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Tribe Happenings: The Swisher Saga carries on...and on...

Tribe Happenings: The Swisher Saga carries on...and on...
December 23, 2012
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Some news, notes, and thoughts from my Indians notebook…

Real quick, before we get into the notebook, I wanted to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays. As mentioned earlier in the week you will see some changes with the site as we transition to “Indians Baseball Insider”, but they will mostly just be cosmetic changes. Thanks for the continued support and be sure to enjoy the time with family and celebrate the season!

The Neverending Story

Progress in the hunt to sign free agent outfielder Nick Swisher continues to be slow.

The Indians still have a standing offer to Swisher, believed to be four years for between $50-52 million. There is talk that there is one other team out there that has a standing offer to him as well, though the identity of that team is conveniently unknown, which means it may be the agent trying to create a market that really is not there at this point.

Swisher visited the Indians in the first leg of his Magical Mystery Free Agent Tour earlier this week, but after spending Monday night and most of Tuesday in Cleveland before departing, nothing has surfaced as to what other places he has visited or will visit in the near future. Maybe he will visit a team this week after the Christmas holiday or next weekend before New Year’s, but that seems pretty drawn out with a lot of unfilled dates for a “tour”. In the meantime, while he takes his time to make a decision which is now not expected before Christmas, he is holding the Indians and the other mystery team hostage with their offers.

With free agent outfielder Cody Ross signing with the Diamondbacks on Saturday, the market has grown tighter as the only two legit free agent bats remaining on the market are Swisher and center fielder Michael Bourn. The Rangers and Phillies were very interested in signing Ross, so it will be interesting to see where their attention turns to in the wake of his signing. They were hesitant to go after Swisher before because he would cost them a first round draft pick and they did not want to go four years, but do they relent and go after him or do they go after Bourn or look to make a trade? With the Diamondbacks inking Ross they now have outfielders to spare, which should turn up the heat on Justin Upton rumors or possibly even Jason Kubel.

The Red Sox are also tied up with the Mike Napoli deal and working out its completion. Swisher could be waiting to see where things go with the Red Sox, but if he is it might be a major miscalculation as the Napoli issue may take weeks to be ironed out.  Six years ago the Red Sox signed free agent outfielder J.D. Drew to a big contract but the deal took about seven weeks to be finalized as all kinds of legal mumble jumble had to be squared away with his contract because of concerns with the health of his shoulder. There are some concerns with the health of Napoli’s hip, so the same thing is probably occurring where he will ultimately be signed but the Red Sox are just protecting themselves with language in the contract that takes time to be agreed upon by all parties.

Right now Swisher needs the Phillies, Rangers, Red Sox and maybe even the Mariners to help foster his market because without them, he has little bargaining power or options to choose from on the free agent front. The teams he would love to play for the Dodgers, Angels, and Giants have no room for him, and there has been little interest from other teams.  He is a good player, but some of the disinterest has to do with his contract demands as a four year deal is pushing it for a 32-year old player who will probably be in decline for the last year or two of the deal, while some of it has to do with the compensation tied to him where a signing team loses a first round pick (second round pick for teams in the top ten of the first round).

There has been some talk that maybe Swisher looks for a “pillow” deal, but that appears very unlikely. A pillow deal is a one year contract a player signs with a team they feel offers them the best chance to succeed and have a chance to score a good pay day in free agency the next offseason. Considering that a team would lose a draft pick for signing Swisher, the likelihood of a team wasting that and only signing him for one year appears very remote. The only option he may have for a pillow deal may be a return to the Yankees, something that could become more of a possibility as he remains unsigned this offseason, but I am unsure a pillow deal makes sense as he will be 33-years old next offseason.  He has to get his big deal now.

The Indians are still Swisher’s most logical landing spot as they are a team that wants him badly, will play him where he wants to play, will pay him, and are not afraid of the draft pick compensation (they would lose their second round pick). But questions remain whether Swisher truly wants to come to Cleveland because of his hesitancy to push forward in the offer the Indians have made and get into much more serious contract discussions.

In fairness, as a free agent Swisher has earned the right to choose where he goes. If he prefers to play on the west coast or in a big market, that’s his prerogative and the right he earned when he achieved free agent status. After spending the last ten years in the minors and big leagues, being traded twice, and having no control over what team he plays for, he now holds the power to make that decision where he plays. So if Cleveland is not what he had in mind when he finally earned his “freedom” that’s fine, but hopefully he can put things into motion a little quicker and get this long drawn out process over with for all parties involved.

At some point the Indians may have to make an ultimatum with Swisher that he either take the contract, or work with them more seriously to find a deal he likes, because in the meantime other options in free agency with outfielders and starting pitchers continue to sign elsewhere. The Indians have continued to talk with several free agent pitchers, and were very aggressive in their pursuit of Edwin Jackson before he signed with the Cubs, so it does not appear Swisher is holding anything up on the pitching end. But there are still some interesting outfielders out there on the market which the Indians may consider more and more as this Swisher thing carries on.

One player that could be an option is Bourn. The Indians are said to be one of six teams actively pursuing him, and if they pull out of the Swisher Sweepstakes they might become much more aggressive in their pursuit of Bourn. He would not bring the balance, power bat, and offense to the middle of the lineup the Indians covet, but his speed, defense, and solid contributions offensively might be a fit at the top of the lineup for the Indians (though he is not a high on-base guy). Another option could be Scott Hairston whom the Indians have checked in on this offseason, though his strongest suitors at the moment appear to be the Braves, Mets, Phillies and Yankees.

No matter what happens, the Indians will continue to be aggressive on the Swisher front and keep in on the discussions with other top free agent outfielders as it is imperative they sign or trade for an external need to fill the hole in right field. They probably hoped to have that all figured out by now, but Swisher’s hemming and hawing has delayed the process. In the end, it may no longer be a question as to whether Swisher signs with the Indians, but whether they pull out and turn their full attention elsewhere.

Indians make Reynolds signing official

The Indians put the final touches on their deal with first baseman Mark Reynolds on Tuesday when he was officially announced as a Cleveland Indian.  As expected, he signed a one year $6 million contract that includes performances bonus incentives that could pay him up to an additional $1.5 million.

It remains to be seen how much of an impact if any the 29-year old Reynolds will have on the lineup next season. Last season with the Orioles he hit .221 with 23 homers, 69 RBI and .763 OPS in 135 games.  He has averaged 30 homers a season the past six years and he draws a good amount of walks, and his right-handed power bat will help balance out a lineup that was so heavily laden with left-handed hitters last season. But on the flip side, he is a low contact hitter that is prone to a lot of strikeouts as he has led the league in that department in four of the last five seasons.

Looking a little bit deeper into things, where Reynolds can really help is hitting behind someone like Carlos Santana. Santana has a patient approach and is still developing as a hitter at the big league level and could be primed for a breakout year this coming season. If the Indians have Swisher and Santana hit in some combination in the third and fourth spot and have Reynolds hitting behind them in the fifth spot in the order, he should get a good amount of opportunities to hit with runners on base.

Hitting with runners on base has been a strength of Reynolds in his career. In 853 career games he is a .235 hitter with 181 home runs, 501 RBI and .807 OPS, numbers that are solid, but actually improve in higher leverage situations. With no one on base he is a career .217 hitter with 97 homers, 97 RBI, and .761 OPS in 1849 plate appearances, but with runners occupying any base he is a career .257 hitter with 84 homers, 404 RBI and .861 OPS. Going a step further, in his career hitting with runners in scoring position he is a .256 hitter with 46 homers, 322 RBI and .867 OPS in 962 plate appearances.

Even with his “down” year last season, those splits for Reynolds are even more promising. Last season he hit .205 with a .727 OPS with no one on base, but hit .241 with a .811 OPS with runners on, and hit .286 with a .970 OPS with runners in scoring position.

What this implies is that if the hitters in front of Reynolds are patient and get on base, Reynolds has a good chance of being a productive hitter because with runners on base pitchers are likely to throw him more fastballs. He is a frustrating player to watch day in and day out because of the strikeouts, but he is also patient enough with runners on base where he becomes more selective and gets more pitches to his liking. Also, with Reynolds hitting behind Santana, it is possible that Santana gets better pitches to hit as well. It would be much different from the likes of Jose Lopez who often hit behind Santana or was the “protection” in the order for a good part of last season.

Stats can often be used in almost any way to make a point for or against a player, and that is the same with Reynolds.  But it is important to not just get caught up in the overall .221 batting average he had last year and all the strikeouts as there were a lot of other things going on that provide more context to those numbers, which is why batting average so often is a poor way to evaluate a player’s true ability and value.  With the likes of Jason Kipnis, Asdrubal Cabrera, Carlos Santana and possibly Nick Swisher hitting in front of Reynolds, he should get a good amount of chances to hit with runners on base.

Bottom line, if Reynolds does next season in Cleveland what he has done over his career then he will be a notable improvement at first base. Considering he is playing for his next contract and has sort of a “pillow” deal with the Indians to perform and get that next big deal, it could work out to the Indians’ benefit.  I am not the biggest fan of his signing, but time will tell if the numbers over the last six-plus years hold up and he has a good year with the Indians or if they are just a mirage and he has a worse year than he did with the Orioles last season.

Kazmir signing is a lottery ticket

The Indians reportedly agreed to terms on a minor league contract with free agent left-handed pitcher Scott Kazmir on Friday.  The financial terms as to how much he would be paid if he makes the Major League roster are not yet known, but he received an invite to Major League spring training.

Kazmir, 28, did not pitch with a Major League organization last season as he pitched in independent ball for Sugar Land in the Atlantic League and in 14 starts went 3-6 with a 5.34 ERA (64.0 IP, 74 H, 8 HR, 33 B, 51 K).  He last pitched with a Major League organization in 2011 when he made six total appearances between the Angels and their Triple-A Salt Lake affiliate.

The Indians and other teams have been encouraged with Kazmir’s showing in the Puerto Rico Winter League this offseason where in five starts he went 0-2 with a 4.37 ERA (22.2 IP, 28 H, 1 HR, 8 BB, 27 K). He has not pitched since December 12th, so he may be done for the offseason.  He reportedly was showing more command of his fastball and comfortably sat between 90-94 MPH, which is a good sign, but he still has a long way to go before he becomes a legit Major League option again.

Kazmir was good early in his career form 2004-2009, but in 2010 and 2011 his command and velocity began to get away from him and nagging injuries began to pile up.  According to FanGraphs, his velocity went from topping out at 95-97 MPH and averaging 91 MPH or higher from 2007-2010 to topping out at 89 MPH and averaging 87 MPH in 2011. The Angels ended up releasing Kazmir halfway through the 2011 season and no team signed him last offseason so he went the indy route to re-establish his value.

Kazmir is a depth pickup for the Indians and currently not looked at as someone the organization will rely on for a significant role next season. He is a lottery ticket at the moment where they bring a once very valuable left-handed pitcher into the fold to see if he has regained his mechanics, devastating slider, and velocity to make him a possible option they can turn to for the starting rotation or bullpen. Unless he really impresses in spring training, he will probably open the 2013 season at Triple-A Columbus in a role that is yet to be determined.

The reason the role is yet to be determined is because while Kazmir probably best fits as starting depth for the Indians, he may help fill a more immediate need as a lefty in the bullpen. With the recent loss of Rafael Perez and Tony Sipp, and the inexperienced Scott Barnes and Nick Hagadone, the Indians have limited internal options to fill a lefty specialist role in their bullpen. At the moment only David Huff and Kazmir have any lengthy Major League experience as a pitcher.

It is important to note that Kazmir is not the solution the Indians were looking for in their starting rotation. Like all teams, the Indians are adding much needed depth options on minor league deals, and will probably sign another half dozen or so players to minor league deals before spring training opens.  They are still pursuing more significant and reliable upgrades for the starting rotation. Even though a top target of theirs in Edwin Jackson is off the board, they are reportedly interested in Kyle Lohse and Joe Saunders, and could also consider Shaun Marcum, Jair Jurrjens, and Brett Myers.

Losing Canzler not significant, but stings a little

The first questionable move the Indians made with the roster this offseason came with who they decided to designate for assignment to add Mark Reynolds to the roster. The Indians chose to designate left fielder/first baseman Russ Canzler for assignment, possibly because they felt he would clear waivers, but that gamble proved wrong when the Blue Jays (the Blue Jays!) claimed him off waivers.

Canzler, 26, had a solid year for the Indians hitting .265 with 22 homers, 79 RBI and .815 OPS in 130 games for Triple-A Columbus, and then hit .269 with 3 homers, 11 RBI and .697 OPS in 26 games as a late season callup to Cleveland. There were some encouraging moments during his brief time with the Indians, but the approach was a concern all season as he totaled just 51 walks compared to 151 strikeouts between his time in Columbus and Cleveland.

Canzler does not really have a home defensively as he is actually more of a designated hitter type because of his below average defense at first base and left field, so to stick in the big leagues he is going to have to hit a lot.  He has a very simple swing with a short approach to the ball, and his professionalism as a player and the ability to hit with some power are his two best traits. Besides his defense, the biggest drawback with him has always been how he lacks much patience and has not shown an ability to consistently stay in the zone, an issues Major League pitchers will expose as he gets more Major League at bats because of how he expands the zone and chases pitches. For this reason alone, he was more of a depth option for the Indians next season and maybe could have filled a Shelley Duncan-type role as a right-handed bat off the bench.

Canzler’s fate may have been sealed when the Indians signed Reynolds, but notice was given weeks ago when the Indians claimed first baseman Mike McDade off waivers from the Blue Jays and selected first baseman Chris McGuiness in the Rule 5 Draft from the Rangers.

McDade is three years younger, offers more flexibility with the bat as a switch-hitter, is a better defender, and may have more pure power. He has more upside than Canzler, but even though Canzler’s ceiling is quite limited he does have more experience at the Major League level.

Since the Indians made McGuiness a Rule 5 selection, he will obviously be given every opportunity to make the big league roster. He is a big left-handed hitter with a good eye at the plate, some solid power, and plays average defense at first base, and the Indians may continue an experiment the Rangers started this offseason with him playing some left field.

These are probably nothing but bit players that make up the last few spots of a 25-man roster and all may ultimately find their names on the waiver wire several times over the next few seasons and spending a lot of time going back and forth between Triple-A and the big leagues. In the end, the Indians let Canzler go because they like the other two bats they picked up this offseason and believe they can fill Canzler’s role just as good, if not better.  We’ll see if they were right.

Parting shots

Former Indians right-handed pitcher Roberto Hernandez (Fausto Carmona) signed a one year $3.25 million deal with the Rays earlier this week. … Designated hitter Travis Hafner is unable to play the field so his market is very limited at the moment to the American League where a lot of teams already have an option at designated hitter. He will probably be a late offseason for a team and get a one year deal, possibly with the Rays. … Earlier in the week the Indians signed right-handed pitcher Joe Martinez and catcher Brian Jeroloman to minor league deals with invites to Major League spring training. … The Reds have signed right-handed pitcher Loek Van Mil to a minor league contract. He pitcher most of last season for the Indians at Double-A Akron and Triple-A Columbus and is one of the tallest players ever to play professionally as he stands in at 7’1”.

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

December 23, 2012 - 11:35 PM EST
League Park, yes, I think the Swisher signing helps both on the field and off it with PR. As I have mentioned several times, I am not for spending this kind of money in free agency. You almost never get back what you pay, but if you are going to play in the free agent circus this is how it has to be. The Swisher's of the world will be the Indians' target, and are the same players they got in the 90s. Never in on big free agents - except for the one exception of Alomar. But I think what this kind of signing shows is a commitment to change and strengthens what I said two months ago that the organization now has a new, aggressive approach. They are not as scared of risk anymore. The Indians may finish 3rd or 4th in the division, but that's besides the point. This was a step in the right direction. Some hope has been brought back.
League Park
December 23, 2012 - 11:23 AM EST
Fans get too excited over the signing of free agents. How many people predicted the Angels to win the World Series when they signed Pujols & Wilson? They did not even make the playoffs.
December 23, 2012 - 11:23 AM EST
The "BIG IF's" have now become just "if's".

The Indians are close to having a starting nine where "if" everyone simply plays close to their capabilities they can have a very competitive team offensively and defensively. That's a big accomplishment in a short time.

Now if Reynolds and Stubbs can keep their strikeouts around 1 per 3.5 times per at bat ... and if the SP can rebound just a little ...

Merry Christmas to all!
League Park
December 23, 2012 - 11:20 AM EST
Merry Christmas Tony. Reading between the lines, I take it that you think signing Swisher is most helpful from a positive publicity move than from his on the field contribution.

With or without him, I see this as a 4th place team (ahead of the Twins) at the end of 2013. Your thoughts?
December 23, 2012 - 10:54 AM EST
Touche !!! Great Tony ! I have no problem eating humble pie in this case.Glad to see it. Now we are relevant again !!! Merry Christmas to all !!
December 23, 2012 - 10:42 AM EST
Joe, you were

Merry Christmas Tribe fans!
December 23, 2012 - 10:21 AM EST
The Indians have signed Nick swisher to a 4 year 56 million dollar contract. there is a vested option for 14 million dollars. merry Christmas everyone
December 23, 2012 - 10:18 AM EST
Tony, I understand what you are saying, but my point is when you go all in for 1 guy, and you miss, other opportunities are lost. Also, it is their history that has hurt them, as overpaying has become a norm to try and sign anyone. Their falls from success to failure have been fast, and with their poor drafting history to fill the system, this all precludes the Indians from being players in the market, as free agents question the front office commitment on a long term basis, and they all want long term deals. They have been my team for 50+ years, and it saddens me to see what has happened to this storied franchise.
December 23, 2012 - 9:58 AM EST
I just got a flash that the Indians have signed Swisher. M
December 23, 2012 - 9:36 AM EST
Joe, I get what you are saying, but it would be hard to fault the front office and ownership if they were to not sign anyone. They would have close to a half dozen players they offered more money to, yet they did not sign with them. Sometimes guys simply don't want to sign with a team. And, while this Swisher thing has been going on they have been trying to complete other deals. They had interest in Ross and Edwin Jackson, and I heard may have even offered more than what he signed with the Cubs. And they have talked to others. Ultimately, you are graded by what you do, and so far not much has been "done" this offseason.....but no matter what happens I see a lot to be encouraged about going forward and in no way is this the same old same old.

Also, Larry, it is hard to take much away from winter ball. You want guys to do well, but for all we know Santana is working on some things. I don't like to see the poor performance, but I don't think it has any bearing on his 2013 campaign.
December 23, 2012 - 9:27 AM EST
Merry Christmas to all the IPI staff and families. Tony, does his stellar hitting in the winter leagues led you to think Santana is headed for a breakout year?
December 23, 2012 - 9:19 AM EST
The longer this Swisher saga goes on, the more I believe he will sign elsewhere. Then the options decrease dramatically. All we really have to show for the off season free agency is Reynolds, for 1 year. This scenario has played out numerous times in Cleveland before, and is how the front office gets the bad rep. There seems to be no plan or flexibility in their approach. They target one or two, and if they sign elsewhere, they have to scramble. Aside from the one trade, this off season promises to be like all the others, hope at the start, and disappointment come spring training. Real sad. And Dolan et. al. wonder why they get so much criticism, and why the fans turn on them. Francona has been a breath of fresh air, but wonder what he is thinking about now.
December 23, 2012 - 9:10 AM EST
Thanks Roger, Merry Christmas to you too. Good point on the expiring tax laws. Would think that would be enough for a lot of guys to get deals done these last 8 days before Jan 1.

Mike, no, I am not joking. Sure, the K's are rally killers.....but if you look at the career numbers that Reynolds has posted, they appear to not be as the higher the leverage situation, the better he has performed. Sure, he will strikeout a lot in those situations too, but his clutch performance in those situations over a large sample size is interesting. Again, I'm not big on his signing, I'd have preferred a more professional bat like Youkilis, but if he continues the trends over his career, then it will be more than a slight upgrade over Kotchman. We will see. I ain't blowing his horn or anything, be cognizant of that. If he struggles this season, it wouldn't surprise me give his year last year with the Orioles. But, I do see some "glimmers" of hope with him.

League Park, I agree with you on $52 million to a borderline All Star that is 33-years old is too much. But unfortunately, this is how it is. If you want to play in free agency and want ownership to spend money, this is what it costs. Just a prime example how free agency is a poor way to add talent. I'd normally be against this kind of signing, but I just think it is important to do for so many reasons beyond what Swisher may end up producing on the field.
League Park
December 23, 2012 - 8:38 AM EST
Does it really make any sense to spend $52M on a 33 year old player who is certainly not an all-star? Of course not. We are only in this desperate position because of bad drafting and bad trades.
Iron Mike
December 23, 2012 - 8:35 AM EST
Tony, you wrote...

... Stats can often be used in almost any way to make a point for or against a player, and that is the same with Reynolds. But it is important to not just get caught up in the overall .221 batting average he had last year and all the strikeouts as there were a lot of other things going on that provide more context to those numbers, which is why batting average so often is a poor way to evaluate a player’s true ability and value.

You are joking, right?

Let's just say he's a slight upgrade over Kotchman. By about August 15th you will be writing otherwise regarding Reynolds. If we had ANY minor league talent like we are supposed to, Reynolds would not have been considered. He's a stop gap who has been with three teams in recent years. There is a REASON for that ... K's. His walk to K ratio is still very poor no matter how many times he has walked, his K's are rally killers.

Now if they challenge him to improve okay, in the condition this team is in then it's worth a gamble, but to say his K totals are okay is more Shapiro BS, they ain't.
December 23, 2012 - 8:26 AM EST
Best Wishes Tony for a Merry Christmas to you and your family. As for Swisher The expiring tax laws lead me to believe if there is a significant signing bonus he should sign prior to the new year to take advantage of lower taxes due. On multi-millions of dollars that is a significant amount of money. As for not signing him I really get tired of the left overs after the other teams pick up all the meal tiickets and we seem to get what is left over in the open market so lets hope that we do in fact sign Swisher and put an end to the cycle.

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