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Did The Tribe Win Last Night? | October 21, 2014

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Indians Not Spending Big, But Spending Wisely

Indians Not Spending Big, But Spending Wisely

| On 20, Dec 2013

The Cleveland Indians have not been the most talked about team this offseason. They have not made a major splash in free agency, a la a year ago.  Everything the Indians have done, to this point, has been on a small scale. While small, the Tribe’s offseason additions and subtractions have been wise and improved a club that won 92 games, earning a Wild Card spot, in 2013.

Indians management, this rotisserie season, has added outfielder David Murphy, closer John Axford and left-handed relief specialist Josh Outman. All three players could be upgrades over last season.

Axford, whose best year came in 2011 with Milwaukee, has a chance to make the biggest impact of the players added so far. Two years ago, he had a league-best 46 save to go with a 1.95 ERA. He closed out another 35 in 2012. Last year, he got off to a rough start, blowing all seven of his save chances.  On August 30, the Brewers dealt him to St. Louis at the waiver trade deadline. In the final month, pitching for a playoff contender, Axford seemingly found his stuff again. He had 1.73 ERA in 10 and 1/3 innings with the Cardinals.

If Axford can be anything close to where he was in 2011 and 2012, he will be an improvement over departed closer Chris Perez. He is also a shoe-in to anger the fan base a lot less than his predecessor did.

Outman should also prove to be a big addition. He is the quintessential left-handed specialist. Righties belted him to the tune of a .347 batting average. However, lefties hit just .198 off him. His numbers have a chance to improve now that he won’t be pitching in the thin Denever, Colorado air. Combined with last year’s trade-deadline addition of Marc Rzepczynski, the Indians have two, quality left handers in the bullpen. The team did not have that last year, as Rich Hill, Nick Hagadone and Scott Barnes all struggled in that role.

To get Outman, the Tribe traded outfielder Drew Stubbs. The addition of Murphy allowed that deal to go down. The Indians had an excess of outfielders. With Michael Bourn, Michael Brantley, Ryan Raburn, Nick Swisher and Murphy in the fold, Cleveland has plenty of guys who can play outfield. Murphy’s bat has a chance to be an improvement of Stubbs’.  Murphy had a down year last year, hitting just .220. However, he still produced 13 home runs. He was also just a year removed from batting .304 with 15 bombs in 2012. Meanwhile, in four full Major League seasons, Stubbs has never hit better than .255. Stubbs is the better outfielder, however Brantley and Bourn can cover plenty of ground to make up for any deficiencies in right field.

Granted the three biggest additions of the offseason are not household names like a Robinson Cano. However, the Indians do not need to make many major moves. The team was not going to lose any of its everyday players this winter. The only losses were going to come from the rotation and bullpen. The losses are being accounted for with possible upgrades.  Outman and Axford stand a good chance to be better than Hill and Perez, whom they are essentially stepping in for.

The rotation is next to fall in line after seeing the departures of Scott Kazmir and likely Ubaldo Jimenez. Danny Salazar, though, will replace one of them. The recently added Shaun Marcum, a quality starter from 2008-2012, could very well be the fifth hurler, provided he rebounds from a disappointing 2013 campaign. He has a better track record than Kazmir, who came from literally out of nowhere last year.

Even the addition of unknown utility infielder David Adams adds depth. He helps make it possible for the Indians to entertain trade talks for someone like Asdrubal Cabrera or have little pressure to push Lonnie Chisenhall to the majors if he still is not ready. Chisenhall, still thought to have eventual breakout potential , could bring back some Major League ready talent if the Tribe ever chose to dangle him as trade bait.

These types of deals that the Indians have made this offseason do not hurt flexibility or future prospects. They have the money, still, to make more moves if needed. They could also be looking to put money into locking up someone like Justin Masterson for the long-term.

Do you really think the Mariners are going to make many more moves after the big splash they made in adding Cano? They acted like a team that is one great player away from contention. They are far from that and probably will not be able to surround him and fellow superstar, starter Felix Hernandez, with much more high-end players. That is not a place the Indians need to be. Sure, it sells jerseys, but likely not playoff tickets.

Likewise, ask the Angels how they feel after winning the last two offseasons with the signings of Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton. Those two high-cost players led the Angels to a 78-84 record in 2013. The Tribe was 14 games better, plugging holes with savvy moves.

A team in the Indians position is better off signing a handful, or more, players at reasonable costs in the hopes a few pan out. A huge contract that does not work can make even the richest of team hamstrung, as is the case with the Angels or the Yankees, who would love to get out Alex Rodriguez‘s contract any way possible.

Yes, the Indians made splashy moves last year in adding Swisher and Bourn. Keep in mind, though, that some of their best moves were the smaller ones. How much ink did the signings of Raburn and an over-40 Jason Giambi get? Had anyone ever heard of Yan Gomes when the Tribe traded for him? In the same deal came Mike Aviles, a decent, but uninspiring middle Fiedler. Cleveland was probably not a 2013 playoff team without those four additions.

Despite the lack of flashy moves so far this offseason, it should not be a worry. The Indians have made some wise decisions. They probably will not regret, heavily, the losses of any of the players who will be gone. Meanwhile, the players added all have had success in the majors and could help the Tribe maintain its standing as a playoff contender.

Photo: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

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