Tribe Happenings: Indians have a new, revised approach
Some news, notes, and thoughts from my Indians notebook…
Note, part one of Tribe Happenings posted yesterday and discussed the Rogers-Aviles-Gomes trade along with all the coaching and roster decisions the Indians made over the past week.
A new direction
The offseason is officially here.
Yes, the Indians season ended back on October 3rd, which is a little over one month ago today. But they like the other 20 teams in Major League Baseball that did not make the playoffs had to sit and wait until the World Series ended before they could officially start making moves this offseason. With the Giants finishing off a sweep of the Tigers last Sunday night, the hot stove season has officially opened.
And with that brings the start of one of the most interesting and crucial offseason in the Indians’ recent history.
The Indians are coming off of a disappointing 2012 campaign where they finished 68-94 and in fourth place in the AL Central Division, and marked the third time in the last four seasons that they lost at least 93 games. In response to the disappointing season, the Indians took their first step toward a productive offseason by firing manager Manny Acta at the end of September and then hired the highly regarded Terry Francona as manager just eleven days later.
With their coaching staff for the 2013 season now in place, the focus now shifts to the hardest part for any organization: building the roster.
Over the year the offseason has not been kind to the Indians, especially since President Mark Shapiro took over the team as general manager after the 2001 season. In almost every offseason since then the Indians have underwhelmed the fan base with bargain free agent signings and minor trades. The only exception to this being the offseason after the 2008 season when they made several significant trades and signed Kerry Wood to a two year $20 million deal in free agency.
This offseason the Indians have a chance to correct a lot of past mistakes, and considering that their decision-making process of the past of being extremely risk averse has proven to be flawed, now is the time to make significant changes in their process.
The entire organization got together in mid-October out in Arizona like they do every year to talk about their process and plan for the upcoming year, but this year’s organizational meetings in the land of the sun were much different than those of years past. With a new manager in tow from a very successful Red Sox organization, Francona offered some insight in the meetings and challenged some of the philosophies the organization has lived by for so long. Also, with a front office that is now squarely on the hot seat, there is more motivation to adapt and accept change because if this team continues to struggle the next year or so there will be a lot of people in the decision-making process that are out of a job.
The entire way the organization operates is not going to change in one offseason. They are not suddenly going to be major players in free agency, take on large contracts in trades, or give mega contract extensions to their own players. Their general way of operating is really never going to change. Whether Larry Dolan is the owner or Dan Gilbert is the owner, the team is always going to be on the outside looking in when it comes to doling out contracts for the big name players.
But what the Indians can do is modify their organizational philosophy and adapt their strategies to an ever changing market. They have been slow to make these changes in the past, but the bad taste left in the mouths of everyone after one of the worst seasons in the franchise’s history has a lot of people motivated to finally make these changes.
And they have been made. Now, it is time to see if the Indians will truly adhere to this new plan.
From what I have heard, the Indians will continue to operate with a risk averse approach when it comes to long term contracts, but they will no longer be so drastically risk averse and will now be more aggressive on the one and two year deals, and even be more open to some three year deals. They will take more calculated risks than they have in the past.
With Francona in the organization the front office can listen to him and learn things, and they have. He comes from a pretty smart organization in Boston that for all the money they have and big deals they make, they draft and develop talent as good as anybody and often find good value in the free agent and trade front. Sure, they go bonkers at times for the likes of Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez and others, but they have also made good small budget signings over the past few years with the likes of Cody Ross, David Ortiz, and others.
The Indians know that they have a core of internal starting pitching options that are nothing more than four and five starters. They know – but will never say it – that Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez are not front of the rotation starters and that they fit best as a third starter (if that) on a championship caliber team.
With that in mind, their number one focus this offseason will be to add some meat to the starting rotation. They will not be able to find a top of the rotation starter in the free agent or trade market, but if they can add a couple of pitchers that can haul innings and be solid middle of the rotation starters, then a rotation with three or four dependable middle of the rotation starters is a whole heck of a lot better than a rotation with almost all back of the rotation starters like they had in 2012.
They like the bullpen a lot and think they have a lot of depth there, and there are lots of good arms coming from a minor league system which has churned out some top level bullpen arms of late. The bullpen is an area of strength and could be where they look to trade a player or two to fill holes in other areas of the roster. This is something we saw over the weekend when they traded Esmil Rogers to the Blue Jays for Mike Aviles and Yan Gomes, and Rogers may not be the last pen arm dealt this offseason.
The lineup has its warts but there are some solid pieces to build around, and they feel that if they could significantly fill just one of the two holes at first base or left field, that they can get creative in filling the other spot as well as the designated hitter spot (a rotation of players).
But it all comes down to the starting rotation. They know they can’t fill every hole on the roster, so the most important area of need is to fill in the holes in the rotation.
How and who they acquire to fill those holes remains to be seen, but this offseason is much more interesting in years past because we know the Indians have a revised philosophy and a riskier approach to making acquisitions. Now we will see if they follow through with the changes, or if they get cold feet and step back into their old ways.
They have done this before
This new revised approach this offseason by the Indians is in some ways similar to the changes they made to their draft strategy four years ago.
The Indians made a change after the 2007 season to have current Director of Amateur Scouting Brad Grant run the amateur side of things and have current Vice President of Scouting John Mirabelli concentrate more on the overall operation of the scouting department (amateur scouting, international scouting, pro scouting, advance scouting, etc). At the time Mirabelli was running everything and Grant was the assistant scouting director on his staff.
Mirabelli still has a big presence on draft day and ultimately everything still goes by him, but they made the change in responsibilities and also changed some things philosophically to be more aggressive with their draft picks, and it has resulted in an improved showing with their drafts since Grant took over in 2008. Players like Lonnie Chisenhall, Cord Phelps, Zach Putnam, Alex White, Jason Kipnis, Corey Burns, Drew Pomeranz, and Cody Allenhave all made the big leagues out of his first four drafts from 2008-2011.
It takes a good seven to ten years after a particular draft to get a good read on how successful or unsuccessful it was, but the early returns favor what the Indians are currently doing in the draft with their more aggressive approach. Their drafting has been from perfect over the past five drafts since Grant took the reins, but it is hard to argue with the results so far compared to the drafts from 2001-2007.
The Indians missed on a lot of their early round picks during that time, and part of the Indians’ current problem is some of those drafted players from that period should now be core pieces to the team. At the moment only Vinnie Pestano (2006, 20st round) and Tony Sipp (2004, 45th round) are core pieces to the team. In fairness, some of the players that could now be core pieces to the team were given up on in Cleveland or were traded away and have gone on to have more success elsewhere, players like Chris Archer (2006, 5th round), Kevin Kouzmanoff (2003, 6th round), Jeremy Guthrie (2002, 1st round), and Luke Scott (2001, 9th round).
In a strange way, almost all of their productive players from those drafts from 2001-2007 were either traded away or lost on waivers or in the Rule 5 Draft. And the results from 2001-2007 do not include unsigned picks like Tim Lincecum and Desmond Jennings in the 2005 Draft. So the drafts were not as bad as they look on the surface, but the process with which they aggressively drafted and signed players has since changed.
The Indians have shown in the past that they are committed to their plan, even though it may have been flawed, be it the draft strategy from 2001-2007 or the philosophy with player acquisitions at the big league level for the past decade. Mirabelli and Grant adapted and adopted the changes made in 2007, so hopefully GM Chris Antonetti is ready to follow suit and embrace the changes made by the organization this offseason and follow them through.
Youkilis a no-brainer
With the offseason underway, one name that looks to be on the Indians’ short list this offseason is Kevin Youkilis. He had his $13 million option for next season declined by the White Sox last week, making him a free agent. Now that he is free to negotiate and sign with any team, the Indians are expected to be one of his biggest suitors this offseason.
Youkilis, 33, hit .235 with 19 HR, 60 RBI and .745 OPS in 122 combined games with the Red Sox and White Sox. The overall performance is not great, but he played well with the White Sox once he was traded there hitting .236 with 15 HR, 46 RBI, and .771 OPS in 80 games. He also has a history of hitting lefties well, and last season continued that hitting .275 with a .878 OPS against them (.220 AVG, .693 OPS vs. righties).
Up until this past season Youkilis had been a very productive player for the past half-decade or so, and continues to be one of the hardest outs in the game with the way he battles every at bat and makes a pitcher work. He obviously is a health risk since he has been bothered the past three seasons with injuries, which should scare teams away from any long term commitment this offseason. With this in mind, he will probably get a one year – maybe two year – deal from a team this offseason, which is a contract that fits into the Indians’ plans.
It is no secret that Youkilis is a favorite of new manager Indians’ Terry Francona. Youkilis enjoyed the best years of his nine year career under Francona and has a lot of respect for the Indians’ new skipper. On top of that, the Indians came very close to acquiring him last June before the White Sox eventually acquired him from the Red Sox, so there obviously is strong interest in him from the Indians front office. With the Indians in need of a first baseman and also a hole at designated hitter, there is a fit and it makes a lot of sense to pick him up on a one or two year deal for around $6 to 8 million per season.
A signing of Youkilis would not be the blockbuster type move a lot of fans are hoping for this season, but he would offer a suitable option to fill the glaring hole at first base. He also could play some third base if Lonnie Chisenhall struggles, and obviously could be the designated hitter from time to time to monitor his health and allow Carlos Santana to get some time at first base.
His best days may be behind him, but I have always been a fan of the way Youkilis plays the game. He is an on-base machine that has a patient exhausting approach at plate. He is a guy that people love to hate, but if he is on your team you love him. Plus, I still think there is some production left in the tank and he could provide good value in the middle of the lineup. He’s not the big thumper we all long for to bring the middle of the lineup together, but the reality is those guys are probably not available this offseason. His experience hitting in the middle of the lineup could provide a much needed boost in the cleanup or fifth spot in the order compared to what the Indians have had there in recent years.
No manager may know Youkilis better than Francona, and if he is looking for a place to land to help reestablish his value, I can’t think of a better place than with the Indians. Not only do the Indians have a need at the positions he plays, but they can offer him the opportunity to hit in the middle of their order to put up good numbers and most importantly reunite him with his beloved manager.
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.
I cannot express in words how painful to me the performance of management was last year.
The front office will not drag out Choo and Perez departures.
New York Yankees are trying to get below 178M by 2014 and are more than happy to take on a 1-year plug in RF not to mention a LHB with power.
The Seattle Mariners are moving their fences in and Choo is a natural fit there if not in 2013 long term.
Their are several more teams out there that we could find a match for.
In my opinion, the two guys that hold little value to the Indians in 2013 are Choo and Chris Perez. Each will say the right things about wanting to win and looking forward to playing in Cleveland but both would love to get out of the city.
Give Francona a team of guys that don't have an eye on greener pastures right from jump street. I believe that is the goal of this upcoming offseason.
As for trading Choo.....I just don't see it happening. I don't see the Indians getting the value they want right now, and not much more they would get waiting until July to trade him. There is not a free agent bat they can sign to a deal like he is under, so there is more value in playing out the season with him here and then reassessing come July than to just trade him now.
Choo isn't signing long-term with the Tribe. He is going to test the waters of free agency no matter what. Consider him as good as gone.
Even if he did want an extension in Cleveland I would do just about anything I could to deal him for prospects, free his salary up, and reinvest in someone else for a few years.
They really need to do more than something on the lines of Youkilis and 1 starting pitcher. They also need to sign an outfielder, and while I agree with Tony that they likely won't be in play for BJ Upton, they SHOULD be, and if not Upton, then Victorino/Pagan/Ross, who are probably looking more in the 3/30 range. Moving Perez practically pays for this year, and the extra $25 mil/year they're getting from the national TV deal pays for the future years. There is no good financial reason why they can't do it; you need to spent money to make money, and with those additions you at least have a shot at the playoffs and increasing your revenue. If they tanked, they might be a couple million in the red this year, but that's a risk their ownership needs to be willing to take if they want to run a successful franchise.
Any rumblings that the front office is "on notice" after the past years of failures across all aspects of the org.?
I could then see a scenario where they could bring in another starter at a higher salary...or a distressed starter...
and have enough to go out and do something else. The key is if they have enough to make two trades...and lose the $15 million that Choo and Perez may cost. Say you deal Choo and get a starter...and deal Perez and get a starter (two young...top 100ish prospects)...you literally shed 15 million..well...say...13 million...
and could then sign a bat...
I know that's rudimentary thinking...but basically on par...
there's lots of puzzle pieces that could go together that could allow the Indians to put together an interesting team...
but...as Seth always reminds us...there has to be reality in the equation as well...what will teams really give up?
Probably not as much as we think...
...and since all three would be in the top 100 (I don't think Kelly would register at this point)...I would make that trade in a heartbeat...
If Asdrubal were dealt...I would also push one of the youngsters...and I think it would be Tony Wolters...to be honest. Have Aviles start the season as the starting Shortstop...but get Wolters up as quickly as possible...and just live with it...but have Aviles as a mentor. That would give Wolters a year or so before the RRod/Lindor discussion comes into play...and he has a nice glove already. The thinking there for me is that Wolters has shown that ability to make the leap after struggle, and if they could get him a month at Akron, bump him up to Columbus for another month, and then insert him as a platoon with Aviles...he could get hands on training for his future role as...well...as Aviles...then you develop RRod and the rest as you normally woulda.
Now, I'm away of Wolters not technically being ready...but I also believe he is the one guy that has the make-up to handle that type of move...even though he's not as talented as some of the other folks coming down the pike
Granted, I'd only consider this if Drubs was traded...but...you know...I'd throw that grenade...and see what happens....
It would at least be in the discussion...
...again...knowing that it's not likely...and would only happen in an extreme circumstance...
As for the offense...I really believe the focus will be on one bat. They will sign some others to minor league deals, but I expect one bat to be added via trade or free agency that has a guaranteed deal and could have a positive effect on the roster. Outside of that one bat, I think almost all the other resources with available capital and any trade currency is spent on picking up starting pitching help. So the hopes of BJ Upton are probably out there, plus I think he gets more than the proposed contracts listed here.
As Indians fans, we're supposed to accept this as a new, revised approach? How dumb do you think we are?
The Angels still appear to be all in on relievers right now, and Chris Perez should be traded not only because he's very iffy at the back of the 'pen, but because of the tensions between him and the front office. If we keep Choo in a deal with the Angels and only get Morales, he could split time at 1B with Youk, play some LF, and be a part of a rotating DH situation. If we can some how manage to squeeze Bourjos into the deal as well then we'd have Brantley in LF, Bourjos in CF, and Choo in right, making the OF defense solid and giving the team a more stable DH situation.
If there was one player that I'd spend big for in free agency though it'd be Upton. Given his age, obvious talent, and possibly reasonable cost (I'd make him a 5/55 or 6/60 deal) he can be a long term solution for most any team in CF and be a difference maker with his bat. Again, OF defense would be greatly improved and because he is still young and in his prime, a long term deal is safer for him than any other FA OF on the market. He's the kind of guy that can bat 2nd, or 5th for this team because he's historically gotten on base, and he can burn on the base paths or launch pitches out of the park.
As far as the rotation goes, man, it's just such a mess! Maybe Freddy Garcia or Jeff Francis, maybe Liriano or Matsuzaka. I hate the thought of spending on a FA pitcher and it seems like even the lower grade FA pitchers this off season might get bigger contracts than they deserve.
Regarding Youkilis, seems logical as a filler for a few years until the system can produce players. The reason Manny is gone is he got pissed because the FO did not deliver players when they promised.
Shapiro said, "Youkilis walked like a duck." We could have had him in his prime years but we had incompetent people making decisions.
It certainly was costly and unless Tito is making all the calls don't see it changing.