The annual Winter Meetings wrapped up Thursday in Nashville, Tennessee, and while there have been a few trades and free agent signings of note around the league, things in particular for the Cleveland Indians have been active but, in the end, quiet.
Trade rumors swirled throughout the week, largely centered on the Indians big starting rotation pieces of Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar. Reports of as many as a dozen different teams have reached out to inquire about the availability of the arms, but the message from the Cleveland front office was clear – we are listening, but we are in no hurry to just give away any pitcher without a solid and quality return of Major League ready pieces.
There is little argument that the roster as it presently stands is not the one that the Indians want to bring with them to Goodyear, Arizona, in just over two months time. The only thing that would be more foolish than that, however, would be to try to make a move just for the sake of making a move. That plays a big part in the difference between the staff paid to construct the roster and those who play the role of pseudo general manager behind Twitter avatars, in Facebook comments, and through their voices coming out of your radio during the rare moment Indians talk actually graces the airwaves.
Rumors are strictly that. Teams talk frequently and certainly the banter was much more prevalent this week with representatives from every club gathered together in the same place. Those deals that did not happen failed to materialize for a reason, more often than not because the asking price on one side was far too steep a risk to take. That said, the ground work for other potential deals to take place over the next couple of months has likely been established.
“We’re not ready to start the season, which, the good news is, we’re not starting the season,” said Indians manager Terry Francona to reporters on Wednesday. “We know we have some things to do. But I think what happens, a lot of people think that the Winter Meetings are, because we are here a finite amount of time, that doesn’t mean if you don’t do something here, that you’re not going to. Sometimes, things happen here. Sometimes, the ground work is laid for later. But we know we are not ready to go down to spring training now. Now, it’s December, but we know that.”
Compounding problems for the Indians on the trade front was an influx of similarly affordable and controlled pitching pieces from other teams who were trying to capitalize on the opportunity to move young pitching for a chance to inject multiple potential pieces for the future onto their roster. Pitching is extremely hard to come by and expensive to boot, as seen in the contracts tendered to recent free agent signings Zack Greinke and David Price and the trade value obtained by the Atlanta Braves in their trade of Shelby Miller.
Reported exchanges between the Indians and other clubs, including but not limited to the Chicago Cubs, San Francisco Giants, and Houston Astros, had the Tribe seeking Major League ready players. In addition to the primary discussion points of Carrasco and Salazar, the Indians were rumored to have had inquiries about backup catcher Roberto Perez and reliever Shawn Armstrong, as well as minor league pitchers Mike Clevinger and Rob Kaminsky, both of whom came to the club in trades over the past couple of years.
The biggest rumors of the week regarding the Tribe came and went quickly on Wednesday afternoon, when reports indicated that the Indians and Reds were conversing about Cincinnati third baseman Todd Frazier. The Home Run Derby champion of 2015 had a hot start to his season, hitting 25 homers in the first half, before cooling in the second half of the season.
The Reds were reportedly asking a lot and, while many feel that Frazier is a big candidate to be moved before the start of the season for a rebuilding Reds team, Cleveland and Cincinnati did not quite match up well at the present time.
In other Indians-related news during the week, on Wednesday the St. Louis Cardinals claimed left-handed minor league pitcher Jayson Aquino off of waivers from Cleveland. He had been designated for assignment when the team added Joey Butler off of waivers from the Tampa Bay Rays.
Aquino will join his fifth team in the 2015 calendar year. He began the year with Colorado before being dealt to Toronto. Pittsburgh claimed him off of waivers and Cleveland acquired him in a cash exchange after he was designated by the Pirates later in the season.
In Thursday’s Rule 5 draft, the Indians remained absent from the MLB portion of the selection process as their 40-man roster was full. It did not mean that the team went without taking a hit, as minor league pitcher Josh Martin was selected by the San Diego Padres with the eighth pick overall. Sixteen total minor leaguers swapped organizations in the primary level of the draft.
Martin spent last season with the Indians’ Double-A Akron affiliate, where he went 8-1 with a 2.27 ERA in 44 games. He struck out 80 batters in 67 1/3 innings.
Martin had spent his entire career with the Indians after being selected in the tenth round of the 2012 draft. He had worked his entire minor league career as a reliever.
“There’s always a risk when you don’t put a guy on the 40-man that he’s going to be taken,” Cleveland’s director of player development Carter Hawkins shared Thursday morning. “It’s always a really difficult decision, but we knew that risk going in. We wish the best to Josh. Hopefully he has a lot of success with the Padres this year.”
Martin, who turns 26 in December, will need to remain on the San Diego roster for the 2016 season. Otherwise, he would be offered back to Cleveland or a trade for his rights can be worked out. The Indians last lost players in 2012, when the team lost a pair of minor league pitchers, Hector Rondon to the Chicago Cubs and T.J. McFarland to the Baltimore Orioles. Both teams fulfilled the Rule 5 expectations for each and still have the pitchers on their MLB rosters.
In the Triple-A portion of the draft, the Indians selected Brian Moran from the system of the Seattle Mariners.
Moran, 27, is a previous Rule 5 selection in the December 2013 draft when he was selected by the Toronto Blue Jays out of the Mariners organization and was later sent to the Los Angeles Angels. He missed the 2014 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery on April 15th of that year and was returned to the Mariners following the season.
He was a seventh round pick by Seattle in the 2009 draft and is the nephew of former Major Leaguers B.J. Surhoff and Rich Surhoff, the latter of whom played in the Indians organization in 1989. Brian’s brother, Colin Moran, is a third base prospect in the Houston Astros system.
Regarding Moran, Hawkins commented on the Indians’ new minor league reliever.
“He was a Major League Rule 5 in  and then was injured in camp, was returned back to the Mariners. Left-handed pitcher, reliever, a guy that we feel like gives us some left-handed depth in the bullpen at the upper levels. Deception guy, really good change-up, feel like coming off Tommy John there might be some upside there that we can kind of get him back to where he was before that injury after the Rule 5.”
Hawkins also noted that Moran had some upside coming off of Tommy John and that the club hoped to get him back to where he was prior to the injury.
“We’re not specifically just looking to just build our left-handed depth options, necessarily, but when we looked at Moran, looked at our reports, looked at our analytics on him, the fact that he was left-handed certainly helped his case.”
While the meetings have come to a close, it does not mean that conversations had over the course of the week will not lead to potential future deals. Plenty of time remains in the offseason for teams to adjust their rosters before returning to Arizona and Florida for spring training in mid-February.
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