Talking Indians baseball with Lewie Pollis in an attempt to gain some insight on the Mariners opposition.
BB: How surprising was it to see Grady Sizemore re-sign with the organization? Especially considering all the interest he garnered from other teams.
LP: It was clear that the Indians were at least making overtures trying to keep him—there were rumblings about trying to work out a contract for 2012 even before they declined his option—but it was surprising in that Grady left at least a few million dollars on the table to come back to Cleveland. I have a tremendous amount of respect for him for that, especially after a number of players the Tribe checked in on (Derrek Lee, Carlos Pena, Carlos Beltran) had no interest in coming to Cleveland. He’s like the anti-LeBron.
It’s unfortunate that he didn’t get as much respect for staying in Cleveland for a discount that he should have, and I think he lost most of the goodwill he had among the fans when he got injured (again) before the season even started. But it’s not his fault that he’s hurt, and I don’t think people appreciate that gesture as much as they should.
BB: Seattle Mariners fans grinned when they heard Jose Lopez had made the Indians. What is your impression of the former Seattle top prospect?
LP: He had a great spring and he definitely looks better than he has the last few years, but I’ve never been too keen on the idea of him earning a roster spot. I’ve mellowed out a bit since Jason Donald made the roster too (it wasn’t clear this winter that there would be room for them both) and I like the flexibility that the Indians have with him on the bench.
I still don’t get why the team thinks so highly of him—he hit fifth in his season debut, ahead of Shelley Duncan and Jason Kipnis—and I’d rather have seen Russ Canzler win the final bench spot, but he doesn’t look as bad as he did when you guys shipped him to Colorado.
BB: The Indians locked up both Asdurbal Cabrera and Carlos Santana this season. What were your impressions of the deals they received?
LP: The Santana extension is an absolute steal. Breaking down the numbers, if he’s merely a league-average player over the life of his contract Santana will give the Indians surplus value. Even if he starts entering an age-related decline before age 30 Cleveland still comes out ahead in the end, and if he takes his game to the next level (I fully expect him to start getting MVP votes in the next year or two) then you’re talking about one of the most team-friendly contracts in all of baseball.
The Cabrera deal isn’t quite as big of a discount, but even so Cleveland is paying him as if he’s an average player. No one’s quite sure what to expect from Cabrera going forward after his early power surge last year, but at the very least he’s an above-average hitter who plays a premium position. Even if you don’t think he’s very good in the field (and there are those who consider him to be one of the best defenders in baseball) he shouldn’t have any trouble giving the Indians a solid return on their investment.
BB: Rumors have you on the verge of signing Johnny Damon. What are your abbreviated thoughts?
LP: If he’s not coming to be an everyday player I’m all for it. I’m not fully convinced that he’d be better pinch hitter and backup outfielder and DH than Russ Canzler, but he’d be a fine bat to have off the bench and a solid insurance policy for if Travis Hafner’s health problems continue in 2012.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be what the Indians have in store for him. Chris Antonetti and Scott Boras reportedly have an understanding that the Tribe will let Damon go if he isn’t getting enough playing time. The problem is, Shelley Duncan is better than Damon on both sides of the ball, and both hit same-handed pitchers well so they’d be an odd couple as a platoon. I don’t know what Damon expects in terms of playing time, but whatever it is it’s likely to come at Duncan’s expense—and that makes this team worse. Unless someone gets hurt or Duncan completely collapses he shouldn’t be an everyday starter.
BB: Did you approve of trading for Derek Lowe?
LP: Absolutely. Lowe is a reliable innings eater whose struggles last year were largely due to luck. He’s not an ace anymore, but the Indians don’t need him to be. There’s real value in getting 200 innings of league-average run prevention or better, and it’s well worth $5 million and a marginal prospect to get that kind of production. I think it’s one of the best moves Chris Antonetti has made since taking the GM post in 2010.
BB: Who’s pitching for the Tribe this weekend, and what should Mariner fans look for?
LP: In the first game you get our ace, Justin Masterson (3.21 ERA, 3.68 SIERA last year). He’s got a great sinking fastball that induces a lot of grounders, and when he’s on he can bring some serious strikeout stuff too. His only real weakness is getting left-handed hitters out, and even in that regard he’s made some real strides.
Next you get Derek Lowe (5.05 ERA, 3.75 SIERA), the master of burning worms—if you think Masterson kept the ball down after game one, wait ’til you see Lowe. Get ready to swing because he has just three strikeouts and one walk after two starts so far. The Mariners’ best bet is to hit grounders up the middle, as neither Asdrubal Cabrera nor Jason Kipnis has great range.
Finally, you’ll see Josh Tomlin (4.25 ERA, 4.23 SIERA). He had the lowest walk rate (1.1 BB/9) in baseball last year, and it’s been more than a year since the last time he gave up more than one walk in an outing. He’s an outlier in Cleveland’s rotation in that he gives up a lot of fly balls, so he should feel right at home at Safeco.
BB: What are your expectations from the series?
LP: I make it a point never to bet against Masterson so the Indians take game one, and I’ve been impressed with Lowe so far so I’ll give the Tribe game two. I’m not stupid enough to predict that we’ll beat Felix Hernandez in game three, though.
You can catch the opposite end of the interview here!