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Winter Meetings Recap: Indians chasing Victorino, Youkilis

Winter Meetings Recap: Indians chasing Victorino, Youkilis
December 3, 2012
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Day one of the winter meetings is almost in the books. The news and rumors will surely continue into the night, and if anything of substance regarding the Indians has legs we will provide the update on Twitter @TonyIPI and on the “news” page here on the site.

Here is a recap of all the Indians news from today:

- There are A LOT of naysayers in Indians land these days. The cynicism is in overdrive with a fan base that is really put off after their third 90+ loss season in four years and after the nosedive the team went through in August. It also does not help that the Indians have often talked a lot of talk in previous offseasons, but usually have not walked the walk with little action following through on any notable free agents or trades they have been involved in over the years. That is all understood, but it is always important to have some perspective. Teams will typically talk about hundreds of players in trades and in free agency  - a lot that are never known in the public forum – and a great many of those deals never come to fruition. For all the talk about how the Indians never follow through with anything, people quickly forget about the Ubaldo Jimenez trade in July of 2011, or four years ago at the winter meetings when they overpaid for free agent closer Kerry Wood and were a part of an extensive three team 12-player deal with the Mets and Mariners that landed them Joe Smith. No, they have not gone out and made a big splash signing, but then again when have they ever done that? The deals for the Kerry Wood’s, Chuck Finley’s and Eddie Murray’s are about the extent of what the Indians have been able to sign in free agency in the past, even in their glory years of the 90s. In any case, some of that cynicism is expected to be washed away this offseason, and quite possibly during the winter meetings as the Indians are expected to complete one or more major trades this offseason. It may happen during the winter meetings, or maybe not, but one thing that looks likely is they will do a major deal sometime this offseason. The question is how such a trade is perceived as it will probably involve one of their All Star players being dealt.

- Indians shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera will dominate the Indians news over the next few days. The Indians do not want to trade him because he is an All Star at a premium position and is under a team friendly contract the next two seasons, but he may be the most valuable trade chip they have this offseason that helps them get their #1 need this offseason: young, controllable, very good starting pitching. Word has come out that Cabrera actually has six teams on his no-trade list: the Giants, Mets, Nationals, Red Sox, Tigers, and Yankees. Obviously this would not prevent any deal from happening with those teams as things can still be worked out with one of those teams if he okays it, but at the moment only the Red Sox appear to have any interest in him (don’t listen to the reports of the Tigers interest, it just won’t happen). For the Indians to trade him they are going to have to get at least one young frontline pitcher, and perhaps they are holding out for two. If they settle for one frontline starter they likely would still require at least one other Major League caliber position player in return. If they trade him then the recently acquired Mike Aviles would become the everyday shortstop. Depending on what they get in return for Cabrera, they could come out as a much improved team even after losing their All Star shortstop. Aviles would be a solid replacement and then the hope is the two Major League options the Indians get to round out the rotation and maybe the lineup would impact the roster right away.

- Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports says that the Red Sox are still in contact with the Indians about right-hander Justin Masterson, but the return is still not to the Indians liking. The Indians do not need to trade Masterson as he is under club control for two more seasons and his projected $5.7 million salary next season is a bargain even in light of his disappointing 2012 season. Masterson still has a lot of value to the Indians starting rotation as a workhorse that could be in for a big rebound year next season, so to trade him now even after his struggles this past season the Indians are going to require a sizable return for him. I’m not sure a team pays that demand this offseason and I expect him to be with the Indians next season, as he should be.

- One of the top free agents that the Indians continue to be connected to this offseason is outfielder Shane Victorino. This should come as no surprise as the Indians had a strong interest in trading for him during this past season. Reports state that he has a lot of three year deals on the table and is rumored to even have one four year deal on the table, and that he is looking for about $10 million a season. He had a sharp decline in his performance this past season going from a .847 OPS (130 OPS+) in 2011 to a .704 OPS (91 OPS+) in 2012. At 32-years of age that is concerning, but the Indians have always liked his overall skillset and his plus makeup. I still think a potential Victorino signing would be in response to a Shin-Soo Choo trade where they use the money saved on Choo for 2012 (about $7.5M) as money toward one of his three seasons, but if you ask me paying him anything more than $8 million a season would be steep and even three years is a bit too much for me. If the Indians offer him three years for $25 million, I could see it getting done.

- The Indians continue to keep in constant contact with free agent first baseman/third baseman Kevin Youkilis. He is a player that they are very interested in bringing on board because he would fit several needs for the team as they need help from the right side of the plate, need some veteran leadership, need a bat with experience hitting in the middle of the lineup, and have a need at first base. The Indians should be in the Youkilis running right up to the end, and are one of the favorites to sign him considering the reasons above as well his salary demands which probably fit well into their budget (probably two years for $17-20 million). He has a strong connection with manager Terry Francona and the Indians had a lot of interest in acquiring him last June, so it looks like a great fit for all parties involved. It will just come down to the money and what his preferences are.

- First baseman James Loney today signed a one year deal for $2 million with the Rays. Why is this of relevance to the Indians? Well, according to ESPN’s Buster Olney the Indians had serious interest in signing him. This is a smaller under-the-radar type deal that the Rays make every offseason, but often seems to work out for them. Loney is still only 28-years old and had a solid career with the Dodgers before struggling this past season and being traded to the Red Sox. He would not have been a significant upgrade to the lineup, but then again it would not be asking much for an improvement over Casey Kotchman. I’m glad the Indians did not make this signing as I don’t think this is what they should be chasing right now and there are several players of this ilk they can sign in January and February.

- Some of the early buzz in the winter meetings has the agents for both Rich Harden and Brandon Webb talking about how both will attempt comebacks in 2013. Harden is 31-years old and did not pitch in 2012 due to a chronic muscle capsule injury which has recurred since the 2007 season, and he last pitched in 2011 for Oakland and went 4-4 with a 5.12 ERA in 15 starts. Webb is 33-years old and has not pitched in the big leagues since 2009 with Arizona (one start) and last pitched in 2011 with Double-A Frisco (4 starts, 9.75 ERA). He had rotator cuff surgery in 2009 and then had a second rotator cuff surgery in August of 2011, and missed all of last season recovering from surgery. The Indians have always had interest in the past in distressed properties coming off of injury, and they had interest in Harden last offseason. They will probably kick the tires on both players but both should only get minor league contracts if they sign with anyone this offseason. Of the two, the Indians would appear to have more interest in Harden because of their interest in him in the past and also his better chances of pitching in 2013.

- Outfielder Delmon Young is a guy that is on the Indians radar. He recently had surgery on his ankle so the feeling is that he will not sign with a team until January at the earliest as the Indians and other teams will want to see how he has recovered from the surgery. It would appear to be an odd pairing as Young does not fit in well with a lot of the advanced metrics the Indians use to evaluate players, but then again the Indians have signed players in the past to short term low money deals even though the metrics did not match up well. This could be another such case. He is more of a designated hitter and the Indians want to move away from having a strict designated hitter on the roster, so the interest is cool at this time, but this is one to definitely file away for after the new year.

- The biggest signing of the winter meetings so far is catcher Mike Napoli as he signed a three year $39 million deal with the Red Sox. A lot of Indians fans have had interest in him over the past two seasons because of his power from the right side and because he could play first base and catch, but from what I heard he had little interest in signing with the Indians. He may ultimately end up at first base, but he wanted the opportunity to catch regularly and he wanted to go to a contender. Also, the Indians just got out from under the $13 million a year they had been paying Travis Hafner the past several seasons, and Napoli is not the kind of player that would entice them to spend that kind of cash on a player and lock up their payroll the next few seasons.

Quick hits

- The Indians have some interest in outfielder Nick Swisher, but they look like more of a backburner team for him. The Red Sox appear to be showing the most interest in him, and with all things being equal, he would sign with them over the Indians. He is not expected to sign with anyone during the winter meetings and will draw out negotiations over the next several days and probably not sign for at least a week.

- There are reports that the Indians are in the mix on outfielder Scott Hairston. He hit .263 with 20 homers, 57 RBI and .803 OPS in 134 games with the Mets last year and hits from the right side of the plate.

- According to Paul Hoynes of the Plain Dealer, here are some other names the Indians have been in contact with over the past few days: Edwin Jackson, Jair Jurrjens, John Lannan, Scott Kazmir, and Roberto Hernandez.

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

James
December 3, 2012 - 9:31 PM EST
You people want the Indians to sink 1/7th of their payroll into Kevin Youklis? You are out of your minds. $10mil a year for him is absolutely, friggin' ridiculous.
Not Mentioned
December 3, 2012 - 7:15 PM EST
Carlos Santana fouled a ball off his knee last night and left the game. I heard it's not good.
Seth
December 3, 2012 - 6:29 PM EST
I would think 3/30 would be fine for Victorino. If someone wants to go to 4 years ... well, I don't think that would be the Indians, and that would probably be throwing away some money. Something like 4/35 might be okay. He does want to play full time, and would get that shot in Cleveland, so the Indians may be able to make it happen. I figured he would be the easiest outfielder for them to sign. If they could get Victorino and Youkilis, I would be pleased, as long as they also hung onto Choo (or got a major-league-ready outfield prospect for Choo, which I wouldn't see happening).
Dennis
December 3, 2012 - 5:59 PM EST
I think Youkiis will sign with the Red Sox. Napoli wants to catch not play first base
shy
December 3, 2012 - 5:34 PM EST
re Youklis, I am reminded of the scene in the Blues Brothers when Jake and Elwood walk into a fancy restaurant where the maitre D is an ex-bandmate and exhort "We're puttin the band back together"!!! Is that what Francona is going to say to Youklis? Look, Youklis is tough as nails, and he's one of the last guys a pitcher wants to face with RISP in the late innings. But he's wound tight, and got a problematic back that is going to give him trouble over a 162 game season; he would do best as a role player on a contender and I don't think the Indians will contend this year- unless Danny Salazar and Hector Rondon are 20 game winners. I think all the teams in the division including the Royals and Twins are better than the Indians and have legit shots to win the Central as presently constituted and they're not going to stand still so the Indians will be chasing moving targets to no avail. Much as it chagrins me to admit the Indians will ENTER Spring Training w little or no hope for a playoff spot I believe they are better off playing and developing youngsters.
Tony
December 3, 2012 - 5:08 PM EST
I agree on Young. He might be an interesting late fill-in type, but I'm not too interested in him. I'd pass and look at other options. In any case, I am very interested to see who the Indians trade. They are likely to trade one of their assets because they really want to improve the pitching staff, but the question is who goes and how many of them go. I actually think Youkilis would be a very good fit....but I agree on Victorino. He's be an odd signing, especially in light of Shapiro's comments on WAR.
Joe
December 3, 2012 - 5:07 PM EST
Don't totally agree Shy. Relatively short term contracts for both, and with the improvement these pitchers could make might change the landscape. I do think the deals for pitching have to be made first. The present staff will not entice any non-pitching free agents to come to Cleveland.
shy
December 3, 2012 - 4:49 PM EST
No on Youklis. He's not the kind of guy who plays well on bad teams. He has to have skin in the game at this point in his career- declining. Same w Shane. He has ADD and takes medication for it. The grind of playing everyday on a bad team like the Indians, similarly to Youklis would take a toll on him. Stupid moves both, which is probably why Antonetti and Shapiro are tempted to make them.
Joe
December 3, 2012 - 4:40 PM EST
Believe Tribe could make a play for both Bauer and Lynn. Throw in Victorino and Youklis as F/A's, and we may have something. Hope they stay away from Young. Don't think he will be worth the money.
I believe this will be a very telling off season for Antonetti, as he needs to develop more of a winning attitude on the team, as well as getting the fans back in the empty seats. Will be very disappointed if we haven't seen some progress in this direction before the week is out.

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