- Though the Indians had real interest in Chase Utley, the team’s offer was shy of the ultimately successful bid from the Dodgers. Still, it seems that Cleveland very nearly landed him before L.A. “stepped in late,” per Heyman.
- There’s ongoing concern in the Indians organization regarding the health of outfielder Michael Brantley, Heyman futher reports. Though Cleveland is expressing at least some degree of optimism publicly, the most important steps remain to be taken. Hopes that Brantley could be ready to take the field on Opening Day “have waned just a tad,” says Heyman, though clearly the most important issue isn’t so much when he’s ready as it is ensuring that there isn’t another major setback when he does return to action.
Hopes are riding high for the Indians, but the health of Michael Brantley remains a major wild card for the organization. Paul Hoynes of the Plain Dealer reports on where things stand as camp opens. As was the case last year, Cleveland intends to proceed cautiously as Brantley ramps up from shoulder surgery. This time, though, there’ll be even more caution given the setbacks he experienced in 2016. Swinging the bat in game conditions seems to have caused Brantley’s problems last time around, Hoynes explains, so the team is taking the long view in helping the injured star to find a way to compete without aggravating his damaged joint.
Russell, 31, saw limited action in the Phillies pen last year, surrendering nine runs on nine hits in his 4 1/3 major league frames. He spent the bulk of the season at Triple-A, even returning to a starting role briefly. There, he threw 79 2/3 innings of 4.29 ERA ball with 5.5 K/9 and 2.1 BB/9.
Of course, Russell has a much more extensive MLB track record prior to the 2016 campaign. He was once a mainstay in the Cubs’ relief corps, and owns a lifetime 4.09 ERA across over three hundred major league frames. Russell has generally struggled against right-handed hitters in his career, allowing them a cumulative .808 OPS, while holding opposing lefties to a .700 mark.
- The Indians announced that they’ve added left-hander Chris Narveson on a minor league deal with an invite to Spring Training. The longtime Brewers hurler tossed 8 1/3 innings for the Marlins last season and 30 1/3 innings in Miami the year prior, but Narveson has logged a total of just 49 2/3 innings in the Majors since the 2011 season. The 35-year-old has a 4.71 ERA in 435 1/3 Major League innings, during which time he’s held left-handed opponents to a .220/.308/.335 batting line.
The Indians have hired former Major League outfielder Grady Sizemore as an advisor to their player development staff, reports Jordan Bastian of MLB.com. While there’s no specific mention of Sizemore formally retiring, Bastian does reference the the playing career of Sizemore, who was a superstar-caliber outfielder with Cleveland early in his career, in the past tense.
Per Bastian, the 34-year-old Sizemore reached out to Indians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti over the winter to gauge what type of opportunities were available with the team. That initial conversation led to Sizemore’s current role, where he’ll be with the team’s Major League squad and work with the outfielders early in Spring Training. After a couple of weeks, Bastian continues, Sizemore will transition over to the minor league camp and work with the team’s younger outfielders.
It seems that Sizemore’s ultimate role with the team is yet to be determined, as GM Mike Chernoff tells Bastian that the Indians are trying to “expose him to as much as we can.” Sizemore has participated in closed-door meetings between the front office and the coaching staff, during which each player is discussed and evaluated at length. “When you have a guy of that stature, he’s welcome to help wherever he can,” skipper Terry Francona told Bastian.
If Sizemore’s playing days are indeed behind him, he’ll wrap up his career with a .265/.349/.457 batting line, 150 homers and 143 steals through 1101 games and 4724 plate appearances. Those basic stats, however, don’t tell the full story of Sizemore, who was one of the must dynamic talents in all of Major League Baseball in his early 20s.
Acquired alongside Brandon Phillips and Cliff Lee in the 2002 blockbuster that sent Bartolo Colon to the Expos, Sizemore made his Major League debut as a 21-year-old in 2004 and never looked back. From 2005-08, he was on a short list of MLB’s best players, hitting .281/.372/.496 with three All-Star nominations, two Gold Gloves and a Silver Slugger. During that meteoric rise to fame, Sizemore received MVP votes in four straight seasons and averaged 27 homers, 28 steals and 160 games played per season.
Unfortunately (not only for Sizemore but for baseball fans everywhere), an elbow injury cut short Sizemore’s 2009 campaign and ultimately required surgery. Upon returning in 2010, he incurred a knee injury that also required surgery and would cut into his 2011 playing time as well. The barrage of injuries didn’t stop there, as Sizemore had back surgery in March 2012 and missed both the 2012 and 2013 seasons in their entirety. Sizemore did return to the diamond in 2014-15, spending time with the Red Sox, Phillies and Rays. In those 209 games, though, his .242/.303/.366 batting line and diminished speed/power no longer resembled the output of his brief but brilliant peak.
Though injuries cut short a potentially sensational career, Sizemore’s natural ability and experience will undoubtedly give him plenty of insight and advice to pass on to Cleveland’s younger players in Spring Training and, potentially, throughout the year (depending on his ultimate role with the club). We at MLBTR wish Sizemore the very best in his new career track and whatever other opportunities he may pursue in the future.
- Several teams have asked about Indians infielder Erik Gonzalez, though Terry Pluto of the Cleveland Plain Dealer hears from one team source that Gonzalez “is a real possibility” for a utility infield role for the Tribe. Gonzalez, 25, has a .274/.316/.395 slash line over 2986 career plate appearances in Cleveland’s minor league system, and he got his first taste of MLB action last season in the form of 21 games for the Tribe. While he has spent the bulk of his career as a shortstop, Gonzalez also has significant experience at second and third base, plus some time at first, center field and right field. MLBPipeline.com ranks Gonzalez as the eighth-best prospect in Cleveland’s system, praising his defensive work at short and his above-average speed. As Pluto notes, Gonzalez would appear to offer more upside than veteran Michael Martinez, who could be the top competition for a utility infield job.
Here are the latest minor moves from around the league:
- The Rangers have added backstop Brett Hayes on a minor-league deal, as Gerry Fraley of the Dallas Morning News recently tweeted. Soon to turn 33, Hayes has appeared in seven MLB campaigns, though he has accumulated just 464 big league plate appearances in that span. He compiled a .205/.250/.359 lifetime batting line in the bigs. Last year, Hayes failed to crack the game’s highest level but spent time at Triple-A in the Diamondbacks and White Sox organizations.
- Also joining the Rangers on a non-roster arrangement is righty Anthony Bass, according to SB Nation’s Chris Cotillo (Twitter link). Bass, 29, spent last year pitching in Japan, where he put up 3.65 ERA with 6.2 K/9 and 4.1 BB/9 over 103 2/3 innings split between the rotation and bullpen. He had appeared in each of the five prior MLB seasons — most recently with Texas — pitching to a 4.40 ERA with 6.0 K/9 and 3.5 BB/9 across 278 1/3 frames.
- Lefty Luis Perez is heading to the Indians on a minors pact, the club announced. Like Bass, the 32-year-old Perez will return from a NPB stint. He struggled with his control in a brief run with the Yakult Swallows and hasn’t seen the big leagues since 2013. In his three seasons with the Blue Jays, Perez compiled a 4.50 ERA with 8.0 K/9 and 3.6 BB/9 over 112 frames.
- Outfielder Joey Butler is joining the Nationals on a minor-league deal, Matt Eddy of Baseball America tweets. Butler, who’ll turn 31 in March, scuffled last year at the Triple-A level with the Indians organization and never earned a call-up. But he had provided the Rays with 276 plate appearances of .276/.326/.416 hitting in the season prior.
- The Twins inked a minors pact with outfielder Quintin Berry, Cotillo also tweets. The speedy Berry broke into the league in 2012 with the Tigers as a fourth outfielder, but hasn’t seen much big league time since. He appeared in every postseason round in both 2012 and 2013, receiving little in the way of playing time but nevertheless swiping five bases. Last year, the 32-year-old hit .261/.341/.313 and swiped 35 bags at the Triple-A level with the Angels and Blue Jays organizations.
The Angels announced today that they’ve acquired right-hander Austin Adams from the Indians in exchange for a player to be named later or cash. Fellow right-hander Deolis Guerra has been designated for assignment in order to clear a spot on the 40-man roster.
Adams, 30, has seen action in the past three seasons with Cleveland and was particularly sharp in 2015 when he pitched to a 3.78 ERA with 6.2 K/9, 3.5 BB/9 and a 46.8 percent ground-ball rate. His numbers took a step back across the board in 2016, though, as Adams allowed an unsightly 20 earned runs on 27 hits and seven walks with 17 strikeouts in 18 1/3 innings — a 9.82 ERA on the year. Overall, the former fifth-round pick has a career 6.29 ERA in 58 2/3 Major League innings.
On a more positive note, Adams has had plenty of success in Triple-A, where he’s spent parts of three seasons. In that time, he’s tossed 103 2/3 innings of relief, logging a 3.47 ERA with 9.5 K/9 against 2.8 BB/9. He’s also averaged better than 96 mph on his fastball in recent seasons. Adams will join an unsettled bullpen mix with the Halos, where Huston Street, Cam Bedrosian, J.C. Ramirez and Andrew Bailey seem like the only right-handers that have spots locked down at this time.
The 27-year-old Guerra had his first extended stint of success in the Majors in 2016, as he logged a 3.21 ERA with 6.1 K/9, 1.2 BB/9 and a 42.2 percent ground-ball rate in 53 1/3 innings with the Halos. Though he showed excellent control, Guerra averaged just over 90 mph on his fastball and didn’t miss many bats in 2016, neither of which helped his cause. His strike-throwing ability could certainly pique the interest of another club, but at this stage of the offseason, but teams have gravitated more and more toward power arms in their bullpens (as this trade/DFA demonstrates), which could allow the Halos to pass Guerra through waivers.
FEB. 10: Utley has narrowed his field to four teams, tweets Rosenthal. The veteran second baseman is only considering contending clubs and is moving closer to making a decision.
FEB. 8: The Indians are interested in veteran second baseman Chase Utley, reports Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports. Certainly, as Heyman notes, Cleveland is far from a perfect fit for Utley, as Jason Kipnis is entrenched at second base. FOX’s Ken Rosenthal hears the same, noting that there are also other clubs in the mix on Utley (Twitter link).
The Indians seemingly would have a difficult time finding consistent at-bats for Utley, which could make them a tough sell for the 38-year-old. With Kipnis at second base and a combination of Edwin Encarnacion and Carlos Santana set to rotate between first base and DH, there’s no regularly open spot for Utley to occupy. However, he’d be a nice bat off the bench for manager Terry Francona, and it’s possible that Utley would be attracted to Cleveland’s deep roster and status as an early AL Central division favorite. Heyman notes that Cleveland would be interested in giving Utley a utility job if he’s open to such a role. His experience outside of second base is fairly limited, but Utley has logged a few innings at both infield corners in the Majors (230 at first base and 27 at third).
Utley didn’t have a great season at the plate in 2016 but held his own in mostly regular work with the Dodgers, hitting .252/.319/.396 with 14 homers in 565 plate appearances. His batting line was dragged down by a woeful .154/.206/.264 slash against left-handed pitchers, but Utley handled righties quite well; in 468 trips to the plate while holding the platoon advantage, he batted .273/.343/.425 with 12 of his 14 round-trippers.
Cleveland may also be attractive to Utley based on the simple fact that there aren’t many teams with regular second-base at-bats to offer. The Dodgers and Angels entered the winter with clear needs at Utley’s position, but the Dodgers acquired Logan Forsythe from the Rays, while the Angels acquired Danny Espinosa from the Nationals. (The Halos could still conceivably use Utley in a platoon with the switch-hitting Espinosa, but there’s been no recent link between those two parties.)
It’s not clear which other teams have interest, though Heyman writes that some wonder if Utley, a Long Beach native and Bay Area resident, would be reluctant to leave California. If that’s the case it becomes all the more difficult to find a fit. The A’s could theoretically make room for Utley by shifting Jed Lowrie to a utility role, but there’s been no connection between the two. The Giants could move an infielder into left field to try to make room for Utley, but that’s obviously far from a perfect fit as well.
Speculating further (if Utley is willing to leave the west coast), the Royals could seek some more certainty at second base or, at least, a left-handed bat for the bench. The Braves have also been loosely linked to second base upgrades this winter, while the Twins are known to be looking for a strong veteran voice in their clubhouse. Signing with a team that lost as many games as either Atlanta or Minnesota did in 2016 could be a tough sell for Utley, however, to say nothing of geographic preference. All of these potential fits outside of Cleveland are, of course, speculative reaches due to the lack of obvious fits for the longtime Phillies star. Still, at last check Utley was said to have received “multiple offers,” so it seems that he’ll ultimately find a team to suit up for what will be his 15th Major League season.