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Cleveland Indians Rumors
The Indians have announced a series of transactions, including the signing of righty Jhoulys Chacin to a minor league deal. Fellow right-hander Shaun Marcum was designated for assignment, while backstop Brett Hayes will take his roster spot.
Chacin, 27, was cut loose by the Rockies this spring in something of a surprise move. He struggled with shoulder issues last year, and injuries are the main concern given his effectiveness when healthy. Overall, Chacin owns a 3.78 ERA with 6.9 K/9 against 3.8 BB/9 to go with a 48.2% groundball rate. He joins Ryan Webb as a recently-added veteran depth piece in the Cleveland system.
Of course, much of the same could have been said of Marcum, 33, who was quite a productive starter in his heyday but who has battled injuries in recent campaigns. He made one appearance for the Indians, allowing just one earned run in five innings of relief, but will presumably be left to look for a new opportunity.
As for Hayes, he is needed to fill in for the injured Yan Gomes. The veteran backup has never done much damage on offense but will provide a steady presence in reserve while Gomes is down. It remains to be seen how long his services will be needed at the big league level, as Cleveland is said to be weighing the possibility of making an addition to its catching corps.
The Indians have reached a minor league deal with righty Ryan Webb, the club announced. Webb has been assigned to the club’s Triple-A affiliate.
Webb started the year with the Orioles, still playing under the free agent contract he signed before the 2014 season. Before appearing in a game, he went through an interesting series of transactions that left him outrighted — and later released — by the Dodgers. As MLBTR’s Charlie Wilmoth explains, the net result was that Los Angeles paid down Webb’s 2015 salary in exchange for the rights to the 74th overall pick in this year’s amateur draft.
Of course, those maneuvers may sell Webb short to an extent. He has been at least an average reliever, with peripherals to match, over 325 1/3 innings across the last six seasons. He posted career bests in both strikeouts (6.8 per nine) and walks (2.2 per nine) last year. While his groundball rate fell only a few ticks above league average in 2014, he owns a strong 56.1% mark for his career.
All in all, he seems to be a nice player to have waiting at Triple-A — especially with another club picking up the tab. Cleveland obviously feels that way after moving quickly to add him to its depth chart.
Though the Indians will be without Yan Gomes for up to eight weeks, the team will not pursue starting catcher alternatives, reports Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports (on Twitter). Cleveland believes that Roberto Perez can fill in as an everyday option behind the dish, according to Rosenthal. However, they may look to acquire a backup catching option that they consider to be an upgrade over Brett Hayes, who currently will fill the role with Perez’s playing time increasing.
The 31-year-old Hayes has seen Major League playing time in each of the past six seasons, though in some cases the sample was smaller than 20 plate appearances in a season. Despite the fact that Hayes is a pretty light-hitting option — as evidenced by his career .209/.252/.353 batting line — he’s still logged 175 games and 428 plate appearances in the Majors. He’s been roughly average in terms of catching base-stealers (25 percent) and has added some value with his ability to block pitches, though he does grade out as a below-average framer.
Earlier today I speculated that Dioner Navarro may be a fit in Cleveland, as he’d have an everyday role in Cleveland for the next couple of months (something both Navarro and Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos have hoped to find), but it seems that GM Chris Antonetti and his staff will pursue moves on a smaller scale.
Looking at the free agent market, there isn’t much presently available, at least not in terms of players who accumulated notable Major League action in 2014. J.P. Arencibia, 29, was released by the Orioles last week, and veteran switch-hitter Ryan Doumit didn’t sign a contract this offseason. However, Arencibia’s batting average and on-base percentage have continued a downward spiral over the past few seasons, and Doumit’s glove behind the plate has never drawn strong reviews.
Looking to the trade market, the Yankees may be willing to part with the recently outrighted Austin Romine, though they were likely happy to sneak him through waivers given his former top prospect status. Baltimore has a few viable options, most notably Steve Clevenger, whose agent has recently hinted that a trade may be more preferable than further time at the Triple-A level. The White Sox also have quite a bit of catching depth, with five backstops on their 40-man roster — Rob Brantly, Adrian Nieto and Kevan Smith are all in the Minors — and veteran George Kottaras at Triple-A as well. Colorado’s Wilin Rosario was known to be available for much of the winter, but he’s a poor defender behind the plate and likely qualifies as a higher-profile acquisition than Cleveland hopes to make.
Former Indians first baseman and outfielder Matt LaPorta has retired, former big-leaguer Joe Thurston tells FanGraphs’ David Laurila. LaPorta and Thurston played together in Mexico last year. LaPorta, the seventh overall pick in the 2007 draft, appeared at the time to be the key to the deal that send C.C. Sabathia from Cleveland to Milwaukee. (In time, of course, it became clear that Michael Brantley was the best player on the Indians’ end of the deal.) LaPorta appeared in parts of four seasons with Cleveland, hitting a disappointing .238/.301/.393 in 1,068 career plate appearances. Thurston, who collected 307 plate appearances playing second and third for the Cardinals in 2009, is also now retired and is working as a coach in the Red Sox system. Here are more quick notes from around the American League.
- Red Sox minor-league reliever Dana Eveland is only 31, but he’s already had a wide range of experiences within the game, Laurila writes. As a veteran of both Triple-A and the big leagues, he’s spent much of his career waiting on call-ups and demotions. “I got called up from a casino in Biloxi, Mississippi,” says Eveland. “I started the Double-A All-Star game there and after it was over, I went to the casino. I got called up from a three-card poker table. … During the season, you answer your cell phone when you see the right area code.” Eveland spent much of the 2014 season pitching well for the Mets, and he’s not considering giving up now that he’s back in the minors.
- GM Alex Anthopoulos says the Blue Jays continue to be open to trading Dioner Navarro if another team has a starting role for him, Shi Davidi of Sportsnet.ca writes. The Jays could also keep Navarro, Anthopoulos adds. The GM also says the Jays are currently comfortable carrying 13 pitchers, which they’re doing in part because hurlers like Todd Redmond and Liam Hendriks are out of options. Going with a 13-man staff for now helps maintain their depth and gives them time to evaluate their players.
An MRI today revealed a sprained MCL in the right knee of Indians catcher Yan Gomes, which will sideline the standout backstop for six to eight weeks, Cleveland has announced.
The injury to Gomes is a significant blow to the Indians, who are expected by many to contend for the AL Central title this season but will now be without one of their most valuable players for up to two months. In the interim, Roberto Perez figures to step into an everyday role behind the plate, and Carlos Santana can serve as a backup in the near-term. However, it wouldn’t be a shock to see Cleveland pursue upgrades from outside the organization.
Gomes, 27, has established himself as one of the game’s better catchers over the past season and a half, batting a combined .284/.325/.476 with 32 homers in 223 games from 2013-14. He’s also an excellent defender, grading very well in terms of both pitch-framing metrics and shutting down the running game. Gomes has caught 35 percent of opposing base stealers in his big league career, while the league-average rate in that time has been 27 percent. Both Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference pegged Gomes’ value at roughly 4.5 wins above replacement last year.
The Indians announced a series of roster moves this morning, including the release of right-hander Charles Brewer, who had occupied a slot on the team’s 40-man roster. Cleveland has placed Yan Gomes on the 15-day disabled list with a knee sprain, optioned lefty Kyle Crockett to Triple-A, recalled right-hander Austin Adams and selected the contract of former Blue Jays/Brewers starter Shaun Marcum.
Cleveland picked up Brewer, 27, from the Diamondbacks this offseason. He didn’t appear in the Majors last year, but he did pitch six innings for the 2013 D-Backs, yielding a pair of runs with five strikeouts against two walks. In 169 2/3 innings at the Triple-A level (in the very hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League), Brewer has a 5.29 ERA with 6.9K/9 and 2.5 BB/9.
As for Marcum, the right-hander will be taking the mound in the Majors for the first time since 2013 when he debuts for the Indians. Marcum was very good from 2010-12 with the Jays and Brewers, working to a 3.62 ERA (113 ERA+) with 7.5 K/9 and 2.4 BB/9 in 520 innings of work. A nerve injury in his neck and thoracic outlet syndrome have hindered Marcum over the past two years, however. He spent the 2014 season rehabbing with the Indians in their Minor League system but only totaled 17 2/3 innings.
Archie Bradley of the Diamondbacks is set for his big-league debut against Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers Saturday, Steve Gilbert of MLB.com writes. “I mean, it’s exciting,” says Bradley. “He’s one of the best, if not the best, in all of baseball. I just take it as a challenge, like why not start my career against someone like him?” Heading into the season, Baseball Prospectus ranked Bradley the No. 11 prospect in baseball, with MLB.com ranking him No. 15 and Baseball America putting him at No. 25. He likely missed out on a chance to make his big-league debut in 2014 after struggling with an elbow injury. The Diamondbacks liked what they saw from Bradley this spring, though, and traded Trevor Cahill to clear space for him. Here are more quick notes on pitchers.
- The criticism Carlos Carrasco has received for his four-year extension with the Indians is misplaced, Terry Pluto of the Plain Dealer writes. Carrasco has four children, an injury history and an uneven pre-2014 performance record, so it made sense for him to take $22MM guaranteed, even though he gave away his first season of free-agent eligibility and the rights to two more seasons beyond that.
- Orioles manager Buck Showalter is “proud” of Rule 5 pick Jason Garcia, Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun reports. Garcia pitched 2 2/3 innings against the Blue Jays Friday, allowing one run and two walks while notching two strikeouts. The 22-year-old pitched in the lower levels of the Red Sox system last season, so he’s making a big leap to the Majors this year. “If he can get going and get strike one, he has a chance to have some success,” says Showalter.
Following yesterday’s MRI, the Twins will place right-hander Ricky Nolasco on the disabled list and recall prospect Trevor May to join the rotation, reports Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. After signing a four-year, $49MM contract in the 2013-14 offseason, Nolasco’s first season was marred by an elbow injury that limited his time on the field and led to an ERA well north of 5.00. He improved upon returning from the DL, so both he and the team hoped to leave last season’s struggles in the past. Unfortunately, his elbow flared up again in an ugly first start, leading to the forthcoming decision to officially place him back on the DL. May, ranked as one of Minnesota’s best prospects by Baseball America (No. 9), MLB.com (No. 11) and Fangraphs (No. 9), notched an excellent 2.85 ERA with 8.6 K/9 and 3.6 BB/9 in 98 Triple-A innings last year. He was hit hard in his first taste of MLB action, registering a ghastly 7.88 ERA, but a sky-high .377 BABIP contributed heavily to those troubles. One would think that this could be an opportunity for May to seize a rotation spot for the long run if he performs well out of the gate.
Here’s more from the AL Central…
- The Indians announced today that they’ve purchased the contract of first baseman/outfielder Jerry Sands, optioned Austin Adams to the Minors and transferred Josh Tomlin to the 60-day DL. The addition of Sands may not be a long-term maneuver, however, as MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian tweets that Sands will serve as outfield insurance while Michael Brantley deals with a back issue. (Brantley is in the lineup for today’s home opener, though.)
- In a Royals mailbag, Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star notes that while the team’s bullpen is excellent, its composition isn’t exactly ideal. The only Royals relievers with options remaining are Greg Holland, Wade Davis and Kelvin Herrera. The Royals lack the flexibility to option a lesser reliever to the Minors without first exposing them to waivers, thereby eliminating the possibility of making roster moves to bring in a fresh arm when necessary. McCullough opines, though, that a trade won’t be necessary upon Luke Hochevar‘s activation from the disabled list. McCullough also handicaps future rotation options and discusses Mike Moustakas‘ outlook in the piece.
- Joakim Soria is better equipped to be the Tigers‘ closer than Joe Nathan, writes MLive.com’s James Schmehl, and while Soria will indeed own the ninth inning while Nathan is on the disabled list, that transition in no way fixes the Detroit ‘pen, he opines. The Tigers lack a reliable option to step into the eighth inning on a consistent basis, and the move of Soria to the ninth inning only further exemplifies what a thin relief corps Detroit has on its hands. Manager Brad Ausmus called the bullpen “a little bit of a concern” but said he only expects Nathan to be sidelined for a few weeks. All this said, I doubt there’d be much surprise around the game if the Tigers were yet again seeking bullpen help on the trade market this season.
The opening series between the Tigers and Twins could hardly have been more lopsided, as Detroit finished off a three-game sweep with a 7-1 victory today. The only bright spot for the Twins was that they finally scored a run, after losing the first two games by a combined 15-0 score. Minnesota will have to turn things around to avoid getting into an early-season hole, as 23 of the Twins’ first 26 games are against division rivals. Let’s look at some AL Central news…
- Ricky Nolasco left the team on Thursday to return to Minneapolis and undergo an MRI on his right elbow. Twins skipper Paul Molitor told reporters (including Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press) that Nolasco “felt a little bit of a spike” in his elbow during Wednesday’s start, though it’s too early to tell if this injury is related to the flexor strain that sent Nolasco to the DL last season.
- In other injury news, Indians righty Josh Tomlin underwent shoulder surgery yesterday. The procedure will sideline Tomlin for approximately 3-4 months.
- The hiring of Terry Francona after the 2012 season has brought some much-needed stability to the Indians franchise, Terry Pluto of the Cleveland Plain Dealer writes. Not only has the Tribe improved on the field and locked up several young stars to long-term extensions, they’ve also looked to improve the fan experience (and improve attendance) at Progressive Field by upgrading the ballpark’s amenities.
- While recovering from his second Tommy John surgery, right-hander Kris Medlen “was intent on finding a team with a strong rehab staff and the patience not to rush him,” ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick writes. Medlen found a two-year deal with a mutual option from the Royals, and he’s received some advice regarding how hip weakness could be impacting his delivery. Crasnick’s piece includes several insightful comments from Medlen and his former Braves teammate Brandon Beachy (now a Dodger and also trying to recover from his second TJ operation) about their rehab process and some of the public misconceptions about Tommy John surgery as the procedure becomes more commonplace. For instance, Medlen and Beachy feel that 12 months is too short a realistic recovery time for Tommy John patients, and 16-20 months is a more reasonable estimate to return to full strength.
Over the past week, we’ve seen multi-year deals signed by Yordano Ventura (five years, $23MM), Carlos Carrasco (four years, $22MM), Corey Kluber (five years, $38.5MM) and Rick Porcello (four years, $82.5MM). As usual, there’s been no shortage of reactions to these contracts, and here are a few reactions/opinions from around the baseball world to each of the deals…
- Signing Ventura to a five-year deal was a necessary risk for the Royals, opines Fangraphs’ Craig Edwards. Ventura has long been seen as a risky commodity due to his smaller stature and a fear that he may be bullpen-bound, and he also produced results that were more good than great in 2014. However, only three Royals starters — Zack Greinke, James Shields and Ervin Santana –have matched Ventura’s modest 2.4 fWAR over the past five seasons. The Royals’ rotation is typically occupied by journeymen starters, and the upside for a mid-rotation or front-line starter at that price makes the risk worth taking, writes Edwards, even if there’s a risk he may not hold up as a starter.
- The Carrasco and Kluber extensions appear to be the latest in a long line of contracts signed with the intent of developing a long-term core. As GM Chris Antonetti said recently on MLB Network Radio (Twitter link): “This nucleus is going to be in place for awhile. Ownership has given us incredible resources.”
- Mutually beneficial extensions have been a key component of successful Indians’ seasons since John Hart began pioneering them in the 1990s, writes MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian. Bastian spoke to other members of that growing core — Michael Brantley, Jason Kipnis and Yan Gomes — each of whom has signed extensions of their own in the past year-plus. The Cleveland core expressed excitement about being able to grow and express excitement together in the coming years as they enter their primes.
- Cleveland.com’s Zack Meisel looks at the financial implications of the latest pair of Indians extensions, and he also spoke with Antonetti about the decision to offer Carrasco a long-term deal based on a relatively small sample of success. “His mix of pitches has always been a strength from the time we acquired him,” said Antonetti. “But we’ve seen the continued development and maturity and improvement in his routines, his consistency and his focus and we saw it translate to his success as a starting pitcher last year. We believe that now, not only does he have the physical attributes, but the other attributes to be a successful starter.”
- Carrasco’s deal may appear team-friendly, but an irregular heartbeat that required offseason surgery and a newborn baby played a role in Carrasco’s decision to accept the contract, writes Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports.
- Dave Cameron of Fangraphs and FOX Sports writes that Porcello’s age-23 through age-25 seasons mirror those of Justin Masterson, and Masterson experienced a breakout in his age-26 season — the same that Porcello is currently entering. While that certainly doesn’t guarantee a breakout for Porcello, Cameron notes that the Sox are betting on a breakout or step forward of sorts — one that would’ve launched Porcello’s free agent price considerably beyond the $82.5MM figure upon which he agreed. Judging contracts based on average annual value is all too common a mistake, Cameron notes, as the years accompanying that AAV are a critical factor of any deal. Boston is showing a tendency to pay a premium to keep contracts short in an effort to avoid rostering expensive non-performers down the line, with Porcello’s deal and the Hanley Ramirez contract serving as recent examples, he adds.
- Tim Britton of the Providence Journal offers a similar take, using CC Sabathia as an example of the dangers of signing a pitcher into their 30s. As Britton notes, Sabathia would’ve been one of the best free agent signings in history had the Yankees let him walk after he exercised an opt out clause following the third season of his initial contract. However, they re-signed him through age-36, and Sabathia’s contract has become an albatross on the Yankees. While Porcello isn’t as good as prime Sabathia and likely never will be — a fact Britton acknowledges — his situation still aids the argument that it’s better to pay a premium for a pitcher in his prime than commit exorbitant amounts of money to their decline years.
- I’ll echo my thoughts on the Porcello deal that I tweeted out and included in MLBTR’s write-up of his extension and agree with both Cameron and Britton. While Porcello is not now and may never be a front-of-the-rotation arm, the Red Sox clearly believe that he’s capable of taking a step forward from a career year in 2014, and they’re willing to pay what currently seems to be an above-market annual price in order to secure his prime. It’s commonplace for teams to sign older free agents knowing that the final year or two (and sometimes more) will likely be a sunk cost, and yet as observers we accept that as part of free agency. The Red Sox are taking an opposite approach, seemingly making a strong bet that Porcello’s best years are ahead. Paying for an expected outcome that has yet to take place is risky, to be sure, but it’s no riskier than guaranteeing a pitcher north of $20MM in his age-36 season, as we saw with James Shields, Jon Lester and Max Scherzer this winter. The notion that a player must first “prove” that he is worth upper-market dollars over a long-term implicitly requires that those upper-market dollars will be awarded after or at the tail end of his peak, thereby negating much of the logic in committing such a sizable sum. Whether or not the Porcello deal ultimately looks wise or turns into an albatross, the thinking behind the deal is sound: make projections based on scouting and analytic input, and invest. The alternative — wait and see, then pay for the downswing of a player’s career — is hardly a less risky approach.