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Tribe Happenings: LaPorta's days are numbered

Tribe Happenings: LaPorta's days are numbered
September 23, 2012
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Some news, notes, and thoughts from my Tribe notebook…

End of an era

The Matt LaPorta era is about over with the Indians.

(When did it actually ever begin?)

As many people know, LaPorta is the player that the Indians received as the headliner in their trade with the Brewers back in July of 2008 for C.C. Sabathia. He was supposed to anchor the middle of the Indians lineup as a good run producer and power threat for many years, but instead all he has done is anchor a sinking ship.

LaPorta has had minimal playing time this season at the Major League level playing in just 16 games hitting .222 with 1 HR, 3 RBI and .566 OPS in 47 total plate appearances. That is coming off of a solid season at Triple-A Columbus where he hit .264 with 19 HR, 62 RBI and .822 OPS in 101 games; though he really cooled down after the All Star break hitting just .188 AVG with 2 HR, 19 RBI, and .542 OPS in 34 games.

The LaPorta Era is over simply because he looks to be a guy that has really fallen out of favor with the organization (and for good reason), and, to put it bluntly, he is just not a very good Major League ballplayer. His decision-making is very slow in the field, his glove is below average at first base, and his bat is way too inconsistent at the plate to be nothing more than an occasional depth option in the big leagues. He looks like he is on his way to a career as a depth guy that bounces back and forth between the big leagues and Triple-A. A “4-A” guy.

In addition to his lack of production and performance, LaPorta he is also out of options after this season. This means he would have to make the opening day roster next spring, and if he does not he would have to clear waivers before he could be sent to the minors on an outright assignment. Looking at how he has been handled this season and his poor showing as an Indian to date, it looks like he has no shot to make the opening day roster next season, even with a good showing in spring training.

The fact that the Indians never really called up LaPorta until rosters expanded says a lot. Even with the continued absence of designated hitter Travis Hafner by several injuries this season and the poor play in left field and first base from Johnny Damon, Shelley Duncan, Aaron Cunningham and Casey Kotchman, he never got a call up to get a shot. He got a brief three game callup in June that limited him to just 11 at bats, but as quickly as he was up he was sent right out.

A lot can be taken out of the way a player is used (or not used). With LaPorta being ignored and an afterthought in Columbus all season and playing poorly in the few opportunities he has been given since he was called up in September, he looks like he is heading for the waiver wire, and that may happen sometime this offseason.

Whether or not it matters, if the Indians do designate LaPorta for assignment at some point this offseason or next spring, if he clears waivers he would still be the property of the Indians and they could outright him to Columbus without his consent. Which means even if the LaPorta Era ends so to speak, he could still end up being around another season next year as a depth option at Triple-A before he would become a minor league free agent after next season.

Either way, LaPorta looks like he is taking his final cuts with the Indians at least at the big league level. Amazingly, he has over 1000 plate appearances in his big league Indians’ career – something that surprised me when I looked it up - which is more than enough at bats to evaluate him (whether he is playing every day or not). His ceiling is so low now and nowhere close to what it was when he was a hot shot prospect in the Brewers system, and with so many changes expected to come to the roster this offseason, he could be one of the first to get a pink slip this offseason.

Lack of faith

With the offseason just ten days away from officially starting for the Indians, a lot of the attention has shifted away from what is happening on the field to what the Indians will do off the field this offseason. In fact, that shift in attention was already made several weeks ago when people gave up on the team after they imploded in early August and went on to have one of the all-time worst month’s for a Major League Baseball team in the history of the league.

Right now it is tough to figure out what exactly the Indians’ focus of attention will be this offseason because at the moment the possibilities are endless when it comes to changes that could be made. Not only will they undoubtedly be on the lookout for much needed upgrades to the lineup and starting rotation, but it remains to be seen if manager Manny Acta and/or anyone from his coaching staff will be fired or if General Manager Chris Antonetti or anyone else in the front office will be fired.

If there is one known certainty right now, it is that there is a complete lack of faith among the entire fan base. A lack of faith in the entire organization to do what is needed to get things right and get this organization back on its feet and back into contention.

A lot of fans do not have faith that Antonetti will make the right calls with free agent and trade acquisitions this offseason, there is no faith that the Dolan’s will spend what is needed to help get going in the right direction, there is no faith in the current coaching staff to get guys turned around that are performing below expectations, and there is no faith in the players and up-and-coming players that they themselves can help turn things around.

The Indians have lost the will of their fans because they do not believe in this team anymore, which makes the situation even worse. It means they will need to have not just one good year, but several good years in a row to gain the trust and faith of the fan base again. That’s a daunting task.  It is a dire situation at the moment, one that I have not seen with the Indians since maybe the 80s and early 90s when they were the worst organization in baseball.

It would be imprudent to expect the Indians to make several much needed changes to their organizational philosophy this offseason, but even still, this offseason is shaping up to be a very interesting one to follow to see what they do and how they do it. Do they have the same approach to their offseason and keep business as usual, or will they genuinely try something different and be more aggressive?

We will see, but right now with a lack of faith, making some much needed changes will go a long way to restoring that faith.

Hernandez still limited

The Indians are still not convinced that right-handed starter Roberto Hernandez is ready to pitch again. He has been sidelined since August 27th with an ankle injury and has been throwing sim-games over the past week to evaluate where he is at in the rehab process.

The Indians had Hernandez throw a three inning sim-game on Friday and he still complained of some issues with his ankle. As a result, the Indians decided against re-inserting him into starting rotation and are giving him another few days to rest and recover. He will throw another bullpen session on Wednesday in Chicago.

Hernandez has been limited to just three appearances this year thanks to his identity issues, long delay in getting a visa, a suspension, and now an ankle injury. In those three appearances he is 0-3 with a 7.53 ERA, and in 14.1 innings has allowed 17 hits, 4 home runs, 3 walks, and 2 strikeouts.

There is a chance that Hernandez may not pitch again for the Indians this season. In fact, it could be the end of his career with the Indians after the fiasco with the identity crisis and the inability to properly evaluate him this season due to just 14.1 total innings pitched. He has a $6 million club option next year that the organization will need to decide on very early this offseason. Considering there is no buyout in the club option, the Indians will probably decline the club option and allow him to become a free agent.

At this point, given the struggles this season and prior seasons along with so many holes on the roster that need filled, it would be hard for the Indians to throw $6 million at a pitcher like Hernandez. A better course of action to take might be to decline the club option and then monitor how he pitches in the Dominican Winter League this offseason. The Indians are not the only ones that need to evaluate him and determine if he is worth a guaranteed Major League contract for next season or just a non-roster spring invitee.

This is a key point because if Hernandez signs with anyone this season it will probably be later into the offseason as teams get a chance to see him make several starts for his winter ball team in the Dominican Republic.  He is slated to pitch winter ball, and considering he has pitched so few innings this season he is prepared to haul a lot of innings in winter ball this offseason. The extra work will help him make up some of the lost innings this season, but also provide more direction on what kind of contract and where he ends up signing this offseason.

The Indians like every other organization know how talented Hernandez is, but the Indians and everyone else also know how maddingly inconsistent he is every year. When it is all said and done, I believe he ends up signing a one year $2 to $3 million deal with a team or if the damage is too great from his past season with the identity issues and lack of innings he may just get a non-roster invite and minimum salary.

Due to Hernandez’s familiarity with the Indians, and their familiarity with him and his situation, it would surprise me if he is not resigned this offseason to that much lower deal.

Could Francona be an option?

A few rumors surfaced this week from national baseball pundits that former Boston Red Sox manager Terry Francona could be one of the first options the Indians choose to replace Acta if he is fired this offseason.

If the Indians want to make a splash this offseason with a manager hire, this would be the guy to get. Yes, he was a part of the “fried chicken and beer” stuff from last season, and his team had a monumental September collapse and missed the postseason, both of which helped push him out the door in Boston.

But Francona is a winner.

In 12 seasons as a Major League manager he is 1029-915 (.529), and in his eight seasons as manager of the Red Sox he went 744-552 (.574) and never won less than 86 games in any season. The Red Sox payroll and talent obviously helped him achieve that lofty record, but as we have seen with this year’s version of the Red Sox, talent and spending does not always make it easy for a manager. I think a lot of people are learning now just how vital he was to the Red Sox, and remember, he won not one, but two World Series championships for a franchise that had not won one in over 80 years before his arrival.

In any case, Francona will probably be a hot commodity this offseason, so the Indians would likely be in competition for his services if they are truly interested in him. He would bring a winning mentality and would be coming from a winning organization, two things the Indians could really tap into. That’s one of the biggest knocks on Acta as he has never been a winning manager (369-516, .417) in his six years as a skipper.

Francona has some ties to the Indians as he served as a special assistant to the general manager back in 2001, former GM John Hart’s last year in the organization. But that season was former GM and current club President Mark Shapiro’s first season as de facto general manager before officially taking the reins at the end of the season, so there are some ties to the current organizational personnel in the front office.

If the Indians do make a managerial change in the offseason – and it looks likely that they will – then Francona is surely a guy that if brought in would help bring some hope. The fan favorite for the manager’s job at the moment may be Sandy Alomar, but if Francona can be had, the Indians should definitely consider him no matter how much of a long shot he may be. 

Parting shots

The Indians activated designated hitter Travis Hafner from the disabled list on Wednesday. He had been on the disabled list since early August because of a lower back injury and will only play three days a week the rest of the season. This will help to ensure his health and give the Indians an opportunity to evaluate him since they have a roster decision to make on him this offseason. He has a $13 million club option for next season that the Indians can decline provided they pay a $2.75 million buyout. … Infielder Jason Donald is still working his way back from a right wrist injury. He is expected to begin taking batting practice this weekend and if all goes well he could be back in the lineup any day. … On Tuesday the Indians set a franchise record by using ten pitchers in a game. The Major League record is 11 pitchers used in a game, and the Indians had used nine pitchers twice before. The two prior nine pitcher incidents both occurred in September (1971, 2006) when rosters are expanded.

Follow Tony and the Indians Baseball Insider on Twitter @TonyIBI. Also, his new book the 2014 Cleveland Indians Baseball Insider which profiles the Indians' Top 100 Prospects and more is available for sale.

User Comments

Norm
September 24, 2012 - 5:28 AM EDT
Shy, I hold them all accountable! I just don't give the signings a pass for the manager the way you are. Antonetti and Shapiro wanted Upton but when that deal went south in a hurry, Acta did not want to be shut out of a quality CF since he mistakenly felt Brantley couldn't cut if in CF. However, his first priority was a seasoned pitcher with Carrasco out for the year and Lowe fit the bill. His reasoning did not look particularly stupid at the time if the two were productive and healthy. So why run from it?
Tony
September 23, 2012 - 11:30 PM EDT
Everyone keeps mentioning Farrell. I just see no logical way he becomes an option this offseason. He was the Indians' #1 choice if you recall three years ago, but he declined to even interview with them. Why would he change his mind now? I just don't see it.
shy
September 23, 2012 - 7:14 PM EDT
Hey Norm, you seem to hold Acta accountable for signing Sizemore and Lowe. I will take it on your word that he wanted them both and made the case to Antonetti. All I will say is it is not Acta's or any manager's job for that matter to sign up the roster. I guarantee you Bruce Bochy didn't tell Brian Sabean to sign Marco Scutaro or Hunter Pence or anybody else out there. Bob Melvin did not tell Billy Beane to sign Yoenis Cespedes or Jerrod Parker. If Acta did get get drawn into big signing decisions like that, it's only because of Antonetti's deficiencies in talent evaluation. It's one thing for a manager to go to a GM and recommend he take a low cost flyer on a peripheral player like Austin Kearns-" he played for me before and I like what he brings" It's not appropriate for a manager to make a major medical call like on Sizemore or a call on an over the hill pitcher that pitched the previous year , very unsuccessfully I might add, in the National League. A competent GM would take Acta's opinion and give it some consideration but it wouldn't be the deciding factor in a personnel decision. BTW which is the city that may court the Indians or Rays in 2016?
Norm
September 23, 2012 - 6:21 PM EDT
Like your stuff, Tony. Afraid LaPorta won't be the only era that comes to an end this year. Lots of guys will be dropped from the 40 and many non-ML caliber players will not be here any longer.

Francona might come but Farrell hates Cleveland from what I am told. Already offered more by Indians and laughed at them. Manny Acta is a big boy and he ducked the decisions he made that Antonelli gets blamed for like the wasted $10 million on Sizemore and Lowe. But he wanted them and never admitted his mistake which is probably the only thing that might have saved his job.

Lack of faith extends both ways I am afraid. Dolan and the FO do not believe Cleveland fans will step up no matter what the team does or how it spends. The recent evidence supports that theory. The ownership has been burned and will make money (as they should) until the team is sold to the highest bidder, likely to be 2016 if indications mean anything.

It is not secret that a prime location to relocate any existing franchise is available. Two "have nots", Cleveland and Tampa, will be the big contenders. As the only poster on this site that has seen Cleveland win a World Series, that makes me sad but it is a prime example of "survival of the fittest".
shy
September 23, 2012 - 12:55 PM EDT
Thanks Tony, I really think the right way for the Indians to go is to replace Antonetti and do it right away. I like John Farrell, but I don't know if Dolan will outbid the RedSox/Toronto. Then the new GM can decide how to proceed w Manny Acta. In all likelyhood he would keep him on for another year, but perhaps not. I do think the Indians need new corner coaches, the base-running/ base-stealing is terrible. And there is a huge deficit in opposing teams running wild on Indians pitchers. I think Manny could be an excellent manager in a different situation w a better GM, and better coaches. Whether that would be in Cleveland or another city remains to be seen, I don't think he will have any problem walking away from Cleveland if he gets an offer from another team, and I'm confident he will despite the Indians/Nats record. They were both really bad teams- not Buck Showalter or Bob Melvin or anyone else would have kept them out of the cellar. Francona was burnt out in Boston, looked like he was done w coaching. Has he expressed any interest after his ESPN sabbatical of getting back in? I still have his dad's Indians baseball card from the 60's. I like him, but recreating the Indians as a contender is not for the faint of heart.

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