The days of Spring Training are beginning to wind down to a precious few, and this will be the last edition of the Indians Inbox before camp breaks. So as the Indians take their first day off since pitchers and catchers reported, let's try to get to as many of your questions as we can.I know you can't put stock into Spring Training, but both Jake Westbrook and Fausto Carmona look good to me this spring. How do you think they look?
-- Kenny K., Elyria, Ohio
If the Indians are going to make any noise this season, it has to start with the performance of Westbrook, Carmona and Justin Masterson.
Westbrook's spring performance, to date, has largely been what I came in expecting to see. He has shown some obvious signs of rust, struggling, at times, to keep the ball in the strike zone. But he has seen an increase in the effectiveness of his sinker each of the four times he has taken the mound. Eight of the 14 outs he recorded against the Dodgers on Sunday came on ground balls.
I'm not worried about Westbrook, in the sense that I don't think missing the better part of the last two years will impair his ability to return to the form that made him a double-digit winner in the past. I'm more worried about him in the sense that he's not the lock-down No. 1 guy this rotation clearly lacks, and he's going to have his share of typical "sinkerballer days" where the hits (and sometimes the runs) pile up quickly.
Carmona, on the other hand, does have the stuff to be a dominant, front-of-the-rotation arm, as evidenced by his 2007 season. We've seen him show flashes of that stuff this spring, but I'm not naive enough to take that for granted. Carmona has a 0.69 ERA in three appearances this spring, and that's impressive. But he had a 2.67 ERA last spring, and look how that turned out.
One thing to track with Carmona, though, is the walk total. He didn't walk anybody in winter ball, and he has walked two guys in 13 innings here (he walked eight in 27 innings last spring). Those are signs the Indians have to like. They also like that Carmona came into camp in better shape than a year ago (though he's still not quite where he was in 2007), and he's showing no lingering lack of confidence or mental malaise after his humiliating demotion to the Minors in '09.
You didn't ask about Masterson, but I'm including him here, anyway. He has been roughed up a bit in his four appearances, and he hasn't done much to calm the concerns about his ability to retire left-handed hitters. But as a baseball writer, I am legally obligated to remind you not to get caught up in the results, positive or negative, down here.
You're probably tired of being asked, but when is Russell Branyan scheduled to play?
-- Rob M., Franklin Square, N.Y.
I'm not tired of being asked, but I am tired of asking. The latest news is that the Indians will decide this weekend whether Branyan is ready to join them in exhibition play. He says he needs only a week to get ready for the regular season, but we'll see. I, for one, remain skeptical that Branyan will be on the Opening Day roster.
I personally think the Indians made a huge mistake in signing Branyan. He is such a good hitter, but he's not healthy. I would have gone after Jermaine Dye or someone else who is a proven threat.
-- Jacob M., Wadsworth, Ohio
As a right-handed hitter, Dye would have been a better fit in this lineup. But the consensus in baseball is that Dye's outfield days are done, and he has played just one career game at first base, which is where the Indians would have needed him. I will say, though, that I saw Dye walking around the course at the Phoenix Open last month, and he seemed to be in good shape.
It was interesting to see the Twins take the opposite route the Indians went the past couple of seasons in signing Joe Mauer to a long-term extension. Although it is a great move for Twins fans and the city, assigning a significant chunk of the payroll to one player is exactly what the Indians have been trying not to do. As such, the Indians didn't try to re-sign CC Sabathia, Cliff Lee or Victor Martinez and traded them for many promising young players who will help them out in the future. Do the Twins handicap themselves in the future by not being able to sign players to help support Mauer?
-- Alex D., Duluth, Minn.
The Mauer signing has been touted as a positive for baseball and, specifically, small-market ballclubs, as it's become increasingly rare for a superstar of Mauer's ilk to stay with his "hometown team" (and that term is actually literal in this instance) in this sport's economic system.
Alas, this was a special circumstance and not exactly a symbol of economic parity from coast to coast. Not only is Mauer a local product whose grandparents attend every home game, but also the Twins are opening a publicly funded ballpark with nearly twice the season-ticket base they had in the Metrodome, and revenue (thanks to luxury suites, naming rights, etc.) is expected to rise by $50 million.
So the ballpark is essentially paying for Mauer's raise. Because of that, the Twins should maintain the payroll flexibility to continue to build a competitive team around him the next few years, provided, of course, that they don't make too many bad decisions along the way or have the kind of bad luck that has hounded the Tribe the past two years.
Inherently, however, signing a catcher with past injury issues to a deal that will expire when he's in his mid-30s is risky business. Thanks to Target Field, the Twins can afford the risk at present, but it will be interesting to see what happens as the contract matures, the ballpark becomes old news and the Twins have to find other ways to generate revenue. We all know what happened in Cleveland after the 1990s honeymoon period dried up.
Have a question about the Indians?
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You're somewhat mistaken about Sabathia, as the Indians did try to lock him up long term before the 2008 season. Ultimately, though, you're correct in that the Indians couldn't afford to have one player accounting for (at least) 25 percent of their player payroll, so those negotiations were never going to get very far. The Tribe didn't have the luxury of a new park that the Twins are enjoying. Those days have come and gone in Cleveland.
I thought Jordan Brown was out of options. How did he get optioned to Triple-A Columbus? Can we still lose him once he is healthy and not on the active roster?
-- Paul, no location given
Brown wasn't added to the 40-man roster until this past offseason. He entered the year with all three Minor League option years remaining.
I can understand the signing of Branyan and keeping Jhonny Peralta around, but why is there no talk of Wes Hodges being able to take third base from Peralta? I know Lonnie Chisenhall is waiting in the wings also, but Hodges played well this spring and has shown that in past years, too.
-- Todd S., Wooster, Ohio
Hodges is similar to Brown, in that his poor defensive play has hurt his stock. He missed significant, needed development time at third base because of injury last year, and now he's making the transition to a more crowded position at first base. In one sense, you would think that if Hodges hits, the Indians will find a place for him. But Brown is proof that's not always the case. Hodges, at least, seems to have more power potential than Brown, so that helps his profile. But first base isn't exactly forecast to be an open position this season or beyond.
What are the chances that invitee Jamey Wright makes the Opening Day squad? He seems to be having a good spring.
-- Joseph M., Overland Park, Kan.
I'd say strong to quite strong. Injuries to Jason Grilli and Kerry Wood have taken some of the thunder out of the bullpen competition. The only question is whether the Indians place Aaron Laffey or Mitch Talbot in the bullpen if they don't make the rotation, but I somehow doubt it. I think Wright, who has been a durable reliever the last few years, will stick.
Can someone explain why the Indians haven't given Andy Marte a chance over the last few years? I'm not looking for the rote answers about his consistency. What do the front office and scouts see in this guy that says he's not a Major Leaguer?
-- Charles, Cleveland
Marte is a pull-side fastball hitter. He can't hit the fastball away, and he can't hit the Major League breaking ball any way. He also has an uppercut swing, so he has issues dealing with pitch location. He can get away with those tendencies in the Minors but not the big leagues. He has the ability to make the adjustments to those faults, but he hasn't made them with any consistency.
I see more of the same with Manny Acta as manager. Players shuffling between first base and the outfield, good players going back to the Minors, pitching in chaos. I feel for the new manager because of the obvious puppet strings attached. Too bad they just can't let the best players stick instead of trying to justify players taken in trades or the impending ticking of the contract.
-- Lou K., Durham, N.C.
Acta isn't the first manager and won't be the last to deal with the business issues that significantly impact decisions on small-market teams. He understood those challenges when he took this job, and he seems to embrace them.
May I please request an update on Juan Lara? I think it was horrible the accident he was in, but I am so proud to follow the Tribe with how they really stepped up and helped him afterward.
-- Michael, Omaha, Neb.
The Indians did not re-sign Lara this year, but they did offer him their facilities in the Dominican Republic to work out and try to return to full form over the winter. It's my understanding that he has not been signed by another club.
Why did Hector Ambritz pitch so little this spring? Was he given a real chance? If not, why did we take him in the Rule 5 Draft? Also, why did the Indians trade prospect Jesus Brito for Brian Bixler, only to waive Bixler a few weeks later? Could Tommy Wiseau write a worse plot than this?
-- Nathan K., Cleveland, Ohio
Ambriz was hampered by an elbow issue that limited him to two appearances in the first two-thirds of the Cactus League calendar. The odds of landing with the big club were stacked against him coming into camp, and I'd say they're insurmountable now, unless, of course, Ambriz opens the season on the disabled list.
I don't know what to tell you about the Bixler trade. Seemed like wasted energy to me, too. But I wouldn't read too much into the loss of Brito just yet. He put up solid numbers in the Arizona Rookie League and New York-Penn League last year, but, at 21, he was a little old for those levels.
I've known David Huff since he was a kid. My son was his catcher in Minor A in Little League. That team went undefeated. Last year, Huff won 11 games and was the team leader in wins. Some of the games he lost, the defense let him down. How can he not have secured a spot on the rotation as of yet?
-- Paul P., Huntington Beach, Calif.
I don't think the Indians realized Huff's Little League team went undefeated. You might have just changed their entire outlook on the rotation race, Paul. And why isn't this mentioned in his media guide bio?
The fact is, Huff will be in this rotation at some point this year. He might not be in the Opening Day rotation (that is yet to be determined), but I'm not going out on a limb when I say this rotation will see frequent changes this year.
And finally ... I know and love all "The Room" references in the Inbox. Keep them coming. What are the chances Tommy Wiseau throws out the first pitch in a game? You've seen his football-tossing skills many times.
-- Michael K., Duluth, Minn.
Why stop there? Put Wiseau in the rotation. But first, check to see how he fared in Little League.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.