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Kotchman Signing Might Not Be What Tribe Wanted, But Could Be What They Need

| On 02, Feb 2012

By Mike Brandyberry

This afternoon the Cleveland Indians signed free agent Casey Kotchman to a one year, $3 million contract, plus incentives. The left-handed hitter will become the Tribe’s first baseman this season, surpassing the struggling Matt LaPorta.

Kotchman had his best season as a major leaguer in 2011, hitting .306 with 10 home runs and 48 runs batted in. Once a highly touted prospect with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in 2004 and 2005, he has bounced from the Angels to Atlanta, then to Boston. After a subpar half-season in 2009 with Boston, Kotchman signed with Seattle and continued to struggle, hitting only .217 in 125 games with the Mariners.

However, last season Kotchman signed a minor league deal prior to Spring Training with the Tampa Bay Rays, made the team and had a career year. Kotchman attributes his rebound to eye surgery and an improved vision at the plate.

If the Indians entered the winter looking to obtain a right-handed power hitter to strengthen the lineup, this isn’t really the move they were searching for. Kotchman will make the lineup further lefty-heavy, if that is possible, and lacks power. He has never hit more than 14 home runs in a season. After eight years in the big leagues, and finally having one good season, it is fair to think 2011 was his career year and he may revert to the struggling hitter he once was.

Kotchman does have incredible upside and bring tools to the Indians they desperately need, however. Most importantly, he is an exceptional defender, something the Indians will need with ground ball pitchers Justin Masterson and Derek Lowe certain to be in the rotation. If the pitcher formerly known as Fausto Carmona ever returns to Cleveland, he would make the third ground ball pitcher in the rotation. Kotchman will help shore up an infield that will have Jason Kipnis still developing as a second baseman and potentially Lonnie Chisenhall at third base.

While Kotchman may not bring power to the Indians’ lineup, he won’t bring something else either, strikeouts. A year ago, Kotchman only struck out 66 times in 563 plate appearances. The Indians strike out way too much as a team and Kotchman should be able to lower some of those pitiful numbers. He might not hit the ball deep, but he’s going to put the ball in play, move runners and make something happen. He will be the only .300 hitter, from 2011, heading to Goodyear in a couple weeks.

Finally, Kotchman stabilizes a position that has had none the last couple years and was headed for more shuffling before his acquisition. Kotchman will still give way to the occasional Carlos Santana start at first base, but the conversations of Michael Brantley, Jason Donald and Shelley Duncan converting to the position are over. The trade earlier this week for Russ Canzler is now just an acquisition of depth.

Considering his contract is only for 2012, and is incentive based, fans might not be excited by Kotchman’s lack of star appeal, but he will stabilize and solidify an Indians lineup that needs just that. He also brings playoff experience, something the Indians need, and a scrappy underdog attitude the Indians need to have to take down the Tigers.

If nothing else, fans should be excited by the Kotchman signing for no other reason than it most likely ends any chance Matt LaPorta had of making the team.

Photo: Associated Press