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Under the radar free agent options for the Indians

Under the radar free agent options for the Indians
Chad Billingsley (Photo: LA Times)
November 25, 2014
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The hot stove league is already warm and is only going to get hotter. While Indians fans would like to see the front office add a big bat like Nelson Cruz or a front line starting pitcher like Jon Lester or James Shields, the chances of that happening are very remote.

While they have spent big dollars in the past with the big contracts doled out to Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher still on the books, it is much more likely they will look to add players that are a little more cost efficient. As I combed through the free agents, I may have found some potential matches that make some sense for the Tribe to pursue.

The Indians rotation seems to be one of the strong points heading into 2015 with Cy Young Winner “The Klubot” Corey Kluber anchoring it. With the emergence of Carlos Carrasco and the continued growth of Trevor BauerDanny Salazar and T.J. House, the rotation seems to be set – though depth and competition are wonderful problems to have. With that being said, there are two pitchers coming off of injuries who could compete for a spot in the rotation or at the very least, could carve out a niche as the long man out of the bullpen.

Chad BillingsleyThe 30-year old right-hander from Defiance, Ohio has barely pitched in the majors over the last two seasons but did get some rehab innings in this past year. Prior to his injury woes, he had six straight years of double digit wins. He has a career WHIP of 1.31 and more impressively he has a better than 2:1 strikeout to walk ratio. After averaging $12 million over the last three years, his base salary will definitely tumble, possibly as low as a non-guaranteed minor league contract.

Brandon MorrowHe, too, is a 30-year old right-hander who cannot seem to shake the injury bug-a-boo. He has an electric arm with an upper 90s fastball, but he has never been able to harness his control. He has a career WHIP of 1.357 but has also struck out more than a batter per inning in his 735 career innings. With the help of pitching coach Mickey Callaway, Morrow could ascend much the same way that Carrasco did this past year.

While right-handers Cody AllenBryan Shaw and Scott Atchison along with lefties Marc Rzepczynski and Kyle Crockett seem to be locked in place for the 2015 bullpen, there is still a need to add a quality arm or two to round it out.

Jason MotteThe 32-year old former closer will be nearly two years removed from his Tommy John surgery once spring training rolls around. Although he struggled in his return in 2014, he could easily regain his dominant pre-TJ surgery form. From 2010-2012, he had a composite WHIP of 1.00 and also struck out more than a batter per inning. If he regains form, he would also make a nice insurance policy at closer should anything happen to Allen.

Luke HochevarThe Royals’ former #1 overall draft pick (2006) was drafted as a starting pitcher; however, he never really panned out as a starter so in 2013 the Royals moved him to the bullpen. It was there that he thrived as a premier setup man with five wins, a 1.92 ERA, more than a strike out per inning and a phenomenal 0.825 WHIP. He also had a WAR of 2.0. To put the WAR stat in perspective, the 2014 WAR stats for the top three in the Indians ‘pen: Allen (2.0), Shaw (1.7) and Atchison (1.7). Hochevar is, however, coming off of TJ surgery and will likely need some time to get back to his pre-TJ form.

The biggest glaring weakness for the Tribe on offense last year was the lack of any serious right-handed power. While Nelson Cruz would cure that ill, the Tribe may look to add someone that they can platoon in right field with David Murphy and also DH from time to time. While there are possibilities in Ryan Ludwick and Jonny Gomes, I am going to hone in on two others instead.

Corey HartThe 32-year old right-handed slugger was a big letdown for the 2014 Seattle Mariners. Coming off of knee surgeries in 2013, Hart started off 2014 on the disabled list to finish off his rehab of those surgeries. Once he was deemed healthy, Hart literally never got his legs under him and he eventually succumbed to injury again, this time with a hamstring injury. Even through his injuries of 2013 and 2014, Hart’s track record shows that he has 25-30 home run power. After making $6 million dollars in 2014, there is a possibility that his base salary will be even lower in 2015.

Michael TaylorThis Michael Taylor, not to be confused with the Nationals’ prospect outfielder of the same name, has been a terrific player in the minors for a number of years. The 6-feet-5 250-pound Taylor is no longer a prospect as he is soon to be 29 years old. In the minors, he has career averages of a .290 batting average and an OPS of .840. Obviously any deal with him would be a minor league contract due to his age and only 107 major league at bats, so the odds are stacked against him. But then again, the odds were stacked against Casey Blake at one time as well and he carved out a nice career.

Tribe fans would love to see the Indians pay for the big name, high dollar free agents but that is just not a feasible concept for the Cleveland Indians at this time, if ever. One thing is for sure, though, the hot stove will continue to heat up and eventually the Indians will make some moves as well. So who will they get? Only time will tell.

User Comments

December 5, 2014 - 8:00 PM EST
Is it possible to structure a contract with Billingsley along the lines of a 1 year minor league deal with a 2 million signing bonus, and once he reaches the majors it is an 8 million salary pro-rated depending on when he is called up and there is a team option for 12 million with a 1 million buyout. This will give him 3 million guaranteed, allow the Indians to save a roster spot and time to evaluate him if he needs time to get back to form and allows the team to reap the benefits of their patience.
November 26, 2014 - 8:57 PM EST
Also not sure I undestand all the love for Corey Hart. People here are dogging on Swisher and his two knee surguries but then mention Hart?

Again, he takes a minor league deal or a low base salary, and you've exausted all other options...then maybe.
November 26, 2014 - 8:55 PM EST
If any of them can be had on minor league deals, then of course you sign them. Can't go wrong on minors deals. So little risk.

Michael Taylor is a bit interesting to take a flyer on. Massive dude just doesn't mash.

Jason Motte and Chad Billingsly are just so eye catching to also take flyers on. Talk about depth & potential payoff. Morrow as well but a little less so, I'd be interested in him out of the bullpen however.
November 26, 2014 - 10:39 AM EST
I agree with almost everyone that Billingsley, Morrow and Luke Hochevar would be great additions. Hockevar if recovered from TJ surgery and pitching like before injury would be hugh since he was a KC starter and went to bull pen and was lights out.
Morrow who has all the talent but control would be enrolled in Mickey Calloway school of pitching and who knows.
Billingsley who has been around winning with LA would be a good.
Josh Johnson I have always like as a fourth choice.
I think that it would be a long shot but Michael Taylor - 6-5 250 outfielder maybe sign as invitee to camp and see what he can do.
November 26, 2014 - 8:56 AM EST
Billingsley, Morrow, and Hochevar are my choices.

November 26, 2014 - 5:05 AM EST
Jerry Sands. 27yo and does what the Indians pay Raburn for: hit LHP
November 25, 2014 - 4:18 PM EST
Isn't there a limit on the number of players you can have on your team with bad knees? Do not think you can every have enough pen arms. Relievers are notoriously unreliable from one year to the next. To expect three good years in a row is asking a lot, particular when you consider the number of appearances over the last two years for Shaw, Allen, and Scrabbles.
November 25, 2014 - 3:18 PM EST
I've thought that Billingsley makes sense for awhile now, but I'm uncertain of any position players. Hart would be my choice if I had to make one. A trade would probably be the best route to aquire a bat, which might make a Billingsley signing all the more logical.

Aguilar needs to be given an opportunity and that can only happen if Swisher can play the OF or is dealt. Van Slyke is still my favorite realistic trade target. Just as important as adding someone like Van Slyke is getting rid of contracts like Murphy, Swisher, Raburn, and Bourn. I would atleast make every effort to unload two of them even if it meant eating a good portion of their salaries. Raburn you can just release.
November 25, 2014 - 3:07 PM EST
IDK, about not getting another bullpen arm. Yes, they have Adams, Price, Lee, and Armstrong waiting in the wings, but Atchison, Allen, Scrabble, all exceeded 70 appearances and Shaw a ridiculous 80 relief appearances...that's a lot of wear. However, that's a lot of cheap ($) innings too.

I really like Armstrong, he's near big league ready. He profiles as a back of bullpen arm and possible future closer.

I think it's a possibility they move an arm or two and pick up one or two in trades.
Head Check
November 25, 2014 - 2:22 PM EST
What about Kouzmanoff?
Canadian Joe
November 25, 2014 - 1:59 PM EST
Would love to see them sign Billingsley. Could see a Kazmir kind of rebound.
Cespides would be real nice, but at what price, for one year.
Hart would be a nice pick up as well. Has been too good in the past to be written off.
Still like Van Slyke though. Would look good in our outfield.

Nice article Sam. More things to think about, that's for sure !!!!
November 25, 2014 - 1:15 PM EST
Good article, I'd have no problem with any of these recommendations.
November 25, 2014 - 12:09 PM EST
Id sign any of them to a minor league deal (can't hurt). Id think Hart and Taylor would be unlikely because of our depth in AAA outfielders. Out of the two, Id prefer Hart for his power potential.

I'd love to get Billingsley on a cheap 1 or 2 year deal. Low risk high reward signing for the rotation. I know we don't need a starter but I think he has too much upside to pass on him if cheap.

I might be in the minority but I don't think we need more pen help unless we get someone on a great deal or get some depth minor league deals
Trooper Jeff Foster
November 25, 2014 - 11:58 AM EST
Sign Michael Taylor right meow!
November 25, 2014 - 11:38 AM EST
Gavin Floyd and Josh Johnson would be two interesting buy low types.

I'm not sure he fits under the radar, but Jung Ho Kang would be an interesting addition for the Tribe. It will cost a posting fee, but whatever, the amount, it's likely to fall under $5M. Kang has RH power, and experience at multiple positions. He profiles more as a UTL guy according to some, others think he might be a everyday player.

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