Labor Day has passed, the kids are back in school (some even willingly) and the Cleveland Browns are 0-1, which can only mean the Indians' season is winding toward its inevitable close.
Yet it's a credit to the bait that is baseball that I continue to receive, in bulk, your Tribe-related queries, some of which are represented -- and, in most cases, answered -- below. As summer's last gasp is upon us, the Inbox, much like a Phil Davison campaign speech, continues to educate, inspire and entertain the masses. So let's see what was on your mind the last couple weeks, shall we?
I see Matt LaPorta as a No. 6 or No. 7 hitter in the Majors. When we got him in the CC Sabathia trade, he was supposed to be a 30- to 40-home run guy. Now, he's struggling to get to double-digit homers in one season. Where has all this power hitter's "power" gone? -- Teddy E., Asheville, N.C.
LaPorta's lack of pop at this level (both Jayson Nix and Jason Donald have a higher slugging percentage than LaPorta) has to be one of the Indians' concerns going into the winter.
That said, the Indians don't like to judge a player on his first 500 at-bats, and LaPorta will have every opportunity to show improvement next season. He has shown the raw power to hit -- and even mis-hit -- balls out of the ballpark. But his general inconsistency has clearly demonstrated his immaturity as a Major League hitter. He's been accused of being pull-happy.
Whether LaPorta's inconsistency is derived from a lack of focus, lingering issues with the left hip or the simple acclimation process many young hitters go through at this level is a question I can't answer. All I know is the Indians have to hope for more from LaPorta next season, or the CC swap will receive even more scrutiny than it has already.
Carlos Santana's knee injury, while not as bad as initially thought, still puts big questions marks on his ability to play catcher next year, doesn't it? Will the Indians have any idea before Spring Training if he will be able to catch 50, 100 or 150 games next year? Wouldn't his knee injury also put on hold any notion the Indians have had that he might be taught first base, similar to Victor Martinez, to keep his bat in the lineup when not catching? -- Rich S., Columbus, Ohio
The Indians expect Santana to be ready by Opening Day 2011. I doubt, however, that he'd be ready for full activity by the first day of spring camp. There will certainly be some question as to whether he's ready to handle the rigors of catching every day.
If anything, it would seem the knee injury might speed up his need to progress at first base, as the position would allow him to take some of the pressure off his knees. The Indians were planning to execute the "Victor Martinez Plan" with Santana next spring, anyway, and the knee surgery only amplifies the importance of that experiment, in my opinion.
Come next year, when Grady Sizemore will be back, what will happen to Michael Brantley's role? Will he be moved to left field? -- Daniel B., Rochester, N.Y.
The outfield composition will be tied directly to how well Sizemore recovers from microfracture surgery, which is no easy procedure to come back from. Even if Sizemore is ready as planned for Opening Day, he might not completely have his legs under him after missing much of the last two seasons, and a move to left field might be best for him and for the team -- at least early in the year.
I could definitely see Brantley remaining in center at the outset of the season, if not indefinitely. But again, that's all up to Grady and his arm.
I noticed the Tribe moved Nick Hagadone to the bullpen. As the "prized" piece in the Victor Martinez trade, I had high hopes for Hagadone's impact for the Tribe. Is there word this is a temporary move to protect his arm, or did the Indians give up Martinez for what looks like three middle relievers? -- Ben S., Shaker Heights, Ohio
From the time Hagadone was drafted by the Red Sox in 2007, it had been speculated that he might be best suited to the bullpen. Though he was working on his changeup, it was not a strong enough pitch to pair with his upper-90s fastball and sharp slider and give him a full starter's arsenal. His move to the bullpen in the second half at Double-A Akron is expected to be a permanent one.
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Hagadone and Bryan Price are both relievers. Justin Masterson might one day return to relief, but the Indians, who have a greater need in the rotation than the 'pen right now, still envision him as a starter going into 2011. Masterson's final two months, during which he went 3-2 with a 2.72 ERA and .233 batting average against in eight appearances, were certainly more encouraging than anything that came before.
I'm inquiring about Juan Lara. Does he still play for the Indians? I cannot find him on any rosters throughout the Minors. How is he recovering, and will we see him in spring training 2011? -- Tiffanie P., Canton, Ohio
As reported this spring, the Indians opted not to sign Lara to a Minor League deal this year, as they had the previous two. They did allow Lara to train at their Dominican Republic facility last winter. To my knowledge, Lara did not latch on with any Major League organization this year. I certainly hope his recovery from that vicious auto accident in 2007 has continued to go well.
Former Indians reliever Danny Graves said the Reds destroyed his career by moving him from the bullpen to the rotation and messing up his mechanics. Could something similar have happened to Aaron Laffey with his moves between the rotation and the bullpen? -- Jose T., Utuado, Puerto Rico
While the back-and-forth between rotation and bullpen obviously impacted Laffey's shoulder, I'd say it's a bit premature to speculate whether the guy's career has been ruined. Hopefully, the Indians will pick one role for Laffey and leave him there for the duration of 2011. Life in the bullpen appears likely for Laffey. He'll still have another Minor League option year for the Indians to play with.
One has to think that the Tribe brass believed that the team would contend this year. I know, it's hard to imagine, but why else would they add veterans, only to trade them away, along with other vets, when the bottom fell out? With the almost-complete dismantling of the team comes a building process. What is their time frame, or do they have a plan? -- Lou K., Durham, N.C.
The Indians traded for Mitch Talbot, signed Mike Redmond to a big league deal and signed Austin Kearns, Shelley Duncan and Mark Grudzielanek to Minor League deals. Hope springs eternal every year, but I think it was pretty obvious from the get-go -- and made all the more obvious by those low-key additions -- that 2010 was not intended to be a contending season. Even if this club had stayed healthy, I don't believe contention was in the cards.
The plan, as initially articulated upon the completion of the Cliff Lee trade in 2009, was to make a more earnest effort to contend in 2011. How realistic is that? Well, as discussed in a previous edition of the Inbox, the Indians will still enter next season with a ton of question marks, especially in the starting rotation. The AL Central is not a powerhouse division, but a lot would have to go right for this team to go from 60-some victories this year to the 85-90 (or more) it might take to win a title.
I predict improvement, but more on an incremental level than a monumental one. We'll see.
Omar Vizquel has gone on record saying he wants to play next season. If there is mutual interest, do you see the Tribe making a play for him? Maybe I'm a die-hard Omar fan, but it seems like it would make sense, and I'd love to see him end his career here. -- Kyler L., Fort Loramie, Ohio
The Indians had interest in Omar last winter, and I see no reason why they wouldn't have interest again. They could use some veteran stability in what has been a shaky infield this season, and Vizquel's proven ability to play third for the White Sox would help address a glaring need for the Tribe. Believe me, I'm no fan of the "bring everybody from the '90s back" school of thought, and I don't think a 43-year-old utility guy is the answer to putting more people in the seats. But from a marketing and a baseball standpoint, Omar would make a lot of sense next year, just as he would have this year.
Alas, Vizquel didn't reciprocate the Indians' interest level last year, because of his wish to play for a contender. And though he has publicly stated his intention to play again in 2011, I'm not sure whether he'd show any added interest in the Tribe this time around. Still, it would, as you said, Kyler, make for a nice story to see him end his career in Cleveland.
The Indians have one of the best grounder-inducing rotations in the Majors (Masterson 62.3 percent, Fausto Carmona 54.8, Talbot 49.9, Jeanmar Gomez 47), but one of the worst defensive infields, according to UZR. I'm sure the front office has to be aware of this, but what are they doing to fix the problem? -- Michael P., Atlanta
Would you believe ... gigantic gloves?
The Indians made infield defense a focal point in spring camp, and this was the end result. It will remain a focal point next year, but you're only as good as your personnel. They're going to need to see improvement across the board, even from Asdrubal Cabrera, whose range hasn't been quite what it was in '09.
As I've written before, I wouldn't be surprised to see the Indians go after a stopgap at third base this winter. I would suspect defense would be a focal point of that search, because the sinker-ballers haven't gotten sufficient help this season.
I have a very important question. In the ninth inning of the Indians' Aug. 28th game against the Royals, I noticed Brantley was using a bat with an odd name engraved on it. Thanks to my DVR, I confirmed he was using a Danny Graves bat. Why was he using the bat of a pitcher who last played for the Indians in 2006? -- Chris W., Columbus, Ohio
Players -- especially young players like Brantley -- use all kinds of different bats over the course of the season. Like all teams, the Tribe has a large stockpile of old bats from former players. Guys will often go through them looking for one that feels just right. It's a way of trying out different makes and manufacturers.
The shock here is not that Brantley used a Danny Graves bat. The shock is that Danny Graves, more than four years removed from his last Major League appearance, has appeared twice in this edition of the Inbox. Way to go, Danny!
And now, to complete the Danny deluge, I'm going to allow another question from Daniel B. in Rochester.
Baseball is fun and all, but now that the season is coming soon to a close (for the Indians, at least), what are your predictions for football season? Personally, I've got the Patriots winning it all against the Eagles. -- Daniel B., Rochester, N.Y.
The only football prediction I'll make is this: Bobcats 24, Buckeyes 21. A shocker in "The Shoe" this Saturday.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. He blogs about baseball at CastroTurf. Follow @castrovince on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.