Mailbag: Will Indians bring up Barfield?
Beat reporter Anthony Castrovince answers fans' questions
The students in Mrs. Hodermarsky's third grade class at Parkside Elementary in Solon, Ohio, were learning about the art of writing, so they wished to meet and pick the brain of a real, professional writer last week.And because a real, professional writer wasn't available, I showed up. What followed was a short discussion about the craft of coming up with an idea, putting it on the page and revising and editing it to the point where it's hardly recognizable from its origins. Then came the Q&A session, in which I was hammered with the type of queries you'd expect to come out of a room full of 9-year-olds. "What's your favorite color?" Blue. "Who's your favorite player?" Ken Griffey Jr. "What's your favorite dessert?" Cookies and cream ice cream. "Do you like monkeys?" Who doesn't? It dawned on me that if your mailbag submissions were this easy, I could polish off this column in about five minutes and have more time to eat ice cream and observe monkeys. As it stands, I've got a job ahead of me, so let's see what was on your minds this week, shall we? With Asdrubal Cabrera batting .180, would there be any chance we could see Josh Barfield anytime soon? I like Cabrera and his occasional big hit, but we need a shot in the offensive arm.
-- Joel N., Hilliard, Ohio Indians manager Eric Wedge was asked about this very possibility Sunday, and he said it's not in the works right now. For one, he likes the way Cabrera has handled himself defensively, even as his bat has sagged. And with virtually the entire team struggling at the plate, he doesn't feel a need to single Cabrera out. It seems to me, though, that Cabrera could use a wakeup call. He's a very confident kid. I just hope he's not overconfident. He's had many of what Wedge calls "young at-bats" this season, and that's to be expected of a guy in his first full season in the big leagues. But a .180 average, .247 slugging percentage and .273 on-base percentage isn't going to be tolerable at this level for very long. Defensively, it's impossible to take issue with Cabrera remaining in the bigs. His ability to bounce between second base and shortstop without skipping a beat has been a major benefit for a Tribe team that still is dealing with those stretches when Jhonny Peralta seems to lose concentration. Down in Triple-A, Barfield really didn't give the Indians much reason to consider demoting Cabrera in the season's first month or so. But Barfield has started to heat up a bit, hitting safely in 15 of his last 16 games, entering Sunday. Still, Barfield had struck out 37 times and walked just nine in his first 42 games, so plate discipline obviously still is a huge concern for him. I don't understand this whole thing about keeping Andy Marte around. They say they are holding onto him because they don't want to let him go and then hear about him exploding elsewhere. What difference does it make? Remind me again what the point of holding onto him is.
-- Kevin W., Lexington, Ohio Whatever point there was has all but eroded, Kevin. The Indians have some roster moves approaching with the impending returns of Joe Borowski, Jake Westbrook and Shin-Soo Choo from the disabled list. If Marte survives all those moves, I'd be shocked. I argued a couple weeks back that if Marte's around, you might as well give him a shot in this struggling lineup. Wedge agreed enough to give Marte back-to-back starts in New York before benching him again. So if you have no inclination to play Marte, get rid of him. At this point, he might even sneak through waivers and get to play every day at Triple-A Buffalo. Will the Indians be sending Ben Francisco down when Choo comes back from rehabbing?
-- Sean, McDonald, Ohio Not with the way Francisco's swinging the bat. If the Indians could, they'd probably send down Franklin Gutierrez, who looks completely lost at the plate and basically has lost his starting job to Francisco the past week and a half. But Gutierrez is out of Minor League options, so the Indians have their hands tied. I suspect the Tribe will go with five outfielders when Choo arrives (his rehab assignment will end June 3). That's why I made the above remark about Marte's tenuous spot on this roster.
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What's the latest on Adam Miller? I know the Indians aren't exactly short on good pitching for the first time in my life (born in 1980), but the guy seems lights-out. Any chance we'll see him this season?
-- Anton K., Tucson, Ariz.
-- Cody W., Belfry, Ky. You're way off, Cody. It's those new alternate uniforms that are gumming up the works. Do you think Travis Hafner would still be in a slump if he were, let's say, two-thirds project and just one-third donkey?
-- Dan M., Perry, Ohio You're way off, too, Dan. He clearly needs more donkey and less project. Don't you think it's peculiar that the entire team is having a great deal of difficulty hitting? I have watched this team become less and less potent at the plate. I believe it has something to do with their philosophy of taking pitches to wear down the opposing pitcher. Is it time for a coaching change?
-- Darlo P., Nashville, Tenn. It's always difficult to gauge how much credit to give a hitting coach when an offense is going well and how much blame to give him when it's struggling. The approach Derek Shelton wants from his hitters has been successful in the past, but the execution of that approach was terrible for much of the second half of 2007 and the first two months of '08. On May 13, Masa Kobayashi finished the ninth. Typically, when a Tribe pitcher gets the last out of the game, he gives Victor Martinez a big hug in celebration. Masa does not. This bugs me. You can tell Vic wants the hug, but Masa leaves him hanging. Why no love for Vic?
-- Hans H., Peoria, Ariz. Actually, in the very game you mention, I noticed Martinez gave Kobayashi the customary Japanese bow greeting after the last out was recorded. Perhaps the bow overrides the need to hug? I'm not sure. Toshi Nagahara, Kobayashi's interpreter, told me that when games are completed in Japan, the players on the winning team all bow to each other. But they also shake hands, and sometimes they hug. Anyway, two full paragraphs about this situation is sufficient, so let's move on. How does the reigning American League Manager of the Year get left off the All-Star coaching staff -- especially when Jim Leyland [of the last-place Tigers] gets picked in front of him?
-- Justin S., Nashville, Tenn. The manager of each league's All-Star team usually brings along his own coaches, then he has the option of adding two fellow managers to his staff. The selections are never tied to the standings. Sometimes guys just pick their buddies. You knew one of Terry Francona's appointments was going to go to Joe Girardi, given that this year's Midsummer Classic is the last at Yankee Stadium. As for the other spot, Wedge would have been a fine choice, though let's remember he just received the honor two years ago in Pittsburgh. (For the record, I covered that year's All-Star Game and can tell you Wedge didn't exactly love being there. He would have rather been in Cleveland, spending those rare days off with his wife and newborn daughter.) If the Indians continue to struggle at the plate, how long do you think it will be until they decide to look at making a trade to spark the lineup? We are in a dire need of a power hitter.
-- Steve F., Columbia, S.C. The Indians already have begun to explore their options in the trade department, but the market won't really heat up for another few weeks or so. After all that talk about the Tribe's need to bring in an outfield bat over the winter, it appears their greatest need now is in the infield. The Indians obviously have starting pitching as an enticing bargaining chip. If they're still in contention this summer, I expect them to pull the trigger on a deal to boost this beleaguered offense. What do you and other people around the organization think of Ryan Garko's fielding? I'm amazed at how well he has been doing this year. Maybe not quite Gold Glove material, but he's getting there.
-- Nick S., Miller City, Ohio The Indians are pretty happy with the way Garko's improved defensively the last two seasons. He'll never win a Gold Glove, but perhaps he'll get some consideration as a hockey goalie, given the way he's always using every part of his body to knock down those hard grounders.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.