERA in good shape.
With all the concern surrounding the Indians' future at first base, I was just wondering whatever became of Beau Mills? I remember him having a few big years at Double-A Akron and then he kind of fell off the radar. Is he still an option?
--Greg H., Mayfield, Pa.
Last season, Mills hit .289 with 18 homers, 22 doubles and 67 RBIs in 96 games spent between Double-A Akron and Triple-A Columbus. Ross Atkins, the Indians' vice president of player development, discussed Mills last week during the team's Winter Development Program in Cleveland.
Here's what Atkins had to say:
"Great year. He has really persevered. He had a tough run over the last three years. He was so good that year  in [Class A] Kinston. We have the utmost respect for his toughness, his perseverance and for the person that he is. But playing first base, you've got to be one of the best hitters on the team. That's pretty much what it comes down to. He's been productive. He just has to be one of the best guys offensively."
Will we able to listen to the glorious sounds of Indians voice Tom Hamilton this season in Columbus?
--Steven H., Columbus, Ohio
Indeed you will, Steven. The Indians announced earlier this month that they had reached an agreement with 1460 ESPN, WBNS-AM for the 2012 season. The station will air a majority of the Tribe's regular-season games when there isn't a conflict with Ohio State athletics.
In closing ...
Well, hello, Mr. Bastian. My question is in regards to the 2012 promotional schedule. I am curious about the date of the Chris "Pure Rage" Perez bobblehead giveaway. Will it feature my throwing arm represented as a bazooka as requested?
--@PureRage_Perez (Twitter), Cleveland Indians Bullpen
How's it going, Rage? I believe your suggested bobblehead was deemed potentially harmful for children. The Indians also had some concerns about having 10,000 of these bobbleheads in the stands at once. A comprehensive study revealed that this scenario would most likely scare the opposing hitters to the point where they wouldn't show up for the game.