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Tribe Happenings: Managing expectations at the Winter Meetings

Tribe Happenings: Managing expectations at the Winter Meetings
December 9, 2013
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Some news, notes and thoughts from my Indians notebook…

Great Expectations

After a successful season where the Indians improved by 24 games in the win column and made the playoffs, there are high expectations for the 2014 season. Fans expect the Indians to maintain their status as a playoff caliber team and improve the roster so that they can go deeper into the playoffs and potentially win a World Series.

A lot of attention has been paid to the Indians activity – or lack thereof – this offseason, though the Winter Meetings should serve as a launching off point to some of that activity. However, it is important to note that when the meetings conclude they may leave having done nothing but instead it may be nothing more than a starting point for discussions for deals that are reached a later this offseason.

Remember the “Offseason of Dreams” for the Indians last season really did not kick into gear until the Winter Meetings started. Going into it, the only move the Indians had made was the Esmil Rogers for Mike Aviles and Yan Gomes trade and a bunch of minor league signings. A lot of fans threw their hands up in the air at the Indians inactivity in November and how few rumors there were tied to going into the Winter Meetings.

But at the Winter Meetings everything changed and their approach revealed itself. They immediately got in on theShane Victorino sweepstakes on the first day of the Winter Meetings and it was then we knew they meant business. It made for a crazy 72 hour period at the Winter Meetings as in addition to the pursuit of Victorino there were rampant rumors of an Asdrubal Cabrera deal that was very close to going down – one which I heard was thisclose to being completed and they were also in on free agents like Kevin YoukilisEdwin Jackson and others.

The Indians left the Winter Meetings last year without completing a trade or free agent signing of note, and the only pickup was first baseman Chris McGuiness in the Rule 5 Draft. Fans were all over them about their lack of follow through with their “new approach” and then, viola, the deals started happening.

On December 11th they traded Shin-Soo Choo and acquired Trevor BauerBryan ShawDrew Stubbs and Matt Albers.

On December 18th they signed Mark Reynolds.

On December 21st they signed Scott Kazmir.

On December 23rd they signed Nick Swisher.

On January 2nd they signed Brett Myers.

On January 19th they signed Ryan Raburn.

On February 9th they signed Jason Giambi.

On February 15th they signed Michael Bourn.

So here we stand on December 9th at the outset of the Winter Meetings and the Indians have yet to do anything but sign outfielder David Murphy. But if last year set any precedent, then the Indians will be busy the next two months and they are nowhere close to finished with making moves to improve the roster.

Now, it is important not to look too much into the spending in free agency last year. The deals for Swisher and Bourn were very unique and mostly came about because of a repressed market for both because of draft pick compensation tied to each player, and the Indians used new TV money both locally and nationally to help pay for those deals. The Indians also had a protected first round pick and used that to their advantage, an advantage they no longer have this offseason as their first round pick is not protected. They are strongly adamant about not losing their first round pick, which means pretty much any player with a qualifying offer is off the table (outside of their own player Ubaldo Jimenez).

With that in mind, any free agents they target will likely be those they can get on one or two year deals. Three or more year deals for anyone in this inflated market appears unlikely because the Indians just don’t see the right value in those players with the expected performance they may bring versus the risk tied to their contract.

Now, before you scoff at the notion that the Indians may be cheap and not be willing to pay premium prices for free agents, keep in mind that it was the smaller deals which truly impacted the Indians last season. The four big money signings they made did not have much impact on the field as Michael Bourn (4 years, $48 million), Nick Swisher (4 years, $56 million), Brett Myers (1 year, $7 million) and Mark Reynolds (1 year, $6 million) fell short of expectations.

Obviously, Swisher and Bourn were very important clubhouse pieces, but their numbers did not live up what was expected of them. Also, the spending helped improve fan morale. But bottom line, the $117 million they doled out in guaranteed contracts did not bring nearly the return as a lot of their more creative, smaller deals. Again, this is the byproduct of free agency where the middle to above average players are quite pricey and overpaid.

On the flip side, it was the smaller deals made to Kazmir, Raburn, and Giambi, or the trade pickup for the likes of Shaw, Albers, Gomes and Aviles which had the biggest impact. Taking it a step further, those moves along with the turnaround from internal players like Ubaldo Jimenez and the emergence of Corey Kluber and Danny Salazar were the major reasons for the Indians success in 2013. Not their big money acquisitions.

That is something that is important to keep in mind as the Indians make moves the remainder of this offseason to fill holes left by departing players or to upgrade the roster. Free agency is very inefficient and extremely costly that most often times it makes more sense to find those second and third level players which may better impact a team more effectively both in production and financially.

The Indians are already above $80 million with their payroll for next season, more than last season’s payroll, so with little room to wiggle with the payroll they have to be creative.  The true impact to the roster will probably need to once again come from within next year as there are many internal solutions which can improve the team. Lonnie Chisenhall could break through, a young pen arm or two could solidify themselves as anchors in the bullpen, the Indians could have Salazar all year, Bauer and/or Carrasco could finally put it all together, a young bat like a Jesus Aguilar could potentially come up from the minors, Bourn and/or Cabrera could rebounding from tough 2013 campaigns, and so on.

There are great expectations for the Indians in 2014 and a lot of excitement whipped up by AL Manager of the YearTerry Francona being at the helm. But the rest of this offseason should be looked at as an opportunity to fine tune the roster and add value signings that make sense for an organization limited by a finite budget.  What kind of magic Antonetti and Francona are able to work up to fill the roster with little available money will be something interesting to see materialize this offseason.

But the expectations have to be within reason. Last year they didn’t get things rolling until the Winter Meetings started, so now that they are here, we just need to see what they do and how those expectations are met.

Winter Meetings preparations

After lots of amateur scouting meetings, player development meetings, and pro scouting meetings to assess the Indians needs and put together their offseason targets, the culmination of all of that planning will take place this week at the Winter Meetings.

Well, not exactly as there is no time limit set as to when the Indians need to strike and make moves to fill needs on the roster, but the Winter Meetings should give us a good idea of what the Indians have planned for this offseason. Up until now it has been largely unknown just what exactly the Indians plan to do, but the Winter Meetings always have a way of uncovering the plans for teams, even the more secretive like the Indians.

Up to this point not a lot is known exactly what the Indians are doing on the trade and free agent market. Most of this is due in large part to the no leaks policy GM Chris Antonetti has had employed for a few years now and one he has a zero tolerance policy for. So while it may appear the Indians are not actively pursuing players, a lot of this is by design as they do not leak deals for trades or free agent signings they are considering.

When a rumor comes about with a free agent, chances are the origin of the rumor is the agent for the player they are speaking to or from a team that has been in contact with the agent and he has shared who has shown interest in his client. If it is a rumor about a trade, chances are it is coming from the front office of the other team.

The Indians have been very quiet so far this offseason, which begs the question are they lurking in the shadows waiting to pounce on a few good deals or will they continue to impose this wait and see approach to see what kind of value buys they can make later in the offseason?

Antonetti has been aptly prepared for the Winter Meetings. He has had meeting after meeting with his pro scouting staff and the rest of his front office staff to prepare him for players they are interested in to have him ready to go and start dialogue on potential deals – a lot of dialogue which has probably already started.

If you go back to where the Indians were at this point last year entering the Winter Meetings, they definitely are in a better spot both development-wise in the minors and organizationally with the big league roster.  There were question marks galore in the starting rotation at the outset of the Winter Meetings last year, but this year the Indians feel pretty good about the front four of their rotation and some depth beyond it. They also have three new every day players in the lineup in Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn and Yan Gomes that they did not have or know about before last year’s Winter Meetings.

The needs are more clearly defined, although they are still plenty.

When talking to Indians personnel here and there over the past few months about the plans for this offseason, as usual, not much is shared to give any insight into their plans. However, the common reply is that they have to make “smart moves”.  They want to keep the momentum from their 92-win playoff season, but by the same token they can’t just sign a guy to sign him. It is a tough balance that they are working through this offseason.

Manager Terry Francona’s impact is still felt organization-wide. He came in last year and instilled the mentality of not being afraid to take chances and risk and win and do things the right way. He brought his whole experience from a competitive big market team and the Indians have adopted a lot of it into their current philosophy. But they are still a smaller market team that has to be smart with the way they spend their finite resources.

Antonetti, Francona and the rest of the Indians decision-makers have descended upon Disney World in Orlando and are as ready and prepared as they can be. The question now is whether they can put some of those plans on the trade and free agent market in motion and ultimately land a player or two to fill some needs on the roster.

Brett Anderson thoughts

The rumor machine with the Indians should get a lot of work these next few days. Up until the start of the Winter Meetings, the only trade rumor the Indians have really been involved in is for left-handed pitcher Brett Anderson of the Athletics. After the Athletics signed lefty Scott Kazmir to a 2-year $22 million deal, they have let it be known that they are willing to trade Anderson.

Anderson, 25, is a high upside pitcher with a lot of talent who has had trouble staying healthy over his career. He features a 90-92 MPH fastball that reaches 94 MPH and complements it with three solid to above average secondary offerings a curveball, slider and changeup. He commands all of his pitches well and has very good stuff, but he’s missed significant portions of the last four seasons. He had Tommy John surgery in 2011 which abbreviated his 2011 and 2012 seasons, but last season suffered an ankle injury that cost him most of his season.

Anderson is very available, but at $8 million for 2013 and a club option for $12 million ($1.5 million buyout) in 2015, he won’t be cheap to acquire both in terms of money and the talent to part with in order to land him.  Over the last four seasons he has appeared in just 54 games (43 starts), and the most starts he has had in a season (19) and innings (112.1) both occurred in 2010.

The Indians interest in Anderson is obvious: when healthy he is a very good pitcher and can impact as a front of the rotation type. But what also may intrigue them is the risk is only for one season as he is not guaranteed much money beyond this season. I like him, but he comes with some serious health risks and is not very reliable. If the Athletics are really interested in trading him, they may have to throw some money in any deal to cover some of his 2014 salary and his buyout in 2015.

Anderson would not be a long term risk, but he might cost too much in terms of money and prospects to add. He certainly fits the bill as another Kazmir-type who could rebound in a big way in 2014, but it is important to note that Kazmir was worth taking that shot for $1 million and on a non-guaranteed deal going into spring training. Anderson is guaranteed $8 million next season no matter what, so it is certainly a much bigger risk than the one the Indians took with Kazmir last season.

Bottom line, the Indians were against the risk associated with signing Kazmir for $22 million over two years – whether that makes sense or not. Anderson would only be a $9.5 million risk, which is much more manageable, but still a pricey trade option to consider. Stay tuned.

Ramirez sidelined

Last week I noted in my Winter Notebook that infielder Jose Ramirez is probably done playing winter ball in the Dominican Republic this offseason after suffering a left thumb injury. He last appeared in a game on November 22nd and left the Dominican Republic and returned to the states to have it further evaluated.

Well, apparently Ramirez injured the ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) in his right thumb and it will require surgery. He is scheduled to undergo surgery this coming Wednesday and the recovery time for such a procedure is seven to ten weeks. This will butt him right up with the start of spring training, but depending on how he responds to the surgery and how his rehab goes, it should not impact his spring training too much if at all.

This is an unfortunate injury for Ramirez as he is an immediate depth option for the Indians at third base, shortstop and second base, and the next utility option in line behind Mike Aviles. He is not expected to open the season in Cleveland because of the presence of Aviles and Asdrubal Cabrera on the roster, but if one were to be traded this offseason then he could be in line to take over the club’s utility role in Cleveland next year.

Tribe Fest tabbed for January 25-26

The second annual Tribe Fest is set to take place on January 25 and 26 at Progressive Field.

The following Indians players, prospects and coaches are expected to attend: manager Terry Francona, Michael Brantley, Mike Aviles, Carlos Santana, Danny Salazar, Yan Gomes, Corey Kluber, Zach McAllister, David Murphy, Trevor Bauer and 2012 top pick Clint Frazier, and others. Also, several prominent Tribe alumni such as Kenny Lofton will be in attendance for autographs and interviews on the KeyBank main stage and more.

The event will take place over three different sessions on Saturday, January 25 from 10AM to 2PM, Saturday, January 25 from 4PM to 8PM and Sunday, January 26 from 12PM to 6PM. Admission for adults is $10 in advance and tickets are available online only at Indians.com/TribeFest. Kids ages 12 and under again this year can attend the event for free when reserved with the purchase of an adult ticket. There is a limit of two free children’s admissions per paying adult. Tickets for kids age 12 and under are $5 at the gate day of event.

This year autographs can be guaranteed by purchasing an autograph ticket bundled at the same time with the general admission ticket online at Indians.com/TribeFest. In addition to interacting with players and obtaining autographs, young fans can hit in the Progressive Field batting cages, take tours of the home clubhouse, listen to Q&As with Tribe broadcasters and players, and more. For complete event details, visit Indians.com/TribeFest.

Parting shots

The Indians have promoted Lonnie Soloff to Senior Director of Medical Services and named James Quinlan as Head Athletic Trainer. Soloff will take on an expanded role in research and development pertaining to physical development, performance enhancement and injury prevention while assisting club executives in short-term and long-term injury risk assessments relative to strategic amateur and professional player personnel decisions.  Quinlan served as the club’s Minor League Rehabilitation Coordinator from 2008-11 after joining the organization the previous season. He spent the last two seasons as the Head Athletic Trainer at Triple-A Columbus. … Shortly after Tribe Happenings posted last week the Indians announced that they did not tender 2014 contracts to outfielderMatt Carson, right-handed pitcher Tyler Cloyd, and catcher Lou Marson. All are free agents. … The Indians also announced that they agreed to terms on 2014 major league contracts with right-handed relievers Frank Herrmannand Blake Wood. … Carlos Santana is expected to make his winter ball debut sometime this week in the Dominican Republic and play third base.

Follow Tony and the Indians Baseball Insider on Twitter @TonyIBI. Also, his new book the 2014 Cleveland Indians Baseball Insider which profiles the Indians' Top 100 Prospects and more is available for sale.

User Comments

Willie
December 9, 2013 - 9:34 PM EST
Interesting the Mets appear to be trying to move one or both of Ike Davis and Daniel Murphy. I'm not sure on their reasoning, but apparently they want to clear a little bit of salary. Based on mlbtraderumors.com's projections both players are in line for salaries of around Davis $4 M and Murphy $6 M. That's a total of $10 M IF they move both. I'm sure that's just a more ironic than anything, but they may be trying to clear salary to make another add. I had heard they had about $30 M to spend this offseason, but I am not sure if that's true.

I'd love to see the Tribe get Doubront for Bourn, but that seems unlikely. Tx, SF, Seattle, and AZ are all in the mkt for an OF.
Tony
December 9, 2013 - 8:53 PM EST
Gammons was just saying that the Red Sox are looking for an everyday CF. I'd dangle Bourn and see if they can pluck Peavy or Dempster or Doubrant. Obviously, depending on the pitcher, they would probably want a little more in return.

I still think the Mets may be a good fit when all is said and done for Cabrera.
Chip
December 9, 2013 - 8:48 PM EST
No way do I pay Cabrera $10 million this season. I'd take a bucket of balls before I'd pay that. If they could move Bourn & Cabrera's contracts that would free up a big chunk of cabbage.
Tony
December 9, 2013 - 5:23 PM EST
Completely agree Willie. In my view they almost have to trade one of Cabrera or Bourn in order to free up enough money to fill their offseason needs. Also shows how important it is to have cost controlled young players like Kipnis, Gomes, Kluber, Salazar, Allen, etc all making league minimum.
Willie
December 9, 2013 - 5:20 PM EST
All those internal raises are all the more reason to trade someone like ACab or Bourn to free up some wiggle room. They might actually get something serviceable back, too.
Tony
December 9, 2013 - 5:17 PM EST
Everything you need to know about the payroll is right here:

http://www.indiansbaseballinsider.com/payroll

Remember, Bourn is going from $6M in 2013 to $13.5M in 2014, Swisher from $11M in 2013 to $15M in 2014, Santana from $500K in 2013 to $3.5M in 2014, Cabrera from $6.5M in 2013 to $10M in 2014, Masterson from $5.6M to $9-10M in 2014, etc. They have so many internal raises in salaries which have wiped out anything saved from Perez, Jimenez and others coming off.
Green
December 9, 2013 - 5:09 PM EST
I can't wait to see the annual updates about the Indians payroll. I can't figure out how, despite losing the salaries of Perez, Jimenez, Reynolds, Meyers, and Smith, they are still at $80m. That has to be close to $30m in contracts.

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