Cleveland Indians Rumors

Cleveland Indians trade and free agent rumors from MLBTradeRumors.com.

Central Notes: Maddon, Dirks, Giambi, Indians

The Cubs‘ decision to replace Rick Renteria with Joe Maddon seems “a little dirty,” but the baseball world will go on, FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal writes. The Rays believe the Cubs tampered with Maddon while they had him under contract, and others in the game aren’t happy that Maddon’s situation led to Renteria’s firing. Rosenthal notes that if MLB can prove the Cubs tampered, the Rays could demand a promising young player in compensation, maybe even a player as talented as Javier Baez or Addison Russell. Here’s more from the Central divisions.

  • GM Dave Dombrowski says the Tigers would have retained outfielder Andy Dirks in 2015 if they knew he would be healthy, Tom Gage of the Detroit News tweets. Dirks platooned with Matt Tuiasosopo in left field for the Tigers in 2013, but he missed the entire 2014 season with back and hamstring issues, and the Tigers lost him on waivers to the Blue Jays today.
  • Indians GM Chris Antonetti doesn’t believe Jason Giambi will be a good fit for the team’s roster next season, Paul Hoynes of the Plain Dealer tweets. Giambi will be 44 in January, and he hit .133/.257/.267 in limited duty in 2014, so it’s no surprise that the Indians might move on. Terry Francona has called Giambi a “manager-in-waiting,” so Giambi’s next move could involve coaching.
  • The Indians have made a variety of front office moves, Hoynes tweets. Ross Atkins will be Cleveland’s new vice president in charge of player personnel, with Carter Hawkins becoming director of player development and Paul Gillispie the director of pro scouting.

Indians Exercise Mike Aviles’ Option

The Indians announced that they have exercised their one-year, $3.5MM club option on Mike Aviles. Cleveland essentially faced a $3.25MM decision, as Aviles’ option contained a $250K buyout.

Aviles, 34 in March, has served as a versatile bench piece for manager Terry Francona over the past two seasons, appearing at shortstop, second base, third base and in all three outfield positions. Since coming over in a trade from the Blue Jays, he’s posted a combined .250/.277/.356 batting line. He will return to a bench role in Cleveland where he’ll presumably be joined by Ryan Raburn and catcher Roberto Perez, among others. He should provide the organization with some depth at third base and shortstop, neither of which is 100 percent settled at this point due to question marks surrounding Lonnie Chisenhall and the inexperience of shortstop Jose Ramirez.


AL Notes: Rays, Indians, Buehrle, Rangers

In the wake of yesterday’s report Rays ownership has discussed relocating the franchise to Montreal, Commissioner Bud Selig paused and then declined to answer whether Tampa Bay is a viable major league market, reports Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times. Selig did say, however, the team needs a replacement for Tropicana Field. “The team has to have a ballpark that makes them competitive,” the commissioner said before Game Four of the World Series. “It doesn’t produce the kind of revenue they need.

In other news involving the Rays and the American League:

  • Change is coming to the Rays and the front office and players alike don’t see it as a negative, writes the Tampa Tribune’s Roger Mooney. “Whoever we bring in here, they’re going to set the scheme and how they want to win games and be a successful organization,” said pitcher Alex Cobb. “When that trickles down to the players, all that is is us playing up to our capabilities, and that doesn’t matter who is in the dugout or the front office.” Mooney notes all coaches are under contract for 2015; but, if the new manager is from outside the organization, there may be changes to the staff.
  • In today’s mailbag, a reader proposed his Indians offseason plan to Paul Hoynes of The Plain Dealer: trade Jason Kipnis and David Murphy for prospects to free up money, then use that money on Victor Martinez. Hoynes doesn’t see the Tribe trading Kipnis so soon after giving him a $50MM+ extension, despite his bad year. The reader’s ambitious plan also calls for Cleveland to have one of their young outfielders form a platoon with Nick Swisher and, given his $15MM salary, Hoynes believes the team wants to see him in the lineup every day.
  • Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe identified Mark Buehrle as a trade candidate earlier today and Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN tweets the Twins have long been admirers of the Blue Jays hurler. Still, his $19MM salary is too high.
  • If the Jon Daniels-Jeff Banister partnership works in Texas, it will continue a trend in the game of a college educated GM with no professional playing experience working with a baseball lifer as manager, according to Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News.


Pirates Acquire Sellers, Designate Axford And Gomez

The Pirates have announced that they’ve acquired shortstop Justin Sellers from the Indians for cash considerations. They’ve also designated relievers John Axford and Jeanmar Gomez for assignment and reinstated starter Charlie Morton from the 60-day disabled list.

Sellers spent most of the 2014 season with Triple-A Columbus, hitting .254/.307/.355. The 28-year-old has hit sparingly in parts of four seasons with the Dodgers and Indians, but he can play second and third as well as shortstop and he has a strong defensive reputation. He will be on the Pirates’ 40-man roster.

Axford and Gomez were both non-tender candidates, so it’s no surprise that the Bucs would designate them for assignment. Axford, a former closer, would have received a small raise on this year’s $4.5MM salary, even though he had a walk-heavy 2014 season in which the Indians let him head to the Pirates via waivers. Gomez served as a long reliever for the Pirates in 2014 and posted a 3.19 ERA, but with an underwhelming 5.5 K/9 and 3.3 BB/9.


AL Central Notes: Aviles, Soria, Burton

As the Royals look to even the score in the World Series against the Giants, other teams in the division are shifting their focus to the offseason. Here are a few notes from the AL Central…

  • The Indians are expected to exercise their $3.5MM club option on Mike Aviles rather than pay him a $250K buyout, reports Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. The Indians could have reasonably gone either way, as the team has some limited financial flexibility (a topic I highlighted in yesterday’s Offseason Outlook). It appears that his versatility will earn him a spot on the 2015 club. The 33-year-old batted .247/.273/.343 in 374 plate appearances with Cleveland last year.
  • MLB.com’s Jason Beck spoke with Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski, and while the GM didn’t specifically say that the team would exercise its $7MM club option on Joakim Soria, he certainly implied as much with his comments: “We still have to make the final decision, but it’s a situation where we look at him as being an important acquisition toward this [coming] year also.” Dombrowski said that the team views Joe Nathan as its closer next season, though he indicated that Nathan will have to perform up to his previous capabilities in order to hold onto that role.
  • The Twins declined their $3.6MM option on Jared Burton earlier today, and Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN tweets that the team hasn’t expressed an interest in bringing the 33-year-old back, even at a lower rate.

AL Notes: Indians, Hunter, Davis

In his latest mailbag piece, Jordan Bastian of MLB.com looks at various facets of the Indians roster. Unsurprisingly, he doesn’t predict any sweeping changes for the Cleveland roster. Here’s more from Bastian and around the AL.

  • The Indians bullpen seems set behind closer Cody Allen. The club may wish to bring in a few depth pieces to supplement the middle and long relief components. Nick Hagadone, who is out of options, is a likely candidate as the second lefty. Similarly, the rotation will probably to be filled internally. Zach McAllister and Josh Tomlin can provide above average depth for a rotation fronted by Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Danny Salazar, Trevor Bauer, and T.J. House.
  • Had the Indians possessed a better defense, they might have reached the postseason instead of the Royals. However, the club may have solved its woes in-season by promoting Jose Ramirez and moving Carlos Santana to first base. If third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall continues to struggle defensively, Bastian mentions prospect Giovanny Urshela as an alternative.
  • Torii Hunter is leaning towards playing in 2015 and would like to return to the Tigers, reports Chris Iott of MLive.com. Hunter labels himself as one of the most consistent hitters in the game. That’s not a bad characterization. Over the past nine seasons, he’s ranged from 13 to 31 percent above average per an advanced stat called wRC+. If you prefer traditional stats, he has always contributed in batting average, power, and run production. The 39-year-old’s defense has declined in recent years. Hunter is prioritizing a World Series championship, however he is unsure if he can accept a reduced role.
  • The Orioles have a tough decision regarding Chris Davis, writes Rich Dubroff of CSN Baltimore. Davis may cost upwards of $12MM in his final year of arbitration according to Dubroff, but the Orioles may not want to pay so much for his no-average, all power profile. They do have an internal alternative in Steve Pearce, but he could be needed in the outfield with Nick Markakis and Nelson Cruz potentially departing via free agency. There is seemingly no pathway to return value for Davis short of tendering him and hoping for the best.

Offseason Outlook: Cleveland Indians

While the Indians fell shy of the playoffs, the team still managed to win 85 games despite a pair of key rotation losses in the form of Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir. As GM of a budget-conscious club, Chris Antonetti will have a limited amount of flexibility as he looks to close the five-game gap that separated his team from the AL Central crown.

Guaranteed Contracts

  • Jason Kipnis, 2B: $49.5MM through 2019 (including buyout on 2020 option)
  • Nick Swisher, 1B/OF: $30MM through 2016, plus vesting option
  • Michael Bourn, OF: $27.5MM through 2016, plus vesting option
  • Yan Gomes, C: $21.95MM through 2019 (including buyout on 2020 option)
  • Michael Brantley, OF: $20MM through 2017 (including buyout on 2018 option)
  • Carlos Santana, 1B/C: $15.45MM through 2016 (including buyout on 2017 option)
  • David Murphy, OF: $6.5MM through 2015 (including buyout on 2016 option)
  • Ryan Raburn, 2B/OF: $2.6MM through 2015 (including buyout on 2016 option)

Arbitration Eligible Players (service time in parentheses; projections via Matt Swartz)

Contract Options

  • Mike Aviles, 2B/SS/3B: $3.5MM club option with a $250K buyout

Free Agents

From a non-player standpoint, there figures to be little change within the Indians organization. Former GM Mark Shapiro, now the team president, will again entrust GM Chris Antonetti with structuring a contending club despite limited payroll flexibility. Manager Terry Francona and the coaching staff all seem likely to return as well.

The payroll figures to again be Cleveland’s biggest obstacle, as long-term commitments to Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn went south this season. Each player battled injuries and struggled at the plate, making their respective $15MM and $13.5MM salaries look questionable on a team otherwise loaded with many bargains. Also worth noting were the sub-par contributions of David Murphy in his first year with the Indians; his $6.5MM salary in 2015 a year after hitting just .262/.319/.385 and checking in below replacement level further clouds the outfield picture.

With $55MM already committed to the next year’s payroll and possibly another $10MM or so in arb salaries (plus the league-minimum players to fill out the roster), the Tribe could be looking at about $70MM in commitments before making a single decision.

Cleveland finished last in all of Major League Baseball with about 1.437MM fans drawn this season, so it seems unlikely that the team’s payroll will rise significantly from the $80-84MM range that has been set in 2013-14. That will leave Antonetti with somewhere between $10-15MM to augment a roster of affordable contracts.

The Indians can trot out a rotation fronted by Cy Young candidate Corey Kluber and followed by breakout 27-year-old Carlos Carrasco. Beyond that pairing, the team can look for another step forward from former top prospect Trevor Bauer and a better overall effort from the hard-throwing Danny Salazar. Josh Tomlin, Zach McAllister and T.J. House represent options in the fifth slot, and House was particularly impressive in 2014, posting a 3.35 ERA with 7.1 K/9 and 1.9 BB/9 in 102 innings. Starting pitching, therefore, doesn’t need to be a major focus for Cleveland this winter, though it wouldn’t be surprising to see some veteran arms added on minor league deals just for depth purposes.

Cleveland’s affordable talent isn’t confined to the pitching staff, however. Standout catcher Yan Gomes will earn just $1MM next season in the first year of a six-year, $23MM contract extension. Carlos Santana and his relatively modest $6MM salary will man first base, with Jason Kipnis and his $4MM salary handling the keystone. Jose Ramirez‘s excellent glove will likely open the season at shortstop, with top prospect Francisco Lindor perhaps pushing for a call-up midseason. And of course, MVP candidate Michael Brantley will be looking to replicate his breakout in left field while earning $5MM.

Meanwhile, in the bullpen, Cody Allen looks like a formidable ninth-inning weapon, and he’s yet to reach arbitration. He can be joined in the late innings by Bryan Shaw, Scott Atchison, Marc Rzepczynski and Kyle Crockett — each of whom posted a sub-3.00 ERA in at least 30 innings of work. Nick Hagadone joins Crockett and Rzepczynski as a left-handed option. Perhaps best of all, none from this group projects to earn more than $1MM, save for Rzepczynski.

Those cost-controlled players are critical for the Indians. While the Swisher and Bourn commitments don’t prevent them from adding another sizable salary or multiple lower to mid-range salaries in 2015, those large contracts do throw a wrench into their offseason approach. Cleveland already has $51MM committed to the 2016 roster — a season in which Kluber and Allen will become arbitration eligible for the first time. Each figures to see a significant hike in salary should his current success continue. Carrasco will be eligible for the second time that year, and if he can come close to replicating this season’s second-half breakout — something Cleveland desperately needs in order to contend — his arbitration raise will also be very steep. Shaw, Rzepcznski, Chisenhall and others will be due further raises heading into 2016.

Essentially, the Indians are looking at the same guaranteed contract structure they face in 2015, but with an arb class that is potentially twice as costly. So, while they may have $10-15MM to comfortably add to the 2015 payroll, they can’t afford to make long-term commitments beyond the upcoming season without either increasing that payroll significantly or moving some salary. For example, a name like Chase Headley looks appealing as an alternative to Lonnie Chisenhall, who hit just .225/.295/.318 after June 30 and is a very poor defender, but Headley would likely send the 2016 payroll well beyond $85MM (assuming Tim Dierkes’ four-year, $48MM contract projection is correct or close to it).

The team’s financial situation makes one-year commitments the most likely for a significant addition, but the free agent market lacks an obvious one-year candidate at third, which is a position of need. The other logical place to upgrade would be in right field or possibly at DH. In those areas, Colby Rasmus could prove an upgrade over Murphy, with Swisher sliding into a primary DH role. The Indians could also buy low on a name like Corey Hart of Kendrys Morales on a one-year deal to serve as the DH, with the hope that Swisher and/or Murphy rebounds enough to handle right field full-time. It wouldn’t take much, after all, to upgrade on the .188/.254/.311 batting line posted by Cleveland DHs in 2014.

Another option for the Indians would be to pursue an upgrade on the trade market. Juan Uribe and Casey McGehee are two short-term options that could make some sense if their respective teams are interested in making a long-term upgrade at the hot corner.  There are a number of right fielders that would fit the bill as well, including Jason Heyward, Justin Upton (though the Indians were on his initial no-trade list), Shane Victorino and Gerardo Parra. Cleveland showed interest in Victorino as a free agent two years ago and could have interest again, particularly if Boston is willing to eat some of his salary.

Of course, pursuit of a name like Heyward would present the question of whether or not Cleveland wants to compromise some of its long-term outlook for an improved chance at immediate contention. The Indians do have a strong group of minor league outfielders headlined by Clint Frazier and also including Tyler Naquin, James Ramsey and Bradley Zimmer — each a first-round pick within the past three years. Some fans would likely make the case that a team with long-term payroll constraints should be resistant to trading controllable/league-minimum talent for a one-year upgrade, but being within striking distance of a postseason berth is an oft-fleeting position. The team could consider this its best shot at a division title with the Royals potentially losing James Shields and the Tigers potentially losing Max Scherzer and Victor Martinez, so the argument in favor of a win-now move could certainly be made.

Perhaps the most appealing approach for the front office will simply to be to add a bullpen piece and search for minor upgrades and platoon partners for some of the 2014 regulars that struggled. While they won’t play for top-of-the-market names like David Robertson and Andrew Miller, a number of second-tier options such as Pat Neshek, Jason Grilli, Sergio Romo or Joba Chamberlain would add a veteran presence and deepen the relief corps.

Going that route and experiencing success would also likely require at least one of their faded stars to rebound, which isn’t out of the question. Swisher is just one season removed from totaling 2.3 fWAR and 3.8 rWAR, so a rebound isn’t out of the question. Bourn, too, was somewhat productive in 2013, though to a lesser extent.

The Indians could try to dump one or both players, though that’s no easy feat to accomplish. Still, should the Indians eat the majority of one of their 2015 salaries in order to save $8-10MM in 2016, a long-term commitment for a new addition would certainly be easier to structure.

In the end, barring an unexpected payroll boost for the 2016 season, the team’s 2015 maneuverability is limited. The team will have to determine whether it’s worth compromising its enviable reservoir of outfield prospects in order to make a short-term upgrade, or if the better option is to make minor upgrades where possible and bank on a resurgence among a group of underperforming veterans. For all the ink I’ve dedicated to Bourn and Swisher, the most sorely needed rebound may be one from Kipnis, who slumped to a .240/.310/.330 line after posting elite numbers in 2013.


AL Central Notes: Tomas, Tigers, 2014 Draft

SungWoo Lee, the diehard Royals fan from South Korea whose visit to Kansas City earlier this summer made headlines around the sports world, is on his way back to watch his favorite team compete in the World Series.  The Royals have gone 40-20 in the regular season and playoffs since Lee first arrived in the United States on August 5.  Lee’s very first game at Kauffman Stadium was a matchup between the Royals and (talk about karma) the Giants on August 9, which was won by K.C. as part of a three-game sweep.

As Kansas City prepares for its first World Series game since 1985, let’s take a look around the AL Central…

  • The Twins have yet to schedule a private workout for Cuban outfielder Yasmany Tomas, 1500 ESPN’s Darren Wolfson tweets, and there have been “no serious talks, just brief ones” between the club and Tomas’ representatives.
  • Emilio Bonifacio, Luke Gregerson, Brandon McCarthy, Andrew Miller and Colby Rasmus are five free agents who could be fits for the Tigers‘ bullpen, center field and No. 5 starter needs this offseason, Mlive.com’s James Schmehl opines.
  • The Indians and Royals top Baseball America’s list of teams who had the best 2014 draft, based on how the prospects selected in June have thus far performed in their young pro careers.  A number of AL Central prospects appear in the follow-up lists based on player performance, with Royals lefty Brandon Finnegan‘s name appearing multiple times — no surprise there, given that Finnegan has already reached the majors and has thrown some key bullpen innings for K.C. during the postseason.

AL Notes: Young, Indians

As we wait for the playoffs to return on Tuesday, here’s the latest from the AL.

  • Mariners starter Chris Young would like to return to Seattle next season, writes Greg John of MLB.com. The 35-year-old had his best season since 2007, throwing 165 innings with a 3.65 ERA, 5.89 K/9, 3.27 BB/9, and a league low 22.3% ground ball rate. The towering fly ball specialist – he’s 6’10” – is often cited as exceptionally deceptive despite an 85 mph fastball. Advanced ERA estimators expected an ERA over 5.00. His unusual size and approach could make him a special case who can reliably outperform his FIP and SIERA. Young faded down the stretch, but it was his healthiest season in seven years. He earned $1.25MM in 2014 and could be in line for a modest raise.
  • The Indians need help in right field, reports Paul Hoynes of the Plain Dealer. While the free agent class isn’t bad, it’s top heavy. Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis are beyond the Indians means. Unfortunately, David Murphy and Ryan Raburn will tie up $8.5MM at the position. Murphy could rebound – he had a decent season before injuring his oblique in August. Raburn was a complete loss this season and may not have a role next season. The Indians previously had interest in Norichika Aoki before he signed with Milwaukee. Hoynes also mentions Michael Cuddyer as a possible buy-low candidate.

AL Central Notes: Indians, Tomas, Lovullo, Tigers

Congratulations to the Royals, who not only reached the playoffs for the first time since 1985 this year but are now headed to the World Series on the heels of a dominant 8-0 showing through the Wild Card game, ALDS and ALCS. As KC fans celebrate the end of a long World Series drought, the rest of the division is focused on how they can get to that point in the near future. Here are some notes pertaining to the AL Central…

  • Zack Meisel of the Cleveland Plain Dealer looks at the Indians’ payroll, estimating that without any extensions, trades or free agent signings, the team has roughly $73MM committed to next year’s club (including arbitration estimates). Cleveland would, in that scenario, be able to spend about $8-12MM this offseason to maintain a payroll in the $85MM range. While the team’s wealth of young, cost-controlled players would normally put them in an ideal spot to make a big trade or free agent signing, the commitments to Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher make that unlikely. Instead, he wonders if the Indians will look to make an extension offer to ace Corey Kluber this winter, but otherwise they’ll have to get creative in trades or make complementary free agent additions rather than targeting front-line names.
  • The Twins spoke with Yasmany Tomas‘ camp as recently as Monday this week, reports Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN (Twitter link). It’s “clear” that Minnesota very much likes Tomas, though their problem, as Wolfson notes, is that about 10 other clubs do as well at this point.
  • Wolfson also tweets that while he can’t handicap the Twins‘ managerial search at this juncture, he hears that Red Sox bench coach Torey Lovullo “nailed” his interview.
  • In his latest mailbag piece, MLive.com’s James Schmehl focuses primarily on the Tigers’ offseason and how it might shake out. He notes that Don Kelly is a clear non-tender candidate, and it’s possible that Andrew Romine, who will earn close to the league minimum next season, could take on Kelly’s utility role. Schmehl also speculates on Luke Gregerson, Kelly Johnson and Emilio Bonifacio as targets, noting that he doesn’t feel the team will be the highest bidder for Andrew Miller. Schmehl also discusses the possibility of retaining Victor Martinez or Torii Hunter (he does not feel both will return) as well as the possibility of making a run at Tomas.