Can the Indians Add a Power Bat?

Power is not an easy commodity to come by. There has been much speculation about the possibility of the Indians adding a power bat before the start of the 2014 season. This is going to be a difficult prospect, not only because the Indians do not have a lot of money to spare, but also because there are not many power hitters available on the open market. In fact, there are only two players still available that hit more home runs than the Indians team leader last season. Power used to be easy to find, in today’s game, it is a rare talent.

Just 14 seasons ago, in 2000, 13 teams hit more than 190 home runs on the season. Just one team in 2013, the Baltimore Orioles, surpassed that mark. The Indians finished 10th among the 30 Major League Baseball teams with 171 home runs, in 2000 that would have been good enough for 22nd. From an individual standpoint, 40 players in 2000 hit more than 30 home runs on the season. This past year only 10 men hit over 30 home runs. Power hitters are just no longer as prevalent as they were during the major offensive era that lasted from about 1994-2006. The prospect of finding a power bat readily available on the open market is not such an easy task, and the scarcity of these players makes them all the more expensive.

In right field the Indians have a platoon of Ryan Raburn and David Murphy. Raburn had relatively big season last year. After an immensely disappointing 2012 campaign, he signed with the Indians and turned out one of his best seasons in a part time role. He batted .272/.357/.543 with 16 home runs and 55 runs batted in in just 87 games played. For his efforts he was rewarded with a contract extension that will pay him $2.25M in 2014. His role this season will be in a platoon where he will start mostly against left handed pitchers. Raburn performed very well last season against lefties. In 167 plate appearances, he hit 14 doubles, eight home runs and batted .276/.341/.526.

His platoon mate, Murphy, did not have such a good season last year. Murphy enjoyed his best season in 2012; he hit 15 home runs and batted .304/.380/.479. Last season, however, he took a turn in the opposite direction. With a .285 lifetime batting average heading into 2013, Murphy hit a career low .220. To add to the misery, his .282 on-base percentage and .374 slugging percentage were also career lows. The Indians signed him to a two year contract (with a third year club option) that will pay him $5.5M this season. He has been a solid offensive performer, except for last season, over his career; and perhaps most importantly, he has hit right handed pitching well. He owns a career .281/.343/.464 slash line against righties and 79 of his 86 career home runs have come against right handers.

Most projection metrics have the Indians right field platoon combining for a .268/.338/.421 slash line and 20 home runs.  The best available right fielder in the free agent pool is Nelson Cruz. Last season Cruz hit 27 home runs and slashed .266/.327/.506, numbers that are not that much greater than the projected platoon of Raburn and Murphy. Cruz is also estimated to earn roughly twice as much as the $7.75 combined salaries of Raburn and Murphy. Another down side of Cruz is his durability. He has played 130 or more games only once in his career and has spent time on the disabled list in five of his last six seasons. At age 33, this does not bode well for his long term future.

The only other areas the Indians have room to add a hitter is third base. There is only one currently available third base free agent that hit 20 or more home runs in 2013, his name is Mark Reynolds. I don’t think anyone wants to go down that road again.

Kendrys Morales is the only other free agent available that hits for any significant power. The trouble is, he is basically only a designated hitter at this point, and the only position he could play in the field, first base, is a position of great depth for the Indians. A team like the Tribe cannot afford to have an every day starter that is relegated to an almost exclusive DH role. He is projected to earn a contract in the $14M per year range and he would cost the Indians a draft pick to sign, so this doesn’t make a lot of sense as an option for the Indians at this point.

The Indians are flat not going to sign Cruz or Morales, both players are way too expensive and neither will be likely to improve the team enough to make the price tag worth it. Their biggest need at this point still remains pitching and it seems that is where the Tribe is focusing. Having a thirty home run hitter in the Indians lineup would be amazing, but the reality is that is just not feasible. The availability just is not there.

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