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Tribe Happenings: Indians strike early in offseason

Tribe Happenings: Indians strike early in offseason
November 4, 2012
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Some news, notes, and thoughts from my Indians notebook…

Note, this is part one of a special two-part Tribe Happenings this week. Tomorrow morning (Monday) I will post part two which will focus on the Indians approach to player acquisitions this offseason.

Indians acquire much needed infield, catching help

The Indians got their offseason started with a bang once again with a three player trade on Saturday that sent right-handed reliever Esmil Rogers to the Toronto Blue Jays for infielder Mike Aviles and catcher Yan Gomes.

Aviles, 31, was the starting shortstop for the Red Sox last season playing in 136 games and ended up hitting .250 with 13 HR, 60 RBI, 14 stolen bases and .663 OPS. Over his five year Major League career covering 475 games he has posted an average of .277 with 39 HR, 190 RBI and .715 OPS. He was recently traded on October 21st from the Red Sox to the Blue Jays as part of the compensation package for manager John Farrell.

Aviles brings a proven right-handed bat in the infield the Indians have lacked for a couple of season, and he also provides some much needed versatility off the bench.  He has mostly played shortstop over his career (280 games), but has also played in 144 games at second base, 61 games at third base, and even 5 games in the outfield. That versatility along with solid production from the right side of the plate was a big reason the Indians completed the deal.  In his career he has hit lefties much better (.295 AVG, .797 OPS) than he has hit righties (.269 AVG, .680 OPS), so he should complement left-handed hitting third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall well and also allow second baseman Jason Kipnis to get more rest and sit from time to time against lefties.

The Indians have been searching for a true backup shortstop and utility option since Jamey Carroll left after the 2009 season, and Aviles may finally fill that hole. He made $1.2 million last season and as a second year arbitration player will probably make somewhere north of $2 million in 2013. For those that think that is an overpayment for a bench/role player, remember that the Indians paid Carroll $2.2 million in 2008 and $2.5 million in 2009 to fill their utility role (a role he filled well). That could be about what the Indians pay for Aviles over the next two seasons as he is under club control through the end of the 2014 season.

There are some that think with the addition of Aviles that it could mean that incumbent shortstop Asdrubal Cabreramay be traded this offseason. While anything is possible if the Indians get “the right deal”, the chances look very remote of such a thing happening as they very much plan to have Cabrera as the everyday shortstop next season. Whether the fans agree or not, the Indians are currently not in a rebuilding mode, so they are looking to add players and not make veteran for prospect deals this offseason. Cabrera may come up in trade talks as the Indians search high and dry for starting pitching help this offseason, but the return for Cabrera is not expected to align with the value they have on him as their starting shortstop.

With the addition of Aviles, it all but closes the book on any chance that Jack Hannahan and Brent Lillibridge remain with the club next season. Both are under team control, but both are arbitration eligible and will cost well above the league minimum. Both are expected to be non-tendered at some point before the non-tender deadline date on November 30th, and probably will be done before the November 20th roster deadline.

Gomes, 25, hit .328 with 13 HR, 59 RBI, and .938 OPS in 79 games at Triple-A Las Vegas. He also made his Major League debut with the Blue Jays in 2012 and hit .204 with 4 HR, 13 RBI and .631 OPS in 43 games. Over his 301 game minor league career he has played a majority of the time at catcher (172 games), but also played in 37 games at first base, 24 games at third base, and 1 game in the outfield. In 43 games with the Blue Jays last year he played in 20 games at first base, 9 games at catcher, 8 games at third base, and 4 games in the outfield.

What attracted the Indians to Gomes was the production and versatility he could provide from the right side of the plate. In his four year minor league career he is a .287 hitter with a healthy .828 OPS, and is very athletic with soft hands and a good arm behind the plate. The feeling is that he has yet to reach his full potential as a catcher, and he now affords the Indians a third catching option they did not have last season.

The Indians have no plans to move Carlos Santana out from behind the plate because he is a solid defender at the position with a good arm. The move may allow more flexibility down the road should the Indians consider playing Santana at first base more often, and with the designated hitter spot vacated with the departure of Travis Hafner the Indians can now use that spot to rotate players like Santana, Aviles, Cabrera, Kipnis, and others to keep them fresh.

But where it really helps is with their catching depth and whether or not they decide to keep Lou Marson this offseason. Marson is up for salary arbitration for the first time, which means going by the Indians track record in the past he could be on the trade block this offseason.  The Indians don’t have to trade him and he won’t bring back a major piece on his own, but he could be a key secondary piece included in a larger deal because every team is always looking for Major League catching, he offers a team roster flexibility since he has options remaining, and since he is a first time arbitration eligible player he won’t be terribly expensive.

There is a recent precedent with the Indians when it comes to trading their backup catcher. Previously when Josh Bard hit salary arbitration for the first time following the 2005 season, the Indians traded him to Boston in the Andy Marte deal. A few years later when catcher Kelly Shoppach entered his second year of arbitration after the 2009 season he was traded to the Tampa Bay Rays in the deal that brought back Mitch Talbot. The same thing could now happen to Marson as their past history shows they prefer a limited amount of dollars to be spent on their backup catcher.

If Marson is retained, then Gomes offers the Indians a much needed third catching option. He could open the season on the big league roster and because of his versatility could fill a third catcher role and get playing time there as well as at third base, first base, and designated hitter. In addition, with a third catcher on the big league roster, it should allow the Indians to play Santana at designated hitter a lot more to keep him fresh.  Or, the Indians can simply just option Gomes out to Triple-A Columbus and continue to develop his catching and have him on call as a depth option when Marson struggles (he has options) or one of Santana or Marson are injured.

Rogers, 27, had a breakout campaign with the Indians and went 3-1 with a 3.06 ERA in 44 relief appearances after being acquired on June 12th from the Rockies. Prior to his arrival in Cleveland he went 0-2 with a 8.06 ERA in 23 appearances for the Rockies, and even after his fine showing with the Indians is still 11-12 with a 5.95 ERA in 114 career big league appearances.

Rogers never really put up big numbers in the minors and his inconsistency in the big leagues makes you feel that the Indians sold high on him after his nice showing this season.  He is a decent pen arm, but his reliability going forward remains in question and he was a fungible reliever on the Indians roster. He has a very good power arm, but his command still leaves a lot to be desired and his fastball is straight with very little movement.  Plus, the one thing the Indians have a lot of are right-handed bullpen arms in the minors that can fill middle relief and setup roles in the near future, so he presented the Indians an option to trade from a position of strength.

Some may wonder why the Indians would not try Rogers in a starting role again, but that is an experiment the Indians just did not have the luxury of trying. With no options remaining, him expected to be a Super 2 arbitration eligible player this offseason and getting more expensive, and the Indians needing stability in the rotation, it just was not an option to try him out as a starter in spring training because no matter what happened he would still be a big question mark in the role at the outset of the season.

No, this deal was not the big impact move a lot of fans were hoping for this offseason, but it is a positive start in the right direction to what is a very important offseason for the Indians. There is a loooong way to go this offseason.

This early trade brings back memories of last offseason when the Indians struck quickly and acquired Derek Lowe in a small deal, but they never really followed that up with anything else the rest of the way. Hopefully this time around this is but the appetizer to the main course and then desert this offseason.

A busy week of roster decisions

Beyond the trade, it was a busy week for the Indians as they made several decisions with respect to their Major League and 40-man roster.

As expected, the Indians picked up the $5.75 million club option on Ubaldo Jimenez and declined the $13 million club option ($2.75 million buyout) on Travis Hafner and $6 million club option on Roberto Hernandez. Both Hafner and Hernandez are free agents and free to sign with any team.

Even though Jimenez really struggled in 2012 (9-17, 5.40 ERA), his cost in 2013 is not that high and they still believe he can be close to the pitcher that they thought he would be for them when they acquired him from the Rockies in July of 2011. Declining his option would have only saved them $4.75 million since he had a $1 million buyout if his option was declined, and considering that next year is essentially a free agent year for him the belief is he will pitch much better since he is pitching for his next contract. (Note, he has a mutual option for 2014, but it likely won’t be picked up in any scenario.)

Hafner and Hernandez’s careers look to be finished in Cleveland as the two represent a lot of what has gone wrong with the roster and finances with the team over the past few years, though there is a very remote possibility either one could return on a very small deal. Hernandez would appear to have the better shot of returning as Hafner will probably get interest in the free agent market from American League teams looking for a one year stop gap at designated hitter at $1 to $4 million.

Free agents Grady Sizemore and Casey Kotchman also officially filed for free agency. While you can never say never, there appears to be no chance Kotchman returns next season. As for Sizemore, not only does his career with the Indians appears to be over, but his Major League career may be over as well since a lot of people in the industry believe he is finished. Being who he is I could see a team throw a dart and sign  him to a non-guaranteed minor league deal and see where things go with him next season, which could open the door for him to return to the Indians one last time (something I would be 100% for).

Vinny Rottino and Kevin Slowey were both designated for assignment, cleared waivers, and were outrighted to Triple-A Columbus. Since this is the first time Slowey has been outrighted to the minors, he has to accept the assignment and he is under the Indians’ control in 2013 as a non-roster player. This is the second time Rottino has cleared waivers and been outrighted to the minors, so he can choose to decline the assignment and become a free agent or if he accepts it he will remain property of the Indians for 2013. Scott Maine was also designated for assignment, but did not clear waivers as the Blue Jays claimed him and placed him on their 40-man roster.

The Indians are not done with their cleanup of the 40-man roster as more players are expected to be removed as the hot stove season carries on. Players like Chris SeddonThomas Neal and others are still candidates to be designated for assignment, and as mentioned above the Indians will likely non-tender Hannahan and Lillibridge, making them free agents.

Indians get some Wood

The Indians also made an interesting waiver claim on Friday in picking up right-handed reliever Blake Wood from the Royals.

Wood, 27, has made 106 career relief appearances in the big leagues with a 4.06 ERA, 1.46 WHIP, 4.1 BB/9, and 7.0 K/9. He must remain on the active roster in the offseason (there is no disabled list in the offseason), but once things get rolling in spring training he can be placed on the 60-day disabled list and continue his rehab. If he is not ready when he returns he has an option remaining so could go to Triple-A Columbus and be kept there as depth.

Wood brings a power arm into the fold that could potentially fill the small hole left after Esmil Rogers was traded yesterday. He is a power pitcher with a fastball that consistently clocks in at 93-95 MPH and gets up to 97 MPH and has a good power curveball to tag along with it. While the potential is good, there is risk in that he has had some command, delivery, and health issues throughout his career. In addition to missing all of 2012 with the right elbow injury, he missed time in 2007 to repair a herniated disc in his back and missed a lot more time in 2009 with back and elbow problems.

The Royals tried to sneak Wood through waivers because he is coming off of Tommy John surgery in May and is expected to miss at least the first month or two of the 2013 season, but the Indians saw a distressed property that could add value to their bullpen in the not too distant future. He probably won’t help much in the early part of the 2013 season since he is coming off a major surgery to his right elbow, but if he rebounds well he could factor into things as soon as May or June, maybe even earlier.

Coaching staff set

In other news, the Indians announced their 2013 coaching staff on Wednesday, naming Sandy Alomar Jr. as bench coach, Mickey Callaway as pitching coach, Kevin Cash as bullpen coach, Brad Mills as third base and outfield coach, Mike Sarbaugh as first base and infield coach, and Ty Van Burkleo as hitting coach.

The appointments of Alomar, Mills and Sarbaugh are hardly a surprise as I have already discussed and dissected all three here in this space several times over the past month, but the hiring of Callaway, Cash and Van Burkleo are interesting hires that mostly came out of nowhere.

Callaway, 37, is a guy I had mentioned over the past month as someone who I felt was in the running, but I never thought he would be the guy the Indians ended up selecting for the role as I felt they were going to go after an experienced big league pitching coach. He has just three years of coaching experience after retiring as a player following the 2009 season, but he moved quickly through the Indians system.  When he was appointed the organization’s minor league pitching coordinator at this time last offseason even after just two years in the organization, it should have been a sign that he was highly viewed in the organization and was a coach on the rise. Now, he gets the ultimate opportunity as a pitching coach in the big leagues. Considering that there were not a whole lot of “name” pitching coaches available, much less ones that Terry Francona and the Indian front office were comfortable with, he may have been the best option and time will tell if he was the right choice.

Van Burkleo, 50, has a lot of experience as a coach, serving as the minor league hitting coordinator with the Angels from 2001-2006, the hitting coach with the Athletics from 2007-2008, the bench coach with the Mariners from 2009-2010, and the minor league hitting coordinator with the Astros from 2011-2012. Obviously there is a connection between Mills and Van Burkleo during their time together in Houston, especially since Van Burkleo filled the hitting coach role with the Astros the final two months of this past season. Francona knows and trusts Mills, and while Francona himself likely vetted all the hitting coach candidates out there, I am sure Mills had some strong input into the decision making process on hiring Van Burkleo for the job.

Cash, 34, is the biggest wildcard of the group. He comes in with no coaching experience having just retired as a player after the 2011 season and spending last season as an advance scout for the Blue Jays. This looks to be a hiring based on feel as while Cash has limited coaching experience, Francona believes he is going to move up the coaching ranks quickly and could one day be a Major League manager. Francona worked with him firsthand in 2007-2008 in Boston and Mills worked with him in 2010 in Houston. Both of them came away impressed with Cash’s work ethic and believed he would one day make a Major League coach, so are giving him that opportunity now.

Parting shots

The Indians have signed 18-year-old Japanese outfielder Takuya Tsuchida. He hits from the left side of the plate, is athletic with some speed, and has some versatility where he can play a few positions. The Indians plan to play him at second base or center field as they feel those are his two best positions right now, and will probably use all of spring training and some of extended spring training to finalize a position or role for him.  … Right-handed pitchers Trey Haley and Shawn Armstrong along with catcher Alex Monsalve were all named to the Rising Stars team in the Arizona Fall League. The game was played last night and is the league’s version of an “All-Star” game. … Earlier in the week former Indians hitting coach Bruce Fields was named as Detroit’s new minor league hitting coordinator.

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 4, 2012 - 9:00 PM EST
Shy and Norm....I agree. This is the kind of deal that looks smart, and a solid to very good GM trade. Taking a sell high middle relief guy where you have depth, and flipping him for two needs. It's not a deal that has major impact by any means, but it is a good first step this offseason and both players should help the next two seasons. If this first move is an indication of some other good moves to come this offseason, color me very intrigued to see what they do and how creative they get.
November 4, 2012 - 3:09 PM EST
I think this is a trade that exceptional GM's make. You take Rogers a guy that cost you nothing from the stocked pond of young right-handed power relievers, who had a breakout half season and suddenly had trade value and swap him for a pretyy good right-handed infielder in his prime w some hitting skills and a catcher /first baseman prospect that is just emerging , has major impact potential and will have a chance to prove it at the Jake. A move this nice has been pretty much uncharacteristic of Antonetti. Maybe he's taking some new vitamins. Let's hope he keeps it up. And the Blake Wood? Yeah, why not. The Indians will have to beat the Royals this year to advance. They went out and got Ervin Santana and plan on contending. This little waiver grab probably psst them off a bit.
November 4, 2012 - 2:56 PM EST
A very nice balanced write-up IMO Tony. This is not a deal which will make the "dreamers" of big name signings happy but brings the Indians one very productive utility player, especially valuable because of a RH bat. Cannot opine on the secondary piece because I have never seen him play.

I probably liked Rogers stuff better than you but I have no qualms about replacing his quality in the pen. It might even mean they will keep CP unless he brings a really quality return. But I like this move much better than the first two moves last year. Good roster management IMO.
Matt underwood
November 4, 2012 - 12:45 PM EST
"the Indians are currently not in a rebuilding mode"

Have they seen their rotation and corner positions?
November 4, 2012 - 12:40 PM EST
I think this was a good small move. Wood can potentially replace what they would've got from Rogers, and they definitely needed an Aviles-type player.

The fact that the "rebuild" thing from Indians fans keeps coming up is kind of funny to me. Rebuild from what? Blow up what? This is a team made up of guys who mostly aren't even arbitration eligible. Chris Perez probably will be traded and Choo can be traded in July if they're out of it and they can get something that's likely better than what they'd get with a draft pick. Asdrubal's signed through 2014, isn't the type of star player who gets you multiple good prospects, and has no organizational replacement--they didn't even have a major league caliber BACKUP shortstop until they got Aviles. What would this full-scale rebuild that fans are pushing for entail? I don't get it. Rebuilds are reserved for teams that have expensive veterans, of which the Indians currently have zero. You don't trade players like Pestano, Asdrubal, Brantley, Kipnis, Santana when you're looking to rebuild, as those are guys already cheap and under team control, i.e. the type of players a rebuilding team looks to acquire, not to sell.

For better or worse, these are your 2013 Cleveland Indians.
November 4, 2012 - 11:53 AM EST
100% certain on Jimenez's option being a mutual option next year. I asked the Indians for verification and they said so. So, really, it is all but certain he does not return. If he pitches well, he'll decline it and look to strike it rich in FA. If he does poorly, the Indians will decline it and let him go as a FA.
November 4, 2012 - 11:41 AM EST
Any move that allows me to never have to say or spell Lillibridge again, is a positive one in my book. I hope this really does lead to a flexible dh situation. Give guys extra days off and bringing in 2 RH bats is a nice help. I wonder if Francona had to hold CA 's hand during the negotiation and scold him when he kept trying to throw Lindor in the deal??
November 4, 2012 - 11:20 AM EST
Scott...according to most major outlets, next season's option is an $8 million dollar mutual option...

But to be honest...I think the Cleveland side of it was voided because Colorado traded him...

meaning the $8 million dollar mutual option has turned into a player option...but I don't know that to be true...just rings a bell...
November 4, 2012 - 11:16 AM EST
The team can't just make big-splash moves, and do nothing else. Last year's hot stove wouldn't have been so bad had they acquired at least one big fill, to go along with all their other fodder. Instead, they had all fodder.

This trade is a fodder deal...without big fills...which are the same as last year...

Which is sad...
Scott M
November 4, 2012 - 11:04 AM EST
Are you certain that Jimenez has a mutual option next off-season? I have seen it reported as a player option.
November 4, 2012 - 10:13 AM EST
Rich, that's the reality. I agree with preference would be to blow it all up and start anew. But the things I have heard to go along with the actions so far makes it obvious they are not rebuilding but instead will retool some this offseason. I think there is potential to win in 2013 provided they MAKE THE RIGHT MOVES. This small move yesterday to me was a good move and a step in the right direction. This team is actually better than a lot of people give it I am willing to sit back this offseason and see how they supplement the team. This is a good start, but there are at least 2-3 other more significant moves to be made before I get more excited about their prospects for 2013 and beyond.
November 4, 2012 - 10:02 AM EST
"Whether the fans agree or not, the Indians are currently not in a rebuilding mode, so they are looking to add players and not make veteran for prospect deals this offseason." - Tony

So it's official. They're going for mediocrity rather than blow it up. They have the worst starting pitching in the AL, no way of signficantly improving it unless Kluber, McAlister, and Carrasco all have breakout seasons and Jimenez and Masterson turn back the clock, but they're still going to try and contend in 2013 by making trades for guys like Aviles.

You're right, I don't agree, but it is what it is. It does sound like they were smart to sell high on Rogers for a very useful piece. It looks like Santana could be spending a lot of time at DH next year.

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