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The offseason search for another bat begins for the Indians

The offseason search for another bat begins for the Indians
Justin Upton (Photo: AP)
November 17, 2014
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It’s no secret for the past few seasons the Indians have been searching for a right-handed hitter with some pop in his bat.

Ryan Raburn appeared to be that guy in 2013 after batting .272 with 16 homers and 55 runs batted in.  His production fell way off in 2014 and by the end of the season injuries and an overall lack of production had pretty much eliminated him from the lineup.

It is estimated the Indians will enter the 2015 offseason with approximately $8-$12 million dollars available to spend.  The most logical positions for upgrade in the free agent and trade market appear to be third base and right field.  In this piece I will look at potential free agents and trade acquisitions who can fill these roles.  Let’s first take a look at some potential free agent options…

Mike Morse (SF) – 1B/OF

Morse had three straight productive seasons with the Washington Nationals from 2010-2012.  After a disappointing 2013 split between Seattle & Baltimore, he bounced back with a solid 2014 season after signing a one year $6 million dollar deal with the San Francisco Giants.  He posted a .279 average with 16 home runs and 61 RBI.   His offense and power from the right side would be an upgrade over David Murphy in right field.  The only downside is his defense in the outfield is a bit shaky – though Morse played the majority of his time with the Giants at first base.  He will turn 33 before the start of the 2015 season.

Kendrys Morales (MIN) – 1B/DH

The 30-year old Morales is a career .280 hitter in the major leagues.  He is known for being a contact hitter but does have some power from both sides of the plate hitting a career high 23 home runs in 2013.  Although Morales can play some first base he would be primarily a DH which would move Nick Swisher to the outfield.  Morales is the type of professional hitter the Indians could use in the middle of their lineup.

Casey McGehee (MIA) – 3B

The soon to be 32-year old McGehee joined the Marlins after playing one season in Japan.  He batted .287 with 4 home runs and 76 RBI in 2014.  McGehee is a contact hitter only striking out 102 times in 616 at bats last season.  He is also a very solid defensive third baseman.  The one thing you will not get from McGehee is much power.  He is more suitable as a #2 hitter in the lineup.  Signing McGehee would give the Indians the option to move Lonnie Chisenall to right field and upgrade two positions.

Chase Headley (NYY) – 3B

The switch-hitting Headley had a breakout season with San Diego in 2012 batting .286 with 31 home runs and 115 RBI.  His production dropped immensely in 2013 and part of 2014 with the Padres before he was traded to the Yankees and posted a .262 average with New York in 58 games.  Headley has displayed above average power throughout his career and is a very good defensive third baseman having won a Gold Glove in 2012.  He is another option to play third base and move Lonnie Chisenhall to right field.

Corey Hart (SEA) – 1B/OF

After missing the entire 2013 season following knee surgery Hart signed on with the Seattle Mariners in 2014.  He played in just 58 games with Seattle having missed some time with a right knee contusion.  He never got himself going offensively only batting .203 with 6 home runs and 21 RBI.  One thing Hart has always been able to do when healthy is hit for power.  In 2012 he hit 30 home runs with Milwaukee.  He is an above average outfielder, but with his injury history he will be better suited as a first base/DH option.  Hart is a buy low candidate who could pay big rewards if he can stay healthy.

Those are some free agents who would make sense for the Indians and fit a need in the lineup.  Now let’s look at a few players who the Indians may be interested in acquiring via trade…

Marlon Byrd (PHI) - OF

Marlon Byrd is a right-handed power hitting outfielder.  In 2014 with Philadelphia Byrd batted .264 with 25 home runs and 85 RBI.  Byrd is an average defensive outfielder who is capable of playing all three outfield positions but is better suited as a corner outfielder.  The fact that he turns 37 next season and his career strikeout to walk ration is 6:1 are a downside.  He is also scheduled to make $8 million next season and has a vesting option for 2016 that will kick in if he makes more than 463 plate appearances in 2014.  Byrd would be a definite upgrade in right field and provide the Indians a bat to add to the middle of the their lineup.

Jason Heyward (ATL) - OF

Jason Heyward would seem to be a great fit for the Indians even though he is a left-handed hitter.  He is entering the final year of his contract in 2015 and the Braves are rumored to be looking to possibly move him or Justin Upton rather than risking losing them to free agency.  Heyward batted .271 with 11 home runs & 58 RBI in 2014.  He won a Gold Glove this past season and is considered one of the top defensive outfielders in the majors.  At only 26 years of age Heyward could be a nice piece for the Indians to add to their young core if they are able to acquire him and sign him long term.  He is scheduled to make $7.8 million in 2015.

Justin Upton (ATL) - OF

As mentioned above the Braves are rumored to be trading either Heyward or Upton this offseason.  Upton also is in the final year of his contract entering 2015 which will pay him $14.5 million.  Upton had a nice 2014 season batting .270 with 29 home runs and 102 RBI.  He is also an above average outfielder defensively and can play all three outfield positions.  At 27-years old Upton would also be a nice piece to add to the Indians core though the price tag to keep him in Cleveland would be steep.  Upton also has a no trade clause in which he could block a trade to four teams and the Indians are reportedly one of those teams.  Whether or not he would waive it to come to Cleveland remains to be seen.

Juan Uribe (LAD) – 3B

A trade candidate at third base is Juan Uribe from the Dodgers.  Uribe has had a nice career and the 35-year old posted some nice numbers last season hitting .311 with 9 home runs and 54 RBI.  He also played a solid third base defensively committing only six errors in 102 games.  Uribe is entering the final year of his contract at a modest $6.5 million.  The question becomes do the Indians want to move Lonnie Chisenhall to the outfield or perhaps move him in a deal while bringing in a better option at third base? The Indians have prospect Giovanny Urshela not too far away from being ready to take the next step to the majors.  Uribe would not be a bad one year stop gap option.

Whether it be via free agency or trade the Indians need to address the lineup upgrade at either third base or right field.  There are some interesting options on this list, but will ownership give Chris Antonetti the resources and flexibility to make additions from outside of the organization? We will find out soon enough.

User Comments

November 18, 2014 - 3:24 PM EST
Let me just add that if they can add a middle of the order RH bat in RF to replace Murphy that would be awesome! It's not going to be easy though, since there are not a lot of great options and so to do that will take resources (players and/or $'s) that the Tribe may not want to give up.
November 18, 2014 - 3:16 PM EST
Thanks Adam, I stand by my point. I'm not cherry picking stats, as the fact is Murphy is basically a platoon player only, and heyward is not. You wouldn't give up a Salazar for a platoon player, so you take Heyward's stats from both sides.

Also, the main point I was making is not that Heyward is equal to Murphy, but that even if you want to use the stats you're using (which make no sense since Heyward would play against both RH and LHers), acquiring that 100 points more in OPS is going to be VERY difficult. In other words adding 100 OPS points could mean having to give up someone like Salazar, which to me seems like too much. Others could see it differently. That was my point.
November 18, 2014 - 2:12 PM EST
Sorry, Murphs slg vs. righties should be .399
November 18, 2014 - 2:11 PM EST
pathofkindness, let's not cherry pick stats. You can't pick which stats you want to highlight for Murphy (his slash line against righties) and then compare it to the everyday numbers of Heyward. If you want to compare their platoon splits:

Murphy, 2014 vs. righties: .268 avg/.328 obp/.462 slg
Heyward, 2014 vs. righties: .304/.384/.436

That's a difference of almost 100 points in OPS when you're comparing apples to apples. Heyward is coming off a 5 win season and has 14 WAR over the last 3 years. Murphy is coming off a -.5 win season and has 3.8 WAR over the last 3 years. One is an elite defender and the other is horrible. The two could not be more dissimilar.
November 18, 2014 - 1:20 PM EST
Don't get me wrong Alton, I'm not really a Murphy fan, but the fact is, and anyone can see this simply by looking at the list in this article, it will not be easy to improve on even Murphy's .268/.328/.399/.727 against RH'ers. You can see an example of this in the Heyward trade, as the Cardinals give up a stud like Miller (who would be Bauer or Salazar for us) for one year of a guy who hit .271/.351/384/.735, which is basically the same as Murphy. Of course, Heyward has more upside than Murphy, but still, results are results, and in that regard, the results are basically the same.

And the other point you make is simply not true. Avg with runner's in scoring position is not "random" -- or any more random than batting average is. Sure, players stats can vary from year to year, and in that sense all stats are random. But the fact is he had a really bad 2013 (heck, that's why we were able to get him for a relatively low cost), and then he had a decent 2014. A lot of players vary year to year and there's nothing random about that, as its usually traceable to specific causes or conditions, e.g. an injury.
November 18, 2014 - 7:10 AM EST
McGehee is not a FA, he could be non-tendered but might be a trade candidate. He would not be the answer, more a complimentary part.
November 18, 2014 - 7:07 AM EST
No chance of moving Swisher, but moving Bourn is possible, IMO.
November 18, 2014 - 6:53 AM EST
Signing somebody like McGehee is the exact same player as Chisenhall except he is hitting right handed.
November 18, 2014 - 5:47 AM EST
anyway we can unload swisher?
November 18, 2014 - 4:24 AM EST
The only guys on this list that would be a sure upgrade are Heyward and Morales. Heyward is gone, now do the Indians have the stomach to sign a real upgrade and bring in Morales? Us Indian fans know the answer and we are tired of it. The only thing they MIGHT do is...bring in another over-the-hill veteran or a utiiity type player, just to appease us fans and like i said...WE ARE TIRED OF IT!
November 18, 2014 - 4:09 AM EST
David Murphy's last two years have been the two worst years of his career. Anyone who can't see where this is heading is delusional. He may not be David Dellucci but he ain't far off. Even against righties he was .268/.328/.399 in 2014 and .219/.286/.399 in 2013. This whole avg w/ RISP stat is irrelevant for marginal players like Murphy because it normally varies greatly from year to year. And while he hit .360 with a .933 OPS with runners in scoring position last year, he hit .186 with a .643 OPS with 2 outs and RISP last year. What does this mean, nothing, it's random and that's my point.

He clearly isn't the same player he was in his 20s or he'd be hitting like it so career stats are irrelevant.
November 17, 2014 - 5:34 PM EST
Thanks Kevin! Personally, this list isn't really doing it for me.

I really don't see Upton as an option now w Heyward gone, and Headley is probably looking for more years and money than the Tribe can do.

My issue with the rest of this list is that they are basically all "over the hill" guys, and essentially we would be hoping to get the last little bit of fumes left in their tank. That could work out ok, i.e. its been tried before and is *sometimes* successful, but I think that we could also go in a completely different direction entirely and look to add a younger guy who is just now ready to step into a lineup and be a fixture for years to come.

We've currently got a very decent RF against RH pitchers in Murphy, he's got a career line of .278/.344/.459/.803 against RH pitchers and he was VERY productive with runners on base last year. So maybe we should just get ourselves a RH bat who is ready to step into a lineup full-time, with the idea that he can complement Murphy and then be able replace him in 2016?

I think that a player like Stephen Piscotty of the Cardinals makes a lot of sense. Even more so now that they've acquired Heyward. Some may say Piscotty's not ready, but I don't think that's necessarily true. I think this would be a better stratey because I think the key to the Tribe's near-term and long-term success is tied to breaking in young players and not recycling older has-beens.

Obviously, the other keys to solving our big problem w LH pitchers are Swisher, Bourn and Kipnis, all of whom were absolutely terrible against LH pitchers last year. Assuming we aren't able to trade Bourn, IMO the next best option is to find a good young platoon option for Murphy and somehow get those three to hit LH'ers at a decent level...
November 17, 2014 - 5:14 PM EST
Seriously, Seth, Miller had a bad Year? Heyward had his 2nd worst statistical season, with a sub .500 OPS vs LHPs & an overall OPS of .735. This is a giant kid who plays more like Michael Bourn than Dave Parker. He did have a .350 OBP, 20 SBs & a good BB/K but 11 HRs? Trade a 24 yr. old, big, hard throwing SP who is under control until 2019 for that? If the Tribe traded Salazar for 1 yr. of Heyward I'd be pissed, no matter how good a RP was included. Jordan Walden is a hell of a reliever but He doesn't make up for how bad Heyward was.
November 17, 2014 - 5:11 PM EST
I'd have had no problem trading Salazar and a Cody Anderson for Heyward, even if it's just for a year and then a comp pick. Would be interesting to know if they had any discussions with the Braves along those lines. Anderson and the guy the Braves got are probably fairly equal long shots.
ted l
November 17, 2014 - 5:11 PM EST
The braves have traded Hayward so Upton may not be an option. If the Indians were to release Rayburn, Murphy and Chisenhall,. They would have room on the 25 man roster to shop around. They could bring rookies up to the big team. Even if they dump some or all of the mentioned players, they would not hurt their pay roll. Somebody would sign then, if they passed waivers. They can sign a minimum salary so the Indians would have to pay the rest; they would have to anyway.

There would be three spot on the 40 man. If they move them before the Rule V Draft it would be quite helpful for the Tribe. They would have 3 more position on the 25 and 40 man roster.

I think where I differ from most people in I don not expect the Indians to be a shoe in. There are to many holes and not enough prospects to fill them without gutting the minor league systems. I want the Indians to stay the course. Develop the home grown guys until you are competitve. Keep building the organization until the team is a favorite, THEN trade prospects for the pieces that are needed.
November 17, 2014 - 5:09 PM EST
Just to be clear, Clay. I wasn't suggesting we SHOULD have made that deal, I was just saying that's what it would have taken.
November 17, 2014 - 4:46 PM EST
Casey McGehee is a bit intriguing, at least depending on Urshela's injury severity.

Not even a full year ago people on this site were anointing Danny Salazar as this teams very near future FOR starter and now people are willing to trade him for yet another left handed hitting OF, of which has only 1 damn year of control left.

Seriously people.
November 17, 2014 - 3:05 PM EST
I just mentioned this in a different thread, but Kevin Kouzmanoff may be a pretty realistic option. RH 3B who can hit lefties and platoon with Chiz and maybe take some reps at 1B.
November 17, 2014 - 2:50 PM EST
Also, this was not just Heyward for Miller with spare parts on each side. Tyrell Jenkins is a better SP prospect than anything the Indians even have in their system. So it wouldn't have just been Bauer or Salazar, it would have been Bauer or Salazar plus Cody Anderson or Dylan Baker or something like that.
November 17, 2014 - 2:40 PM EST
My guess is that this eliminates Gattis and Upton. I don't think the Braves will shop Gattis now and my guess is that they keep Justin around.
November 17, 2014 - 2:37 PM EST
I think this trade happened on the Cardinals end is because of the tragedy of losing Taveras.
November 17, 2014 - 2:11 PM EST
Miller actually had a pretty bad year, big strikeout decline and walk increase, actually thought it was a rather weak return for Heyward. I'd have been willing to trade Salazar for Heyward. Not sure who the Braves would have liked better, Miller or Salazar.
November 17, 2014 - 1:32 PM EST
The Cards must crazy. One year of Heyward for Shelby Miller, even with a good RP added in seems like a lopsided deal.

I'd go for Headley if the price was right & he hadn't received the Q.O.
November 17, 2014 - 12:48 PM EST
Well, hopefully the Heyward trade is a wake up call to some fans of what it would cost to get someone of his talent. Shelby Miller is a big price to pay.
November 17, 2014 - 12:40 PM EST
I don't understand the love for Byrd that everyone seems to have. He plays in one of the most hitter-friendly ballparks in baseball and there's about a 15% difference in HR park factors going from Philly to Cleveland for a RHH. Couple that with a .312 OBP despite a .341 BABIP and you're looking at a prime regression candidate. He also strikes out about 30% of the time. No thank you on Byrd, I wouldn't give up anything of value for him.

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