From the East Coast, to the West Coast, down the Dixie Highway back home ...
Whoa, sorry. I've been watching the NFL and therefore have that patriotic John Mellencamp song in my head. I guess that's what happens when you hear it 47 times in 15 minutes.
I need a distraction, so I think I'll get to some of your mailbag questions. And remember, "This is our country!"
After hearing about the Josh Barfield trade, I was excited. He was a great fit for the Padres last year and fills a big need at second base. What are your thoughts on this trade?
-- Jeff P., San Diego
On the day of the trade, people I talked to in the Indians offices were doing cartwheels, while those I spoke with in San Diego were scratching their heads. Looking at this trade on paper, though, I think this could be one of those deals that benefits both sides equally.
First off, let's talk about what the Indians are getting.
Barfield established himself as a 2006 National League Rookie of the Year candidate by batting .280 with 13 homers, 58 RBIs and 21 steals. He was exactly what Padres fans had long been clamoring for -- an in-house product who made good. The Padres raved about his outstanding attitude, no doubt assisted by his growing up around the game, as his father, Jesse, played for the Blue Jays and Yankees. Heck, Barfield was the only Padres regular who showed up for a voluntary workout during the NL Division Series against the Cardinals. You've got to love that.
So why did the Padres deal Barfield? What's the catch? Well, for one, the Padres had a hole at third base. They figured that would be more difficult to replace than the second-base spot. It's also possible San Diego was spooked by Barfield's .241 average at pitcher-friendly PETCO Park. And as good as his rookie season was, he did rank 31st among regular second basemen in on-base percentage, walking just 30 times while batting in front of the pitcher.
Still, you can't ignore Barfield's talent and potential. He'll give the Indians the base-stealing threat they lack at the bottom of the order, setting up more RBI opportunities for Grady Sizemore, and he should provide a defensive upgrade to what was a shaky Tribe infield in '06. What's more, he comes cheap, and the Indians could have him under contractual control for the next five years.
Now, let's talk about what they gave up to get this young, cheap and talented player.
Kouzmanoff did nothing but hit in the Minor Leagues, and there's little reason to believe he won't continue to hit in the Majors. Defensively, though, his skills paled in comparison to those of Andy Marte. The Indians had him play first base in the Arizona Fall League, but there's already a logjam at that spot with Ryan Garko (who adjusted more quickly to big-league pitching), Casey Blake and Victor Martinez expected to see time at that spot in '07.
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Thus, as talented as he is, Kouzmanoff became expendable. His history of back problems and his recent hamstring issues are also a concern.
The Indians also gave up Andrew Brown, who had struggled with his command at Triple-A Buffalo this season. Brown was out of options, and the Indians weren't expected to hand him a job in their big-league bullpen at the outset of '07. It's better to trade him now, I think, than at the end of March, when the Indians would be under the gun to make a move.
All in all, this seems to be an excellent trade for the Indians, who addressed one of their biggest offseason concerns, as long as Barfield doesn't fall victim to Jhonny Peralta Syndrome and go into a sophomore slump. Of course, it's also a deal that reminds us of two mistakes the organization made last winter -- undervaluing Brandon Phillips, who's now a star for the Reds, and Kouzmanoff, who was roadblocked by the January acquisition of Marte.
Do you think naming Kouzmanoff the Lou Boudreau Award winner and Adam Miller the Bob Feller Award winner was a way to increase their trade value, or are they really those caliber of players?
-- Alison C., Greenville, N.C.
That's a nice little conspiracy theory, but I doubt it, Alison. Kouzmanoff had the second-highest batting average in all the Minor Leagues last year, and Miller was the Eastern League Pitcher of the Year. They both had the credentials to win those awards. Besides, Major League teams scout the Minors for a reason. They don't need awards to tell them who the premier prospects are.
This might be a good time to point out the Indians are more likely to relocate to Terre Haute this offseason than they are to trade Miller.
Speaking of which ...
Do you feel that Miller might make the starting rotation if the Indians trade away one of their starting pitchers?
-- Hermes V., Lorain, Ohio
In a word, no. The Indians aren't going to rush Miller like that. He'll likely start the year at Triple-A Buffalo, where he's only made one spot start. He could use a little more time to continue to develop the two-seamer and changeup he added to his repertoire just this year.
Fausto Carmona, on the other hand, might be another story. Manager Eric Wedge said at the end of the season that he thought Carmona was ready to be a regular starter in the big leagues. If he continues to impress during winter ball, the Indians might be willing to trade Paul Byrd or Jake Westbrook for bullpen help, opening up a spot in their rotation for Carmona.
I read the Indians are interested in Akinori Iwamura. What's the story? I thought we traded Kouz because we have depth at the corners.
-- Ryan F., Leesburg, Va.
The Indians have interest in Iwamura, which is why they made a bid on him before Friday's deadline. I'm not sure their interest is quite as high as some reports have speculated, however. Tribe scouting director John Mirabelli told me Iwamura has some holes in his swing that concern the organization. But the Indians are encouraged by Iwamura's ability to play at infield spots other than third base, which is why they've gone this far in the process of trying to obtain him.
We'll know later this week where the Indians stand with Iwamura. The club is also likely to pursue left-handed pitcher Kei Igawa, who should be posted shortly.
Do you believe that with the free-agency patterns Mark Shapiro has had in the past, he will continue by picking up closer Eric Gagne? He is a proven closer, but he was injured all last season. So ... deal, or no deal?
-- Paul B., Baltzer, Pa.
I'm going to close that little box thingy and say "no deal," Paul. After the bullpen troubles the Indians endured in 2006, they need a sure thing in the back end, and Gagne, after missing all but 16 games of the past two seasons with back and elbow injuries, just doesn't provide it.
I won't be surprised if a team with deep pockets takes a chance on Gagne and gives him a multimillion deal (some are speculating he'll earn around $6 million a year, plus incentives). But, the Kevin Millwood precedent aside, I'd be surprised if the cost-conscious Indians are that team.
Will the Indians be going to the malls in the greater Cleveland area this holiday season to sign autographs like they have been doing the past few years?
-- Sean S., Wadsworth, Ohio
Yesiree, Bob. Err, Sean. Here's the schedule of events:
Nov. 24: Great Lakes Mall, Bob Feller and Santa Slider, 1-3 p.m. ET
Nov. 25: South Park, Bob Feller and Slider, 5-7 p.m.
Dec. 15: Great Northern, Bob Feller and Slider, 5-7 p.m.
Dec. 16: Summit, Bob Feller and Slider, 4-6 p.m.
Dec. 19: South Park, Santa Pronk (aka Travis Hafner), 7-9 p.m., and Slider, 5-6 p.m.
How come Ben Francisco's name is still never mentioned? He has proven himself at every level in the Minors, yet he gets no respect.
-- Michael H., Stockton, Calif.
I have it on good authority that Francisco will be getting a nice dose of respect here shortly, when the Indians add him to the 40-man roster and protect him from the Rule 5 Draft. Francisco hit .278 with 17 homers and 59 RBIs at Buffalo last season. He swiped 25 bags, too. The Indians like him as a potential fourth outfielder in the bigs.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.