Indians somewhere between rebuilding and contendingPosted: Friday March 01, 2002 12:23 PM
Throughout spring training, CNNSI.com will feature regular dispatches from Sports Illustrated staffers assigned to scout camps in the Grapefruit and Cactus leagues.
By Mark Bechtel, Sports Illustrated
Team: Cleveland Indians
Site: Winter Haven, Fla.
Weather: A not-so-balmy 60 with a sturdy wind.
Player I Saw Whom I Really Liked: Chuck Finley. Say what you will about their stable of impressive young pitchers, but the Indians are going to need the ageless Finley to bounce back from an injury-riddled 2001 season (8-7, 5.54 ERA in 22 starts). The left-hander started Thursday against the Twins and pitched two solid innings, looking very sharp at times.
Around the Horn: New general manager Mark Shapiro, whose first major act on the job was to trade Roberto Alomar , a sure first-ballot Hall of Famer in the prime of his career, to the Mets for outfielder Matt Lawton and prospects, is in a bit of a bind. He needs to retool his aging roster while still remaining competitive. So the Indians aren't in a rebuilding mode, but they're not taking on salary either. Shapiro likes to call it "transitioning." Unloading Alomar, a bargain at $8 million a year, had nothing to do with salary. Instead, it was done to make room for players who will fill out the roster down the road, say, in three or four years. For now, though, this looks like a third-place team with an $82 million payroll. ... Poor John McDonald. For years the scrappy middle infielder toiled in the minors with two Gold Glovers ahead of him in Cleveland. Alomar's departure opens a spot for him and what happens? First, the Indians sign Ricky Gutierrez to start at second, then McDonald comes down with appendicitis. He felt sick Wednesday morning, was examined by the team trainers and was sent to the hospital, where his appendix was removed. "Guys were joking with him because he's the last guy in the world to shut himself down," said Shapiro. "I can unequivocally say that he worked harder [in the offseason] than anybody on our team. It's gut-wrenching." Best case scenario has McDonald back with the club in early April. The Tribe's other reserve utilityman, Jolbert Cabrera, is still recovering from a gunshot wound to the backside he suffered in December as the victim of a failed carjacking in Colombia. Mike Lansing's chances of having a job on Opening Day look pretty good ... Danys Baez looked overwhelming at times out of the bullpen last year, but if he's going to make the move into the starting rotation, he'll have to beef up his repertoire. The right-hander has already added a splitter to his oft-unhittable fastball and nasty breaking ball. Manager Charlie Manuel thinks his bullpen is plenty deep, but without Baez and Steve Reed and Steve Karsay (who were sent to the Braves for John Rocker last summer by former GM John Hart in the worst trade ever not involving trinkets and an island), Paul Shuey is going to have to come up big.
Sports Illustrated staff writer Mark Bechtel will check in periodically with reports from his tour of spring camps.