Orbiting Cleveland: Gauging the minor league signings
Who from this year's crop of minor league signings has a chance to make the team?
You would not know it by the amount of snow currently outside our windows, but it's actually just a few short days until Cleveland Indians pitchers and catchers report to Goodyear, AZ for the start of Spring Training.
It's a wonderful feeling, isn't it?
Over the next six weeks, we'll start to get a feel as to what this 2014 Indians team will look like. It may seem as is if we have a pretty good idea of the makeup of this team, but that's not always the case. Just think back to last year.
Who knew that Scott Kazmir would come in on a minor league deal, suddenly rediscover his stuff and become one of the best stories of the 2013 season?
Who knew that the groundwork for Ubaldo Jimenez's sensational comeback would be laid in Arizona?
Who knew that Ryan Raburn's sensational spring was just a precursor of things to come in the regular season?
The reality is that no one really knows what's ahead during these next few weeks. Could there be another Raburn-esque power display? Might a pitcher come from out of the woodwork to claim the fifth spot in the Indians'rotation?
These are interesting questions to consider. There are still some holes on the Indians' roster, and we will definitely see them get filled, one way or another, this spring.
In the past, minor league signings have both been a blessing and a curse for the Indians. The aforementioned moves for Kazmir and Raburn have paid great dividends, but there has also been some failures (See Buck, Travis and Cunningham, Aaron).
Once again, the Indians have brought a slew of minor league free agents into camp with the hope that some of them stick.
What are the chances that any of these players make an impact? Well, let's take a look:
David Aardsma, right-handed relief pitcher
Aardsma is coming off an uneven 2013 season where he posted a 4.31 ERA in 39 2/3 innings for the New York Mets. His FIP suggests he was even worse as it comes in at 5.27. However, Aardsma is still somewhat intriguing given his previous success with the Seattle Mariners from 2009 to 2010. Also, his K/9 rate in 2013 was still more than respectable at 8.2. Aardsma might profile as a good candidate to replace Matt Albers as the long man in the bullpen, but it seems somewhat unlikely. Control has been an issue for Aardsma for his entire career, and that's unlikely to change right now. Also, the Indians have a handful of bullpen options and even starters like Carlos Carrasco and Josh Tomlin could find themselves in the pen if they're unable to win the fifth spot in the rotation. Knowing that, it seems somewhat unlikely that Aardsma earns a spot. There are simply just more intriguing arms out there than a 32-year-old journeyman.
Chance of making Opening Day roster: 25 percent
Scott Atchison, right-handed relief pitcher
What is it with the Indians and signing Mets 2013 relief arms? Like Aardsma, Atchison spent the 2013 season with the Mets. The 37-year-old posted a 4.37 ERA in 45 1/3 innings of work. The numbers aren't bad, but let's not sugar coat this. Atchison is essentially a mediocre middle relief arm. He had a solid season in 2012 with the Boston Red Sox, but his LOB percentage of 85.1 percentage was clearly unsustainable moving forward. Also, Atchison is more of a control artist and strikes no one out. He might be able to act as a serviceable arm for the Indians, but there's really no way he should find himself part of the team's 25-man roster.
Chance of making Opening Day roster: 15 percent
Travis Banwart, right-handed starting pitcher
The Indians signed Banwart to a minor league deal back in December, and there is a certain level of intrigue because of his ability to both start and relieve. He had a decent season with Triple-A Sacramento last season as he compiled a 4.60 ERA in 29 games and 131 innings of work. He also showed some decent swing-and-miss stuff as he struck out 8.6 batters per nine innings. However, one thing to consider with Banwart is that he was originally promoted to Triple-A during the 2010 season. If he really had any potential to be an impact Major Leaguer, don't you think he would have found his way onto the Oakland Athletics' roster sometime between 2010 and 2013? The Athletics obviously have a lot of depth, but it's telling that Banwart did not even make one spot start for the A's. Nonetheless, this is a solid signing for the Indians as he may be able to serve as minor league depth for the team. Still, there is no way he finds himself on the team's Opening Day roster.
Chance of making Opening Day roster: 0 percent
Matt Capps, right-handed relief pitcher
Once again, Matt Capps finds himself in camp with the Indians on a minor league deal. Capps has dealt with a number of injuries in recent years, including last season. After failing to make the Indians out of Spring Training, Capps went to Triple-A Columbus to hone his craft. Unfortunately, he only made six appearances in April before he once again suffered a shoulder injury. Capps will again try to make the team this season, but that seems to be a longshot at best. The former Minnesota Twins closer will likely once again have to accept a minor league assignment in the early part of the season to prove that he is indeed all the way back. However, this could prove to be a valuable signing should Tribe closer John Axford struggle at one point or another. Capps has 138 career Major League saves, so the team could definitely look to him if he proves that he is healthy and can be effective.
Chance of making Opening Day roster: 10 percent
Tyler Cloyd, right-handed starting pitcher
Can you believe that the Philadelphia Phillies were so bad last season that they actually had to start Cloyd 11 times? It turned out to be a foolish decision as the right-hander got lit up like a Christmas tree to the tune of a 6.56 ERA. He's shown promise in the minor leagues, but the truth is that Cloyd is just not a Major League starting pitcher. He doesn't throw hard, he doesn't hide the ball well and he allows too many home runs. However, he will make for some nice Triple-A depth, and he could make a spot start should the Indians need him at some point during the season. However, if that's the case, then it's a pretty good indicator that the team's season has likely gone sour.
Chance of making Opening Day roster: 0 percent
Shaun Marcum, right-handed starting pitcher
Marcum seems to be the one move that everyone likens to last year's signing of Scott Kazmir. When he's at his best, Marcum has proven to be a solid back-of-the-rotation starter who can eat up some innings. However, he's coming off an injury-riddled season where he went 1-10 with a 5.29 ERA in 14 games and 12 starts. He had season-ending surgery on his right shoulder in 2013, and the belief is that he is now healthy. It still seems a little inaccurate to compare Marcum to Kazmir because the pitcher's ceilings are at such different levels. In his prime, Kazmir was a flame-throwing power lefty while Marcum has never been anything more than a good back-of-the-rotation performer. He may have a good chance to make the team though because the fifth spot in the rotation is still open. From the looks of it, Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer, Josh Tomlin and Marcum will battle it out for that spot, and Carrasco seems penciled in as the early favorite. However, if Carrasco falters and Marcum performs well this spring, then the Indians probably will give the nod to Marcum. Of course, let's hope this just all becomes a moot point and the Indians decide to re-sign Ubaldo Jimenez.
Chance of making Opening Day roster: 50 percent
J.C. Ramirez, right-handed relief pitcher
Ramirez made his Major League debut with the Phillies last season, and to say it was a disappointment is an understatement. In 18 games, he walked 5.6 batters per nine innings and thus earned a 7.50 ERA. Ramirez is still only 25, so there may be some upside there as he does have decent stuff. However, he's really never even been a performer in the minors and he walks far too many batters. In other words, he's likely not making the team.
Chance of making Opening Day roster: 0 percent
Mike Zagurski, left-handed relief pitcher
Left-handers really can linger around, huh? For his career, Zagurski has a 7.05 ERA in 75 1/3 innings of work. He's basically been terrible wherever he goes, but he always seems to find his way on a Major League roster. The one thing he does do well is strike batters out, but does it really matter when you get knocked around the way that Zagurski does? He has been a consistent performer in the minors, so he could make the team sometime this season if that trend continues. Plus, he is left-handed, so we'll at least give him a one percent chance of making the team out of Spring Training.
Chance of making Opening Day roster: 1 percent
Luke Carlin, catcher
Speaking of players that can linger around... Carlin seems to always be in camp with the Indians, and he usually even finds his way to Cleveland at one point or another. Carlin spent last season with the Los Angeles Angels organization, but he's now back in the fold. He is really only in Spring Training to help with the catching duties since the team invited so many pitchers, but there's always a chance that he could make the team. Who knows what happens if Yan Gomes or Carlos Santana were to get injured? Someone would have to make the team, right? Also, while it's assumed that the Indians won't have another catcher on the roster outside of Gomes and Santana, that remains to be seen. Carlin is a longshot, but there could be a chance.
Chance of making Opening Day roster: 2 percent
Matt Treanor, catcher
The 37-year-old catcher has a lot of experience in the Major Leagues, and he might actually make for a decent backup in the Majors. That's been his calling card for his career, and it's a duty he could do well for the Tribe. However, Treanor missed last season because of left knee surgery, so that can't be a good sign. Also, as noted earlier, it appears as if the Indians won't be carrying a catcher on their roster other than Santana and Gomes. Treanor's chances fall in line with Carlin's.
Chance of making Opening Day roster: 2 percent
Jason Giambi, designated hitter
If nothing else, last year's signing of Jason Giambi gave Indians fans some of the best memories of the season. Once again, Giambi finds himself in camp with the Indians, but what are the chances that he actually makes this year's team? Let's look at the facts. Giambi is now 43-years-old. His skills continue to decline. Could the team even find a way to get him regular playing time? There might be better ways for the team to utilize a roster spot, but Tribe skipper Terry Francona has expressed on many occasions how much he enjoyed having Giambi on the roster. My guess is that Giambi makes the team if he proves this spring that he can still play.
Chance of making Opening Day roster: 60 percent
Elliot Johnson, utility
Johnson's ability to play both the infield and outfield certainly helps his chances, but where exactly would he fit in? With Mike Aviles, the Indians seem to have the infield covered, and they already have four outfielders in Ryan Raburn, Michael Bourn, Michael Brantley and David Murphy. It just seems unlikely that Johnson is going to make the cut, even if he is a solid depth signing.
Chance of making Opening Day roster: 10 percent
Bryan LaHair, first base and outfield
It's great when you can get a former All-Star on a minor league deal, right? Well, not exactly. While LaHair did compile a solid .286/.364/.519 line in the first half of 2012 that earned him an All-Star bid, he came back down to Earth in the second half, and he is also limited in his ability to hit left-handed pitching. However, he could be an intriguing bench bat for the Indians should they have the ability to find a spot for him on the roster. He does have a solid track record of hitting right-handers in the Major Leagues, and he also hit 16 home runs last season in Japan with the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks. There is a level of intrigue here, but it still seems difficult to believe the Indians will find the space for him.
Chance of making Opening Day roster: 20 percent
Ryan Rohlinger, infield
This will now be Rohlinger's third season where he's back in the Indians organization. He's had average seasons with both Double-A Akron and Triple-A Columbus, but he's really not much more than organizational depth. There really is no chance that he makes the team's Opening Day roster, and it's highly unlikely that he finds himself in Cleveland at any point this season.
Chance of making Opening Day roster: 0 percent
Matt Carson, outfield
Carson is another player that many Tribe fans likely have a soft spot for, and that's probably because of his late-season heroics in 2013. Carson does have some solid power and speed as he hit 14 home runs last season and stole 14 bases for the Columbus Clippers. However, he's now 32-year-old career minor league player, and he's never really been able to stick on a Major League roster. He could be someone that finds his way to Cleveland during the season, and he will probably again be a September call-up. However, he's probably not making the team out of Spring Training.
Chance of making Opening Day roster: 5 percent
Jeff Francoeur, outfield
This is arguably the most intriguing minor league signing of the offseason. Like Raburn last year, Francoeur comes into camp down on his luck. He's coming off a brutal 2013 season where he hit just .204 in 81 games with the Kansas City Royals and San Francisco Giants. However, he is also just two years removed from a season where he hit .285/.329/.476 with 20 home runs and 87 RBI. So, who is the real Francoeur? The truth is probably neither. The real Francoeur likely falls somewhere in the middle. Also, the real Francoeur is probably not an everyday player as he has been in recent years. He profiles best as a right-handed bat that can be used for matchup purposes. Also, while he likely would not be a regular defender, Francoeur has a cannon of an arm in right field, and that could prove beneficial. The previous track record of success combined with his strong arm make Francoeur very intriguing. If Francoeur has a strong spring and it comes down to keeping Francoeur or Giambi, then the Indians may have a tough decision on their hands. I have a strong feeling that Francoeur will find his way on this roster one way or another.
Chance of making Opening Day roster: 75 percent
Nyjer Morgan, outfield
Like Francoeur, this is a very intriguing signing. Morgan is a speedy outfielder has a nice variety of tools and a solid track record of Major League success. He's a polarizing player, but that's also part of the intrigue. Morgan spent last season with the Yokohama DeNa BayStars in Japan and hit .294 with 11 home runs. On most teams, Morgan would be an ideal minor league signing, but it's tough to figure where he fits since the Indians already have two players capable of playing center field in Brantley and Bourn. Nonetheless, Morgan would be a nice addition if he makes the team. He could provide solid defense and speed on the base paths. Those are two things no good team can have enough of.
Chance of making Opening Day roster: 40 percent
Steve can be reached via email at email@example.com.
But how is Santana playing 3B against lefties when the bench against lefties is Aviles, Murphy, and Giambi? Is Aviles DHing? Or is Giambi? A guy like Francouer with a good spring just makes way more sense than an 8th bullpen arm IMO. Though again, I do think Tony is right and odds are we will (unfortunately) see 8 guys in the pen.
Its funny to think back two years ago everyone and their mother were calling for him to start the season as the regular at 3B. How stupid would that have been. I still see a solid player there. I think he will hit .267 with 17 homers and alot of doubles.
You just never know. No one thought Ubaldo had anything left, everyone thought it would be stupid to sign Kyle Lohse and he had a great season last year. Which is why I still have hope for guys like Ascab, Bourn and especially Bauer.
Also, I realize the cards would not have any real reason to make this trade until the trade break if guys like Adams and Wong don't work out and Santana, Ascab and Masterson are all having great seasons.
Just curious. Would you trade Masterson, Santana and Caberea to the cards for Shelby Miller, Trevor Rosenthal, Stephen Piscotty and Robert Kaminsky?
Miller could replace Masterson in the rotation. Rosenthal gives us a young under team control closer for years to come, Piscotty is nice insurance in case Chisenhall does not work out and if does Piscotty could play in the outfield. Kaminsky gives us something we don't really have a real LH pitching prospect.
Not to mention we would then have more then enough money to re-sign Ubaldo as well as the ability to add a fair amount of salary at the trade deadline although obviously this trade would be about the future more then anything.
As for the bullpen, I do think that going into last years spring-training it looked a lot more solid than it does this year. But that's mostly because I think that until his complete meltdown last year Perez was a very good closer, and Pestano was the best setup man in the ML's. Compared to them, I think that Axford has a lot to prove, as he's basically been absolutely terrible since a good year in 2011 (except for a small number of games last year with the Cardinals), and I'm not as bullish on Allen and Shaw in the setup role as some others. Getting Outman was a good move in my opinion, and he should be an improvement over the Hill, but really, he hasn't been so great the last couple of years.
So for me, going into spring training there are some huge questions about this years bullpen, even though it does have potential in terms of players rebounding and other players like CC Lee stepping up.
I think our rotation on paper is stronger going into spring training this than last. Masterson and Jimenez were coming of bad years. McAllister and Kluber were unknowns. Kazmir was why did we even bring him into camp. Myers health was suspect, Bauer another unknown with talent. Salazar was not on the even on the Indians radar. Finally Carrasco coming of Tommy John surgery.
I think the emergence of Gomes has presented Santana with an opportunity. And it's a sign of how the game is changing - irrespective of if the league does follow through with their threat to outlaw collisions at the plate.
Santana can not physically handle catching. He only spent one 10 day stint on the concussion DL. But if the MLB enforced concussion rules like the NFL, he would have spent more like 3 or 4.
I think guys like Santana, who has went through it all, a great hitting prospect who the Dodgers pushed behind the plate because of the BUSTER POSEY era - the overwhelming temptation to develop a good hitting catcher because of the 'overvalue' thus associated, these players are waking up to cautionary tales like Mauer and Morneau with the Twins.
And others as well. Just look around the league at the state of catching.
If I am going to buy anything with Carlos it's this; he's got a sweat swing and the kind of plate discipline every hitting coach hopes to induce. He should be an elite hitter for years.
I think he believes in what he is doing. He was a natural third baseman, and if he isn't spending most of his professional baseball life squatting and taking the punishment he has been taking he can be that elite hitting, if not fielding, position player.
And I think he is right. I'm not sure he can do what Joe Torre did in the early 70's when he stepped from home plate to third base with St. Louis (look it up - it was pretty gaudy MVP #'s)...but I think Carlos does.
Which is pretty exciting for us.
So I'll also disagree with your implied suggestion - because while I agree Carlos has high trade value, it's no longer as a catcher. And it' isn't because I don't think he's worked hard at it. He has. But he's not alone in realizing that teams have been trashing players trying to catch this mythical being...the POSEY.
Santana is exibit A in this failed experiment. The lust to manufacture a Buster Posey. Well, he lost a year to a knee injury. He spent what, five, six years devoted to development?
Then along comes this guy Gomes, who was a 'nobody' catcher in Toronto, so mediocre that they were pressing him into outfield/1B service ala Ryan Garko 2009.
I think Carlos' defensive decline is a direct result of not EVER being suited to take the punishment to begin with. Not about either resenting Gomes' emergence - nor his own inability to compete.
When the Dodgers talked him into being a catcher he was a talented 19 year old from the Dominican Rep who desperately wanted to be a professional ballplayer.
Now he is a mature professional who sees the chance to change positions and maybe make another 100 million dollars in the next 10-12 years.
I think he is right, and I commend him for doing what he is doing in a mature and professional way instead of a selfish way.
...like say.... a certain pitcher some people here has decided is the second coming of Sam McDowell.
However, what about Tomlin? Does he have an option left for us to use in the event that he does not win the 5th spot in the rotation and we end up stashing him in AAA until called upon (if necessary)?
The line up is pretty clear, but a couple of moves could really change the dynamics. Let's say Cabrera and Bourn are traded with Ramirez and Morgan replacing them. That brings more speed, defense, and possibly more offense to the team, leaves an open spot for another bench guy and frees up around $24 mil. Or maybe Brantley slides back to CF putting Murph/Raburn back in left and giving Francour an opportunity to win the RF job. You don't need a utility infielder because you still have Aviles. You don't need a backup catcher/1b because you have Santana. I don't think that Giambi makes the team so who wins the bench job(s)?
If Jimenez is signed to a multiyear deal then I think they will deal Masterson. I just don't see them settling for a supplemental 1st rounder for losing him. I think he will be signed to an extension or traded. On the flip side of that, if they extend him then they will not sign Jimenez. I don't think it would take much for them to send Bourn and Cabrera packing due to the fact that they can effectively replace them with in house options. The wild card in all of this to me is Santana. His value is extremely high and he doesn't have a postition locked down at the moment. I also don't think he is happy being removed from the full time catching duties. Now if he were to take 3B from Chisenhall that could change things. My point to all this is the Indians could have some very good talent available in Masterson, Santana, Bourn, and Cabrera. Santana's offense would be difficult to replace and Jimenez would replace Masterson, but they could bring in some real talent that is controllable for years. I'm not predicting this will happen, just sceptical i guess.
I'm more concerned about the rotation to be honest: Don't know about Marcum's health, nor the health and consistency of Kluber, McAllister, and Tomlin. Don't know about Salazar's durability, nor how many adjustments/growing pains he'll have to deal with. Don't know how quickly and if Carrasco and Bauer can finally live up to their potential or close to it. Don't know how much Masterson may be affected by a free agency year, by the fact his H/IP and K/IP were so far above his career norms (I.e. Will they drop this year, and if so, by how much?), and can he break his track record of inconsistency from year to year ('11 and '13: solid to good; '12: not good).
That's all the more reason why another established starter would be a wise move, and why Jimenez would be the best fit, especially if he's in the $11-13M/year range, and especially if two years and an option might do it (just as Arroyo got).
I think the offense and bullpen can improve and be more consistent in 2014, but the rotation does concern me a bit because of the aforementioned issues. And, I'm not sure the offense and bullpen will improve enough to compensate for any dropoff in the rotation. Even if they do for the regular season, that formula usually doesn't work in the postseason. Let's hope all three main areas of the team excel in 2014.
Also, hard to believe that Axford is going to nail down the closer role. I predict that coming out of ST it's still not clear who the closer is. Maybe committee? That doesn't seem like Francona's style though...
We know barring injury the four starters are Masterson, Salazar, Kluber and McAllister. Once of Carrasco or Marcum will get the 5th spot (Tomlin is likely going to AAA for various reasons). If Carrasco is in the rotation, then there are 3 spots open in the pen as only Axford, Allen, Shaw, Outman and Rzepczynski are locks. If Marcum makes the team, then Carrasco takes one of those final 2 spots. Obviously guys like Pestano and even CC Lee are favorites to make the team, but I think there is a chance one of the minor league signings make the team as the 8th guy, especially if Carrasco is in the rotation. I like the chances of Aardsma to make the team, though would only limit it to 30-40% or the number Steve provided.
Should be interesting to see how it all shakes out! Lots of intrigue with some of these NRI guys.