As I headed up First Ave. in Manhattan, the sign for 92nd St. in my sights, all I wanted to do was stop running. I was 18 miles into the New York marathon on Nov. 6 and there, at that intersection, stood my wife, sister and son, cheering me on.
A personal-best time was out the window. A variety of issues had already ensured this would be the worst of my six full marathons as far as finish time goes. Even if I was at my best, though, it's not like I was going to win the race. So I did what I could to savor the experience and to have fun when I wasn't hurting. And, man, I was hurting.
So, I slowed down, put a smile on my face and stopped. I picked up my son and had my big sis snap a few photos. I chatted with my family for a bit and told them things weren't going all that great. As a stream of runners continued to fly by, I took a few minutes to just soak in the atmosphere as a spectator. What an event.
When I finally decided it was time to press on -- to fight through the last eight miles to the finish -- I buckled my 2-year-old boy back in his stroller and told him I had to go for a run. He looked up from his seat and said, "No. Don't run, daddy." I cracked up laughing and headed on my way toward the Bronx.
I finished a half-hour slower than my previous worst marathon time. I ended with a time more than an hour slower than my projected finish. I didn't know what my finish time was until my wife told me about it later. I didn't want to know. I tried to focus on the positives of what was a great marathon experience. Touring 26.2 miles of the Big Apple was awesome.
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Now, after a two-week hiatus, I'm back on the beat and focusing again on the Indians' offseason. Well, I'm also thinking about a seventh marathon (maybe I'll run Cleveland in May). All that talk can wait.
Let's get to this week's Indians Inbox ...
What are your thoughts on the Derek Lowe trade? For only $5 million, how could you go wrong with the crafty veteran? All the Indians had to part with was an A-ball reliever. I like the deal for both sides. Your thoughts?
-- Anthony C., Hopkinton, Mass.
The trade to acquire Lowe is undoubtedly going to stir up some criticism. The right-hander is 38 years old and is coming off a forgettable season (9-17, 5.05 ERA) with the Braves. That adds more questions to a rotation that already has plenty between Fausto Carmona and Ubaldo Jimenez.
This is a trade I don't mind, though. As you pointed out, Cleveland is only on the hook for $5 million of the $15 million Lowe is owed in 2012. Think of it this way: It's a one-year contract to shore up the back end of the starting staff. Adding veteran experience to the fourth or fifth slot is never a bad idea.
In any given season, a Major League team needs to prepare to have its rotation at least 10 pitchers deep on the depth chart. The focus is always on the starting five, but rare is the season when a team cycles through fewer than 10 starters. Lowe gives Cleveland five locked in right from the start of Spring Training.
Consider that the Indians have used at least 10 starters in each of the past four seasons with no more than one reaching at least 200 innings in any of those years. You have to go back to 2007 to find the last time the Tribe used fewer than 10 starters, or had at least two arms top 200 innings. The Indians nearly reached the World Series that season.
Lowe is durable and is not being asked to lead the rotation. He gives Cleveland's staff a third ground-ball pitcher (Justin Masterson and Carmona being the others) and helps create a situation where all five starters are capable of logging 200 innings, barring injury. Lowe also averaged 15 wins from 2006-10, so a bounceback year is possible.
I'm a huge Grady Sizemore fan. Like all Indians fans, I have been very disappointed by the last few seasons. In saying that, I still love him. Any chance he comes back to the Tribe? I don't think I could handle the old Grady returning for the Yankees or Tigers or whatever team might be interested in him.
-- Michael B., Fayetteville, N.C.
There is certainly a chance, but I see it as being slim to none. Sizemore is intriguing enough as a comeback candidate to garner interest on the open market. If his camp insists on finding a deal that pays similar to the $9 million he would've earned in 2012 with the Tribe, though, I think that interest will probably wane.
Declining that pricey club option was a no-brainer for the Indians. His injury history makes an incentive-laden contract more realistic at this point. The only way I see Sizemore back with Cleveland in 2012 is if he's willing to take a lesser deal loaded with incentives. That, however, is something he can probably find elsewhere, too.
With Grady likely gone, and Michael Brantley possibly moving to center field, do you see Matt LaPorta getting a look again in left field? Could he get 400 at-bats playing first base while Carlos Santana catches and then man left on days Santana plays first? I'm not ready to give up on him.
-- Patrick K., Buffalo, N.Y.
LaPorta is not being guaranteed anything and having him play left field is not something the Indians have mentioned. I think there would be a better chance of Shelley Duncan playing left field if Cleveland does not add a new outfielder to play left field. There is also the chance that Brantley remains in left and the Tribe pursues a new center fielder. That said, the Indians want to add more power to the lineup and left field is a logical place to do so.
I heard the Tribe is interested in Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes. Any chance Cleveland lands this guy? He is right-handed and is only 26. Sounds like a pretty good option.
-- Josh W., Lancaster, Pa.
The better question is who isn't interested in Cespedes. Yes, the Indians are one of the many teams who have some level of interest in the Cuban outfielder. There are plenty of big-market suitors, though, and it still isn't clear when Cespedes will be cleared to become a free agent. I expect Cleveland to be involved, but not if this is a bidding war that gets out of hand.
I was looking at a list of free-agent outfielders and I came across two names of interest. The first being Josh Willingham. He would be a great fit, but with the slim market probably overpriced. The other name on the list is Cody Ross. What are the chances the Indians take a shot on him?
-- Andrew P., Cleveland Heights, Ohio
I think the best fit is Michael Cuddyer, but the thin outfielder market you mentioned will likely make him too expensive. The same could go for Willingham. You can bet that Cleveland is examining both in its search for more offense. Ross might be a more affordable fit, but his production over the past two years hardly makes him a clear upgrade over the options already in the fold.
I read that Cleveland has given up on LaPorta at first base and that the Indians are the favorites to sign 33-year-old Carlos Pena from the Cubs. The lefty-hitting Pena hit .282 with 46 HRs and 121 RBIs in 2007 in the American League with the Rays. Will Pena be in the middle of the Tribe's order in 2012?
-- Ritchie H., Charlottesville, Va.
Pena has also belted at least 28 homers in each of the four seasons since that stellar showing in 2007. Pena's batting average isn't great, but he provides plenty of pop. I think he'd be a great fit at first base. But, like Cuddyer, it will all depend on how much salary he'll command next year.
One thing to consider is that the Indians also want Santana to man first on occasion, keeping his legs fresh and his bat in the lineup. That would mean Pena would need to have at-bats as a designated hitter, too. Cleveland has a full-time DH in Travis Hafner.
The health of Hafner is highly suspect. What are the odds that he will be 100 percent at the start of Spring Training without any chronic issues? Is there a backup plan in place?
-- William T., Salt Lake City
Hafner avoided offseason surgery on his right foot, which ailed him for much of this past season. The rest that the winter provides should help alleviate that injury. Beyond that, the shoulder issue that plagued him in the past was not a problem this year. Hafner (under contract for $13 million for 2012) is expected to be at full strength when spring arrives.
While I wasn't expecting Asdrubal Cabrera to win the Gold Glove this year, I don't understand how his fielding stat of UZR is so low? We all saw many jaw-dropping plays from him this season. How accurate is UZR?
-- Dan O., North Olmsted, Ohio
In a discussion with local media at the end of this past season, Indians general manager Chris Antonetti said UZR is one of the best publicly-available defensive metrics. Cabrera made some amazing plays this year, but he rated last in UZR among American League shortstops for 2011. That said, the Indians were plenty happy with Cabrera's season -- both defensively and offensively.
In closing ...
Michel Hernandez, another defensive catcher. Just what the Indians need. He can team up with Lou Marson to bat .199. We need to stop the nonsense and get a HITTER in here.
-- Joseph D., New York
Hey, go easy on Lou. He hit .230 this past season. As for the 33-year-old Hernandez being signed and invited to big league camp, that was a depth move. Having an experienced catcher to fill a spot in the upper tier of the Minor Leagues is important for every club. And in the spring, each team needs a group of catchers to handle the many pitchers working in all those bullpen sessions.
Take a deep breath. The Indians are trying to find the right "HITTER" to add to the mix.