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Winter Meetings Recap: Indians are hot after a closer

Winter Meetings Recap: Indians are hot after a closer
December 12, 2013
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The Winter Meetings have wrapped up, but the news and rumors continue to trickle in. If anything of substance regarding the Indians has legs I will provide the update on Twitter @TonyIBI and in the newswire to the right. If anything more significant gains legs I will surely post it to the front page as well.

Axford, Benoit drawing strong interest from Indians

One thing has become clear over the last 24 hours, and that is the Indians appear deadest on adding a closer via free agency.  This is being proven both by what they are saying and what they are rumored to be doing.

Yesterday at the Winter Meetings in Orlando, Indians manager Terry Francona shared the following with Indians reporters:

"I think [Allen] could handle it with very little hiccups," Francona said about the closer’s role. "Saying that, I'm not sure that that puts our ballclub in the best position to win. At an early age, we used him in so many high-leverage situations. From the sixth inning on, bases loaded, snuff out a rally, we basically went to Cody. Right- or left-handed didn't matter. He was so good at it, and I would think he'll only continue to get better. It's hard to lose that guy. … That one guy can make your whole bullpen so much better. So many times you get a save situation, it could be a three-run game with nobody on and the game's already been lost int he seventh or eighth. Same thing [with Shaw]. He could do it in the ninth, no doubt. But, what he does earlier is valuable."

That’s a pretty slam dunk quote from Francona saying how he prefers to use Bryan Shaw and Cody Allen in a setup role and in the more valuable innings from the sixth through eighth inning.

While closers get all the glory, most high leverage situations occur in the sixth through eighth innings and teams have finally started to understand how valuable it is to have your best relievers available for those innings. No longer is the “best” reliever saved for the ninth inning. Sure, you want a good, reliable closer, but you want your best relief options available to be used at any time in a game be it the sixth, seventh, eighth or even ninth inning.

This is sound thinking by the Indians and something that is exciting to hear. But in order to use Shaw and Allen in this way it is imperative the Indians sign a proven, reliable late inning reliever with experience as a closer or setup man. This is why the Indians have been most aggressive on this front this offseason as they offered a contract toEdward Mujica and have been rumored to be in talks with the likes of Fernando RodneyGrant BalfourJohn Axford and Joaquin Benoit.

In the past 24 hours things have really started to pick up steam with Axford and Benoit, and at the moment with the way things look, it really looks like a potential signing of one of the significant closers left on the market could occur very soon for the Indians.

According to Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports he says that the Indians and Padres are very much in on a two-year $14 million-plus deal for Benoit. Also, Jon Heyman of CBS Sports has reported that Axford is being eyed for the Indians closer role, though no details on money have been provided.

No matter who the Indians sign it no doubt is going to be an overpay and a poor allocation of money. Ideally, you want to limit expenditures on relief pitchers and you need to fill from within. But this is a case where the Indians have very limited options at closer and they want to win. If they were a team going into the season not expecting to contend like say the Indians in 2010, then they could just use one of their internal options and see what happens.

The Indians appear prepared to go into the season with Carlos Carrasco as the fifth starter, so if they acquire a closer then all of their significant offseason needs would be addressed. For me personally, I’d rather spend the money on a starting pitcher, but apparently the Indians feel the money is better spent on a late inning relief solution. While I don’t necessarily agree with that, it certainly is a need and one that would certainly be addressed with a Benoit pickup and one that might be fixed with an Axford signing.

I’m bullish on Benoit. I feel like he has been underrated by many and was an important piece to the Tigers bullpen the last few years. He was 36-years old this year but maybe had his best season as a pro saving 24 games, but more importantly had a 2.01 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 3.0 BB/9 and 9.8 K/9 so it just wasn’t a career year in a free agent year. He has also been statistically good the past four seasons appearing in 268 games compiling a 2.53 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 2.5 BB/9 and 10.2 K/9. Most of that work is in the seventh through ninth innings, and one thing I love is consistency from a reliever, a reason why I was so sad to see Joe Smith leave.

I’m not nearly as excited about a potential Axford pickup. Last year at 30-years old he appeared in 75 games and did not record a save and compiled a 4.02 ERA, 1.52 WHIP, 3.6 BB/9 and 9.0 K/9. He has closer’s experience as he has 106 in his career and had a sensational year in 2011 when he racked up a 1.95 ERA and 46 saves, but he has been very inconsistent the last two years and lost his closer’s job after many blown saves. In his five year career he has appeared in 281 games and has a 3.29 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 4.0 BB/9 and 10.8 K/9. I just see him as Chris Perezredux as a guy who often gets the job done, but who is susceptible to blown saves because of command issues and because he allows too many baserunners. I like closers who limit baserunners, and to me Benoit is much better in this regard.

Looking at the numbers, you can see why Benoit will command a multi-year deal and for $6-8 million a year. The question is whether the Indians want to pay that, or go with a closer like Axford who has some warts and can probably be signed to a one year deal and for at least half that. Axford would also come with some club control since he technically has three years of control left for whoever signs him since he only has three-plus years of major league service.

This appears to be coming to a head, so it will be interesting to see if the Indians land one of Benoit, Axford or someone else.

News and notes

- According to ESPN’s Jayson Stark the Indians have interest in right-handed starting pitcher Shaun Marcum. The 31-year old Marcum has had a solid career but has struggled with injuries the last two years making 21 starts in 2012 with the Brewers (7-4, 3.70 ERA) and 12 starts with the Mets last season (1-10, 5.29 ERA). He is recovering from Thoracic Outlet Syndrome surgery and I have to think he is a target to be signed to a minor league deal.

- Speaking of minor league deals, with the Indians probably out of the free agent starting pitching market due to the cost, they will probably go the route to build some depth and add some wildcards into the fold on minor league deals like they did last year with Scott Kazmir and Daisuke Matsuzaka. Over the past 24 hours they have really put on the full court press with quotes to the media how they really believe in Carlos Carrasco and how he is the fifth starter right now. This to me shows a shift in priority and that they maybe don’t expect to add another starter. They will probably continue to look for a fit in a trade, but appear to be out of the market for a free agent starter on a guaranteed major league deal.

- The only free agent pitcher left on the market that I see the Indians potentially getting in on is Ubaldo Jimenez. There is still an outside shot that if his market crashes enough because of the first round draft pick compensation tied to him that the Indians might be able to bring him back. But at this point, I still don’t see that happening.

- A quick note on the Rule 5 Draft today: the Indians did not select anyone nor did they lose anyone in the Major League, Triple-A or Double-A phase of the draft. That’s about all you need to know. Like I said going in, the talent pool was low and not much activity was expected. Also, the Indians had few options exposed that interested the teams as major league possibilities.

- Old friend Roberto Hernandez aka Fausto Carmona has signed a one year deal to be the fifth starter for the Phillies.

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 15, 2013 - 9:34 AM EST
Indians are reduced to the homeless man picking through the garbage bin
December 13, 2013 - 6:17 PM EST
I cannot see wasting the money on Axford, Benoit or Rodney. Man, they are old and why not use CC Lee and other minors who are under contract to the Tribe. When was the last time we signed a older pitcher and he failed and the money was lost. That was last year. Waste the money on a third baseman or young pitcher.
December 13, 2013 - 1:26 PM EST
This is old but I thiought it might peak the interest of some fellow readers....

This article talks about a rumor that would have sent Masterson to AZ, Gregorius to NYY and Gardner (and prospects / pitcher???) to Cleveland.
December 13, 2013 - 1:02 PM EST
Adams just looks like depth. He has an option so the Indians could stuff him in Columbus. Not sure they want to go with him as their utility guy, but with Adams and Ramirez it does give them additional options to fill in at utility SHOULD they deal Cabrera.
December 13, 2013 - 12:59 PM EST
Just thinking out loud, but is David Adams signing to add depth at AAA or is it to provide a big league bench option. Adams can play 3b, 2b, and 1b.

Here's what I am thinking, ACab could be dealt, and Aviles the FT SS, so a need for a controllable option at 3b. Adams hits RH and has an option remaining.

I would have preferred Justin Turner or Elliot Johnson as a UTL option, and they may still be possible as both are FA and could possibly be added on minor league deals. IF a trade does take place the Tribe could add another bench option.
December 13, 2013 - 12:37 PM EST
There's plenty of SP out there, most of which in the Tribes price range is damaged goods. The Tribe has done pretty well over the yrs working with reclaimation projects.

A few names I think they will kick the tires on...

Jake Westbrook
Chris Capuano
Jeff Francis
Aaron Harang
Tommy Hanson
Scott Baker
James McDonald
Gavin Floyd
Jeff Niemann
Clayton Richard

I'd really like to see the Tribe land 2/3 of: Floyd, Baker, Hanson, and Richard.
December 13, 2013 - 9:26 AM EST
Ron, I think we will see the Indians make a few minor league signings (a la Kazmir/Matsuzaka last year) and potentially a small trade or two to bring in a few depth guys. So there could be a wildcard or surprise there. One guy not to sleep on that is already here is TJ House. He had some good reports at the end of the season this year and the organization likes him. Not saying he is in consideration right now for a spot (he is not), but he could be a guy who emerges as a possibility by May or June.
ron vollmar
December 13, 2013 - 9:22 AM EST
Starting Pitching appears to be coming from the organization or injured pitchers making a comeback.

I just wonder, who, or if there are more than one surprise candidates that will show up and surprise in Spring Training Camp.

Bauer and Carrasco are known and Josh Tomlin is our own injured veteran. What dark horse surprise is there?

It appeared that the Indians targeted some of the better pitchers, but, the amount and years required stopped their signing. They must have some confidence in what they think they have or can get.
December 12, 2013 - 11:57 PM EST
the annoying aspect of the winter meeting this year is not one mention of the indians by the MLB-TV network analysts except the interest in benoit and balfour not one other mention of them at all. something tells me antonelli tito and shapiro spent a week in orlando and at the end of the day accomplished virturally nothing definitive. Maybe some ground work was laid but in the high profile aspect which inspires the fan base they got nothing one positive is the free agent pitching class of winter 2014 may help us keep Masty due to the number of starters that are gonna be available from Bailey, kershaw \, lester, max, dempster peavy there is a lot of talent that if not signed during the year could maybe bring some sanity to the marketplace for masty to take 3 or 4 yrs from cleveland this off season. However to the fan base which helps the cash flow of the team. i hope i am wrong but i kinda wish they would have done something definitive these 4 daYS
Ghana Internet Scammer
December 12, 2013 - 10:02 PM EST
Indians got CC Lee. He's way underrated and he'll lock down the 9th inning for the Tribe next year. As Tom Hamilton would say, "BALLGAME!"
December 12, 2013 - 6:33 PM EST
axford i think can be had for 4.5 million and that might be doable and in arbitration if he saves 85% of save opportunities arbitration award will be around 8 that buys us until 2016 to use farm system or allen or shaw as closer and not break the bank. We always seem to have closers who walk a tightrope wickie did mesa DID jackson did and the polish guy really did so from mesa to perez we had had the closer who earl weaver used to call FULL PACK.
December 12, 2013 - 5:30 PM EST
Yes to almost anyone on minor league deals.

I prefer Axford bc I think he could be as effective as the others, and potentially controllable for three yrs.
December 12, 2013 - 5:14 PM EST
I don't get why people keep mentioning Capps as an option. They guy was not very good last year and then had shoulder surgery. He's a long shot to do anything this year and if he does might spend most if not all of the year rehabbing or just stuffed on a roster at Columbus.
December 12, 2013 - 5:12 PM EST
Rumors the Padres have a third yr option yr with their offer.

Huston Street would seem to be available IF they sign Benoit, Balfour or Axford. Street is due $7 M and has a similar option yr, I believe.
December 12, 2013 - 4:58 PM EST
They might start the year with Axford but once Capps is ready to go I think he might become the closer for the potential stretch run. Should the Indians consider Boggs, Bard and A. Bailey for potential minor league deals?
December 12, 2013 - 4:52 PM EST
My thinking is Benoit goes to Padres after pricing himself out of the Indians reach, and they go with Axford. I would not be thrilled with Axford as he to me is more of a Chris Perez-type.....he won't be horrible and he brings some long term contract control, but I just don't trust him. I dislike closers who allow a lot of baserunners, and he is one of them.
December 12, 2013 - 4:48 PM EST
I think the Indians prefer Rodney but his asking price is too expensive. Benoit is good choice but with Padres bidding up the price makes it a little pricey.

If not Benoit I think Axford is the back closer and the possibility of signing Mitchell Boggs maybe to minor league contract to compete with Axford. I think the Indians want to rebuild the bullpen and to be as strong as it was in 11 & 12.

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