The New York Giants are the Super Bowl champions, capping off an exciting season of football (hey, there's always next year, Browns fans) and starting the unofficial countdown to baseball season. As I write, the Indians' equipment trucks are already en route to Arizona for Spring Training.
The 30 rosters around baseball are taking shape and players are in the midst of getting back in shape. As for us writers, we're scrambling to finish our offseason to-do lists, which now includes getting a haircut, shaving that winter beard and buying some fresh notepads. It is nearly time to come out of hibernation.
The Indians' pitchers and catchers officially report to Goodyear, Ariz., on Feb. 20 with the first workout scheduled two days later. Position players report on Feb. 23 and the full squad will be in full swing come Feb. 25. Lots of questions will be answered throughout camp, but plenty can be tackled beforehand.
Here is this week's Indians Inbox ...
What are your thoughts or concerns about the Indians' likely starting lineup after the addition of Casey Kotchman? The lineup could have all left-handed hitters. I know Asdrubal Cabrera and Carlos Santana are switch-hitters, but they will hit left-handed most of the time.
-- Nick F., Salem, Ohio
My first thought: It will definitely be interesting to see how manager Manny Acta handles his lineup throughout this season.
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What you need to keep in mind is that Cleveland won't be rolling out an all-lefty lineup against left-handed pitching. On those days, Santana will likely man first base and catcher Lou Marson (.297 vs. LHP in 2011) will be behind the plate. The Tribe might also put a righty hitter in left field and/or at designated hitter. As you also noted, Cabrera would also turn around to hit from the right side.
As I've noted previously, Progressive Field in Cleveland also favors left-handed hitters. Last year, the 1,311 total bases by lefty hitters (home and away teams combined) at the ballpark ranked first among all American League stadiums. The 106 homers hit by lefties ranked second only to Yankee Stadium (122).
I also don't think a team should rule out left-handed hitters solely because a perceived need is to add a right-handed bat. If the best hitter you can afford to land happens to be a lefty, why settle for a lesser hitter just because he hits righty? As for Kotchman, he hit .313 against right-handers and .289 against left-handers in 2011.
What should we expect out of Kotchman this year? The guy just came off a career year, so would you think a .290 average with 12 home runs and 25 doubles would be a realistic projection?
-- Mark L., Allentown, Pa.
It is hard to project Kotchman's production given the ups and downs of his career. For the most part, I think the Indians would be happy with the numbers that you have suggested. Kotchman definitely has the potential to help the Indians' team average, on-base percentage and strikeout rate.
From 2007-08, Kotchman hit .283 with a .785 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) to go along with an average of 12 homers, 32 doubles and 71 RBIs per year. Then, over the 2009-10 seasons, he hit .242 with a .667 OPS and an average of eight homers, 22 doubles and 50 RBIs per year.
This past season, Kotchman hit .306 with an .800 OPS, and he added 10 homers, 24 doubles and 48 RBIs. It's worth noting that the bulk of his production came early in the year. Over his first 99 games in 2011, he hit .341 (.879 OPS) with seven homers, 22 doubles and 36 RBIs. Over his final 47 games, Kotchman hit .231 (.635) with three homers, two doubles and 12 RBIs.
Kotchman has cited eye issues as one explanation for his poor 2010 showing. He has also referred to his 2011 showing as a "work in progress," because he was still trying to correct bad habits picked up during the previous season. I think Kotchman could hit between .280-.300 with 10-15 homers, 20-30 doubles and 40-60 RBIs.
Will the Tribe be using Russ Canzler at all this season?
-- Michael H., Orlando, Fla.
Canzler -- acquired in a recent trade with the Rays -- looked like a candidate for first base until the Indians signed Kotchman. Now, Canzler will come into camp this spring with a shot at a bench job.
Canzler provides some right-handed depth at both infield and corner outfield spots. Unfortunately for him, Shelley Duncan and Aaron Cunningham are also in the mix for bench roles and they are both out of options. Canzler has options, so he will most likely open the year with Triple-A Columbus.
I'm tiring of the fuss for a right-handed power bat, especially since some of the Indians' lefties actually hit lefties pretty well. What really worries me is Cleveland's lack of a left-handed starter. David Huff is in consideration, but other than that it is a righty fest in the rotation. Can we get a left-hander please?
-- Jake F., Harrisonburg, Va.
Huff will be in the running for the fifth starter job this spring. Behind him, the next lefty closest to the big leagues is Scott Barnes. If it weren't for a knee injury last season, Barnes might have reached the Majors in 2011. Barnes is healthy now and there's a chance you might see him in Cleveland at some point this year.
What are the chances of Huff getting the fifth spot?
-- Jonny L., Cleveland
He'll be competing against Jeanmar Gomez, Kevin Slowey and Zach McAllister this spring. It's hard to know at this point who might have a leg up over the others, but the fact that Huff is a lefty might help. Given Slowey's past success -- prior to the 2011 season -- I'd think he'll have a good chance to make the team out of Spring Training.
What percentage chance do you give the Indians of signing Cabrera to a long-term contract this offseason? He seems to have expressed an interest in staying with the Indians for a while and the Tribe might be able to get good value out of a long-term contract this early in his career.
-- Thomas C., Powell, Ohio
I don't like giving percentages, because it can only come back to bite me. I'll say this: I think it's more likely that the Indians sign Cabrera to a one-year contract for 2012. They could still explore a long-term deal during Spring Training. The good thing is that the shortstop is under control through the 2013 season.
Cabrera's camp is seeking $5.2 million through arbitration and Cleveland is offering $3.75 million. Settling on a one-year deal, or letting an arbitration panel choose between the two salaries, could help better define a starting point for a multi-year deal. Right now, it's not clear how much either side is willing to budge on the 2012 offers.
Can you please help me gain a better understanding of how arbitration numbers are determined from both the player and team side?
-- Rex H., Cedar Rapids, Iowa
Much of the process is based on the player's career track record, his salary in previous seasons and comparisons to other players in similar situations. In a case like Cabrera's -- where his 2011 production jumped considerably over his past showings -- there is a bigger pool of players to compare against in order to come up with a proposed salary for the next year.
Teams, as well as the player's representatives, will take into account things like age, Major League service time and stats in order to find other comparisons around the game. Naturally, a player's camp will approach a team with a higher salary figure than the salary offer from that club.
The goal, for the most part, is to find a middle ground and avoid an arbitration hearing.
I am wondering why, when the Indians' outfield depth is discussed, Trevor Crowe's name is never mentioned? With Cunningham, Felix Pie, Fred Lewis, Ezequiel Carrera and Thomas Neal, among others, in the fold, is Crowe no longer in the Indians' plans?
-- Eric L., Kalamazoo, Mich.
As things currently stand, Crowe is not on the Indians' 40-man roster and he has not been extended a non-roster invitation to attend Spring Training with the Major League team. That could change, but that shows where he falls on the depth chart for the time being. If Crowe ends up back on the 40-man roster, he will be a more realistic candidate for a backup role on the big league team.
Looking at the rotation in light of the Fausto Carmona false-identity incident, if he can't come back to the United States any time soon and the Indians replace him on the staff, do you think he will pitch for the Tribe again?
-- Zach K., Fredericksburg, Va.
Carmona (believed to actually be named Roberto Hernandez Heredia) is currently dealing with the legal ramifications within the Dominican Republic, with the United States' potential punishment on deck. After that, it's possible that Major League Baseball could hand the pitcher a suspension.
That being the case, it is extremely unclear when or if Carmona will pitch for the Indians again. Cleveland has placed Carmona on the restricted list, so he will not see a penny of his $7 million salary for 2012 until he is back with the team and activated. After 2012, whether he pitches for the Tribe this year or not, he will be eligible for free agency.
In closing ...
I know pitchers, catchers and position players all report to Spring Training at different times. But when do Ketchup, Mustard and Onion report to start their training for the Hot Dog Derby races at Progressive Field? Also, who do you see as the early favorite?
-- Kevin S., Lambeth, Ontario, Canada
I do not think they make the trek to Arizona for Spring Training. It is my understanding that they train at an indoor track somewhere in Cleveland. Injuries really seemed to take a toll on Ketchup in the second half last season. With a full offseason of rest (and plenty of time to come up with some new tricks), I think Ketchup will head into 2012 as the favorite.