The Cleveland Indians have remained busy this week as on Friday afternoon, the club announced it had acquired right-handed reliever Dan Otero from the Philadelphia Phillies for cash considerations.
It was the second move in as many days by the Indians to address the options in the bullpen for the coming season, as they signed free agent reliever Joe Thatcher on Wednesday to a minor league deal with an invite to spring training. His deal is reportedly worth $1 million with additional incentives if he is on the Major League roster.
It makes four potential additions to the club this week alone and two notable subtractions.
When the club formally announced the signing of outfielder Rajai Davis on Thursday, the Indians designated corner infielder Chris Johnson for assignment. The move, surprising to many due to the amount of money Cleveland still owes the infielder they acquired in August in the Nick Swisher/Michael Bourn trade, makes sense due to the lack of playing time potentially available to the right-handed hitter with third base occupied by righty Giovanny Urshela and with first base blocked by the pending addition of Mike Napoli and incumbent Carlos Santana.
Johnson hit .289 in 27 games for Cleveland after missing time to a fluke bug bite during a road trip that landed him on the disabled list. He had previously hit .235 for the Atlanta Braves in 56 games, where he also missed significant time due to injury.
The move that many had expected to Indians to make actually came down on Friday, when the team designated outfielder/first baseman Jerry Sands for assignment to make room for Otero on the 40-man roster. He was in a similar predicament as Johnson and seemed more likely to go to make room for Napoli and Davis. The outfield has been a position heavily addressed with similar minor players this offseason and his spot on the club for 2016 had come into question with the earlier addition of Joey Butler from Tampa Bay.
Sands hit .236 in 50 games for the Tribe in 2015, hitting five doubles, four homers, and driving in 19 runs.
The Indians will still need to make another move to create a 40-man roster spot when the Napoli deal becomes official after the completion of his physical.
In other news around the league affecting a former member of the Tribe’s 40-man roster, free agent utility man extraordinaire Mike Aviles has come to terms on a contract with the Detroit Tigers. He played six different positions for the Indians over the last three seasons. He hit .244 in that span of his career, but hit .231 last season while appearing in his fewest number of games since 2011 as off-the-field concerns took him away from the game for stretches of the year.
Otero may not be the answer in the Indians bullpen, but he is a possible solution to the question. The new option will turn 31 at the start of spring training. He has seen some success at the Major League level, but spent part of last season in the minors. He was a 21st round pick of the San Francisco Giants in the 2007 draft and reached the Majors at the start of the 2012 season. He pitched in a dozen games for the Giants that year, but at the end of spring training in 2013, he was claimed by the New York Yankees off waivers. One day later, the Oakland Athletics picked him off of the Yankees waiver wire.
He had his best big league seasons in an A’s uniform, posting a 1.38 ERA in 33 games in 2013 and an 8-2 record with a 2.28 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, and one save in 72 games in 2014.
Last season, he struggled, going 2-4 in 41 games. His ERA bloated to 6.75 and his WHIP hit the 1.50 mark. He also appeared in 15 games for Triple-A Nashville, going 2-0 with a 1.95 ERA and 0.98 WHIP.
In early November, he was claimed off of waivers by the Phillies.
The Indians’ other bullpen addition this week, Thatcher, also saw struggles on the mound last season.
The Tribe pen has been light on quality left-handed relief since the club traded Marc Rzepczynski to San Diego at the trade deadline. Nick Hagadone was cut loose this offseason and signed a minor league deal with spring invite with Milwaukee earlier in the week, which left just Kyle Crockett and Giovanni Soto with any MLB experience on the roster from the south side.
Thatcher has been around the baseball block a little bit after being purchased midseason in 2005 by the Milwaukee Brewers from River City of the Frontier League. He was traded to San Diego in 2007 near the deadline and again in 2013 by the Padres to the Arizona Diamondbacks in the Ian Kennedy trade. The D’Backs dealt him to the Los Angeles Angels in July of 2014 in a four-player prospect swap.
Thatcher has been used heavily in the role of left-handed one-out guy throughout his career. The recently-turned 34-year-old has appeared in 405 games throughout his nine-year MLB career, yet has only logged 260 2/3 innings of work. He has an 11-16 record with a 3.38 ERA and 1.32 WHIP.
He made two turns through the Houston Astros organization last season, where he was 1-3 with a 3.18 ERA in 22 2/3 innings of 43 games. In his latter tour with the club, he worked in seven games in September and October, posting a perfect 0.00 ERA while allowing just two hits and a walk and striking out four of the 13 batters he faced. He was 1-3 with six holds in 36 games (19 innings) in his first half, striking out 22 batters and walking eleven in 19 innings of work. Lefties hit just .245 off of him and owned 19 of his strikeouts on the year, but were also responsible for ten of his 12 walks.
That heavy walk rate against left-handed hitters last season dragged down a career rate of 4.49 strikeouts per walk against lefties to 3.91. After striking out 18 lefties and walking just one in 2014, he struck out 19 of them while walking a career-high ten last season.
The Indians have been busy this week. While questions still remain about the roster that takes the field in Goodyear, Arizona, in a month and a half, some potential answers have been provided by the front office as they look to build a competitive team to compete in an ever-evolving American League Central Division.
Main photo: Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images (Otero)