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Tribe Happenings: Indians should be very active in Nashville

Tribe Happenings: Indians should be very active in Nashville
December 2, 2012
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Some news, notes, and thoughts from my Indians notebook…

Winter meetings insanity

The annual baseball winter meetings have arrived.

Throughout the day today executives, agents, and media people throughout the baseball world will descend upon the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center in Nashville, Tennessee. Once everyone settles in, the wheeling and dealing will begin.

The Indians have been pretty quiet this offseason up to this point. They made some news back in early October when they inked manager Terry Francona and they also made a notable trade a few weeks ago when they sent Esmil Rogers to the Blue Jays for Mike Aviles and Yan Gomes, but since then all they have really done this offseason is sign a half dozen or so players to minor league contracts.

For an organization that has supposedly made some revisions with the approach to their player procurement process, things have not been much different this offseason than any other offseason of theirs over the past decade.

That should change this week as the Indians are expected to push their offseason plans into a much higher gear. They ultimately may or may not acquire anyone, but they are expected to be much more involved in talks for free agents than they have in the past, and they could be involved in almost every potential trade rumor out there as they look to flip some of their own Major League and minor league players for needs at the big league level.

A lot of people that have been slamming the Indians the past few weeks for a lack of activity should get their wish this week as they should be extremely busy in the trade market. The Indians run a tight ship by not leaking very many deals that they are working on, so most of the gossip is going to have to be started by the other teams they are talking to or the agents for the free agents they are negotiating with. Somehow, someway, the information will get out there because that is what happens at the winter meetings.

The Indians have some money to spend. They have about $45 million or so locked into their current payroll when you include all of the arbitration projections, so if their payroll for next season is once again around $65 million it means they could have close to $20 million to spend this offseason, maybe even more if the budget is a little higher or they trade one of their higher salary players.

They won’t be in on the mega free agents, but they could be players on the ones getting two to three years and $7-11 million per season. There are a lot of free agents that are going to sign deals in that range, and it would not be a surprise to see the Indians come away with one or two players for that kind of money, be it during the winter meetings or shortly after it.

But the area where the Indians will probably create the biggest buzz is going to be the trade market. They have three All Star players that they could move in shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, outfielder Shin-Soo Choo, and right-handed closer Chris Perez. They are not expected to trade all three, but it is possible that one or even two could be dealt to help fill the Indians’ thirst for premium, young Major League ready starting pitching.

There is no urgency to trade any of Cabrera, Choo, or Perez since all would be under contract for a reasonable amount of money next season. Cabrera is a bargain at a total of $16.5 million the next two seasons and both Choo and Perez should each cost under $8 million in arbitration. The Indians can hold out for the right deal on all three players, and if they don’t get what they want they can keep them and then reassess things in July depending on how they are doing in the standings.

Teams acquiring Choo or Perez will want to underpay because of that one year remaining on their contract. But, if the Indians wait until July a team may be willing to overpay if they are available then and having a good year because such a team would be willing to take the gamble if they believe Choo or Perez puts them over the top. There is arguably more urgency by teams at that point. So, if they go out and have good seasons then the return for a full year of Choo or Perez now may not be much different than for the return for a half year if traded in July.

No matter how they attack things, the Indians can put their revised approach into action and try to fill in some of their gaping holes on the roster. Everyone knows how they need at least two starting pitchers and have a big hole at first base and left field. They probably will not be able to address every hole on the roster this offseason, and they may even make deals where they fill one hole by creating another, but it should not be unreasonable to expect them to go out and make at least three good acquisitions to the roster to fill the starting rotation, outfield and infield in some capacity.

The possibilities are endless with what could happen with the Indians this winter meetings. They could end up doing nothing and sitting on the sidelines, something that they done all too often in the past. But with three All Star assets at their disposal that they are fully ready to shop around the entire league, it looks like they will be one of the biggest players in the winter meetings hysteria this week and Cabrera may be one of the most sought after players because of the poor market for shortstops in free agency and his very team friendly contract.

The only question is if they go through with any of the soon-to-be-rumored trades or agree to take on the risk of any of the more notable free agents out there that they get in touch with.  That is something we are just going to have to wait and find out for ourselves.

If the Indians truly have changed their approach, then this is the time when things should really get put into motion as they look to strike and make good, calculated baseball signings or trades to impact the roster in a very positive manner. I, like most of you, expect them to be very busy this next week, and if they are not then I, like you, will come away very disappointed.

Playing the arbitration game

The non-tender deadline came and went on Friday, something that is now much earlier in the offseason thanks to the new CBA. In years past the non-tender deadline usually fell sometime in the first or second week of December, and often the week of or week after the winter meetings, but now all teams will know who the non-tenders all around baseball are at the outset of the winter meetings. This is something that will help in the planning process as teams look to add players to their rosters the next week and through the rest of the offseason.

Of no surprise, the Indians tendered contracts to Shin-Soo Choo ($7.9M estimated arbitration figure for 2013), Lou Marson ($800K), Justin Masterson ($5.7M), Chris Perez ($7.2M), Tony Sipp ($1M), and Joe Smith ($2.7M), but did not tender contracts to Jack Hannahan ($1.5), Rafael Perez ($2.0M) and Chris Seddon (unknown, but probably about $600K). By non-tendering the trio of Hannahan, Perez and Seddon, all three are now free agents.

For a team working with a tight budget and looking to get more versatile from the right side on the bench, Hannahan was a luxury they really could no longer afford because they want to have Lonnie Chisenhall play every day at third base and they would rather allocate the money they would have spent on Hannahan to a position of need. Hannahan’s contributions are hard to measure simply with statistics as he was an incredible teammate, but it was time to move on and give the job to one of their best young prospects and look to upgrade the roster elsewhere.  The hope is that if Chisenhall stays healthy, the Indians have their third baseman for at least the next half decade.

Perez was limited to just eight appearances with the Indians at the start of the season before he was shut down and placed on the disabled list with left latissimus and shoulder soreness at the end of April. He worked his way back to a minor league rehab assignment in July where he made four appearances for Double-A Akron and Triple-A Columbus from July 14-23, but had a setback in his rehab and was shut down for two weeks. He returned and made one appearance on August 11th for Columbus before he was permanently shut down for the season.

At the end of September the Indians and Perez opted for surgery to correct his shoulder issue. He underwent an arthroscopic debridement of his left shoulder and was expected to be ready for the start of spring training in 2013. His questionable health status and the sizable amount of money he would have commanded in arbitration were the big reasons why he became expendable to the Indians. He is a free agent now, but if he is unable to find a guaranteed deal for 2013 from another team – something that is possible considering he is coming off shoulder surgery – it would not be a surprise to see Perez resigned by the Indians to a minor league deal.

Win or go home

Indians President Mark Shapiro caused quite a stir this week for a comment he made a week ago on Les Levine’s TV show, “More Sports and Les Levine”.

To recap what all the fuss is about, Shapiro responded to an email from a season ticketholder that wanted to know why they should renew their tickets. He responded with, “If you base your decision to come to the game on whether we win or lose, don’t come. You’re missing out. You’re missing out on what baseball is all about, and I’m fine with that.”

On the surface without any context – as a lot of people read it – that looks pretty harsh, especially coming from Shapiro who is usually pretty good with thinking through his responses to any question he is given. But it is important to note that he was not simply saying “don’t come” he was simply saying that winning and losing should not be the be-all-end-all for why someone attends baseball games.

And he is 100% right.

How this even became a story is beyond me, but that’s the day in age we live in with social media where anything said through any platform is eventually caught by someone and can become viral in seconds. And that is what happened here as it became a subject on sportstalk radio and Twitter for a few days. All of it an overreaction to a simple response that maybe was not the most tactful reply, but still was the correct reply.

We all want to win. That is the ultimate goal in anything we do. But winning is not what drives me as a baseball fan. If winning was what it was all about then I don’t know how I would have become an Indians fan in the first place growing up with them in the late 70s and the 80s.  The Indians had fans during the dark times in the 60s, 70s and 80s when they were a perennial league doormat. Winning was not the reason those people forked over money for tickets and why they invested so much time watching them on TV or reading about them each day in the newspaper.

Heck, to go a step further, why would anyone care about the Cleveland Browns? You know, the team that is one of the worst franchises in the NFL over the last 14 years and have not really been relevant as an NFL franchise since the end of the 80s? Or the Cleveland Cavaliers who since LeBron James took his talents to South Beach are once again nothing more than a below average franchise with little chance to ever become a top tier franchise again unless the stars align and a superstar falls into their lap again through the draft?

Fans continue to support the Browns and Cavs because they have a passion for the sport and they love their team. That’s the same way it should be for the Indians as well.

What it all comes down to is that passion for baseball. It is entertainment, a release from our daily lives with pressures from work and family. Some people read a book to get away. Others take on a hobby like painting, building things with their hands, and so on. And others turn to sports.

Of course, sports nowadays are not as easy going as they used to be since we now put so much time and energy into the teams we follow. The emotions are more intensified thanks to all the social media, websites, cable networks and everything else out there that puts us in touch with our teams 24/7. So sports probably only increase our stress levels rather than reduce it.

But it still comes back to that passion, and not winning, which is why we attend games.  It allows us to make connections with our friends and family, and also to harken back to the days of our youth when things were so much simpler.

In retrospect, Shapiro wishes he would have said things a little differently on the program, but he had the right idea in the first place with why people attend baseball games, or purchase a ticket for any form of entertainment for that matter. Whether it is a ticket to a baseball game, the theater, a concert, or to go see a movie, it is the passion for that entertainment that drives you to go.

It’s about the years

A lot of big dollar deals will be floated around this week, and several players will be signed to them. One thing we can always be pretty sure of is that the Indians won’t be attached to many of those long term deals – if any at all.

If it were just for one year, the Indians could sign just about any player. If Zach Greinke only wanted $25 million for one season, they could be in the mix to sign him just like everyone else. But that’s the fundamental difference when it comes to risk with Major League free agent contracts as you go from one or two years at “x” amount versus five or more years at “x” amount. The longer the guaranteed money is spread out, the riskier it becomes, and why teams like the Indians have never been comfortable going more than three years for any free agent.

When it comes to free agency for the Indians, it has and always will be the years and not the actual money per year that is the problem. Giving Greinke one year $25 million is much different than say six years and $150 million.

This approach to free agency of limiting the years is why they missed out on free agents back in the 90s like Roger Clemons, Alex Fernandez, and others. Those players wanted deals beyond what they were comfortable with giving. It is why they always looked for players under much shorter term salary commitments with free agent signings like Dennis Martinez (signed a three year $13 million deal), Eddie Murray (signed a two year $6 million deal), Orel Hershiser (signed a two year $3 million deal), Julio Franco (signed a two year $5 million deal), Dwight Gooden (signed a two year $5 million deal), Jack McDowell (signed a two year $9 million deal), and Robbie Alomar (signed a three year $22 million deal).

Again, the amount per year has never been a problem, but the long term risk has always been minimized by two or three year deals. It is the way they have gone about free agency since Hank Peters and John Hart ran the team and is still the way they do it today under Mark Shapiro and now Chris Antonetti. The biggest fundamental difference being you got a heck of a lot more bang for your buck on two or three year deals back then than you get now.

Kluber has surgery

On Friday the Indians released the news that right-handed pitcher Corey Kluber underwent a right knee meniscectomy that morning at the Cleveland Clinic.  The surgery came about as the result of an injury he sustained while playing with his daughter at home in Jacksonville, Florida.

Kluber, 27, went 2-5 with a 5.14 ERA in 12 starts for the Indians this past season. Prior to joining the Indians he went 11-7 with a 3.59 ERA in 21 starts for Triple-A Columbus and had a 9.2 K/9.  He was up and down with his performance in Cleveland, but showed flashes of potential and also showed the ability to get a strikeout.

The injury is not much of a concern because Kluber is expected to be back and ready to participate in spring training without restrictions. At the same time, he is also not considered to be in the running for a rotation spot to open next season since the Indians are looking to upgrade their starting rotation this offseason. Barring a rash of injuries this spring, he is expected to open the season at Columbus and be the first or second arm called upon when a starting need arises.

Parting shots

The Indians have signed infielder/outfielder Nate Spears and right-handed pitcher Fernando Nieve to minor league contracts with invites to Major League spring training. Spears is a 27-year old jack-of-all-trades player that was signed for depth and to fill a utility role for Triple-A Columbus. He hit .240 with 10 HR, 38 RBI, and .725 OPS in 108 games for Triple-A Pawtucket last season. Nieve is a 30-year old pitcher with big league experience and went 7-9 with a 5.96 ERA in 25 games for Triple-A Albuquerque last season. … These signings come on the coattails of two other signings last week when outfielders Matt Carson and Cedric Hunter were both signed to minor league deals with invites to big league spring training. … The Indians claimed first baseman Mike McDade off of waivers from the Blue Jays on Friday. He hit .285 with 17 HR, 67 RBI and .806 OPS in 108 combined games for Double-A New Hampshire and Triple-A Las Vegas last season. He is expected to split time at first base with Lars Anderson at Triple-A Columbus this 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

Joey
December 3, 2012 - 12:15 PM EST
Out of Choo, Perez and Cabrera, I feel if they trade Cabrera it will create the most backlash and criticism from fans considering hes the only hitter thats an All-Star on the team and a fan favorite
Tony
December 3, 2012 - 1:03 AM EST
Man, a lot of cynicism among the fanbase.....but to be expected. Hard to blame considering how many times they have come up short with delivering a good offseason in the past. Hopefully if some of the things I have heard happen, they can help repair some of that lost faith. because without faith there can be no hope.
Jeff
December 2, 2012 - 11:26 PM EST
Indians wont get miller or taveras, everyone knows about ACAB's slide in the second half and bad defense. It would be matt adams and a pitcher maybe Rosenthal if lucky
Mr. Negative
December 2, 2012 - 9:54 PM EST
Your headline: "Tribe Happenings: Indians should be very active in Nashville" is correct. They SHOULD be very active. But we all know they will not be active at all. They will sit on the curb and watch the parade go by.
Nick
December 2, 2012 - 4:43 PM EST
Yea, I remembered when the Indians offered cc 72 millon for 4 years , Fat boy said no. PS. if cabrera is traded it better be for Selby miller and out fielder taveras of the cardinals.
Schnabs
December 2, 2012 - 2:43 PM EST
Shapiro could have communicated what he wanted to say more tactfully, but many people understand how difficult it is to put together a championship team without boatloads of money. I want to see a more active off-season than last one, and from what I have read I have to believe that the FO and ownership see that last year's approach was too conservative. That being said, for a team like the Indians to succeed then they'll have to make the right choices more often than not. Making the right choices is part luck and part professional scouting and decision making processes. Luck is luck, but they claim to be examining and constantly improving the other two. Let's hope that they have done it.

Small correction to the above article: C. Perez will not be a free agent until after the 2014 year which drastically improves his trade value.

I agree about Choo though. His value to the team (fan favorite, quality player, best lead-off hitter, and compensation supplemental draft pick) outweigh almost anything that will be on offer this off-season--especially considering that the richest position in free agency this year is outfield so that further depresses the trade market for Choo. I will be happy to cheer for him this coming year at Progressive Field.

As stated, Cabrera has the best trade value, and if a premium pitching prospect is available he will be traded eventually, but it may take longer than expected. We'll see. I eventually think that the we'll get Bauer from the Diamondbacks when the Rangers resign Hamilton and finally nix Arizona's possibility of getting Andrus.

Finally, I bet they'll wait until someone gets desperate to get a proper closer and then take the best available offer. This may happen in spring training after an expected closer gets injured. There aren't really too many other sure-thing closers available so I do think that eventually there is a market and a good trade to be had.

Those are my two (five) cents on the matter...
Jim
December 2, 2012 - 12:51 PM EST
...and there is the problem Dennis...you can say you have changed philosophy until you are blue in the face...but even if they swing deals this offseason...have they really?

I 100% agree with Steve...

and to be honest...the Indians are a massively different animal than say...the Yankees or Red Sox losing. What Shapiro failed to mention is that the fan base there has a certain amount of faith that the organization will make moves to keep the team from sucking for very long.

Does Shapiro have that kinda faith? Does Antonetti? Again...this is an issue that is bantered about over and over here at IPI, and it's a lot more complicated than a few statements...

most of the folks here will go to Indians games until we die...or they move (that will come first)...

but we are in a market where the FO can't make many mistakes...and they continually do...and now say dumb things. While I agree that he would likely re-tone his statements, it's still a freaking idiotic thing to say in a market that's already strained, and just another mistake in a long line of them...

Now...make some moves, so we can forget about this garbage...
Seth
December 2, 2012 - 12:47 PM EST
I didn't hear anything about this Shapiro comment before reading this, but in the context of a season ticket holder, that's not really a good respone at all. It's not so much a question of winning, as it is in doing the best they can to win, rather than focusing on eeking out a few more million for the owners. Before last year, I didn't really have too many complaints about their failure to spend money, but, in the wake of them blowing it on what were two obvious and crucial needs last year, 1b and LF, and being scared off by paying Willingham a few million, in my mind they have something to prove. I'll withhold judgment until this offseason shakes out, but I think a season ticket holder has every right to ask management what they're doing to justify such a purchase. I think the fans who were saying at the beginning of last year, "I'm not going to go to any games because they'll eventually fold" are ridiculous, that the eventual outcome of the season shouldn't change the enjoyment of watching a meaningful game in July ... but if they again don't sign anyone for 1b, lf, and a pitcher, then I'd agree there is no good reason to buy season tickets because they are not positioning themselves to be a contender and make going to games in August, September, any fun at all. You really want to pay good money to see a starting outfield of Carrera and Thomas Neal?

The "low attendance" argument as a reason to not spend, to me hold a lot less water now. Starting in 2014, the Indians will be getting what, $80 million a year from national TV and local TV revenue? It's a different landscape, attendance isn't the revenue driver it used to be, TV is. The Dodgers could have an attendance of 0 and still field a $300 million payroll. The Indians can't compete with them and a few others who've signed massive local TV deals, but they should be able to afford some longer-term free agents, and you can get value from guys of the Swisher, Victorino, variety where you won't be getting into bidding wars with the big boys. The revenue is already there even if attendance were to decline further, any future increase in attendance would just be icing on the cake.
Dennis
December 2, 2012 - 12:44 PM EST
So far this off season as been similar to last McDade=Canzler,Hunter = Spilborough,etc. The rumors will fly like last winter meeting which is always more interesting sometimes than what actually happens. Hope the indians will pull off a deal or signing, but I'm not counting on it.
Homer
December 2, 2012 - 12:23 PM EST
I look forward to seeing what the Tribe brings home from the meetings. I have a feeling they will be very active not only in just discussions.

Personally, I wouldn't be surprised to see the Tribe move all of ACab, CPerez and Choo. A cpl of other moves I think we could see them make would be to trade Jimenez, Smith and Marson too. At this point I think no one is off limits.

ACab - 2 yrs of control should bring back the best return. At least one now pitcher and potentially a minor leaguer.

Chris Perez - 2 yrs of control should land the Tribe at least one now arm or bat, maybe a two for one type deal. One piece ready and another younger prospect.

Choo - 1 yr of control should land at least one now arm, again the Tribe could try a two for one type deal with a now player and then another young prospect.

If the Tribe trades 2/3 they have at least another $12 Mil to spend IF they move these pieces and try to contend for the AL Central. Personally, I think they could IF they land a cpl of the names they've been linked to and get a cpl young SP for the rotation.
Steve
December 2, 2012 - 10:35 AM EST
In retrospect, Shapiro wishes he would have said things a little differently on the program---

This is a big problem with Dolan, Shapiro, and others in the org. They speak a language that doesn't match the fanbase. Not that the fanbase is dumb but Bill Veeck once said that if you market only to the hard core baseball fan you'll be out of business by Mothers Day.

Shapiro and many other in the front office speak to the language that the hard core fan understands but the rest of the fan base detest.

Dennis
December 2, 2012 - 8:39 AM EST
Bravo !! on outlining the Mark Shapiro comments. There are far too many naysayers and negative nelly's in this town that would love nothing more than to fire the coach, fire the manager, get a new owner, etc.etc instead of enjoying the sports franchise they love, win or lose. Part of being a fan is caring. Being sick and tired of the way a team operates is part of the being a fan. So are the small victories that make a club or a team worth watching. Don't drown out the good by reiterating the bad over and over. Screaming about never spending a dime on the team unless "they win two world series' in one year" is your choice. It isn't ever going to happen, but winning one, might.

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