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Free Agent Market Presents Many Options For Tribe

| On 13, Nov 2011


Chris Antonetti and Manny Acta have made the message very clear, Matt LaPorta is no longer the starting first baseman for the Cleveland Indians. The centerpiece of the C.C. Sabathia trade has played his way out of favor through increasing strikeouts, mediocre defense and lethargic play. With the Tribe’s new “all-in” strategy, the organization is certain to find another full-time option to play first base.

While the Indians might be all-in, the organization can’t mortgage enough salary to try to sign Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder. The necessary salary to try and sign either player would cripple the team’s short term and long term plans. Luckily, the market presents other options available than the two mega stars.

In addition to the Tribe’s need for a first baseman, they are still thirsty for a right-handed power hitter in the middle of the order. One of the Indians possibilities to fill both roles could be Michael Cuddyer. The right-handed slugger will be 33 years old on Opening Day and can play not just first base, but second, third and the outfield. The former Twins star hit .284 with 20 home runs in 2011.

Considering the Indians have needs in both left field and first base, Cuddyer could fill both roles on occasion. Likewise, Cuddyer can play third and second base if Lonnie Chisenhall or Jason Kipnis were to struggle. However, Cuddyer is seen as a key free agent target by many teams, including the Phillies, Red Sox, Rockies and Twins. It is expected that it might take about a four year, $40-45 million contract to sign the utility man. The length of the contract could serve as a deterrent for the Tribe.

Another unique option could be third baseman, Aramis Ramirez. The former gold glove third baseman could be an option if he were willing to move to first base, at least on a part time basis. Acta has also been candid in admitting that Chisenhall still has a lot to prove. Ramirez, who is also 33 and hit .306, with 28 home runs last season, would move right in to the clean up position in the lineup.

If Ramirez would move to first base, he could still play third when facing a tough left handed pitcher that would move Chisenhall to the bench and when Carlos Santana needed to play first base and receive a day off from behind the plate. Ramirez would also help shore up an infield defense that is in need of improvement since it has three ground ball pitchers in the starting rotation. It might take a three-year, $33-36 million contract to hold off the Tigers, Cubs and Orioles from signing the third baseman.

Several short term options for first base are available if the Indians decide not to commit the money to either of the higher price options. Carlos Pena is a slick fielding first baseman that could greatly improve the infield defense, however, the career .239 hitter has not hit that high since 2008 in Tampa Bay. Pena is also left handed and the Tribe is already very lefty heavy in their lineup. Another thing the team is heavy on is strikeouts, and Pena has struck out over 26% of the time in his career.

Pena has signed one-year deals the last two seasons, hoping to find his old stroke and would probably be interested in another one year deal, valued at $8-10 million. Pena’s low batting average and high strikeout rate have to be serious negatives when the Indians consider dedicating that amount of their payroll to the 2012 team. If the team wanted to spend that type of salary on a player like Pena, they could have exercised Grady Sizemore’s option.

When the Rays ended their relationship with Pena before the 2011 season, they replaced him with Casey Kotchman. Kotchman, who is also a defensive plus and left handed, had a breakout season last year, hitting .306 with 10 home runs. The Rays signed him to a minor league deal before last season and the Indians would not be as lucky. They might still be able to sign the hitter to a one or two year deal, valued at $4-6 million per season. That seems to be a lot for a journeyman who has bounced through three organizations before his breakout season last year.

If no other options present themselves, the Indians could always consider Derrek Lee. The aging veteran has bounced around the last two seasons but could bring a veteran presence to the clubhouse and on the field but could have another season remaining before being relegated to designated hitter duties. However, signing a 36-year old veteran could just be signing a prime candidate for the disabled list, and if the Indians new first baseman was unavailable, the Tribe might have to revert to…Matt LaPorta.

And no one wants that.

Photo: Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

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