Tribe Happenings: It's time for the Indians to seal the deal
Some news, notes, and thoughts from my Indians notebook…
Can the Indians seal the deal on a trade, signing?
The Indians did not sign or trade for anyone this past week at the winter meetings, but one thing is certain: they mean business.
Some might roll their eyes and think that to be nothing more than hyperbole from me, but take a step outside of that pool of cynicism so many of us have been swimming in for years and objectively look at how aggressive the Indians have been involved in the free agent and trade market over the past four or five seasons. Yes, they have accomplished nothing to date, but they have no doubt been as active as they have been in a half decade and they look like they are committed to upgrading the roster and being creative with fixing gaping holes on the pitching staff.
After all the activity from this past week I am more encouraged than ever before that the Indians are going to get something significant done this offseason. Perhaps several significant moves. I have not seen them this active and aggressive on the free agent and trade front in a very long time, if ever. What they are doing now is similar to how busy the Indians were in the trade and free agent market in the 90s.
Now, it is important to note that while the Indians were very active on both fronts in the 90s, they often swung and missed much more that than they connected on a deal as they often fell short on big trades to help the team (Curt Schilling, Pedro Martinez, etc) and big free agents to help the team (Roger Clemens, Alex Fernandez, etc) and often settled for middle-of-the-road players. But they were always active and always came away with something, which is much different than how the Indians have operated on the free agent and trade market the last four or five years.
That looks to have changed this offseason and the Indians new approach is starting to show itself. The infusion of Francona into the mix and giving him so much control in the decision-making process has helped, and they really look like they are making a concerted effort to improve the roster now and for the future.
That having been said, for as active as they have been, it doesn’t mean things are going great.
The Indians were spurned by free agent outfielders Shane Victorino and Jason Bay this week as they declined bigger money offers from the Indians to sign with another team. The Indians currently have a two year $18 million deal on the table to first baseman/third baseman Kevin Youkilis, but if he declines to sign with the Indians and instead takes the Yankees one year $12 million offer he would be the third player this offseason to pass on signing with the Indians even though they offered more money.
If this happens, this is a trend to start being concerned about.
Twins GM Terry Ryan joked at the winter meetings how they were very active in free agency but they can’t get guys to take their money. That struck a chord with me. With players passing on the Indians to go to other places where they can maybe win more or they feel is a better baseball town, it makes me wonder if there is a perception among players in the league that is going to be hard for the Indians to shake.
So what is that perception? Some of it is the lesser chance of winning, some the location, some that the organization lacks a commitment to winning, and some that the team is poorly supported by the fans. Whatever the perception is, it appears to be working against the Indians. Even though they are trying to change that perception this could be something that takes a few years to change.
In the meantime it could mean the Indians continue to simply be used as leverage to get bigger or better deals elsewhere until agents and players start taking them seriously, they start winning, and maybe more importantly fans start showing up.
And that is the thing.
It is all well and good to have a new approach and really be aggressive in the player procurement process, but before anyone really takes the Indians seriously or really believes things are different, they need to follow through on something and seal the deal.
The Victorino chase was great and it is encouraging to see the Indians’ willingness to spend by offering him a big deal, but in the end they did not sign him. There are other free agents they were interested in this offseason that have already signed elsewhere, and they currently have big deals on the table to Youkilis and outfielder Nick Swisher. It is not necessarily their fault if they fail to sign a free agent as it always comes down to the decision of the player, but until one of these players signs on the dotted line or one of these other GM’s signs off on a big trade, the fan base will see it as nothing more than a charade.
There is so much apathy and disdain among the fan base toward the Indians front office. Some of it is merited, though some of it is also misplaced. If the Indians were to sign Victorino (or Youkilis) people would complain that they overspent for over-the-hill players. But when they fall short of signing them, then people complain they once again did just enough to finish second like they always do. In other words, no matter what the Indians do, a large segment of the fan base is going to find something to complain about.
It’s a tough crowd to please these days and is going to take some time to restore the faith of the fans. Who knows, it may ultimately be beyond repair and the only thing that helps is a clean slate with a new front office and maybe new ownership.
But their new, aggressive approach this offseason to me is a good step to changing the perception of teams, agents, and players around the league, and to extend an olive branch to a fan base in the hopes they can slowly get fans back in their corner and take a leap of faith in believing in this organization again.
Most of all, it is good to have some hope again. As a fan, that’s all you can ask for.
Revisiting the Willingham decision
Boy, if only the Indians would have been this aggressive last offseason.
Hindsight of course is always 20/20, but there was an overwhelming show of support last season for the Indians to go out and sign outfielder Josh Willingham. A lot of people felt that although he had some injury concerns and maybe was not the best fielding outfielder, his right-handed bat would have complemented the Indians quite well.
The Indians also felt the same way and they offered him a two year $15 million deal. But the Twins offered him a three year $21 million deal, and before signing with the Twins he asked the Indians to add a third year, but it was something they were reluctant to do with him the entire process. Had the Indians been more aggressive and offered him that third year, there is a good chance he would have been in left field for them last season and locked into the lineup the next two seasons. A lot of people would have been happy with that.
It appears that the Indians have learned from that mistake. Sure, it would have been a risk to sign Willingham for three years at about $7 or $8 million per season, but then again, when the Indians are dealing with any free agent that is taking a two or three year deal for $10 million or less a season, there is a good chance they will come with some warts. Players that get those contracts typically are your second or third level free agents and most of their contract covers the twilight of their careers when they are likely to be in decline.
But if you want to play in free agency and add a few players, that is how things work. And it appears the Indians now acknowledge that as they made a very aggressive offer to Victorino this past week, a deal that probably was way over-priced but one they knew they had to offer to have any shot at getting the guy they wanted. That is the same case with Swisher and Youkilis as in the end both will probably be overpaid, but if they are eventually going to get their guy, that is what they have to do.
Indians are active in Japan
The Indians made a small signing out of Japan last Friday when they inked 21-year old right-handed pitcher Kota Kobayashi to a minor league deal.
Kobayashi is a 6’0” 180-pound reliever that comes from a low three quarters arm slot similar to Indians reliever Vinnie Pestano. He is a two pitch reliever with a heavy sinking 88-92 MPH fastball and developing breaking ball. He creates a lot of deception with his delivery, has good command, and gets a lot of movement on his pitches. He is not a high profile signing, but a guy the Indians believe has some upside.
“The work we’ve done on the ground in Japan has provided us with some opportunities,” Indians Vice President of Scouting John Mirabelli said when reached for comment. “We will see where it goes.”
Kobayashi was a highly coveted pitcher coming out of high school and was selected in the 2009 Draft by Yokohama DeNA Baystars of the Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) league. He played in their minor league system for three years and was recently released from his player development contract due to a loophole that allowed him to depart and be free to sign a deal with another team.
The signing of Kobayashi comes off the heels of 18-year old outfielder Takuya Tsuchida they signed out of Japan back in October after he went undrafted in the NPB Draft. 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.
They also signed 22-year old right-handed pitcher Naoki Hashimoto back in June. He was a lower profile signing, but is another attempt by the Indians to find players that maybe slip through the cracks in the scouting world. He throws a fastball that reaches 95 MPH and complements it with a slider, curveball and splitter. He is a strike thrower and has some deception, and while he may initially be a starter he projects as a bullpen arm.
Indians add another first baseman
The Indians picked up another first baseman this offseason when they used their #5 pick in Thursday’s Rule 5 Draft to select first baseman Chris McGuiness from the Rangers. Under the rules of the Rule 5 Draft, the Indians have to keep McGuiness on their Major League roster all season or have to offer him back to the Rangers.
McGuiness, who will be 25-years old in April, spent the 2012 season at Double-A Frisco where he hit .268 with 23 HR, 77 RBI, and .840 OPS in 123 games. His 23 homers were good for 4th in the Texas League - Mile Olt led the league with 28 homers. He has never been considered a big time prospect though he shows average to slightly above average power from the left side and has a good approach at the plate where he tracks balls well, is selective, and is not afraid to takes pitches and draw walks. He is an average defender that the Indians think can still improve into a slightly above average defender at first base.
How McGuiness fits on the 25-man roster this spring will be interesting to see shake out, but at the moment there is no full time option at first base. That could of course change if the Indians sign Youkilis or even someone like Mark Reynolds. But even if they were to sign one of those players as the primary first baseman they would probably get considerable time away from first base and be the designated hitter from time to time and even play some third base. This would open the door for the Indians to carry an extra first base type on the roster like McGuiness, or perhaps even two with another guy like Russ Canzler.
The Rangers were experimenting some with McGuiness in the outfield this offseason, and that is something the Indians are expected to continue this spring to add some versatility to where he could play some left field in addition to first base and designated hitter. With Travis Hafner no longer limiting the roster strictly as a designated hitter, the Indians can now carry a second corner utility bat that can play first base and left. With that in mind, it is very possible that both Canzler and McGuiness could be on the roster as bats off the bench and sharing designated hitter duties with others players. They would complement each other well since Canzler is a righty and McGuiness a lefty, and they should get a decent amount of playing time even if the Indians sign a full time first baseman and outfielder.
You can also throw in Lars Anderson, Mike McDade, and Yan Gomes into that mix as well. The Indians have four first base types in Anderson, Canzler, McDade and McGuiness and Gomes can catch and play some first base, so they are obviously looking at one or two of them to make the roster in some sort of backup role and get time in at designated hitter.
Indians lose Rondon, McFarland
While the Indians picked up McGuiness in the Rule 5 Draft on Thursday, they also lost right-handed reliever Hector Rondon (Cubs, 2nd overall) and left-handed starter T.J. McFarland (Orioles, 23rd overall).
Rondon, who turns 25-years old before the start of the season, has pitched just 10.0 innings over the last two seasons and 41.2 innings over the last three seasons because of two major right elbow surgeries. He had reconstructive surgery on his elbow in June of 2010 and then had surgery in November of 2011 to repair a fractured elbow. He is finally healthy this offseason and has been pitching well in winter ball out in Venezuela and his velocity has been back up into the mid-90s.
Rondon has a shot to make the Cubs bullpen, but durability and health concerns linger, not to mention if he has an effective enough secondary offering to consistently get outs at the Major League level. The Indians did not protect him by adding him to their 40-man roster simply because they are stocked with tons of right-handed relief arms, and probably have at least a half dozen arms deemed more valuable and likely to help them in the near future than Rondon. He also probably would have gone undrafted if not for the unique situation where the Cubs have a big league coach that is coaching on the Caracas team that Rondon is pitching for this offseason. That coach has been able to get a firsthand look at him and liked what he saw so the Cubs selected him.
Rondon was once a high level prospect, but injuries and time have eroded that prospect status (he would have been in the #40-45 range in my 2013 listing). His starting days are over because of his arm injuries and lack of three average pitches, so he will need to make his way as a middle relief option in a Major League bullpen. There is certainly a good chance he could settle into that role, and potentially a more high leverage role as a seventh inning or eighth inning guy down the road, though that is considered a long shot at this point. Bottom line, it looks like he could potentially be another Esmil Rogers-type if he stays healthy and performs; something that has value, but is also replaceable.
McFarland, who turns 24-years old next June, went 16-8 with a 4.03 ERA in 27 combined starts between Double-A Akron and Triple-A Columbus. He was very good at Akron, but his performance really dipped in his first exposure to Triple-A (4.82 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 4.8 K/9). He is a soft-tossing lefty with a plus sinker that he induces lots of groundballs with, and is durable and versatile so he has some value as a depth starter or long reliever. His inability to miss many bats and his subpar showing at Triple-A last year do not bode well for his chances of having immediate success next spring against big league hitters, so there is a good chance he could be returned to the Indians at some point next season.
STO sale is imminent
There is a lot of talk that the Indians cable TV network SportsTime Ohio is in the process of being sold to News Corp and Fox Sports. Reports indicate that the sale may have already gone through and that it will be announced sometime this week.
According to Reuters, the deal is done and News Corp – who owns Fox Sports - bought the regional sports network (RSN) SportsTime Ohio for the fee of $230 million. With the deal the Indians right’s fee for broadcasting their games would increase from $30 million to $40 million per year. The additional $10 million a year in right’s fees, money from the $230 million received in the sale, and an expected $25-26 million a year being received annually from Major League Baseball starting in 2014 from the new league TV deal should help infuse some money into an organization in desperate need of it.
With the deal, Fox Sports Ohio would become the new TV home of the Indians and they would have the rights to broadcast their games. News Corp is on quite a spending spree and are gobbling up many RSN’s across the nation. They recently acquired the local television rights of the Dodgers and made a big acquisition buying the Yes Network from the Yankees, and are also rumored to be looking to buy the rights for Nationals and Orioles games.
The question going forward is how News Corp infuses SportsTime Ohio and its programming into its Fox Sports Ohio channel lineup. They already have the Cleveland Cavaliers, Cincinnati Red, Columbus Crew, and Columbus Blue Jackets, so programming would be tight with the Indians added and also adding some popular SportsTime Ohio programming like high school football and Mid-American Conference coverage of several sports. Perhaps they just keep the current Fox Sports Ohio as-is, and then keep SportsTime Ohio as an active network but simply just re-brand and rename it as Fox Sports Cleveland or something along those lines.
Earlier in the week the Indians announced right-handed pitcher Cody Allen as the recipient of the Bob Feller Award as the Indians’ Minor League Pitcher of the Year, and outfielder Tim Fedroff the recipient of the Lou Boudreau Award as the club’s Minor League Player of the Year.
Allen, 24, pitched at three separate levels of the minor leagues in just his first full season as a professional going 3-2 with a 1.87 ERA and a .166 average against across 31 relief appearances for High-A Carolina, Double-A Akron and Triple-A Columbus in 2012. He had a 11.0 K/9 in the minors tallying 53 strikeouts against just 9 walks. Selected by the Indians in the 23rd round of the 2011 June draft, he became just the second member of that class to reach the Major Leagues – right-handed pitcher Trevor Bauer was the first – when he made his debut with the Indians on July 20. He began his major league career by tying a club record with 12 consecutive scoreless outings (13.2 IP) and went on to go 0-1 with a 3.72 ERA and 27 strikeouts over 27 relief appearances and turned into a key member of the Indians bullpen in the second half of the season.
Fedroff, 25, split the 2012 campaign between Double-A Akron and Triple-A Columbus hitting a combined .316 with 79 runs scored, 23 doubles, 10 triples, 12 home runs, 54 RBI and .879 OPS in 123 games. He finished 3rd in batting average and runs scored in the player development system and led the organization in base hits. After his promotion to Columbus on June 6th he went on to hit .325 for the Clippers with 52 runs, 28 extra base hits and 32 RBI in 69 games, finishing 4th in the International League in average, 2nd in runs and 3rd in on-base pct. (.393) and OPS (.910) in that span. He is a career .296 hitter at the minor league level since being selected by Cleveland in the 7th round of the 2008 June draft out of the University of North Carolina.
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I agree on Cabrera though. Jeff kind of did a piece earlier in the week where Cabrera has been kind of over-rated and may be in for a decline along the lines of Baerga. I think if the Indians can get Bauer plus another good player in return, they do it in a heartbeat. The problem is getting the Dbacks to bite, which is why this has dragged on for so long.
I love this team more than anything, but am so sick of the whining, the idiotic alienating statements by Shapiro and Co., and the bone head decisions.
This article says the Indians would be fortunate to get Trevor Bauer alone for Asdrubal.
When you have players who're essentially damaged goods like Victorino who have limited interest in signing with you, I really hope they aren't banking on Swisher taking the plunge. They are right to make him an offer, he'd be the ideal outfield pickup, but the chances of him accepting it are slim. The Indians probably can outbid the Phillies, but if the Phillies are in the neighborhood, he'll go with them, as Victorino did with Boston. (And it doesn't have so much to do with winning ... the Red Sox were as bad as the Indians last year and play in a much tougher division. They have money to spend, but they are starting way behind Toronto, Tampa and NYY. And Indians team with Victorino or Swisher and Youkilis, probably has a better shot at the playoffs then the Red Sox do. It's more about national exposure, and what Chris Perez talked about) If Youkilis turns them down, I really hope they turn around and sign Cody Ross asap. Ross is the kind of guy they can get, as with Willingham, they just need to make the best offer. No Youk, sign Ross, leave the door open for Swisher, since they could still use him at 1b, or hey, they could move Choo to DH.
The STO thing is interesting. I had figured if they signed Swisher and Youkilis, they were counting on parting with Asdrubal or Perez, but that is probably not the case. With an extra $10 million, they can afford the additions without subtracting payroll. It's really kind of funny, the cash-strapped Indians are suddenly practically rolling in cash, but no one wants to take it. If the STO sale happens, the Indians could increase payroll $35 million this year, and $60 million above what it is now for next year, just to maintain their current profitability. Who are they going to spend it on? They don't even have anyone who's a slam dunk for an extension. If Kipnis and Masterson have good years, then them, but, right now there's no reason to even want to extend either.
I think new ownership will go farther than a new FO, IMO, to regain some fan trust, enthusiasm and get them going to the park again. Or just win more consistently (and not crumble in the summer) and things will likely turn around.
Like the head coach in any athletic team you can fire one person easier than the whole team. I do like the Cabby move although i do not like dealing proven talent for specutive talent however i want both of the arms or no deal. Cabby is under control for 2 years so there in no urgency to move him yesterday. As for Youk he is far and away better off to take the tribe offer versus the half season with the yankees. A Rod will find a way to be active by July 4th and Mark at first closes off that option for Youk. Simple mathemetics come into play here, I can think of 50 million reasons that mark and alex play everyday for the yankees.