01/16/12 11:53 AM EST
Inbox: Who's manning first base for the Tribe?
Indians reporter Jordan Bastian answers questions from fans
By Jordan Bastian / MLB.com
Bottom line: We're still figuring out if he's a righty or a lefty. At some point, he'll start favoring one hand over the other and I'll know whether to bring him up as a pitcher or catcher. I'm hoping he'll have some interest in becoming a switch-hitter. Fingers (left and right hand) crossed!
Why am I rambling on about this? A) Rambling is sort of my specialty. B) There seems to be an obsession among Indians fans about acquiring a right-handed power hitter. I've argued on and on about the importance of Cleveland landing a solid hitter -- no matter which batter's box he prefers to stand in.
This is not to say I don't understand why fans want a strong righty added to the mix. Right now, there projects to be six regular lefties in the lineup, with two switch-hitters on top of that. That means there could potentially be eight left-handed hitters in the lineup against a right-handed starter. That's hardly balance.
Such a lineup, however, could be advantageous given that teams see righty pitchers more often than lefties. It's also good to point out that the Indians play half their games in Progressive Field, which is annually one of the best ballparks for left-handed hitters.
Last season, lefties posted a .760 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) in Cleveland's home ballpark. Only Yankee Stadium, Fenway Park and Rangers Ballpark had better showings in the American League. The 106 homers lefties launched in Cleveland ranked second to Yankee Stadium (122) and the 1,311 total bases by lefties at Progressive Field was first in the league.
I am not bringing any of this up as an argument against adding another right-handed hitter to the mix. Cleveland definitely could benefit from improved balance up and down the order. It's just worth pointing out that there is some method to the madness that is Cleveland's lefty-laden lineup.
Here's this week's Indians Inbox. ...
Have the Indians totally given up on Matt LaPorta? Will he have another shot to redeem himself as the team's first baseman?
-- Steve, Cleveland
The Indians have not given up on LaPorta, but the club clearly recognizes a need to upgrade the production coming from first base. Given LaPorta's offensive struggles over the past two seasons, Cleveland is trying to add another first baseman to the mix before Spring Training.
One thing working against LaPorta right now is the fact that he has a Minor League option remaining, meaning he can be sent to Triple-A without being exposed to waivers. That puts him in a spot where he really needs to show something during the spring to convince the Tribe to put him on the Opening Day roster.
In a sit-down with reporters in Cleveland last week, general manager Chris Antonetti said LaPorta's spring evaluation will not be strictly based on results. The Indians will take a close look at his swing fundamentals and approach at the plate. Improvement in those areas would help LaPorta's cause.
Antonetti noted that Indians hitting coach Bruce Fields recently spent four days working with LaPorta in Florida. According to Antonetti, Fields came away encouraged by some adjustments LaPorta made with his swing. It's going to take a lot more than an impressive batting cage session for LaPorta to win back his job, though.
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That said, even if Cleveland does add a new starting first baseman, LaPorta would have an outside shot at a bench job. In a recent discussion, Antonetti indicated that LaPorta could be considered an option as a backup for the outfield, first base and designated hitter if he turned in the type of spring showing that warrants a big league job.
Why is it that the Indians go for power rather than batting average? LaPorta was supposed to be hitting for power, but what he needs to do is remain consistent.
-- Jonny L., Cleveland
Cleveland never asked LaPorta to sacrifice average in favor of swinging for the fences. What the Indians want to see -- as you noted -- is more consistency with his swing mechanics, approach and results. That's what the team will monitor this spring. If LaPorta can become more consistent, that natural power should follow. He admitted at the end of the season that he may have been too caught up in trying to hit home runs.
Jordan, these ridiculous signings by the Indians are difficult to witness. In your estimation, does Cleveland really have a shot at acquiring an impact first baseman like Carlos Pena or Carlos Lee or even Mark Trumbo? Or are we just being strung along?
-- Joseph D., New York
I think you've cracked the Inbox three weeks in a row, Joseph. That might be an Indians.com record.
The Minor League contracts that you're referring to might not get fans excited, but they are necessary. And as we sit here today, the Indians' depth behind the Major League roster is improved over a year ago. As for first base, I think the Indians will add someone before the season begins.
Will that be an "impact" player? Well, I guess it depends on your definition of "impact." I think Casey Kotchman is someone to keep an eye on. He doesn't boast much in the way of power, but he could improve the Tribe's team average and on-base percentage. He could be a good fit in terms of how the playing time might be handled at first base, too.
The Indians just need to go sign Pena for like six or seven years.
-- Matt J., Minerva, Ohio
And Pena should immediately hire you to be his agent.
Have you heard or think the Indians have any interest in Michael Morse of the Nationals? Right-handed bat, good power numbers and his strikeout rate isn't too high. I don't know about you, but I'd like to see that trade.
-- Sam W., Toledo, Ohio
I agree that Morse would look pretty good in a Tribe uniform. It's my understanding, though, that Washington isn't looking to trade him. He'd most likely wind up in the outfield if the Nationals signed first baseman Prince Fielder.
With the Indians in need of some slugging power, and a big bat in the outfield, what are the chances that the Indians might consider signing and bringing Manny Ramirez back to Cleveland?
-- Ryan M., Mayfield, Ohio
I've speculated on Cleveland's non-interest in previous editions of the Inbox, but I can write with more authority on this now. Antonetti said last week that Ramirez is not a "positional fit" for the Indians, shooting down the idea of possibly bringing him back into the fold. It's rare that Antonetti comments publicly about specific players, so that's about as solid as it can get.
Can we finally let this one go now?
I know he comes with a heavy price tag, but will the Indians have any chance of signing Yoenis Cespedes this offseason?
-- Alex J., Parma, Ohio
The Indians are definitely interested in the Cuban outfield prospect. Recent reports have indicated that Cespedes has started narrowing the list of potential landing spots, and Cleveland remains among a handful of teams still in the running.
Ubaldo Jimenez pitched 2 1/3 innings in winter ball on Dec. 20 and got shellacked to an 11+ ERA. Since then, he hasn't made an appearance. What's up? Is he OK?
-- Chris K., Los Angeles
I wouldn't make too much of one winter ball outing. That's not exactly a great sample size to rely on for future projections. That said, Antonetti noted that Jimenez came down with the flu shortly after that start and was sidelined for five days. After that, the pitcher opted against making any more winter ball starts. He'll be ready for Spring Training.
Can I get an update on Fausto Carmona?
-- Jonny L., Cleveland
Is this the same Jonny L. from earlier? Two questions in one Inbox might be another Indians.com record. Moving on. ...
As of this writing, Carmona had made five winter ball starts in the Dominican Republic. In those outings, the big sinkerballer had a 3.74 ERA, a 1.15 WHIP and 8.3 strikeouts per nine innings. Over 21 2/3 innings, Carmona had yielded 12 runs (nine earned) on 18 hits with 20 strikeouts and seven walks.
What do you think about trying Jack Supermanahan at first base?
-- Frank L., Concord, Ohio
Hannahan certainly has a strong enough glove to handle the position, and he performed well against left-handed pitching (.296 vs. LHP and .226 vs. RHP) last season. That could make him an interesting candidate to share time at first base with switch-hitting catcher Carlos Santana.
Hannahan's value, though, is as one of the best defensive third basemen in baseball. He'll compete for the starting job at the hot corner this spring. If that job goes to Lonnie Chisenhall, Hannahan would likely shift to the bench as a utility man, with first base being one of the positions he backs up.
J-Beast, please tell me the Indians at least inquired about Anthony Rizzo. Seems to me that the Cubs got him fairly cheap and offered value that Cleveland could have matched or easily beaten. Did the Tribe have no interest, or did the stars just not align?
-- Andrew P., Apple Creek, Ohio
J-Beast? That's a first. The Indians inquired about Rizzo, but the stars did not align.
In closing ...
How was the torch passed from Anthony Castrovince to you? When you're all finished with the Inbox, can I take a crack at it?
-- Kipp H., Stow, Ohio
Castrovince became a columnist for MLB.com after the 2010 season, opening up the beat-reporter role. I was acquired with a Minor League contract that included an invitation to attend Spring Training with the big league club. I'm rostered now and I don't plan on going anywhere for a while. Get used to me!