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Another Opening, Another Showdown
2006-04-02 14:53
by Cliff Corcoran
Note: The Bronx Banter blog has moved to bronxbanterblog.com.

I have to hand it to the MLB schedule makers, tonight's season opener between the World Champion Chicago White Sox and the up-and-coming Cleveland Indians (on ESPN2 at 8:00 EST) is the perfect way to kick off the 2006 season. I was one of five Toasters to pick the A's to go all the way this year, but after Oakland, I believe the Indians and White Sox are the next two best teams in baseball. As a result, I expect the AL Central to be this year's most exciting race. So what better way to start the season than with the World Champs and the team that's poised to make them sweat all season long.

Last year, the Indians rebounded from a 9-14 (.391) start to play .604 baseball over the season's final 139 games. They also went 22-36 (.379) in one-run games, including five one-run loses in their final seven games which handed the White Sox the division and the Red Sox the wild card in the season's final week. In games decided my more than one run, the 2005 Indians played .683 ball. These signs all point toward a better record in 2006 for a team that missed the playoffs by two games last year.

The story of the White Sox 2005 season, meanwhile, is the exact opposite. After a scorching 24-7 (.774) start, the White Sox played .572 ball the rest of the way and posted a .648 winning percentage in one-run games, including two of their three wins against the Indians in the season's final series. Due largely to their disparate one-run records, the Indians' Pythagorean record was five games better than the White Sox's last year, despite that fact that the Sox won the division by six games.

Despite winning their first Championship in 88 years, the White Sox hardly rested on their laurels this offseason, trading for Jim Thome and Javier Vazquez, both of whom stand to be major improvements over the departed Carl Everett and Orlando Hernandez, and giving rookie Brian Anderson the center field job. Elsewhere, however, there is considerable fear of regression. Will Jermaine Dye slug .512 this year? Will Scott Podsednik revert to his .244/.313/.364 line from 2004? Can Jose Contreras sustain the improvements he made last year? Will the rest of the rotation survive the loss of Aaron Rowand's defense in center? Most of all, what will come of the White Sox's bullpen, which in 2005 got career years out of Cliff Politte and Dustin Hermanson (the latter of whom will start the season on the DL with a bad back) and saw youngsters Neal Cotts and Bobby Jenks appear to make the leap? The fifth and sixth men in the pen for the Sox entering the season are Matt Thornton, a would-be LOOGY who gave Mike Hargrove fits in Seattle last year by walking 6.63 men per nine innings (does that make him a LOWGY?), and 21-year-old Boone Logan, who has spent all but four games of his three-year professional career in rookie ball with the White Sox's Pioneer League team in Great Falls.

The Indians, meanwhile, are a team on the rise. Though their off-season changes are largely uninspiring (getting Ben Broussard a legitimate lefty-killer for a platoon partner in Eduardo Perez and replacing no-hit back-up catcher Josh Bard with the power and patience of Kelly Shoppach stand as their biggest upgrades), their triple-A team at Buffalo is stocked with prospects who could greatly improve an already excellent ball club by taking over at the major league level mid-season, among them Andy Marte (3B), Ryan Garko (1B), Brad Snyder (RF), Franklyn Gutierrez (CF/LF), starting pitchers Fausto Carmona and Jeremy Sowers, and reliever Andrew Brown. Given that tremendous potential for in-season improvement via on-hand talent and the correction that's bound to occur in the one-run records of both teams, I believe the Indians are the team to beat in the central this year.

For more on these teams be sure to check out the outstanding Let's Go Tribe and the two excellent Sox blogs South Side Sox and Exile in Wrigleyville (and of course my Indians chapter in Baseball Prospectus 2006).

As I type this, we're about a half hour from the first pitch of the 2006 season. Lefties Mark Buehrle and C.C. Sabathia are likely taking their warm-up pitches in the U.S. Cellular Field bullpens. You can find the opening day rosters of both teams below the fold.

Cleveland Indians

2005 Record: 93-69
2005 Pythagorean Record: 96-66

Manager: Eric Wedge
General Manager: Mark Shapiro

Home Ballpark (2005 Park Factors): Jacobs Field (94/94)

Who's Replacing Whom?

Jason Michaels replaces Coco Crisp
Eduardo Perez replaces Jose Hernandez
Todd Hollandsworth replaces Jody Gerut and Jason Duboise (minors)
Kelly Shoppach replaces Josh Bard
Paul Byrd replaces Kevin Millwood
Jason Johnson replaces Scott Elarton
Guillermo Mota replaces David Riske
Danny Graves replaces Arthur Rhodes
Fernando Cabrera and to a lesser extent Matt Miller take over Bobby Howry's innings

Opening Day Roster:

1B – Ben Broussard (L)
2B – Ron Belliard (R)
SS – Jhonny Peralta (R)
3B – Aaron Boone (R)
C – Victor Martinez (S)
RF – Casey Blake (R)
CF – Grady Sizemore (L)
LF – Jason Michaels (R)
DH – Travis Hafner (L)

Bench:

R – Eduardo Perez (1B)
L – Todd Hollandsworth (OF)
L – Ramon Vazquez (IF)
R – Kelly Shoppach (C)

Rotation:

L – C.C. Sabathia
R – Paul Byrd
L – Cliff Lee
R – Jake Westbrook
R – Jason Johnson

Bullpen:

R – Bob Wickman
R – Rafael Betancourt
R – Fernando Cabrera
L – Scott Sauerbeck
R – Guillermo Mota
R – Matt Miller
R – Danny Graves

Anticipated Lineup:

L – Grady Sizemore (CF)
R – Jason Michaels (LF)
R – Jhonny Peralta (SS)
L – Travis Hafner (DH)
S – Victor Martinez (C)
L – Ben Broussard (1B)/R – Eduardo Perez (1B)
R – Rafael Belliard (2B)
R – Aaron Boone (3B)
R – Casey Blake (RF)

***

World Champion Chicago White Sox

2005 Record: 99-63
2005 Pythagorean Record: 91-71

Manager: Ozzie Guillen
General Manager: Kenny Williams

Home Ballpark (2005 Park Factors): US Cellular Field (103/102)

Who's Replacing Whom?

Jim Thome replaces Carl Everett
Ross Gload inherits Frank Thomas's at-bats
Alex Cintron replaces Willie Harris
Rob Mackowiak replaces Timo Perez
Javier Vazquez replaces Orlando Hernandez
Matt Thornton replaces Damaso Marte
Boone Logan replaces Luis Vizcaino
Bobby Jenks takes over Dustin Hermanson's save opportunities

Opening Day Roster:

1B – Paul Konerko (R)
2B – Tadahito Iguchi (R)
SS – Juan Uribe (R)
3B – Joe Crede (R)
C – A.J. Pierzynski (L)
RF – Jermaine Dye (R)
CF – Brian Anderson (R)
LF – Scott Podsednik (L)
DH – Jim Thome (L)

Bench:

L – Rob Mackowiak (UT)
L – Ross Gload (1B)
S – Alex Cintron (IF)
R – Pablo Ozuna (IF)
R – Chris Widger (C)

Rotation:

L – Mark Buehrle
R – John Garland
R – Freddy Garcia
R – Jose Contreras
R – Javier Vazquez

Bullpen:

R – Bobby Jenks
L – Neal Cotts
R – Cliff Politte
R – Brandon McCarthy
L – Matt Thornton
L – Boone Logan

DL: R – Dustin Hermanson

Anticipated Lineup:

L – Scott Podsednik (LF)
R – Tadahito Iguchi (2B)
L – Jim Thome (DH)
R – Paul Konerko (R)
R – Jermaine Dye (RF)
L – A.J. Pierzynski (C)
R – Joe Crede (3B)
R – Juan Uribe (2B)
R – Brian Anderson (CF)

Comments
2006-04-02 16:44:30
1.   Bob Timmermann
Nice headline!
2006-04-02 16:51:13
2.   Cliff Corcoran
Great minds . . .
2006-04-02 17:07:05
3.   mikeplugh
Let's get ready to rumblllllllllllllllle!!
2006-04-02 17:27:59
4.   BklynBomber
Ohhhh noooo... Morgan. I forgot about him over the winter. But opening up the sports section in this mornings paper, and seeing the standings again, with all those beautiful zeros and everybody in alphabetical order, man, it's like Christmas morning! Play ball!
2006-04-02 18:12:50
5.   Levy2020
Big Yankees news on MLB.com:

" Released INF Luis A. Garcia and cut LHP Matt Smith, RHP Matt Childers, RHP Jose Veras, RHP Ramiro Mendoza, C Omir Santos, INF Russ Johnson, INF Damian Rolls and INF Felix Escalona.
Placed RHP Aaron Small and RHP Octavio Dotel on the 15-day disabled list, retroactive to March 24, and placed RHP Carl Pavano on the disabled list, retroactive to March 28."

http://tinyurl.com/7rk9t

I am surprised that Escalona and Menoza are both "cut." Organizationally, who "backs up" Cairo as the backup infielder? Philips?

2006-04-02 18:54:44
6.   Zack
Levy,
By cut, it doesn't mean they were released and off the team, but that they were sent to AAA. At least, thats what I assume. They wouldn't cut Esclano, Smith, and Childers etc...
2006-04-02 19:11:33
7.   NYYBlog
Rain delay...
2006-04-02 19:58:23
8.   Cliff Corcoran
Correct, Zack. Garcia is gone, but he rest are just in the Columbus until needed, which could be as soon as tomorrow as Scott Proctor's new baby is seriously ill and he may not be able to start the season with the team. It's the Proctor situation that's the "big" news. The rest we've known since Friday morning if not before.

As for backing up a backup infielder . . . wah? That's what the minors are for. Escalona and Johnson will be there, as will Kevin Thompson. And, yes, Phillips can play some third to pitch in.

2006-04-02 20:44:10
9.   Bruce Markusen
I think Kevin Howard (acquired for Tony Womack) would be next in line to serve as a backup infielder. He can play second and third, and has hit well in his minor league career.
2006-04-02 21:02:51
10.   Cliff Corcoran
The thing is Howard hasn't played at triple-A yet. I Howard should be given a shot to win the job next year, but for now I think it's between Escalona and Johnson.
2006-04-02 21:03:04
11.   Cliff Corcoran
Game's back in 20 min, by the way.
2006-04-02 21:35:29
12.   Cliff Corcoran
Jason Michaels is playing fantastic defense in left in this game. Anyone think Michaels might have as good a season for Cleveland as Damon has for the Yanks this year? It'll be interesting to compare Damon, Crisp and Michaels at year's end.
2006-04-03 06:58:22
13.   Rob Gee
12

And why not throw in a certain "game" player to that comparison set? And perhaps a Rowand and Pierre too (just to round out things)?

Leeeesss-gooooo YaaaannnK-eeeeessss!

2006-04-03 07:00:42
14.   Levy2020
Apologies for misunderstanding. I would have thought that they would have "reassigned" rather than "cut" those players. Then I was asking who was replacing those players, which is clearly moot.

11 Does it make sense to compare defense betwen LF and CF? I thought that was our hope regarding Crisp - "pretty good in LF, but CF? Look out."

2006-04-03 07:22:38
15.   Cliff Corcoran
Levy, good point about Crisp in LF v. CF, and Michaels played CF last year, but will be limited to LF this year. As for Rob's question, I don't think Rowand or Pierre will come close to the production at the plate that we'll see from Damon/Crisp/Michaels, but the man playing opposite Damon tonight just might pass them all, so we'll add him to the watch group.

Meanwhile, Levy, the fact that the MLB transaction wire use the term "cut" was extremely odd as it doesn't actually mean anything. Players are optioned, reassgined, wavied, released, or designated for assigment, but never cut. In reality, Garcia was released, Escalona was optioned and the rest were reassigned.

2006-04-03 07:26:18
16.   NetShrine
Nice Alex!!!!!!!!!!!!

http://tinyurl.com/gunkr

congrats

2006-04-03 07:33:04
17.   rsmith51
Wow, you beat rob gee in promoting Milton Bradley, Cliff.
2006-04-03 07:48:12
18.   Cliff Corcoran
Actually, no 17, MB was the "game" player he referred to in 13.
2006-04-03 08:10:21
19.   wsporter
Cliff, are you talking about M.B. or Kotsay in 15 when you say the "man playing opposite Damon"?
2006-04-03 09:10:16
20.   Cliff Corcoran
19 I meant MB, but you're right, he'll be in right field. My bad. Interesting that the two best alternatives to Damon from this offseason will be playing corner fields this year.
2006-04-03 09:35:16
21.   YankeeInMichigan
I would think that another risk for the White Sox is the health of their rotation. Their top 4 starters each logged over 200 innings in 2005. That workload could soon begin to take its toll.

As for the Indians, their bullpen seems to be a bit downgraded from last year. Howry is gone, Wickman is a year older and Rhodes is both (he'll be passing around the Geritol with Tom Gordon). Sabathia's injury, if serious, could cripple their rotation. That said, I am rooting hard for Cleveland to knock off the Sox. I have tremendous respect for the way Mark Shapiro has built the team.

2006-04-03 10:04:37
22.   Cliff Corcoran
YiMI 21 Rhodes is a Phillie, so he can pass the Geritol directly to Gordon in the Citizen's Bank bullpen. Francisco Cabrera, despite his performance last night, should be able to replace Howry on his own and could take over the closer role if Big Bob falls apart. Matt Miller was excellent in an injury shortened 2005 and could help pick up innings. Also, the Tribe needs Sabathia, but Fausto Carmona is ready now, so they can deal with a 15-day DL stay if it gets CC back to health.

As for the Chisox rotation, 200 innings in and of themselves are not enough to provoke an injury concern. Any healthy starter past the age of 25, and many younger than that, should be able to throw 200 innings without risk provided those innings are distributed appropriately and don't include a number of 120 or 130-plus-pitch starts. In Will Carroll's Team Health Report on the White Sox, Buehrle, Garland and Garcia got green lights. Contreras, due to his mysterious age and past inconsistancies, was the only red light. Javy Vazquez gets a yellow because he was abused as a youngster in Montreal.

2006-04-03 10:17:01
23.   wsporter
20 Yeah I think it's very interesting considering the heat our GM took for the Damon signing and his apparent lack of imagination. For what it's worth Damon outperformed Kotsay in terms of Fielding Win Shares last year (overall as well) and M.B. could not beat him out of the CF job. It probably doesn't mean much because it makes a lot more sense to play MB in right and Kotsay in CF but I'll bet a certain GM whose name rhymes with Brian Cashman is smiling about your observation.
2006-04-03 10:30:39
24.   Rob Gee
20 wsport -

It wasn't a matter of Kotsay beating out MB - they have three potential CF's and MB has the best arm of the lot. Yup, he's a (shifted) CF with a legit arm (look up his assists even in limited action). Oh, and he's on a one-year 3mil contract.

I know you really want to like a certain GM, but in those moments at least think about our bench. Hopefully that tempers things a bit. If that fails, think about the young guys in Columbus who weren't given a shot, no matter what numbers they put up, to earn a job this Spring. Or, the failure to trade Meat when there was at least something to be had in return. Or lastly, think about Scott Erickson and how we'll see him in Pinstripes before too long.

2006-04-03 10:36:43
25.   Cliff Corcoran
Rob's comment in 24 reminds me that, I caught the conversation recently about who decides who makes the 25-man roster out of spring training, but was too late to chime in. From what I've seen, it appears to be Torre's call almost entirely.
2006-04-03 10:47:47
26.   Rob Gee
One out of four - I'll let that certain GM off the partially hook - can still blame him for Kelly and Cairo though. GOB, I can live with - esp. if he found HGH.
2006-04-03 11:06:55
27.   Cliff Corcoran
See, Rob, I think Bernie was the biggest mistake he made. As for Stinnett, what was the alternative? Do you really think the Red Sox were going to give the Yankees Shoppach or a price the Yanks were willing to pay (to their rivals no less)?
2006-04-03 11:21:37
28.   wsporter
Rob, 24 I have not seen many "perfect" teams. I'm not aware of many teams that come close; maybe our 98 edition, the 86 Mets, the 84 Tigers, a couple of the Big Red Machine clubs come to mind as being close. I guess $185 million just doesn't buy what it used to. Cairo, Phillips and Bubba give us some flexibility and I just can't get worked up enough about the difference between them and their realistic, available, absolutely optimized substitutes. I just can't. I like our starting 8 position players. I'm not happy with Bernie as a full time DH and I think we may have better alternatives available. Stinnett is an okay BUC. Hanging on to "Meat" is I think as likely to bring positive returns as anything we could have gotten for him. He may not give us an inning, he may give us 180 solids. It isn't like we were going to get Willy Mo or He Sop Choi for him. (imbedded attempt at humor).

Our young guys get to go play at AAA and AA and hopefully increase their trade value or prove they're worth playing next year when we may move on from his royal crankiness in RF.

Rob I see your point and I hear you, the bench is not optimized as presently constituted. As far as in house options go: they remain. As far as bench imports go: making more would have only further blocked our young guys. I really have to say that I don't see this situation costing us ground in the standings and there is something (maybe quite a bit) to be said for the clubhouse harmony Mr. Torre has apparently achieved.

Sure it curbs my enthusiasm but not enough to squawk about it.

2006-04-03 11:38:27
29.   Rob Gee
27

What, we can't split the difference and agree on Cairo as the biggest mistake? GOB, in theory, I can live with. GOB, as he'll be used, is the problem - that's the manager.

Kelly is a tough one. I know you don't agree, but if Rentaria and cash could bring Marte, then Pavano and cash could have brought something - maybe even Navarro or McCann or even Shoppach after the trade - all it takes is one Pavano enthusiast (read: sucker). I was also for trading Duncan if a big-time C could be had - maybe Salty or Clement? They wouldn't have been ready at the start of this year, but maybe by the All-Star break. At least, a plan would be there and not along the lines of keeping our best prospect in AAA for the next three years for his value to only decline.

Who's knows - honestly I'm not going to hammer a certain GM over one move (we all make mistakes - I feel giving today). It's the collection of moves this off-season that serves as the first (to some - wsport?) indicator of our GM's abilities.

My running tally right now (from this off-season:
Our Bench
Our Bullpen
Our CF

The rest you could say he inherited. CF is going to look okay this year (unless we line it up against the other possible options). It's when our CF starts as DH that my head could just explode.
But the Bullpen and Bench could also turn out okay, once the slop is exposed and replaced with younger options.

Of course, once the slop is exposed, mid-season acquisitions could also give us another opportunity to evaluate that certain GM.

But I still think we win 95-100 games, and the division. It's what comes after that...let's forget that for at least a few weeks.

Leeesss-gggoo YaannK-eeees!

2006-04-03 11:56:09
30.   Rob Gee
Oh, and I remember something about a Jeremy Reed for Meat rumor. Can we add him to our comparison list? Just for shits and giggles?

28 wsport -

But, honestly there's little chance Meat was going anywhere - not because we couldn't get anything for him - but because he's the boy of our GM. Better GM's can at least correct their mistakes - and as quickly as possibile. I think ours shares your "best worlds" optimism.

More importantly, the Bench doesn't need to be optimized. It needs to be rebuilt. Cairo gone. Bubba too. I agree with Cliff - Phillips plays 1B, 2B, and 3B (if not starting DH as he should be) and you bring up one of those AAA young(er)sters for the 5th OF. The Stinnett/Nieves combo I can actually deal with esp. if it means Jorge DH's and PH's. With the last spot, you either sign one of the non-tendered platoon guys (C.Pena) or hope some combination of R.Johnson or Felix can fill-in as needed. But, they're probably gone any ways when Meat comes back on the rat-infested menu.

Right now:
Is Cairo a defensive upgrade anywhere?
Is Bubba going to give us anything more than late game defense or PR?

2006-04-03 12:13:47
31.   wsporter
30 Rob-

Don't you hang that Dr. Pangloss label on me Rob G. That was precisely what my point was not. This is not the "best of all possible benches" (I believe that was Voltaire's point as well). I just don't think it matters all that much, if at all.

The bench players give us what they do and my point is it's close enough to what an optimized bench would give us that when it is combined with the starting eight's contribution the difference ultimately won't mean much. We can and I think do disagree about that especially in light of your position on getting the starters as much rest as possible.

In no way does a "dark and disturbed character" such as me view anything in this world as the "best of all possible" anything. Please Rob, anything but that.

2006-04-03 12:20:45
32.   YankeeInMichigan
Cliff, you've been making a habit of blasting me on my facts, so this time I'll defend myself. "Howry is gone, Wickman is a year older and Rhodes is both" (i.e. both gone and older). By "passing around the geritol," I was referring to the Citizens Bank Bullpen.

Thanks for providing Will Carroll's health prognosis. I was wondering how it had come out (and I'm too cheap to subscribe :-().

2006-04-03 13:05:57
33.   Rob Gee
31 Sorry wsport - I meant the best worlds outcome regarding the bench, not that it was the best possible bench.
2006-04-03 14:07:07
34.   Cliff Corcoran
Yanks in MI, I didn't realize I had been targeting you, certainly it's unintentional. Sorry for my poor reading comprehension.
2006-04-03 14:23:45
35.   rilkefan
BoSox up by half a game. Only bright spot is Foulke giving up two hits and a run.

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