Corner of Carnegie and Ontario: An Agressive Tribe...
The Corner of Carnegie and Ontario seems to be a brighter place this fine 12/12/12.
It’s actually pretty funny how simple activity from the Cleveland Indians’ front office can bring such joy to the holiday season. There are four brand new Cleveland Indians this fine morning, and while all four will likely be factors heading into the 2013 season, one in particular just might be something a bit more.
While we’ve been harboring on the phrase “new approach” for the past couple of months, it’s a lot simpler than that.
Chris Antonetti and Terry Francona appear to actually have an approach, and it’s certainly much more aggressive than in Antonetti’s first two seasons as general manager with the Tribe.
Think about this offseason for a moment. The Indians have been exceptionally active since the season ended. Actually, it started the week before the season ended, starting with the firing of Manny Acta. Immediately, Terry Francona’s name surfaced as a candidate for the Indians, and immediately, things changed with regards to the way business was being done here at the Corner of Carnegie and Ontario.
Perhaps Antonetti and Shapiro realized that passivity wasn’t the way to go via trial and error, or perhaps it was more based upon the fact that their backs were to the wall with regards to job security. Whatever you believe, things did change.
I’m sure some will still argue that point, but they’ll fall on deaf ears with regards to this writer at least.
They methodically went about hiring Francona, and were successful. The bonus was that it was an easy hire, as it was clear that Francona was equally focused on becoming the Indians’ next field manager. From that point on, things changed.
What’s come into focus since then is that the friendly trio of Shapiro, Antonetti and Francona put together a process in which the Indians could both remain cost-effective and aggressive at the same time. Many point to Billy Beane and the A’s, as well as some of the other small-to-mid-market teams, as well as the Boston Red Sox, where Francona had an abundance of success working with Theo Epstein.
The Red Sox, at their best, were extremely effective at making small-market moves, while also combining that with big spending. The combination of the two was devastating to other organizations, as the Sox were able to capitalize on big signings like the Yankees, while the day-to-day machinations were more like a money ball situation.
The Red Sox were able to develop an impressive allotment of minor league talent, that, combined with the trading strategies and free agent cash, put them at the top for several years. While that approach will never take place with regards to that big market level in Cleveland, it does appear that the Indians are trying to recreate a similar strategy within the confines of a small market.
The key it seems, is to create options, which the Indians seemed to fail at repeatedly in 2012. This wasn’t an easy thing to accomplish with regards to the Indians, as the only one real area that they had an abundant supply of talent was in their bullpen, as well as the lower levels of their minor league system.
This put Chris Perez at the top of the trade list as he really was the only commodity that had a ready-to-go replacement in the wings. Shin-Soo Choo was a commodity, but only because Scott Boras led him down the path of evil. Asdrubal Cabrera was a commodity, but only because he ONLY had two years left on his contract, and had replacements on their way in two or three years. With all of that said, there really wasn’t much to build with as far as parts go, and minor leaguers.
The Indians really did find themselves behind an eight ball of sorts.
Their first move of note was to acquire utility man/shortstop Mike Aviles. We’ve covered that move extensively here at IPI, and it’s clear now that the plan was to give the Indians options with the move. They gave up Esmil Rogers, a bit player in their strong bullpen, and acquired a player that could legitimately take over in some form or fashion at three positions. No, the Indians weren’t going to trade a Jason Kipnis or a Lonnie Chisenhall, but Cabrera seemed to be a clear option, and I’m not totally convinced that Kipnis and/or Chisenhall wouldn’t have been looked at if the right sort of deal came along. Granted, it had to be something of mammoth proportions, but I think the Indians began thinking outside the box.
Aviles was also a right-handed hitter. Let’s not forget about that.
The Indians then began to focus on finding an outfielder or a first baseman, and their first target was Shane Victorino, and the Indians made the four-year, $44 million dollar offer that was both legitimate, and nearly a winner.
It would have been a mistake, in my opinion, to sign Victorino at that price, so I was happy that the Red Sox offered the three-year, $39 million that Victorino eventually took. With that said, it seemed to be a bit of a statement that the Indians were clearly a legitimate bidder, and not just doing it as a PR move, as many believed.
Once Victorino came off the board at the winter meetings, the Indians moved on two fronts. With Aviles in the fold, they targeted the Arizona Diamondbacks as a potential trade partner. With the Rangers eager to acquire Justin Upton as a preemptive strike in the Josh Hamilton contract talks, the Indians maneuvered a potential three or even four-team deal. Their target was Trevor Bauer or Tyler Skaggs, but Bauer was the likely key player from the start.
The Indians began targeting other outfielders, namely Nick Swisher and Cody Ross. Swisher was of note because he was likely the top outfielder left in the market not named Hamilton, and Ross was another top free agent available. This was a back-burner target for now, as the outfield market seemed to be slogging behind Hamilton
The deal was close to completed more than once, but because of many factors (led by the D’Backs wanting a shortstop they could control for longer than two years), the deal “fell through,” with Arizona even talking to other teams with regards to Bauer.
In past years, the deal would be dead…this one wasn’t…but I’ll get to that in a second.
At the same time, the Indians were aggressively seeking the services of Kevin Youkilis. While nothing happened at the winter meetings, the discussion continued into the early part of the week. Again, the Indians made an aggressive offer, and again, they were one of at least two teams that were involved. The Indians offer was another multi-year deal, at two years and $18 million. The Yankees offered him one-year at $12 million, and the decision seemed to come down to the two teams.
At this stage, it’s unknown what happened. Did Youkilis decide that the Yankees were the lock sign, or did Youkilis drag his feet too long in making a decision? Either way, the Indians didn’t wait.
Mark Reynolds, who was non-tendered by the Baltimore Orioles after struggling at the plate for much of the season, became a secondary first-base target. Again, the Indians, not waiting for Youkilis, made a bold, $6 million dollar bid for the free swinging first baseman. Their one-year, $6 million dollar deal was accepted, and the Indians had their new first baseman. He wasn’t perfect. He wasn’t their first option, but unlike last year, the Cleveland Indians weren’t going to be left with the bottom of the barrel.
Seriously…who would you rather have on your team, Mark Reynolds or Casey Kotchman?
The thinking was that the Indians needed to sign their guy and move on, and while the $6 million may have been overspent on Reynolds, it came in at $3 million less than the Youkilis offer for this year, and it was for a shorter time period as it saved $9 million for next year. The move alone would be folly. The move as a part of a series of moves, was at the very least, acceptable. No, it’s not brilliant, as I heard some say earlier this morning as many were basking in the sun of the Trevor Bauer deal, but it is a sound decision.
With Reynolds in the fold, and while the front office patiently awaited any news with regards to the outfield situation, they weren’t done with the Diamondbacks. The Diamondbacks weren’t interested in Cabrera because of the money and not enough years, but they were interested in Didi Gregorius. Again, it’s unknown whether their interest in the middle-of-the-road prospect for the Reds was based on their scouting system, or based in the fact that the Indians had a potential partner with the Reds.
Whatever the scenario, the Indians never stopped working the phones. Once the Reds were involved, Shin-Soo Choo’s name became the likely candidate. Many had believed that Choo was a possible trade candidate because of the Boras-led charge to not sign an extension, and to get maximum money for his client. The problem was just that. Who would deal anything of significance for a player they would be renting for a year?
Still, the Reds were high on Choo at the July deadline, and that never wavered. With the Rangers out on Upton, the Indians focused on the Reds, and Didi Gregorius was an easy sell to acquire Choo. The Reds and Indians added Drew Stubbs to the equation, as Stubbs had fallen out of favor in Cincinnati because of his lack of bat-to-ball skills. The Indians were clearly looking for a solid defensive centerfielder (Victorino) as an option, since they could move Brantley to left field, and Stubbs fit the bill.
The Reds agreed to move Gregorius to Arizona, and the Indians threw in reliever Tony Sipp and first baseman Lars Anderson (???). The Indians then moved Choo to Cincy with Jason Donald (????), acquiring Drew Stubbs. The real get, though, was Trevor Bauer, who is a top five pitching prospect in all of baseball.
Think about it. The Indians lost one year of service for Choo, lost the middling-to-underperforming Jason Donald, lost the declining Tony Sipp, and lost Lars “Freakin’” Anderson. In return, they received arguably the top pitching prospect in all of baseball, and an outfielder that was once ranked in the top 100, and while not an all-star, was a serviceable starter for the Reds, a playoff team.
The kicker? The Indians are clearly the team that directed this.
The same Cleveland Indians that signed Johnny Damon. The same Cleveland Indians that signed Grady Sizemore. The same Cleveland Indians that traded for Lars Anderson. The same Cleveland Indians that traded for Ubaldo Jimenez. The same Cleveland Indians that didn’t have any tangible strengths past their pen, and their lower minors to deal from.
Bauer had fallen out of favor with Arizona brass because of his unorthodox training methods. According to several sources, the Diamondbacks wanted Bauer to workout during the offseason with their trainers. It’s not a strange request, especially considering how closely teams like to monitor their prospects to keep them from blowing out their arms.
Of course, with pitchers destroying arms daily, you have to wonder if these trainers have any clue what they are doing.
Bauer uses long toss as a major piece to his warm-up and training. He plays long toss right before his starts, which is a no-no in major league circles. His long toss is even unique, in that he throws from foul-pole to foul-pole.
Perhaps his most strange habit is that his last warm-up “pitch” comes after he walks behind the mound, then turns and furiously fires a pitch towards home plate as hard as he can. As a matter of fact, many compared this wild throw to Charlie Sheen’s “Wild Thing” in major league.
Bauer is a smart kid, but he’s also stubborn. It’s what makes him a great pitcher.
Can the Indians harness that? It’s unknown, but the fact that they got him for one-season of Choo is a steal of mammoth proportions.
They also still have Asdrubal Cabrera, who is still on the market, and could net them another top pitching prospect, or more, if the Indians continue to play their cards right.
The Indians have yet to give up a player who would be a starter past 2013.
The Indians are very much in the hunt to acquire Nick Swisher, and may only be up against the Seattle Mariners.
The Indians are very much in the hunt to acquire Cody Ross, and may be the frontrunner to get him.
The Indians are very much in the game.
Are they fixed? Not by a long shot. This is a team that still has flaws, mainly in their starting rotation. Will they win the division? Doubtful as is, but they certainly aren’t finished, and are certainly in a position to get better.
Will things be different for the Indians’ front office? If you are honest with yourself, it’s way too early to definitively make that statement, but the early returns seem to point in a favorable direction.
Or…make this team better.
The new approach? Be Aggressive…it really is that simple.
Jim is currently the senior editor and Columnist, as well as the host of IBI's weekly online radio shows, Smoke Signals and Cleveland Sports Insiders. You can follow Jim on Twitter @Jim_IBI, or contact him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As for the outfield, the Indians are going to get a right fielder to replace Choo. So I'm not worried about it that bad. Nothing could top that combo last year.;-)
An old-fashioned trade. Now you just have to see what happens.
I love it.
Thought it was you. Sorry !!! Didn't read the rest. Assumed the worst. Glad you are staying needless to say.
In fairness, will miss Sipp too. Gave us some good years.
Say it ain't so To (ny) !!!!