IBI Power Poll: The biggest move of the Indians' offseason
The Cleveland Indians lost their way. In the month of August of 2012, the Indians went from a middling-to-potential contender to the laughingstock of baseball. Manny Acta seemed like a Captain that was about to walk the plank. Chris Antonetti was hanging on by a thread, and so seemed Mark Shapiro. The Dolans had lost the respect of the fans years ago, first because they weren’t the Jacobs, and then because the teams that they fielded weren’t very good.
The Indians were a black hole.
Of course, the Tribe hasn’t played an inning of regular season baseball. They could be terrible. They could lose 100 games. They could be the laughingstock of the majors.
I somehow doubt it though.
The Indians had perhaps their most active offseason. They brought in one of the top two or three managers in all of baseball. They signed two of the top three or four free agent outfielders. They signed pitchers and infielders to help solidify a weak line-up. They traded for a top prospect and an outfielder that could fill in their 2012 holes.
They nearly did everything they possibly could to not only be competitive, but to challenge for a playoff spot.
While it’s hard to quantify one solitary move as being the best, that’s what we’re going to try and do with today’s IBI Power Poll. For once, I’m going to keep my meddling hands out of this. I’m not going to rank them, but I am going to list the moves that I felt deserved to be mentioned. They won’t all make the poll, but it should give you all and idea of just how many moves this team made in 2013.
Here they are:
Cleveland hires Terry Francona—October 6, 2012
The Indians needed a change. Many thought that the change needed to be a clean sweep in the front office. Some thought that it was an ownership change. Chris Antonetti responded by reaching out to good friend and former manager of the World Series x2 Champions Boston Red Sox to see if he was interested in managing again…or perhaps Terry Francona reached out to the Cleveland Indians to return to a situation where he could manage a baseball team without the meddling of an ownership group that was interested in making moves based on how they looked. Regardless of how or why it happened, signing Terry Francona, arguably the best manager in the game of baseball, seems to be transcendental. Well, I suppose it’s as transcendental as it can be without a regular season game having been played yet.
The Cleveland Indians select Blake Wood off waivers from Kansas City—November 2, 2012
Nobody is going to pick this, but it needs to be mentioned simply because Wood is the first official player brought on board under the Francona/Antonetti regime. Wood’s not going to play much this year, at least in the first half, but he could become an interesting pitcher to this team come July. Wood is coming off of Tommy John surgery, but could provide the Indians a fireballing righty for a potential stretch run. He had a mid-90’s fastball and a nice slider prior to the surgery. It will be interesting to see what he has after the surgery.
Traded relief pitcher Esmil Rogers to the Toronto Blue Jays for infielder Mike Aviles and utility player Yan Gomes—November 3, 2012
This may have been a minor trade, but it was the first official trade of the Francona/Antonetti era, and it could prove to be a big one. When the deal was first made, the speculation was that Aviles would make Asdrubal Cabreraexpendable. While we all know that Cabrera is still with the team, I have no doubt that the Indians acquired Aviles to give them flexibility. Rogers was a commodity that the Indians smartly sold high on. Aviles now gives the Indians a player that can spell Jason Kipnis, Cabrera or Lonnie Chisenhall. Gomes is a bit of a wild card, and if he pans out, could become the back-up catcher and add an uber-utility piece to the Indians puzzle. He can play first, third and outfield in a pinch.
Released Aaron “Freakin’” Cunningham—November 3, 2012
Traded Lars Anderson and Tony Sipp to the Arizona Diamondbacks for Matt Albers, Trevor Bauer and Bryan Shaw, and Shin-Soo Choo, Jason Donald and cash to the Cincinnati Reds for Drew Stubbs. The Reds then dealt Didi Gregorius to the Diamondbacks—December 11, 2012
Where do I start with this one? The Diamondbacks were looking for a shortstop, and the Indians likely acquired Mike Aviles to make ACab available in a deal to acquire some of the Diamondbacks young pitching prospects. It seems that the DBacks weren’t interested in Cabrera, which seemed to kill the deal. Chris Antonetti and Terry Francona didn’t stop pursuing a deal. The Diamondbacks noted that they were interested in Didi Gregorius, a relatively obscure prospect in the Cincinnati organization. Cincinnati, in turn, was interested in Shin-Soo Choo, who they had tried to acquire at last season’s trade deadline. Their persistence paid off. The Indians didn’t lose much of anything in the deal. Lars Anderson was a twist in the guy of Indians fans at the end of the 2012 trade deadline. Tony Sipp was a solid lefty reliever for the Indians, but seemed to be on the downside of his Tribe career. Shin-Soo Choo was going bye-bye at the end of 2013, and Jason Donald had several failed experiments at the big league level.
Matt Albers and Bryan Shaw give the Indians veteran depth in the bullpen to start the season off, and provide the team with support should a deal materialize for a much more well-known commodity in the pen. Trevor Bauer gives the Indians a top ten MLB pitcher which helps erase the memory of the Ubaldo Jimenez deal. Who am I kidding? Bauer has more potential than both Alex White and Drew Pomeranz. His acquisition was a coup. Drew Stubbs immediately filled an outfield hole by moving Brantley to left field. Of course, there was a new hole in right.
This deal showed something the Indians front office hadn’t shown in a long, long time: creativity, persistence and a game plan.
The Cleveland Indians sign Mark Reynolds to a free agent contract—December 18, 2012
Reynolds was brought on board to play first base and DH at times. He was signed after Kevin Youkilis took a whole bunch more than the six million it took to sign Reynolds to play in the Bronx. Reynolds isn’t a game breaker, and he strikes out a ton. Still, he has 40-homer potential, and now finds himself as the primary DH. Now he can focus on offense only, and still provide the Indians with an option at first and even third in a pinch.
The Cleveland Indians sign Scott Kazmir as a free agent—December 21, 2012
Kazmir was a no-risk option when the Indians signed him, but used to be one of the best lefties in the game. After missing two seasons, he’s back and so is the velocity. In his first outing of the spring, he gave up only one-hit in two innings of work, while striking out one. Terry Francona’s description of his play so far is perhaps the best indicator of how far he’s come: “He’s looked so good it’s scary,” Francona lauded. He could be the steal of the winter.
The Cleveland Indians sign Nick Swisher as a free agent—January 3, 2013
The Trevor Bauer trade was a big deal, but this one may have been the one that broke down the walls. Swisher was a top three or four free agent outfielder, and as a former Ohio boy and Ohio State grad, it was a big get for the Indians. Swisher came to visit, and the Indians went all out to make him feel like home. Once the money was worked out, the Indians had their new “right fielder.” He’s since become their new “first baseman,” but I’ll get into that in a second. The Indians paid him a four-year, $56 million dollar deal, with a vesting option for a fifth year. They opened their wallets for their “one” big free agent.
The Cleveland Indians sign Brett Myers as a free agent—January 4, 2013
This certainly wouldn’t be described as a move as big as the Swisher signing, but it did show that the Indians were continuing to be proactive in improving this team, and that they had some clout with free agents. Myers isn’t the best free agent pitcher, but he does provide the Indians with a middle of the rotation arm that may extend the rotation a bit. He’s a gamble, but perhaps that’s the point. The Indians clearly were blowing the door open on the theory that they weren’t going to change their risk-averse policy.
The Cleveland Indians sign Ryan Raburn as a free agent—January 19, 2013
It was believe that Raburn was picked up from the Tigers as a free agent to provide Brantley, Swisher and Stubbs some opportunity to rest. Of course, things have changed since then, but Raburn has exploded in the first two games of the offseason. He still has to make this team, but what a start.
The Cleveland Indians sign Matt Capps as a free agent—January 31, 2013
You know, I like this signing. It’s probably not a super big deal, but I like it. Capps would have been a BIG move last year. This year it’s a footnote.
The Cleveland Indians sign Rich Hill as a free agent—February 7, 2013
I like the Hill signing even better than the Capps deal. Hill has had some history as a good player, and had some history with Terry Francona in Boston. It’s another signing that would have been a “big” deal in 2012, but was a footnote in 2013.
Okay, understand that when I say “big deal,” I’m being sarcastic. I likely didn’t have to say that, but I’m just trying to cover my bases.
The Cleveland Indians sign Jason Giambi as a free agent—February 9, 2013
The Giambi signing got slammed…for about two minutes. Things started moving really quickly after this one…
The Cleveland Indians sign Daisuke Matsuzaka as a free agent—February 13, 2013
The Dice-K signing was rumored for weeks, and it finally came to fruition on as pitchers and catchers reported to spring training. Like the last three or four signing prior to Dice-K, he’s a low-risk, high-reward signing that would have provided the Indians the substance of their 2012 deals, but were bit parts in this offseason. He’s another Francona guy that could provide the Indians with some depth.
The Cleveland Indians sign Michael Bourn as a free agent—February 15, 2013
To me, this is the deal that really showcases what this offseason really was. The Indians used the system to sign Swisher and Bourn. Most teams shied away from both since they’d cost their teams first round picks and the money that goes with them. The Indians were exempt since they hold a top five pick, so they only lost their second rounder (and $$$) and their sandwich pick.
Bourn also provided the Indians with an incredible amount of offensive and defensive flexibility. Bourn immediately became the starting centerfielder, moving Stubbs to right field and Brantley to left. Nick Swisher became the first baseman, while Mark Reynolds became the DH. With Raburn added to the mix, the Indians have a massive amount of flexibility. Swisher can spell Stubbs in right, while Raburn can spell all three outfield positions. Swisher can DH, while Carlos Santana can find time at DH and first as well. Mike Aviles can spell second, short and third, while Reynolds can play third as well as first. Kipnis and Cabrera could also find some time at the DH slot.
Bourn was the game-changer. The other moves made the Indians interesting. Bourn made the Indians a contender offensively.
Which move was the most important to you during this offseason? Of course, it is a bit premature to look at this so early, with all of four spring training games having been played so far. I just felt it would be interesting to vote now, and then again at the end of the season...to see if things change.
Now it’s time for you to voice your opinion:
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.
Shin Shoo Choo was a good player but was as good as gone. He was another example of why the Tribe seemed so "lost" one if not their best player was going to be gone in a year creating a huge hole in the outfield.
The Indians got creative and were able to flip him for not only top pitching prospect Trevor Bauer but also former top draft pick Drew Stubbs and Matt Albers, Bryan Shaw.
Its obvious what Bauer brings to the table and how much we need him but getting Stubbs could be a major steal. He is a Gold Golve in RF when Choo was one of the worst. He has the potential to match Choo in most catagories except for OBP. He is signed for the next 3 years. So, the Indians were able to replace Choo AND get a top pitching prospect they needed so badly. It also allowed them to no longer have to shop Asdrubal. Which greatly improves the teams chances of being a factor in 2013 since Asdrubal is one of the teams best players. With Aviles on board I think he will have a career putting up numbers like 2011 instead of 2012.
The move also opened the door to sign Nick Swisher. Giving the tribe a leader and a "face" for the franchise. All of a sudden our outfield was set for the next 3 years (or so we thought).
Removing Choo from the outfield and replacing him with a GG will be a huge boon for our pitching staff. It also gives the Indians more speed and helps balance the lineup out better VS left handed pitchers. Drew Stubbs bats R and Nick Swisher S compared to Choo who batted only L.
The move didn't just help the defense and bring in a top pitching prospect but also help stabilize the bullpen. We now have two pretty damn good middle inning pitchers in the bullpen with Matt Albers and Bryan Shaw. Albers had an ERA under 3 last year and Shaw has put together 2 very good big league seasons. He is still young and will be under contract for awhile. He could be a staple of the bullpen for years to come.
So, with one move the Indians lost a guy who was gone anyway, were able to keep Ascab, replaced Choo with Stubbs, gained number 1 pick Trevor Bauer to help lead the rotation for years to come AND grabbed two strong bullpen arms in Matt Albers and Bryan Shaw.
Francona started it all but the Choo deal has to be my "best" move of the offseson.
A bona fide winner. GO TRIBE !!!!!
On the other hand, the Bourn signing was completely out of thin air when everyone assumed the Indians were done with major signings. It was also the only major signing with no definite Francona connection. It was a move completely orchestrated by the ownership and front office. They also proved they could negotiate with Scott Boras. Something many had perceived impossible for the Tribe.
In my opinion, both of those moves are of similar, if not equal significance this offseason.