More From Antonetti: I-Don't-Know's On Third

The Chris
Antonetti
Interview
1 • MSP Indians 2009 Annual
2 • Relief and Anxiety
3 • The Hafner Contract
4 • I Don't Know's On Third

I don't have too much to say about this installment, except that, even more than the Hafner contract discussion, I wish there had been room to include some of this in the Annual, as I think it's of interest to a great number of Indians fans.

I will take this opportunity to mention that we do, in fact, know how to spell the word "premier."   I want to assure you, as fans of the Annual, that I have scrutinized our editorial process, and I have determined that it was the best we could do, based on the information we had at the time.  That process was both exhaustive and cutting-edge, utilizing technologies such as e-mail, automatic spell-checkers, and YouSendIt.  There was no history of that misspelling being present, and there was a healthy, correctly spelled word ("number-one") in that spot from the very first draft.  No sign of a problem in subsequent editing and re-writes, either.  Lastedit_mediumEven at the critical moment when we committed that article to the printing press  — approving the proof of page 59 — there was no evidence of a problem (see image at right).  We didn't miss the problem; there simply was no sign of it at that point.  And we weren't just paying particular attention to the first sentence, of course; at that point, we paid particular attention to everything.

Whatever are we to do with this horrendous result?  Do we vow to improve our editorial process, even though that process overall has a great track record, and even though the problem that later emerged evidently was not there when we had our opportuinty for due diligence?  Do we abandon any future attempts at print publication, preferring the safe world of online publication, where mistakes are easily corrected for the ages, and where we are unbeholden to outside forces?  Tough call, but you know what?  It's a tough business, and there's never any certainty.

Dealing for DeRosa

Seems like the club is pretty much constantly stockpiling pitchers, picking up at least one interesting arm in three different deals last season.  How tough is it to give up three?

It's difficult, but anytime you're looking to acquire a player that has a chance to significantly impact your major league team, you need to give up talent to get that type of return.  We like all of the guys that we gave up, but in the end, we felt this was an opportunity to really improve our team at a reasonable cost.

You gave up two guys who are further away from the majors.  Do you look at that and say, well, we'd rather give up two pitchers who are down in A-ball, rather than having to give up a second guy who's on the cusp of the majors?

The dynamics don't necessarily work that way.  The negotiation gets complex, and obviously this wasn't the first combination of players that we talked about with the Cubs.  I think our first conversation with them about Mark DeRosa was back in early November, and the conversation ebbed and flowed for nearly two months, and there were a lot of different iterations of the deal and different players involved, and ultimately, this was the one that made sense for both of us.  But that process is one in which there's a series of back-and-forth, where they ask for a certain combination of players, we try to reshape it, and then they come back, and then we go back.  So it's a back-and-forth, and this is the package we settled upon.

Were they always pretty clear that it was going to have to be some combination of pitchers?

No, there were different forms of it at different points.  I don't think they were positionally focused.  There were at different points a number of other players involved, many of which were position players.

How many different players were in the discussion at some point?

Probably 15, maybe 15 to 20.

That's a lot!

Yes.

How good do you think Stevens is gonna be?

We think he has a chance to be a very good major league reliever, a guy that has a well above-average fastball, developing secondary stuff and has the ability to miss bats.  He's had a lot of success at the upper levels of the minor leagues, and has the potential to contribute to the Cubs bullpen at some point this year.

But you didn't necessarily see him as someone who was likely to step into a late-inning role in the next year or two.

We certainly would not rule that out.  I think we looked at it as, we do have some depth in bullpen arms at both the major league level and upper minor leagues, and I think we looked at it as an opportunity to address a clear major league need for us from an area of depth.  As I said, for us to get a guy the caliber of Mark DeRosa, we recognized that we were going to have to give up some value in return.

Was there any consideration internally, regarding Stevens, that some Cleveland fans were always going to tag him as "the Brandon Phillips guy," and that that's not a problem he would have somewhere else?

That's really not something we gave any consideration to.  We evaluated Jeff Stevens for his ability and what we thought he'd be able to contribute to our organization, irrespective of who we gave up to get him.

 

To Shift, Or Not To Shift

How good of a third baseman do you think DeRosa can be defensively?

We think he has a chance to be a very solid third baseman.  Granted, we haven't seen him there as much as other positions, but the reports that we do have on him there and some of the objective information we have leads us to believe that he should be very solid over there.  And that's his comfort level — he's most comfortable on the left side of the infield, having spent the majority of his career coming up in the minor leagues at shortstop, he feels more comfortable at third base than second base.

Did you already know that about him before the trade, through your contacts?

Through our conversations and contacts, it was our understanding that third base was his best defensive position and one in which he was most comfortable.  But if you talk to Mark, he'll tell you — and one of the reasons he was attractive to us — he's capable and confident playing multiple positions and has done that, playing six different positions, I think, as recently as last year.

But you don't see him necessarily as someone who's going to be one of the elite defensive third basemen in the league this year?

I think he's a very good overall player offensively and defensively, and he should contribute on both sides of the ball.

Once you already knew that you were acquiring DeRosa, how seriously did you consider putting him at second base, and doing the big shift that everyone is always talking about?

We spent a lot of time talking about it, and it's not something candidly that we'll rule out at any point.  And again, because he has that defensive versatility as well as some flexibility with Peralta and Cabrera, if we feel we need to adjust our defensive alignment, we have the ability to do that.

And yet, it was made pretty clear after the trade that he starts off being slotted in as the third baseman.  Do you have that assumption when spring training starts, or will there be something of an open audition for guys at a few different positions?

I think we'll go in with the expectation that Mark will be our third baseman, but the nature of spring training is that we have the ability to play guys at different positions.  There's a strong possibility that Mark's going to be playing in the WBC anyway.  That will accord us the opportunity to look at probably a number of other infielders at all the different positions, third base included.

What kind of concerns are there in shifting Peralta to third?  Most people seem to assume that any good shortstop is going to be able to play at third without much problem, but it seems like you guys didn't necessarily see it that way.

Yeah, I think that may be a little overly simplistic.  I think you have to look at the specific attributes of that guy, and what it may take to play shortstop vs. third base.  Having talked to a number of very good infield instructors, they did caution [that] that's not something to take for granted.  It's a very different skill set to play third base, from reactions to hands to the ability to dive to the line, to get up and make throws, and the bunt plays, different assignments and cutoff of relays — those are things that take some time.  So, they said, a lot of guys that play shortstop do have the ability to do it, but be cognizant of the fact that the transition isn't just, snap your fingers, and a guy can become an above-average defensive third baseman.

You already had some information on this, since he played third base part-time in 2004 in Buffalo, and it seemed like maybe that was a rocky adjustment.  What was your internal read on that?

We did not put too much stock into that season.  At that point he was still very young, and it was his first real exposure at third base.  He still viewed himself as a shortstop at that point.  When we look at Jhonny's overall skill set and his ability — his hands, his arm strength, his body control — we felt that some of his attributes do blend well, potentially to being a third baseman, and obviously in the last few years he's gotten bigger both height-wise and just filled out his frame, too.  So that naturally would lend itself more toward third base than shortstop.

Does the bigger frame actually lend itself to third base, or does it just lend itself less to shortstop?

Well, the other attributes, he has very good hands, a strong and accurate arm — those attributes that you're looking for in a third baseman, to be able to react to the ball like that ...

... the quick reaction ...

... yeah, the ability to make the reaction at third base, and what that takes is definitely the ability to have a depth,  and to be comfortable fielding the ball different ways.  We think Jhonny has the ability to do that.

Seems like there hasn't been any real discussion about his potentially switching to second base.

We discussed that.  We feel if he is going to move off shortstop, the better defensive position for him would be third base rather than second.

Why is that?

Again, body type I think factors into it.  If you went to find second basemen that are 6'3", 225 pounds, there aren't very many of them.

But is there necessarily a good reason for that?

Yeah, I think when you look at it, the pivot and the footwork needed at second base is very different than the defensive positioning at third base, or even at shortstop.  Where at shortstop you're coming across the bag with your own momentum on double plays, at second base you have to have very quick feet to be able to make adjustments with the bag on different throws, and depending upon which way the runner's coming in, it takes more adjustments.  And obviously range is significant; you have to range far further at second base than third base.

Getting back to DeRosa, would you be expecting him to get any significant number of starts in the outfield, possibly against lefties?

Potentially, he has the ability to do that.  Some of that will depend on what we do with the remainder of our bench spots and how we fill that, whether it's an extra infielder or an extra outfielder, what route we go in spring training. Certainly we would be comfortable with Mark getting at-bats against left-handed pitching in the outfield.

©2009 Jay Levin

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