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Tribe Happenings: Indians in good spot as meetings begin

Tribe Happenings: Indians in good spot as meetings begin
Chris Antonetti (Photo: AP)
December 8, 2014
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Some news, notes and thoughts from my Indians notebook…

Solid ground

As the Winter Meetings get cranked up today, the Indians sit in a good spot as an organization. Do they have holes they would like to fill? Yes. Do they need a little tinkering here and there? Yep. But that’s true of any team.

But the advantage the Indians had going into the offseason is every player on the roster except one is under club control for 2015. That one exception is Jason Giambi who had little impact in 2014 and is expected to retire anyway.

When a team doesn’t need to worry about replacing players lost in free agency it puts them in an interesting position of power going into the next season, particularly if the players on the 25-man roster are good and the team can contend as-is currently constructed like the Indians can. Yes, if the Indians do not make one move this offseason and return the team that ended the 2014 season they will be a strong favorite in the American League next season. Recently on MLB Network both Dan Plesac and Joel Sherman expressed their love for the team as-is and how they should be a force next season and a possible World Series sleeper.

I’m inclined to agree with them. Yet, I also know that this team needs a little tinkering in order to improve those odds and it needs a little more depth to help ensure an injury or two doesn’t ruin their season.

The Indians front office catches a lot of flak from fans, but they have done a nice job in setting up the roster over the past few seasons. Sure, there have been some free agent misses and they are bogged down at the moment by contracts to Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn, but overall they have made some key trades, aggressively pushed some prospects and found some diamonds in the free agent bargain bin.

Probably most impressive is that they control this roster as-is for the next two seasons as only Mike Aviles can be a free agent after next season. Others like Scott AtchisonRyan Raburn and David Murphy have club options after next season, but that flexibility with the roster based on how they perform in 2015 puts the Indians in a position of power to keep them or move on from them after next season.

The team has the control to keep things intact or tinker as they see fit the next two years. They don’t have to worry about players leaving. And their core players are under control for at least the next three to five years. Again, that is a powerful position to be in.

Creating depth

Not only do the Indians have a lot of control on their 25-man roster and a pretty good roster, but they have created some amazing depth behind them with prospects in line to come up and impact at some point next season at just about every position and in any role.

Check out the position player depth the Indians have right now:

Position 1st level 2nd level 3rd level
CA Yan Gomes Roberto Perez Adam Moore
1B Carlos Santana Jesus Aguilar  
2B Jason Kipnis Zach Walters Joe Wendle
SS Jose Ramirez Francisco Lindor Erik Gonzalez
3B Lonnie Chisenhall Giovanny Urshela Mike Aviles
LF Michael Brantley Ryan Raburn Destin Hood
CF Michael Bourn James Ramsey Tyler Naquin
RF David Murphy Tyler Holt Carlos Moncrief
DH Nick Swisher    

The Indians are almost three deep at every position, and may be even deeper as the list shows as players like Jose RamirezZach Walters and Erik Gonzalez can move all over the diamond and fill in as needed.

Where you see the gaps on the roster is at catcher, first base and designated hitter. Beyond the Yan Gomes and Roberto Perez duo at catcher the Indians really don’t have another catching option. Tony Wolters is on the 40-man but probably not an option until much later in 2015 and Carlos Santana is all but done catching except in an emergency. At first base they have a trio or options with Santana, Nick Swisher and Jesus Aguilar, but not much else beyond that.

This is where the Indians interest in Brandon Moss comes into play as he not only fills a need with a power bat in the lineup, but he helps fill an area in need on the roster as while he would play a good amount of right field he also adds a potential third catching option and another bat in the mix at first base and designated hitter. It also helps explain the interest in a free agent like Kendrys Morales.

Beyond the position players, the Indians also have an incredible amount of depth in the bullpen:

Position 1st level 2nd level 3rd level
Left-handed relief Marc Rzepczynski Kyle Crockett Nick Hagadone
Middle Relief C.C. Lee Austin Adams Enosil Tejeda
Middle Relief Scott Atchison Bryan Price Tyler Sturdevant
Middle Relief Zach McAllister Shawn Armstrong Louis Head
Setup man Bryan Shaw    
Closer Cody Allen    

All three of the depth options they have in the left-handed department in Marc RzepczynskiKyle Crockett and Nick Hagadone should be on the Indians opening day roster and they also have a couple of interesting lefty options beyond them not listed in Giovanni Soto and Nick Maronde.

The middle relief corps are strong as they are deep with lots of options and depth. The first line of relievers of Scott Atchison, C.C. Lee, and Zach McAllister are backed up by a group of top prospects on the 40-man roster in Austin AdamsShawn Armstrong, and Bryan Price, and then an interesting additional level of depth beyond that with the likes of Enosil TejedaTyler Sturdevant and Louis Head. They don't have much depth in the setup and closer department, but what team truly has depth there? The evolution of some of their middle relief arms could help fill that need, though they could use another veteran backend pen arm.

The starting rotation depth is an area that is in need of improvement:

Position 1st level 2nd level 3rd level
Starter Corey Kluber Zach McAllister Cody Anderson
Starter Carlos Carrasco Josh Tomlin Will Roberts
Starter Danny Salazar Nick Maronde Joseph Colon
Starter Trevor Bauer Shaun Marcum Ryan Merritt
Starter T.J. House  Charles Brewer Adam Plutko

The five man rotation is strong with Corey KluberCarlos CarrascoDanny SalazarTrevor Bauer and T.J. House, but they are also still rather young and inexperienced at the Major League level. None of them really have an established track record of success over three seasons, even the Cy Young award winning Kluber.

Their sixth and seventh starting pitching options Zach McAllister and Josh Tomlin might be as strong a six-seven combo in baseball. Few teams have options like those two who offer Major League experience and some history of success as immediate depth options. But beyond them there are lots of question marks.  The Indians don’t have any hot shot prospects coming up, though they do have some interesting arms in Cody AndersonRyan MerrittWill RobertsJoseph Colon and even Adam Plutko who could help to varying levels of degree by the end of the season.

This is why when you look at the questionable depth beyond the Indians seven starters of Kluber, Carrasco, Salazar, Bauer, House, McAllister and Tomlin, you can see why they are targeting depth for the starting rotation this offseason. Whether that depth is created by signing someone to replace one of their current five-man rotation options and push that guy to Triple-A Columbus as depth or someone to have stashed at Triple-A as depth to call up remains to be seen.

Looking back

The Winter Meetings bring the baseball Hot Stove season to a height. Rumors flow and some big moves always happen.

The Indians traditionally are not a big spending team so they are often not involved in a lot of the hoopla created at the meetings with the big free agents, but they have been involved in a few free agent rumors in the past. Where they have made the biggest news is in the trade market. Here is a quick look back at some notable moves since 2000 they have been involved in during or just after the winter meetings:

Shin-Soo ChooTony SippLars Anderson and Jason Donald for Trevor Bauer, Bryan Shaw,  Drew Stubbs and Matt Albers: This was the three team trade between the Indians, Reds and Diamondbacks completed five days after the Winter Meetings two years ago but most of the work on it was done at the Winter Meetings. Considering the four players the Indians lost and the four they gained, the Indians really made out in this deal.

Nick Swisher: While Swisher did not formally sign until just before Christmas two years ago, a lot of the leg work was done during the Winter Meetings. The Indians were hot and heavy after Shane Victorino during the meetings and upon losing out on him immediately shifted their focus to Swisher.

Franklin Gutierrez for Joe Smith and Luis Valbuena: This was the three team trade between the Indians, Mets and Mariners at the 2008 Winter Meetings that involved 12 players in total. While Valbuena did not work out with the Indians, Smith was a very valuable pen arm for years before leaving the Indians last offseason.

David Dellucci: Dellucci signed a three-year $11.5 million deal with the Indians during the 2007 Winter Meetings. This one did not really work out well as he struggled with performance and health during his time with the Indians.

Matt Lawton for Arthur Rhodes: The Indians and Pirates worked out a deal during the 2004 Winter Meetings where they eventually agree on this one-for-one swap. Lawton was a disappointment in his three years with the Indians and Rhodes was excellent in his one year with the Indians in 2005.

Roberto AlomarMike Bacsik and Danny Peoples for Alex Escobar, Matt Lawton, Billy Traber, Earl Snyder and Jerrod Riggan: This was new GM Mark Shapiro’s first big trade and arguably his most defining of his career that he completed at the 2001 Winter Meetings. It signaled the start of a rebuild after several years of winning at then Jacobs Field, and is a deal that never worked out for both the Indians or Mets.

Ricky Gutierrez: He signed six days after the club sent Roberto Alomar to the Mets at the 2001 Winter Meetings. The Indians had already contacted Gutierrez and his representatives about a free agent deal during the meetings and signed him to a three year $11.5 million deal.

Manny Ramirez: Arguably the most intense negotiations the Indians have ever had at the Winter Meetings, this was memorable at the 2000 Winter Meetings because of how his negotiations were made public by Ramirez and then agent Jeff Moorad as an ESPN Outside the Lines special. He signed an eight-year $160 million deal with the Red Sox.

Parting shots

Late last week the Indians signed outfielder Destin Hood to a minor league deal with an invite to Major League spring training. He is a 24-year old right-handed hitting outfielder who hit .298 with 11 HR, 42 RBI and .808 OPS across three levels with the Nationals last season, most of that time at Triple-A Syracuse. He is expected to open the season at Triple-A Columbus. … The Indians also signed catcher Adam Moore to a minor league deal with an invite to Major League spring training. He has played in 86 games at the big league level over his career (.200 AVG, .551 OPS) but has had a solid career in the minors and hit .298 with 12 HR, 34 RBI and .844 OPS in 91 games at Triple-A El Paso. He is expected to be the regular catcher at Triple-A Columbus next season.

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.

User Comments

December 9, 2014 - 6:02 AM EST
Well said Tony
December 8, 2014 - 8:01 PM EST
If you are a top 30-40 hitter in the game, you are pretty good.;) Again, he is one of the best hitters in the game. If someone mistakes that "hitter" means batting average, then my apologies. I assume by now most know that while I value batting average to some degree, there are so many other facets to hitting and stats which I view as more important and prove whether a guy can impact with the bat or not.
December 8, 2014 - 7:36 PM EST
Tony, I brought up his batting average b/c you explicitly said he's one of the best HITTERS in the game. Funny how you first refute that statement by bringing up how good he is at drawing walks. Son, please.

You also go from "one of the best hitters in the game. Period" to "one of the top 10-15 hitters in the AL". BIG difference. I agree with top 10-15 in the AL, easily, but he's definitely not one of the best hitters in the game. Pitchers exploit him all the time; he's got great bat speed, extension, swing, etc. but the dude tries to pull everything. Good hitters don't bat below .250 consistently.
December 8, 2014 - 7:23 PM EST
"I think batting average also figures in on base percentage."

Math is hard.
December 8, 2014 - 7:14 PM EST
In my opinion any time a cleanup hitter goes over two hundred times without putting the ball in play he has left way too many runners in scoring position, I think batting average also figures in on base percentage. The tribe pitching the second half was outstanding but the scoring was not very good.
December 8, 2014 - 6:20 PM EST
Yep, illustrates how useless batting average is when determining a hitter's ability. Why do you think teams ask for Santana every offseason if he sucks? Every team would love to have him. He's been one of the top 30-40 offensive players in the league each of the last 4 seasons.
December 8, 2014 - 6:15 PM EST
A ton more goes into being a good bat than batting average. It's an outdated stat that doesn't show what a hitter does in all at bats. While it has some value, there are better numbers to prove who is a better bat than others.

Santana ranked 1st among all AL players in walk percentage (17.1%) and 11th in on-base percentage (.365). Only 10 other AL hitters got out less than Santana. The name of the game is to get on base and not make outs. From a power standpoint, Santana was 13th in the AL with a .196 isolated power (just below Donaldson and just above Pujols), 13th with a 131 wRC+ and 16th with a .792 OPS. So not only does he get on base, he has power and can also drive in runs.

Santana is easily a top 10-15 hitters in the AL. But, if people want to fixate on batting average to determine value then by all means.
December 8, 2014 - 5:57 PM EST
Come on, Tony. "Carlos Santana is one of the best bats in the game. Period."?! Dude doesn't even have a career batting average over .250...Period!
December 8, 2014 - 5:42 PM EST
Indians trading Santana would be an awful move. Thank goodness it is not happening. He's one of the best bats in the game. Period.
December 8, 2014 - 5:36 PM EST
When I read what Morosi wrote I knew it was too good to be true.
December 8, 2014 - 5:36 PM EST
When I read what Morosi wrote I knew it was too good to be true.
Former Scout
December 8, 2014 - 4:47 PM EST
I know for a fact the Braves love Clint Frazier. They love getting Georgia prospects. If the Indians want Justin Upton, Clint Frazier will be a valuable trading chip.
December 8, 2014 - 4:26 PM EST
It's not a rumor. It's garbage. Indians are not trading Santana or shopping him. But teams still call and ask. Same can be said for Kluber, Brantley and others....and Mike Trout.....I am sure teams have called about their availability.
December 8, 2014 - 4:26 PM EST
Just curious to know which teams might be interested in Santana. Looks like teams are looking for any power bats before addressing the pitching.

December 8, 2014 - 4:23 PM EST
The newest rumor/speculation per jon morosi has teams inquiring about Carols Santana.
December 8, 2014 - 4:12 PM EST
No one is comparing Moss to LaPorta, which would be silly. Obviously they're very different players in accomplishment. What is similar is the effect of hip injuries, which is the only speculation I've seen made. Hopefully they re as different there as everywhere else.
Canadian Joe
December 8, 2014 - 3:54 PM EST
I see where Swisher is available, but little interest out there. I would think he and Bourn would both be available, at minimal prices, even eating some salary for a year or two. Boy if they could move those two, then there might be room for Murphy. That would be a big impact on what the Tribe could do, if those salaries could be dumped. A good idea at the time, but it just didn't work out.
December 8, 2014 - 3:14 PM EST
I hope this allows us to move Bourn. Brantley and Holt could easily handle center, saving us around $15 million over the next 2 years without costing us any wins.

I don't think Bourn is a better player than Holt at this point. Bourn barely has a better bat and on base ability, they're probably equal defenders, while Holt is more versatile, younger, more durable, a better base stealer, bats right handed, and costs $500 K.

With his age, Bourn will probably be worse over the next two years than he was in his previous two. Time to get out of this contract while we still can.
Not Joe Chengery
December 8, 2014 - 3:02 PM EST
Matt LaPorta was doing 'roids and his body fell apart. Hopefully Moss didn't do the same thing...he was a AAAA guy that couldn't make it anywhere...why not inject yourself with some steroids, get huge, start hitting bombs and collect millions afterward? Seems reasonable.

Also, the Indians should trade for Justin Upton right meow.
December 8, 2014 - 2:31 PM EST
Exactly Jeff. Pretty much almost exactly what I just wrote in my evening notebook I am posting in a little bit.
Jeff P
December 8, 2014 - 2:27 PM EST
I've seen the Moss-Laporta comparison regarding the injury a couple of places. One huge difference; Laporta never proved he could hit major league pitching, Moss has. Matt's issues went way beyond the injury. I think this is a great deal even with the gamble on health. If Moss is done, which is highly unlikely, we're not committed to him beyond this year unless we want to be. Very little risk involved for a redundant minor leaguer being the price
December 8, 2014 - 2:01 PM EST
Larry, that's quite ironic the Indianson the receiving end of a salary dump. This is the kind of move I've said the Tribe must exploit. There is risk involved, but it's largely salary relief. I like Joe Wendle, but he was blocked with the current state of the system. I think Wendle could eventually develop into a defensive lacking 2b with a decent bat. He should go to AAA and potentially get a cup of coffee with the A's later in the year.

Could he Tribe try to work another deal with the A's? I mean put Shark, Kazmir, Doolittle, Cook, Norris, Reddick, Pomeranz and others on my short list.
Larry M
December 8, 2014 - 1:50 PM EST
There is a certain humor to the Tribe being on the receiving end of a salary dump -- "cheap" as we are.
It is not my money, but this seems like a good gamble given the cost.
December 8, 2014 - 1:38 PM EST
Seth in talking to an Oakland person I know they said it looks like a straight salary dump.
December 8, 2014 - 1:26 PM EST
Moss may be good, or he might be formerly good (hip injuries are hard on power hitters, LaPorta once said). Who knows. One thing that is clear is that a very young MI with MLB experience, like Ramirez, has more trade value than many fans think.
December 8, 2014 - 1:25 PM EST
What is up with the A's? No matter what the injury concerns for Moss are, aren't you better off holding onto him and hoping he recovers, than trading him for Wendle? Come on Beane, we'd have given you Chiz, Wendle and House for Donaldson. Would be better than the return for Donaldson and Moss. But ... great trade for Cleveland. Even with the injury, Moss is much more likely to impact them positively than Wendle ever was
Larry M
December 8, 2014 - 1:23 PM EST
I have to imagine Murphy will be moved...perhaps too much imagination on my part, but I think there will takers for his services on a largely one year deal....not much return.
December 8, 2014 - 1:21 PM EST
Canadian Joe
December 8, 2014 - 1:13 PM EST
Good to hear that deal is done. Now one or two more tweaks, and they should be in great shape. Move Murphy would be a nice start. Then some depth on infield and SP. Nice start.
matt underwood
December 8, 2014 - 1:00 PM EST
pretty good pick up by the tribe, although i have read moss may not be ready for ST?

whats the next domino to fall? something has to, right? at the very least from the 40 man roster standpoint
Larry M
December 8, 2014 - 12:50 PM EST
I am imagining that there are still injury risks/concerns with Moss...if not, it is an extremely positive pick up for the Tribe...if so, it still seems like a very reasonable gamble for the price of Wendle. I am enthused!
December 8, 2014 - 12:38 PM EST
I will have a notebook this evening....but the Indians and A's have completed the deal. Brandon Moss for Joey Wendle is what it ends up.
December 8, 2014 - 12:37 PM EST
Passan reporting on Twitter... Moss for Wendle is done.
December 8, 2014 - 11:37 AM EST
Yes he does. I for some reason left that spit blank and didn't include him even though I was thinking of him. Thanks. I have corrected!
Sean Z.
December 8, 2014 - 11:02 AM EST
Doesn't Brewer fit into that second tier of SP options?

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