You'll have to forgive me for being a little down today. As a native Chicagoan and lifelong Bears fan, the loss to the Packers with the Super Bowl on the line is still a little fresh for me. I know, I know. I should have to walk a mile in the shoes of a Browns fan.
The sting of defeat against Green Bay -- why'd it have to be Green Bay? -- has made my desire to get the baseball season started stronger than ever. We're less than a month away from the first Spring Training workouts, and I'm looking forward to heading to the Arizona desert to chronicle the Tribe's preseason slate.
For the past five years, I knew Spring Training had arrived when I drove over the Courtney Campbell Causeway across Tampa Bay. I can't wait to start some new spring traditions as I trade the Grapefruit League for the Cactus League. The image of the Estrella Mountain range in the distance behind Goodyear Ballpark can't come fast enough.
So let's think warm thoughts and tackle the latest Inbox ...
I have always been a Travis Hafner fan. When they signed him to that lucrative contract, I was jumping up for joy. But since then, he has gone through a lot of injuries. I think he can still be a great hitter. Do you think the Indians will keep him after his contract is up or will they trade him this year? If they trade him, who will be our designated hitter?
-- Matthew D., Lehigh Acres, Fla.
Hafner is under contract for $13 million in each of the 2011 and '12 seasons. He has a $13 million club option for '13, too, but the chances of the Indians picking up that option seem extremely low right now. The most likely scenario is that Hafner will hit the free-agent market after the '12 campaign.
No one is hoping for Hafner to regain his form as an intimidating slugger more than the Indians. It's just hard to say -- given his recent history of injury and performance -- whether Pronk can rediscover that consistent swing and be a 40-plus-homer threat again. That being the case, sure, Cleveland would consider trading Hafner.
The team is in the midst of a rebuilding period, and Hafner is not likely part of the long-term plans. Earlier this winter, manager Manny Acta even discussed the desire to eventually have a more versatile player -- someone who could also play the field -- in the DH role. Given Hafner's salary and his limitations as a pure DH, he definitely is a candidate to be dealt.
The problem is that Hanfer is a pure DH with a sizeable contract. Then again, the fact that the Blue Jays were able to trade outfielder Vernon Wells (along with the $86 million he's owed through 2014) to the Angels on Friday gave some hope to teams with large contracts they might like to move.
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Suddenly, trading a player with a hefty contract seems possible. That said, trading a player like Hafner is a different story. First, there are only 13 other teams with a DH. Second, he could potentially nix a deal with his limited no-trade clause. Right now, Cleveland's best bet is once again hoping Hafner can turn things around.
If Jason Donald is getting consideration at third base, who would be the starting second baseman for the Indians? Jayson Nix? Luis Valbuena? Jason Kipnis?
-- Jared P., Bellevue, Wash.
Yes. Yes. And, yes. Hate to say it, Jared, but you sort of answered your own question. If Donald convinces the Indians to hand him the third-base job this spring, then Nix, Valbuena and Kipnis would all be options at second.
Of those three, Nix would appear to be the front-runner for the role at second under that scenario. Keep in mind, he is out of player options, so he'd need to clear waivers in order to be sent to the Minors. Valbuena could find himself in a bench role, but he has one option left, too. He could be sent to the Minors without being exposed to waivers.
Kipnis will likely only be on Cleveland's Opening Day roster if he wins the starting job at second base. He's not going to make the team only to sit on the bench. Kipnis is most likely ticketed for Triple-A Columbus, with a chance to join the Major League squad at some point later this summer.
What happened to Hector Rondon? I used to hear so much about him and his ability to be a star in Cleveland. Now he seems to have disappeared. Is there any chance we could see Rondon in Cleveland any time soon?
-- Jason V., Cleveland
Don't expect to hear Rondon's name much until late in the 2011 season. The right-handed prospect underwent Tommy John surgery on his throwing elbow in late August. The rehab process from that operation will likely cost Rondon -- the Tribe's Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2009 -- most, if not all, of the upcoming season.
What's the latest news on Adam Miller?
-- Randy S., Orrville, Ohio
Miller is still making his way back from multiple surgeries on the middle finger of his right hand. During the Indians' winter development program in Cleveland last week, Ross Atkins, the club's vice president of player development, said Miller has been progressing well this winter. I'll let Atkins give you the latest.
"That's a great story," Atkins said. "He's better and better. Every time he touches a baseball, it's a little more comfortable. Every bullpen [session] he throws is a little bit better. We're exceptionally glad to still have him here. I think he's been committed to us as much as we've been committed to him. He pitched the last day of instructional league, and he was throwing 94 [mph]. He had a feel for his slider. And he wasn't trying to make a team then. We're excited."
Hello, and welcome to the Inbox saddle. It seems to me the Indians did the Cactus League thing before and their records were terrible. They moved to Grapefruit League and their fortunes improved. Now, the move back to Cactusland seems to has withered the team's fortunes once again. Your thoughts?
-- Scott L., near St. Louis
My thoughts are that Spring Training records -- whether compiled in Florida or Arizona -- have no impact on how the team performs during the regular season. The Indians went to the World Series in 1997 after posting a 16-18 record in the spring. In 2006, when the Indians went 78-84, the team's spring record was 20-12-1.
If you want to go back to the team's days in Tucson, Ariz., consider that Cleveland went a combined 47-34-1 during a strong spring stretch from 1988-90. In the respective regular seasons that followed, the Indians posted no more than 78 wins. Don't get too wrapped up in spring records.
Our city is awesome. I hope you and your family stay here forever and have 100 kids. Really, this is a great place. The food, the people, the amenities, the schools, etc; you can live the exact same life you could in Chicago for one-fourth the cost. Seriously, we're awesome. Glad to have you here.
-- Jack B., Cleveland
We're glad to be here, Jack. Stay proud. I love your enthusiasm. I'm not sure my wife will like the idea of having 99 more kids, though. Yikes!