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Indians Indians Archive Springing Forward On A Lazy Sunday
Written by Paul Cousineau

Paul Cousineau
It's a rainy Sunday afternoon ... and we are all working on one hour less sleep than normal. Spring training rolls on, and has (lucklily) been pretty quiet from a news perspective. Unfettered, Paulie C soliders on with another Lazy Sunday for our readers. Today, Paul talks about the Ben Francisco Treat, and what we can realistically expect from him. Also, with Adam Miller injured (again) and Aaron Laffey struggling, Paul hits on the race for the 7th reliever and 5th starter, which are both WIDE open.

Spring Training rolls on and having lost an hour of sleep to the clock, let's get going on a Lazy one so I can make plans for an afternoon nap on a rainy afternoon while feigning interest in the WBC on TV.  
Starting where we often do, Terry Pluto has a piece that asserts that
Ben Francisco may improve on his 2008 numbers as he generally performs better in his second full season at a particular level. It's a nice thought, and certainly an optimistic one that Francisco, whose best minor-league season was as a 25-year-old repeating AAA will show more at the plate than he did last year as an Indian.  
There is some logic behind it as Francisco is entering the season at an age (27) during which most players peak and the idea that Francisco can sit at the bottom of the lineup, instead of in the #3 hole, may take some pressure off him, but Pluto's assertion that Francisco "wore down" in the second half doesn't hold water when you take a look at Francisco's complete body of work.  
Pluto correctly points out that The Frisco Kid hit .294 with 8 HR and 35 RBI before the All-Star Break last year, only to bat .236 with 7 HR and 19 RBI after, pointing out that Francisco started to really drop off starting August 27th, after which he hit only .165 with 1 HR and 4 RBI in 75 AB. Maybe there is something to Francisco "wearing down", resulting in a steady decline in his numbers.  
But those pre-All-Star Break numbers are inflated by Francisco's phenomenal debut in the everyday lineup. As long as we're picking dates to base Francisco's season, here are a couple that will open your eyes:  

April 24th (1st Start) to May 24th

.371 BA / .403 OBP / .629 SLG / 1.032 OPS with 2 HR, 10 2B in 62 AB  
May 25th to All-Star Break  

.267 BA / .340 OBP / .424 SLG / .764 OPS with 6 HR, 9 2B in 172 AB  
All-Star Break to End of Season  

.236 BA / .306 OBP / .396 SLG / .702 OPS with 7 HR, 13 2B in 212 AB  
Those pre-All-Star break numbers are colored by the 18-game stretch at the top there, with Francisco's season line excluding those games looking like this:  

May 25th to End of Season

.250 BA / .322 OBP / .409 SLG / .731 OPS with 13 HR, 22 2B in 384 AB  
To be fair, if we're taking out Francisco's hot start, let's take out the dreadful end, using Pluto's date of August 27th as the stopping point:  

May 25th to August 26th

.272 BA / .334 OBP / .443 SLG / .777 OPS with 12 HR, 16 2B in 305 AB  
If you want a sense of what can reasonably be expected for Francisco, that's the set of numbers to look at as it falls pretty much in line with what he's done in the Minors and pegs him as an average MLB player.  
Could he improve on those numbers?  

Certainly, though a huge increase from those would be quite a surprise as Francisco doesn't have one skill that separates him or excites anyone, nor does he have one glaring deficiency (his tendency to pull and his bad routes in the OF aren't "glaring") which adds up to an "average" player who is now 27.  
Is that a bad thing?  

Not if you remember the days of Dellichaels...and many people do, which is probably why even the average production of Francisco is looked upon so favorably.  
But The Ben Francisco Treat is, at this point, a place holder on this team - holding down LF until Matt LaPorta or Michael Brantley can prove themselves to be ready to assume the everyday LF job, allowing Francisco to become the 4th OF, a position that best utilizes his ability to play multiple positions. That's not a knock on Francisco, as he did provide some much-needed stability in LF last year, it's more of an indication that Francisco is what he is and doesn't have anything on his body of work that portends a big "breakout" season or slots him as much more than a nice placeholder in the OF, with his ideal place on the roster being a 4th OF on a good team.  
Players like that are valuable and Francisco will have every opportunity to have that "breakout" season as he'll play every day in LF and hit in the bottom 1/3 of the order, but to think of Francisco as much more than a minor complementary piece in terms of the roster as a whole is something that would need to be proven pretty forcefully this year.  
Speaking of corner OF, there's quite a bit of hulabaloo and politicking going on with one
Mr. Big League Choo as his left elbow (the one that had TJ surgery) is aching and Choo's across the Pacific playing the WBC. It looks like an agreement has been reached between the anxious Indians and the South Koreans, thrilled to have a MLB player on their roster in The BLC, as Choo will DH only in the 1st round of the WBC before he returns stateside (where he can be examined by Tribe doctors) with his national team for the 2nd round, assuming his team does advance.  
It's an interesting balancing act for the Indians, who want to stay in the good graces of the South Korean government, with Choo's military obligation still over their heads (though there are ways to avoid it), and with very real concerns about the health of Choo, who should be a fixture in the middle of the Tribe lineup this season. Given that The BLC should be coming back to the US soon, let's hope that the Indians' doctors check it out, declare it fit for play, and have it fade into the background of Spring Training.  
On the topic of aches and pains, the most troubling injury item to come out of Goodyear is the news that
Atom Miller will remain idle because of issues with the same finger injury that robbed him of his 2008 and most of his 2007 season. At this point, this finger injury (which first became an issue in early 2007) is closing in on two years and each passing day that keeps him on the shelf because of "concerns" or "caution" severely limits any thought that Miller will make an impact in the organization, much less this year.  
With Miller, then, presumably out of the mix for the bullpen spot, this is kind of like the prohibitive favorite in a race not even making the starting gate, giving new life to the rest of the contestants. If Miller isn't an option (and, really, how could he be even if he were to come back healthy in mid-March enough to merit his inclusion on the 25-man), the relievers who still figure to be in that mix for the 7th bullpen spot remain Mujica (who has just been shelled every time out), Meloan, Jackson, Rundles, Juan Salas, and maybe even a healthy Tony Sipp. It's possible that one of the NRI's in camp gets a cursory look, like Greg Aquino, Vinnie Chulk, or Matt Herges, but with Miller essentially out of the equation, it's looking like a wide-open race again.  
Speaking of wide-open races, Aaron Laffey (the assumed favorite for the 5th starter spot) got shelled again yesterday in Arizona and, while we're told over and over that stat lines in Spring Training are meaningless, the fact that he gave up 4 hits and 3 runs in one inning yesterday can't be good for the "progression" that these players are supposed to be doing. Of course it's early, but Laffey's last start ended with a line of 2 IP, 4 ER, 6 H, so his status as the front-runner for the spot is being tested.  
The best non-story of the week came from Paul Hoynes, who took the leap of faith in thinking that (seeing as how Alex Rodriguez is injured)
the Yankees are likely to be looking for a 3B...and Andy Marte is there for the taking for them!  

I know that not much is happening in Goodyear, but this is pretty absurd as the piece is highlighted by the phenomenal lead-in and quote from Shapiro:  

GM Mark Shapiro said the Yankees have not called about Marte. Shapiro added, "If they call, we'll listen."

What's the point of even writing that?  

Was anyone expecting Shapiro, when asked about the 3B who was passed by every team in MLB after his removal from the 40-man, to suddenly say that Marte was "off-limits"?  

Next up is the piece that the Twins are thinking of acquiring Eddie Mujica as insurance in the chance that Joe Nathan's shoulder injury is more serious than originally thought.  
Moving on, a nice addendum to the
"Point of Contention" piece that I did last week comes to us via The Baseball Analysts, who use a three-year body of work to see which teams netted the most victories in that time-frame with what payroll. The piece comes to the conclusion that only the Twins outperformed the Indians in terms of payroll efficiency from 2006 to 2008, which only gives more credence to the fact that the Indians have been the most efficient team in maximizing payroll since 2005.  

That is, take a look at the year that I included (2005) that was not included in The Baseball Analysts piece, in terms of the records and payrolls of the Indians and the Twins:  

2005 Cleveland Indians - 93-69 - Total Payroll - $41,502,500  
2005 Minnesota Twins - 83-79 - Total Payroll - $56,186,000  
Regardless, the piece from The Baseball Analysts is a nice complement to my piece, as it illustrates how successful the Indians have been against the backdrop of the whole league by including all of MLB and not just the top ten teams in terms of records from 2005 to 2008.  
If you do happen to be making the trip out to Goodyear this year (and my bags will be packed to head out there with The DiaBride for some fun in the sun at the end of this month), here is
a tremendous look at the Indians' new facility, as well as a quasi-visitors' guide, with restaurant, hotel, and airport information pertaining to Goodyear and the surrounding community.  
If you're heading down to Goodyear, now would be a perfect time to be sure that you're taking the
IA2K9 for some reading in the sun. The issue is apparently almost sold out in terms of their stock set aside for on-line sales, though the Annual should be available at various drug stores and bookstores across the North Coast until the stock is exhausted.

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