Ah, Spring Training. It is a time for hope and optimism. A six-week retreat spent by the beach and in the desert. Sun-soaked diamonds and the smell of freshly-cut grass to go along with the sound of baseballs popping in gloves.
This week, it was also a time for heavy winds, rare Arizona rain and a dust storm that had Indians pitchers picking dirt from their mouths, and catchers saying a prayer with squinted eyes as fastballs came flying in. Tumbleweeds as big as ballplayers rolled through Cleveland's complex.
Anyone looking for a good omen for the season ahead had only to peer at the wide rainbow that later appeared, cutting through the sky and ending over Goodyear Ballpark. Spring is no time for bad omens. So we won't mention the moment that the Indians pitchers ran to the wrong field to start off the first official workout.
What does it all mean?
Here's this week's Inbox ...
How long do you see Orlando Cabrera starting at second base this season? This move seems to make sense in terms of bringing in a veteran presence for the younger guys, but if the Indians have no chance of contending once we reach the All-Star break, I would rather see the prospects get a chance to compete instead.
-- Thomas C., Powell, Ohio
That is the beauty of a one-year, inexpensive contract. Signing Cabrera to a one-year, $1 million (plus incentives) deal is obviously not a long-term move. As far as I know, he has not been promised the starting second base job for the whole year, let alone for Opening Day.
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Now, don't get me wrong, second base is Cabrera's spot to lose this spring. That is where he will likely be when the season opens, but that does not mean he can't shift into another role later this year. Shoot, there's even a chance he winds up in another uniform in the second half of the season.
Cabrera was brought in to provide veteran leadership, yes, but also to serve as a kind of stopgap at a position filled with uncertainty prior to his arrival. Later this season, if the Indians feel it is best for the team, you might see a prospect like Cord Phelps or Jason Kipnis handed the big league job.
In that scenario, Cabrera could easily move into a utility role off the bench. Another scenario could have Cabrera shifted to third base if the other options are not working out (don't expect third-base prospect Lonnie Chisenhall to be rushed to the Majors). Or, if heaven forbid something happens to shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, Orlando could move to short.
It is a move that provides Cleveland with some flexibility for the entire season, and also some stability in the short-term picture. Cabrera has two Gold Glove Awards in his trophy case, and it's no secret that infield defense hasn't exactly been a strength for the Tribe in recent years. If he adjusts well to second, Cabrera should make the defense better for the time being.
What are the chances of prospect Jared Goedert opening the season at third base instead of Jayson Nix or Jason Donald?
-- John Y., Los Angeles
Right now, I think Donald is the favorite to land the everyday job at third base. Will Nix and Goedert get a look this spring? No doubt about it. So will Luis Valbuena and Jack Hannahan. Chisenhall will probably see some reps -- Phelps might, too -- but they aren't really in the mix for the Opening Day third base job.
As for Goedert specifically, Indians manager Manny Acta continues to make sure his name is mentioned when discussing the situation at the hot corner. Goedert's bat alone makes him an intriguing prospect. Last year, he hit .283 with 27 homers, 37 doubles and 83 RBIs between Double-A and Triple-A.
One criticism of Goedert has been his defense. Acta has read all the reports, and has made it known that strong defense down the line is important this season. That said, Acta said he wants to take a good look at Goedert this spring to see for himself how the prospect looks at third base. If Acta deems that Goedert needs more development, he'll get it.
Jordan, welcome to Cleveland. If Matt LaPorta slumps in the first third of the season, what is the Tribe's backup plan for first base?
-- Steven, Brecksville, Ohio
I think it would take more than one-third of the season for the Indians to pull the plug on LaPorta. He is going to be given every chance to prove that he can be the right-handed power bat the Tribe needs in its lineup, and the strong defender it wants at first base.
If things go completely awry and Cleveland needs to look at internal alternatives, you might be looking at players such as Shelley Duncan, Travis Buck or Chad Huffman. All three will see reps at first this spring. If Goedert winds up at Triple-A to start this season, he could see some time at first base as well.
How much does money (or the lack thereof) influence how teams like Cleveland approach the First-Year Player Draft?
-- Kevin C., Half Moon Bay, Calif.
It appears to have little influence at the moment. While the Indians aren't pouring funds into the Major League payroll, the club has shown a willingness to open up its wallet in areas like the international market and the Draft.
Looking only at 2010, Cleveland actually went over the slot values for its top 10 Draft picks by 168 percent -- a percentage topped only by six teams. And only five clubs (Blue Jays, Nationals, Orioles, Pirates and Red Sox) spent more than the Indians in order to sign their top 10 picks in last June's Draft.
I just wanted to say welcome to the Inbox. I've enjoyed reading your articles so far. Also, good luck in the Cleveland Marathon in May. I ran C-town last year, and it was a great and rewarding experience. As for the Indians, what are they planning on doing with Aaron Laffey? It seems like he gets lost in the shuffle sometimes.
-- Ryan B., Harrisville, Pa.
Laffey is currently among a group of five pitchers in the running for the fifth spot in the Indians' starting rotation. The others include Jeanmar Gomez, David Huff, Anthony Reyes and Josh Tomlin. The first four spots are occupied by Fausto Carmona, Justin Masterson, Mitch Talbot and Carlos Carrasco.
Acta noted recently that one thing the Indians will not do is bounce Laffey back and forth between the rotation and bullpen this year. Once his role is determined, it will remain that way all season. Right now, he will compete as a starter. If he falls out of the mix for a rotation job, he'll likely shift into a long-relief role.
Bringing up the rear...
Welcome to the Tribe beat, Jordan! Give a Tribe fan some hope on a snowy morning and give me your highest possible win total you could say is realistic for this season. Thanks!
-- Marty B., Buffalo, N.Y.
Well, Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA projections have the Indians finishing fourth in the American League Central with a 72-90 record. That'd be a three-win improvement over last year's showing. I'll put on my optimistic cap and say that Cleveland will go 75-87. Acta will probably say I'm still being very pessimistic with that guess, though.