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All-Aught Indians: RP5: Rafael Perez (2006-2009)

Rafael Perez

Rafael Perez

Today we are going to take a look at the lefty portion of our All-Aught relief crew, and the first part of ‘Dos Rafael’ to enter our team of the decade.

The All-Aught Relief Pitcher #5 is Rafael Perez.

In 2007, Perez arguably became the best left-handed reliever in all of baseball during the regular season. In 2008, he was undoubtedly the best bullpen pitcher in the Indians bullpen. Now he didn’t enter this team without questions, and I’d even argue that Karsay was the overall better reliever, but no one can question the importance of Perez during that magical 2007 season.

The Indians signed Perez as a starter out of the Dominican Republic in 2002. It didn’t take him long to make an impact, as he was named the Appalachian League pitcher of the year in 2003 for Burlington, going 9-3 with a 1.70 ERA. He climbed up through the Indians system in 2004 and 2005, before finally breaking through with the Tribe in 2006.

At the end of 2005, the Indians’ brass began converting Perez to the bullpen, thinking that his fastball and slider fit much better there. In 2006, Perez started his year in Akron, in their starting rotation. The Indians called him up briefly in April for one appearance out of the pen, but was sent back down to Akron thereafter, and continued as a starter for the Aeros. In early June, he was recalled by the Tribe, and again moved to the bullpen. He wasn’t dominating, making 11 appearances and rolling out a 4.70 ERA.

Who could blame him for the struggles though, with the Tribe bouncing him around from the pen to the rotation, and from Akron to Cleveland. True-to-form, the Indians sent Perez down again, only to Buffalo this time, and finally kept the southpaw in the pen.

Perez began to shine.
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All-Aught Indians: RP6: Steve Karsay (2000-2001, 2006)

Steve Karsay

Steve Karsay

Any big league bullpen is a hodge-podge of players. There are the golden arms that have been ear-marked to close because of their lightning fastball. There are the set-up men that are either young up-and coming closers, or former closers on their way out. You have your side-armers, spit-ballers, knuckleballers, LOOGY’s, long-relievers, spot-relievers and nowhere-else-to-put-yous. Garnering the last spot in the All-Aught Indians bullpen is just that nowhere-else-to-put-you in Steve Karsay.

Karsay’s name likely isn’t one that will come up on your list of top-notch Indians’ relievers, although he was exactly that. Karsay was mostly lost in the shuffle of a career marred by injuries and untapped potential. He started in 1993 as a 21-year-old gunslinger in a late season call-up by the Oakland A’s. He had skipped Triple A and pitched 49 solid innings before manager Tony LaRussa shut him down before his 50th inning to keep his rookie-eligibility. The following season, Karsay made four electric starts before elbow pain ended his season. He didn’t pitch again in the majors until 1997, after two elbow surgeries, including Tommy John in 1995.

The Indians acquired Karsay in late-1997 as a potential starter for the 1998 season, but he lost the job as the #5 starter to some kid named Bartolo Colon. Karsay started in the rotation in Buffalo, but twice ended up on the DL before being activated by the Indians on the last day in July as a reliever. After another start and relief appearance, he was sent down to Buffalo in late August, only to be recalled in late September strictly as a reliever, and was shelled to the tune of an 8.31 ERA. It wasn’t looking good, but Karsay felt fantastic healthwise, and was really beginning to find himself. He’d begun playing with a Cleveland staple, the splitter, and was slowly re-discovering his fastball, that was now being clocked in the mid-90’s.
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All-Aught Indians: Back-up Outfielder: Franklin Gutierrez (2005-2008)

Eric Wedge didn’t like Milton Bradley, and Milton Bradley didn’t like Eric Wedge. Bradley had made a habit of doing the wrong thing, including fights, tenures in jail and not running out ground balls. When he got into it with Eric Wedge twice in less than a year, he was sent packing to the Los Angeles Dodgers. What they received in return for the misguided centerfielder turned into their best utility outfielder of the decade.

The All-Aught Indians Center Fielder is Franklin Gutierrez.
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All-Aught Indians: Center Field: Grady Sizemore (2004-2009)

There really hasn’t been a more stable every-day position for the Tribe than center field. The four major players during the Aught decade was Kenny Lofton, Milton Bradley, Coco Crisp and Grady Sizemore.

Bradley, although spectacular at times, was injury-prone, and an enigma. Crisp was an able athlete, but played most of his time at other positions. Lofton had a spectactular career with the Indians, but his days with the Tribe are now long behind him.

Taking all of that into account, the All-Aught Indians Center Fielder is Grady Sizemore.
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All-Aught Indians: Right Field: Manny Ramirez (2000)

Right Field has been a position of power and pain for the Cleveland Indians over the past ten years. Manny Ramirez started off the decade with a monster year before leaving the Tribe for the greener monsters of Boston. Juan Gonzalez appeared for a year to take Manny’s place, relaunched his stuttering career with a big season of his own, then left for Detroit. That’s when the mashers left, and the deteriation of right field began.

What followed were middling seasons from the likes of Matt Lawton, Jody Gerut, Trot Nixon and Franklin Gutierrez. All showed promise in one form or another, but couldn’t even reach the first rung of the ladder built by ManRam and JuanGone. The fact that Casey Blake had the longest tenure during the aughts in right field should let you know just how “interesting” things got in the hunt for stability at the position. The light at the end of the tunnel closing out the decade has been Shin-Soo Choo, who surely has a head start on the All-Teens team.

With that said, the All-Aught Indians Right Fielder is Manny Ramirez.
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All-Aught Indians: Left Field: Coco Crisp (2002-2005)

681e9-crispIn the 1990’s, Albert Belle, Brian Giles and David Justice made left-field a position of strength for the Cleveland Indians. In stark contrast, since the start of the 2000 season, left-field has become the place where ballplayers go to die. Only three players since 2000 have played in 100+ games in left in a single season, and none more than 133. Left has seen transplanted infielders, aging outfielders and horrific platoons turn it into the laughingstock of the Tribe line-up. There was one exception.

The All-Aught Indians Left Fielder is Covelli Loyce Crisp. You might know him as Coco.
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All-Aught Indians: Utility: Jolbert Cabrera (2000-2002)

Jolbert Cabrera

Jolbert Cabrera

Utility infielders and utility outfielders have become extremely valuable resources in the game of baseball. For the Indians over the years, players such as John McDonald and Jamey Carroll have established themselves as key bench players. Players such as ex-Detroit Tiger’s uber-utility players Tony Phillips and ex-Angel and current Mariner Chone Figgins have re-invented the position.

Phillips became the first player to start ten games at five different positions, while Figgins started 35+ games at third base, centerfield and second all in the same season. The Indians have utilized several players in a similar fashion over the years. Most recently, Jamey Carroll had found time at second and third base right and left field. Prior to Carroll, Casey Blake carried the uber-utility slot for the Tribe, playing third and first base, right and left field, as well as DH during his tenure with the Tribe. He started at third base for the Tribe in 2003 and 2004, moved to the outfield for 2005 and 2006, then moved back to third base for 2007 and most of 2008.

Throughout his tenure, he periodically started at the other positions. Unfortunately for Blake, he doesn’t qualify for the All-Aught slot because he started most games at one position from year to year. Even though Carroll should qualify, I’m excluding him because he didn’t play much outfield, and really didn’t play much outfield in his tenure with the Tribe. Besides, Carroll is already a part of this team.

So I’m going all homer on this one.

The All-Aught Indians utility player is Jolbert Cabrera.
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All-Aught Indians: Back-up Infielder: Jamey Carroll (2008-2009)

Jamey Carroll

Jamey Carroll

Is there a more unsung job in baseball than the utility infielder?

These are the specialized players that are signed to a contract because they can play tough defense, and generally they can do it at more than one position.

Can they hit?

I hate to stereotype, but not likely. If you find a back-up infielder that has a stick, nine times out of ten, they end up starting.

The Indians have had two clear back-up infielders over the past ten years that were in the running for this position. Some may say three, but Asdrubal Cabrera was brought up as a starter at second base, so he’s excluded. Instead, the energy focuses on the guy who opened the decade at the position, and the guy who closed it out. John McDonald really put a stamp as the utility infielder from the Tribe from 2000-2004, while Jamey Carroll took over the role in 2008 and 2009. Both were fantastic infielders, but where they differed in two key areas. Carroll had far superior offense, and also had more opportunity to play. McDonald played 2nd, 3rd and short, while Carroll only played 2nd and 3b, while spending some time in the outfield. Still, Carroll’s offense takes him over the top.

The All-Aught Indians back-up infielder is Jamey Carroll.

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All-Aught Indians: Back-up Catcher: Kelly Shoppach (2006-2009)

Kelly Shoppach (Credit Image: © Cal Sport Media)

Kelly Shoppach (Credit Image: © Cal Sport Media)

When the Boston Red Sox came a-knockin’ in an attempt to acquire Coco Crisp, Cleveland immediately asked for top prospect Andy Marte, who had been acquired earlier in the offseason from the Braves. The Red Sox quickly agreed, but the Indians began working the Sox for another important player. Guillermo Mota was thrown in to help bolster the Indians pen, but the player the Tribe wanted was another top prospect in the Sox organization that was buried behind Jason Varitek. Boston was hesitant to give up their top catching prospect, and they turned out to be dead right. The All-Aught Indians back-up catcher was that player, Kelly Shoppach.

It’s really hard to look at Shoppach as a back-up since he was essentially the starting catcher for the Indians over the past two seasons. In 2008, he ascended to the top thanks to an injury that left Victor Martinez on the DL for much of the season. In 2009, Shoppach again filled in for VMart, after the starter was dealt to, ironically enough, Shoppach’s old team, the Boston Red Sox.
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All-Aught Indians: DH: Travis Hafner (2003-2009)

Travis Hafner

Travis Hafner

The DH slot wasn’t as easy to pick as some might think. From 2001 through 2003, Ellis Burks was the Tribe DH, and he was very good at what he did. Burks had two fantastic seasons as the Indians batting specialist, knocking out 60 homers and driving in 165 runs, while batting .291. Burks would sprain his hand in spring training in 2003, and it would essentially end his tenure on the reservation. Ultimately, Burks couldn’t swing the bat once the season started, and he ended up having season-ending surgery to repair nerve damage.

The man who replaced him defined the position for the Indians during the decade.

The All-Aught Indians DH is Travis Hafner.
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