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Tribe Happenings: The Indians are on the clock with Cabrera

Tribe Happenings: The Indians are on the clock with Cabrera
March 11, 2012
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Some news, notes, and thoughts from my Indians notebook…

Deciding on Cabrera

Indians shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera made it public this past offseason that he wants to sign a long term contract extension with the Indians. The Indians obliged by discussing it with him for as long as they could until the arbitration hearing deadline got too close and both sides agreed to a one year deal for $4.55 million this season.

Next season will be Cabrera’s last arbitration year as he can become a free agent after the 2013 season.  Yes, here we go again, as Indians’ fans are once again at that all too familiar crossroads with a star player that is on the cusp of free agency.  Cabrera and a few others on the roster are two years removed from free agency, almost the identical situation Cliff Lee and Victor Martinez were in at this time in 2009. It was unfathomable at the time that they would be traded, but four months later they were.

So the question now is, what are the Indians going to do about it this time?

Most people have already prepared themselves for the inevitable that a good portion of the current roster will turn over after the 2013 season. In addition to Cabrera the Indians also have other players like outfielder Shin-Soo Choo, right-hander Joe Smith, left-hander Rafael Perez, and right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez that could all reach free agency after next season.  The Indians will need to decide which players to keep, much like in 2007 when they extended designated hitter Travis Hafner and right-hander Jake Westbrook to big money deals, but left little in the kitty for lefty C.C. Sabathia.

Right now the biggest decision the Indians may have on their hands is what to do with Cabrera. Both sides have already made it known publicly that they would like to get a long term deal done, but the longer they go without a deal the less likely it becomes since with each passing day free agency gets closer and closer. If a long term deal is not struck sometime before or just after the All Star break this year, Cabrera may be inclined – assuming he is playing well – to just take another one year deal in arbitration next spring and then test the free agent waters after the season.

There is no doubt that Cabrera is in the driver’s seat in the negotiations process right now since he is coming off of an All Star season last year where he hit .273 with 25 homers, 92 RBI and .792 OPS in 151 games.  Because of that the Indians are probably best served to let this season play out some before taking things another step further.  With 2011 more in the rearview mirror and his performance the first few months of this season in focus, it will either solidify his 2011 campaign or raise some doubts about his consistency.

It does not help that Cabrera came to camp out of shape. For as good of a player as he is and for as good a teammate and person he may be, the one thing that has always dogged him throughout his minor league and now Major League career is his worth ethic. If you go back to any scouting report in 2005 and 2006 when he was a hot shot shortstop prospect, the issues with conditioning were a big concern, and it still is today. Doling out multi-year deals to players with less than ideal work habits rarely happens unless that player proves they are an offensive force, and that is something he will need to try and prove one way or another the first half of this season.

Cabrera had a very nice season last year and no doubt had a career season with the production numbers as he smoked his career home run and RBI totals, but last season was not necessarily his best season in the big leagues as his 2009 season is arguably his best season. That year he hit .308 with six homers, 68 RBI, and .799 OPS in 131 games. The production numbers were not there, but his OPS was seven points higher, his on-base percentage was almost 30 points higher (.361 in 2009, .332 in 2011), and his extra base hit numbers were dead on as he averaged one extra base hit every 10.1 at bats in 2009 and last year averaged one extra base hit every 10.1 at bats.

There is a history of good performance the last few seasons with Cabrera that when healthy – and in shape – he is an above average offensive performer at shortstop. That is what the Indians need to make a decision on, is if his value to them outweighs the cost to retain him and the risks involved with it.  The decision to extend him is a complicated one and is going to be a tough one for the Indians to make.

Position battle scorecard

Spring training wraps up in about three weeks, but the Indians appear nowhere close to naming the winners from the competitions at third base, left field, and fifth starter role.  There are other jobs up in the air, but these three jobs are the ones that are the most critical.  With the first of four weeks of play in the books let’s take a quick look at where things stand.

Left field is really between Shelley Duncan, Aaron Cunningham, Felix Pie, and Ryan Spilborghs.  Duncan is having a good spring and right now has to be a strong favorite to win the job as in four games he is 3-for-10 at the plate with two monstrous three-run homers. Aaron Cunningham is off to a slow start (3-for-11, .545 OPS), Pie has been so-so (3-for-12, .808 OPS) and Spilborghs has barely played (0-for-7).

At third base Jack Hannahan and Lonnie Chisenhall are locked into a battle that will likely rage on until the final days of camp. Hannahan will be on the team no matter what, either as the starting third baseman or a bench player, but Chisenhall will either be the starting third baseman or be optioned out to Triple-A Columbus so he can play every day. Hannahan hit a grand slam in Wednesday’s game and has a leg up right now (2-for-8, .875 OPS), while Chisenhall is clearly a step behind (3-for-9, .733 OPS).

The fifth starter competition is really just between right-hander Kevin Slowey, right-hander Jeanmar Gomez, and left-hander David Huff. Slowey came into camp as a strong favorite to win the spot because of his past success and experience, but Gomez and Huff are every bit as deserving as they had strong seasons last year. Slowey probably still holds an edge (2.0 IP, 0 R), but Gomez (4.0 IP, 0 R) and Huff (5.0 IP, 2 R) are both closing in and could really make it interesting these last few weeks of spring training.

Jimenez pitching well

Right-handed pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez has made one appearance in Cactus League play and was pounded for six runs on five hits, three walks and one strikeout in 1.1 inning of work earlier this week.  The numbers may not show it, but he is off to a solid start this spring.

Jimenez is showing signs that his fastball velocity is all the way back as he sat 94-96 MPH in his last outing.  He has been focusing on using just a three pitch mix this spring so he can really hone in on the command of all three pitches. He is also doing a good job of implementing some mechanical changes to his delivery, most notably being more consistent with his stride so his balance and direction to the plate are much better which in turn will help his velocity.

Statistics for any player in spring training should be taken with a large grain of salt. Often times the evaluation process in spring training involves less the subjective information with stats because of the small sample size and instead is based on the objective information from what the coaches and team personnel see.

Using spring training statistics as an evaluation took is like grading out a player’s season based on his first two weeks in April, which we know can often be misleading.  This is why you have to place more emphasis on what is happening and not really on the numbers, and is where the trust in the scouting and coaching staffs come into play. Is the pitcher throwing strikes? How is his secondary stuff looking? Are hitters getting good swings and contact off of him? Etc.

With the lack of games on TV and most of the fans being unable to see games firsthand, the box scores get most of the attention, but it is important to read between the lines as to what is actually being said about their performance.

Hernandez set to return soon?

The details are still sketchy as to when right-handed pitcher Roberto Hernandez (formerly Fausto Carmona) will return to the United States and be available to the Indians, but some reports out of Arizona have indicated that a resolution on the situation could be coming soon, possibly in the next one to two weeks.

In preparation of this news the Indians have been maintaining contact with Hernandez and monitoring his workouts closely.  He is currently working out at the Indians academy in the Dominican Republic and is on a throwing program so that when he is given the okay to come back to the United States he will not need much time to get back up to speed. He threw one inning against hitters on Monday and will continue to progress with his throwing program just as he would if he were in Arizona for spring training.

If Hernandez gets a judicial pardon as has been predicted, then it is possible that he could be back pitching with the Indians sometime in the first two months of the season. Even though he is being built up in the Dominican Republic the Indians would still likely have him make a handful of appearances on a minor league assignment to get him back up to full speed.

Signed, sealed and delivered

This past week the Indians nailed down one year contracts for all remaining unsigned players on the 40-man roster. These are deals for non-arbitration eligible players that are on the 40-man roster, and will pay these players right around league minimum ($430,000) or slightly above it.

The players signed include: Scott Barnes, Michael Brantley, Russ Canzler, Carlos Carrasco, Ezequiel Carrera, Lonnie Chisenhall, Aaron Cunningham, Juan Diaz, Jason Donald, Shelley Duncan, Jeanmar Gomez, Nick Hagadone, Frank Herrmann, David Huff, Jason Kipnis, Corey Kluber, Matt LaPorta, Lou Marson, Zach McAllister, Thomas Neal, Vinnie Pestano, Cord Phelps, Danny Salazar, Carlos Santana, Tony Sipp, Josh Tomlin, and Nick Weglarz.

As you can see, the Indians have a lot of young guys on the roster with less than three years of Major League service time. This is a good sign going forward from a cost efficiency perspective with payroll.

Parting Shots

Former Indians’ right-handed pitcher Alex White was arrested for DUI in Scottsdale, AZ last Saturday night. He was charged with an extreme DUI as his blood alcohol content was 0.174, over twice the legal limit of 0.08 in Arizona. … There are lots of sore arms in camp. Lefty Rafael Perez is on a throwing program in his return from left shoulder soreness and could see game action in the next week, and right-hander Chris Perez is playing catch at 90 feet and should be back pitching on the mound soon.  Right-hander Austin Adams started a throwing program this week in his return from a sore right shoulder, and right-hander Tyler Sturdevant has been shut down with some right shoulder soreness and is day to day. … Catching prospect Chun Chen has a sprained right ankle and is day to day. … I will be heading out to Arizona this week, so be sure to check out the site this week for all kinds of updates from big league and minor league camp.

Follow Tony and the Indians Prospect Insider on Twitter @TonyIPI. Also, his new book the 2012 Cleveland Indians Prospect Insider which profiles the Indians' Top 100 Prospects and more is available for sale.

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

Tony Lastoria
March 11, 2012 - 10:21 PM EDT
I agree D-Dawg, I think if they get back the All Star break this year without a multi-year, then it wont happen. It would mean he is having another very good season. But I could see a deal being reached if he struggles some and forces his demands down some, sort of like Hafner in 2007. In any case, I think the chances are greater than 50-50 that Cabrera is not with the Indians after the 2013 season.....and I know a lot of people won't be happy with it.
March 11, 2012 - 5:13 PM EDT
The word was that Cabrera wanted a 5-yr contract. I don't see how the Indians can agree to buy out 3 years of FA at around $10-12MM/year when Cabrera can't be relied upon to remain in playing shape.

If he's unwilling to maintain his conditioning at this juncture, when he wants the Indians to agree to undertake a financial obligation in excess of $40MM, then the Indians would be fools to assume he'll somehow change once he is given the financial security of a long-term contract.

Nothing Cabrera does this season will impact the Indians' view on Cabrera's commitment. It's the offseason that is the problem. So, I don't see the Indians finding common ground with Cabrera until the end of next off-season unless Cabrera is willing to accept a shorter term contract, maybe one that buys out 1 year of FA. If that's not possible, then I think the Indians may just have to let him walk after next season.
Tony Lastoria
March 11, 2012 - 11:28 AM EDT
Yes, barring injury, Donald is a lock to make the team as a reserve player off the bench. Also, Chisenhall is not an option for any other position at this time as he is strictly a third baseman.
March 11, 2012 - 11:09 AM EDT
Cabrera could make a fortune if he has two more years like last one.
The Indians could counter that by offering him far more this year and next with an incentive-laden, potentially big contract for 2014 & 2015.
I hope they do it.
Chisenhall needs to play 3B, 3 games out of 4, but I hope they play him in RF and 1B the 4th days.
Choo's departure may mean Lonnie moves to RF, and 1B is wide open unless Aguilar moves up quickly.
Buck Johnson
March 11, 2012 - 9:54 AM EDT
Is Jason Donald not in the mix for 3B or 2B? Or is he fighting for a backup utility role? I would just like him to be on the 25 man roster in one way or another

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