The off-season is off to a pretty slow start around the league, but as we all know the baseball off-season is more of a marathon than a sprint and free agent signings and trades tend to slowly develop as opposed to football where it all seems done in a day. The Indians did make an early splash in the Hot Stove by trading a minor league pitcher for veteran Right Handed starter Derek Lowe. Coming off of a bad season and playing for a team with a ton of young arms the Indians were able to get Lowe for a great price and the Braves were kind enough to pay for a large chunk of his salary. Lowe shores up the Tribe rotation and he will likely slot in 3rd behind Ubaldo Jimenez, Justin Masterson, and before Josh Tomlin and Fausto Carmona. The only downside there is that the Indians do not have a lefty starter. The Indians also made the decision to pick up Fausto’s option, understandably, going with who they think will bounce back in 2012 rather then risking an equal or greater amount of money on a free agent pitcher from a very weak market. The Indians also opted not to pick up the option for Grady Sizemore, making the one time face of the franchise a free agent. This must have been a tough move for the Tribe brass, but it was necassary.
We all know the areas that the Indians need to improve since they have marked starting pitching off of the checklist. They need a 3rd and or 4th outfielder to partner with Choo and Brantley. They need a first baseman, it appears that the Indians have made it clear that they do not want to settle for starting the year with Matt LaPorta getting all of the time the- re. The Indians could also benefit from a veteran relief pitcher to join the bullpen mafia and add some support to the Sipp, Perez, Pure Rage, Pestano and Smith crew. Here is a list I have compiled of players that would be worth consideration and discussion.
– Grady Sizemore. You know the team is going to try and bring back Grady on a one-year incentive laden deal. It makes sense to give him a shot to prove he can stay healthy and be that productive player he once was. It seems like forever ago, because it kind of was, that he was on the short list for best player in the game. I don’t see him re-upping with the Tribe, as a change of scenery might be best for him.
– Jason Kubel. I know he isn’t right handed, but the Indians have been linked to him in all sorts of Hot Stove rumblings. He makes sense, as he can play the corner outfield spots and play first base. He plays solid defense at those spots and can hit, before injuries last year he posted consecutive seasons with 90+ RBI, including one year over 100 for the Twins. The Indians need a consistent bat in the lineup and the GM Chris Antonetti was quoted saying the team has options and can be flexible with who they sign either to acquire to either play left, center or 1st base. If the Indians sign Kubel, look for them to be in play for another player, who bats right handed, who can handle both spots like Kubel. I think it is an 85% chance they bring in the Twins former slugger, who at 29, is very much still in his prime.
– Michael Cuddyer. Another familiar name from the division rivals. Much more of a long shot as the Twins hero is highly sought after from the Phillies and other big players. He would be a very solid addition to any team, either at first base or corner outfield, heck, he even played 2nd base last year for the injury depleted Twins. The market value for him seems to be out-pricing what the Indians can afford.
– Ryan Doumit. The Pirates oft injured catcher could be a nice, cheap, addition to the Tribe. He is not young anymore, he will be 31 this season, but he is versatile and can play first base and corner outfield. He bats from both sides, so he can be a needed right handed bat against lefties. He could even play catcher and the Indians could have him and Santana both in the lineup on days Santana plays first base, or move one of them primarily to first base. The downside to signing him is that he has never played more than 124 games in a season. He played 77 last year and looked like this, .303/.353/.477, so clearly he can produce when he is on the field, and he added 8 home runs and 30 rbi. His defense won’t win him any awards, but he is worth considering.
– Jake Fox. Not the most attractive option of the bunch. He is versatile, can like Doumit, catch, play first base, outfield and has spent time at 3b in his career. He has bounced around a lot around the league and from AAA to the Majors. He is essentially another 4A guy and the Indians don’t necessarily need another one of those. In 2009, his longest tenure in the bigs, he hit 11 homers and drove in 44 in just 82 games for the Cubs. He slugged .468 but his average and on base were very low. He will be 30 this year, bats right handed, can play some good defense, has versatility and has never been given a chance to play every day. Low risk option, who will be cheap and could be flipped or released if he doesn’t perform early.
– Derek Lee. He proved after a slow start last year in Baltimore that he could still get the job done in Pittsburgh. He was the only one on the team trying to keep the team afloat down the stretch. He can still play a gold glove caliber defense at 1st base, which for this team is huge. He is a big right handed threat in the middle of the lineup. In the last 28 games last year he posted a .337/.398/.584 line with 7 home runs and 18 RBI. He can get on base, is patient at the plate and could be a great veteran leader on a young, hungry team. A career .280 hitter with almost 1,100 career RBI. He would probably be a little on the pricey side, but on a one year deal he could be very worth it. He will be 37 this season but he can still play and produce on a high level.
– Carlos Pena. I know, I know. Left handed hitter. He will be 34, but he always has a lot to prove. He is a gold glover at 1st base, which is a huge plus. He is a major power threat and drives in runs. 5 straight 25+ home run years, including 46 in 2007 when the Rays finally gave him a starting job and just let him play. He isn’t going to hit for a high average, but he walks alot, and crushes the baseball. Last year, despite a .225 average he hit 28 homers and drove in 80 runs, the year before he had those same numbers despite a .198 average. If he can keep his average up those numbers will only be higher, and the good news is his average can’t really go lower. He has had a up and down career, after playing solid in Detroit for 2 years he got shafted, came back in 2007 with the Rays on a small contract and put up MVP numbers and got paid big time, coming off a year making $9 million, he might be too pricey for the Indians to get, but he would be a big addition if they could pay him.
– Jonny Gomes. In his age 30 season, and he can hit. Right handed, not a terrible defender, and like Pena he won’t hit for a high average but he can hit the ball a long way and drive in runs. Can play corner outfield and first base, and fill in for Pronk at DH, and maybe even take his place there when Hafner’s contract expires down the road. His salary last year was $1.75 million, so he will not command a huge salary coming off a down year for him at .209 with 14 homers and 43 RBI. In 2o10 when he was given regular at bats in Cincinnati he played 148 games, went .266/.327/.431 with 18 bombs and 86 driven in. He won’t lose you games with his defense and he might win you a few with his bat.
– Kosuke Fukudome. We all know what he can do, and what he did for us last year. Question is, how interested is the front office in keeping him around, and would he play every day? He can play some good defense, and he can get on base. He won’t do that much more for you. Besides home runs and RBI his avg/ob/slugging was actually lower for us in 59 games than with Chicago for 80+, and he was down across the board from previous seasons. I would not complain if we went in this direction, but I don’t see him as a full time outfielder for us, I would rather give Trevor Crowe or someone from AAA a full time shot then stick with Kosuke.
– Josh Willingham. He will be 33 this season, and he has always been able to put up good numbers. He played for $6 million last year and might be too rich for the Tribe to pay, and he will likely have a lot of high level suitors like Boston, the Mets, and others. He had a really good year last year driving in 98 and hitting a career high 29 homers. At 32, he had a career year, so he is likely in line for a multi-year deal and getting paid big. He is a power hitting righty who plays left field well. He would be a great addition to the Indians outfield and could settle in very nicely between Choo and Santana in the 4 hole. Sadly, very unlikely.
– David Aardsma. He is a solid right handed reliever who has come into his own the last 2 years in Seattle. He has saved 30+ games in the last two years, keeps the ball in the park typically and has a good k/bb ratio. Downside, his $4.5 million price tag last year, but he might not be that expensive this year. The Indians could use a veteran to round out the ‘pen.
– Taylor Buchholz. He has been a solid reliever his whole career in the bigs, and at 30 he will be hanging around for a while. Between Colorado and New York Mets last year he posted a 3.75 ERA, in just 9 games, but the year before he was in 63 games for the Rockies and posted a 2.17 ERA, struck out 56 and walked just 16. His $600,000 salary last year keeps him on a low-budget type of area that the Indians could go for, maybe even just a minor-league contract with an invite to Spring Training.
– Joel Zumaya. Another oft injured option, who made $1.4 million last year. Just 27 and throws fire balls to home plate. The Indians could use a power arm out of the ‘pen, and could have an impact.
The focus is clearly on outfield or first base. There are plenty of options out there that the Indians might be able to look into. The bullpen is not the most pressing need, we have a solid unit and young guys like Nick Hagadone ready to come up, but another veteran option is never a bad thing, and there are plenty more out there then I delved into. Even if the Indians don’t get anyone it would not be the end of the world, I can see it as an option to move Santana to first base primarily and let Lou Marson be the primary catcher. If they went that route they could focus on just left field and maybe spend a little more to add a bat on the level of Willingham. If they are valuing infield defense the most with the ground-ball pitching that is on roster, then Jack Hannahan could still have a place at the hot corner, and I could see them having Lonnie Baseball learning to play 1st base, he is a solid defender and a young bat the team wants to have in the lineup, this would also be another cheap option there that would free up budget to pick up a higher priced free agent like Willingham. I find myself continuing to come back to him, but I think he would have the most positive impact on the team, other than maybe adding Derek Lee or Carlos Pena to first base and a cheaper outfield option. Time will tell as to what the team will actually be able to do in free agency, not the best market out there which unfortunately drive up the price for lower end free agents.