Winter Meetings Recap: Indians showing interest in Rios
Day three of the 2014 Winter Meetings in San Diego 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 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.
Things were much busier in San Diego on Wednesday (and the day is still not over) as Jon Lester’s deal with the Cubs got things kick started again with signings, trades and rumors. The Indians have not made any moves since the Brandon Moss pickup on Monday, but their name popped up in a few interesting rumors which I will go into more detail about below.
Indians have interest in Rios
According to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports, early in the day on Wednesday he said the Mariners, Royals and Indians are the three teams showing some serious interest in free agent outfielder Alex Rios.
The Indians had been connected to Rios as possible suitors earlier this offseason, but the feeling was that any interest in him or another outfielder had waned after they acquired outfielder/first baseman Brandon Moss on Monday. Apparently, that is not the case.
The Indians have also been recently linked as suitors for other outfield bats; some on a smaller scale like Chris Denorfia and some on a larger scale like Justin Upton. What this implies is that something is up where the acquisition of Moss was but the first step to a grander plan with the Indians lineup which may now be set in motion.
News came out a month back that the Indians were checking around to gauge possible trade interest in Nick Swisher. Then news of interest in bats like Kendrys Morales, Denorfia and Rios came about a few weeks back. Next the interest in Moss came out of nowhere and also some news that the Indians have looked into Justin Upton. And now there is news they are seriously looking into Rios.
Perhaps the Moss pickup is a stand-alone move and the Indians do not make any other changes to their lineup; however, you can see a plan starting to come to fruition to make a change to the makeup of the lineup in right field and at DH. Already it looks like Moss will be an upgrade in the outfield, first base and DH role that Swisher has served the last two seasons. The addition of a right-handed bat like Rios could be seen as an upgrade to either David Murphy or Ryan Raburn. If this is indeed the plan then it will take a complex series of moves, something which is hard to orchestrate during an offseason when things are so fluid in the free agent and trade market.
But the addition of a right-handed bat would make sense for the Indians as they are very left-hand oriented. While Progressive Field does favor left-handed bats, half of their games are still on the road and they proved to be susceptible to left-handed pitching last season. The Indians were 25-25 in games started by a left-hander last season and hit .252 with a .672 OPS against them (.252/.722 vs RHP), which actually was a little below league average, but their heavy leaning to the left side showed late in games as it made it easy for opposing managers to matchup and pitch to the Indians lineup in high leverage situations.
On Monday Indians GM Chris Antonetti even hinted that he would like to bring more “balance” to the lineup in comments to the media after the Moss trade. Translation: add a right-handed bat.
This is where the interest in Rios comes in.
Rios, who turns 34 in February, has had a solid, steady 11-year career in the big leagues. He was always felt to be more and has never lived up to his prospect hype (#6 prospect in all of baseball pre-2004), but for his career he has hit .278 with 165 homers, 762 RBI, 244 stolen bases and .762 OPS in 1,586 games. From an advanced stats viewpoint he has a career 100 wRC+, .161 isolated power, 5.9 BB%, 16.1 K% and 26.7 WAR.
Rios has been right around an average Major League player for his career (average is actually a good thing folks). Some years he has been above average and some he has been below average. The concern with him is that one of those below average seasons came last year when he hit .280 with 4 homers, 54 RBI, 17 stolen bases and .709 OPS in 131 games for the Rangers (92 wRC+, 0.7 WAR).
This is why the Rangers declined a $13.5 million team option on Rios and why he is not expected to get a big deal this offseason. He struggled with a thumb injury last season and saw a decline in his speed in the outfield and on the bases, so there are some question marks with him which should limit him to a one or two year deal for $8-10 million or less per year.
But even though Rios struggled last season he still hit left-handed pitching well as he hit .325 with a .898 OPS and 142 wRC+ off of them last season in 123 at bats (vs RHP: .266 AVG, .646 OPS, 74 wRC+). Also, he is a career .290 hitter against lefties with an .800 OPS and 109 wRC+. He would obviously be brought in to be more than a platoon bat, but the Indians could prioritize his at bats against lefties and then manage the amount of time he plays against right-handers.
Rios has had some recent success as he hit .278 with 18 HR, 83 RBI, 42 stolen bases with a .756 OPS in 2013 and hit .304 with 25 HR, 93 RBI, 23 stolen bases and .850 OPS in 2012. He also totaled a 7.3 WAR over those two seasons. So given his step back in 2014, it might be worth a one year gamble to see if he can reclaim some of 2012-2013 performance and at the same time manage the risk that he just might be an older player in rapid decline.
The Indians could surely go a cheaper route by signing some players to non-guaranteed minor league contracts or they could just go with a young player like Tyler Holt or Zach Walters in such a role. But the important thing here is Rios has a history of success in the league. Contending teams prefer dependability over projections for unestablished young role players. They would rather a moderate free agent investment blow up in their face and use that young player as an alternative than to just outright rely on that young player as the first option no real plan B if they struggle.
That’s the other thing. A signing of Rios (or any acquisition of a noteworthy right-handed bat) would not affect a player like Holt or Walters as both are expected to open next season at Triple-A Columbus anyway. The players that a Rios signing would affect are Swisher, Murphy and Raburn.
The Indians already need to move Swisher or Murphy after acquiring Moss, but the addition of Rios would mean that two of Swisher, Murphy and Raburn would have to go. As mentioned above, that makes for a complex situation but thankfully we are still a little over two months from the start of spring training so the Indians would have time to find a deal. Right now the outfield market is still held up because some big free agents are still available and teams like the Red Sox and Dodgers have a surplus of outfielders they need to get out from under as well.
Bottom line, if the Indians don’t get Rios or don’t pull off a trade for someone like Upton or even Scott Van Slyke, it appears that adding a right-handed bat is something they will continue to look into this offseason.
Other News and Notes:
- According to Jim Bowden from ESPN, he says the Indians are pursuing free agent left-handed pitcher Brett Anderson. Anderson has a long injury history and was limited to just eight starts last season with the Rockies thanks to a fractured finger in the first half of the season and then a bulging disc in his back that resulted in surgery which affected the second half of the season. This would be a buy low option for the Indians like they did two years ago with lefty Scott Kazmir. Anderson is still only 26 years old and brings a lot of success in the big leagues when he has been healthy. Given his history with injuries and how he was limited to just eight starts last season he will probably not get a guaranteed contract this offseason. If that is the case, this would be a big reason for the Indians to kick the tires on him and bring him on as the risk would be small but the payoff could be huge.
- Indians manager Terry Francona told reporters on Wednesday that Jason Giambi is not a candidate to join the Indians big league coaching staff after the departure of bullpen coach Kevin Cash to the Rays. It should be noted that a few months back I mentioned that he is being considered for a role in player development and could end up the manager at Short-A Mahoning Valley next season. He may also just end up as a special advisor to the team.
- The Indians are reportedly considering Travis Hafner for a part-time coaching job in their player development system. From the sound of things it is his job if he accepts it. I had a chance to see him during Instructional League and he appeared to fit in well and the players responded to him well. One player I saw him talk with a lot was Indians big first base prospect Bobby Bradley.
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Another possible move is to trade Murphy, Swisher, Agilura, and Zach McAllister to Phillies for Cole Hamel and Ryan Howard. Phillies trying to cut payoff would have to most of the salaries of Howard and Hamel for Cleveland to consider trade. Howard would be DH. Kluber and Hamel would make a pretty good No. 1 and No. 2 with C.J, Trevor and Carlos on staff. Danny would go to long relief pitcher.
If Atlanta would agree, trade Bourn for B.J. Upton or Gattis. B.J. is one year rental so I would not give too much. Maybe Gattis would be best trade.
Homer, the Braves might want a deal like that, anyone would want a deal like that, but it's highly doubtful they could get a deal like that for a year of Upton and a reliever. If it's what they want, then they're just gonna hang onto Upton, and that's fine, JRam + Frazier would be way too much to give up on its own, and you've added two additional decent prospects. You're really overvaluing the pick, picking in that range is a huge longshot, if a pick in that range turns into a Jose Ramirez 3 years down the line you've done really well for yourself.
Upton would be fun to get but I would actually think Cespedes would be a better target, since then you could get creative asking the Red Sox to take some salary off your hands with a Bourn or Swisher. Especially Bourn, since the Red Sox could actually use him.
JRam, Frazier, Naquin, Anderson, and Adams for Justin Upton and Anthony Varvaro.
While I agree, that is a very steep price to pay, I think it is also, a very realistic one. The Braves will want a deal similar to that. It would hurt, and quite honestly, I don't think it ever happens. Don't forget if the Tribe offered Upton a QO, they would receive a first round draft pick. That's essentially turning a guy like Naquin or Frazier (recent first rd pks) into a draft pick (in 2016) in my book, so that evens itself out.