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Tribe Happenings: Thome, Ramirez reunion might work

Tribe Happenings: Thome, Ramirez reunion might work
January 20, 2013
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Some news, notes, and thoughts from my Indians notebook:

Thome or Manny might fit DH need

The Indians still have a need at designated hitter. While I wrote a piece last month saying that there are several reasons they may prefer a rotation at the position for several reasons - and that it probably makes sense to do that - they have said several times this season they would like to add a bat to fill the designated hitter role.

Including all cash buyouts (Hafner option) and payouts (Choo trade), the Indians payroll at the moment is right around $76 million for next year. I’ve heard that the budget could go as high as $80 million, and if that is the case they could have up to $4 million in wiggle room to add a cheap bat in free agency.

While several pundits have said the Indians and Delmon Young may be a good match, I have yet to hear they have interest in him and I am unsure if he is the right fit. A more likely option that has been thrown around is a return of Travis Hafner on a one year deal.

But perhaps an even better option that might be had for a million or two is designated hitter Jim Thome. The Indians have interest in him and I have heard that they have even gone so far as to talk about a contract for next season. He definitely plans to play again next season, so he is considering a few offers and really wants one more crack at that elusive World Series ring. If the Indians were a sure thing, he might be a slam dunk signing, but since they are not he could end up anywhere.

Thome, who is now 42-years old, is limited to designated-hitter and pinch hitting duties and is no longer an everyday player. He is probably best as a part-time player that amasses around 300 plate appearances at most over the course of a season and matches up against right-handed pitching and is a big bopper off the bench. He can still hold his own against left-handed pitching, but against right-handers he is still very good as in 526 at bats over the last three seasons he has hit .276 with 34 homers, 97 RBI, and .937 OPS.  His leadership, presence, and personality would be a welcomed fit in the Indians clubhouse.

With Thome on the roster it would allow the Indians to have the right-handed hitting Yan Gomes as the designated hitter against lefties (or anyone else on the roster to rest them).  The other option is Chris McGuiness who could still make the roster even with Gomes and Thome on it since the Indians do not need a true fourth outfielder because Michael Brantley and Drew Stubbs can both handle any outfield position.

Thome seems like a realistic possibility since the Indians have sincere interest and he might want to finish his career as an Indian. Another interesting possibility, though more of a long shot, is Manny Ramirez.

Ramirez, 40, did not play in the Major Leagues last season because he had to serve his mandated 50-game suspension for testing positive for a banned substance. When the suspension was lifted he played in 17 games for the Athletics’ Triple-A Sacramento affiliate and hit .302 but had just three extra base hits – no homers – and had a .349 slugging percentage and 5-17 walk to strikeout ratio. He requested his outright release, it was granted, and he did not surface with another team the rest of the season.

But Ramirez resurfaced this offseason and has been playing winter ball in the Dominican Winter League and has looked good. Going into last night, in 43 combined regular season and playoff games for the Aguilas Cibaenas he was hitting .301 with 8 homers, 27 RBI and .849 OPS in 166 at bats.

Ramirez has no chance of landing a guaranteed Major League contract this offseason, but he would certainly be worth a flier on a minor league deal and see what happens with him this spring. Considering the Indians need for another bat on the cheap, he might make some sense. Sure, he brings some baggage with him, but as a former Indian and fan favorite, a lot of people would overlook the issues and be happy to have him “come home” to potentially finish his career.

I’m not one to typically endorse such moves to bring in a former hero from the 90s as I think those days are gone and it is time to move on from that era; not to mention these players are a far cry from what they once were. Yet the Indians could use a bat to fit the designated hitter role and I think either one may actually fit or help in some degree.

While it probably won’t happen, it would be interesting to bring in two former great Indians players back to the organization, see if they can help the team, and have them retire as an Indian. It would be a low risk move to sign either of them or even both of them, but could add some excitement and the cherry on top of the sundae to an offseason which has already been the best in years.

Six signed, one to go

From Thursday night through late Friday morning the Indians put the final touches on one year deals with six of their seven arbitration eligible players before the 1pm signing deadline. Right-handed reliever Matt Albers, catcher Lou Marson, right-handed starting pitcher Justin Masterson, right-handed closer Chris Perez, right-handed reliever Joe Smith, and outfielder Drew Stubbs all agreed to one year deals to avoid arbitration.

Here are the amounts the Indians signed each player for with the amount they were projected to get according to MLBTradeRumors.com:

Player Projected Actual Difference
Matt Albers 1.700 1.750 0.050
Lou Marson 0.800 1.000 0.200
Justin Masterson 5.700 5.688 -0.012
Chris Perez 7.200 7.300 0.100
Joe Smith 2.700 3.150 0.450
Drew Stubbs 2.900 2.825 -0.075
TOTAL 21.000 21.713 0.713

* - in millions

The Indians did very well in going over only by a little over $700K for the six players, and really they signed half of the players close to the projected amount and only the Smith deal was for a considerable difference.

Of course, when it is all said and done they will probably end up spending a little over $1 million more than projected on the arbitration eligible players because one player still remains unsigned. That player is infielder Mike Aviles.

Since the Indians were unable to sign Aviles prior to the 1pm signing deadline, they were required to present a desired salary to the MLB Labor Relations Department, which turned out to be $2.4 million. Aviles and other players who filed for arbitration on Tuesday already submitted their requested salary figure to the MLB Labor Relations Department, and his was $3.4 million. By rule, after the deadline passed the Indians and Aviles can still negotiate a deal, but they can only negotiate a deal between the two requested figures of $2.4 million and $3.4 million.

At this time Aviles is not expected to jeopardize the Indians’ streak of avoiding arbitration as they last went to arbitration in 1991 with Greg Swindell and Jerry Browne.  Now that the Indians and Aviles have exchanged arbitration figures they know they are only a million apart and a deal can still be reached prior to Feb 1st when arbitration hearings start.  He was projected to get $2.3 million, so no matter what, his new deal will come in higher than that, and thus should push the total arbitration spending to around $24.5 million.

World Baseball Classic rosters set

On Thursday the World Baseball Classic released the provisional rosters for all 16 teams in the tournament that will be played this March.  The tournament runs from March 2nd through the 19th, and will be held in several locations including Puerto Rico, Japan, Taiwan, Phoenix, Miami, and San Francisco.

Six Indians were named to the roster, and they are shortstop Mike Aviles (Puerto Rico), shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera (Venezuela), right-handed pitcher Chris Perez (United States), right-handed pitcher Vinnie Pestano (United States), catcher Carlos Santana (Dominican Republic), and left-handed pitcher Giovanni Soto (Puerto Rico).

Catcher Yan Gomes was expected to be on the Brazil roster, but he was not on the provisional roster because he is still deciding whether or not to play. He would probably prefer to play for his home country, but he is also taking careful consideration in what is a big spring training for him since he has a very good chance to win a spot on the Indians opening day roster. Final rosters are not due until February 20th, so teams  with  less  than  28  players  on  their  provisional  rosters  may  make changes until then. So, he has time between now and then to make a final decision.

This is the third go around for the WBC. I admit when the first one debuted in 2006 I was very skeptical and laughed at the idea, but my tune has changed in a big way ever since. The last one in 2009 was a thrilling tournament with close, intense games that had several memorable finishes, and I am excited to see what happens the third time around.

Yes, there is a concern that a player may get injured in the tournament and ruin their season, but the risk is not much different than if they were playing in a spring training game. The workload for pitchers is almost identical to spring training, and position players get time off because of the deep rosters.  I for one actually like the idea of amped up game competition early in spring training with games that matter versus games where guys have little if any intensity and are just trying to get their work in. If you ask me, those less intense outings make a player more susceptible to injury.

I’m very intrigued by the Team USA roster. The lineup is pretty solid with names like Mark Teixeira at first, Brandon Phillips at second, Jimmy Rollins at short, David Wright at third, Joe Mauer at catcher, Ryan Braun in left, Adam Jones in center, and Giancarlo Stanton in right. That is a very good lineup. The bullpen looks strong as well with the likes of Vinnie Pestano, Chris Perez, Jeremy Affeldt, Craig Kimbrel and others, but the rotation is very mediocre with R.A. Dickey, Derek Holland, Kris Medlen, and Ryan Vogelsong.

Team USA might be the favorite had the likes of Justin Verlander, C.C. Sabathia, David Price, Clayton Kershaw, Zach Greinke, and Roy Halladay been in the rotation, but with a good but not great rotation it will be interesting to see how they fare in the tournament. Luckily, they have Mexico, Italy, and Canada in their pool and should be able to make it out of it unless disaster strikes, but the second round and finals will be much tougher.

In any case, I hope more people jump on the WBC bandwagon this spring. All the games will be on MLB Network which should help, and it should get a lot more play and exposure on the national news networks and on websites and blogs around the country which could help convert some fans.

Francona effect

The Indians have yet to play a single game with their new skipper, but since he was hired three months ago the new Indians manager Terry Francona has already had a big influence on the entire organization from the front office down to the minor league players.

Several times since the hiring I have mentioned how Francona has been a major part of the Indians more aggressive approach this offseason. He came in with fresh ideas and a different way of thinking from a successful Red Sox organization, and the Indians top decision-makers listened. Prior to his arrival they were set to make several changes with or without him, but he has really been the glue that brought all the new ideas together.

During the Winter Development Program that wrapped up earlier in the week Francona left a big impression on several of the young Indians minor league players that were in town for the annual event. To a word, every single one of the players I talked to – over ten of them – said they were blown away with the speech he made to them. It was a moving speech, one that had a slow, calm buildup and delivered a strong message and left them in awe.

Francona’s message was clear: they are the future of the organization and they are needed for the organization to have any sustainable success.

Anyone who has been following the Indians for some time knows that they need young prospects to come up and impact the team for them to be successful. They have never been a team that goes out and buys talent; they have to draft and develop it or trade for it in veteran for prospect trades. That is how they became so good in the 90s and how they will have to become good again in the future and have any sustainable success at the big league level.

Francona gets it. He knows how important the young players in the farm system are to his future success as a manager with the team. Not only does he have his eye on this season, but beyond as well. He has been getting to know countless players up and down the farm system, so much so, while the players were in Cleveland for the program he struck up conversations with ease even though it was the first time he physically met them in person. He knew everyone by name as soon as he saw them, talked about their stuff, and knew everything about each of them inside and out.

This is Francona’s style as a manager as he always wants to keep in contact with his players, and get to know all of them. Not just the big league guys, but those all the way down to Single-A as well.  This is something that is much different from recent managers like Manny Acta and Eric Wedge.

These players now have a Major League manager that knows who they are, actually wants to know who they are, and understands why they are so important.  It may seem small in scale, but it is something that makes all of these players believe even more that they have value, and more importantly, that they can trust in their manager.

Parting shots

The Indians have reportedly signed infielder Ryan Raburn to a minor league contract. He could be an option to make the opening day roster as role player off the bench, or can be sent to Triple-A Columbus as depth. … The Indians have also been tied to free agent infielder Ryan Theriot and right-handed pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka. Both could be looking at minor league contracts due to poor seasons last year, age, or injury concerns. … From the sounds of it, Tribe Fest has been a big success so far. The turnout has been great, and although the lines and waits have been long that is something they will probably look to better prepare for next year now that they know what to expect.  In any case, it is nice to see all the Indians excitement in January! … The new 2013 IBI prospect book is coming along and should be available soon. The target is an early February release.

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

Tony
January 21, 2013 - 12:16 PM EST
When the projected arbitration numbers were the floor in those contract discussions, then yeah, going over by a total of only $700K for the six players was not bad at all.
i dont get math / common sense
January 21, 2013 - 11:38 AM EST
Thanks, Tony. I'm too dumb to figure out whether or not paying more than projected is good or bad for the Indians. I'm glad I have a clearly unbiased party telling me that overpaying is actually good.
Tony
January 21, 2013 - 12:25 AM EST
Roger and others, I agree on turning the page. I've never been one to openly parade about bringing back guys from the 90s. And I am still not sold on Thome and Ramirez.....but being objective about it and looking at the Indians limited funds and supposedly still looking for a bat.....I can see a match here. Not sure I would agree with it, but for peanuts and low risk, not sure I would have a problem with bringing either back as well.

Seth, I agree on Hafner, and of the three I'd probably prefer him so long as it is known he is getting just 300-350 ABs. Still productive when he is in the lineup, but I think he might command more than Thome. I'm guessing $3-5 million on a one year deal (I think he will get more than you are proposing).

JWahoo, I stand corrected on Manny. I am one of those people that is for moving on from the 90s, but I must admit I am somewhat intrigued with a return of him and have changed my mind a little because of his good showing this offseason. I still consider it a long shot he returns, but I think there should be interest now to bring him in on a minor league deal if possible.

I don't get math or Common Cents (whatever you are calling yourself today), signing all of those arbitration eligible guys for a total overage of $700K above the projected total is solid if not well done. Considering they had several guys get $2 million or more, that's actually pretty good I think. Of course you'd want to be less than the projection, but there was no way that would ever happen as the projection was pretty much the floor in any contract discussions.
Frank
January 20, 2013 - 10:59 PM EST
At first I thought it would be a waste of time signing any of the three, Manny, Thome or Hafner. All 3 are at or near the ends of their respective careers & because of age, injuries, etc would probably have very little chance of making it out of spring training. But then I thought, what the heck, sign all 3 to low non-guarnteed minor league deals with invites to spring training. Would certainly make this spring training, especially with the WBC going on this year, a little more interesting. And, if nothing else, it may give Thome & Manny a chance to retire as Indians. Don`t really see any big harm in it. The Indians seem to bring in a bucket full of these kind of guys every spring: one`s who have very little chance of sticking. You can still look for someone else to come in to compete for DH who would have a better chance at being the DH once camp breaks.
Matt underwood
January 20, 2013 - 10:28 PM EST
Why can't people get over the 90's? Move on people and tribe front office...

Ps - is there seriously a thome statue now at Jacobs field? Why?
SgtCarter
January 20, 2013 - 9:27 PM EST
If our farm system was in good shape we wouldn't think of signing Hafner or Thome or Manny. Who is next Andre "Thunder"Thornton or "The Big Mon' Rico Carty?
i dont get math
January 20, 2013 - 8:48 PM EST
JWahoo, maybe its just b/c i dont understand math, but would you tell me what I'm missing;

(a) The Indians spend $700k more than what the were projected to in arbitration

(b) The Indians did "very well" in arbitration

Seems to me they would have done "very well" if they spent $700k less than what they were projected, but I'm really stupid and all of this advanced mathematics is hurting my brain. It's just too complex for me to understand.
Seth
January 20, 2013 - 3:59 PM EST
when you're dealing with a guy who's 42, and another chronic injury case, I don't think there's much value in looking at 3 years of performance. Thome comes out on top over a 3-year time frame due to his really good 2010, though Hafner actually has 243 more PAs during that time period. Over the past 2 seasons, they have an identical wRC+ of 123. Thome only got 186 PAs and struck out 33% of the time last year, while also drawing walks at a much lower rate than normal, which makes me think he doesn't have much left. Hafner's rates were pretty much normal, he struck out a little less and hit for a little more power than he had over the past few years, so if he can move, I think he can still be productive. Not so sure about Thome. If Hafner simply bounces back to his 2011 performance, he's a significant upgrade over what they have right now, and over what Thome's likely to do this year.

There's not really any downside to picking up Thome either though, other than the opportunity cost of not picking up Hafner or someone else. I'd rather they give him a try than just go into the year with Yan Gomes or McGuiness as the primary DH. There are guys on the 40-man roster who are still very expendable (e.g. McDade) so it's not like they have a lot to lose by picking up one of these guys.
Jwahoo
January 20, 2013 - 2:45 PM EST
@Seth You make some good really good points. But I wonder how the numbers would look if you took the last 3-4 years they have played.
Jack
January 20, 2013 - 2:15 PM EST
We need to get our head and heart out of the 90s and into the 21st century. Thome will never get 300 PAs again and at 42, there's only 1 direction for his performance - down.

Ramirez isn't even a shell of his former self. Expecting him to come in and be productive without PEDs at age 40 is just silly.

We have to move on from the glory days. They're over and done with.
Seth
January 20, 2013 - 2:05 PM EST
Looking at their numbers a little further, I'd say it's not even that close between Thome and Hafner, unless there's concern that Hafner's leg issues have become as chronic as his shoulder problems and he's about done. (Thome has his own chronic issue, known as being 42 years old) Last year Thome had an 11.8% BB rate, 32.8% K-rate, and a .190 ISO, and was good for a 112 wRC+. Hafner was at 12.2% BB rate, 17.9% K-rate, .210 ISO and 119 wRC+. So even the Hafner who was severely hampered by a knee injury and gimping around for half the year, then coming back still looking injured after surgery, still managed more ABs than Thome, while hitting with a bit more power, walking a bit more and striking out a LOT less.

There's not a lot of downside risk to signing Hafner. You give him something like a million guaranteed and some opportunities to make around $3-4 if he meets some AB and performance thresholds, and I would imagine he'd bite. I doubt anyone else would offer him more than that. When he's been in the lineup, he's still been one of their better hitters and has improved the offense a lot, and even with his injuries he's still been averaging over 300 ABs the past few years.
Jwahoo
January 20, 2013 - 1:55 PM EST
@ I don't get the math. Seems you don't get alot of things. (just following the tone of his post). Are you really upset over 700,000 dollars? When was the last time you followed baseball? That means that Indians just about got the job done. More then that Arbitration is an ugly thing. The team must make a case against the player laying out all their doubts and problems with said player. Can you see why a team might not want to do this? The Tribe was able to avoid most of this except with Aviles I believe and still payed about what they should have. Seems to me like your crying over spilt milk without any context.
Homer
January 20, 2013 - 1:53 PM EST
I think it's Matt Swartz at mlbtraderumors that does those projections and they are usually fairly accurate. If any thing it shows the Tribe is on / near target with these guys on their real mkt value. This offseason has seen somewhat of a jump in contracts for some guys in light of the new TV money coming soon. I think that has affected some of these signings as well.
I dont get math
January 20, 2013 - 1:48 PM EST
I, too, agree that the Indians did "very well" in paying $700k over what MLBTradeRumors.com projected they should pay in arbitration. Logic suggests you'd want to pay less than expected, but forget all that non-sense. I'd prefer to pay more for the same amount of talent any day of the week. That's just good business.
Jwahoo
January 20, 2013 - 1:29 PM EST
When I brought up Manny a few weeks ago, I think people thought I was joking and got a stone cold "no" from Tony. Did his work in Winter Ball change the opinion on him? Or is it just the fact the Indians want to add another bat?
Roger
January 20, 2013 - 11:59 AM EST
i tend to agree with seth if given those three choices hafner would be the choice he lives in cleveland also so it would be his choice and it doesnt appear that his phone or his agents phone are ringing off the hook to be hired elsewhere he may have to take what the tribe is willing to offer him. although i disagree with anyone about raybun, dombroski has virtually built 4 world series teams two in miami and two in detroit i dont think he did that by missing out on talent after having it for several years like he had ryan. he is versatile so was lopez and lillibridge but no thanks on those two stiffs. go to camp with what we have unless something falls into out lap. no real sure you dont end up with too many guys for a fe w roles and then you dont get a true picture the WBC is gonna open up opportunities to see more utility guys do to regs being at the WBC but not sure if you have aveles, gomes, and diaz who i think is a waste of a spot on the 40 man roster btw, it just muddiesup the water but i do think anto and shap sometimes overthink this and make simple more complicated than it needs to be. Plus with the amount of middle infielders we will have in minor league camp, the lions share will be at the big league camp until the minor league camp opens and it can be an incredible from an intangible basis learning experience and guys like rayburn just deprive the real future of knowledge that may come in handy at another time in the not too distant future. 2 maybe 3 years for lindor, ramirez, and wohlers and ron rod and they will be knocking on the door to be let into the adult world of major league baseball, let them maybe snack at the adult table this thanksgiving before they have to eat main course at the kid table. to use a turkey day metaphor. with the position changes that are emminent it seems to me that major league coaches are better at teaching cause you in life do get what you pay for and the pay is far superior at the major league coaching level. Incidently i note that MLB is now allowing 7 uniformed coaches have the tribe hired an additional official coach yet if not are they talking to some people it seems to be that the reason for 6 farm teams is competive balance the 7th coach woudnt hurt
keep the faith tony!!
Seth
January 20, 2013 - 10:25 AM EST
I would think the Indians could use a left handed bat at DH a little more. They will want to give Santana days off from catching anyway, and Marson hits left-handed pitching pretty well, so having Marson catch and Santana DH against most LH starters would make sense. My preference would be Hafner, Thome, Ramirez, if those were the guys under consideration. If you can keep Hafner healthy for 300 at bats, I think he brings more than Thome would.
Norm
January 20, 2013 - 9:42 AM EST
Interesting write Tony. Leave me off the Ramirez bandwagon. If we have to have a designated junkie, Lance Armstrong is available. Even with all his injuries, Hafner looks better than Thome to me.

I think Raburn could turn out to be a better signing than the usual depth options. Injured much of last year, he could still recover enough of a bat like 2009-11 to be valuable. He is likely to hit better away from Detroit and defends adequately if not spectacularly. Might even fill in as a RH DH on occasion.

All in all, the Tribe has had a productive off season. They need a lot of health and the SPs to step up but they look better than last year IMO.
Roger
January 20, 2013 - 9:32 AM EST
tony as per your usual minor happenings is informative today. However even though i have hesitation about musical chairs at DH, and would prefer a full time DH if one is available the last option i want this team of the entire roster born after 1980 is manny, He has been his own worst enemy, and honestly i am of the opinion that manny and toa lesser degree thome should pull a lone ranger and with tonto ride into the sunset. I am 63 so i surely know what a sunset looks like. The time is now to turn the page, this is a good young team. If i bring anyone in the person i might HIRE as a consultant is Jamie Moyer to teach the change up to the staff. No one has a better one than moyer, I dont want him on the staff of pitchers i would like him as spring training instructor. From both a tangible and intangible basis he could teach the pitching staff an awful lot about tenacity and might be able to tutor scott kazmir back a few short years ago when he was really good. there are some parallels there as when jamie moyer was kazmirs age teams werent knocking down his door to sign him but he sure won an awful lot of games after turning 30 and I am sure is a treasure chest of knowledge we would be wise to spend the small amount of money to bring him onboard as a consultant. Just my dimes worth on this cold sunday in january

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