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Inbox: Managing expectations for 2011

Inbox: Managing expectations for 2011

The cup containing my milkshake the other day informed me that the particular establishment serving this shake was, in fact, established in 1996.

Yes, that 1996. The one that took place just 14 years ago.

Having been established myself in 1981, this certainly didn't impress me. In fact, it bothered me. Because any company that incorporates "established in ..." on its logo is inherently attempting to demonstrate its staying power, to boast that it has stood the test of time in a fickle world of false promises and shortsightedness.

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But 1996? What does that prove? Absolutely nothing.

We regulate everything else. Now, it's time to regulate the use of "established." I propose a 50-year waiting period from the time of establishment to the time of bragging about said establishment.

And if you totally disagree, then I'd like to take this opportunity to point out that the Indians Inbox was proudly established in 2006.

When Cliff Lee and Victor Martinez were traded last year, general manager Mark Shapiro said the Indians were taking a step back and were hoping to contend in 2011 and beyond. Based off everything you've seen this year, do you still think that's realistic? -- Mike F., Fairview Park, Ohio

Thanks in large part to injuries, the Indians will enter 2011 with many more question marks than I'm sure Shapiro anticipated when he made that remark.

We don't know how center fielder Grady Sizemore and catcher Carlos Santana will respond to their knee surgeries, and that is enough reason to have concerns about the lineup. Then you have to add in the fact that Travis Hafner is still dealing with right shoulder soreness and, at a salary of $13 million next year to be a designated hitter who is often rested against lefties, will continue to hamper the payroll. Question marks abound in left field and at second and third base, where the Indians are currently evaluating Michael Brantley, Jason Donald and Jayson Nix, respectively.

Next year's rotation is also very much unsettled. Fausto Carmona went from outcast to All-Star, but I wouldn't classify him as a true No. 1, shutdown starter, by any stretch of the imagination. Mitch Talbot has revealed himself to be a nice option for the back end of the rotation. Justin Masterson has been unpredictable. David Huff was horrendous much of the first half and now has a chance to redeem himself.

We've seen encouraging things from Josh Tomlin and Jeanmar Gomez early on in their Major League careers, and the Indians hope that continues. I'm not sure I've seen anybody get hit as hard as Carlos Carrasco was last September; we'll see how he fares this September. Alex White looks to be the most promising starting option in the upper levels of the Minor League system, but he'll likely be getting his first taste of Triple-A in April. Double-A right-hander Corey Kluber was an intriguing addition in the Jake Westbrook trade.

All this serves to predict that the Indians, who appear doubtful to add much payroll this winter, will go into next year with low expectations similar to this year. But there will be more built-in upside because of the experience these young guys have gained in 2010.

Is there any chance the current management takes a page from their 1990s predecessors and signs these young players to long-term contracts? This way, they can develop together like Kenny Lofton, Carlos Baerga, Jim Thome, Manny Ramirez, etc. -- Ron L., Middleburg Heights, Ohio

That's hardly the only inter-organizational precedent for locking up young players. The Indians did just that with CC Sabathia, Lee and Martinez, and, as you know, all three were traded before those extensions expired. Sizemore and Jhonny Peralta were signed long-term before the '06 season, with Sizemore essentially a non-factor the last two years because of injury and Peralta a non-factor because of performance. Westbrook and Hafner were extended in 2007, then promptly began to get hurt. Carmona was extended in '08 and promptly began walking everybody.

The Indians made attempts to sign Shin-Soo Choo long-term before this season, but Choo's new agent, Scott Boras, wanted no part of it. If recent history with these extensions is any indication, maybe both parties were better off.

I saw the White Sox called up 2010 Draft pick Chris Sale. I then look at the Indians, and our picks from 2007, '08 and '09 are still in the Minors, Double-A or below. Our 2010 pick, Drew Pomeranz, is not even on a team. What gives? Does the front office have no faith, or are they way too cautious? -- Daniel B., Rochester, N.Y.

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Pomeranz isn't on a team because the Indians have yet to sign him. Negotiations will probably come down to the wire with Pomeranz, as they did with Alex White last year. Next Monday is the last day to get a deal done.

In general, the Indians have been more cautious with their young talent. And in some cases (such as 2007 pick Beau Mills), their top picks simply haven't been worthy of such a promotion. The Indians believe in the process that comes with climbing up the Minor League ladder, and they've obviously been careful with service-time issues with some young guys. But keep in mind that Sale's promotion is directly tied to the White Sox's place in the American League Central. When you're in a pennant race, caution goes out the window.

With a big question mark at third, I don't see Andy Marte playing there because of inconsistent stats. I also don't see Nix, because he is more of a utility guy. Why don't the Indians just gamble on a guy like Lonnie Chisenhall and bring him up here. He could be the next amazing rookie, if all goes well. -- Daniel B., Rochester, N.Y.

Daniel, clearly a big fan of pushing prospects along faster than the Indians are inclined, gets a rare Inbox two-fer here.

Jared Goedert will get a look before Chisenhall, as he has experienced (and thrived at) the Triple-A level, something Chisenhall might not do until 2011. It's still a bit premature to judge Nix, though I wouldn't rule out the possibility of the Indians having to search for some kind of stopgap at third base this winter.

Shelley Duncan has been a pleasant surprise, much like Tommy Wiseau's death at the end of The Room. What is his contract situation, and does he fit into the Indians' 2011 plans? -- Ryan M., Lakewood, Ohio

Thank you, Ryan, for a long-awaited Room reference. I've missed those.

Duncan was signed to a Minor League deal before the season, and he can be a free agent again at season's end. He's certainly proven his worth on multiple fronts. He's a great clubhouse asset and a true pro. The Indians would be wise to find a way to keep him around in a bench capacity next year, though it's too soon to tell if they view that as a realistic scenario, especially given their outfield depth.

Just because I don't know any other way to word this question, I'll come right out with it: Who is Michael Brantley? Is he the kid who hit leadoff last year in place of Grady Sizemore and batted over .300? Or is he the kid who batted leadoff for Asdrubal Cabrera this year and can't get above .180? And how long are the Indians willing to experiment with him? -- Rob F., Ashtabula, Ohio

The Indians will run Brantley out there as their starting center fielder and leadoff man through the end of the season. They believe in his abilities -- most notably, the patience at the plate that allowed him to post a .388 on-base percentage in his Minor League career, and the speed that helped him swipe 46 bags in Triple-A last year.

That was a very small sample we saw from Brantley last September, and he hasn't been given a long enough look to judge this year, either. Let's see how these last couple months play out, and then we'll have a better idea of what to expect from the kid.

And remember, he's only 23.

Nick Weglarz has been one of the Indians' top prospects, and I always thought of him as an option for 2012. After a slow start in Triple-A Columbus, he has been on a tear of late. Could he be a September callup this year and a legitimate outfield option for next year, or is 2012 more likely? -- Rich S., Columbus, Ohio

Weglarz could get a call come September. Whether or not that's the case, 2011 is looking like an option for him, particularly if the Indians continue to scale back their use of Hafner. There is a lot to like about "The Canuck With Pluck," including his .889 OPS at Triple-A -- at the age of 22.

The redheaded Weglarz has power and plate discipline, which is an obviously attractive combo. When he was 17 years old and at Progressive Field for a pre-Draft workout, he pelted homers to the second deck in right field. That section is currently (and erroneously) known as "Pronkville," though perhaps someday we'll call it "Wegland."

What are the Tribe's thoughts on Hector Ambriz? He hasn't been impressive, but the club seems determined to keep him (rather than offer him back to the D-backs). Why? -- Steve V., Colorado Springs, Colo.

Ambriz survived the first four months of the season, and there's no reason to believe he won't survive the last two months and remain the Indians' property.

Given the erratic nature of the bullpen in the first half, the Indians never had a great deal of incentive to consider cutting Ambriz off the active roster. They still like him for the reasons they took him in the Rule 5. He has power stuff. And when he commands it, he can be an effective relief option. When he doesn't, he's hit hard. He's a developing rookie, and he's often looked the part.

Any news on right-hander Jason Knapp? I know he was injured and all. I just haven't heard anything about the big piece in the Lee deal. -- Jared S., Geneva, Ohio

Knapp appears to have recovered from the shoulder surgery performed on him last fall and has logged a few short outings with the rookie-level Arizona team. He is expected to spend the last few weeks of the season at either Class A Lake County or Kinston.

What are the chances that the Tribe will do with Marte what has been done with Tony Pena Jr.? -- Zac T., Dellroy, Ohio

That was a terrifically awkward and hilarious sequence of events when Marte took the mound against the Yankees on July 29. Let's embrace it for the one-off moment that it was. No sense heaping unrealistic expectations on Marte ... again.

Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. He blogs about baseball at CastroTurf. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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