If the offseason focus on the bullpen was not evident enough, the Cleveland Indians continued to look at strengthening its relief corps as they signed free agent reliever Tommy Hunter to a one-year Major League contract for the 2016 season.
A 29-year-old right-handed pitcher and former starter at the MLB level, he split last season with the Baltimore Orioles and the Chicago Cubs.
To make room for their new reliever, the Indians designated catcher Tony Wolters for assignment. The former middle infield prospect converted to catcher several seasons ago, but hit just .209 in 65 games for Double-A Akron in his sixth season in the Cleveland organization last year.
The Indians also announced on Friday that they had signed free agent catcher Guillermo Quiroz to a minor league contract and had extended a non-roster invitation to spring training to the 34-year-old backstop.
The addition of Hunter is yet another arm added to the Indians bullpen this offseason. Cleveland has added Kirby Yates (who was later subtracted), Dan Otero, Joba Chamberlain, Felipe Paulino, and Craig Stammen as potential right-handed candidates, as well as Joe Thatcher, Tom Gorzelanny, and Ross Detwiler as experienced left-handed options. The left-handed depth is thought to be the weaker area of the bullpen, as the club returned just Kyle Crockett and Giovanni Soto, who have a combined 80 games of experience between the two of them over three seasons. Cleveland has more established veterans like Cody Allen, Bryan Shaw, Jeff Manship, and Zach McAllister as right-handed options, with several lesser experienced arms returning to camp in Austin Adams and Shawn Armstrong.
Hunter had spent the past five years of his career with the Baltimore Orioles organization. He is a former first round draft pick of the Texas Rangers, the 54th overall pick in the 2007 draft. He was in the Majors by August of the following season and was with the club until 2011, when he was dealt with Chris Davis to the Orioles for reliever Koji Uehara.
After struggling in the rotation for the Orioles in 2011 and parts of 2012, he became a full-time reliever in 2013. In 68 appearances that season, he was 6-5 with a 2.81 ERA, a 0.99 WHIP, and showed an improved strikeout rate while logging his first four MLB saves.
In 2014, he was 3-2 with a 2.97 ERA in 60 games. He saved eleven ball games and earned a WHIP of 1.10.
He began 2015 in the O’s bullpen and was 2-2 with a 3.63 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, and six holds when he was dealt at the July trade deadline to the Cubs for outfielder Junior Lake. He had a pair of wins and a save for Chicago in 19 games, but a 5.74 ERA and 1.47 WHIP in his first action in the National League saw him inactive during the Cubs postseason run. He had prior playoff experience in 2010 with Texas and both 2012 and 2014 for Baltimore.
His contract is worth a reported $2 million. Offseason surgery to repair a “core muscle injury” will have Hunter a little behind schedule when spring starts, reported The Plain Dealer/Cleveland.com writer Paul Hoynes. He shared that Hunter could miss most of the first month of the regular season.
Quiroz, a ten-year MLB veteran, spent all of 2015 with Sacramento, the Triple-A affiliate of the San Francisco Giants. He appeared in 27 games, hitting .247 for the season.
He has spent time in the Majors with the Toronto Blue Jays (2004-2005), Seattle Mariners (2006, 2009-2010), Texas (2007), Baltimore (2008), Boston Red Sox (2012), and San Francisco (2013-2014). Two different seasons he saw regular work as a backup catcher (2008, 2013), but owns a lifetime .199 average over those ten MLB seasons.
The Venezuelan native made his professional baseball debut in 1999 after signing as an amateur free agent with the Blue Jays in 1998. He has spent parts of 17 seasons in total in professional baseball and spent a portion of his offseason playing for Aragua in the Venezuelan Winter League.
Wolters will need to clear waivers after his exit from the 40-man roster. He could clear and return to the Indians farm system, as despite being only 23 years old, he has not performed well offensively after his transition to catcher.
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