The Links: Indians Nearing Roster Decisions
By Mike Brandyberry
It is widely speculated that major roster changes could be upon the Cleveland Indians this winter with the possibility of Asdrubal Cabrera, Chris Perez, Shin-Soo Choo and Justin Masterson all believed to be on the market for the right offer. While a move that would have any of those players leaving Cleveland would be deemed a major shake up to the roster, a minor tremor could be developing in the next couple days.
Tuesday, November 20 is the deadline for minor league players who are eligible for the Rule 5 Draft to be placed on the Major League 40-man roster and be protected. Any player who was signed at 18-years old or younger and has been in the organization for five years, or any player signed at 19-years old and older who has been in the organization for four years, and not on the 40-man roster is eligible to be drafted in the Rule 5 Draft at the Winter Meetings in Nashville, Tennessee from December 3-6.
Players selected in the Rule 5 Draft must remain on their new team’s 25-man roster for the remaining season or be offered back to their original team. Most times players that are drafted via the Rule 5 draft have a trade negotiated to eliminate the rules behind the draft and create a minor league option. Currently, the Indians have a full 40-man roster and several minor leaguers who are Rule 5 eligible.
Tim Fedroff just completed his fifth season in the Indians system in 2012. The 25-year old, left-handed hitting outfielder hit .316, with 12 home runs and 54 runs batted in between Double-A Akron and Triple-A Columbus this season. Assuming Fedroff is still in the Tribe’s roster come spring, he is expected to compete for an outfield job on the Major League roster.
Jesus Aguilar also completed his fifth season in the Tribe’s minor league system this year. The Venezuelan native split time between High-A Carolina and Akron, hitting .280, with 15 home runs and 71 runs batted in along with an appearance in the Major League Baseball Futures Game in Kansas City during the All-Star Game festivities. Aguilar is probably the most likely to be added to the Tribe’s 40-man roster. He will likely still begin the season at Akron, and needs to further improve upon hitting off speed pitching, but could be the right-handed power bat the big league roster has needed for some time.
On the mound, the Tribe also has two players that could receive consideration to be added to the roster. T.J. House started in Carolina, but pitched most of the season at Akron, going 10-5 on the season with a 3.56 ERA. The left-handed starter has pitched very effectively in the Arizona Fall League, going 3-1, including a five inning stint where he did not allow a hit. House could compete for a rotation spot with the Indians, but most likely will open the season in Triple-A Columbus.
Finally, Trey Haley rebounded nicely from injuries in the first half of 2012 to pitch well at both Carolina and Akron in the second half of this season striking out 39 hitters in 32 innings of work this summer. The hard throwing right-hander has also excelled in the Arizona Fall League and was selected to play in the Rising Stars Game just two weeks ago.
In order to move any players onto the roster and protect them from the Rule 5 Draft, space will have to be created. Thomas Neal and Fabio Martinez are potential players to be designated for assignment, while Jack Hannahan and Brent Lillibridge are expected to not be offered arbitration. Any of the three could be subtractions to make roster space available.
While none of the four are future stars in the making, they each have Major League prowess and potential to fit with the young core the Indians now tout. Haley could be a replacement in a bullpen that could be retooled in the coming weeks and House an aid to a rotation in need of life support.
- This week Ben Badler of Baseball America provided an excellent piece examining the Indians struggles to develop their own talent through the draft. Badler examined drafts from 2002-2008 and compared the Tribe’s WAR versus that of the San Francisco Giants, who thrived in the same time frame. Since 2008, when Bud Grant took over the amateur draft, the Indians scouting and development has drastically improved from the darkness that was the prior regime. What I found interesting that hasn’t been mentioned more often is the Indians inability to sign and develop players internationally. Only Rafael Perez and Jeanmar Gomez are on the active roster and signed by the Indians internationally.
- Badler also released his Top 10 Indians prospects for Baseball America. To no surprise to anyone who follows the Tribe’s system Francisco Lindor was the top selection, with Dorsyss Paulino in the second spot. The quality of the Tribe farm system still is in its A-level teams, however. Only Cody Allen and Aguilar were in the Top 10 that could see Major League action in the first half of 2013. Aguilar would still be a stretch.
- Paul Hoynes tweeted this week that Roberto Hernandez is drawing, “healthy” interest from several teams, including the Indians. Hoynes said Hernandez’s ankle appears to be healthy. While Hernandez has been a part of the Indians’ organization for ten years now and the starting rotation is currently in shambles, can the Tribe really afford a rotation with Hernandez and Ubaldo Jimenez? Isn’t trying to fix one enigma enough for a rebuilding team?
- Hoynes also reported this week that the Indians have strong interest in Jason Bay at a price suitable to the Tribe. Bay signed a four year deal with the New York Mets after 2009 when he hit 36 home runs in Boston, but had his contract renegotiated and cut to three years after never finding his stride in the Big Apple. Bay never hit above .259 and had only 26 homers in the three full seasons. Manager Terry Francona managed Bay in Boston and may think he could fill the left field hole at an economical rate, with potential to shine.
- Finally, CBSSports.com used pending Blue Jays-Marlins mega salary dump deal to examine the five worst owners in baseball. The Dolan Family finished fourth. “Remember when the Indians used to go to the playoffs every year? It wasn’t that long ago, but it sure seems like it. The Dolans bought the team in 2000 and the Indians have made the playoffs only once since 2001. They have traded CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee since then, though. Cry small market if you wish, but Dolan bought the club for $323 million in 2000 and Forbes magazine values the club at $410 million now. Also, the Reds, Cardinals and Brewers play in smaller TV markets. They seem to do OK.” While I do believe the Indians are much closer to a have-not than a have in baseball, it is becoming much more difficult to defend the Dolans. To be fair, the Indians have not been serious players in the free agent market longer than the Dolans ownership, but the strategy of signing young players to long term contracts seems to be fading away. Hopefully deals can be reached with Michael Brantley, Vinnie Pestano and Jason Kipnis before they move in to the next tier of tradable commodities like Cabrera, Choo, Perez and Masterson.
Photo: Carolina Mudcats