Tribe Happenings: So what's next for the Indians?
Some news, notes, and thoughts from my Indians notebook…
Before we jump into this week’s notebook I just wanted to take a quick moment and wish all of you a very Happy New Year. Here is to a great 2013 for you and the Cleveland Indians!
What happens next?
It is amazing how things can change so quickly.
Last week at this time I wrote how the Indians pursuit of free agent outfielder Nick Swisher was dragging on and that they either needed to up the pressure to get a deal done or simply pull out. Well, by late morning on Sunday news broke that Swisher agreed to a four year $56 million deal with the Indians, and with one fell swoop the temperament of the fan base went from fatalistic and negative to delighted and hopeful.
The Indians still have a long way to go before they can fully restore all the hope they have lost over the years from their fan base, especially from this past season which was arguably the most grueling for fans to watch since Progressive Field was built, but some hope has been restored. With what has been a busy offseason in hiring a big time manager, making two significant trades, and signing two noteworthy free agents, excitement is starting to build and there is a belief (and some hope) that the Indians are building the team the right way and that they are committed to improving the ball club.
The Swisher deal will probably be their big money move of the offseason, but the Indians are far from done this offseason as they still want to add at least one proven veteran starting pitcher via trade or free agency. With their current roster they already have eclipsed last season’s payroll of $65 million, and if they do nothing else this offseason next year’s payroll right now projects to be around $67-68 million.
But the Indians may not consider things like the Hafner buyout ($2.75 million) and money sent to the Reds to offset Choo’s salary ($3.5 million) as part of payroll, so they may have more wiggle room than we think to add more. Also, with the influx of money coming from the sale of SportsTime Ohio to Fox Sports (more on that in a minute) along with the annual windfall from the new national TV deal coming next year, the Indians may have more money to play with to push payroll up much higher than it was in 2012.
Since the Indians are determined to add a starting pitcher, it seems that the payroll will exceed $70 million and may even approach $75-80 million next season. If that is indeed the case, then the Indians have the funds to add one more significant free agent left on the market, and the only two legit front-to-middle of the rotation starters still left in free agency are right-handers Kyle Lohse and Shaun Marcum.
The Indians are considered to be one of six teams in the mix for Lohse, though they are probably a long shot to sign him. He may ultimately sign with another team, but the Indians are a dark horse because they can be much more aggressive in their pursuit of him since most other teams would forfeit their 2013 first round pick if they sign him. The Indians first round pick is protected and they already lost their second round pick for signing Swisher, so they would only lose their third round pick if they signed Lohse. He is expected to get a multi-year deal ranging from $13-15 million per season, but he may not get more than three years from any team, and as long as that is the case the Indians will continue to be heavy suitors.
Marcum might be one of the better buy low options in free agency this offseason considering his recent history of being a good middle of the rotation pitcher and borderline #2 pitcher, but there are concerns with the health of his elbow as he missed two months of last season with a sore right elbow. He will probably get a multi-year deal from someone, but likely not longer than two or three years for somewhere around $7-11 million per season. If the Indians feel he is healthy and their reports on him are good after he returned from the elbow injury last season, then he would be a good fit for the Indians.
If the Indians strikeout in their attempt to land either Lohse or Marcum, their attention could then shift to signing two free agent back of the rotation pitchers from a group that includes right-handers Brett Myers and Kevin Millwood and left-hander Joe Saunders. They could even go the route of signing one of those back of the rotation starters and a reclamation project such as left-hander Erik Bedard or right-hander Jair Jurrjens, two pitchers coming off of inconsistent, injury filled campaigns in 2012.
If some of their attempts to acquire pitching come up empty, the Indians may instead add another bat. If the Indians do not sign Lohse or Marcum, they could go with two smaller signings by inking one of the back of the rotation starters or reclamation projects listed above and then signing a low cost bat to fill their vacant designated hitter role. Possible options could include Carlos Lee, Delmon Young, Jim Thome, and even a return of Travis Hafner.
But the addition of a full-time designated hitter still looks like a remote possibility, so if the Indians are unable to add a significant starter in free agency, they may go the trade route. Some names to keep in mind are left-hander Chris Capuano and right-hander Aaron Harang of the Dodgers or former Indians right-hander Jake Westbrook of the Cardinals. All are on one year deals and make less than $9 million a year, so would not cost a lot to acquire.
As the new year draws near, the Indians aggressive approach that they installed the final three months of the 2012 season should carry over into the early part of the 2013 season as another move or two via free agency or trade are expected. Depending on what that move (or moves) ends up being it could be the cherry on top of the sundae that has been the busiest and most promising offseason for the Indians in some time.
New TV deal with Fox Sports will help
The long rumored sale of the Indians regional cable sports network SportsTime Ohio (STO) to Fox Sports Media Group was finally officially announced on Friday. The rumored sale first came to light the week before Thanksgiving and was expected to be announced before the end of the year.
Fox Sports bought STO from the Dolan family for approximately $230 million. With the deal, Fox Sports has secured the television rights to air Cleveland Indians games for the next ten years and will pay the Indians about $40 million a year to air those games. This is up about $7-10 million from the $30-33 million the Indians had been receiving from STO to air games the past few years.
The additional $7-10 million a year in revenues from TV rights will help, though the $40 million in annual rights fee still pales in comparison to what a lot of other teams are raking in. According to Forbes, the Dodgers ($100 million), Angels ($95 million), Yankees ($90 million), Astros ($80 million), and Rangers ($80 million) all make considerably more in average rights fees per year than the Indians do. The Indians will continue to be on the lower end of the rights fees scale, but that should not come as a surprise as the Indians TV market is ranked in the bottom half in baseball as far as total number of TV households go.
Even still, the new deal along with the forthcoming national TV deal coming after next season which will pay teams approximately $24-25 million a year should help add some much needed revenue to allow the Indians to be more aggressive in retaining some of their better known players and sign a few notable free agents. While the Indians have dramatically changed their organizational philosophy this offseason, it is also no coincidence that the Indians have been very active in free agency this offseason and have had a less risk averse approach due to the influx of all the new TV money they are about to receive.
It is important to note that while the Indians received $230 million for the sale of STO that it does not mean that all of that money will be reinvested into the team. SportsTime Ohio was not started for free, so there are startup costs and investors the Dolans will undoubtedly have to pay back, which could eat up a big chunk of that money. As a result, maybe only half of that $230 million ends up going back into the team. Even so, it is a nice boost of money the team can really use considering their revenue well has really dried up over the years because of poor attendance along with lower revenues from advertising, merchandise and so on.
As to how Fox Sports adds all the programming from STO into their lineup on Fox Sports Ohio remains to be seen. With a full slate of Indians games as well as contracts in place through 2013 for the MAC, OHSAA Football, and other things, it appears that Fox Sports may just keep STO alive as its own channel in 2013. Perhaps in the short term they go with two Fox Sports channels in Ohio, one that is the regular FSN Ohio and the other a rebranded STO as something like FSN Cleveland or FSN Northeast Ohio. Who knows.
Right now no decisions have been made on how they will distribute all the programming, if they will keep two stations or condense it all into one, and what happens to popular programs like All Bets Are Off With Bruce Drennen, Chuck’s Last Call, Beer Money, Tee It Up Ohio, and so on. All of that is expected to be resolved in the next two months.
In the end, this is yet another major change this offseason with the Indians. They continue to change things up, first with their big manager hire in Terry Francona, then implementing the new approach to take more risks in free agent and trade acquisitions, and now a change with their cable TV setup. No doubt, this has been one heck of a busy offseason for the Indians.
Hagadone finishes short winter outing
Left-hander Nick Hagadone recently finished up a short stint pitching winter ball in the Dominican Republic. In six appearances he went 0-1 with a 9.00 ERA and in 6.0 innings allowed six hits, one home run, five walks, and had eight strikeouts. His poor numbers were greatly affected by one outing where he did not record an out and allowed four earned runs (four of the six total earned runs he allowed this offseason).
While it would have been great to see Hagadone have much better success with his performance, it was just good to see him back out there and get an opportunity to dust off the cob webs and get on the mound in advance of what is shaping up to be an important spring training. He looks to be all the way back from the fractured left forearm he suffered when he lost his temper after an outing on July 7th and prematurely ended his season.
The Indians were not very happy with Hagadone and how he sustained his injury, so they optioned him to the minors and then placed him on the disqualified list and did not have to pay him. A grievance was filed by the player’s union, but even though he was recently reinstated to the 40-man roster (players are not paid in the offseason), there has been no word on what came of the grievance or if it is still being reviewed.
In any case, Hagadone is an important piece to the Indians bullpen in 2013. With lefties Rafael Perez and Tony Sipp gone, the Indians do not have an established left-hander in their pen. This is something they may still try to address this offseason with a free agent signing or trade, and they recently signed lefty Scott Kazmir to a minor league deal and may sign a few other lefty relievers to minor league deals to see what sticks this spring. But right now, until another external option presents itself, Hagadone and Scott Barnes are the odds on favorites to duke it out this spring for the primary lefty role in the bullpen.
Hagadone has the ability to impact the backend of a bullpen, which is something he showed last season in April, May and most of June before the wheels fell off in his last seven outings. If he can be more consistent with his outings and control his emotions a little better, he could fill in well for the loss of Perez and Sipp and be even better than either of them. Coming off a very disappointing end to his 2012 season and the way in which it happened, he needs all the positive mojo he can muster going into next season.
The Indians need anchors
One of the problems that reared its ugly head last season is the Indians lacked an anchor in the lineup and in the rotation. Those go-to guys that anchor a staff or lineup where you know what you are going to get from them year in and year out, they stay healthy, and they provide leadership.
Of course, when you hear the term anchor you think of guys like Justin Verlander and C.C. Sabathia in the rotation or guys like Albert Pujols and Miguel Cabrera in the lineup. These are the crème de la crème as far as players go in baseball, but there are good solid contributors in both the starting rotation and lineup which maybe are not perennial All Star caliber players but can help anchor a lineup.
An example of this is the recent signing of Swisher. His bat is probably only a slight step up or down from Shin-Soo Choo, but what he brings in leadership and energy to the lineup is something that was vastly needed. The Indians needed an anchor for the lineup, and one of the best ones available on the free agent and trade market was Swisher.
Guys like Jason Kipnis, Carlos Santana, and Asdrubal Cabrera struggled last year partly because they were asked to do too much. They shouldered too much of the load, which is a lot to expect, especially from two players in Kipnis and Santana that had yet to play in two full Major League seasons. With the addition of Swisher, he adds a much needed veteran bat to the lineup that should take a lot of the pressure off some of the younger players and allow them to play the game more naturally, which could result in much more consistent seasons from Santana, Kipnis, and Cabrera.
Taking it a step further, this is why the addition of a solid middle of the rotation veteran starter could really help the Indians. Sure, an ace front-end starter would be ideal, but adding a proven, consistent, durable starter that has been around awhile could help stabilize the rotation, which in turn could get the likes of Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez to settle down and not try to be more than they are.
Left-hander David Huff is in the mix for the fifth starter spot, but may be a more realistic option for the Indians in the bullpen. He could fill two needs as both a long man and second lefty in the pen, and since he is out of options, would seem to be a favorite going into spring training to land one of the final spots in what is a crowded bullpen. … For those asking, the 2013 Indians Top Prospect countdown will commence very soon at the IBI. The countdown is expected to begin on Monday January 14th and will count down the Top 60 Prospects in the system. … Also, the new 2013 Indians Prospect Insider book is being written and should be available the beginning of February. I will share more details on the book once it gets closer to completion.
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.
What is the cost to get Kubel from Arizona? Besides the salary being figured, what is the rest of the cost to get him into the Tribe fold??
It's that unknown why I would rather see Fedroff (or Zeke) get the opportunity to play more. It would enable to use the remaining resources it still has to get pitching (starting and left handed relief).
Seth and MT, I am not too worried about signing someone to platoon with Stubbs. I believe he will platoon with someone to reduce his exposure to some right-handers, but he is going to get the lion's share of playing time in a platoon....something like 75-25. Carrera may be a solid option to platoon with him as he offers good speed and solid defense, plus some versatility and a left-handed bat off the bench. McGuiness as well as he is expected to play some LF this year. So I could see Carrera and McGuiness spelling Stubbs from time to time against some right-handers, and then maybe down the road Fedroff factors into things. I don't think Fedroff has any shot whatsoever to make the team out of spring training.....no ML experience and a subpar defender and Carrera is out of options.
Rich S, I agree on Saunders. If the Indians can't get a Lohse or Marcum then Saunders is probably the next guy I'd like them to take a shot at. He may just be an average starter, but he is consistent, durable, and adds a much needed lefty to the rotation.
As for the worry of a loss of a 3rd round pick, it is something that is not nearly as much of a worry as a 1st round pick. The Indians gained that 2nd round compensation pick from the Competitive Balance Lottery, which will help ease the pain if they lose both a 2nd and 3rd round pick this offseason. Probably only hurts the draft budget by about $200K or so (guessing). Also, it is important to note that of all the guys I mentioned today, only Lohse would cost them a 3rd round pick since the Cardinals gave him a qualifying offer which he declined. The other players would not result in the loss of a draft pick.
Discolloma, the Indians got about as good a deal as they could get. What other options did they have? Stay with STO and get $30-33M a year and just about no TV advertisement revenues? THe Astros got a sweet deal, but they are also a Top 10 sized TV market with over 500K more TV households than Cleveland. They should have a much larger deal, though I agree that it should not be double.
HQ, as far as expectations goes....I think the Indians right now are a 80-83 win team. I believe they are a better team than they showed last season. And remember, they won 80 games in 2011 and this team is much better than that one. If they remain relatively healthy, get expected performances from most of their important players.....then they should win 80 or more games.
What do you honestly expect out of the Indians (as they are now) in 2013? Does this team even sniff 80 wins?
I checked my Bovada/Bodog account and odds for the Indians to win the 2013 World Series are 75/1. The Indians odds are only ahead of the Cubs, Astros, Rockies and Marlins. The Tigers are 10/1, FYI.
Disco, Houston is the 4th largest city in the US. Cleveland is slightly larger than Wichita, KS. Probably just a reality of the market.
I love what they did for the on the field product this off season, but seriously, this is the move that will kill them. According to a Harris Interactive poll, the Indians were the 17th most popular team in America, the Astros were 28th, the Indians had four seasons where they placed in the top 10 of this poll, the Astros had two. Couldn't they have leveraged that into something at least SIMILAR to the Astros deal? This deal really feels wrong.
Stubbs last 2 years has had a wOBA against LHP of .340 and .393. Kubel last 2 years against RHP has been .372 and .342. So with those 2 platooning, you could potentially get around a .350-.360 wOBA from the 3rd outfield spot: that's Shin-Soo Choo-level production, and Brantley in CF when Kubel's in the lineup is still solid defense.
Gonzalez just signed with the Brewers yesterday or the day before...won't become official until next week after the New Year...
Michaels and Delucci just called, they're both available...
OF vs RHP is Fedroff in LF, Brantley in CF and Swish in RF
OF vs LHP is Brantley in LF, Stubbs in CF & Swish in RF
If Stubbs starts showing a better approach and reduction in Ks or Fedroff is overmatched/ exposed by MLB pitching, then Stubbs gets more playing time.
...and I just had heart palpatations...
What about another trade with the D-backs for Kubel? He would be a great option to platoon with Stubbs.