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Cleveland Indians Rumors
Right-handed power hitters carried the day in 2014, writes Joel Sherman of the New York Post. By the numbers, 12 of the top 16 power hitters batted right-handed. Several clubs including the Padres, Astros, Diamondbacks, and Blue Jays have committed to a mostly right-handed lineup in a search for more power. Unfortunately, right-handed power extends to the mound, where an influx of relievers are throwing over 95 mph with nasty secondary pitches.
Here’s more from around the game:
- Indians utility fielder Zach Walters has injured his oblique and will miss the next three to four weeks, reports Chuck Crow of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Walters was acquired last season in exchange for Asdrubal Cabrera. The switch-hitter is a career .193/.253/.452 batter in 146 plate appearances, most of which came last season. He played five positions for the Nationals and Indians last season. Oblique injuries can be tricky to rehab, so expect the club to proceed slowly.
- Pirates infielder Jung-ho Kang has the work ethic and bat speed to succeed in the majors, writes Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. The South Korean star will make his major league debut this season. No former KBO hitter has succeeded in the majors, so Kang will aim to pave the road for future generations. He uses the exaggerated leg kick first popularized by Sadaharu Oh, but he quiets it with two strikes. FanGraphs swing expert Dan Farnsworth analyzed Kang’s swing earlier this winter (FG+ required), concluding “he has all the makings of an absolute monster.”
- Former number one draft pick Brady Aiken is expected to make his season debut with IMG Post Grad on Thursday, tweets Kiley McDaniel of FanGraphs. Aiken was selected by the Astros last June, but their agreement fell apart due to concerns about his pitching elbow. Aiken remains among the top prospects in the draft, although the Astros will presumably pass on selecting him with either of their top five picks.
The Indians announced that former star third baseman Al Rosen died last night. He was 91. “He was an inspiration to us all and had a special presence, strength and intellect,” says Indians president Mark Shapiro, calling Rosen’s competitiveness and toughness “legendary.” Rosen hit .285/.384/.495 over a ten-year big-league career spent entirely with the Indians. His best season came in 1953, when he hit .336/.422/.613, won the AL MVP award and missed a Triple Crown by one point of batting average. Injuries ended his playing career early, but he went on to become president and chief operating officer of the Yankees (1978-79), then became president and GM of the Astros (1980-85) and Giants (1985-92). Here are more notes from the Central divisions.
- The White Sox paid $46MM for closer David Robertson, but they weren’t planning on spending heavily on a closer if they didn’t get him, Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune writes. Robertson was the specific player they wanted, and if they hadn’t gotten him, they would have developed a closer internally. “I still feel strongly that we have a very solid track record in terms of that development, whether it’s (Bobby) Jenks or (Sergio) Santos or (Addison Reed) or whomever else through the years, like Keith Foulke before that,” says GM Rick Hahn. “And that’s going to continue to serve us as we build out the bullpen from the back in front of David.”
- Reliever Francisco Rodriguez, who officially signed with the Brewers Saturday, turned down more money elsewhere to return to Milwaukee, Todd Rosiak of the Journal Sentinel tweets. His decision to sign with the Brewers was primarily about his comfort with pitching for them, not about finances, he says. 2015 will be the fifth consecutive season in which Rodriguez will have spent at least part of the year with the Brewers.
TODAY: Kluber will earn $601K on his 2015 contract, according to the Associated Press (passed on by Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer).
YESTERDAY, 6:08pm: The Indians announced that Kluber has agreed to a contract for the 2015 season (on Twitter). While this indicates that no extension has been agreed to at this time, it certainly doesn’t rule out the possibility that a long-term deal could be reached prior to the beginning of the regular season.
9:02am: Top starter Corey Kluber is the Indians‘ only unsigned player, and Paul Hoynes of the Plain Dealer reports that both the club and Kluber’s agents at Jet Sports Management are holding open the possibility of reaching agreement on a multi-year deal. Talks on a broader agreement could go past today’s deadline, per the report, though they seem unlikely to continue into the season.
Today is the deadline for club and player to settle on Kluber’s 2015 contract. If they cannot, Cleveland can renew him at any amount at or above league minimum. (Click here for an explanation of that process.)
As Hoynes notes, this spring might represent the most likely point for the sides to find common ground. Soon to turn 29, Kluber — the American League’s reigning Cy Young winner — will not reach arbitration eligibility until next season. When he does, he will not only obtain significant financial security but will also be within spitting distance of free agency. From the perspective of the Indians — an organization that has tended not to give out long-term pitching deals — promising money into Kluber’s thirties may only have appeal if the team can achieve a relative bargain.
I discussed Kluber’s extension candidacy last August. His bargaining position has certainly improved with the Cy Young under his belt, though that does not necessarily mean that a deal is more likely. My own guess is that the most likely scenario may be one in which the sides agree to a relatively short-term extension buying out some of Kluber’s arbitration seasons but not touching his free agency, thus providing him with some security in exchange for providing cost control to the club.
If you haven’t already, be sure to check out Kluber’s recent appearance on the MLBTR Podcast. Among other things, Kluber discusses his consistent preparation routine and ability to maintain his production after a big innings jump last season.
MARCH 12: Per Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer (on Twitter), Indians GM Chris Antonetti said on a television appearance that Floyd re-fractured the olecranon bone in his right elbow — the same injury that ended his season last year.
MARCH 10: Indians righty Gavin Floyd again has a stress fracture in his right elbow and will be out indefinitely, the club announced (Twitter links). Treatment options are still being assessed, but surgery is a possibility.
This was essentially the worst-case scenario for Cleveland when it promised Floyd $4MM to pitch for the club this season. While there was a reasonable chance that he would prove a bargain, at this point it appears that he will likely occupy a relatively significant amount of payroll space that might otherwise have been allocated to a more pressing need.
The team emphasized that a precise timeline is still dependent upon the course of action chosen, but it seems safe to assume that the Indians will not expect any contribution this year. That does not necessarily mean that an outside addition will be required, of course, as the team already had a good number of interesting young arms in its stable.
As the Rangers wait to learn whether ace Yu Darvish will undergo Tommy John surgery, the club is obviously preparing for the worst. As Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News writes, a missed season for Darvish would have wide-ranging roster implications. For one thing, top pitching prospect Alex Gonzalez now has a legitimate chance to earn a rotation role. For another, the added need for long-man innings from the pen could hurt the Opening Day chances of veteran Kyuji Fujikawa and other, younger one-inning arms. The possibility of a run at dealing for Cole Hamels remains unlikely, Grant opines (rightly, in my opinion).
Here are a few notes on other injury situations around the American League:
- Meanwhile, fellow starter Gavin Floyd of the Indians is set to undergo an MRI tomorrow on his right elbow, as Paul Hoynes of the Plain Dealer tweets. Floyd, of course, is looking to bounce back after two straight seasons ended early by elbow issues. As MLBTR’s Steve Adams explains, Cleveland has plenty of rotation depth even if Floyd misses time, though certainly the club will hope it reaps some return from its only significant free agent addition.
- Twins closer Glen Perkins had to bail out of a bullpen session today with discomfort in his right side, as LaVelle E. Neal III of the Star Tribune reports. Though this was the second time in the last few days that the issue arose, Perkins was positive about the situation, explaining that he felt far better than he did after an oblique strain back in 2011. Nevertheless, pen depth already seems a matter of concern in Minnesota, increasing the importance of the health of the team’s best reliever. Perkins, who missed the end of 2014 with nerve issues in his elbow, is owed $4.65MM this year as well as an additional $13.5MM over the remainder of the four-year extension he signed last spring.
- The injury to Mike Minor of the Braves has created a new opportunity for righty Cody Martin, as MLB.com’s Mark Bowman writes. He joins a battle with non-roster invitees Eric Stults and Wandy Rodriguez along with prospects Mike Foltynewicz and Manny Banuelos, per Bowman, all of whom appear to be gunning for two starting positions to open the season.
Cleveland entered the offseason with some buzz surrounding a pitching staff that looked dominant for much of the 2014 season and a glut of outfielders to which they added, rather than subtracted.
Major League Signings
- Gavin Floyd, RHP: One year, $4MM
Trades and Claims
- Acquired 1B/OF Brandon Moss from the Athletics in exchange for 2B Joe Wendle
- Acquired RHP Charles Brewer from the Diamondbacks in exchange for cash considerations
Notable Minor League Signings
- Bruce Chen, Anthony Swarzak, Jerry Sands, Michael Roth, Jeff Manship, Scott Downs, Adam Moore, Brett Hayes, Shaun Marcum, Tyler Cloyd (since released)
- Jason Giambi (Retired)
It was clearly a quiet offseason for the Indians, and perhaps that shouldn’t be considered a significant surprise. As I noted in previewing the club’s offseason, while there was a bit of financial wiggle room in the 2015 payroll — which has primarily been allocated to Brandon Moss and Gavin Floyd — the 2016 payroll is already tight due to a growing crop of arbitration-eligible players. That group includes names such as Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco and Cody Allen — so the spending won’t be insignificant.
The moves they did make didn’t address obvious areas of need. Adding Moss will give the lineup some extra punch, but he’s likely going to play in right field, where the Indians already have David Murphy, Ryan Raburn and Nick Swisher as options. All three of those players disappointed in 2014, so it’s not surprising to see the team seek an upgrade, but Moss is a relatively expensive alternative, and the club has yet to move any of the three pre-existing options (more on that in a bit).
Floyd, too, represents a curious fit: Kluber was set to lead a staff that also featured Carrasco, Trevor Bauer and some combination of Danny Salazar, T.J. House, Josh Tomlin and Zach McAllister. A healthy Floyd, of course, would be a bargain at $4MM, but he’s coming off surgery to repair a broken olecranon bone in his elbow and barely pitched in the 2013 season due to Tommy John surgery. Indeed, questions about his health have already come up this spring. The additional depth is hardly a bad thing, but it’s at least somewhat puzzling that none of Cleveland’s limited resources went to finding a platoon partner for Lonnie Chisenhall or upgrading the bullpen.
The Indians will likely need to jettison one of their outfielders this spring, and Murphy has already voiced his opinion that he’d prefer a trade to seeing his role slashed to the point where he’d receive just a couple hundred at-bats. He’s still owed $6.5MM and hits left-handed, like Moss, eliminating the possibility of a platoon. Given the exorbitant price tag remaining on Swisher (two years, $30MM) and the fact that Raburn is right-handed (as well as cheaper and more versatile from a defensive standpoint), Murphy does seem the likeliest candidate to be playing elsewhere come Opening Day.
Shifting to the infield, Cleveland will again be giving Lonnie Chisenhall the chance to prove that he can be an everyday player in the big leagues. While Raburn and Mike Aviles present plausible platoon options, neither hit lefties well in 2014. Chisenhall did handle lefties pretty well in 2014, admittedly, though his .369 BABIP against southpaws isn’t likely to be repeated. He also comes with defensive question marks, as Defense Runs Saved pegged him at -14 runs in just 973 innings, while UZR/150 felt he’d cost a team 15 runs over the course of 150 games. Chisenhall notched just a .591 OPS in the second half, so Cleveland is counting on a bounceback of sorts.
While the rotation figures to be a strength, even if it’s not yet known which promising young arm will round out the starting five, the bullpen is decidedly shakier. Allen has emerged as a shutdown option in the ninth inning, and Bryan Shaw appears to be a perfectly serviceable setup man. Marc Rzepczynski is a weapon against lefties, and either Kyle Crockett or Nick Hagadone can join him as a second left-handed option for manager Terry Francona. However, whether or not Scott Atchison can repeat his strong season at age 39 is up for debate, and the occupants of the final two spots are to be determined. Perhaps some of the arms that miss out on the rotation spot could slot into the ‘pen, but the Indians may not be too keen on moving a younger arm that they feel can be a starter into the bullpen for a season. In my eyes, a veteran complement was more needed here than in the rotation.
Additionally, Cleveland will need some bounceback efforts from several regulars around the diamond. Swisher slashed just .208/.278/.311 last season, but the veteran had offseason surgery on both knees and has since said that the pain he experienced in 2014 made it difficult to walk when he would awake in the night. Michael Bourn, the team’s other expensive free agent expenditure from the 2012-13 offseason, hit only .257/.314/.360 and played in just 106 games. And Jason Kipnis, the team’s best player in 2013, slumped to a meager .240/.310/.330 batting line with only six home runs in the first year of his new six-year extension.
Perhaps the greatest question mark, however, will be the team’s defense. Cleveland ranked last in the Majors in both Ultimate Zone Rating and Defensive Runs Saved in 2014, and they ranked 25th in defensive efficiency. Shedding Asdrubal Cabrera for a combination of Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor will be a significant upgrade at shortstop, and if Bourn returns to form and plays a full, healthy season in center, the defensive value of the outfield should see a boost as well. Yan Gomes is among the game’s best and will reprise his role behind the plate.
Still, Chisenhall is not well-regarded at third base, and the team is likely to receive negative value in right field as well from a defensive standpoint. Michael Brantley, curiously in the eyes of some, grades out poorly in left. Carlos Santana will be better at first base than he was in an unsuccessful tryout at third base last year, but he’s still not exactly a gifted defender. Even the bench options — with the possible exception of Ramirez, should he become a reserve to make way for Lindor — appear to be fairly lackluster defenders. The pitching staff is talented enough to make up for some of those deficiencies, but converting balls in play into outs could be the Achilles heel of what looks to be a largely solid team.
Deal Of Note
Though there may not have been a significant need in the rotation, $4MM on Floyd (plus an additional $6MM worth of incentives) could work out to be a nice value play. Floyd worked to a 2.65 ERA in 54 1/3 innings with the Braves last year before fracturing his elbow, and he was a key member of the White Sox’ rotation from 2008-12, pitching to a 4.12 ERA (108 ERA+ given his homer-friendly home park there and the increased offense the game several years ago) and averaging 190 innings per season.
Floyd is a nice insurance policy for a team with a young rotation, and he’s the type of arm they could conceivably flip in July, even if they’re still in contention. We saw in 2014 an increase in contending teams trading pieces from their Major League roster, and Floyd gives them enough rotation depth to move him if he’s healthy and effective, which remain significant uncertainties.
The Indians won 85 games in 2014 based largely on a pitching staff that will return in its entirety. Kluber showed that his brilliant second half in 2013 and ace-like peripherals were no fluke and is now rightly regarded among the game’s best arms. Some feel that Carrasco, who posted a 1.72 ERA in the second half and had a 2.58 SIERA on the season as a whole could do the same in 2015. If Kluber, Allen, Carrasco and Gomes can sustain the progress they showed in their excellent 2014 seasons, that alone could be enough to keep the Indians in contention, assuming no significant declines elsewhere around the diamond. Rebounds from Kipnis, Swisher and Bourn could make the Indians among the AL’s most formidable teams.
GM Chris Antonetti and his staff admittedly did little this offseason, but the rationale may simply have been that they didn’t feel drastic upgrades were needed throughout the roster. This won’t be a pretty team to watch in the field, but it’ll be a fun team to watch on the mound, and they should hit enough to keep pace with the rest of the competition in what figures to be a closely contested American League Central Division.
The Tigers will have a significant amount of money coming off the books with nine player set to hit free agency this coming winter, writes Chris Iott of MLive.com. With David Price, Yoenis Cespedes, Joe Nathan, Joakim Soria, Alfredo Simon, Alex Avila, Rajai Davis, Joba Chamberlain and Tom Gorzelanny all ticketed for free agency, Iott looks at each player and the likelihood that he’ll return. Iott feels that Price could land a $200MM+ contract on the open market next year. I agree that there’s a chance of that with a typically strong season, making it difficult for the Tigers to retain him when considering the long-term commitments already guaranteed to Justin Verlander, Miguel Cabrera and, to a lesser extent, Victor Martinez.
A bit more from the AL Central…
- Unlike some big-name free agent hurlers heading into their walk year, White Sox right-hander Jeff Samardzija hasn’t taken out an insurance policy on his arm, tweets Jon Heyman of CBS Sports. For example, Max Scherzer recently revealed that he paid $750K for a $40MM insurance policy on his arm that protected him against shoulder and elbow injuries in his walk year. Samardzija could be in line for $100MM+ next winter if he can repeat last season’s success.
- Samardzija’s best case scenario is to remain in Chicago for the rest of his career, he recently told Bruce Levine of 670thescore.com. However, Samardzija also feels a responsibility to the Union and other players to keep salaries in line with the $9 billion industry that is Major League Baseball, writes Levine.
- While Nick Swisher‘s goal is to be ready for Opening Day, there’s no timetable for when the Indians switch-hitter will be ready to make his Cactus League debut, writes Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Swisher, who underwent surgery on both knees on Aug. 20 last year, is still working on running drills, performing serpentine and ribbon runs to get his body used to running in something other than a straight line, Hoynes writes. Swisher’s timetable bears monitoring, as it’s been speculated previously that a healthy Swisher and Brandon Moss (who is returning to action today) could mean that David Murphy will end up being traded.
The Rangers have an insurance policy on Yu Darvish and could recoup more than half of his $10MM salary if he undergoes Tommy John surgery and misses the year, reports Evan Grant of The Dallas Morning News. The Rangers could use the insurance proceeds to add payroll. The policy’s total value to the club, however, is dependent on when the clock begins on the deductible. Grant notes the Rangers could make a case that this injury is a recurrence of the elbow problems Darvish suffered last year sidelining him for the final 50 days of the 2014 season.
Elsewhere in the American League:
- Darvish’s injury is not just a blow to the Rangers, but to all of baseball, opines CBSSports.com’s Jon Heyman.
- Rick Porcello told reporters, including Brian MacPherson of the Providence Journal (via Twitter), he has not had extension talks with the Red Sox this spring and does not expect to have any.
- The Indians and reigning AL Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber have not made any progress in negotiating a contract extension, writes Paul Hoynes of the Northeast Ohio Media Group. Kluber is a pre-arbitration eligible player and Wednesday is the deadline for signing such players. If a deal cannot be reached, teams can renew the contracts of those players at their discretion, usually for a fraction above the MLB minimum of $507.5K. MLBTR’s Jeff Todd recently provided a primer on understanding pre-arbitration salaries.
- In a separate article, Hoynes chronicles how the Indians have re-built their farm system through the draft (especially their willingness to select high-upside high schoolers rather than college players), trades, and international free agent signings.
- Royals GM Dayton Moore told reporters, including MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan right-hander Chris Young, who the club signed yesterday, will make the team and pitch out of the bullpen. Flanagan notes, in a second article, the Royals have discussed keeping eight relievers and, if so, will have several contenders battling for just one spot.
- Evan Gattis has had two months to reflect upon his trade to Astros and still has mixed feelings, according to David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “The negative is that there’s a good fan base in Atlanta, I felt loved there,” Gattis said. “The positives are that I’m in the American League, I might be a little more durable; I’m going to try to have a healthy season. And I’m in Texas, stoked about that. So yeah, positives and negatives.“
Indians outfielder Brandon Moss nearly retired from baseball in 2012, writes MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian. Moss had nine days left before an opt-out clause in his minor league deal with the A’s and planned on playing out the season in Japan — on a more lucrative deal. His plans were then to join a high school friend as a firefighter in his native Georgia. However, Moss was called up to the A’s on June 6 that year and, after initially struggling, proceeded to mash five homers in a four-game span. That burst of power set the tone for Moss, who stuck with the A’s through this offseason when he was traded to Cleveland. Over the past three seasons, the late-blooming Moss is a .254/.340/.504 hitter with 76 home runs. Bastian’s article has several interesting quotes from Moss, his former coaches/managers and his friends and is well worth the read.
Here’s more from the AL Central…
- Royals lefty Tim Collins had an MRI on his left elbow yesterday after experiencing tightness Wednesday of this week, writes MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan. The Royals and Collins remain hopeful that it’s just normal soreness that can often be expected of pitchers early in Spring Training. If not, the team does have other lefty options in camp, including Franklin Morales, Brian Flynn, Joe Paterson and top prospect Brandon Finnegan.
- Twins GM Terry Ryan told reporters, including MLB.com’s Rhett Bollinger, that his club isn’t hindered by payroll or revenue. Ryan’s goal, he says, is to reach the postseason this year, though he admits that a lot will need to go right for that to happen. Namely, the Twins will need to stay healthy and see a number of their younger players take their game to a new level.
- Phil Coke, who agreed to a minor league deal with the Cubs yesterday, told MLive.com’s Chris Iott that he’ll miss being a Tiger and enjoyed his time in the Motor City. Iott writes that while the Tigers never officially closed the door on re-signing Coke, his fate was more or less sealed once the team signed Tom Gorzelanny to his one-year, $1MM deal. Detroit didn’t want to carry a pair of veteran lefty relievers without options when it had a number of younger in-house options, such as Blaine Hardy, Ian Krol and Kyle Ryan, Iott explains. Iott adds that he, too, hears Coke rejected a Major League offer in favor of his minor league deal with the Cubs; it’s certainly possible that the relatively sizable $2.25MM salary Coke will be paid if he makes Chicago’s roster outweighs a more modest salary he received on a guaranteed deal.
The White Sox announced today that they have promoted Jeremy Haber, who was previously assistant to general manager Rick Hahn and will now bear the title of assistant GM. The 31-year-old Haber led negotiations on the team’s five-year, $21MM extension with Jose Quintana last offseason, says Colleen Kane of the Chicago Tribune (on Twitter), and he also leads salary arbitration negotiations. CSN Chicago’s Dan Hayes profiled Haber last offseason, noting an impressive educational background but little experience in the baseball world. Haber has a B.A. in political science from Brown as well as an M.B.A. from Harvard Business School and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. Haber was initially hired as an intern with the Red Sox after a series of blind emails to teams in search of a front office opportunity, and he’s since helped in the White Sox’ hiring of hitting coach Todd Steverson in addition to making player acquisition recommendations for Hahn and the rest of the Chicago front office.
More from the American League:
- Huston Street tells Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register that he and Angels GM Jerry Dipoto have begun swapping text messages to figure out a time when they can have more serious extension discussions in the near future. Street, who acts as his own agent, has said he wants to get a new contract worked out in Spring Training and made no attempt to hide the fact that he’s eyeing something between the four-year, $36MM deal inked by Andrew Miller and the four-year, $46MM contract signed by David Robertson. He did say he envisions a new contract overriding his current one-year deal, so he’s essentially looking for three new years.
- Ryan Ludwick told Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com that multiple teams for which he had played in the past expressed interest in bringing him back this offseason, though he declined to specify which teams. The Rangers are clearly one, as the now-36-year-old signed a minor league pact to return to Texas, where he made his big league debut 13 years ago. “It’s cool knowing that teams are willing to take you on,” Ludwick said Sunday. “I guess that means I’m somewhat of a decent guy.” The Rangers will hope that in addition to being a “somewhat decent guy,” Ludwick will bring the offense he showed as recently as 2012, when he hit .275/.346/.531 with 26 homers in just 472 plate appearances for the Reds. He’s also played for the Cardinals, Indians, Padres and Pirates.
- Replacing Nelson Cruz‘s production will not be straightforward but may yet be possible for the Orioles, as Jayson Stark of ESPN.com writes. Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette explains that the current roster not only has power across the board but does so with generally well-rounded players. And, as he notes, the team will never “grab a lot of headlines in the offseason,” as would have been needed to bring Cruz back or replace him with a single player. “We pick up players year round,” said Duquette. “We don’t do it all in the offseason.”