No Need For Indians to Rush Into Winter Acquisitions
Craig Gifford | On 13, Dec 2013
Patience is a virtue. It is not one that many sports fans have. That is especially true for a city like Cleveland, which has not seen a major sports championship since the 1964 Browns. Cleveland fans are starved for a winner, any winner.
After winning 92 games and reaching the Wild Card round of baseball’s postseason, the Indians are by far the closest thing the city has to a club that could soon parade downtown with a championship trophy.
Last offseason, the Tribe made a splash in free agency. It was somewhat unprecedented for club known to pinch every dollar. Yet, the Indians came away with former all-stars Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn on long-term deals and a World Series-winning manager in Terry Francona. The Indians also landed major contributors in Jason Giambi, Ryan Raburn and Scott Kazmir on the cheap. A trade with the Blue Jays saw Cleveland land Mike Aviles and Yan Gomes, who also became key contributors to the playoff push.
Following such a strong offseason and the exciting 2013 campaign that ensued, it is no shock that Tribe fans want to see even more this year. The Indians struck early in free agency, adding David Murphy to the outfield mix. A down year this past summer allowed Cleveland to get the outfielder, with 15 homer, .300 batting average potential, at the modest cost of $11.5 million guaranteed over two years.
That deal was struck on November 25. Since then, the Tribe has lost starting pitcher Kazmir and setup man Joe Smith to other teams, while No. 2 starter Ubaldo Jimenez is a free agent and long-shot to return to Cleveland.
Meanwhile, other teams have struck on the player acquisition door and struck rather loudly. Indians fans, watching teams like the Tigers, White Sox, Angels, Red Sox, Yankees, Mariners, Rangers and Mets make trades and signings for players like Curtis Granderson, Robinson Cano, Mark Trumbo and Prince Fielder, are getting antsy. Tribe faithful are wondering why their beloved team has done so little as the annual winter meetings come to a close.
The fact of the matter is, there really is little the Indians need to do or can do this offseason. Last winter, the Indians addressed glaring holes in the offense and the manager’s seat. The biggest holes currently on the roster are at third base, where Lonnie Chisenhall has yet to fulfill his potential, the backend of the rotation, and closer. Losses of Smith, Kazmir, closer Chris Perez and likely Jimenez put the onus on pitching help. Other than that, all other spots on the field are accounted for.
A case could be made, after Asdrubal Cabrera’s forgettable 2012 second half and then bad 2013, that shortstop should be a target. The fact the Indians were rumored to be talking to the agent for utility infielder Jamey Carroll could be an indication the team agrees. Cleveland already has a very good utility man in Aviles in tow. If the club landed Carroll, he and Aviles could platoon shortstop, making Cabrera expendable.
As for third base, the potential interest in Carroll more likely actually means Tribe management is not sold on Chisenhall as the future at the hot corner. Carroll and Aviles can both play third. Third base is a weak position for a lot of teams and the free agent market, as is usually the case, is short on third basemen. The best ones out there are guys in their mid-30s or older. Michael Young, Kevin Youkilis, Juan Uribe and Eric Chavez are known names, but past their primes.
It is really unwise for any team, much less a smaller market one like the Indians, to rush into a big deal. Seattle is likely to regret its 10-year deal with Cano, already in his 30s, sooner rather than later.
Remember, good deals take time. The Indians started last winter like this. Swisher was signed on January 3. Bourn did not land in the Tribe’s laps until February 15. Those two signings alone gave Indians fans a warm and fuzzy feeling. Something could happen on the third base front, but the Indians are better off waiting for costs to come down than to get locked into a deal for too much money with a guy north of 30.
As for the pitching side, the market is both down and slow on hurlers this year. Put it this way, the Tigers are making news for signing former Yankee Joba Chamberlain. Again, a known name. However, to this point, Chamberlain has been a disappointment. The Indians can do better by waiting.
Keep in mind, despite losing two starters from last year, Cleveland still has four that are basically locked into the rotation for next year. Justin Masterson, provided trade rumors do not materialize, Corey Kluber and Zach McAllister are definitely in the starting five. Last season’s rookie surprise, Danny Salazar, is also nearly a given. This means the Indians are really looking for one more starter who could slide in at the middle or end of the rotation. Depth is already there with Josh Tomlin, who will be well over a year removed from Tommy John surgery, and Trevor Bauer, whom the team still has high hopes for.
On the free agent side, Ervin Santana and Matt Garza are the best available. Both are in their early 30s. Because they are the best out there, they will cash in with possibly good-size deals. Neither one is great, but will probably each get paid close to what a great pitcher would earn. The Indians would be advised to save their money for the possibility that someone like A.J. Burnett or Bronson Arroyo, both 37, will come cheap in January or early February. Either one should be on the long-term radar for one or two-year, team-friendly deal.
Same goes for the bullpen. Cleveland’s biggest need is at closer. Francona recently said he would like to keep Cody Allen and Bryan Shaw in their current setup roles. Marc Rzepczynski, a nice in-season pickup this past year, should remain in his left-hander role and be joined by Nick Hagadone. Vinnie Pestano will be given every chance, as he should be, to get back into the relief corps following 2013’s disappointing year. Chen-Chang Lee, a rookie last year, has a good shot to break camp in the pen. All this leaves a closer and another lefty specialist, if the team is not happy with Hagadone, as the only real needs.
On the closer side, the Indians are believed to have talked to John Axford. Other relievers out there with closing experience include Fernando Rodney and Francisco Rodriguez. The fact is, other than the cream of the crop, relievers are not scooped up quickly. There will be plenty out there and the Indians are likely to grab one of them. It just may take a month or so.
Because of where the Indians roster stands, Tribe management is not in a spot where it needs to strike quickly. There are holes and they will be filled. There is the very strong possibility that those spots will be filled with quality players, rather than just a body.
The fear of Tribe fans is understandable, given Cleveland’s recent history. However, there is no reason to rush when few needs exist. It is the fact of life for a team that is already a playoff contender and not losing much off a playoff roster. That though, alone, should be music to the ears of a championship starved city.
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