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Hot Stove starting to heat up for Indians

Hot Stove starting to heat up for Indians
Brandon Moss (Photo: AP)
December 4, 2014
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It’s been a very quiet offseason for the Indians so far which is not surprising considering the reality of their financial restrictions.

The good news is their most notable free agent is 43-year old Jason Giambi, so they are returning a talented core of players.  Aside from Giambi, they can bring back the entire team that finished last season and played much better the last month or so of the season.

The question facing the Indians is how they jump from 85 wins to 90 or more? There have been some moves made by other teams I felt might help the Indians, and there are some rumored moves that could also help get them over the hump.

First off, I really thought they missed out big time on the opportunity to acquire former A’s third baseman Josh Donaldson.  Donaldson, a prolific right-handed power hitter, was an MVP candidate in 2014 and arguably the best third baseman in all of baseball.  He it .278 with 29 home runs, 98 RBI and a sterling 6.4 WAR.

Instead, Donaldson was shipped to the Toronto Blue Jays for a package including 23-year old up and coming third baseman Brett Lawrie.  The move was very puzzling considering Donaldson was under contract for the next four years.  He was a late bloomer and has yet to reach the Major League service time required to go to arbitration.  Fox Sports national writer Ken Rosenthal surmised that Donaldson would earn at least $40 million the next three years in arbitration raises.  Deadspin is now reporting that Donaldson had heated arguments with general manager Billy Beane over off days.

Moving on from Donaldson, CBS Sports reporter Jon Heyman recently tweeted that the Indians are one of several teams who are taking a look at free agent slugger Kendrys Morales.  At age 31 Morales is coming off a dismal season where he hit .218 with 8 home runs and 42 RBI in only 98 games.

Morales is an interesting bounce back candidate because he has an impressive career .784 OPS.  The prior two full seasons Morales played in he put up some solid statistics.  In 2012 with the Angels he hit .273 with 22 home runs and 73 RBI, and in 2013 with the Mariners he hit .277 with 23 home runs and 80 RBI.

There is little doubt Morales can hit but is he a fit in Cleveland?  In Heyman’s yearly free agent salary projections, he estimates Morales receiving a two-year $18 million deal.  This is an affordable contract for the Tribe but I don’t see them seriously pursuing Morales because of his lack of positional versatility.  At this point in his career Morales is seen as a designated hitter who can play a little first base.  Whether fans like it or not Nick Swisher is going to receive the bulk of playing time as the Indians designated hitter next year.  Swisher has a lot to prove coming off two knee surgeries and poor 2014 campaign, but the Indians also would be wise to not count on him making a significant contribution in 2015.

A surprising move that caught my attention was the Atlanta Braves non-tendering starting pitcher Kris Medlen. The 27-year old Medlen was a 15-game winner in 2013 and has playoff experience. In 2012 he finished with a terrific 1.97 ERA in 138 innings pitched and won 10 games.  In 2013 he compiled a 3.11 ERA in 197 innings pitched and won 15 games. He is a control pitcher whose career 2.1 BB/9 really stands out while his 7.6 K/9 is also impressive.

The problem with Medlen is that he is coming off his second Tommy John surgery.  Much like the Shaun Marcumsigning of last year, Medlen could be the perfect type of reclamation project for the Indians. The Tribe could buy low on Medlen and reap big rewards even if it doesn’t happen in the 2015 season. Medlen in his second season of arbitration was paid $5.8 million but could settle for a smaller incentive laden contract coming off surgery – and may even have to take a minor league non-guaranteed deal.

Finally, on Wednesday multiple outlets reported that the Indians are interested in acquiring Oakland first baseman/outfielder Brandon Moss.  Tribe beat writer Jordan Bastian confirmed the club’s interest.  Moss has big time power as he has hit over 20 home runs in each of the past three seasons. I think he would be an excellent fit in Cleveland slotting nicely behind Carlos Santana in the batting order.  His career .786 OPS is very similar to that of Morales, but Moss is only 29-years old and is versatile enough to play multiple positions – though not necessarily play them well.

In 2013 Moss hit .256 with 30 home runs and 87 RBI. In 2014 he hit .234 with 25 home runs and 81 RBI. As a first time arbitration eligible player in 2014 he made $4.1 million and he is due for a salary increase this offseason as a second year arbitration eligible player. Projections have him getting about $7 million this season. The good news is for the power and production he provides, he would be a nice pickup as he would be under control through the 2016 season and cost about $16-18 million over those two seasons.

I’m glad to see the Indians are finally looking to add a middle of the order power bat.  A potential Moss deal could lead to David Murphy being moved in a separate trade in order to stay around the $80-85 million budget.  While a longshot, it may also trigger a Nick Swisher trade. The Athletics are said to be seeking young middle infield depth which thankfully the Indians farm system is loaded in.  I’m sure Oakland would ask for Jose Ramirez or Erik Gonzalez, but I wonder what else it would take?

While the Indians have yet to really do much of anything this offseason, things are starting to heat up on the hot stove so stay tuned Tribe fans. With the Winter Meetings kicking off Sunday night, it could make for a lot more activity and maybe even a move or two by this time next week.

User Comments

Head Check
December 4, 2014 - 4:47 PM EST
I think I am a Pass on Moss.. I say that thinking it would cost to much trade-wise to acquire him. I could still rather easily jump on board if it wasn't something I'd think was too steep. Personally if J-Ram was at the center of this trade for CLE I think I am a pass.

Moss seems more likely to continue to collapse then rebound IMO. Swisher 2,0. Don't settle for Moss because we missed out on Donaldson... Just move on.
GSon
December 4, 2014 - 2:37 PM EST
Moss should only be considered if he's coming with a player that can and will help the club. Moss is not the answer for a RHH slugger who can play RF.. Moss is a slightly more power coming off injury David Murphy with poorer defense and a higher price tag.. PASS..

Chase Headley is alleged to have a 4 year $ 65 MM deal on the table..another PASS.. Free Agents from this offseason in general should ALL BE PASS..

Trades are the only way this club will be able to improve for this year.. A trade that nets a Competitive Balance Lottery selection.. a trade that brings in ML ready prospects.. not a 30 + year olds coming off surgery to prevent a completely debilitating performance..

Just four days until the Winter Meetings start.. hopefully they yield the guy the Indians need..

Thoughts?...
Mark
December 4, 2014 - 12:47 PM EST
Shy, that is the perfect guy to put behind high on base guys in Brantley and Santana. The number of fastballs he would get would be higher, those, hopefully, reducing the swing and miss issues.
shy
December 4, 2014 - 12:42 PM EST
Moss was a long time minor leaguer who got hot w the A's and had a couple really good power years. I watched him quite a bit last year in Oakland and he had a scary bad slump- like 3 for 52 when the A's were collapsing. He's a big swinger, a free swinger, ala Mark Reynolds or Nick Swisher, he is subject to protracted funks and he is not going to impress anyone w defense either at first or in the OF. I think he needs to be in a lineup where he is protected and sees good pitches to hit, which he wasn't second half in Oakland. I just don't think you can have him and Swisher in the same lineup. Morales is a better all around hitters, but still just a DH/PH. He had a really badly broken leg 3 yrs ago and he still favors it.
Graydon
December 4, 2014 - 12:12 PM EST
Oh you're right. Thanks for catching that! My mistake.
Gavin
December 4, 2014 - 11:31 AM EST
Moss is 31, not 29.

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