If you followed along with the heavily active Winter Meetings this past week and came away disappointed that the Cleveland Indians were not more active, you were probably not alone.
After an 85-77 finish to follow a wild run to the AL Wild Card game the previous season, there were holes to consider filling on the roster, but so far, the Indians have made just one substantial roster move.
It really should be of no surprise. The Indians, strapped by the financial limitations of a small market club that has failed to place fans in the seats with regularity, seem to feel content with the returning roster and have hopes that some of those players (i.e. Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn, Jason Kipnis) who have not quite lived up to their paychecks, whether it be due to injuries, struggles on the field, or a combination of both, find a way to play closer to the expectations set by their more successful efforts in years past.
Making a move with the current roster and farm system was going to be complicated regardless of what transactions were considered.
Cleveland has a bit of a logjam in the starting rotation, but they have said that they would like to acquire a veteran starting pitcher to challenge an otherwise young pitching staff. The Indians have a slew of younger arms and will have issues keeping all of the seven internal candidates already in the fray for the five rotation spots, especially with several out of minor league options.
The outfield, first base, and designated hitter spots are all blocked up heavily with internal candidates. Heading into the meetings, they already had Michael Brantley, David Murphy, Ryan Raburn, Bourn, and Swisher looking for innings in the outfield, with Swisher to also see time with Carlos Santana at first base and at designated hitter. Moving one of the “albatross” contracts of Swisher and/or Bourn would have freed up a substantial portion of payroll for general manager Chris Antonetti to play with, but moving high priced players coming off of injury-riddled seasons that saw declining productivity is a challenging, if not borderline impossible, task. At best, the club may have been able to swap one of their “bad” contracts with that of another team, hoping that a change of scenery helped while addressing other organizational needs.
The minor league system is stronger than in years past, due to what looks to be much better scouting, drafting, and internal development. It allowed the Indians to trade from their wealth of middle infield depth without causing any significant setbacks in the near future.
What made the lack of movement by the Indians more significant was that the other four teams within the divisional were active.
Always thought to be the biggest threat in the division, the Detroit Tigers have added a pair of pitchers to the starting rotation, acquiring Alfredo Simon from Cincinnati for shortstop Eugenio Suarez and pitcher Jonathon Crawford and Shane Greene from the New York Yankees in a three-team trade with Arizona. The Greene trade occurred in the days leading up to the Winter Meetings and saw Detroit send Robbie Ray to the Diamondbacks. The moves may have been necessary if there is truth to reports that the Tigers will not pursue the sizable contract demands of the Scott Boras-led Max Scherzer.
They also added on the offensive side of the ball, acquiring outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, with pitchers Alex Wilson and Gabe Speier, from the Boston Red Sox for starter Rick Porcello. Cespedes should be able to replace the free agent departure of Torii Hunter and gives additional support in the lineup behind Miguel Cabrera and the re-signed Victor Martinez.
Kansas City, having already lost Billy Butler to Oakland and looking at a possible loss of James Shields to a bigger contract elsewhere, agreed to a two-year deal with Kendrys Morales. Morales will replace Butler in the lineup and looks to bounce back after sitting out most of last season because of the reluctance by teams to sign the slugger after being tagged with a qualifying offer last offseason.
They likely are not done adding, as they have been linked to several outfield and starting pitching options, while rumors of other teams’ interest in their bullpen arms could create additional trade opportunities.
The Minnesota Twins signed Hunter from Detroit prior to the meetings, bringing the longtime Twin Cities resident back home for one final season. Chris Colabello, the first baseman/outfielder who shot like a rocket out of the gate last season with 27 RBI in April before plummeting back down to earth, was lost on a waiver claim to Toronto.
The Twinkies did add another veteran starting pitcher to the rotation for the second straight offseason, signing Ervin Santana to a four-year, $55 million contract. He joins previous additions Phil Hughes (three-year, $24 million contract last offseason) and Ricky Nolasco (four-year, $49 million contract last offseason) in a rebuilt rotation for rookie manager Paul Molitor.
The Chicago White Sox may have made the biggest divisional splashes of the offseason. They headed into the Winter Meetings already having locked up left-handed reliever Zach Duke for three years and first baseman Adam LaRoche on a two-year deal to effectively replace Adam Dunn, who was traded away last season and retired at year’s end.
On Tuesday, they brought former Chicagolander Jeff Samardzija back to town, picking up the jettisoned starter from Oakland with pitcher Michael Ynoa for catcher Josh Phegley, infielders Marcus Semien and Rangel Ravelo, and pitcher Chris Bassitt. They also inked closer David Robertson to a four-year, $46 million deal. In a pair of other minor moves, they added catcher Rob Brantly off of waivers from Miami and traded Brazilian pitcher Andre Rienzo to the Marlins for reliever Dan Jennings.
The moves in Chitown put another legitimate arm in the rotation behind Chris Sale, strengthens a weak bullpen, and puts another long-ball threat in the lineup around AL Rookie of the Year Jose Abreu.
Meanwhile, the Indians made their lone move on the first day of the festivities, completing their rumored acquisition of outfielder/first baseman Brandon Moss from the Oakland Athletics for minor league second baseman Joe Wendle.
Moss will slot into the middle of the order and provide additional pop in a lineup that at times struggled during the 2014 season to drive in runs. He is a power hitting left-handed bat with 25 homer potential, but he will strike out and he will not wow anyone with his batting average, currently at a career mark of .248. He will also be reunited with Terry Francona, whom he played for in 2007 and 2008 in Boston in his first two seasons in the Majors.
It did not, however, address the perceived needs of a team that has lacked an everyday power hitting right-handed bat in the lineup since Manny Ramirez bolted town for Boston back in 2000. The Indians scored three runs or less in 81 games last season and were a disappointing 25-56 in those contests, and four of those victories required walkoff wins.
While the Indians will presumably be out of any other big acquisitions to bolster the offense, the pitching staff will continue to be a source of emphasis. There are still (and sadly) a couple of months left before baseball hits the field again, so there may be time for a bigger splash from the Indians, but it would be a shock at this point.
The most likely course of action from the Indians will be to sit back and hope for a resurgence from their pricier talent on the roster while adding some veterans to the mix on short deals or spring camp invites, hoping to catch lightning in a bottle, a la Aaron Harang last winter or Scott Kazmir the year before. Brett Anderson, a veteran left-hander rumored to be of interest to the Indians, could be one such candidate.
The biggest of the offseason meetings may have come and gone, but it does not mean that some seeds that were planted during the week will not blossom into further discussions and even another deal.
Photo: Chuck Crow/Cleveland Plain Dealer
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How about the Tribe offer Francisco Lindor in trade, with Nick Swisher as a “Must Accompany” add-on player (along with his full contract)? Jose Ramirez impressed many fans during the 2nd half of the 2014 season, and if he returns strong in 2015, he will have earned his appointment as our permanent SS.
MANY teams are interested in Lindor, so why not dangle that piece of bait out there, and eliminate the middle line-up crunch by trading Swisher at the same time?