Indians Swing and Miss on Victorino But Are a Hit Amidst Rumors
By Mike Brandyberry
Yesterday morning Shane Victorino tweeted from a beach in Hawaii with new teammate Clay Buchholz while celebrating his new three year, $39 million contract with the Boston Red Sox. Victorino elected to take the Red Sox three year offer instead of the Cleveland Indians offer of a reported four year, $44 million deal as reported by Ken Rosenthal.
We should all be so lucky to be rewarded this way after our worst year of our careers.
While it isn’t uncommon for the Indians to finish second in their pursuit of a free agent, the Tribe did find themselves in some uncommon ground yesterday while pursuing Victorino to the final decision.
First, it is very un-Indian like to pursue a free agent that’s 32-years old and coming off his worst season. Victorino hit only .255, with 11 home runs and 55 runs batted in between Philadelphia and Los Angeles. When the Phillies were no longer playoff contenders, they traded their center fielder for the last six and a half seasons to the Dodgers. Victorino was unable to help the Dodgers make the postseason, either. While the Indians aren’t normally major players in free agency, it is even less like the organization to pursue a player headed toward the downside of his career. Despite his speed and versatility to play all three outfield positions, the Tribe was willing to commit to a player who will presumably be much less versatile when his contract expired and he was 36-years old.
Secondly, the Tribe ponied up a pretty good chunk of change for Victorino, and while it may not have been wise money spent, they were ready to spend it. This isn’t consistent with the message read between the tea leaves of an organization that is shopping Asdrubal Cabrera to obtain young pitching or Shin-Soo Choo because he is going to leave in another season via free agency.
If the Tribe is willing to spend four years and $44 million on an outfielder on the downward slide of his career, what other options could the team pursue? Certainly they aren’t going to jump into major free agent negotiations with a player like Josh Hamilton, Zack Greinke or Michael Bourn, but could the Indians try to make a final effort to extend Choo?
The Indians did meet with Kevin Youkilis’ agent yesterday about trying to sign the free agent. While several teams are still pursuing Youkilis as a third baseman, the Indians would like him to return to his original position at first base. With Youkilis back in a first base and designated hitter role, he may be able to remain healthier and produce better than he has the last two seasons in Chicago and Boston. His contract would certainly be for less years and money than what the Indians were willing to shell out for Victorino.
Meanwhile, the Indians are in many rumors throughout the halls of the Winter Meetings. Nearly as soon as Victorino committed to the Red Sox, it seemed whispers of a deal between the Arizona Diamondbacks and Indians started to surface. Tuesday it was reported that the Texas Rangers, Seattle Mariners and Indians all had serious talks concerning Justin Upton. The 25-year old, power hitting outfielder is signed through 2015. At one time it was thought the Indians were on Upton’s no-trade list, but Jon Morosi reported on MLB Network last night that only the Mariners—of the three teams interested—were on his list. With the Rangers still dedicating time to Greinke and Hamilton, it was perceived that the Indians could be the front runners.
Late last evening it was leaked that the Diamondbacks, Indians, Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays have been discussing a mega-four team deal with Cabrera, Upton, James Shields and Ranger prospects at the center of the deal. Cleveland and Arizona have also been linked with discussions of Cabrera headed west for Trevor Bauer or Tyler Skaggs. According to reports, the Indians and Diamondbacks have had a framework for a deal in place for nearly two weeks and it is picking up steam at the meetings.
Two things are certain out of all the rumors and speculation from Tuesday; the Indians have some money to spend if they want to spend it, and if there are serious trade talks, they are involved.
Like most things, however, talk is cheap. It seems like if the Indians are going to make a major shakeup to their roster during the meetings, it should happen Wednesday. With all 30 teams in the Grand Opryland Hotel, the Indians shouldn’t be forced to make a deal, but it’s time to strike for an organization that has promised a whole new look by Opening Day 2013.
Photo: Denis Poroy/Getty Images