Tribe Happenings: Many decisions loom for the Indians
Some news, notes and thoughts from my Indians notebook…
When I posted this column in this space last Sunday the Indians were on the eve of their regular season finale needing a win to clinch a wildcard berth and home field advantage for the game. There was a heightened sense of excitement and belief that the Indians would not only get in the playoffs, but potentially do some damage if they got in there.
Well, they went on to win the game on Sunday and clinched the postseason berth and got that home game for the wildcard matchup with the Rays. The town was abuzz for three days and Progressive Field was absolutely rocking at the start of the game on Wednesday.
Three hours later it was all over.
Poof. The 2013 season came to about as abrupt an ending as you can have in baseball.
The season and subsequent ending reminded me of a rollercoaster ride at Cedar Point. It is like waiting in line to ride the Millennium Force or the Top Thrill Dragster ride. You can wait two hours or more to ride them and while the wait is frustrating you do it because of the excitement that comes from the anticipation of getting on that thrill ride. When you finally get on the ride it lasts for all of a minute and thirty seconds (or like 15 seconds for Top Thrill) and it is over.
The season was like a long wait for a rollercoaster ride, and in a lot of ways the ups and downs of the season was like being on one, but the suddenness with which the thrill ride came to an end was tough to get over for a few days.
As we often do we are upset and the pain of another defeat wears on us. I know for me, I did not watch one playoff game on Thursday and Friday and did not turn on a game until late Saturday night. But as we always do, we learn to move on, and that is when we often have a much clearer head in assessing the season that just occurred.
Looking back, it was a very successful season for the Indians. A much needed stepping stone as a team, organization and for the fans to build a foundation of trust and hope that they indeed can win next year and beyond.
That’s the biggest thing I take out of it. Not the 48 game improvement in the standings going from 26 games under .500 at 68-94 to 22 games over .500 at 92-70. Not the memorable comeback wins, the incredible starting pitching in the second half, or the 1 through 25 approach with the roster.
Did they fall short of winning a World Series? Yes. But while that is the ultimate goal of every team – and should be – it should not be the only goal and the only thing that matters. Ultimately, you want the team to be competitive and give the fan base a sense of belief they can compete and win, and the Indians did that. But if championships are all that matters in determining a season a success or not, that’s a pretty miserable way to be a fan as a great many times you are going to be disappointed.
It is all about the chase and enjoying the moment. That’s what Indians fans were able to do in September, regardless of who they played. And that’s exactly what you ask for as a fan.
Baseball is the toughest of all sports to get to the postseason. It is why teams have pile ups on the field when they clinch a berth and have champagne and beer showers in the locker room afterwards. It is a 162-game marathon that when you get into the postseason should absolutely be celebrated and means so much because of how hard it is to get there and how so few teams get in compared to other sports.
It is about that chase for a championship. The belief you can win. Real hope for the future.
That’s exactly what the Indians did this year. They restored that belief that they have turned things around and that they can win. That they will be aggressive in their pursuit to continually upgrade the roster.
They are now on the cusp of an absolutely huge offseason. They can’t and won’t rest on their laurels of making the postseason. They know they have some key decisions to make on players currently on the roster and that they need some upgrades in a few different areas. It will make for an interesting offseason, and one that over the next three to four months we will be discussing and analyzing as we do best here at the IBI.
But for now, I applaud the Indians on a very good season. It sure would be nice to win a championship one of these years, but consider the alternative that was last season. Maybe this season was the bridge that was needed to get them over the hump and be a legit World Series contender next season. Maybe they slip back into mediocrity next season. Either way, we won’t know that for sure until they report for spring training in about 130 days.
So buckle up and enjoy the ride this offseason. It could be another rollercoaster ride just like this past season.
The Jimenez Decision
Easily the biggest unknown this offseason is the future of right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez as a Cleveland Indian.
Jimenez, 29, has an $8 million mutual option for 2014, one that the Indians will surely pick up but one he will surely decline. The next step will be the Indians likely tendering him the qualifying offer which would be about $14-15 million for one year, but all that would do would net the Indians a first round compensation pick in next year’s draft if he declines (he very likely will).
Jimenez will turn 30 in January and has made 31 or more starts for six straight seasons. In four of those six seasons he has been very good, and really his only bad season was in 2012 which a lot of clubs now view as an outlier. He has proven to be a durable starter that can haul innings and made the conversion this season from a thrower to a pitcher. He no longer relies on an upper 90s fastball and a vast assortment of pitches; he now mixes his pitches well and just has a better feel for pitching.
Note that Anibal Sanchez hit free agency last season with a career mark of 48-51 with a 3.75 ERA in 145 career starts, and had a 3.3 BB/9 and 7.6 K/9. He parlayed that into a five year $80 million deal last offseason.
Jimenez’s owns a career record of 82-75 with a 3.92 ERA in 212 starts, and has a 4.0 BB/9 and 8.3 K/9. He’s coming off about as impressive a showing a pitcher can have in the second half of a season and is going to be one of the marque free agents this offseason. At this point, the Sanchez contract is probably his floor this offseason and with all of the crazy money expected to be thrown around by some teams this offseason I wouldn’t be surprised if it gets into the $90-100 million range with or without an extra year added.
Jimenez’s 2012 season is forgotten and teams desperate for pitching are going to throw a lot of money at him. He’s going to get paid. Book it.
The Indians are in a tough position as he most certainly is not worth five years and $80 million. That’s a contract someone will probably regret because Jimenez looked like a lot of recent free agents where he was more focused late this season because he was pitching for his next contract. He has shown to be lazy in the past, and you wonder how he responds next season once he has his big deal in hand.
Even if they could the Indians can’t risk paying Jimenez that kind of money. Reason being, if they give him $16 million a year, then you can kiss Justin Masterson goodbye after next season as he is easily going to require over $100 million in a contract to keep him from entering free agency after next season. There is no way with a team payroll stretched even to $90 million that the Indians can afford to carry two pitchers that make $35-40 million a year combined.
Masterson has to be a priority and should be a guy that they look to extend this offseason. He’s heading into his final year of arbitration and is going to get a sizable bump from the $5.7 million he made this season – possibly up to $10-12 million for next season. As he and the Indians talk about a one year deal to avoid arbitration, you can bet the Indians are going to explore the possibility of signing him to a huge extension. It would be an extension outside of their comfort zone, but one they absolutely have to do to lock up one of baseball’s best young starting pitchers and also give more proof to the fans that they are going to keep some of their core pieces.
With Jimenez probably looking for the last dollar this offseason and Masterson of much more importance to keep, I would be extremely surprised if Jimenez is back next year. He won’t accept the qualifying offer because he would then have to come back and have another good a year next year in order to cash in – something he can just do now and lock himself into his last big contract as a pro. And the Indians shouldn’t sign him for five years as he’s still such an enigma that I for one don’t trust to ever come close to living up to the contract he gets this offseason.
Kudos to Jimenez on the great year and thanks for the push to the playoffs, but if I am the Indians I am take the first round compensation pick and move on.
Deciding on Smith and Kazmir
After the Jimenez decision, the Indians have a few other key decisions to make on their free agents (which are linked here). Setup man Joe Smith and left-handed starter Scott Kazmir are easily the next two important decisions, and two players that I think the Indians have a good shot of retaining.
Smith has been Mr. Reliable in the Indians bullpen for five straight seasons. In a year where the Indians had tough seasons from backend mainstays Chris Perez and Vinnie Pestano, Smith was a godsend as he stepped into the eighth inning role and really helped calm down the midseason pen issues for the Indians.
With Perez likely non-tendered this offseason and Pestano’s future in question, the Indians can’t go into next season with no closer and no setup man. Sure, they have some promising internal candidates for the roles and they could get creative on the trade and free agent market, but Smith is a guy they know and would be worth keeping even if it meant they have to slightly overpay him to do so. It might take a contract along the lines of what Jeremy Affeldt signed last offseason - three years and $18 million - to get it done. That’s pretty steep, so we will see.
Kazmir is a guy who enjoyed a renaissance in Cleveland this year. He went from pitching in independent ball last season to one of the league’s better starters this season. Because of his history he probably won’t command more than a three year deal, maybe even nothing above two years and an option, but he’s going to get $8-12 million a season depending on the market.
The Indians probably won’t offer him the qualifying offer – they shouldn’t because he is not a $15 million a year player – so he will be attractive to any team looking for a middle of the rotation starter. But he has a lot of respect for the Indians because of the opportunity they gave him this year and how they handled him, and I would not be surprised if extension talk heats up in advance of free agency. Then again, he and his agent may play the market to see just how much they can get.
Bottom line, I liken the Indians chances at retaining either Smith or Kazmir at 50-50. From where I sit the Indians have to resign both if Jimenez walks, and if they don’t resign one or both, they have to find near identical replacements via the trade route.
Other decisions loom
In addition to the big three above, the Indians also have to decide on whether they bring back Chris Perez andAsdrubal Cabrera.
Perez’s fate looks to be all but sealed. The Indians would love to trade him, but every team knows it is the worst kept secret that he will be non-tendered so they won’t bother trading for him. Remember, a team trades for him they are on the hook to go to arbitration with him and potentially pay him $10 million next season. He has almost no trade value and for that reason should be non-tendered in early December, if not before.
The Indians are in a tough spot with Cabrera as he also will make $10 million next season and had a bad year. He has been in decline the last two years after a good 2011 and his defensive skills continue to erode more and more each season. Even still, the shortstop free agent market is poor and even with such a poor season the Indians might get some nibbles on the trade front from other teams this offseason.
Those complaining about Cabrera, one thing to remember are your thoughts about Jimenez at this time last year. With Cabrera heading into his free agent year the Indians may be wise to let him play out the year in Cleveland where they will get a focused, dedicated player with incentive to perform to the best of his abilities and potentially have a nice rebound season – a la what Jimenez did this season. A potential win-win for both parties.
Deciding on Bourn
This is one I am throwing out there to just think about.
There may be a few surprises this offseason that hit the rumor mill, and one I predict will be Michael Bourn. The Indians have three center fielders on their roster and they can afford to move a player like Bourn to get out from under his contract and use that money to keep some players and/or sign a much needed bat or two for the middle of the lineup.
Bourn finished the season hitting .263 with a .316 on-base percentage, 23 steals and 132 strikeouts in 575 plate appearances. In comparison, Drew Stubbs finished the year hitting .233 with a .305 on-base percentage, 17 steals and 141 strikeouts in 481 plate appearances. They both play about the same above average defense in center field and are pretty close to each other as baserunners, yet Bourne will cost $13.5 million next season while Stubbs should cost around $3.5 million.
At the outset, Stubbs looks to be a goner this offseason as a non-tender candidate, but I don’t think that is a for sure thing yet because of what may happen with Bourn. I am not advocating a trade of Bourn, but in the right deal the Indians may be better off letting him go and putting Stubbs in center field and signing or trading for a suitable left-handed hitting fourth outfielder to limit some of Stubbs’ exposure to right-handed pitching. They could then use the $10 million in savings on Bourn for help elsewhere on the team. Remember, Bourn signed an under-market contract so even with the subpar year he might be attractive to teams in a trade.
Even if the Indians keep Bourn they have to consider removing him from the leadoff spot. His performance and production from the leadoff spot this season was not very good as he struck out too much, did not get on base nearly enough, and did not have an impact on the basepaths as originally thought. He’s more of an eighth or ninth hitter in the lineup, which for $13.5 million a year is not very good. But in the end, if they keep him, I see no way the Indians move him down in the order as they paid him to be a leadoff man.
Everyone gets on Cabrera, but Bourn may have had an even worse season offensively. The Indians maybe waited a little too long to trade Cabrera before his value really plummeted, and you wonder if the same may be about to happen with Bourn. Having said that, his contract might be one worth considering getting out from under this offseason in the right deal because if he has another poor year next season he suddenly is an albatross on the payroll like Travis Hafner was his final few seasons with the Indians.
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Also, Indians confirmed that Carrasco fell 6 days short of Super 2 today.
Teams that miss out on Peralta and Drew will likely look at Cabrera...though they likely will check in on Alexei Ramirez and Tulo first.
Too bad Detroit's starting pitching is set, it would've been nice to see them sign Ubaldo for 5/80. He'll probably go to the Angels, as they are the masters of signing free agents to massive, obviously stupid contracts that get them replacement-level performance.
Jimenez will get big $ because there are always teams/GM's who need to take the risk and are willing to put the organization in a bad spot with a crazy 5/85 type of deal.
And who knows.....maybe the Tribe will get a bargain and take a chance on a guy like Chris Young or bring back Gutierrez if we can trade Bourn somehow.
I would be interested to see what sort of return package the tribe could get from 1 or 2 teams (ie 3 way trade) if they packaged ACab, Bourn and one of McAllister or Kluber. Tribe needs to bring back Kazmir in order to go that route...
Regarding Ubaldo, he's going to get a lot of money this offseason. The qualifying offer won't matter as teams view him as a #2 starter type, maybe even a quasi-ace with the changes he has made. He's close to the pitcher he was before minus the velocity but much smarter as a pitcher. I haven't looked at the free agents, but he should be the top FA starting pitcher available or at worst in the Top 3 which is going to create a massive market for him. Teams won't worry about having to forfeit a first pick, as teams showed last year on some of the top free agents like BJ Upton, Rafael Soriano, Zach Greinke, etc. The Lohse, Swisher and Bourn situations came about because they were viewed as second tier free agents at the time and a lot of clubs either spent their money or did not view them as worthy of forfeiting a 1st round pick. Ubaldo is different. I have talked to people in two different orgs over the past week and they say that 2012 is out the window and viewed as an outlier because of bad mechanics and just a bad year. Much, much more weight is placed on this season and his four other good seasons. I think 5/80 is right about where Ubaldo ends up....if not 5 years then 4 years at $64M. I don't trust him simply because I have never been a fan of his, but who knows, maybe the Indians believe in him and actually do try and sign him to such a deal. It would be a massive surprise, but you never know.
As for Stubbs, I failed to mention in the piece that while I would have him as the regular in CF, I would look to add a left-handed hitting 4th outfielder with good splits against RHP. That way you can kind of use Brantley and Stubbs interchangeably in CF and perhaps that lefty bat is a productive one you could slip into LF on a regular basis against RHP. I just see having three CFers as a luxury not a necessity, which is why I'd check around to see what you can get for Bourn. He is nowhere close to worth $13.5M a year for the Indians as that money can be better spent in other places, but for some teams looking for a CF he could be worth it.
As for Pestano, Carrasco and Brantley, all should be first time arbitration eligible players this offseason. I think Carrasco and Pestano are Super 2 but not 100% on that yet.
What is the status of Pestano, Carrasco and Brantley in terms of arbitration?
Also, do you think any team would take on Bourn's contract? I'd think the indians would have to eat a large chunk even to just do a salary dump. Other teams see that albatross too!
As for over-valuing Ubaldo. He is what he is, which is one of the better free agent starting pitchers out there. Someone will over-pay him for what he did in the second half. Hope they have a good team psychologist or try to hire our pitching coach as his personal life coach....
@Rich: Carrasco is out of option years and probably won't pass through waivers unclaimed. He's either in our bullpen or he's gone. My vote is bullpen since we are starting to look thin in that area, especially if we don't re-sign Smith.
Regarding centerfield -- I don't think giving Stubbs (his stats were even inflated this year by getting starts vs. lefties, sitting vs a lot of righties that hes terrible at hitting) a full time gig in CF is a good idea. Stubbs is a very frustrating offensive player. Why not Brantley back in CF and finding someone like Michael Morse and/or another value guy in LF?
I'd move Stubbs to center and play Raburn more in RF. Swisher can play RF occasionally to spell Raburn even if we don't add a veteran outfielder in a trade or free agency.
I'd keep Asdrubal. His trade value is probably low, there's only one year left on his contract (unlike Bourn), and he'll be motivated to have a career year, like Ubaldo this season. He's still only 27. And I'm not sold on Aviles as an every day SS.
Goodbye Ubaldo, Perez, Giambi, and Marson. Trade Bourn. Lock up Masterson and Kazmir. Find a left-handed hitting OF with pop to platoon with Raburn in right field.
The rotation is Masterson, McAllister, Kluber, Kazmir and Salazar, with Tomlin and Bauer next up. I'd also have Carrasco starting in Columbus to give him one last chance before permanently moving him to the bullpen. He could end up being the closer next year. Allen, Smith and Carrasco in innings 7-9 wouldn't be too bad.