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Tribe Happenings: Indians offseason free agent guide

Tribe Happenings: Indians offseason free agent guide
November 18, 2012
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Some news, notes, and thoughts from my Indians notebook…

Pricing the free agents

A few free agent signings of significance have occurred in free agency over the past week with outfielders Torii Hunter signing with the Tigers (2 years, $26 million) and Melky Cabrera signing with the Blue Jays (2 years, $16 million). With the winter meetings in Nashville only two weeks away, several more deals will begin to take shape.

The Indians are expected to be involved in all fronts of the player procurement process this offseason as they will look to improve the roster with some combination of both free agency and trades. They are not rebuilding, and instead are retooling, reshaping, or refitting the roster…whatever you want to call it. So with that in mind, they plan to be more aggressive than in years past in making deals to some free agents, and they are listening to trade offers for just about any player on the roster.

The trade market is where the Indians have the most potential to impact the roster as they have assets they can trade to bring back needs to fill the Major League roster. It is no secret that the likes of Shin-Soo ChooAsdrubal Cabrera, and Chris Perez are on the market, though the Indians do no need to trade any of them, and likely will not trade all of them. But at least one of them will probably be dealt, and the return is not expected to be a bunch of prospects two or three years away but instead for players that can help right now in the big leagues or are extremely close to helping out.

Depending on what they are able to acquire in a trade, the Indians will probably use free agency more as a way to backfill any potential loss via trade and of course fill some of the holes they have in the starting rotation, first base and left field.

The free agent targets

I’ll get it out of the way right now: the Indians are not going to be in on any big time free agents. So forget about the likes of Josh Hamilton, Zach Greinke, B.J. UptonMichael Bourn, and probably even Anibal Sanchez. Those players are all expected to get deals of at least four or five years and for $14 million or more a season. Too many teams with much more money are going to be fighting for those players.

But there is a good collection of middle to upper tier free agents that the Indians will be aggressive on. As to exactly which players those are, who knows right now, but more should be known in the coming days and weeks.

The Indians will most certainly shop for bargains to fill in areas of need with minor league signings or very low one year guaranteed deals (Jason BayGrady SizemoreCarlos Lee, etc), but here is a free agent shopping guide of the more pricey free agents that they should look at and that fit their financial constraints and needs:

Higher Priced, More Risk

All of these players are expected to get at least three year deals and/or $10M of more a year

Dan Haren, SP: Haren has been a workhorse averaging over 200 innings, 14 wins, and 3.58 ERA the past eight seasons. He is only in the Indians price range because of back issues last season that limited him to 176 innings and his performance declined, but provided his medical checks out he is a guy the Indians should be very aggressive and take a calculated risk on as he would help fill a big void at the top of their rotation. He is a long shot since he is expected to sign a two-year deal for about $22-25M, and to sign him the Indians may need to overpay him by giving him three years.

Edwin Jackson, SP: Jackson has been one of the more durable and consistent starters in baseball over the past five seasons making at least 31 starts a year and almost 200 innings a season, yet he has played for six different teams and has yet to receive a big contract. That is expected to change this offseason as he will probably command a three or more year deal for about $10-12M a season. He is not as sexy as Haren as he is more of an anchor in the middle of the rotation, but he comes with less of a health risk. He’s expected to be one of the Indians higher targets this offseason.

Adam LaRoche, 1B: The Indians have a huge gaping hole at first base, so a player like LaRoche would fit in quite nicely. Aside from a down year in 2011 because of injury, he has been incredibly consistent over his nine year career averaging over 20 homers and .820 OPS a season. He’s probably the biggest longshot on this list since there is almost no way he leaves the DC area this offseason, but the Indians will probably check in on him. He is expected to get a three year deal for about $32-35M.

Mike Napoli, C/1B: Napoli fell back from what was a career year in 2011, but he was still good and his numbers in 2012 are more in line with his career to date (sans 2011). He would bring a power right-handed bat that the Indians covet, and his ability to catch and play first base also give the Indians options with playing Carlos Santana more at first base. It looks like an ideal fit, but the problem will be his contract as he is expected to get a three year deal for around $27-30M.

Nick Swisher, OF: Swisher has been one of the most consistent and durable position players in the league over the last seven seasons playing in at least 148 games with 20 or more homers and no worse than a .822 OPS in any season. He played for Ohio State so it would be sort of a homecoming for him if he signed with the Indians, and his all-out play style and passion would make him an instant fan favorite in Cleveland. But he is a left-handed hitter and it will probably take at least three years and around $33-35M to sign him.

Shane Victorino, OF: The Indians tried to get him prior to the trade deadline, and I’ve heard they have already been aggressive on him this offseason. Whether or not that leads to anything remains to be seen, but he would be an ideal fit in the outfield, especially if they trade Choo. He is a switch-hitter, can play any of the three outfield positions, has amazing makeup, is one of the toughest guys to strikeout in the league, and is a solid offensive performer. It will probably take three years and $26-30M to sign him.

Middle-Priced, Lesser Risk

 All of these players are expected to get two year deals for anywhere between $6M to $9M a year.

Jeremy Guthrie, SP: The Indians lost Guthrie to the Orioles over five years ago on waivers, and it is a decision that probably haunts the Indians to this day as he has turned into a solid middle-to-backed rotation starter. He has been durable and averaged close to 200 innings over the last five seasons, and his consistency with his numbers and health should be attractive to the Indians. He will probably command a two year deal for $12-16M.

Ryan Ludwick, OF: After showing signs he was in decline, the 34-year old Ludwick bounced back with the Reds this past season and arguably had the second best season of his pro career. He is going to look to cash in one final time in free agency, so it will probably take a two year deal for $14-17M to land him. Everyone knows I was not a big fan of the Indians acquiring Ludwick at the deadline in 2011, but if all it took was to get him out of Petco Park, then I think his right-handed bat could be valuable to the Indians on a short term deal.

Shaun Marcum, SP: Marcum does not have a lot of star power, but he has been one of the better value starting pitchers in baseball the last few years. He had an elbow injury this past season that shut him down a few months, but he came back and was able to pitch the last six weeks of the season. He is one of the better buy-low options in the pitching market, and the Indians will certainly be in the mix for him. It will probably take two years and $14-17M to land him.

Cody Ross, OF: Ross and his agents are really trying to push his market as they reportedly are looking to land a three year deal for around $24M+, which I think is ridiculous. He is trying to cash in after being one of the best value signings last offseason, and it is possible one team gives him what he wants, but I think he ends up with a deal similar to the one Melky Cabrera signed this offseason but for a little more total money.

Joe Saunders, SP: Saunders has been one of the more consistent back-of-the-rotation starters in the game the past five years averaging over 30 starts and around 195 innings a year during that span. Again, that consistency and durability along with smaller demands for a contract are what will probably interest the Indians. The Orioles supposedly really want him back, but he has no real allegiance to them. He will probably command a two year deal for around $14-16M this offseason.

Kevin Youkilis, 3B: I wrote about it recently, but I will say it again, and that is that I think Youkilis is one of the best fits for the Indians this offseason and could be one of their top position player targets. He has a great relationship with new manager Terry Francona and the Indians front office really pushed hard to acquire him in a deal last June. He is a right-handed hitter that can play first and third, and the DH spot is available as a fallback if injuries limit him. He will probably get a two year deal for around $17-20M this offseason.

Lower-priced, Low Risk

All of these players are expected to get one year deals and for under $7M.

Delmon Young, OF: Young is one of the worst defensive outfielders in the game and his bat has hardly lived up to all the hype it had coming out of the minors. He also has questionable makeup and had some off-field issues, which certainly hurts the chances the Indians go after him. He is still only 27 years old and just two years removed from a good year with the Twins in 2010 (.298 AVG, 21 HR, 112 RBI, .826 OPS), and he hits from the right side. Even though he is probably best in a DH role going forward, he would be no worse defensively than a lot of what the Indians played in left field last season. He should get a one year deal for about $6-7M this offseason.

Francisco Liriano, SP: Liriano may be the left-handed version of former Indians righty Roberto Hernandez as a pitcher with all the talent in the world but has battled injuries and consistency issues throughout his career. Like Hernandez, Liriano still has the stuff to go out and win 12-15 games and put up good peripheral stats in any season, but a long history of inconsistency has really lowered his value in the industry. For that reason he will come very cheap this offseason and could be one of the best buy-low options among pitchers in free agency as he will probably only get a one year deal for $4-6M.

Joe Blanton, SP: Blanton is another guy that has had a solid showing over the past eight seasons averaging 10 wins, 178 innings, and 4.37 ERA over that span. He is rather ordinary and his performance has dipped some the last two seasons, but he could be a good value signing for a team looking to add some innings and consistency to the back of their starting rotation. He will probably get a one year deal for $4-7M this offseason.

In a nutshell…

We will see what happens in free agency with the Indians this offseason, but like I said, they will use free agency not necessarily to impact the team but to fill in gaps on the roster.  I still think that the trade route is where they will find any potential impact to the roster.

That being said, I could see the Indians signing one player from the “high” list above, or signing as many as three from the middle list. Jackson, Napoli, and Victorino look like guys they could get deep into negotiations with from the higher list; Youkilis and Ludwick from the middle list; and any of the three of Young, Liriano or Blanton from the lower list.

The Indians will certainly sign their fair share of bargain bin players this offseason, but I believe in the end we will see a much more aggressive effort than in years past and they sign one to three players to good sized contracts. And, ultimately, they will probably have to overpay to sign anyone, just like they did four years ago when they signedKerry Wood (2 years, $20 million).

MVP thoughts

Everybody has shared their thoughts on the American League MVP debate, so I am going to share mine.

I will say it right now: both Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout were deserving of the award. Both had historic seasons that they will be hard pressed to come close to matching in the future.  I personally favored Trout, but am fine with Cabrera winning. What I am not fine with is some of the ridiculous reasoning that has been thrown around as to why Cabrera deserves it more than Trout.

One of the most ridiculous reasons I have heard is Cabrera deserves it because he won and got his team to the playoffs. That is true, the Tigers finished 88-74 and won the AL Central. But what is also true is the Angels finished with a better record at 89-73, but missed the playoffs because they played in a much tougher division.

The Angels were also 8-16 before Trout arrived, and after his arrival they went 81-57 the rest of the way. The fact the Tigers made it to the playoffs is irrelevant to me as neither player controlled which division they were in. Besides, if Trout were on the Tigers and Cabrera on the Angels, I’m sure all the Cabrera backers would be discrediting the playoffs and the fact Cabrera won more games.

And don’t forget, the postseason does not matter. Ballots for the MLB awards are submitted at the end of the season and before the start of the postseason, so Cabrera’s performance in the postseason or the Tigers making it to the World Series were not in consideration.

There is no doubt that the Albert Pujols getting on track and having Jered Weaver in the rotation immensely helped the Angels, but so did the presence of Prince Fielder and Justin Verlander for the Tigers as well. It was not one single player in Cabrera that “got the Tigers to the postseason”, it was the trio of Cabrera-Fielder-Verlander. Just like it would have been the trio of Trout-Pujols-Weaver that got the Angels to the playoffs had they made it.

Shoot, a very strong argument could be made that Verlander was still the MVP of that Tigers team as without him they probably are not even a .500 team and come nowhere close to the playoffs. The same thing for Weaver.  An ace starting pitcher is the most valuable commodity to a team and the biggest driving force to their success.

So, again, congrats to Cabrera on a very deserving  MVP win, but can we please take out the arguments of a team winning, making the postseason, or a guy “carrying” his team? Winning and the postseason are things that are a team event, not something decided by one individual player. Sure, one player can certainly help, but usually it takes a collection of individuals to really have a strong influence on a team’s success, which is why the trio of players I mentioned above are so vital to those teams.

Parting shots

Newly acquired Indians catcher Yan Gomes is playing with Brazil this weekend in a World Baseball Classic qualifier being held in Panama. He went 2-for-4 in a big 3-2 win over host Panama on Friday night and they are two wins away from a berth in the WBC this spring. … The Indians were very aggressive in their attempt to land Korean left-handed pitcher Ryu Hyun-jin, probably more so than they ever have been for players of that magnitude available through the posting process. … Indians minor league field coordinator Rob Leary has left the organization to be the bench coach of the Miami Marlins. ... Have a Happy Thanksgiving everybody!

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

November 19, 2012 - 12:59 PM EST
I want Grady Sizemore
November 19, 2012 - 12:18 PM EST
Sign E Jack and Marcum before any other move then go from there. 2 - 3 yrs would be fine.
cam from maine
November 19, 2012 - 10:58 AM EST
Tony u see those contract figures off? I mean if all went maxed out and signed if the tribe,again IF, THEY HAVE$ 20,000,000.00 for free agency. would you like those signings? I made predictions. similar to what you wrote about .in regards to liriano, Jackson, bay,youk and **sizemore. many reasons for bay and Youk to sign in Cleveland. Grady has proven he will listen to the tribe first. I.e. last year. I think he has something to prove and less a risk then bay.not to say he couldn't resurrect his almost dead career in a quiet town. youk+tori just sound right. Jackson and liriano would be major assets, and f liriano on a incentive based pitch 160 innings
November 19, 2012 - 10:53 AM EST
Cam, Sizemore is not getting a guaranteed deal from anyone. He will get a minor league contract, and then if he makes a big league roster lots of incentives as you propose. No team is going to sign him for a risk of any guaranteed money though. I think the Indians could still be a team that signs him to such a deal. They know him and he knows them, so a natural fit. And E-Jax is likely going to get at least a 3 year deal this offseason and for around $10M per. A Jake Westbrook kind of contract he got from the Indians five years ago.
November 19, 2012 - 10:46 AM EST
-Cam from maine
November 19, 2012 - 10:45 AM EST
Sign Grady to incentive based contract.. 1-3 million plus incentives. One year deal. Youk 1-2 years@8-16 million incentives,
Edwin Jackson, 1-2 years 8-16 million, Francisco liriano inns pitched etc incentive based 1 year 1-3. million. Jason bay possible fit too I think no more than 3 no less then 1 million with incentives.
November 19, 2012 - 7:34 AM EST
So Youk takes care of almost all those problems . all the tribe needs is pitching, and left field
November 19, 2012 - 7:31 AM EST
Youk isn't a shortstop. but u know what's best for the tribe? He was a first baseman who has played a little 3B in comparison to how many seasons he has played at 1B. seeing the tribes gaping hole in LF, and at first base considering we have no plans for DH, EITHER!! Youk would be perfect spell help for chiz @ 3B IF NEED BE ON OCCASION. so not a defensive wunderkind , but more versatility and quality talent. for money spent.
November 19, 2012 - 5:40 AM EST
I think trade chris perez ,shinshoo choo ,A-Cab,and add two pitchers and victorino.

November 19, 2012 - 5:35 AM EST
Nick Swisher is switch hitter
November 18, 2012 - 11:53 PM EST
I haven't heard much about Pagan, and besides, I think he is viewed to stay in SF or be overpaid this offseason. I'm not sure that is a guy I'd want the Indians to give 3 years and $24M to.

As for Billy Butler, I don't see it. First, the Royals-Indians probably wouldn't make an inter-division trade, but most importantly I really believe the Indians want to move on from the DH-only types. They want more flexibility with the 25-man roster.

I can see McCarthy getting a look, but even on a one year deal he's looking for a lot of money (upwards of $7-10M). Knowing that the Indians have big concerns about the rotation, I don't believe they put half their offseason budget into an unknown pitching commodity. Any money they spend on a pitcher is most likely going to be on somebody with a history of being a workhorse and durable.

Mr. Negative, I think I addressed in the first paragraph or so they are not rebuilding and blowing it all up. They are retooling or reconfiguring....whatever you want to call it. You may see a combination of trades involving guys like Choo, Cabrera, etc, but not a fire sale for prospects type deal....more like the A's in getting back Major League ready guys. And they aren't dumping everyone. Aside from the trades, they will probably be active in free agency. Not big players.....but I can see activity similar to the 2008-2009 offseason.
November 18, 2012 - 11:46 PM EST
Jack, he batted about league average (wRC+ 102) and is only 19 in A+ ball, a league where the average age is 23 and is full of college pitchers and he was drafted straight out of high school. He'll be fine.
November 18, 2012 - 10:06 PM EST
All people need to know is that Melky's 2 year 16 million contract is termed by everyone as a low risk contract. For the Indians this would be a "marquee" signing. They need so much more creativity and out of the box thinking and really need to be much more aggressive in their pursuit of pitching. Maybe change the identity to more of a speed based, attacking offense. They obviously can't afford/develop power. More balls in play, stealing 200 bags, hit and run...anything other than what they have been doing. Choo for Billy Hamilton.
November 18, 2012 - 9:36 PM EST
Why would any free agent want to play for the Indians? Only the Marlins are less attractive right now. By definition they are going to have to overpay for anyone they bring in and anyone with any marketability, i.e. anyone worth signing, will just go elsewhere because they can. There's just no point in wasting money on free agents other than the fact that you have to field a team. Blow it up, nothing else makes any sense.
Jack Corrigan
November 18, 2012 - 9:23 PM EST
Discollama, Francisco Lindor batted .257 last year. People talk about this guy like he's Jesus Christ reincarnated at SS, but he sure didn't hit all that well last year.
Matt underwood
November 18, 2012 - 8:53 PM EST
Mr. Negative... They are going to try and do both - contend and rebuild. Since they've been horrible at both over the last 10 yrs, this should end well
Mr. Negative
November 18, 2012 - 8:36 PM EST
Not addressed is...are they trying to contend or will they blow this thing up? If they are trying to contend, they won't spend the kind of money necessary and whatever they do spend will be completely wasted. If they are blowing it up, all this talk is fruitless.
November 18, 2012 - 6:32 PM EST
Jack, we have a young athletic defensive wunderkind, his name is Francisco Lindor.
Jack Corrigan (again)
November 18, 2012 - 5:16 PM EST
Can Chris Antonetti trade himself, along with $5 million of course, to the Tigers or something so he can ruin that organization in the same fashion he did to the Indians? Could be our best hope.
Jack Corrigan
November 18, 2012 - 5:04 PM EST
Anyone ever see that Seinfeld episode where George does the exact opposite of his instincts and things then begin to turn his way? I think Chris Antonetti ought to give that a try. I mean, everything he's done since being a GM has been a bad move. For real!

Chris Antonetti wants to sign Kevin Youkilis? OK, instead trade for a young SS that is actually athletic and not in clear decline.

This guy should be doing the exact opposite of everything he considers. I wish he had the foresight of doing as such the last 2 years b/c he's been miserable.
November 18, 2012 - 2:39 PM EST
Haren is most likely going to be too expensive, you're paying for the name brand, I'd rather try for a guy like E-Jax, a chronically underrated pitcher who's very young and may never end up getting a long term deal in his career.

However, I have doubts about signing any one from the first group and I'd be happy with the team's FA shopping if we end up with two of either Ludwick, Youkilis, Marcum or Guthrie (though I think that price for Guthrie is a little high, and it's rumored that he's angry with the Indians for giving up on him) and Blanton or Liriano.
November 18, 2012 - 2:36 PM EST
I would think the aforementioned Pagan would be in the mix ... I would kind of group Ross, Victorino, and Pagan together. If the contract length were similar, I'd take Pagan over Victorino, but I think Ross will be a little cheaper than both of them and might end up being just as productive, so I guess my order of preference would be Ross, Pagan, Victorino. I'm guessing Pagan may be a tougher sign than Victorino, as far as probably not wanting to go to Cleveland, so Victorino is probably the more realistic signing.

On the pitching side, no interest in Brandon McCarthy? I would personally be scared of Haren since the Angels seem to have no interest at all in bringing him back. Would be surprised if he gets 2 years. The velocity decline can't be ignored.

If they sign Delmon Young, Antonetti should be immediately fired. The guy's been a below replacement-level player for the past 4 years. A .304 wOBA is not exactly prime DH material. More like a right-handed Casey Kotchman who can't play any position. They'd be better off to just go with Laporta or Canzler, if the alternative is Delmon Young. Signing a guy like Young and hoping he performs on the high end of expectations (maybe he'll hit like he did in 2010, rather than every other year!) is exactly the type of negative-sum move the Indians love to make, so I could totally see that happening.
Matt underwood
November 18, 2012 - 1:24 PM EST
(Another) horrible move by the front office was when they put Guthrie on waivers in 07, he only had one opportunity to start in the big leagues.

He was one of the top amateur starter when drafted, the tribe gave him a ton of money (2nd largest signing bonus ever) and they never gave the guy a chance. 1 ML start and put on waivers and went on to be a 200 inning workhorse.

Idiots. I'm not sure if this was that moron wedge or that friggin idiot Shapiro were responsible for that decision. God I hate this organization...

Rant over... I'd sign haren.
November 18, 2012 - 12:12 PM EST
I see that you have Victorino on your list, but what about Pagan? A lot of people seem to think that they'll get similar contracts, but most also think that Pagan is the safer bet. Both are good fielders (Victorino better), both have speed, Victorino has a little bit more power but Pagan looks like he makes better contact.

I've been seeing a lot of buzz about Billy Butler being dangled by the Royals. He's been a favorite of mine for a while now and I was wondering if the Indians have the depth to make a run at him? I think that they should make a strong offer if they end up getting a couple of OF types like Ludwick and Victorino/Pagan, thus freeing up Choo to actively shop around.
November 18, 2012 - 11:00 AM EST
The award probably came down to seniority. Trout deserved it statistically, but Miggy has done what he does year in and year out and I'm sure it was tough for a lot of voters to vote against him the year he wins the triple crown.
November 18, 2012 - 8:32 AM EST
two brief comments: swisher is the rare comodity of left handed throwing switch hitter. and bite your tounge, Cabrera in the AL Central is scary enough but the least the indians see of mike trout the better. That man is a beast!!!!!!!!!!!!!! scoscia said it all when he said the only athletes with the size and speed of Mike Trout play in Hawaii after the NFL season is over!!!!!

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