Spring Training has just begun, but the Inbox is already in midseason form. And while I'm not exactly sure if that form is worth bragging about, let's nonetheless continue our weekly banter about all things Indians.How many at-bats do the Indians see Russell Branyan taking up if he is signed? Will he block a healthy Matt LaPorta, or even Michael Brantley? -- Aaron H., Steubenville, Ohio
The Indians have not yet revealed their intentions for Branyan, and they won't until his one-year, $2-million contract is finalized by his successful completion of their physical examination. Given Branyan's back problems last year, it's not a given that he'll pass the physical. But if he does, the deal would likely be finalized Wednesday.
In the meantime, we can only speculate on what the Tribe is thinking with the Branyan signing. To me, it signals that the Indians are either not convinced Matt LaPorta will be recovered from his surgeries by Opening Day or that they are not convinced he can handle the everyday duties at first base. LaPorta was still a work in progress at that position at season's end (and that's understandable, given that 2009 marked the first time he had played there in his professional career). Though the Indians eventually envision LaPorta settling in at first, I wouldn't rule out the possibility that he continues to see time in the outfield this season.
So that's a long-winded way of saying that yes, Aaron, it would appear Branyan could block Brantley. Because if LaPorta goes back to left, Brantley would likely open the season at Triple-A Columbus.
I've been preparing readers for that scenario all winter. While Brantley had a stellar September, he did not have a dominant year at the Triple-A level last year. Furthermore, we all know how mindful the Indians are of their young players' arbitration clocks. If Brantley is on the Opening Day roster, his clock starts ticking. The Indians might prefer he becomes more polished in the Minors first.
And while Branyan is another left-handed bat on a team full of them, the Indians could be operating on the acceptable premise that Travis Hafner will not log 500 at-bats this season. Two years' worth of shoulder issues have inspired doubts that Pronk can tolerate such a workload. We'll see if he proves the skeptics wrong, but it would appear Branyan is an insurance policy in that regard.
Also, let's not forget that if Branyan puts together a strong first half, Hafner is an everyday player and LaPorta and Brantley both seem worthy of regular playing time, then the Indians could investigate moving Branyan and his short-term contract to another club by the non-waiver Trade Deadline.
In the past few days, and seemingly out of nowhere, the Braves have been tied to Edward Salcedo. The Associated Press reported that his birthday has "recently" been established as July 30, 1991. The Indians had this guy playing in their Dominican Republic facilities for at least a year, he disappears for a couple years because of concerns about his age, and the Tribe loses touch? We should have been the first ones to hear about this, and the first ones to put in a bid. -- Devin R., no location given
Salcedo's situation is a bit suspicious. He's been trying to latch on with a team for several years, switching agents multiple times and participating in a semi-pro league, as MLB investigated his identity. I'm not sure if he's passed the inspection of both MLB and the U.S. consulate, but reports indicate the Braves are close to signing him.
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The Indians' interest in Salcedo appears to have been overstated. Two years ago, a Dominican newspaper reported that the Indians had signed Salcedo for $2.9 million, but the Tribe vehemently denied it. To my knowledge, they have not been linked to him since.
What's the contractual situation regarding Asdrubal Cabrera before he hits free agency? Are the Indians planning to sign him long term? -- Jose T., Utuado, Puerto Rico
The Indians believe they have the future financial flexibility to investigate long-term deals for their emerging core players. I'd count Cabrera and Shin-Soo Choo in that boat, and I'm sure the Indians will look into the possibility of extending them. Both Choo and Cabrera will be arbitration-eligible at season's end, which means they'll be due for a nice raise. They're not eligible for free agency until after the 2013 season.
If we were sitting in a bar talking baseball, and I didn't know what you did and you didn't know me, what would you say, just sort of on the side, about the Mark Shapiro and Chris Antonetti promotions? -- William M., Santa Rosa, Calif.
I'm going to need more information to fully comprehend this premise. Where is this bar? What am I wearing? Are we drinking scotch mixed with vodka and eating pizza that's half pineapple and Canadian bacon, half artichoke and pesto, light on the cheese?
What is your opinion on the promotions of Shapiro and Antonetti? -- Samil M., Grand Rapids, Mich.
That's a much more direct approach, Samil.
First of all, the promotions are unsurprising. They keep with the Tribe's trend of trying to maintain stability in the front office. The Indians view that stability as a competitive advantage in this game (particularly in this division), and Shapiro and Antonetti are both intelligent men with excellent communication skills. Of the two, Shapiro is the more natural leader, and he's obviously taken Antonetti under his wing and allowed him to grow as a GM candidate.
Yes, some fans are upset with the promotions, and they are not without their valid concerns. The Indians have been disappointing the last two years, yet the two men atop the front-office totem pole have been promoted. To some, those two facts don't mesh.
On the other hand, when you consider the constraints of the Indians' market conditions, the job Shapiro and his lieutenants have done has, by and large, been respectable. There have been some missteps in terms of trades (as there are with any front office) and player evaluations, and the club's poor Draft record is well documented (and, in recent years, has been addressed with a restructuring of the scouting department). But the Indians have also made some applaudable pickups, and the rise to relevance after the dismantling of the 2002 team was a remarkably short one when compared to the endless rebuilding cycles several other clubs remain immersed in.
The Shapiro-to-president move is a major one for this organization, because it signals that the Indians are essentially merging their baseball and business sides at a time when the combination of the Tribe's struggles on the field and the economic struggles of the town in which the team resides have converged to paint a bleak picture for the turnstiles and the player payroll. I would not be surprised to see wide-ranging changes in the Indians' various business departments next winter as Shapiro looks for ways to generate more revenue for baseball operations.
What was the reason the Indians did not see Chien-Ming Wang as a fit? That would have been two veterans in the rotation, and we all know that "two is great, but three's a crowd!" -- Ryan M., Marion, Ind.
The Indians looked into Wang but decided to back off.
That they looked into him is not a surprise, because we've seen several instances in the past in which the Tribe has taken a gamble on a once-successful pitcher working his way back from an injury.
That team officials backed off is also not a surprise, because the Indians decided early this winter that they would only add a starter if they felt he could make an immediate impact at a bargain price. Wang, obviously, came at a decent price to the Nationals ($2 million guaranteed for 2010, with up to $3 million in incentives), but he's no sure thing, given that he had shoulder surgery last July and won't be ready for the start of the season. The Indians are more inclined to give their young starters a chance to develop, because that's what this season is all about.
And finally...I came up with "My Carmona" as a fantasy team name this year, the day before Knack lead singer Doug Fieger passed. I suppose it's in his memory now, but I can't help but feel a bit cursed. -- Chris D., Champaign, Ill.
That is a disturbing story, Chris. I'd recommend going with a different name. Might I suggest "My Favorite Marson," which was submitted by a reader named Zach from Youngstown, Ohio? If you're nervous, don't worry. I already checked, and "My Favorite Martian" star Ray Walston passed away back in 2001. You should be safe.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.