Tribe Happenings: Thome, Ramirez reunion might work
Some news, notes, and thoughts from my Indians notebook:
Thome or Manny might fit DH need
The Indians still have a need at designated hitter. While I wrote a piece last month saying that there are several reasons they may prefer a rotation at the position for several reasons - and that it probably makes sense to do that - they have said several times this season they would like to add a bat to fill the designated hitter role.
Including all cash buyouts (Hafner option) and payouts (Choo trade), the Indians payroll at the moment is right around $76 million for next year. I’ve heard that the budget could go as high as $80 million, and if that is the case they could have up to $4 million in wiggle room to add a cheap bat in free agency.
While several pundits have said the Indians and Delmon Young may be a good match, I have yet to hear they have interest in him and I am unsure if he is the right fit. A more likely option that has been thrown around is a return of Travis Hafner on a one year deal.
But perhaps an even better option that might be had for a million or two is designated hitter Jim Thome. The Indians have interest in him and I have heard that they have even gone so far as to talk about a contract for next season. He definitely plans to play again next season, so he is considering a few offers and really wants one more crack at that elusive World Series ring. If the Indians were a sure thing, he might be a slam dunk signing, but since they are not he could end up anywhere.
Thome, who is now 42-years old, is limited to designated-hitter and pinch hitting duties and is no longer an everyday player. He is probably best as a part-time player that amasses around 300 plate appearances at most over the course of a season and matches up against right-handed pitching and is a big bopper off the bench. He can still hold his own against left-handed pitching, but against right-handers he is still very good as in 526 at bats over the last three seasons he has hit .276 with 34 homers, 97 RBI, and .937 OPS. His leadership, presence, and personality would be a welcomed fit in the Indians clubhouse.
With Thome on the roster it would allow the Indians to have the right-handed hitting Yan Gomes as the designated hitter against lefties (or anyone else on the roster to rest them). The other option is Chris McGuiness who could still make the roster even with Gomes and Thome on it since the Indians do not need a true fourth outfielder because Michael Brantley and Drew Stubbs can both handle any outfield position.
Thome seems like a realistic possibility since the Indians have sincere interest and he might want to finish his career as an Indian. Another interesting possibility, though more of a long shot, is Manny Ramirez.
Ramirez, 40, did not play in the Major Leagues last season because he had to serve his mandated 50-game suspension for testing positive for a banned substance. When the suspension was lifted he played in 17 games for the Athletics’ Triple-A Sacramento affiliate and hit .302 but had just three extra base hits – no homers – and had a .349 slugging percentage and 5-17 walk to strikeout ratio. He requested his outright release, it was granted, and he did not surface with another team the rest of the season.
But Ramirez resurfaced this offseason and has been playing winter ball in the Dominican Winter League and has looked good. Going into last night, in 43 combined regular season and playoff games for the Aguilas Cibaenas he was hitting .301 with 8 homers, 27 RBI and .849 OPS in 166 at bats.
Ramirez has no chance of landing a guaranteed Major League contract this offseason, but he would certainly be worth a flier on a minor league deal and see what happens with him this spring. Considering the Indians need for another bat on the cheap, he might make some sense. Sure, he brings some baggage with him, but as a former Indian and fan favorite, a lot of people would overlook the issues and be happy to have him “come home” to potentially finish his career.
I’m not one to typically endorse such moves to bring in a former hero from the 90s as I think those days are gone and it is time to move on from that era; not to mention these players are a far cry from what they once were. Yet the Indians could use a bat to fit the designated hitter role and I think either one may actually fit or help in some degree.
While it probably won’t happen, it would be interesting to bring in two former great Indians players back to the organization, see if they can help the team, and have them retire as an Indian. It would be a low risk move to sign either of them or even both of them, but could add some excitement and the cherry on top of the sundae to an offseason which has already been the best in years.
Six signed, one to go
From Thursday night through late Friday morning the Indians put the final touches on one year deals with six of their seven arbitration eligible players before the 1pm signing deadline. Right-handed reliever Matt Albers, catcher Lou Marson, right-handed starting pitcher Justin Masterson, right-handed closer Chris Perez, right-handed reliever Joe Smith, and outfielder Drew Stubbs all agreed to one year deals to avoid arbitration.
Here are the amounts the Indians signed each player for with the amount they were projected to get according to MLBTradeRumors.com:
* - in millions
The Indians did very well in going over only by a little over $700K for the six players, and really they signed half of the players close to the projected amount and only the Smith deal was for a considerable difference.
Of course, when it is all said and done they will probably end up spending a little over $1 million more than projected on the arbitration eligible players because one player still remains unsigned. That player is infielder Mike Aviles.
Since the Indians were unable to sign Aviles prior to the 1pm signing deadline, they were required to present a desired salary to the MLB Labor Relations Department, which turned out to be $2.4 million. Aviles and other players who filed for arbitration on Tuesday already submitted their requested salary figure to the MLB Labor Relations Department, and his was $3.4 million. By rule, after the deadline passed the Indians and Aviles can still negotiate a deal, but they can only negotiate a deal between the two requested figures of $2.4 million and $3.4 million.
At this time Aviles is not expected to jeopardize the Indians’ streak of avoiding arbitration as they last went to arbitration in 1991 with Greg Swindell and Jerry Browne. Now that the Indians and Aviles have exchanged arbitration figures they know they are only a million apart and a deal can still be reached prior to Feb 1st when arbitration hearings start. He was projected to get $2.3 million, so no matter what, his new deal will come in higher than that, and thus should push the total arbitration spending to around $24.5 million.
World Baseball Classic rosters set
On Thursday the World Baseball Classic released the provisional rosters for all 16 teams in the tournament that will be played this March. The tournament runs from March 2nd through the 19th, and will be held in several locations including Puerto Rico, Japan, Taiwan, Phoenix, Miami, and San Francisco.
Six Indians were named to the roster, and they are shortstop Mike Aviles (Puerto Rico), shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera (Venezuela), right-handed pitcher Chris Perez (United States), right-handed pitcher Vinnie Pestano (United States), catcher Carlos Santana (Dominican Republic), and left-handed pitcher Giovanni Soto (Puerto Rico).
Catcher Yan Gomes was expected to be on the Brazil roster, but he was not on the provisional roster because he is still deciding whether or not to play. He would probably prefer to play for his home country, but he is also taking careful consideration in what is a big spring training for him since he has a very good chance to win a spot on the Indians opening day roster. Final rosters are not due until February 20th, so teams with less than 28 players on their provisional rosters may make changes until then. So, he has time between now and then to make a final decision.
This is the third go around for the WBC. I admit when the first one debuted in 2006 I was very skeptical and laughed at the idea, but my tune has changed in a big way ever since. The last one in 2009 was a thrilling tournament with close, intense games that had several memorable finishes, and I am excited to see what happens the third time around.
Yes, there is a concern that a player may get injured in the tournament and ruin their season, but the risk is not much different than if they were playing in a spring training game. The workload for pitchers is almost identical to spring training, and position players get time off because of the deep rosters. I for one actually like the idea of amped up game competition early in spring training with games that matter versus games where guys have little if any intensity and are just trying to get their work in. If you ask me, those less intense outings make a player more susceptible to injury.
I’m very intrigued by the Team USA roster. The lineup is pretty solid with names like Mark Teixeira at first, Brandon Phillips at second, Jimmy Rollins at short, David Wright at third, Joe Mauer at catcher, Ryan Braun in left, Adam Jones in center, and Giancarlo Stanton in right. That is a very good lineup. The bullpen looks strong as well with the likes of Vinnie Pestano, Chris Perez, Jeremy Affeldt, Craig Kimbrel and others, but the rotation is very mediocre with R.A. Dickey, Derek Holland, Kris Medlen, and Ryan Vogelsong.
Team USA might be the favorite had the likes of Justin Verlander, C.C. Sabathia, David Price, Clayton Kershaw, Zach Greinke, and Roy Halladay been in the rotation, but with a good but not great rotation it will be interesting to see how they fare in the tournament. Luckily, they have Mexico, Italy, and Canada in their pool and should be able to make it out of it unless disaster strikes, but the second round and finals will be much tougher.
In any case, I hope more people jump on the WBC bandwagon this spring. All the games will be on MLB Network which should help, and it should get a lot more play and exposure on the national news networks and on websites and blogs around the country which could help convert some fans.
The Indians have yet to play a single game with their new skipper, but since he was hired three months ago the new Indians manager Terry Francona has already had a big influence on the entire organization from the front office down to the minor league players.
Several times since the hiring I have mentioned how Francona has been a major part of the Indians more aggressive approach this offseason. He came in with fresh ideas and a different way of thinking from a successful Red Sox organization, and the Indians top decision-makers listened. Prior to his arrival they were set to make several changes with or without him, but he has really been the glue that brought all the new ideas together.
During the Winter Development Program that wrapped up earlier in the week Francona left a big impression on several of the young Indians minor league players that were in town for the annual event. To a word, every single one of the players I talked to – over ten of them – said they were blown away with the speech he made to them. It was a moving speech, one that had a slow, calm buildup and delivered a strong message and left them in awe.
Francona’s message was clear: they are the future of the organization and they are needed for the organization to have any sustainable success.
Anyone who has been following the Indians for some time knows that they need young prospects to come up and impact the team for them to be successful. They have never been a team that goes out and buys talent; they have to draft and develop it or trade for it in veteran for prospect trades. That is how they became so good in the 90s and how they will have to become good again in the future and have any sustainable success at the big league level.
Francona gets it. He knows how important the young players in the farm system are to his future success as a manager with the team. Not only does he have his eye on this season, but beyond as well. He has been getting to know countless players up and down the farm system, so much so, while the players were in Cleveland for the program he struck up conversations with ease even though it was the first time he physically met them in person. He knew everyone by name as soon as he saw them, talked about their stuff, and knew everything about each of them inside and out.
This is Francona’s style as a manager as he always wants to keep in contact with his players, and get to know all of them. Not just the big league guys, but those all the way down to Single-A as well. This is something that is much different from recent managers like Manny Acta and Eric Wedge.
These players now have a Major League manager that knows who they are, actually wants to know who they are, and understands why they are so important. It may seem small in scale, but it is something that makes all of these players believe even more that they have value, and more importantly, that they can trust in their manager.
The Indians have reportedly signed infielder Ryan Raburn to a minor league contract. He could be an option to make the opening day roster as role player off the bench, or can be sent to Triple-A Columbus as depth. … The Indians have also been tied to free agent infielder Ryan Theriot and right-handed pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka. Both could be looking at minor league contracts due to poor seasons last year, age, or injury concerns. … From the sounds of it, Tribe Fest has been a big success so far. The turnout has been great, and although the lines and waits have been long that is something they will probably look to better prepare for next year now that they know what to expect. In any case, it is nice to see all the Indians excitement in January! … The new 2013 IBI prospect book is coming along and should be available soon. The target is an early February release.
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.
Seth, I agree on Hafner, and of the three I'd probably prefer him so long as it is known he is getting just 300-350 ABs. Still productive when he is in the lineup, but I think he might command more than Thome. I'm guessing $3-5 million on a one year deal (I think he will get more than you are proposing).
JWahoo, I stand corrected on Manny. I am one of those people that is for moving on from the 90s, but I must admit I am somewhat intrigued with a return of him and have changed my mind a little because of his good showing this offseason. I still consider it a long shot he returns, but I think there should be interest now to bring him in on a minor league deal if possible.
I don't get math or Common Cents (whatever you are calling yourself today), signing all of those arbitration eligible guys for a total overage of $700K above the projected total is solid if not well done. Considering they had several guys get $2 million or more, that's actually pretty good I think. Of course you'd want to be less than the projection, but there was no way that would ever happen as the projection was pretty much the floor in any contract discussions.
Ps - is there seriously a thome statue now at Jacobs field? Why?
(a) The Indians spend $700k more than what the were projected to in arbitration
(b) The Indians did "very well" in arbitration
Seems to me they would have done "very well" if they spent $700k less than what they were projected, but I'm really stupid and all of this advanced mathematics is hurting my brain. It's just too complex for me to understand.
There's not really any downside to picking up Thome either though, other than the opportunity cost of not picking up Hafner or someone else. I'd rather they give him a try than just go into the year with Yan Gomes or McGuiness as the primary DH. There are guys on the 40-man roster who are still very expendable (e.g. McDade) so it's not like they have a lot to lose by picking up one of these guys.
Ramirez isn't even a shell of his former self. Expecting him to come in and be productive without PEDs at age 40 is just silly.
We have to move on from the glory days. They're over and done with.
There's not a lot of downside risk to signing Hafner. You give him something like a million guaranteed and some opportunities to make around $3-4 if he meets some AB and performance thresholds, and I would imagine he'd bite. I doubt anyone else would offer him more than that. When he's been in the lineup, he's still been one of their better hitters and has improved the offense a lot, and even with his injuries he's still been averaging over 300 ABs the past few years.
keep the faith tony!!
I think Raburn could turn out to be a better signing than the usual depth options. Injured much of last year, he could still recover enough of a bat like 2009-11 to be valuable. He is likely to hit better away from Detroit and defends adequately if not spectacularly. Might even fill in as a RH DH on occasion.
All in all, the Tribe has had a productive off season. They need a lot of health and the SPs to step up but they look better than last year IMO.