Things To Keep An Eye On For Tribe After A Week.

The Cleveland Indians will be home tomorrow afternoon for their home opener, weather permitting.  It will be cold, but it will still be warmer than the Tribe bats were on the first trip on the season, as Terry Francona’s crew lost four of six to Seattle and Los Angeles.

To those who are prone to panic at this about the Indians, it is just six games, and we don’t start evaluating the team until 27 games, or 1/6th of the season is played.

However, that doesn’t mean some of the things we were concerned about as the off-season unfolded, and during spring training haven’t raised their ugly heads.

The old saying that you don’t realize what you have until it’s gone certainly applies to Bryan Shaw.  Yes, the right-hander had some hiccups, and seemed to give up more than his share of key gopher balls, but for the most part, he was very reliable.

The bullpen misses him.

In two of the four Cleveland losses, the relief corps gave up tie breaking home runs, one by Dan Otero, and the other by the pitcher who has a history of allowing long balls in high leverage situations, Zack McAllister.

In addition, last Sunday after Otero allowed the tie breaker, Tyler Olson allowed another two run shot, meaning the ‘pen has already allowed four homers in six games (McAllister served up another in the blowout on Tuesday).

We are not concerned about the production from the top of the batting order because Francisco Lindor, Jason Kipnis, and Jose Ramirez have established track records, and they will hit.

And it appears that Michael Brantley will be activated for the home opener, and if he can stay healthy, it will give the lineup another solid bat.

We can be a little worried about Bradley Zimmer though.  It’s not the centerfielder’s .143 batting average (3 for 21) that is a concern.  Heck, a 3 for 3 day on Friday would bring him to .250.

It’s the lack of contact which is worrying.  The second year major leaguer has struck out in 11 of those 21 at bats, an alarming rate, and completelybo unacceptable for someone who can run like Zimmer.

Zimmer should be trying to bunt for hits two or three times per week, taking advantage of his speed, and helping him to make contact.  We would also add that he hasn’t drawn a walk through six games either.

In addition to Zimmer’s strikeout woes, Yan Gomes is having them as well, fanning in eight of 14 at bats.  The catcher has struggling with strike zone judgment before after winning a Silver Slugger Award in 2014.

In ’15, his strikeout to walk ratio was was 104:13, the following year, it was 69:9.  Last season, it improved a bit to 99:31, and so did the rest of his offensive numbers.

A patient Gomes is a more productive Gomes.  He has to understand this and have some degree of plate discipline.

This duo must be better for the Tribe to have a lineup with some length.

If we didn’t already have questions about these players coming into the season, we wouldn’t have them now.  The season has a long, long way to go, and numbers are particularly volatile now.

But these were question marks coming in.  It doesn’t make a question the long term future for the Indians, but they are things to keep an eye on.

A baseball man once said you should ignore what you see in April and September.  For Zack McAllister, Bradley Zimmer, and Yan Gomes, we hope he was right.

MW

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Will A Rookie Help the ’18-’19 Cavs?

The Cleveland Cavaliers are heading to the NBA playoffs, but some fans are obsessed with the draft pick which the Cavs acquired in the Kyrie Irving trade.

That pick, of course, originally belonged to the Brooklyn Nets, who fans of the wine and gold have been following all season long.

We even heard some fans saying that LeBron James should sit out Sunday’s game against Dallas because a Mavericks victory could help the Nets sink in the standings, thus giving the Cavs a better chance to obtain the first pick in the NBA draft.

The most attractive thing about the pick, which currently sits in the 7th position if the season ended today, giving Cleveland a 4.3% chance at the first overall selection and a 15% opportunity to pick in the top three, is what it is worth to other teams.

We say that because of today’s nature of the draft, which because of the “one and done” rule, means many of the lottery picks are based on potential, not the ability to help a good NBA team right now.

Note that we said a good NBA team, meaning one that makes the playoffs.  Let’s examine last June’s draft, for example.

Of the rookies getting more than 20 minutes of playing time per game, only four are doing so on teams that will probably make the post-season.  That quartet would be Jayson Tatum (Boston), Donovan Mitchell (Utah), Bam Adebayo (Miami), and OG Anunoby (Toronto).

Of those four, only Tatum was picked in the top ten.  Granted, most good teams don’t get an opportunity to pick in the top ten, however, think about it.  None of the rookies taken in the top ten have been impactful enough to lift their teams out of the lottery.

Looking at the year before, the only player who was a rotation players with a playoff teams was Jaylen Brown (3rd overall pick with Boston).

Now in their second year, Ben Simmons (Philadelphia-1st overall), Jamal Murray (Denver-7th pick), Jakob Poeltl (Toronto 9th), and Thon Maker (Milwaukee-10th) are contributing to playoff teams, but the other players who were selected in the top of the draft are still on bad teams.

Going back to 2015, first overall pick Karl-Anthony Towns will likely help Minnesota make the playoffs, but the rest of the players picked in the top ten are still on also-rans.

Beyond that group, Myles Turner Kelly Oubre, and Terry Rozier and solid contributors on playoff squads.

So, looking at the players projected to be selected in the top ten in the 2018 draft, how many could get significant playing time on the Cavs next fall, if James remains with the team?

Certainly Arizona’s DeAndre Ayton and Duke’s Marvin Bagley would be rotation players, but they are projected to go with the first two selections.

Most of the other players thought to be top ten picks probably don’t have NBA ready bodies.

Other players we think could play right away are Collin Sexton, a freshman point guard out of Alabama, Duke C Wendell Carter, and Villanova swingman Mikel Bridges, who is a junior, not a one year college player.

This isn’t to say the other top selections won’t be solid NBA players in time, or that they won’t put up good numbers for bad teams.

The point is there aren’t many players ready to come into the league and be solid contributors for a team with aspirations of making a deep playoff run, and history shows this is the norm.

So, the best plan for GM Koby Altman is a draft day trade to bring in a young veteran who will fit in and be able to help now.  We aren’t talking about a guy who is on the wrong side of 30, but a player in his mid-20’s who might be heading toward the free agent market, like Kevin Love was when the Cavs traded for him.

That’s the best bet for the Cavaliers, not someone who played just one year of college basketball.

JK

Hoping Cavs Decide Playing Time On Merit For Playoffs

With the NBA playoffs starting in two weeks, the Cleveland Cavaliers have a lot of decisions to make.  They have roster issues, and good ones to have in the grand scheme of things.

Right now, they have 13 guys who can contribute.  That’s been great considering all of the injuries the squad has had this season.  Players like Cedi Osman and Ante Zizic have stepped up when called upon, something that no one could have foreseen going into the season.

You have to think coach Tyronn Lue will go nine deep when the playoffs start on April 14th or 15th, which means four players aren’t going to see the floor when the post-season starts.

And after seeing George Hill go down with an ankle injury last night, we are assuming the players are healthy too.

Several of the choices are no brainers.  Lue would lose his job immediately if he decided LeBron James and Kevin Love were not part of the rotation.

We would eliminate Zizic because right now, Larry Nance Jr. and Tristan Thompson are playing very well.  Thompson has been a rebounding machine since returning from his ankle sprain, although we would like to see him guarding smaller players on the perimeter lessened.  He may have lost a step of quickness.

When he gets healthy, Hill will be the starter at the point.  He has played solid defense since arriving in Cleveland, and he is starting to learn how to play with James.

Jordan Clarkson has been a constant in his role since coming over from the Lakers, that being the sixth man.  He’s averaging 13.5 points per night on 47% shooting (41% from three), and if he’s got it going, he can change a game with his scoring.

Jeff Green can play the three, four, and five spots, and has also guarded smaller players at times this season.  For example, he did a solid job on James Harden when the Cavs lost a close one in Houston early in the year.  He’s going to get minutes.

That leaves Kyle Korver, Rodney Hood, Jose Calderon, and JR Smith battling for two spots.

The first instinct would say Calderon will be the odd man out, but the reality is, when he plays, the Cavaliers play much better.  Look at last night’s game as a prime example.  Calderon came into the game with 6:22 left in the third quarter and the wine and gold down by 12, at the end of the quarter, Cleveland was up one.

Some might consider it a coincidence, but remember, the veteran was a starter when the Cavs won 18 of 19 games in November and December.

Hood has had back issues, but since returning to the lineup has put up four straight double figure scoring games.

When Smith plays like he did in Charlotte on Wednesday, he reminds us of his role in the title season of 2015-16, unfortunately that hasn’t been the norm this year.  He is shooting less than 40% from the field (37% from three) and his defense has dropped off too.

As for Korver, when he is making shots, he is a force.  He can change a game, but when he’s not making them, there is no reason for him to play.

So, perhaps Lue will go away from conventional wisdom and play ten, which leaves one of this quartet out, otherwise two of them will collect DNP-CDs.

Our guess is that he will go with Hood and Smith initially, knowing Korver and Calderon keep themselves ready and he can go to them if someone isn’t playing well.

If you went on merit, Smith might be the odd man out.  That’s tough to say, but in watching this team all season, that’s the right answer.

Our worry is that Lue will be stubborn and keep playing guys who aren’t getting it done. That’s what we’ve seen all year, but we are hoping the coaching staff looks at things differently come playoff time.

JK

Second Golden Age For Tribe Fans Is Now

With today being Opening Day, many fans of the Cleveland Indians remember wistfully the Tribe teams of the 1990’s, when Progressive Field, then known as Jacobs Field just opened, and the Indians were built around a powerful offense.

We all know the names:  Albert Belle, Kenny Lofton, Manny Ramirez, Hall of Famer Jim Thome, and Omar Vizquel.  They ruled the American League Central Division and went to two World Series, although they lost in both 1995 and 1997.

Now, Tribe fans are experiencing a second golden age for the franchise, with five consecutive winning seasons under the tutelage of Terry Francona.  They’ve won two division titles, a wild card spot, and won the American League pennant in 2016.

Yet somehow, it feels like this group of Indians doesn’t get the respect around the city that the guys who played in the 90’s get.

We heard a radio talk show expressing surprise that Francisco Lindor was one of the favorites in Las Vegas to win the American League MVP.

It wouldn’t be a shock around the nation.  Lindor is one of baseball’s best players, with two top ten finishes in the MVP voting before he turned 24 years old.  He’s a gold glove winner and a silver slugger winner in less than three full seasons in the big leagues.

We have said it before, but it bears repeating.  If the young shortstop plays ten seasons in a Cleveland uniform, he will be regarded as the greatest position player in Indians’ history.

Tribe fans also get to watch another of the young, exciting players in the sport in Jose Ramirez, who by the way, finished third in the AL MVP race last season.

The switch-hitter has been overlooked because he wasn’t the highly regarded prospect like Lindor, but over the last two seasons, he has batted .315 with 40 home runs, 159 runs batted in, and has 141 extra base hits.

All that while being moved around between second base and third base.

Those two give the franchise a solid base for excellence over the next several seasons.

Unlike those 90’s teams, this group has one of the major league’s best pitching staffs, led by Corey Kluber, who is the only Cleveland pitcher in history to win multiple Cy Young Awards.

A third such award puts Kluber among the all time great hurlers in the game’s history, and without question he is one of the four best starting pitchers right now in the sport.

We also get to witness a great bullpen, led by Cody Allen, and perhaps baseball’s best relief pitcher in Andrew Miller.  Miller and Kluber had the Tribe on the precipice of a world title in ’16.

Since being acquired from New York at the trade deadline that season, he has pitched 91-2/3 innings, striking out 141 and allowing just 45 hits.

We haven’t even mentioned Michael Brantley, who was in the top three of the MVP voting in 2014, Jason Kipnis, a two time all star, and Carlos Carrasco, who was 4th in the Cy Young voting last season.

Oh, and don’t forget Francona, who is probably headed to Cooperstown as a manager with two world titles in Boston, and a third appearance with the Tribe.

As someone who watched this team with great interest from 1965-1994, a horrible stretch of mostly losing baseball, it was great to see a fairly quick turnaround after the original Jacobs Field group disbanded.

The Indians are back as one of baseball’s best teams.  Now, about that World Series title drought…

MW

 

 

 

Browns Handling QB Correctly. Finally.

Over the past few seasons, the Cleveland Browns have played a form of Russian Roulette with the quarterback position, and although that’s not the only reason for being 15-65 over the last five years, it’s a good place to start.

In 2013, Rob Chudzinski started the season with second year pro Brandon Weeden as the starter, and when he went down, Brian Hoyer, who at that point had made one NFL start was thrust into action.

When Hoyer was lost for the season, it left Jason Campbell, who had some experience, but also never started an NFL game again after that season.

The next season, then new coach Mike Pettine went with Hoyer to start the season, with rookie Johnny Manziel in reserve.  With Hoyer’s season started to go south, and the Browns were in playoff contention, Pettine’s only choice was to start Manziel, who was known more for his improvisational skills at Texas A & M.

In 2015, the Browns signed Josh McCown to be the starting QB, but even though they knew the veteran’s history, that is frequently injured and an extreme losing record, the backups for him were Manziel and Austin Davis, a third year player with eight career starts in St. Louis when Sam Bradford was injured.

The following year had two frequently hurt guys, McCown and Robert Griffin III on the roster with two rookies, Cody Kessler and Kevin Hogan backing them up.  After the two vets were injured, predictably, Kessler wound up playing way too much for a third round draft pick.

And last season, Cleveland started DeShone Kizer, another rookie, this time picked in the second round, with Hogan and Kessler in reserve.

This is another change with GM John Dorsey being involved, and it is welcome to say the least.

Dorsey traded for Tyrod Taylor, a seven year veteran, although only 29 years old, and a player who was his team’s starter for the previous three seasons.

As you read above, that has not been the case in any of the last five seasons.  In that span, the Browns had oft-injured veterans who hadn’t started in at least a year, save for McCown in ’15, and he was coming off a 1-10 season in Tampa Bay.

Taylor was 8-6 as a starter last season, and is 22-20 over the last three campaigns.

We are very confident Cleveland will be drafting a QB with the first overall pick next month, and so they are not in the situation of having to start a rookie if Taylor has to miss a game, they signed Drew Stanton on Sunday as a free agent.

Stanton is 34, and has never been a full fledged starter in the NFL, but he did start 13 games for the Cardinals in the last four seasons, and registered a 9-4 record in those starts.

He’s not a long term solution for sure, and his numbers over that span aren’t anything to write home about (51.1% completions, 15 TDs/15 interceptions), but he has experience, and once again, means Hue Jackson will not be forced to play the guy who will be the future of the franchise before he is ready.

All that is left is for the organization to resist any temptation to play the rookie if the 2018 starts poorly.

That’s a habit that needs to be broken.

There is now experience at the most important position on a football team, and credible people for the rookie to learn from.

That’s a welcome change from the past five seasons.

JD

 

 

The Tribe Will Continue To Dominate Central in 2018

If you grew up in the 60’s and 70’s, it seems funny to hear this, but since the three division format was adopted by Major League Baseball in 1994, the Cleveland Indians, yes, the team that plays right here in downtown, has dominated the division.

The Tribe won its 9th division title a year ago, and we believe they will add a 10th in 2018.

Here is a list of AL Central Division crowns since ’94:

Cleveland      9
Minnesota    6
Chicago         4
Detroit          4
Kansas City  1

However, the only Central Division teams that have won the World Series are the White Sox in 2005 and the Royals in 2015.

Here is another tidbit about the Indians’ success since Progressive Field (nee Jacobs Field) opened in ’94.  Only the behemoth AL franchises, the Yankees and Red Sox, have made more post-season appearances than Cleveland’s 10 (they were the wild card in 2013).

And the Tribe’s 10 appearances isn’t too far behind the Red Sox’ 12.

Terry Francona’s squad won 102 games a year ago, and you can make a very good argument that they underachieved.   Their Pythagorean won-loss record had them at 108 wins.

Surely, winning 100 games is a tremendous feat and we would not predict that happening again, but the Indians did win the division by 17 games, and have pretty much the same cast of characters returning.

You would think some kind of regression could be coming for the team’s stars, but then you remember the two best position players on the roster are Francisco Lindor, who won’t be 25 until after the ’18 season concludes, and Jose Ramirez, who will play most of the campaign at 25 years old.

If the peak of a baseball player’s career is between ages 27-29, it is scary to think those two should still be getting better.

Add in perhaps the sports best starting rotation, led by two time Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber, and none of the top four starters are older than 32 years old, and you can see why optimism reigns for baseball fans in northeast Ohio.

Kluber won the award, but the Tribe’s #2 starter, Carlos Carrasco, finished fourth in the voting.  Pretty good, eh?

Francona also has two of the best relievers in the sport at his disposal in Andrew Miller and Cody Allen.  Miller’s numbers are incredible, he allowed just 31 hits in 62-2/3 innings last year while striking out 95 batters, as Tito used him in the highest leverage situations.

Allen fanned 92 in 67 innings as the closer.  So, when Cleveland has a lead late in a game, they usually keep it.

We also believe Jason Kipnis will bounce back from a injury plagued 2017 season where he played only 90 games.  He will look more like the player who belted 23 homers and had an 811 OPS in ’17.

Yes, the team did lose Carlos Santana and replaced him with Yonder Alonso, who has had just one season of power hitting under his belt in the bigs, and that worries us.

But the Tribe could be in a position to add two bats without making a trade this season in Yandy Diaz, who hit .350 in AAA last year and had a .352 on base percentage with the Tribe in 156 at bats, and Francisco Mejia, who will be getting some time in the OF at Columbus this summer.

Mejia could very well wind up being part of the Tribe’s “Big Three” with Lindor and Ramirez.

Many have said the “window” for the Tribe is closing because Miller and Allen are free agents following this season.  We don’t believe that because of the presence of Lindor, Ramirez, Kluber, etc.

The Indians teams from 1994-2001 are well remembered here, but this current run for the Tribe, the Tito Era is you will, has now spanned for five seasons, and could rival the former group in longevity.

So, sit back and enjoy.  This group could bring “The Land” its first World Series title in 70 years.

MW

 

 

Love Gets None From Cavs’ Fans At Times

We understand that it is difficult playing in LeBron James’ shadow.

Kyrie Irving didn’t like it after three years and wanted to go somewhere else where he could be “Batman” to someone else’s “Robin”.  If winning isn’t first and foremost on your agenda, it can be a pain to be second fiddle to James.

Kevin Love doesn’t seem to mind at all, in fact even we sometimes take him for granted.

During Love’s absence with a broken hand, many Cavs’ fans were complaining about the wine and gold’s .500 record (10-10) without him in the lineup.

Even we feel victim to this, and we have never made Love the scapegoat for any lack of success the team has had since he’s been in Cleveland.

Part of that is the greatness of James, because as a fan you think (and he agrees) that any game he takes part in, the Cavaliers have a solid chance to win.

So, we forget that Cleveland was missing their second best player during that stretch, and besides Love is not only the Cavs’ second best scorer, he’s their best rebounder, particularly on the defensive end, a good passer, and a better defender than most believe.

We are witnessing some slippage in play from Golden State with Stephen Curry missing a couple of weeks with a bad ankle.  Houston has been virtually unbeatable with James Harden, Chris Paul, and Clint Capela, but they didn’t play nearly as well when Paul missed time earlier in the year.

But somehow, the wine and gold missing their second banana, a five time all star, doesn’t get the same reasoning.

Love isn’t flashy, but he is a great player.  And he’s subdued his game since being traded to the Cavs before the 2014-15 season.

Love averaged 26 points and 12 rebounds during his last season in Minnesota, averaging 18.5 shots per game.  He’s never come close to that total with the Cavs, but somehow people continue to expect him to score 25 per night.

The most shots per game Love has taken per contest with the Cavaliers is the 14.5 he took last year, a season in which he averaged his most points per game in the wine and gold at 19.0 per night.

Many people have said he’s become a “stretch four” since being James’ teammate, but he took more threes in his last season with the Timberwolves than he has in any season with Cleveland.

This year, he is shooting his highest percentage (46.1%) from the floor since his third year in NBA when he shot 47%.

His three point shooting is at 40.5%, also the best since that 2010-11 campaign with the Wolves, his first year as an all star.

He has even played more at center this season, once again, taking one for the greater good of the team.

It’s not a coincidence that the Cavs have looked a lot better in the past two games with Love back on the floor.  It’s funny how that happens when you add a great player to the mix.

And, of course, he hit a huge three in the win over Toronto last night.

He’s underappreciated, gets more blame than he deserves, and his value is sometimes forgotten, but he is one of the NBA’s best players.

The Cavs need him to make a long playoff run again this season.  That’s why it is hard to believe Kevin Love doesn’t get the love he deserves.

JK

 

Can Cavs Finally Have Continuity in Playoffs?

We believe if you look up the term “a season in flux”, the picture that will accompany the definition will be that of the 2017-18 Cleveland Cavaliers.

It started in training camp when LeBron James was nursing a sprained ankle and missed virtually the entire exhibition season.

That cost the team valuable on-court chemistry time with all the new faces brought in during the off-season.

When the season opened, Derrick Rose, Jeff Green, Jose Calderon, and to a lesser extent, Cedi Osman and Ante Zizic never shared the court with The King.

After a slow start (5-7), Rose and Tristan Thompson got hurt, so Calderon went into the starting lineup, and the wine and gold had their best stretch of the season, winning 18 of 19 games, with the second unit led by Dwyane Wade and Kyle Korver making a huge impact.

Thompson came back first and then Isaiah Thomas returned to the floor, and things got out of whack, with the Cavs struggling in January (6-8) and particularly on defensive end of the floor.

Kevin Love then broke his hand, and Tyronn Lue started giving Osman more playing time, so there was another period of adjustment.

Really, the only constants in terms of good quality play to this point in the season were James and Green.  The rest of the team either missed time with injuries or were up and down in terms of quality of play.

Next came the big move at the trade deadline when GM Koby Altman traded off half the roster, bringing in some youth with Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr., and Rodney Hood, as well as veteran point guard George Hill.

To this point, Hood and Hill still don’t look comfortable playing with James, and while the former has missed time recently with a back problem, Hill played his 16th game with LeBron last night.

When the Cavaliers went on a west coast trip, the players starting dropping one by one, as they finished the trip without Thompson, Nance, Osman, Hood, Korver, as well as Love.

That meant John Holland and London Perrantes, whose names James may or may not know (we are kidding, we think) were getting time.

Now, Love returns to the lineup, but the squad is missing their head coach, as Lue is taking time away from the team to take care of a medical issue that has plagued him over the past few months.

Thompson and Nance are said to be close to returning, possibly this week, and Osman and Hood should be back in another week, causing more combinations of players that probably haven’t spent much time on the floor together.

All this with three weeks remaining in the regular season.

Is it possible that the Cavaliers will finally get some continuity just as the playoffs are set to begin?  It very well may be.

And the experience the younger players have gained with all of the injuries in the second half of the season will give Lue many options to go to depending on what the opposition is doing?

Getting Lue healthy is a key too.  There is no question in our mind that when we aren’t feeling well, you aren’t thinking clearly.

This is not a guarantee of another appearance in The Finals.  There are a lot of teams in the East that can cause a problem, and no question, Toronto is an excellent basketball team with plenty of playoff experience.

Wouldn’t it be nice if the injured guys came back next week, and the Cavs had three weeks of being able to play with the same players?  We are sure everyone in the organization has that thought.

JK

 

 

 

Roster Spot Battles Heat Up For Tribe.

Major league baseball will begin its season in less than two weeks, so we are down to the nitty gritty in terms of battles for Opening Day roster spots.

For the sake of this piece, we will assume that Michael Brantley, Brandon Guyer, and Danny Salazar will all open the season on the disabled list, something that is definite for the latter two, but Brantley has started to hit in minor league games.

We will also figure that Terry Francona will keep 13 pitchers, meaning eight relievers will make the team.  This is the way to keep Ryan Merritt, who is out of options.

The first battle is who will be the Tribe’s utility infielder in Seattle on March 29th.

It was figured going into camp that Erik Gonzalez was the frontrunner, but Giovanny Urshela has made a very strong bid to beat him out.  Urshela has been playing all four infield spots and his bat has been great, as he is 18 for 33 with 3 HR in Arizona.

He has walked just once, but has struck out only three times.

Gonzalez is 6 for 26 without a homer and has walked three times and fanned in seven at bats.  Strike zone judgment has always been an issue for him as his career strikeout to walk ratio is 45:4.

Neither have options remaining, and we would think Gonzalez has more trade value because he’s a natural shortstop and his glove can play as a regular in the majors.

In the outfield, we would pencil in Bradley Zimmer and Lonnie Chisenhall on the team, but who is the primary leftfielder and who is the other right-handed bat considering both Zimmer and Chiz hit left-handed.

What we don’t understand is why Yandy Diaz isn’t getting reps in the outfield, because you could put him in left on an everyday basis, meaning the battle would be between veterans Rajai Davis and Melvin Upton Jr, and Rob Refsnyder.

Tyler Naquin could be in the mix too, but he’s another left handed bat.

Nobody has really taken charge in this battle.  Davis is 7 for 27 with one extra base hit and no walks.  Upton is 6 for 33 with a home run, three walks, and has fanned 11 times, while Refsnyder is 7 for 31 with two homers and six walks.

Again, why not consider Diaz, who is 10 for 28 with a dinger and four walks?

Our guess is Francona will pick Davis and Upton and give them a week or two on the big league roster as an audition.

As for the bullpen, if Merritt is kept, six of the spots have been filled with Cody Allen, Andrew Miller, Dan Otero, Zack McAllister, and Tyler Olson claiming them.

We think Nick Goody has pitched his way out of a solid spot by giving up 14 hits and 10 runs in seven innings of work.

Matt Belisle, signed at the beginning of camp, probably claims one spot allowing two runs in eight innings, although the 13 hits allowed are troubling.

That leaves Alexi Ogando (one run in eight innings, 12 strikeouts), and Carlos Torres (seven runs, 13 hits in 7-1/3 frames, but really one bad outing) battling with Goody.

We feel you will see Francona using these guys in high leverage situations for the next week and a half to figure out.  We note that Ogando was the second pitcher used yesterday and threw two innings.

In fact, we think you will see all of these players getting a lot of time until the decision is made.  The regulars will get their at bats in minor league contests.

Decision time is coming.  A strong finish by each one of these players could put them in Seattle for game one.

MW

 

Free Agency Frenzy Improves Browns

Since last Friday afternoon, GM John Dorsey is remaking the Cleveland Browns with a series of trades and free agent signings.

He attacked the biggest weak points on the team, and in doing so, he didn’t touch the organization’s biggest draft assets, their picks in the first two rounds of the NFL Draft.

There are critics on the deal for QB Tyrod Taylor, which cost the team the highest pick they gave up, the first pick in the third round, but if you think of that pick as the Browns’ sixth draft choice, it makes a lot of sense.

Taylor is the antithesis of what Cleveland has had at quarterback for much of the recent past, he takes care of the football.

In the midst of all this talent acquisition though, came the loss of the Browns’ best player, Joe Thomas.

An perennial all pro, Thomas will head to Canton and the Hall of Fame in five years.  It is a shame that he never got to play in a playoff game during his time in brown and orange.

Dorsey addressed the offensive line and the secondary in the first days of free agency.

In the defensive backfield, he signed CB T.J. Currie (from Oakland), who should claim a starting role and CB Terrance Mitchell (from Kansas City), who will provide depth at the position.

We also feel strongly that one of Cleveland’s first five picks will be used on another cornerback, perhaps Ohio State’s Denzel Ward.

Dorsey needed to replace Thomas on the offensive line, and perhaps T Chris Hubbard from the Steelers, who wasn’t a starter, but played well when pressed into duties with Pittsburgh last season.

Hubbard, 26, could get a crack at replacing Thomas at left tackle, or perhaps Shon Coleman could move there, or one will be drafted.

The only other free agent that will likely be a front line players will be RB Carlos Hyde, who replaces Isaiah Crowell, who went to the Jets.

Hyde is a bigger back, the kind we believe the coaching staff prefers.  He can pound in between the tackles, which really Crowell was better at too, but Hue Jackson seemed intent on running him outside.

He’s also a better receiver.  All in all, it’s probably a wash, and look for the Browns to add a running back in the first two rounds of next month’s draft.

The rest of the signees were about building depth, most notably DE Chris Smith from the Bengals, and after the last two seasons, Dorsey needed to have options when the injuries which inevitably hit an NFL team come around.

All in all, this free agent class doesn’t really affect how the front office will view the draft.

The Browns will still be looking for a quarterback, a running back, another pass rusher to pair with Myles Garrett, a left tackle, and cornerbacks.

Outside of running back, those are perhaps the most important positions on the football field.  And the Browns are looking for great players at those spots, guys who impact the game.

You generally can’t get those people in free agency, meaning right now, we like the new GM’s approach at this time of the year.

JD