Inbox: Who will start in outfield next season?

Inbox: Who will start in outfield next season?

Where were you?

Once a year, for the past nine and surely for many to come, we all receive that question. We all ask it, too. Everyone has a story. Everyone wants to know yours. Each story is uniquely different, but they are all the same, too. It begins with a routine morning. It ends in shock and disbelief.

On that morning, I was in a film class as a freshman at Michigan State University. Oddly enough, we were watching and analyzing the 1968 version of "Planet of the Apes." In the final scene, Charlton Heston climbs down from his horse, sees the Statue of Liberty buried to her waist on a beach and he drops to his knees.

He pounds a fist in the sand and screams, "You maniacs! You blew it up!"

Then the credits roll.

With that last image still in our minds, we left the classroom and walked into a hallway inside Berkey Hall. There, we found a growing crowd of hundreds, surrounding a small television sitting atop a cart. My first thought was to wonder what movie they were watching. It did not take long to realize this was not fiction. It only felt that way.

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We stood silent, stunned, helpless, watching as the Twin Towers burned and eventually fell. In a matter of minutes, our whole world changed. Your world. Mine. Classes were cancelled. The sports world took a break. Real leaders and heroes emerged on that day and in the weeks, months and years that followed.

I now have two nephews in the military. They were small children on that day a decade ago. But that day helped shape their desire to put on our country's uniform. I couldn't be more proud.

I went to Michigan State with the goal of becoming a sports writer. Baseball has been a passion of mine for as long as I can remember. The way sports helped in the healing process after that day, giving people a place for escape and hope, made me want to be a part of this even more.

That's where I was on Sept. 11, 2001. Where were you?

Here is this week's Indians Inbox.

Who do you anticipate the three starting outfielders will be next April? Do you think the Tribe will try to keep Kosuke Fukudome?
-- Jesse B., Huntington, Ind.

It seems fair to assume that Shin-Soo Choo will be back in right field next season for the Indians. He has fought through injuries and slumps this year, but Cleveland still feels Choo is a budding star and an important part of the offense and defense. Choo is not eligible for free agency until after the 2013 season.

It is also a safe bet that Michael Brantley -- sidelined right now after right wrist surgery -- will be in the outfield again come 2012. Whether that is in left or center field is the only unanswered question right now, and where he plays will depend on how the Indians go about filling that third spot.

These last few weeks could play a role in Cleveland's upcoming decision on center fielder Grady Sizemore. A strong finish could help convince the Tribe that it is worth the risk to pick up his $8.5 million club option for next season. Then again, that is a hefty chunk of change for a player who has been plagued by injuries for the past three seasons.

A realistic approach might be to decline the option and try to negotiate a new contract for Sizemore. If the center fielder does not want to go down that road, he can always test the free-agent waters. Right now, that option seems a bit pricey for a player who has not topped 106 games in a season since 2008.

If Sizemore is not a part of the 2012 plans, the Indians could have a sound temporary replacement in the 34-year-old Fukudome. Eligible for free agency this winter, Fukudome has impressed both at the plate and in the field since being acquired from the Cubs before the non-waiver Trade Deadline.

The Indians could also look to the trade or free-agent markets if neither Sizemore nor Fukudome fit into the picture for next year. As things stand, some potential free-agent outfielders include Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel, Ryan Ludwick, Coco Crisp and Josh Willingham. Cleveland was tied to most of those players in trade rumors this season.

So many people are bringing up the outfield and rotation as areas of need, but what about first base? Matt LaPorta doesn't seem to have earned the team's confidence, and there seems to be little first-base talent in the pipeline. What options would the Tribe have to make an upgrade?
-- Phil C., Cudahy, Wis.

First base is definitely a position of concern for Cleveland. Manager Manny Acta said as much this past weekend during the Tribe's series in Chicago. Acta said the Indians need to spend this offseason weighing their options for first, whether that means upgrading from within or outside the organization.

Catcher Carlos Santana has spent more time at first this season than initially expected, and LaPorta just returned from a surprising demotion to Triple-A Columbus. There has been no indication that the Tribe views Santana as a first baseman down the road, but the club does want to find ways to keep his bat in the lineup as often as possible.

The Indians could always go into 2012 hoping for improved production from LaPorta, but that is what they did this season, too. Another option could be to explore trades or free agency to upgrade the position. That seems like a more likely route than solving the situation from within, considering the lack of a big league-ready, everyday first baseman in the Minors.

The only other alternative seems to be handing more playing time to Lou Marson behind the plate and having Santana continue to see increased time at first base. Under that scenario, it seems logical that the Indians would look to add a third catcher to the equation. Along those lines, the Tribe was linked to catcher Chris Ianetta in trade rumors back in July.

Before the non-waiver Trade Deadline, it was assumed the Indians could use their starting pitching depth to make trades without having to include Alex White or Drew Pomeranz. Wouldn't the converse also be true? They now have three solid starters in Ubaldo Jimenez, Justin Masterson and Josh Tomlin.

Between Carlos Carrasco, Fausto Carmona, David Huff, Jeanmar Gomez and Scott Barnes, won't it be easy to fill out the remaining two spots in the rotation and still maintain their pitching depth?
-- Rich S., Columbus, Ohio

For starters, your question was sent before news broke that Carrasco would miss all of 2012 due to upcoming Tommy John surgery for his right elbow. That said, Rich, your point still holds true. One reason Cleveland felt it could afford to trade White and Pomeranz was due to its rotation depth at the big league level.

The Indians will probably explore rotation help over the winter, but the ballclub likes the makeup of its staff even without an addition or two. Masterson has shown ace potential this season, and Tomlin has developed into a reliable arm as well. Jimenez and Carmona can often be enigmas, but there is no denying their ability.

One of the better developments this season has also been the solid progress of Huff. The lefty reworked his mechanics, added a cutter and now looks nothing like the pitcher he was a year ago. That's a good thing. He and Gomez have performed well down the stretch and could once again be battling for a rotation job next spring.

I know it's kind of early to be thinking about this, but do the Indians view Asdrubal Cabrera as part of their long-term plans for shortstop? Between him, Francisco Lindor, Tony Wolters and Dorssys Paulino, Cleveland has a lot of good shortstops.
-- Michael C., Carlisle, Pa.

A team can never have too many shortstop prospects. Across the game, organizations will always target those up-the-middle spots (catcher, shortstop and center field) as often as possible. If one or two -- or more -- develop into big league options at the same time, well, that's a great problem to have.

As for the Indians, specifically, keep in mind that Cabrera is under contractual control for a few more years. It will take that much time for those other prospects to develop and climb the Minor League ranks. Cabrera is a part of the long-term plans, but that will not stop a team from trying to build solid depth to protect itself for down the road.

How much credit does for former Indians infielder Orlando Cabrera deserve for helping Asdrubal Cabrera discover his power swing this season?
-- Charles M., Shelbyville, Ky.

Orlando Cabrera undoubtedly deserves some credit, but the last time I checked, it was Asdrubal Cabrera doing the swinging in the batter's box. What Orlando did was offer some veteran insight during Spring Training and Asdrubal -- remember, he's only 25 years old -- was willing to listen.

During a spring batting-practice session, Orlando Cabrera told Asdrubal Cabrera he should pick his spots during games to swing with more authority. Asdrubal Cabrera still takes a contact approach a lot of times with two strikes, but in hitter's counts, he will now often look for a pitch to drive. You've seen the results.

Why do the Indians draft an outfielder only to make him an infielder, and vice versa? Why not draft a player and have them play the position he is accustomed to?
-- Phil A., Londonderry, N.H.

It depends on the situation. Based on your description here, I can only guess that you're referring to second baseman Jason Kipnis, who was drafted as an outfielder. In his case, the Indians felt he was athletic enough to move to second and that switching positions would help him reach the Majors faster.

Beyond that, I can only say that teams don't do it for pure fun. Sometimes, clubs will target athletic players in the Draft with the idea that they might be a fit for multiple positions. If a team has a player move spots, it is typically due to organizational need or because that player is better suited for a different position.

Why didn't LaPorta play in the few playoff games while he was with Triple-A Columbus? And along the same lines, I feel like Josh Judy, Cord Phelps, Nick Hagadone and probably even Luis Valbuena should be back in Columbus for the Governor's Cup. Surely playing in the championship series would be better experience then sitting the bench in the Majors. Wouldn't the Indians like to see their affiliates do well?
-- Eric L., Hastings, Mich.

LaPorta was not with the Clippers because his wife gave birth to their first child, a daughter, and the organization allowed him to leave the team to spend time with his family. As for the others, if you asked any of them, to a man, they would say they preferred to be in the Majors than playing for a Triple-A title.

The goal of every player is to play in the big leagues. And the best experience -- whether it is in a part-time or full-time role -- is big league experience. The players you mentioned can learn more from the veterans around them, and the games in front of them, in the Majors than in the Minors.

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.