Inbox: Do Kearns, Duncan have shots?

Inbox: Do Kearns, Duncan have shots?

I take pride in a spotless snow-shoveling showing. To hire a plow guy or purchase a snow blower would be cheating. There is a certain sense of accomplishment that comes with throwing on multiple layers of clothing, grabbing a shovel and egging on cardiac complications in an effort to dredge up even the slightest sight of driveway.

Alas, this is ultimately a self-defeating exercise, akin to dating someone you met on Facebook and expecting a lasting relationship or buying Nickelback CDs and expecting greatness.

Because when you live in Cleveland, even the most pristine pickup of powder has a shelf life of about 15 minutes before the next sprinkling of snow starts the whole process anew. If Pablo Picasso became aware that each of his completed canvases would be doused with a gallon of paint mere minutes after he put his brush down, he most certainly would have just given up and just gone to cosmetology school.

And yet, each morning, we suit up and shovel off, knowing full well this process has the potential to continue for months (generally speaking, we're safe by Independence Day). So I guess this is a long-winded way of asking: Does anybody know a good plow guy with affordable rates?

That's my question. Let's get to yours.

I see that we signed Austin Kearns and Shelley Duncan to Minor League deals and gave them invites to the big league camp. I believe Kearns is washed up and does not fit into our rebuilding at all. On the other hand, Duncan is only 30 and has not had a real chance to show off his skills at the Major League level. He's good at hitting left-handers and would be a nice platoon at DH with Travis Hafner. How do these guys fit into the ballclub, if at all, in 2010?
-- Mike L., Fairview, Ohio

I enjoyed the assertion that the 29-year-old Kearns is "washed up," while Duncan is "only 30." At any rate, I can realistically see both these guys breaking camp with the big league club, because there are no guarantees that Matt LaPorta and Michael Brantley will do the same.

LaPorta, as you know, is recovering from hip and toe surgeries. If all goes to plan, he'll be fully healthy by the end of camp. But if any lingering issues with the injuries force those plans to change, Duncan's chances of making the team increase. Either way, Duncan could latch on as an extra right-handed bat off the bench, as his versatility (we love that word around here) works to his advantage.

As for Kearns, he'll have a chance to earn the fourth outfielder's job, as his right-handed bat complements the left-handed-hitting Shin-Soo Choo in right, Grady Sizemore in center and Brantley in left. But don't rule out the possibility of Kearns taking the left field job outright, as the Indians might determine Brantley is in need of some more time at Triple-A.

While remembering the 22-year-old Brantley's impressive contributions in his first taste of the bigs last September, it's important to also remember that he did not have a dominant season at Columbus and he'll have to make some adjustments. It will be interesting to see if the Indians let him make those adjustments in the Majors from the outset of the season. If they don't, Kearns, whose 2008 and '09 seasons in Washington were marred by injury, might be the guy in left initially.

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Regarding the recent signing of outfielders and first basemen (Duncan and Kearns), why aren't the Indians willing to simply give Jordan Brown a chance? And why aren't they concentrating on starting pitching? Our new manager seems like a nice guy. I worry that he's waking up in the middle of the night with nightmares when he dreams about his starting rotation.
-- Tom J., Berea, Ohio

The knock on Brown is his defense, which he committed to work on by playing in the Venezuelan Winter League. He is expected to be a full-time corner outfielder this season. If the Indians see enough improvement out of him on the defensive end, he could emerge as a candidate for an Opening Day role. For now, I'd expect him to open 2010 at Triple-A Columbus, where he led the International League in batting average last year.

As far as starting pitching is concerned, the Tribe has weighed the financial investment that would have to be made in a veteran free agent (and given the Indians' financial situation, that free agent would have to come from the bottom of the barrel) versus the developmental benefit of letting guys like Mitch Talbot, Aaron Laffey, David Huff, etc., get innings at the Major League level this season. Ultimately, the Indians believe they're better off letting their young pitchers develop.

With Franklin Gutierrez signing an extension with the Mariners after having a career year, I'm reminded of such players as Kevin Kouzmanoff and Brandon Philips, who went on to put up great numbers right after the Tribe traded them early in their careers. Did the Tribe jump the gun in trading Gutz, or was he given more than enough chance to prove himself?
-- Nathan H., Stevensville, Ontario

Gutierrez was a highly touted prospect at the Double-A level when the Indians acquired him from the Dodgers in the 2004 Milton Bradley trade, but it took him a few years to make the full-time leap to the big leagues. When he did, in 2007, he was an important injection into the Indians' lineup, usurping the regular right-field duties from Trot Nixon, playing dazzling defense and even showing a little pop at the plate.

Unfortunately, Gutierrez's struggles against big league breaking pitches were exposed in the '07 postseason, and that trouble carried into '08, when he hit .248 with a .691 OPS in 440 plate appearances.

When you consider that 2008 was Gutierrez's first full season in the Majors, you can certainly assert that the Tribe jumped the gun in trading him. But it's also important to consider that Gutierrez's numbers (he hit .283 with a .764 OPS and 18 homers in '09) aren't exactly those of a corner outfielder. He's most valuable in center, and that position was/is locked up by Grady Sizemore. In sending Gutierrez to the M's in a three-team trade, the Indians dealt from a position of depth and acquired second baseman Luis Valbuena, who showed a lot of promise last year, and reliever Joe Smith, whose 2009 was marred by injury.

The biggest question in all of this is what adjustments were the Mariners' coaches able to instill in Gutierrez's approach that weren't instilled here? Seattle obviously expects Gutierrez to make more strides in the years ahead, because it committed $20.5 million to him over the next four years.

Will we be seeing Josh Barfield in 2010, or will Manny Acta stick him in Triple-A and say, "That's how I roll!"
-- Ryan M., Marion, Ind.

The calendar has flipped to a new year, but Ryan's "Anchorman" references remain. It's good to see some continuity.

While it wasn't as harsh a fate as being punted off a bridge, Barfield was removed from the Indians' 40-man roster last summer, all but ending his tenure with the organization. He's currently a Minor League free agent. He'll probably latch on as a Spring Training invitee somewhere, but no one's touting him as a star in the making anymore. It's quite a fall from grace, considering how hyped Barfield was just three years ago.

I understand the need to keep our eye on payroll and the lack of spending this offseason. However, I do not understand how we need to bring in a cheap utility infielder, but we let a quality player like Khalil Greene sign with the Rangers for $750,000. I get not signing Jamey Carroll for $3.5 million, but we can't throw at least $1 million to a guy like Greene? I don't get it. Any word on who our utility guy is going to be?
-- Andy C., Salem, Ohio

At last check, the Indians still didn't feel the free-agent market was in line with their available resources.

Greene is transitioning to the utility role for the Rangers. His playing time with the Cardinals was limited last year due to two stints on the disabled list as he battled social-anxiety disorder.

It seems like we trade or lose all of our big-name guys, but can't we keep Sizemore, so he can be the face of our team? I am sure it would be a win-win for all involved. -- Ken K., Poland, Ohio

I have no doubt the Indians will make an earnest effort to keep Sizemore, especially considering investments in position players are generally considered safer than investments in pitchers. But the Tribe's track record of signing their "big-name guys" (as you so eloquently put it) to that second multiyear deal speaks for itself. Baseball's economic picture is such that the larger-market teams simply have more money to throw at a guy like Sizemore when he reaches free agency, and the player who turns his back on the highest offer is a rare player, indeed. I don't see Grady in a Tribe uniform past 2012, so enjoy him while he's here.

And finally...

When will the Indians sign a big-name free agent?
-- Justin V., somewhere in Ohio

Maybe when Jarrod Saltalamacchia hits free agency. He has a pretty big name.

Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.