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Corner of Carnegie & Ontario: Free agency in a tough market

Corner of Carnegie & Ontario: Free agency in a tough market
December 5, 2012
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How is it that the Corner of Carnegie and Ontario can both feel familiar and strange at the same time?

Okay, I admit that some of that has to do with the fact that I took the day off last week to take care of some family business (a special thanks goes out to our very own Steve Orbanek, who hit a home run in my absence), but most of it has to do with the way that the Indians appear to be handling their business in Nashville at baseball’s winter meetings.

There is a whole lot of familiar, as the Indians have found themselves striking out on all forms of trades and free agents during the first two days of the meetings.

There is a whole lot strange, as the Indians have been mentioned as being in contention with several free agents, and even out-year-ing the Boston Red Sox in a quest to sign Shane Victorino. Sure, they were out bid by two million a year, but the Indians put $44 million on the table, and likely would have signed him had baseball had any sense of market fairness with regards to salary and caps.

There is a whole lot familiar, as the Indians are keeping their plans close to the vest, and not sharing their thoughts about who they are going to go after, what kind of money they are going to offer, and whether or not they are going to sign free agents, trade, or both.

There is a whole lot strange, as the Indians have found themselves in the midst of a “Loch Ness Monster-like” photo mystery. Tony Lastoria reported earlier today that Chris Antonetti and Terry Francona were spotted in the Arizona Diamondback’s war room. There was much scrutinizing over the photo, with some folk even stating that the pair sitting in the back of the room WEREN’T Antonetti or Francona. There was even a tweet that said they were ‘imposters.’ You know, Arizona wanted to throw the Indians off, or some other team, by hiring GM and manager impersonators, found at any corner “imposter” store.

Regardless of the familiarity, strangeness, or anything in between, there is a certain amount of entertainment involved during the winter meetings that you really don’t find at many other times throughout the year. Players sign way over slot. Some players are forgotten about, and turn up in February signing for crumbs compared to what they thought. Some players sign deals while still injured and never play (sorry, couldn’t help myself). Some players use the Indians to up the ante with other teams (sorry, couldn’t help myself). Some players never sign, and disappear.

Whatever the case, the Indians are in play. They may strike out, or they may hit a home run. They may do something in between. Right now, what’s important is that they are still in the game. Whether they win the game remains to be seen.

The Cleveland Indians are beginning to shape the direction of this team going forward, and it appears to be a complicated proposition. There has been a lot of talk about the change in culture, and it’s pretty clear that the Indians are in the mix for not only several free agents, but also seem to be a major cog on the trade front as well.

The biggest obstacle facing the Indians going forward is a skewed market that won’t be playing into their hands at all with regards to free agency. Take, for example, Shane Victorino, who the Indians clearly had targeted as one of their priorities heading into this offseason. Antonetti went all out to get him, and offered a four-year deal to the tune of $44 million dollars. That fee alone is a no-brainer for Victorino without a big-market team in play. Of course, the minute you add a team like Boston, who can overspend and offer quick-fixes, the market swells above the Indians.

It does leave you wondering if there truly is a free agent that the Indians will be able to acquire this early in the hot stove season, when the signings are at a premium. Guys are signing above market value, and while I do think the Indians are willing to spend some cash to get someone they want, I don’t think they are going to be upping the ante all that much for anyone out there. It’s easy to forget that we are really only in the early stages of the Indians offseason, and while I think that the Indians will make a move here in the next two days, I wouldn’t be surprised if they didn’t.

That’s not a failure.

I know many reading this won’t agree with that last statement, but it’s 100% true. The Indians won’t be failures if they fail to sign a free agent during these meetings. There has been market issues with the Indians for years now, and this Victorino offer should be the start of a more aggressive front office. It may take some time for the league to settle into a scenario in which the Indians are taken seriously, but it has to start somewhere, and the Victorino offer just may be the point in which we all look back and say, “That’s where it all started to change.”

With that said, the Indians will need to sign a substantial free agent by the end of this offseason. When I say substantial, I’m not talking about a top five or ten sort, but I am talking about a player that can have some impact on this team in an area of need. In other words, not a guy like Aaron “Freakin’” Cunningham or Johnny Damon or that guy they signed for first base last year that I quite honestly can’t remember right now (I actually can, but am sick of mentioning him now that he’s gone). Who will that player be? That remains to be seen, but there are plenty of guys, including someone in the top ten of free agency, that the Indians will be in play for. It may take longer than the next two days, but hang in there, because the Indians WILL sign a free agent that is worthwhile.

It’s just a matter of time…which just happens to be the last word that a Cleveland Indians’ fan wants to hear.

The Cleveland Indians are heading into Day Three (Wednesday, December 5th) of the winter meetings with some clear targets with regards to both Free Agency and on the trade front. While I think that it’s distinctly possible that the Indians don’t sign anyone via free agency, I do think there’s a high probability that there will be a trade in the works. The growing belief is that Asdrubal Cabrera is likely to be heading out of town in a trade that could bring in a major pitching prospect.

It nearly already happened.

Chris Antonetti was ready to make a move with Cabrera heading out of town for a package of a major league starting picture and two top-level prospects. The deal either fell through or was put on hold when Antonetti, and presumably Terry Francona, held out for a fourth player. It’s possible that this story is rumor and innuendo, but I sincerely doubt it. Asdrubal Cabrera seems to be the top shortstop out there, and if the Indians market him appropriately, they can get a big-time haul for him.

They are actually handling this in the right sort of way. They came into the meetings without a major need to deal him, and in doing so, should be able to hold out for the right price. If they don’t get it, they shouldn’t deal him…it really is that simple. They will get their price, if they wait for it.

I still believe that the major player here are the Arizona Diamondbacks, and I really don’t believe that they were the team that made the initial offer for Cabrera. Antonetti and Francona were seen hanging out in the Diamondback’s war room during Tuesday’s MLB Network coverage of the meetings, and I really believe that they may be trying to force their hand to get the players they want. The going rumor is that the Indians are looking to get one of the Diamondback’s top pitching prospects: Trevor Bauer or Tyler Skaggs. While it looks like Skaggs is the central player in the early talks, Bauer is the higher ranked player.

I think it’s distinctly possible that the Indians are making a play for both top prospects.

Bauer is the #5 rated prospect in all of baseball according to, and for good reason. The soon-to-be 22-year-old righty steamrolled through the minors, and in 2012 was an impressive 12-2 with a 2.42 ERA in Double and Triple A. He made his first major league appearances in June, but was sent back down after struggling to a 6.06 ERA. He’s a smallish 6’1”, 185 pounds, but is often compared to Tim Lincecum.

Skaggs may actually be more desirable, even though some have him rated below Bauer. He’s a 21-year-old lefty who went 9-6, with a 2.87 ERA in Double and Triple A, and went 1-3 with a 5.83 ERA after getting called up in August. Skaggs has one of those curveballs that some only dream about, and it’s his best pitch. He can hit 93 with his fastball, and he’s still growing, so that could improve. He also has a plus changeup.

Either would be outstanding. Both would be the steal of the century, but it would take more than Cabrera. There were rumors that this was a potential multi-team trade, which is why I think the Indians would have a shot at both players. Ironically enough, I think the same deal would move Justin Upton to another team, and bring with it not only Cabrera for the Rays, but a slew of prospects for their five-tool outfielder. I’d love to see the Indians think outside the box, and perhaps add pieces to the deal, such as a player like Lonnie Chisenhall and Danny Salazar to make a move at a big get, but they’d likely still not have enough to get the big haul.

So who are the big free agent targets (in order of importance to me):

  • Nick Swisher-OF/1B/DH: Swisher is a top five or ten free agent, and will cost the Indians a rather substantial amount of coin. How much exactly? Angel Pagan signed a four-year, $40 million deal with the Giants. Shane Victorino signed a three-year, $39 million dollar deal with the Red Sox. Swisher is better than both of them, and it’s possible that he’s looking to sign a substantial five-year deal in the $85 million range, similar to the Andre Ethier deal. Clearly, the Indians wouldn’t be in play for that, but if they could throw a four-year deal together and get him, I’m all for it. I just don’t think he’s in the range. How perfect would the former Ohio State, and Ohio-bred player be though? He plays all the positions the Indians need, and plays them well. He also bring a legitimate stick. Here’s the thing though: his bargain price just might be four-years and $60 million, and I just don’t see the Indians even going there.
  • Edwin Jackson-SP: So, the Nationals signed Dan Haren to a one-year deal, to the tune of $13 million. It’s a striking similar deal to the one that Jackson signed with the Nationals last season, so it’s clear that Jackson wants a multi-year deal. What will get it done? If the Indians were to offer him a market-value, three-year contract, I think he’d be in play. Of course, there are going to be teams, such as Toronto, who will pay him more than that, or offer him more years. I would love to see this fireballer join the Tribe, but I don’t see the Indians offering him the kind of jack that it will take.
  • Adam LaRoche-1B: A name not being talked about much is Nationals first baseman, Adam LaRoche. It was believed that the Boston Red Sox were in the lead for his services, with the Nationals and Rays close behind. It’s believed that the Red Sox are out of the running after signing Napoli, and the Rays just signed James Loney. I really think LaRoche could be in play. The major issue with LaRoche is that he’s a left-handed hitting first baseman…but perhaps you can overlook that a bit because he can hit. Still, I’d be hard-pressed to sign a guy to a three-year deal at $35-$40 million, who hits left-handed pitching. That said, I wouldn’t be upset at all if LaRoche was signed. Of course, I’d be hammering the Indians’ left-handedness the very next day.
  • Cody Ross—OF/DH: He’s a good player, and he’s right-handed, and he’s just the type of outfielder that could be signed to a manageable deal if everything falls the right way. Of course, you never can tell if it will. Ross is likely a .265 guy, with 15 or so home runs, but again, he’s a right-handed hitter, and for the right price, would improve the team. The big question is money, and I’d have to believe he’d be in the market for a one or two-year deal in the $5-7 million range. I wouldn’t be against that, depending on what else they would do in the market. Signing a guy like Ross might open the possibility to sign another guy to a deal.
  • Ryan Ludwick—OF: There was a lot of talk about Josh Willingham last year, but Ryan Ludwick wasn’t far behind him in many categories offensively. The difference between Ludwick and Willingham, though, is that Willingham has done it for several years, while Ludwick’s 26-homer season is really his first decent season since his 37-homer barrage in 2008. Still, I really believe that Ludwick could be had for a one or two-year deal at about 3 ½ million a year. If the Indians were really wanting to make a splash, they could go out and get Nick Swisher AND Ryan Ludwick, then start dealing away their serviceable, tradable players for close or ready-made major leaguers, and really make noise. Ludwick is a guy that you look at as a complementary steal. He would be a risk though.
  • Kevin Youkilis—3B, 1B, DH: At the end of the day, I actually think I like Ludwick better than Youkilis, as I really feel that Youkilis is a complementary guy at best right now. The ONLY  way I sign Youk is if it’s a one-year deal in the $5 million neighborhood, but I just don’t see that happening. He would be a massive fit, five years ago. Unfortunately, I don’t see the value here that others do. He’s declining, and not a bargain.

There are some other players in the mix that I would definitely be interested in, as most of them past these players would be pitchers. I would love to see a guy like Joe Blanton come to Cleveland. He isn’t perfect, but I do think he would be a 200 inning guy that can eat innings, and be consistent for the Tribe. Of course, I’m not sure I’d pay him the eight or nine million that I think he would request.

Nelson Liriano is a guy that I would be interested in if it were a one-year deal in the five-million dollar range. I mention Blanton with Liriano simply because they share an agent. I would love to see these two guys come to Cleveland. It wouldn’t be a major splash, but the potential with a Blanton and LIriano add would be outstanding. Of course, with the Indians luck, it would blow up in their face.

I have to say that the rumors of a possible trade of Vinnie Pestano to the New York Mets is absolutely ridiculous. It really does make me laugh when I see some of these idiotic reporters from other teams throw up things that everyone in Cleveland knows to be utter idiocy. Vinnie Pestano won’t be traded, unless the Indians get something ludicrous in return, and I’m not talking the rapper. I’m not saying the Pestano is untouchable, but he’s close. The Indians would have to get either an absolute lock prospect in return, or an above average major league player that will fill either a starter role or a regular position of need. I don’t see either happening, so the Mets reporters that are quipping off about these need to recheck their sources.

There’s been a bunch of Justin Upton talk going forward, and the Indians do seem to be somewhat in the mix for the outfielder. I know there are a lot of folks out there that aren’t Upton fans, but he would be an absolute outstanding get, depending on the price-tag. The Rangers are reportedly interested in Upton, and I think they would be involved in a multi-team trade if the Indians went after some D’Back prospects. The Indians would likely send Cabrera to the D’Backs, with the Rangers sending a package of prospects to Arizona. Cleveland would likely get a package of prospects in return from Arizona. There could be a fourth team involved, if it happens.

My point here is that I just don’t see Upton going to Cleveland in any way, shape or form.

Ubaldo Jimenez just might get traded? As much as I would like to lead you down a path of disbelief, this rumor seems to have a bit of teeth to it. The Padres are looking for an innings eater, and that’s just what Jimenez has become. The problem here is that the Indians need starting pitching in return, and I just don’t see anything that enticing from the Pads. I think the Indians would do it in a heartbeat for Chase Headley, but that ain’t gonna happen. The Pads will likely offer Jesus Guzman, but I just don’t see the interest there. He crushes left-handed pitching, but is strictly a platoon player. Of course, I think I’d take Jesus Guzman’s glove for Ubaldo at this point.

Seriously though, who would you take for Ubaldo at this point? Would you take a guy like Jesus Guzman, just to get rid of him? Surely, Ubaldo has more value than that, especially on a team with no starters...right? It's funny. I really can't stand watching Jimenez pitch, but the though of trading away a club friendly contract for an innings eater doesn't seem to be the right thing to do.

It's officially time to look at Jimenez as a #5ish starter who makes less than $6 million, and can pitch 200 innings. Thou will be done (but I'd still take Guzman's glove, and I'm not talking his defensive ability. I'm talking his actual glove).

In a related move, Alex White was dealt to the Houston Astros. That actually makes the deal start to feel a bit better. Of course, now that I say that, White will win 20 for the Astros, who will now be better than the Indians.

Another former Indians' player, Marco Scutaro, signed with the Giants with a three-year, $20 million dollar deal. Am I the only one that thinks that's way too much for Scutaro at this stage of his career? What I do like about it is that another middle infielder is gone, which continues to make Asdrubal Cabrera all the more valuable. Game on Antonetti.

The Indians likely have more on the trade block than meets the eye. While I don’t necessarily see a guy like Lonnie Chisenhall being on the block, I could see the Indians including him in on a trade if it warrants it. Of course, with Jack Hannahan gone, it’s less likely, but Mike Aviles can play some third base. My point here isn’t to push a trade for Chiz, but to make sure that all avenues are open for discussion. I’m pretty sure that’s the case.

At the end of the day folks, the Indians are in the market to revamp this team. I know a lot of folks are in the market to give up on this team already, but I’m just not there yet. I won’t be there on Thursday, if they haven’t made a move yet either. I’m interested to see if this front office, pushed and prodded by Terry Francona, can make the culture-shock that they intend. I think they can, and that $44 million speaks volumes to me. The Indians have some money to spend, and they are willing to spend it. The key will be to not only make a splash, but then to follow it up with another one.

The face of this franchise could be changing…one deal at a time…

Don’t forget to tune into Cleveland Sports Insiders podcast tonight at 11:00 for a look at today’s action at the winter meetings, and a preview of tomorrow’s Rule V draft. Feel free to click on our link to last night’s podcast, when IPI’s co-editor Steve Orbanek and I discussed the ins and outs of the first two days of the meetings.


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

User Comments

December 5, 2012 - 11:26 AM EST
I am relieved the Indians have not bit at the likes of Cody Ross, Ryan Ludwick and Victorino, they're not right for the Indians. I am liking the idea of Skaggs and or Bauer. Bauer has swing and miss stuff- at any level IMO- and the heart of a champ. Skaggs has a Zito in his prime curve and a low 90's fb w late movement. Those are his only 2 working pitches, he's going to have to learn a split or 2 seamer IMO to make it in the bigs, but he's only 21 and he should be able to do that.. A young impact lefty would certainly make people tend to forget the Pomeranz for Ubaldo trade, a fact which Antonetti is probably aware of; then again, who knows what he thinks about when he's sitting on the toilet. My people here tell me the Giants are still interested in Chris Perez but they are not going to give up Heath Hembree to get him. They may end up resigning Brian Wilson. I also have heard the Dodgers are interested in Cord Phelps and Shin Soo Choo, but nothing on the table yet. Buenas dias amigos.
matt underwood
December 5, 2012 - 10:34 AM EST
Awesome, in depth write up - thanks!

Id trade Pestano too as a sell high value. This team won 68 games last year and I do not see any help on the horizon. Thats a long way to go to compete with the White Sox and Tigers of the world. Why does a 60 win team need a closer let alone a set up man?

Looks like we are going to try and "contend" and rebuild on the fly. Can't wait for this huge embarrassing failure. I have zero faith in this front office to do the right thing,
December 5, 2012 - 9:51 AM EST
I would take Youkilis over Ludwick. Ludwick has been mostly horrible with one okay year, while Youkilis has been good outside of a half year with Boston. If he performs like he did in Chicago, he is worth it.

I don't know that it's possible for someone to sign "above market" ... That was the market for Pagan and Victorino. Pagan's is not that crazy, really just one extra year, I would'be thought both he and Victorino would be more in line for 3 years $30. Victorino is only a year removed from being really good, the problem with it would be more risk/reward...Ross is not as established, but was better with the bat than Victorino last year, so why pay Victorino when you can sign Ross for significantly less and potentially get the same production and have additional resources to make other moves. I would think the numbers thrown out for Ross are reasonable, he has been a solid 2 WAR player so even 3/$27 would seem reasonable.
December 5, 2012 - 9:44 AM EST
Interesting that I haven't heard Chris Perez's name once. Especially considering some of the mediocre relievers being moved and signing. I love Vinny, but think he is a sell high candidate right now for the right package. The one thing the Indians seem to do right these days is develop bullpen arms. I think the Indians could get a lot of value packaging Perez and Vinny together as a "bullpen-in-a-box". Teams should drool at the idea of instantly having a shutdown 8-9 inning.

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