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Tribe Happenings: Are the Indians going up for sale?

Tribe Happenings: Are the Indians going up for sale?
February 5, 2012
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Some news, notes, and thoughts from my Indians notebook…

To sell or not to sell

First off, let me just be up front and note that before I get into any of this I am merely speculating. No one from SportsTime Ohio or the Indians has told me anything, I am simply just putting two and two together with some recent events surrounding the Indians.

That having been said, things are starting to get a little interesting with the Cleveland Indians of late. No, not because a new season is on the horizon, but because it looks like there may be some plans in motion to either sell the team or at least take a peek into the market to see who might be interested in buying the team.

Rumors came forth back in July that the Dolan ownership group was taking offers for SportsTime Ohio, their cable TV network and home of over 150 Indians television broadcasts a year. No surprisingly those rumors have been denied, but where there is smoke there may be fire.

Suddenly in the past week I have been getting emails, texts and calls from all sorts of people with varying connections to me, and they all keep asking the same thing, “Are the Indians being put up for sale?”

I found it odd that with no knowledge of each other would suddenly be asking such a question. Something may indeed be up, so here is a brief look at the situation to see if indeed the team could be up for sale.

From the sounds of things, the Dolan ownership may be putting out feelers to potential buyers. While it may not yet be public knowledge that the team is available for sale, the startup process to a long, convoluted process to sell the team may have already started quietly behind the scenes. The new CBA - which has drawn criticism for its unfairness to smaller market teams like the Indians - may be what finally pushed the Dolan ownership into considering offers for the team, and conceivably their cable TV network too.

The best evidence to support a possible looming sale of the Indians is their current payroll structure where not one single player has a guaranteed deal past this season. There are a few players that have club options for the 2013 season and there are some arbitration eligible players, but right now they have absolutely zero commitments in regard to salary for 2013. Nadda. With no long term monetary commitments it would certainly seem to make them more attractive to a potential buyer.

This may also explain what has been a strange offseason where the Indians have been very quiet on the free agent front and limited just about all contract discussions with players to a maximum of two years.

So who could be a potential suitor to buy the Indians? How about Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert?

In addition to the Cavaliers, Gilbert already owns the Lake Erie Monsters minor league hockey team and just recently purchased the arena football team the Cleveland Gladiators. With Quicken Loans Arena chock full of entertainment options between his three teams, he could look to continue to monopolize the sports market in the Cleveland area by purchasing the Indians.

One thing to remember is that before buying the Cavaliers back in 2005, Gilbert had tried to buy the Milwaukee Brewers, so interest in a Major League Baseball team is certainly there. With his new casino opening up later this year in downtown Cleveland, he could look at ways to use his sports teams to tie into it, and having a baseball team in town for 81 games a year might be inviting. 

If there ever was an owner that would be a perfect fit for the Indians, it would be Gilbert. Not because he would spend lots of money – I have news for you, his spending will be based on team revenues just like it has with the Dolan’s – but because of the big shadow the Indians would get out from under with the Dolan ownership. I have often shared my feelings how I think Larry and Paul Dolan are misunderstood by the fan base, but Gilbert is a hero in this city right now, and with his money from Quicken Loans, expanding his Flash Seats setup to the Indians, and getting all the teams onto one big giant Cleveland sports network might be too good to be true.

Like I said, it is merely speculation, but with the rumors of SportsTime Ohio being for sale, the Indians very cost-conscious offseason, and Gilbert buying up sports teams in the Cleveland area like a kid in a candy store…anything can happen.

Finally, a first baseman

On Thursday the Indians came to a deal with free agent first baseman Casey Kotchman on a one year contract that will pay him $3 million in 2012. So ends their long offseason courtship of several first basemen, and while Kotchman may not be the sexiest pickup of those that were available this offseason he may end up as the best fit.

Kotchman, 28, played with the Tampa Bay Rays last season and finished 8th in the American League in hitting (.306) and 10th in on-base percentage (.378). He also had 24 doubles, 10 home runs, 48 RBI, and a .800 OPS in his 146 games played.

Last season Kotchman’s batting average, on-base percentage, and total number of games played were all career highs. It may be viewed that he simply had a career year last season, but he also had a very similar year – if not better – in 2007 when he hit .296 with 11 homers, 68 RBI, and a .840 OPS in 137 games. His numbers fell off a cliff from 2008-2010, but he apparently was having vision issues during that time and had a corrective vision procedure before last season. He conveniently responded with a very good season last year.

While a lot of people have been so fixated this offseason on adding a right-handed bat with power to the Indians lineup, one thing that has been greatly overlooked is the huge need for infield defense and a bat that can hit for average and limit strikeouts. That is exactly what Kotchman can do for the Indians this season.

Kotchman will not hit for much power, but what he will bring is exceptional defense at first base and an ability to consistently put the bat on the ball and limit strikeouts (2588 at bats, 289 strikeouts). He has all the pedigree as a former top prospect as for four years running from 2002-2005 he was a Top 25 prospect in all of baseball by Baseball America when he was in the Angels’ system.

Kotchman will definitely help improve the Indians' infield defense on the right side, something that was an issue several times last season. Last year he finished the season with a .998 fielding percentage (2 errors in 1201 total chances), leading all Major League first basemen in that category for a fourth consecutive campaign (2008-11). His career .998 fielding percentage (11 errors in 6076 total chances) is the highest in Major League history for those with at least 700 career games at the position.

Even though Kotchman is yet another left-handed hitter, the Indians have the flexibility to sit him against left-handed pitchers and put Carlos Santana at first base when he needs a break from catching. This is a solid pick up, and even though it is not a headline maker he should help the Indians improve in several different areas next season.

Indians, Rays make a trade

On Tuesday the Indians and Tampa Bay Rays completed a small trade where infielder Russ Canzler was sent to the Indians in exchange for cash considerations. The Rays had designated him for assignment on January 27th, but the Indians were able to complete a deal and add him to the 40-man roster to the spot vacated by right-handed pitcher Fausto Carmona who was put on the restricted list last week.

Canzler, 25, was the MVP this past season of the International League at Triple-A Durham where he hit .314 with 40 doubles, 18 home runs, 83 RBI and .931 OPS in 131 games. His right-handed bat is interesting, but what probably attracted him to the Indians is his versatility as last season he appeared in 41 games in right field, 33 games in left field, 40 games at third base and 17 games at first.

Canzler has very little big league experience as he was added to the Major League roster and made his big league debut last September appearing in just three games (1-for-3, 1 RBI). He is a depth option and has some potential as a corner utility player. His defense is very questionable, which is why he was able to be picked up for nothing, and may be a lot like former Indian first base prospect Jordan Brown as a player that could hit but had too many limitations defensively.

Canzler has all three of his options remaining, so he should provide depth at several positions this year at Triple-A and in the big leagues, and he could end up being a good buy low pickup for the Indians.

LaPorta destined for AAA

With the signing of Kotchman, first baseman Matt LaPorta’s ticket has all but been punched to Triple-A Columbus to start next season. The only thing standing in the way of that ticket from being punched is if Kotchman were to get hurt this spring, which if that were to happen then it would open up the door for LaPorta or someone else to be the regular first baseman.

This is a good thing for LaPorta. His performance to date in the big leagues has been spotty and he has not developed at all the past few years. He may have actually regressed as a player. I believe LaPorta still has a chance to become something with the Indians, but I don't get this mantra by some folks that he has to play with the Indians this year. The guy needs tons of work and development, something which simply cannot be afforded at the big league level when a team is trying to win. It is different if a team is in a development year, but that is not the case this year.

LaPorta has one option left. Use it and send him to the minors where the focus is less on winning and all about development. This is really his last chance to get his swing right, his confidence up, and his consistency with both his offense and defense to what it is expected to be. At this time next year he will be out of options and then the Indians will be backed up against a wall to make a decision on him if he is still struggling. At least by sending him to Triple-A for a big chunk of the season they will know they tried.

In no way have I given up on him. I just believe with this being his last option year he needs to go to Triple-A and play every day in an environment where there is no pressure to win and the Indians can be patient to wait for the results to show. Plus, even if he starts the year in Columbus, there is a good chance he will be needed at some point this season because of injuries and performance to other players.

Sign on the dotted line

Indians left-handed reliever Rafael Perez agreed to terms on Friday to a one year $2.005 million contract for 2012 to avoid salary arbitration. He is still under club control in 2013 and is not eligible for free agency until after that season.

Shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera remains the lone unsigned arbitration eligible player on the Indians roster and reportedly has a multi-year offer from the team on the table. He and the Indians are not expected to go to salary arbitration, so sometime early this coming week he will probably either accept the multi-year deal or just take a one year salary offer. Like with Perez, he is also under club control for the 2013 season and not eligible for free agency until after that season.

Parting Shots

As of this writing, the Indians have not yet announced the player to be removed from the 40-man roster to make room for Casey Kotchman. … The Indians had agreed to terms with infielder Julio Lugo on a minor league contract over a week ago, but that deal has fell apart and he is no longer part of the Indians plans in 2012. … This is just a quick note to mention that my new book the 2012 Cleveland Indians Prospect Insider is nearing completion. The book is my annual offering that provides everything you need to know about the Indians farm system and then some, and I hope to have news on its availability very soon. I also plan to unveil a new redesign of my site sometime in the next week. … Lastly, enjoy Super Bowl Sunday. Hopefully your team wins, but most importantly good luck hitting on those squares at the end of each quarter!

Follow Tony and the Indians Prospect Insider on Twitter @TonyIPI. Also, his latest book the 2011 Cleveland Indians Top 100 Prospects & More is available for purchase for $20.95 to customers in the US (shipping and handling extra).

Follow Tony and the Indians Baseball Insider on Twitter @TonyIBI. Also, his new book the 2014 Cleveland Indians Baseball Insider which profiles the Indians' Top 100 Prospects and more is available for sale.

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