The last time the Red Sox played the Cleveland Indians, I did a short Q&A with the ever insightful Lewie Pollis of the Cleveland Indians blog, Wahoo Blues. At that time the Indians were the best team in baseball and the Red Sox were just getting themselves together after a very rough start. As they play each for the final time this season it would seem the roles have been reversed. The Red Sox now hold the best record in the American League and are frequently topping the various power rankings, while the Indians have slowed down and currently trail the Detroit Tigers by 2 ½ games in the AL Central. With a few big moves at the deadline the Indians are looking to get things rolling again as they head into Fenway.
Ben Buchanan and I ran down some of Lewie’s questions on the Red Sox over at the new home of Wahoo Blues and Mr. Pollis was once again gracious enough to give us some insights on the state of the Indians.
Without further ado, here is everything you ever wanted to know about the Cleveland Indians but were afraid to ask-
OTM: The Indians have been sellers for the past few years and obviously that has helped to put them in the position they are in now. Certainly Justin Masterson coming over in the Victor Martinez trade has been a big factor in their success. How have other past deadline deals helped to shape the Indians into a contender now?
LP: This team was absolutely built on the backs of trades. In addition to Masterson and that guy we just got ("U" something? I forget his name), Carlos Carrasco and Mitch Talbot were both trade acquisitions. Michael Brantley and Matt LaPorta were both products of the CC Sabathia deal, and we got Lou Marson and Jason Donald for Cliff Lee. Carlos Santana, Chris Perez, and Ezequiel Carrera were the fruits of other recent midyear fire sales. Go back a little further and you've got Asdrubal Cabera, Shin-Soo Choo, Grady Sizemore, and Travis Hafner being imported from elsewhere. I'm probably forgetting someone too. So yeah, I'd say they've helped a little bit.
OTM: How does it feel to be a buyer this time around?
It's weird, man. I don't know what to do with myself. For years it's been "who can we trade," and suddenly we're the ones making midseason upgrades? And Fukudome was one thing, but now Ubaldo? Maybe I'm just being forgetful, but off the top of my head I can't remember the Indians ever making a deadline deal this big. At least, when we weren't selling.
OTM: The Indians made the biggest splash at the deadline acquiring Ubaldo Jimenez. What impact do you see him having on the pennant race this season and next year?
LP: Realistically, a guy who'll play in an absolute maximum of 12 games isn't going to be able to put the team on his back this year. That being said, he's a huge upgrade over Mitch Talbot and if he returns to 2010 form (he's been unlucky this year) he could give the Indians more than 2 WAR. In a division where the three teams are only four games apart, that could definitely end up making a difference. Plus, the Indians trading for him meant the Tigers didn't—if he'd gone to
What's great is, we have him for two more pennant races after this one. I've seen people say we gave up more for Ubaldo than we got for Sabathia or Lee—well, we got more than the year-and-a-half the Phillies would have had for Lee (if they hadn't traded him) or the three months the Brewers got out of Sabathia. Masterson and Jimenez will make a phenomenal 1-2 punch going forward.
OTM: What is your take on the package of prospects that the
LP: No question the prize of the deal is Drew Pomeranz. Our first-round draft pick last year, he's striking out more than 11 batters per nine with a 1.98 ERA in his first pro season and placed 14th on Baseball America's midseason top prospects list. Seeing him go was traumatizing. He's got a real chance to be an ace someday, and if he wins the Cy Young this deal will haunt the Indians for years.
That being sad, pitching prospects are notoriously unreliable. Look how many can't-miss prospects haven't worked out, whether because of injuries or something else—Brian Matusz, Joba Chamberlain, Luke Hochevar, Aroldis Chapman. Your own Clay Buchholz now has a scary-sounding injury. Just thinking of recent Indians, remember future Cy Youngs Jaret Wright, Adam Miller, and Jeremy Sowers? There's so much uncertainty, even with a prospect as good as Pomeranz.
Alex White was also tough to part with—another of our first-round picks with the upside of at least a No. 2 man. I'm not as worried about losing him as other people seem to be, though, because he's already had health problems. He's been out since mid-May with a finger injury. Obviously there are much worse things he could have done than hurt his finger, but the only thing riskier than a pitching prospect is a pre-injured pitching prospect.
Beyond that, we lost another pitching prospect, Joe Gardner. He's a groundballer extraordinaire, but he's been struggling at Double-A so far this year (4.99 ERA, 1.28 K/BB), which suggests to me that he was on his way to being next in a long line of mediocre pitch-to-contact worm-burners that the Indians have developed.
Matt McBride is 26 years old and in Double-A. He's organizational depth.
OTM: The Indians also acquired outfielders Kosuke Fukadome and Thomas Neal. How will these two players impact the lineup and outfield defense in
LP: Fukudome takes over right field until Shin-Soo Choo comes back, at which point he'll presumably slide over to center to keep Grady Sizemore's seat warm. Assuming everyone comes back healthy; he'll be a solid fourth outfielder for the stretch run and (knock on wood) the playoffs. He's no great shakes with the bat, and he gets very mixed reviews for his defense (UZR has him at -7.5 runs this year, Total Zone has him at +16), but he's definitely better than the Travis Buck/Austin Kearns/Shelley Duncan brigade.
Neal is in Triple-A for now. He might get the call in September, but he's pretty low down on the depth chart at this point.
OTM: With the wildcard expected to come from the AL East the Indians will need to win the division to make the post season. How do you think they match up against
A heck of a lot better than they did before. I'm hesitant to call the Indians the favorites because they've looked so bad lately, but with Jimenez, Fukudome, and no more below-replacement-level second base from Orlando Cabrera, they might be the most talented team in the division. My money's on
OTM: I understand we won't be facing Jimenez in this series, is that right? Who will we see on the mound and what can we expect from them?
LP: Ubaldo isn't listed as a probable starter. There's a chance things could change—giving him five days' rest seems like a lot since he pitched only one inning his last start—but as of now, you dodged a bullet.
First, you draw Josh Tomlin (4.01 ERA, 4.03 SIERA). Hope you guys are ready to swing, because you're not going to walk much. His 1.07 BB/9 rate puts him second only to Roy Halladay, and he hasn't given up more than one walk in a start since April 10.
Next you've got David Huff (0.71 ERA, 3.68 SIERA in two starts). He broke out in the minors in 2008, but ever since then his strikeout rate has been declining and he seemed to have a complete inability to fool MLB hitters. At least, until this year—two starts is a tiny sample, but nine strikeouts against two walks with a sub-1.00 ERA is impressive in any length of time.
In game three, Tim Wakefield gets to face a pitcher 21 years his junior: Carlos Carrasco (4.67 ERA, 4.01 SIERA). Another example of the stereotypical non-overpowering, groundball-inducing Indians pitcher, but better. He's got a good mix of pitchers (very good change, solid curve and slider), but nothing as interesting as what
Finally, you get a familiar face: Justin Masterson (2.56 ERA, 3.40 SIERA). I'm surprised I haven't heard his name in Cy Young talks much (not saying he's the best pitcher in league, but he at least deserves to be mentioned in the conversation). In case you haven't heard, you'll be seeing a lot of fastballs—in his penultimate outing, 103 out of the 104 pitches he threw were fastballs.
OTM: What are your predictions for this series?
LP: Ridiculous as it sounds, I really like the way the probable pitchers match up for the Indians. I'll say it'll be a 2-2 split because anything better would sound crazy against the best team in baseball, but I wouldn't be surprised to see the Tribe take three of four.