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Building a Wahoo Winner: Add a free agent duo

Building a Wahoo Winner: Add a free agent duo
Kendrys Morales (Photo: AP)
November 28, 2014
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Thus far in the Building a Wahoo Winner series, I've concentrated on keeping things within the Indians organization. All of the necessary steps I've outlined for the Indians to make a run at the 2015 World Series have involved players currently under contract with the Indians in one way or another.

Well, that's about to change.

The MLB "Hot Stove" season is upon us, as are the numerous clamors and cries by Indians fans for the front office to make their move down the chimney and bring a special present — or that annually elusive right-handed power bat — to the city of Cleveland.

Admittedly, in this market, I'm not a proponent of the Indians making a big time splash in free agency. The numbers are too high and the talent level is too low. Also, believe it or not, the Indians have done a phenomenal job of spending appropriate amounts of money on some of their brightest young stars, including Michael Brantley (4 yrs/$25M) and Yan Gomes (6yrs/$23M).

That being said, if the Indians don't stand completely pat throughout this free agent "Hot Stove" market, there are a couple of players they could bring aboard to add depth and provide a push for 2015.

While fans would love to see the Dolan family shell out cash that they don't have, the reality is that the Indians are going to keep the figures small and with that in mind, I've come up with a list of four legitimate free agent options.

1. Chris Denorfia, OF

The 34-year old Denorfia spent 2014 between the San Diego Padres and the Seattle Mariners, hitting a pedestrian .230 with 3 HR while posting a WAR of 0.4 on the season. While the numbers from 2014 have a bit of a stench of "decline," there's evidence that it was a bit of a down year for Denorfia, who has posted a career .331 OBP and had a WAR of 4.0 with the Padres in 2013.

Denorfia isn't going to light the world on fire, but he's a platoon option in right field with David Murphy and offers a bit of an upgrade over Ryan Raburn who mans that role as of right now. Denorfia will also come with a reasonable price tag, which makes him all that much more enticing for the notoriously thrifty front office.

2. Jonny Gomes, OF

Another corner outfielder who spent time between two teams — the Boston Red Sox and Oakland Athletics— the 33-year old Gomes could be another decent platoon option with David Murphy in right field. Gomes comes with a bit more pop than Denorfia, accounting for 155 career home runs as opposed to Denorfia's 38, but like Denorfia, 2014 wasn't great for the journeyman outfielder.

After posting a .344 OBP and 1.0 WAR with a .179 ISO mark in the 2013 World Series campaign with the Red Sox, Gomes' ISO took a massive dip to .095 last season. This dip in power may help the Indians as it may lessen his list of suitors and have him see a dip in potential salary. He could still remain a productive player in this league for years to come.

3. Justin Masterson, SP

Yes, that Justin Masterson. The same Justin Masterson that turned down a three year $45 million offer from the Indians a few months ago, had a poor season and was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals at the 2014 Trade Deadline.

Masterson struggled mightily with both the Indians and the Cardinals and, therefore, will come at quite the bargain this offseason, which works out well for the Indians. The Indians probably know as well as anyone what Masterson can be when he's "right."

There's no doubt that Masterson will beget loads of interest from teams all around the league, but it may be a plus that Masterson has a relationship with the Indians that no other team can boast. It also helps that the Indians probably understand more than anyone what was wrong with him all of last season.

In essence, the Indians will undoubtedly make an offer and Masterson may be faced with a decision. Does he spurn the team that put no faith in him a year ago or does he return to the only team with which he has a special relationship? This is something interesting to follow this offseason.

4. Kendrys Morales, 1B/DH

Ah, yes, the name with which Indians fans have made themselves overly familiar over the past couple of seasons, just to watch him venture to Seattle and elsewhere with his right-handed "power" stick.

After back-to-back 20+ home run seasons with the Angels and Mariners in 2012 and 2013, Morales stayed patient before signing a 1-year, $12 million deal with the Minnesota Twins in June, but struggled immensely with the Twins before being traded back to Seattle to finish out the season. In just 98 games a year ago, Morales hit 8 homers, posted a -1.7 WAR and a .338 slugging percentage, each of which were far below his 162-game average.

That all being said, the late start and a plethora of other factors could have contributed to Morales' terrible 2014 and he could be poised for a bounce-back 2015— a fact that has clubs very interested in the righty.

Morales would probably be the most expensive of the players on this list, but would he really be worth shelling out the money for, especially with a very similar— and more consistent— player in Nick Swisher already on board? This could once again be a situation in which the front office may be smart in avoiding a player, rather than shelling out the money for one, despite the affordable price tag.

In addition to these names, the Indians would also be wise to add depth to the bullpen, as I documented in the last edition of "Building a Wahoo Winner."

If the Indians sign any two of these players, my votes would be for Gomes and Masterson.

While Denorfia might be the "safer" option, Gomes could provide some much needed pop for a lineup that struggled with power a year ago.

Masterson has been known for a "one year good, one year bad" trajectory and would be on pace for a "good" 2015. Should that trend continue, we've all seen what "good" Justin Masterson can do for the Cleveland Indians.

Other than that, the Indians will certainly be better off avoiding the high prices for most other free agents. Fans will complain when they wake up on Christmas without the right-handed power bat they dreamed of, but they'll do so whilst forgetting that some of the team's biggest assets are locked up affordably and that some of their recent adventures into free agency for high dollar players have not gone very well.

User Comments

December 6, 2014 - 11:21 PM EST
Using the fact other teams are not trying to get a certain player is not really an indicator if the player will be good or not. No one tried to get Gomes.
C L Who
November 29, 2014 - 1:45 PM EST
Some very excellent comments here.

I agree that the Dodgers' ability to unload players like Ethier and Crawford will determine the availability of SVS. From what I read in the LA Times, the unloading is not going well.

I don't believe SVS is the Second Coming of anything; I do believe he is a perfect fit for RH power bat that the Tribe needs, at the right price. When I see Hayden referring to players like Denofria with zero power and little else to recommend him, at a price 4 times or more of a SVS, my blood boils a little bit.

The sole player on the list I would have any interest in is Morales, as a guy with a real rebound potential. Problem is, we already have Nick Swisher for 15 MM so why would the team sign Morales for the position of Nick Swisher lite.....less versatility, and no more power than Swish, for an additional 10 million or so. Sheer insanity. And, last I looked, Swisher can also bat right handed, though his power is left.
November 29, 2014 - 9:58 AM EST
I found a good column on the Dodgers' surplus of outfielders which discusses their options. SVS doesn't seem likely to be the guy to go...

"They might trade Van Slyke, who could probably start or play more frequently on several other teams, but that wouldn’t provide any cost savings and seems ill-advised since Crawford, Ethier and Pederson all hit left-handed. Van Slyke was the Dodgers’ best right-handed pinch hitter, the big bat off the bench, batting .333 in games he didn’t start."

The column says they want to trade Crawford or Ethier because of their ages and huge contracts, but it will be hard to find takers.

Van Slyke only got 1 at-bat in four playoff games, probably because the Dodgers didn't face any left-handed starters. But the fact is he didn't play in the Dodgers biggest games of the year. When he did play he put up great numbers. His OPS was over 1.000 on the road, for example.

I'd love to get this guy. The Dodgers have six strong candidates for three positions, so they have to move somebody. If they can't move Crawford or Ethier's contracts, maybe they would listen to offers for SVS.

Recently the Indians have not had much success with free agents, i.e., Bourn, Swisher, Kerry Woods, Johnny Damon. They've had much more success with trades - Choo, Cabrera, Gomes, Santana, Brantley, Kluber, Masterson, McAllister, Carrasco, Chris Perez, Joe Smith. They did have one very good FA signing in Kazmir, but most of the talent acquired from other organizations has come through trades. I'm not seeing any free agents this year that can put the Tribe over the hump.
November 29, 2014 - 9:08 AM EST
This site is obsessed with Van Slyke. Maybe the Dodgers do not want to trade him because he fits the role they want him to play. Just maybe the Indians are not high or interested in him.
November 29, 2014 - 9:00 AM EST
CL Who, if Van Slyke were as great as some have painted him out to be another club would have acquired him by now. I'm not saying he's not a qlty player, I believe he is, I just believe he's being over valued by some. I think Scrabble or Hagadone might be a good offer. It would probably take a bit more, where I suggested Gonzalez because he's a hyped SS that would certainly get their attention. But, that's where I'd want another player back like Zach Lee, he does have he prospects status he once did. He struggled to an era over 5 last yr and the Dodgers are reportedly down on him. FWIW, I think he could be a Zach McAllister type addition. That's a young SP coming off of a poor year at a high level.
November 29, 2014 - 8:54 AM EST
That's true, there has been a cpl people on here saying the Indians should trade for SVS for a few yrs now.
C L Who
November 29, 2014 - 2:36 AM EST
J-rod: I've been advocating acquisition of van Slyke since before the 2013 season started. He's young, he's cheap, he's right handed, he's under control for 5 years if needed, and he's got power. I don't understand your doubts.....all I see from his stats is that like Brantley, he improves the more he plays.

Despite the new GM in LA, he's not going to unload the entire outfield, and odds are that van Slyke remains a part time player. I don't believe it would take as much to acquire him as many think. One pen pitcher of quality and another prospect, plus perhaps another position playing mid-level prospect might do it.

As for Denorfia and the rest trotted out in this article......say what? Three guys on the back nine of their careers, one of which has lost his power, one of which never had much, and one of which never had any. Topped off by a pitcher who was quite likely number 100 or so on the list of qualifiers in the ERA / WHIP category in 2014. Masterson is clearly a "good dude." He is just as clearly clueless as to how to consistently throw strikes start after start.....despite the fact that he's been making millions do to just that.

Finally, why does anyone wish to trade House? He pitched quite well and is the only left hander in the rotation.
November 29, 2014 - 12:17 AM EST
The Donaldson trade looks like a poor move by the A's. Like the Heyward trade, another one it would be interesting to know if the Indians had made any serious proposals. I would think Lindor, Chiz, House, and one other decent lower-level prospect would be a better package than what they got, because neither pitcher they got even looks as good as House. I'd have probably pulled the trigger on that from Cleveland's end. I don't really see where you'd look at that return and say "the Indians wouldn't have needed to trade Lindor" though. Lawrie has much more value than Chisenhall. When he's healthy he's been a good player. He was worth about the same WAR as Lonnie in half the games in 2014. Of course, he hasn't been healthy, but there's more "hope" with a guy like Lawrie than Lonnie. But Barreto is no Lindor. It's a shame Cody Anderson fell off the map, the lack of any upper-level pitching prospects makes it tougher for the indians to pull off any major trades.
November 28, 2014 - 11:37 PM EST
Boy, you're right. The Tribe has/had the ability to beat that deal. As a side note, I do think its interesting that a bunch of folks here were saying (really loudly) that it would take a package of Lindor, Salazar, Anderson, plus plus to get Donaldson. Clearly not. Oh well...
Canadian Joe
November 28, 2014 - 10:40 PM EST
I would have thought Donaldson had a bigger price tag. A steal for the Jays, I think. Wow. Chis and a couple of prospects might have done it in hindsight. Oh well, water under the bridge now. Missed opportunity. On to the next opportunity. Jays looking pretty good now.
November 28, 2014 - 10:28 PM EST
Josh Donaldson goes to the Jays for Lawrie and three prospects (Graveman, Barreta, and Nolin).

The Indians could have made this deal, just saying...I wanted to see a difference maker RH bat / 3b.
November 28, 2014 - 8:06 PM EST
ooops...meant to say, "but the guys listed here are NOT going to do it..."
November 28, 2014 - 8:04 PM EST
Yea, sorry Hayden, but this is just a really bad and terrible and useless list. Masterson is the only one who could even remotely make sense, and esp after last year he's a very big risk. Don't you remember how bad he was last year? His first-half implosion is a big reason we didn't win the division, and I don't think that you can attribute all of that to an injury. So, unless we got a great offer for Salazar or Bauer, IMO there's no reason to bring Justin on for even $10m/year, maybe if he wanted to sign for $4m...8--)

I do hope that something interesting happens in terms of deals or signings, but the guys listed here are going to do it...
November 28, 2014 - 7:04 PM EST
Morales might be a smart buy... I know he lacks positional flexibility, he can play 1b and regularly DH. However, he might fall into the category of a market inefficiency, that is, he missed a large portion of last season because he remained unsigned bc of the QO attached to him. When he was finally signed, it was already into June and he under performed when did. Morales,(for the power he offers) might be a smart buy low option, and as a player with limited positional flexibility he will likely get limited financial offers.

I've talked about the Tribe getting a FA or two, but I'm a farm system and trade first guy. Adding one or two FA might be necessary but I think should exhaust their trade options first. Scott Van Slyke has been one of the favorite guys discussed here, but fact is, it'll be difficult to pry him from the Dodgers, they have no motivation to move him, unless, they feel like they are getting paid. That's where signing someone like Alex Rios might be a necessity. That is, a shorter term deal at mkt value.

I think the best path will be to make a trade for an OF. There are some available, probably some we haven't talked about (yet) and possibly one or two we would never have seems that's how it works. Honestly, I don't think there's an easy match for the Tribe and whoever they get will likely have a wart or two, that's the nature of it. Then there's guys like Viciedo, and Trumbo that might become available, but they certainly have warts. They would be somewhat questionable additions, but, they would fill the need. Sometimes, the best moves, are the moves NOT made. Think last yr the Angels and Tribe reportedly discussed a Kluber for Trumbo trade, THANK GOD they didn't make that deal! It might become a matter of picking up the best player available regardless of need (RH bat). What I'm saying is, if the best deal for the Indians that presents itself is picking up a guy like LH hitting RF Jay Bruce, then, by all means they should try to work the deal and then add a RH bat / SH bat for the bench.
November 28, 2014 - 6:25 PM EST
I'm not sure I understand the obsession with Van Slyke. I wouldn't expect him to replicate the numbers he put up last year.
C L Who
November 28, 2014 - 5:25 PM EST
These guys should be called The Frightful Four or The Pathetics.
It's really not so hard.
Sign Van Slyke to platoon with Chis in right. Urshela promoted to play third. Murphy traded and Raburn released or traded.
John M
November 28, 2014 - 4:08 PM EST
I'd take Masterson back in a second, especially if it was for a one year deal at $10M. Immediately gives depth by pushing House down the ladder and allows flexibility to deal a starter if the right opportunity arises. He pitched hurt most of last year, which explains the drop in velocity, plus he's a swell dude. If you look at his good year/bad year pattern, he's also due for one of his good ones!

Other than that, Morales would be my pick for someone who could help, but I'm not seeing a fit unless they move someone like Swisher.

Personally, I like the job the GM has done, because he's not afraid to make a poor move, but he does make some pretty shrewd moves to improve the team. Don't rip him because they all don't pan out.
November 28, 2014 - 4:07 PM EST
Never knew that 85 wins and 92 wins in 2 years provides such misery for some so called Indian fans. Rumors have it that Masterson might end up back in AL Central.

November 28, 2014 - 3:41 PM EST
Perhaps I do not see the real value of these players but there is some warts to consider. As defenders, Gomes and Morales are lacking. Not sure the offensive potential makes up for that. Denorfia, while much better defensively, may have aged out of being a significant offensive upgrade.

It would be nice to see Masterson back and healthy for one of his good years but he is very inconsistent and we cannot be sure that is the Masterson we would be getting. If not, then he is a bullpen option but hardly better than what we have and much more expensive. Do we really want to put Salazar in the pen for Masterson? Seems like the chance of ZachMac being back and pushing Salazar there are nearly as good and less costly.
November 28, 2014 - 3:28 PM EST
Myself and many others on here have been somewhat against FA. Not all, you can find solid players are reasonable prices but people like Joseph need to chill out.

Trades are where it's at. I understand teams usually don't go by hindsight but think a team like Toronto would rather spend 80 million on a 31 year old catcher, or would they rather have taken a shot on The Yan Gomes instead?
Canadian Joe
November 28, 2014 - 3:23 PM EST
Sorry Hayden, but none of these names are of any interest to me. As I said before, I am tired of platoons. I would sooner see a trade for someone that plays every day in RF. Whether it's Van Slyke or whoever. But set the lineup, and carry role players on the bench. The core of this team is not only very good, but they are also young. If a trade is not feasable, there are enough options on the farm to try in RF. But scrap the platoon. Free agents, on the whole, this year do not interest me. A trade appears the only way to go.
November 28, 2014 - 2:14 PM EST
Or....don't sign mediocre talent, and make a few meaningful trades. I would love to get rid of Murphy in one trade and bring in Cespedes in another. We have the pitching and prospects to make those kinds of deals happen.

But adding Morales or Denorfia won't improve the club. At all. The Indians need to either make additions that are an immediate upgrade, or give guys like Moncrief, Urshela, Ramsey, etc. their shot.

November 28, 2014 - 1:11 PM EST
Do you people do anything BUT complain?? This is a team coming off back to back winning seasons. A team with a true ace and one of the youngest pitching staffs and rosters in all of baseball...and your all up in arms because they won't go sign a "big name"!? Please, enlighten me with just one name who won't demand an insane contract and who will improve this ball club? Keeping in mind the influx of minor league outfield talent this club will receive in the next couple years, as well as our highly regarded SS prospect. No I am not a proponent of sitting back and hoping for all the breaks to go your way, which was the case in 2007, but sometimes you need to stop the whining about the Dolans and just support the play on the field. This is a very very talented young core that is only going to get better. In regards to this article, I can agree that none of these guys are necessarily the big bat or big piece many fans want, but how can you complain about the chance to bargain shop on a guy who could end up having a bounce back year or at least contribute at a big moment. Think Ryan Raburn/Jason Giambi, both under the radar, low risk moves that panned out in 2013. The one guy whom I am fully onboard with is Masterson. They wouldn't be wasting any time on him. We already have a fairly solid 5-man rotation, but if he does bounce back then suddenly one of those guys can be expendable and can help to improve our team. I will wrap this op by saying trust in the process. If Cleveland fans could apply that approach to the Tribe in the way they do the Browns, it would make for a much happier fan base.
November 28, 2014 - 12:59 PM EST
Chris Donofria, with 3 homers and a .230 avg. and Kendrys Morales with 6 homers...that is what they are improve the team? They should instead consider...Getting out of town and putting us Indian fans out of our misery. This owner and GM are a disgrace!
November 28, 2014 - 11:51 AM EST
I can't really see the Indians benefiting from signing Morales. We have made a concerted effort to keep lineup flexibility by removing players who are pure DH's and at this point, that is what I see in Morales. I have zero desire to see Masterson come back. No matter how damaged players are, we convince ourselves we can fix them but wasting time in our crucial April where we play 17 of our first 20 against the central to fix a guy with whack mechanics is dangerous. Also, isn't Denorfia just a 2004 Jason Michaels? I don't really see the benefit in adding a guy who will barely hit his weight. Granted our defense was historically awful, but our offense wasn't great either.

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