Tribe Inbox: Will Sizemore return to leadoff role?
By Jordan Bastian
Anyone who celebrates Thanksgiving has his or her own traditions. As a kid, my family used to go around our big dining room table and each person had to say one thing they were thankful for that year. I'm pretty sure there was one holiday when I said I was thankful for my Nintendo.
My personal tradition is trying to find a turkey trot to run on Thanksgiving morning. This year, while in Chicagoland to visit the in-laws, I went out to Wampum Lake to take part in the 5K they hold every year. It was rainy, cold and muddy, but it was a blast. And it helped me feel a little better when I was downing a pile of mashed potatos a couple of hours later.
Naturally, the little name card I had paperclipped to my shirt fell off at some point on the course (I can only assume my blazing speed was to blame). I was told I finished third in my age group and that I'd be receiving a medal. So I stuck around and waited. And waited. And waited. And my name was never called.
Since I lost my card, I was overloooked in the final count, and some other guy had his name blared over the tiny speakers. He went up amidst cheers and high fives to receive his -- er, my -- medal. He probably wore the thing all day and bragged to his family about how fast he was out there. [Sigh]
I wanted to go up to him and say, "Hey, by the way, I was actually third. Just so you know."
But I left Mr. Fourth alone and let him have his moment. After all, this was Thanksgiving. It is a time to be thankful for what you have and be happier to give (away your medal) than to receive. This year, I'm thankful for my wonderful family, my health and for having the type of job I dreamed about as a kid.
Here's hoping all you Tribe fans are having a great holiday season. With that, let's get to this week's Indians Inbox ...
Now that the Indians have Grady Sizemore back for at least another year (which I am happy about, by the way), where would you predict seeing him in the batting order? I actually liked him at leadoff when he was stealing 30 bases a year. But now, I'm not so sure where he would best fit.
--Eric S. Columbus, Ohio
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Manager Manny Acta isn't one to start discussing his batting order this early. He's even reluctant to go into details about the Opening Day lineup during the spring, because injuries or other factors could change how things line up in the weeks before the start of the regular season.
My gut feeling is that Sizemore would be given a chance as Cleveland's leadoff man again. When Sizemore returned to the lineup last April -- after a 10-month rehab from microfracture surgery on his left knee -- Acta handed the center fielder the leadoff job. Acta felt Sizemore can make a great impact atop the order.
The Indians really liked second baseman Jason Kipnis in the second spot and shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, who emerged as the Tribe's best run producer in 2011, could see time in the third hole again. Catcher Carlos Santana, designated hitter Travis Hafner and right fielder Shin-Soo Choo represent options for the heart of the order, too.
If all those players are healthy come Opening Day, I'd think Acta would prefer to have Sizemore at the top of the order rather than in the lower third. Cleveland believes he can be an impact player once again, so the team will want to get him plenty of at-bats. Left fielder Michael Brantley would likely be moved into a lower spot.
Of course, this is all speculation. What we know right now is that Sizemore is in the plans as the Indians' starting center fielder. As things stand, Brantley would serve as the primary backup for that role. I think Brantley also probably projects to be the backup plan for the leadoff spot, which has been Sizemore's role for the bulk of his career.
The Indians signed Sizemore to a one-year contract, but why wouldn't he just sign another contract with a big-market team such as the Red Sox or Yankees? If he would make more money there, why consider a one-year deal with Cleveland?
--Betty C., Boise, Idaho
When Sizemore became a free agent, plenty of teams showed interest. Boston and New York were reportedly in on the outfielder, along with teams like the Rangers, Cubs, Rockies, Phillies and others. Sizemore indicated that he a couple of teams were offering him "good opportunities."
In the end, Sizemore said it was hard to say goodbye to Cleveland, an organization he has been with since 2002. The Indians' offer (a $5 million base salary with the potential to earn $9 million after incentives) certainly didn't hurt, though it hasn't been reported what other teams were offering.
Beyond the financial side, the Indians were offering Sizemore the chance to stay in center field. He might have needed to slide to a corner spot on another team. By sticking with the Tribe, Sizemore also gets to remain with a medical staff that is extremely familiar with his recent injury issues and rehab routines.
Will the Indians will be looking for an outfielder just in case Sizemore has more injury trouble?
--Daniel Z., Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio
The Major League outfield appears set with Brantley in left, Sizemore in center and Choo in right. The top backup option would be Shelley Duncan. The Indians will also take a closer look at Jason Donald in the outfield this spring to see if he can be an alternative out there, too. The Tribe could use more outfield depth, but right now it would likely only be through a trade or free-agent signings that accept Minor League contracts.
I know Indians general manager Chris Antonetti is very careful not to name names, but what free agent could Cleveland have a legitimate chance at picking up for first base, or any other position of need this offseason (maybe third base)?
--Thomas C., Powell, Ohio
First off, don't expect the Indians to pursue much help for third base. Lonnie Chisenhall will be given every chance to win the starting job this spring and Jack Hannahan is expected to be brought back as a backup option. Really, first base appears to be the top position in need of addressing at the moment.
The one free agent that would make the most sense is veteran Derrek Lee. He is 36 years old, but provides power from the right side. Last year, he hit .267 with 19 homers and 59 RBIs between stins with the Orioles and Pirates. He would seem to make sense as an option to share time at first with Santana.
For the most part, the other free-agent options for first are lefties and Cleveland has plenty of those in the lineup right now. The Indians might also look for an alternative through trades, or the team might take a shot with Duncan. One way or another, Matt LaPorta will have competition for that job this spring.
Everyone is down on LaPorta and with good reason. He has been most disappointing. However, he reminds me of Paul Konerko, who bombed initially with the Dodgers. We all know what kind of hitter he has become with the White Sox. Is the comparison warranted? What were Konerko's stats during his first few years?
--Mike W., Beachwood, Ohio
When Konerko first broke into the big leagues, he hit .214 with a .601 OPS over 81 games between the 1997-98 seasons. That said, he was 21 and 22 years old, respectively, during those years. By comparison, LaPorta's first three years with the Indians came when he was 24-26.
From ages 24-26 (2000-02), Konerko hit .294 with a .357 on-base, a .496 slugging and an average of 27 homers and 100 RBIs per year. LaPorta, however, hit .238/.304/397 with an average of 10 homers and 38 RBIs over that same age period. By 23 years old (1999), Konerko had already turned in a .294/.352/.511 showing with 24 homers and 81 RBIs.
The Indians would love if LaPorta developed into a Konerko-esque power threat, but the Tribe's first baseman is going to have to really show something this spring in order to make the Opening Day roster. LaPorta is not a 22-year-old rookie going through growing pains. This is the time when he is supposed to break out.
After Hafner's contract is up, is there a candidate in the system the Indians are grooming now to serve as a DH?
--James B., Parkersburg, W. Va.
When the post-Pronk era does arrive, I think the Indians will probably move away from having a full-time DH on the roster. In a perfect world, Acta might like to have more versatility in that role, using the DH spot as a way to keep a variety of players fresh. As of right now, there is not a player on the farm being groomed specifically for a DH job.
What's the status on Adam Miller? Any chance he makes the bullpen out of Spring Training if healthy?
--Jake W., Amherst, Ohio
Miller is a Minor League free agent. If he is back with the Indians for 2012, he wouldn't be a bullpen candidate for the Major League club during Spring Training. Miller is making his way back from multiple surgeries on his right middle finger and advanced as high as Double-A last season.
D you think Sandy Alomar Jr. is ready to manage? Could he be the Tribe's future manager, or is Acta staying?
--Josiah A., Avon, Ohio
Alomar is highly regarded and respected throughout baseball, which is why he has interviewed with the Blue Jays, Cubs and Red Sox for managerial gigs over the past two winters. He doesn't have managing experience, but he played in the Majors for 20 years and has already impressed those around him with his skills as a coach.
Right now, Acta is under contract as the Indians' manager through the 2013 season. The Tribe is thrilled with the work Acta has done to this point, so all signs are that he is staying put for a while. Given the attention Alomar has received of late, it seems like his first managing job could come soon, but likely with another team.
All the talk about Alomar as bench coach has me wondering: what on earth does a bench coach do?
--Russ W., Grand Junction, Colo.
A bench coach has multiple duties within the day-to-day operations of a ballclub during the season. He is typically the manager's right-hand man both in the clubhouse and in the dugout. During games, the bench coach will sometimes help in making decisions throughout the course of a contest.
Not really a question, but even though you're Canadian, I wanted to say happy American Thanksgiving!
--Al F., Akron, Ohio (via Florida)
Thanks, Al! But I'm only an "honourary" Canadian. I was born and raised in the States. That's a big reason why my family wanted to make the move to Ohio after spending five fun years north of the border in Toronto. Hopefully you had a great Thanksgiving, too.
In closing ...
So the Indians need right-handed power. Why not bring back Manny?
--Gary B., Richmond, Va.