Following a weekend that was dominated by football both extremely fortunate and abhorrently banal, the Cleveland Indians took over the headlines following their decision to part ways (at least in the meantime) with longtime outfielder Grady Sizemore while bolstering their rotation via the likes of Fausto Carmona’s club option and trading for veteran right-hander Derek Lowe.
Addressing the team’s latest bout of moves, Indians’ general manager Chris Antonetti repeatedly stated that the team felt that all of the decisions recently made were based on goals set forth to build the best 2012 roster possible despite the tough decisions that needed to be made.
“We have to make some very difficult decisions as we look to build the best baseball team possible for next year,” said Antonetti regarding the declined club option of Grady Sizemore. “As we looked at the way we allocate our resources, we thought that we are best served at this point declining Grady’s option, as difficult as that decision is for us.”
Antonetti stated that he had been in touch with Sizemore as well as his representation over the last several weeks. When the decision to cut ties with a long-time fixture is made, there is obviously some emotion involved; this move was not the exception. The Tribe’s GM stated that the move was “exceptionally difficult” due to the respect they have for the 29-year-old outfielder both on and off of the field. It was this relationship that drove Antonetti to sit down with the three-time All-Star at the end of the season to articulate the factors that would play a role in the ultiamte decision. Antonetti would flew to Sizemore’s home in Arizona this past Thursday to alert him of the decision face-to-face, one which he says was met with understanding.
“Will stay in touch with Grady and his representatives,” Antonetti said with regard to the future of the center field position. Sizemore will have the ability to test the free agent waters to get an appropriate gauge of his value, one which is expected to come at a considerable discount to the $9 million option which was declined due to the back-to-back injury-plagued seasons that led to batting averages of .211 and .224, respectively, in 104 total games. That said, with the player being deemed as “open-minded,” the team is confident that they will remain an option for Sizemore going forward, and dialogue will continue to ensure that the 2006 AL leader in runs considers a return to Progressive Field with Chief Wahoo on his hat.
If Sizemore opts to go elsewhere, the Indians will explore their center field options in Michael Brantley and Ezequiel Carerra as well as free agent or trade alternatives. If he does return, he will rejoin the team’s No. 55 in Fausto Carmona who will look to get back on track following a 7-15 2011 season which was marred inconsistency and more rough outings than anyone with Cleveland rooting interest would care to endure. In Carmona, the team feels that they have locked up a durable, effective major league starting pitcher – Carmona has totaled 399 innings over the last two seasons – who also has upside potential.
When asked by this author what, exactly, the team sees that allows them to have confidence in Carmona’s potential for a bounce-back campaign, Antonetti cited the 27-year-old’s history with bouncing back from adversity.
“Look at his career and some of the challenges he has had at certain points,” Antonetti said of last season’s opening day starter. “He has certainly come back from more challenging struggles than he had this [past] season. We are confident he can build upon last year and that he will be more effective in 2012.”
The $7 million option which the team allocated toward Carmona will likely be met with a few questions from fans who have seen a wildly inconsistent pitcher with two of the last three seasons boasting earned run averages north of 5.00. But as these decisions are not made in a vacuum, the Indians felt – with just due – that the cost of an alternative inning-eating starter would cost considerably more than the one-year cost of the team’s option. Citing durability and upside, Antonetti confidently stated that their decision to pick up Carmona’s option was “the right one.”
Similar sentiment was shared with regard to the decision to trade for Derek Lowe, the veteran right-hander who had recently had three seasons with the Atlanta Braves. Lowe, who has 166 career wins, was acquired Monday for left-hander Chris Jones, who had recently spent time with Cleveland’s A-ball franchise in Kinston, going 7-1 with 3.36 ERA in 43 games. The 38-year-old Lowe has pitched in both leagues, as a starter and closer. One of just three pitchers in history with more than 160 wins and 80 saves, Lowe will be coming off of a tough-luck season, going 9-17 .
Antonetti told WFNY that the Indians were in fact the team which inquired of Lowe’s services, expressing interest knowing that the Braves had a surplus of starting pitchers and a desire to obtain additional financial flexibility. With Atlanta willing to pay $10 million of the $15 million remaining on Lowe’s contract, the Indians did not hesitate to add yet another durable, inning-eating starter at a reasonable cost. With the team battered by injuries in 2011, adding a pitcher who has never been on the MLB disabled list through his entire career was of the utmost attraction.
Concerns of a drop-off from last season’s sub-par performance are understandable. Antonetti cited the oft-poor luck of a pitcher who pitches to contact and ocassionally falls victim to questionable defense. Lowe’s 2011 FIP was 3.70, more than one run lower than his ERA would indicate. As seen in Cleveland in the past, with Carmona as a specific example, pitchers who do induce a lot of ground balls can have their effectiveness hinge on who is behind them. The team feels that Lowe’s 2010 season (16-12, 4.00 ERA, 3.89 FIP in 193 innings) is more indicative of what he is capable of providing.
“We feel like we were able to add a quality, durable major league starter to our rotation,” Antonetti said of the 2012 starting five which is now set via the likes of Justin Masterson, Ubaldo Jiménez, Josh Tomlin, Carmona and Lowe.
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