- The Indians will face a tall order in trying to extend Cody Allen or Andrew Miller before either reliever hits free agency next winter, MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian writes as part of a reader mailbag. Allen is entering his final year of arbitration eligibility, while Miller is finishing up the four-year, $36MM deal he originally signed with the Yankees in December 2014. Given the large contracts that relievers have been landing this offseason, a smaller-payroll team like Cleveland doesn’t seem like a candidate to re-sign either pitcher, nor to spend the big money it would take to get Allen or Miller to forego the open market and ink an extension.
- In his latest inbox column, Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer tackles a number of roster-focused questions pertaining to the Indians. Asked about the possibility of another run at extending Francisco Lindor, Hoynes suggests that over the course of Lindor’s remaining four years of control, the Indians will almost certainly make multiple attempts to extend their control over the young superstar. However, the fact that Lindor already rejected a nine-figure extension offer from Cleveland so early in his career could indicate that he’s likelier to test free agency when he is eligible. Hoynes also notes that left-hander and 2016 postseason hero Ryan Merritt will head to Spring Training out of minor league options and without a clear spot in the rotation. That could make Merritt available in trade (either this winter or in Spring Training) or point to a bullpen role — at least in 2018.
Indians GM Chris Antonetti told reporters today that the club was in on Carlos Santana until the very end (hat tip to Jordan Bastian of MLB.com). It seemed that Santana’s reps kept the Tribe informed through the entirety of Santana’s free agency, but in the end, things just didn’t work out for Cleveland. This news comes as another sign that Santana wanted to remain with the Indians if possible; the first baseman also wrote an emotional goodbye letter to Tribe fans in which he stated, “I cried once it sunk in that I would no longer be suiting up for and living in the City of Cleveland.” Ultimately, he signed a three-year, $60MM contract with the Phillies. Santana came to Cleveland in the Casey Blake trade prior to the 2008 trade deadline. Though the Dominican Republic native came up as a catcher through the minors, his most recent years have been spent as a first baseman. He hit .249/.365/.449 during his time with the Indians, and provided them with 23 fWAR. The club will now hope that new signee Yonder Alonso can replace his fantastic patience in their lineup.
More from the Indians’ camp on the day the Alonso signing was announced…
- Bastian also tweeted some words from Antonetti about the club’s spending plans for the remainder of the offseason. It seems as though the Alonso signing may be the Tribe’s most significant of the winter, though they’ll reportedly continue to explore their options. “We’ll continue to be active,” the Indians GM told reporters. “We had a certain amount of flexibility heading into the offseason that we had to use judicially, and this will represent the vast bulk of that flexibility. The cost of retaining the nucleus of our team is more expensive.” Indeed, the Indians have a number of expensive arbitration-eligible players. MLBTR projects that Trevor Bauer, Lonnie Chisenhall, Danny Salazar and Cody Allen alone will cost the club nearly $30MM, and there are still smaller salaries to account for within their arb-eligible group.
- Antonetti isn’t worried about Alonso’s ability to sustain a high level of production, Ryan Lewis of the Akron Beacon Journal tweets. The Indians GM cites his control of the strike zone and escalating average exit velocity across the past three seasons as evidence of a “purposeful adjustment”. It’s worth noting that there’s a healthy amount of skepticism in the industry over whether the former top prospect’s .266/.365/.501 season was a true breakout or a career year. As Evan Davis of FanRag Sports writes in a detailed piece, there’s reason to believe certain adjustments could yield sustainable results over the long-term, including a 9.1-degree spike in average launch angle that led to a .385 xwOBA in the season’s first half. However, Davis also points out that his second half was far more pedestrian; Alonso’s xwOBA and wRC+ both plummeted to levels more indicative of his previous self.
- One of the remaining items on Antonetti’s docket is to speak with Jason Kipnis about a position plan, Bastian says in yet another tweet. Antonetti told reporters that it’s possible Kipnis could be a contingency plan for Michael Brantley in left field if the two-time All-Star isn’t ready for Opening Day. As Anthony DiComo of MLB.com notes, Antonetti’s words make it seem all the more likely that Kipnis will open the 2018 season in an Indians uniform.
Dec. 23, 10:32am: Jordan Bastian of MLB.com provides some additional details on Alonso’s 2020 option. It’s reportedly a $9MM vesting option that vests following a successful physical after 2019, on the added condition that he makes 550 trips to the plate during the 2019 season, or accumulates 1,100 PA combined across the 2018-2019 campaigns. In line with previous reports, the option becomes a $9MM club option with a $1MM buyout if the vesting criteria aren’t met.
9:32am: The Indians have officially announced the signing.
Dec. 21: MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand tweets that Alonso will earn $7MM in 2018 and $8MM in 2019. The vesting/club option comes with a $1MM buyout.
Dec. 20, 8:55pm: It’s a two-year deal that comes with a $16MM guarantee, according to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic (Twitter link). There’s also an $8MM vesting option for a third season.
Alonso, 31 in April, will step into the void that was created when longtime Indians first baseman Carlos Santana signed a three-year, $60MM contract with the Phillies. The former first-round pick and top prospect just wrapped up a career year in which he slashed .266/.365/.501 with a personal-best 28 home runs — shattering his previous highwater mark of nine long balls in a season. That quality season landed him 22nd on MLBTR’s list of the top 50 free agents, with a prediction of a two-year, $22MM contract.
Alonso was, for much of the 2017 season, the poster boy for the “fly-ball revolution,” as he made a concerted effort to lift the ball and experienced great success with that newfound approach in the season’s first half. Through 298 plate appearances prior to the All-Star break, Alonso sported a 48.7 percent fly-ball rate and batted a hefty .275/.372/.562 despite playing his home games in Oakland’s cavernous Coliseum. Alonso’s fly-ball rate fell to 36.1 percent in a second half that was far more pedestrian, though his post-break output of .254/.354/.420 was still generally solid.
Overall, Alonso’s average exit velocity (89.2 mph) was comfortably among the top quarter of hitters in the league (min. 100 batted ball events), and his 36 percent hard-contact rate ranked 47th among 144 qualified MLB hitters. That uptick in power for Alonso came at the cost of his previously excellent contact skills, as he whiffed in a career-worst 22.6 percent of his plate appearances this past season (though that mark comes in barely north of the league average 21.2 percent for non-pitchers). Even if there’s some regression in terms of his power, Alonso has long shown a penchant for getting on base, with a career walk rate just under 10 percent — including a strong 13.1 percent walk rate in 2017.
Of course, while Alonso enjoyed a terrific overall year at the plate in ’17, he’s not without his warts. His strong offensive production was in some part due to the fact that both the A’s and Mariners shielded him from facing left-handed pitching; Alonso absolutely clobbered righties (.283/.384/.519) but struggled to hit for average and get on base against fellow lefties, as evidenced by a .181/.263/.417 slash in just 72 plate appearances. In his career as a whole, Alonso has batted just .234/.303/.349 against same-handed opponents.
[Related: Updated Cleveland Indians depth chart]
On the plus side for Cleveland, they have a ready-made platoon partner in the form of Edwin Encarnacion. While Encarnacion will obviously be in the lineup on a regular basis as the team’s DH, he can also shift to first base on days when the Indians face a left-handed starter, should skipper Terry Francona ultimately decide to keep Alonso out of the lineup for those matchups. That’d free the DH slot to keep other regulars fresh, or it could allow the Indians to sign a right-handed-hitting outfielder/first baseman to occupy a reserve role on the bench.
Cleveland currently has righty bats Brandon Guyer, Erik Gonzalez and Giovanny Urshela ticketed for bench spots, though president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti, GM Mike Chernoff and the rest of the staff may yet look to augment the team’s stock of reserve options.
As far as his defense is concerned, Alonso doesn’t stack up to the stellar work that Santana provided in 2017. Alonso rated as an above-average defender at first base per both Defensive Runs Saved and Ultimate Zone Rating each season of his career up until the 2016 campaign. Both metrics pegged him slightly below average in ’16, and while UZR had him only slightly below average again in 2017 (-2.8), DRS graded him out at -9.
Alonso becomes the fourth first baseman to come off the board in the past week — the latest domino in a market for position players that is slowly beginning to pick up after a largely stagnant offseason. Beyond the agreements for Alonso and Santana, the Red Sox announced yesterday that they’ve re-signed Mitch Moreland on a two-year deal, while the Nationals earlier today reportedly agreed to terms on a one-year deal with Matt Adams. With that group now off the board, Eric Hosmer, Logan Morrison and Lucas Duda are the most notable names remaining on the free-agent market for first basemen.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
New Mariners center fielder Dee Gordon doesn’t like what’s happening in Miami, Tim Healey of the Sun Sentinel reports. While his words don’t stir up controversy quite to the level of Giancarlo Stanton’s upon the slugger’s own exit from Miami, Gordon was very candid with his feelings about the direction of the Marlins’ franchise. “It’s terrible,” Gordon said, via Healey. “It’s almost — I’m not even going to say almost. It’s embarrassing. It’s embarrassing. I don’t want to bash anyone, but what’s happened is not good.” The former Marlins second baseman expressed a distaste for the franchise’s trades of Stanton, Marcell Ozuna and himself, accusing the team of getting rid of them because of payroll obligations the Marlins’ new ownership “can’t take care of.” When asked what he thinks the club should do with Christian Yelich, Gordon said, “I think you have to let the dude go win.” Under new ownership, or course, the Marlins have expressed a desire to change the way the team operates financially in order to create sustainable success for the long-term. While the strategy has been met with skepticism by many (including colorful agent Scott Boras), others side with Derek Jeter and co., believing that the new owners aren’t morally obligated to remain bound to the financial decisions of the old regime.
More from around baseball’s American League during the holiday season…
- In other Mariners news, shortstop Jean Segura says he was assaulted and robbed at gunpoint by corrupt police in the Dominican Republic. Mark Townsend of Yahoo Sports delves into the details of incident, which Segura made public via a post on his Instagram account. The photo of the post appears to show a number of DICAN officers, one of whom is “visibly armed,” in Townsend’s words. The Dominican Republic National Police have since announced the appointment of a commission to investigate the incident. Segura followed up a breakout 5-WAR 2016 campaign with the Diamondbacks by hitting .300/.349/.427 across 566 plate appearances in 2017.
- The Twins “hope to get a meeting soon with Darvish,” Darren Wolfson of KSTP reports in a tweet. While the prospect of a meeting certainly doesn’t imply a serious pursuit of the former Rangers ace (indeed, Wolfson adds that there’s no indication the club has made a formal offer), a potential pursuit of Darvish by Minnesota is intriguing. Any contract large enough to lure him in would need to nearly triple the club’s highest-ever guarantee given to a pitcher ($55MM to Ervin Santana). However, it’s no secret that the Twins are in dire need of pitching if they plan to compete this offseason, and as MLBTR’s Steve Adams notes, the club is definitely in a position to spend this offseason.
- Roberto Perez, backup catcher for the Indians, is focused on getting his mother a new home. A story by Jordan Bastian of MLB.com details Perez’ desire to sit down with his mom Lilliam Martinez this holiday season and discuss plans to build a new house to replace the one that was severely damaged by Hurricane Maria. Bastian’s piece provides some insight into the emotions of Perez since the storm hit; the piece is well worth a read for fans looking to learn more about how Puerto Rico has been affected since landfall by the Class 5 storm. The 29-year-old Perez made his MLB debut with the Indians back in 2014. He signed a four-year, $9MM extension last spring following three excellent defensive seasons with the Tribe.
We’ll cover the day’s minor moves in this post:
- The Cubs have re-signed catcher Taylor Davis, MLBTR has learned. The 28-year-old was non-tendered after a season in which he received his first MLB call-up, staying long enough to pick up his first few base knocks but not to put down a meaningful track record. Davis strode to the Triple-A plate 406 times in 2017, producing a .297/.357/.429 batting line with six home runs. Notably, he continued to exhibit strong plate discipline and contact ability, striking out just 45 times while drawing 37 walks.
- Indians have agreed to a deal with right-hander Lisalverto Bonilla, per Jon Heyman of Fan Rag (via Twitter). The 27-year-old struggled badly in his ten MLB appearances last year with the Reds, working to a 8.10 ERA with 6.9 K/9 and 5.4 BB/9 while serving up eight long balls in 36 2/3 innings. He did generate a useful 11.8% swinging-strike rate, though, and has typically drawn a fair number of grounders in the minors.
- The Nationals reached a minor-league pact with righty Chris Smith, MLBTR’s Steve Adams tweets. He gets an invitation to participate on the majors side of camp next spring. Smith, 29, got a brief taste of the majors last year with the Blue Jays, showing a 93.9 mph average four-seamer. He spent most of the year at Triple-A, where he worked to a 5.40 ERA with 6.3 K/9 and 1.6 BB/9, but Smith has recorded much higher strikeout rates in the upper minors in the past.
- Lefty Hunter Cervenka was outrighted to Triple-A by the Marlins after clearing waivers. He had been removed from the 40-man roster recently as the organization continues to tweak its mix of MLB assets. Cervenka spent most of 2017 at the Triple-A level, where he pitched to a 4.58 ERA with 8.9 K/9 and 5.9 BB/9. That hefty walk rate has long been a problem for Cervenka, who’ll soon turn 28.
- The Tigers announced a series of minors signings today. Lefty Will Lamb, infielder Ronny Rodriguez, and outfielders Jason Krizan and Kenny Wilson are all joining the Detroit organization, with Krizan and Rodriguez also taking spring invites. Lamb, 27, has struggled to a 6.06 ERA in 120 1/3 career Triple-A frames, but owns a 2.28 ERA in 90 2/3 innings at the penultimate level of the minors. The 25-year-old Rodriguez brings some infield versatility and pop to the table; he hit .291/.324/.454 with 17 home runs in 483 plate appearances last year at the Indians’ top affiliate. Krizan, 28, will return for his eighth year in the Detroit system; in 2017, he hit .281/.351/.417 in 480 upper-minors plate appearances. Wilson, who’ll soon turn 28 as well, is a speed-and-defense type who has not yet hit enough to earn his way into the big leagues.
- The Indians are looking at a variety of possibilities now that Carlos Santana has moved on. Per MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian, via Twitter, the club has reached out to free agent Yonder Alonso, who’s one of a few open-market names that has now been linked to Cleveland. The club could yet pursue a rather wide variety of players given the flexibility of some of its internal pieces. It still appears wise to expect that achieving value — rather than just targeting specific players — will be the driving force given the club’s payroll constraints.
The Indians announced that they have released righty Leonel Campos to allow him to pursue an opportunity in Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball. Campos will join the Hiroshima Carp.
It was less than a month ago that Campos signed a minors deal to join the Cleveland organization. He’d likely have taken up residence at Triple-A, but might also have had a shot at earning a MLB pen job with a big showing in camp. Instead, Campos will sign on to a sure payday to play the game at the top level in Asia.
Campos, 30, has seen time in each of the past four MLB seasons but has compiled only 43 2/3 total frames. He carries a 4.74 ERA with 10.1 K/9 and 5.6 BB/9 in that span. Campos can obviously generate some swings and misses — he got whiffs at an eye-popping 20.4% rate across 13 2/3 innings in 2017 — and has had success in the upper minors, but control problems have continued to hold him back.
- ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick reports that the Indians aren’t operating under the same capacity that they did last offseason when they surprised everyone by signing Edwin Encarnacion (Twitter links). Cleveland is looking at lower-profile first base options to replace Carlos Santana, with Crasnick listing the likes of Lucas Duda, Matt Adams, Logan Morrison and Yonder Alonso as possibilities rather than Eric Hosmer. (Speculatively, I’d imagine that even Morrison and Alonso could be beyond Cleveland’s comfort zone.) Dealing Jason Kipnis and the remaining $30.5MM on his contract (2018-19) would open up some additional funds for the team to reallocate to a first baseman or additional bullpen help, Crasnick notes.
Signing Mitch Moreland doesn’t take the Red Sox out of the market for hitting, president of baseball ops Dave Dombrowski told reporters including Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe. And adding another stick wouldn’t necessarily mean trading away from the current roster to create space, the club’s top baseball decisionmaker added. But it surely does not seem that Boston will sign another first baseman; rather, a DH/corner outfield bat seems the likeliest possibility.
- Boston’s decision seems to take it out of the market for Eric Hosmer, which has raised some eyebrows in Royals country. As Sam Mellinger of the Kansas City Star writes, there are still many barriers remaining to a return to Kansas City for Hosmer, including the possibility that agent Scott Boras will find a way to bring some new suitors into the picture. But keeping Hosmer in Royals blue for the future now seems more plausible than might have been expected when the organization began giving indication it would rebuild. Of course, even if that comes to pass, the general rebuilding plan will remain, the Star’s Rustin Dodd notes on Twitter.
- The Cardinals appear to be showing more interest in veteran Blue Jays third baseman Josh Donaldson than in Manny Machado of the Orioles, according to Bob Nightengale of USA Today (via Twitter). Nightengale posits that the club may believe it’s better situated to pursue a long-term deal with Donaldson — who’s much older than Machado, though both will hit the open market at the same time — which would increase his appeal. Of course, it’s important to bear in mind there’s still no real indication that Toronto will move Donaldson and the St. Louis front office has suggested recently that it’s not all that keen on giving up significant assets for a rental.
- While there has been some chatter recently connecting the Mets to Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis, Ken Davidoff of the New York Post says that possibility is not as likely as it has come to seem. Especially with Carlos Santana moving on, says Davidoff, the Indians are not particularly inclined to part with Kipnis’s contract for a marginal return. New York is trying to thread the needle in finding an upgrade at the position, with the organization concerned with giving up too much in salary or prospect value to make a deal. As the Post’s Joel Sherman writes, the Mets’ lack of top-end, marketable pre-MLB talent has posed an under-appreciated barrier to its winter activity.
- The Mets, of course, are also eyeing the addition of another option at the first base position. New York had some interest in Moreland, per the above-cited Cafardo piece. And as James Wagner of the New York Times tweets, the Mets intend at least to take a look at the newest entrant onto the open market: Adrian Gonzalez. The veteran will be looking to bounce back after a rough, injury-plagued 2017 season, though he could conceivably bring some upside at a very appealing price.