Inbox: How will Sizemore's return affect Tribe?
Beat reporter Jordan Bastian answers Indians fans' questions
The one thing you can always count on from Chris Perez is that the Indians closer will openly speak his mind. Like it or not, Perez tells you what he thinks, and he does not care how you react.
But Perez does care. He cares about winning, and he wants Indians fans to care about what is happening in Cleveland right now, too.
"We've been building up for this season, and we're good," Perez said. "We have a good team. We haven't even played our best ball, and we're in first place."
Do not get Perez wrong. His outburst on Saturday was not simply about some fans booing him during one of his recent outings at Progressive Field. When Perez performs poorly, he is fine with fans getting on him. That's part of baseball. Always has been.
But it is hard for the players to accept having the league's lowest home attendance when the team is in first place. Hopefully, things are headed in the right direction. Over this past weekend, Cleveland enjoyed some sunshine and larger crowds. Summer break is right around the corner and the American League Central race is heating up, as well.
Here's this week's Inbox ...
This may sound like a broken record, but what happens when Grady Sizemore returns from the disabled list? With Johnny Damon and Shelley Duncan in left field, Michael Brantley in center and Shin-Soo Choo in right, someone is going to lose playing time.
-- Shawn K., Columbus, Ohio
When the Indians signed Damon, everyone wondered how he would fit in given the fact that Duncan was performing so well at the plate at the time. By the time Damon was deemed ready to join the outfield, Duncan had slumped and the situation resolved itself on its own. Who's to say Sizemore's return won't have a similar circumstance?
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Right now, it has taken Damon time to find a comfort zone in the batter's box, and his defense hasn't been great in left field. When Sizemore does rejoin the team -- possibly at some point in June -- it seems likely that Cleveland will consider its planned Opening Day alignment of Brantley in left, Sizemore in center and Choo in right.
If that is indeed the case, I'd expect the Indians to discuss things with Damon, possibly giving him the option to stay on as an extra outfielder or parting ways with him (via trade or release). That said, it is highly unlikely that Sizemore would be an everyday option for the lineup right out of the gats. Brantley may still shift to center on occasion.
That being the case, Damon or Duncan could still see semi-regular playing time in left field for the first couple weeks after Sizemore's return. If Damon heats up at the plate in the meantime, then it becomes a decision about who should be the right-handed backup, Duncan or Aaron Cunningham. Both are out of Minor League options. I'd give Duncan the edge.
If the Tribe is still winning come June, what impact do you see Sizemore having with his return, and how long of a leash will he be given if we see a slow start? This team has visible chemistry, and I think everyone is settling into their respective roles at this point. I'd hate to see that shaken up in June.
-- Bryan M., New Philadelphia, Ohio
Sizemore showed what kind of impact he can have when he rejoined the Indians last season. Prior to injuring his right knee in May, the center fielder hit .282 with six home runs, 10 doubles, 11 RBIs and 15 runs in his first 18 games back with the Tribe. With that kind of potential, I think Sizemore will have a pretty long leash, and I doubt the team is worried that his arrival would negatively affect the team's chemistry. The only obstacle -- as has been the case for several years now -- is keeping him on the field and off the disabled list.
With Cunningham, Duncan and Damon all struggling to deliver in left field, would the Indians consider trying Matt LaPorta in the outfield again? He is dominating Triple-A pitching this year and played outfield for the majority of his pre-Indians Minor League career. He's played himself into contention for a callup, and left field is an area that is currently under-producing.
-- Graham E., Port Elizabeth, South Africa
Indians general manager Chris Antonetti noted recently that the team is keeping LaPorta in mind for both first base and the outfield. Cleveland is obviously encouraged by LaPorta's early showing at Triple-A, but the club also knows he has performed well in the Minor Leagues throughout his career. But yes, the Indians are monitoring LaPorta's progress and keeping him in mind for a possible callup at some point.
With the way Will Middlebrooks has emerged for Boston, do you think the Red Sox will begin to shop Kevin Youkilis? If so, do you think the Indians will attempt to make a move for him?
-- Cors B., Delaware, Ohio
It has been reported that the Indians have had scouts on hand for Youkilis' Minor League rehab appearances, but I'd wager that is more Cleveland doing its due diligence than anything else at this point. If Boston is willing to entertain offers, it makes sense for the Indians to check in on the asking price. The Tribe has already started to get the band back together again with former Red Sox players Derek Lowe and Damon already on the roster.
The Indians are leading the AL Central, but their winning percentage would place them no higher than second place in any other division in baseball. Is the Central division that much weaker than other divisions? -- Mac M., Olathe, Kan., (via Cleveland Heights, Ohio)
I'll answer with statistics. Over the past 10 years, it has taken an average of 98.6 wins to capture the AL East crown, 95.6 to win the AL West and 93.2 to win the AL Central. If you combine the records of the top two teams in AL divisions from each season over the past decade, you get average win totals of 96.2 (East), 91.9 (West) and 90 (Central). Here's what matters: The Central is winnable for the Tribe, and once a team makes the playoffs, all those regular-season averages go out the window.
I was a little surprised to see the Tribe is in the middle of the pack in the AL with 27 stolen bases. How many of those 27 have lead to a run? Would manager Manny Acta prefer the team to run more?
-- John B., Hiroshima, Japan (hometown: Willoughby, Ohio)
With some quick research (see: flipping through my scorebook), I found that 12 of the 27 stolen bases (44 percent) helped lead to a run later in the inning. As for running more, it all depends on the players on the roster. Acta does like having guys like Choo, Brantley and Jason Kipnis bring some of that element to the offense. When a team can't outslug its opponents, finding ways to manufacture runs is important.
What is the name of Cunningham's walk-up music? That little jingle puts me in a good mood every time I hear it.
-- Aaron C., Sagamore Hills, Ohio
Is "Aaron C." your real name? Either way, according to the in-depth music reporting of MLB.com's Anthony Castrovince, Cunningham's walk-up song is "Bright Side of Life" by Rebelution.