Thursday, 17 December 2015

Indians Sign Mike Napoli and Rajai Davis

Wednesday afternoon saw the Indians react to the big Todd Frazier trade to Chicago by signing two veteran free agents in Mike Napoli and Rajai Davis, pending physicals.

Napoli is a 34 year-old right-handed bat who is expected to be the Tribe's primary first baseman, leaving Carlos Santana at DH. Napoli spent 2015 between Boston and Texas, being traded to the Rangers in August, and hit .224/.324/.410 (BA/OBP/SLG) with 18 home runs and 50 RBI over 133 games. The first part of his season in Boston was not so kind to him, batting .207/.307/.386 with a 85 OPS+, but he really turned things around back in Texas, hitting .295/.396/.513 down the stretch for an OPS+ of 143. The Indians will be hoping his late season surge is a sign of things to come. The deal is reportedly for $7 million for 1 year, making Napoli the Indians' most expensive signing of the winter thus far. I like this signing quite a bit and as long as he can stay healthy, Napoli's powerful bat is a welcome addition to the Indians' lineup. With this addition, the club now has three full-time 1B/DH types on the 25-man roster in Napoli, Santana and Chris Johnson. There's a strong possibility that three is a crowd in this situation and one of Santana or Johnson could be traded. Watch this space.

Davis is a 35 year-old right-handed outfielder and is somewhat of a journeyman over the course of his 10 year MLB career, featuring for 6 teams now including Cleveland. He spent 2015 with the Tigers where he hit .258/.306/.440 with 8 home runs, 30 RBI, and 18 stolen bases in 112 games. The Indians will be looking to get the most value out of Davis with his above-average defensive abilities. He can play anywhere in the outfield and has great range and speed, even at 35 years of age (he had a 8.2 UZR/150 in the outfield in 2015, his highest since 2009.) Davis is reportedly signing a one-year deal for just over $5 million, plus incentives, which is about in line with what Detroit paid him last year.

His acquisition is another example of the club's off-season strategy regarding the outfield; instead of trading prospects and young talent, the Indians seem content to pick up an assortment of veteran cast-offs hoping somebody elevates themselves and sticks on the team. Davis will compete with the other newcomers in Robbie Grossman, Joey Butler, and Collin Cowgill, as well as the incumbent outfielders already at the club in Abraham Almonte, Lonnie Chisenhall et al. All the new guys will likely be keeping Michael Brantley's seat warm until he comes back, but Davis and friends will be hoping to show enough to stay on the club as a valuable fourth outfielder.


Cleveland has finally put down some money, although not in the way many fans would have liked. The signings of Napoli and Davis are not blockbuster additions but they are probably the most realistic options at this point. Not only is Cleveland a small-market club with limited means, these days it can be a struggle to attract the higher-profile free agents who might choose to join a more glamorous club in cities with brighter lights. Most importantly, the new signings don't put pressure on the payroll like the Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher signings in 2013 did, and so there's very little risk if Napoli and Davis don't pan out. As much as I'd love to see a superstar outfielder join the team, I can't blame the organisation for holding onto their talent.

Thanks for reading.

Saturday, 12 December 2015

Indians Add Grossman, Paulino & Butler

Since my last post, the MLB Winter Meetings in Nashville have been and gone but the flurry of activity hasn't stopped. In fact, for the Indians it's only just begun.

Today the Indians agreed to terms with 2 free agents: Outfielder Robbie Grossman and pitcher Felipe Paulino, both men earning minor league contracts with invites to Spring Training and a chance to crack the Opening Day roster.

Grossman is 26 years-old and plays the outfield, mostly in left but he can play in right and center too. He's coming off the back of a very poor 2015 campaign, playing in just 24 games, batting .143/.222/.245 (BA/OBP/SLG) with 1 home run and 5 RBI, before being released by Houston this November. The acquisition of Grossman screams 'minor league depth addition' and I don't expect him to be the answer to the Tribe's outfield problems. But it can't hurt to give him a chance during the spring, and it's another low-risk addition to the team.

Paulino is a 32 year-old right-handed pitcher who last pitched in the majors for the White Sox in 2014. He spent all of 2015 with the Cubs' Triple-A farm team in Iowa, starting 20 games and pitching to a 4.93 ERA over 104 innings with 83 strikeouts. Traditionally a starter, the Tribe could figure to use him as a relief pitcher but obviously he'd be very useful for the occasional spot-start. Again, another low-risk, low-cost pickup that could bear fruit but won't hurt the club if things don't pan out.

A few days ago on December 7th the Indians claimed outfielder Joey Butler off of waivers from the Rays. Butler will be 30 years-old on Opening Day and is a right-handed bat who saw the majority of his time in 2015 as a DH in Tampa, but he can play the outfield too, mostly in left field. This would indicate that the Indians might view him as a stopgap until Michael Brantley recovers from his recent shoulder surgery. Butler has spent 3 years in the majors, with a career batting average of .274, and he hit 8 home runs in 88 games for Tampa in 2015. He is just one more low-risk outfield addition, to go along with Collin Cowgill (signed on December 3rd) and Robbie Grossman, but Butler is an interesting addition purely because his numbers don't totally stink and he could become a useful 4th outfielder for the Tribe in 2016 (if he can stick on the team.)


From the additions the Indians have made thus far, it is clear the club do not intend to address the outfield concerns with a big splash via free agency, and are instead content to patch the holes with players who have been discarded from other teams that could potentially be reborn in Cleveland. These non-roster invitees are unlikely to have the kind of impact most Indians fans would like to see, but they won't cost the club anything and so they can't hurt at the very least.

A small market club like the Tribe were always highly unlikely to spend big, like the Cubs did today on Jason Heyward, but part of me wanted them to be a little more proactive during the Winter Meetings to acquire someone new who could really have an impact in the lineup. Be that via a trade or even a smaller free agency addition like Nori Aoki, it would have been refreshing to see Cleveland make an ambitious acquisition, instead of the 'dumpster-diving' they've participated in instead. I really hope players like Grossman, Butler and Cowgill can come good and be effective for the big league club, but the odds are against them.

The off-season isn't over yet though, and other major league clubs are still eyeing up our highly-prized arms. Maybe the Indians will surprise us and pull off a revolutionary trade that will turn them into instant contenders. Just don't get your hopes up.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, 3 December 2015

Fixing The Indians This Off-Season: Part 2

Since my last post, the MLB Hot Stove has begun to heat up and free agents are finally starting to move. One of the first major dominoes to fall was David Price, who signed a record contract in Boston this week, and now all eyes turn to Zack Greinke and where he could end up.

Even our Indians have been busy, making a small trade with the Angels yesterday, acquiring outfielder Collin Cowgill for cash considerations, DFA'ing reliever Nick Hagadone in the process to make room. This is a typical Indians trade, a low risk move that adds some depth to the roster. Cowgill is expected to platoon with Lonnie Chisenhall in right field and possibly back-up Abraham Almonte in center field. Collin is a right-handed-hitting outfielder (something our lineup lacks) who hits lefties pretty well (.271 average) and plays plus defense in all three outfield spots. I don't think this is the end of the Indians trying to upgrade the outfield but it's a nice minor move that could pay off and he'll likely see playing time whenever the Tribe face an opposing team's southpaw.

Which leads me onto the second part of my plan to fix the Indians this off-season. Part one looked at potential outfield free agents that could be acquired, whereas part two will look at possible trade targets that would significantly improve the Tribe's lineup.

Upgrade The Outfield Part 2: Trading For Outfield Help

The general consensus among fans and critics regarding the Indians and their attempt to upgrade their lineup sees at least one of our starting pitchers leaving the club in return for a bat that would take our offensive production up a notch. All the following trade scenarios are based on this premise, as the Indians have what many teams crave: young and effective pitching that is under club control for a good price. The market for quality pitching is so thin that teams have to pretty much overpay (see J.A. Happ's deal in Toronto) and so the Indians are in a position where they can demand a lot for one of their highly-prized arms. So let's look at the first trade target:

Yasiel Puig

The Cuban outfielder divides opinion. There's no doubt of his potential as a star player but then we've also seen the other, darker side of his production as a very average, and very distracting player in 2015.

When he burst onto the scene in 2013, the Dodgers had a phenomenon on their hands not seen since the days of pitcher Fernando Valenzuela. Puig absolutely raked in 2013, batting .319 and producing a stellar 159 OPS+, and kept that level of production going for the majority of 2014, batting .296 with a 145 OPS+. But 2014 also saw the problems that would plague Puig start to creep in. Word started to spread that he was becoming a locker-room nuisance, that teammates were tiring of his off-field antics and his annoying entourage. Then in 2015 Puig crashed to earth, playing in only 79 games and batting just .255, whilst still pissing people off. He went from being the toast of Los Angeles to many people feeling that the Dodgers would be better off washing their hands of him.

But there's still a lot of positives surrounding Puig. He'll be just 25 on Opening Day and won't be a free agent until 2020, although he'll cost around $20 million over the next 3 years, which is a lot for a club like the Indians but not a lot when you consider what a player with his skill-set should cost. He's a right-handed bat with the ability to hit for power, something our lineup desperately needs, and he's a tremendous athlete. His production dropped off in 2015 largely because of injury but his off-field shenanigans probably also played a part. But if you put him in Cleveland, without the bright lights and distractions of LA, would he rededicate himself to the game? It's a strong possibility, just look at the Cavaliers' JR Smith since he moved away from New York. .

My biggest issue with Puig is his attitude and mental state, and whether the Indians would put up with all of his baggage. However, skipper Terry Francona has previous experience dealing with difficult outfielders, managing Manny Ramirez for a long time in Boston, so I feel like Francona could handle anything Puig has to throw at him.

Still, the risk is high with this trade. What would we have to give up? After Puig's poor 2015 showing, his trade value is lower than it would have been just a year ago, but the Dodgers would still command a lot in return. If they lose Zack Greinke in free agency, which is looking increasingly likely, then they will want a top quality starter to slot straight into their rotation. Any of our top three guys would be discussed, but I think a package of Carlos Carrasco and one of our outfield prospects (we'll go with Zimmer here to really sweeten the deal) could be enough to persuade the Dodgers to part with Puig. Here's my deal:

CLE sends: RHP Carlos Carrasco and OF Bradley Zimmer
LAD sends: OF Yasiel Puig

Mookie Betts

I'm a huge fan of Red Sox outfielder Mookie Betts and he would solve the Indians center field problem instantly. Betts is one of the most exciting young players in baseball and had an outstanding 2015 season at just 22 years of age. In 145 games Betts had a batting line of .291/.341/.479 (BA/OBP/SLG), clubbing 18 home runs with 77 RBIs, stealing 21 bases, on his way to a 118 OPS+ and a 4.8 WAR. He's now 23 years-old and is under club control until 2021, and isn't arbitration eligible until 2018. To put it simply, Betts would be my dream pickup if I could trade for anybody in MLB (outside of Mike Trout of course.)

With the Red Sox committing a record $217 million over 7 years to ace pitcher David Price, Boston have shown the league that they are ready to compete for a World Series once again. However, even with Price in their rotation, they still lack the starting pitching to be a true contender. You never know which Clay Buchholz will turn up, even when he's healthy, and Rick Porcello and Wade Miley will eat innings but won't give you the production a true number two starter would. Eduardo Rodriguez has potential but might still need time to grow. So would Boston be interested in adding another ace to their rotation? If they want to win right now, I think they would.

Now the painful part to acquiring Betts would likely see the Tribe lose Corey Kluber. Kluber is the undisputed staff ace, our 2014 Cy Young winner who I love dearly, but if I can acquire 23 year-old Betts in exchange for the turning-30-in-April Kluber, I would do that deal. Pitchers are notoriously unpredictable with injuries anyway, but once they get north of 30, the likelihood of them staying healthy drastically decreases. Despite Kluber having a good history with injuries, the Indians would almost certainly get more years of quality production out of Betts. Kluber is still at the peak of his powers and could have a few Cy Young-worthy seasons left in the tank, so if the Red Sox were willing to part with Betts, and it would take some persuasion, I think the Tribe could grab a pitching prospect in return. Here's my deal:

CLE sends: RHP Corey Kluber and OF/1B Mike Papi
BOS sends: OF Mookie Betts and RHP Michael Kopech

My reasoning here is Boston gets another ace in Kluber (can you imagine a rotation headed by Price AND Kluber? They would jump at this!) and we get our star outfielder in Betts, who the Sox would instantly replace with Jackie Bradley Jr. or Brock Holt. If the deal needed more than just a straight swap of star players, and it probably would, then Boston can have our number 13 prospect Mike Papi, who can play in the corner outfield spots or 1B (hey, they need a new Papi now Ortiz is retiring...) and the Indians could have Kopech, Boston's second-best pitching prospect and 5th overall.

This trade would dramatically improve both teams instantly and although Boston now have Price and don't necessarily need Kluber, I wonder if the temptation of having two aces in the same rotation could sway them into parting with Betts...

Jorge Soler

With the Cubs missing out on David Price to Boston and Zack Greinke almost certainly staying in California with either the Dodgers or the Giants, the top-tier pitcher Chicago would love to acquire will almost certainly have to come via trade.

The Cubs lineup boasts a number of young and promising bats and the guy I'd like the most on their roster would be Jorge Soler. The 23 year-old Cuban right fielder (who is 24 by Opening Day) had a respectable, if not disappointing 2015 season, batting .262 with 10 home runs and 47 RBIs and a slightly below-average 97 OPS+ over 101 games played. He had a terrific post-season, batting .474 with 3 homers and a .600 OBP in 7 games against the Mets and the Cardinals. The Cubs hope he can carry that form into 2016 and start to realize his enormous potential.

I look at Soler as a Puig-lite without all the bad attitude issues. Soler does strike out too much, with 121 K's in 366 at-bats and he should probably hit more homers because his line drives fly off his bat. His lack of homers could just be a fluke, and as he gets older this will probably be corrected over time.

Trading for Soler is a small risk, because the Indians would be banking on him continuing to develop, so they wouldn't be trading for the finished package like they would if they went after a Carlos Gonzalez or a Brett Gardner. But that also means the Tribe wouldn't have to give up so much in a trade. Here would be my deal:

CLE sends: RHP Danny Salazar
CHI sends: RF Jorge Soler

Out of Kluber, Carrasco and Salazar, unfortunately Danny is the odd man out from that group that I'd be willing to let go for Soler. Salazar had a superb 2015, making 30 starts with a 3.45 ERA, with 195 strikeouts in 185 innings. He's only 25 and under club control until 2021, something that would be immensely appealing to the Cubs. The reason I'm willing to give up on Salazar is purely because of his history with injuries. Pitchers are unpredictable at best and if we could get a young outfield player in return for a pitcher that could get hurt in the near-future, well I'm willing to take a risk on the potential of Soler in this situation. I'm a big fan of Salazar and there's a huge part of me that would regret giving up on him this early in his career, but the possibility of Soler growing into an All Star, well I'm willing to take that risk. If the Cubs would take someone like Trevor Bauer instead of Salazar, I would jump on that trade, but I don't think Chicago would settle for anybody less than one of our top three arms.


That's three possible trade scenarios, and I could have done many more. Remember, this is complete fantasy and fan wish-fulfillment. 

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Fixing The Indians This Off-Season: Part 1

With the MLB Winter Meetings right around the corner I thought I'd put myself in the shoes of new Indians General Manager Mike Chernoff and President of Baseball Operations Chris Antonetti and create my own plan for the Indians' off-season. This is complete wish fulfillment but I'll try and stay as close to reality as possible (so they'll be no 'Hey, how about a trade for Mike Trout' stuff here.) Here's a few moves I would like to see happen between now and Spring Training 2016:

Upgrade The Outfield Part 1: Internal Solutions & Free Agency

The Indians' outfield during the 2015 season was a Frankenstein-like monster, with the only real bright spot being Michael Brantley. Despite an incredible comeback season by Jason Kipnis, Brantley was once again the best hitter in Cleveland and is the star player on this team outside of the rotation. Over 137 games, Brantley batted for a .310 average, 379 OBP, .480 SLG and a .859 OPS. He hit 15 homes runs, 84 RBIs, stole 15 bases and drew 60 walks, all contributing to an outstanding OPS+ of 130, a team high among batters with at least 200 at bats.

Brantley did all this whilst playing hurt and getting very little help from the rest of the Indians lineup. Not only does Brantley need help but his injuries eventually led to him being shut down towards the end of the season and he's since had arthroscopic shoulder surgery that will see him miss 5-6 months, almost certainly ruling him out for the beginning of the season. His rehab from that kind of surgery could be lengthy, so I'm not expecting a 100% healthy Brantley until late May/early June at best.

So the Indians are in a tricky spot, especially since the front office decided not to retain outfielder Ryan Raburn for $3 million, buying him out for $100,000 instead. Excluding Brantley, the current outfielders on the Indians 40 man roster right now are:

Abraham Almonte
Lonnie Chisenhall
Michael Choice
Tyler Naquin
James Ramsey
Jerry Sands
Zach Walters

A major league outfield looking for a division title that list does not make. Half of those guys are still Triple-A players and as much as Almonte endeared himself to me after coming over to Cleveland via trade, I'm still not entirely sold that he's a long term answer. I'd be willing to give Ramsey a chance to shine at the MLB level, but only if we already had the luxury of three healthy, productive outfielders (we don't). And Lonnie, well we know he's had his ups and downs, but he was remarkably decent in right field in 2015 which was a pleasant surprise. Can he stick there? On his previous experience with consistent production at the plate, the odds are he won't but I'd be willing to see if he can finally put it all together one final time. Cleveland has two potential star outfield prospects in Clint Frazier and Bradley Zimmer but realistically neither of them will contribute to the major league team in 2016, and they would have to post exemplary numbers in the minors for the Indians to even consider rushing them up the ladder to the big league club.

What can the Indians do to fix the outfield then? The club usually have a limited budget for free agents (rumored to be around $15 million this winter) but the market for outfielders is quite deep this off-season. There's a lot of guys who are likely out of the Tribe's reach but here's some outfield help I've singled out that could be picked up:

Nori Aoki
Dexter Fowler
Gerardo Parra
Rajai Davis
Drew Stubbs

Nori Aoki will be 34 on Opening Day but he's been very consistent over the course of his four year career in the majors since arriving in the States. He's averaged a .287/.353/.386 battling line (BA/OBP/SLG), has great speed (81 stolen bases over four years) and plays good defense. Katrina Putnam over at Wahoo's On First believes the club could get Aoki for somewhere in the range of $10 million over 2 years and I'd be happy with that. I'd probably prefer a 1 year deal with Aoki not getting any younger but if a 2 year deal is what it would take to get him, I'd sign him to it there and then.

However, if I had to make just one free agent signing this winter, a big splash of a signing, I think I'd go for Dexter Fowler. The premium outfield free agents like Yoenis Cespedes, Jason Heyward, Alex Gordon and Justin Upton are all going to fetch a price tag out of the Indians' range but Fowler might be in reach. He recently declined the Chicago Cubs' qualifying offer of $15.8 million for 1 year but if the Indians could put together a deal of around $15 million per year over 3 or 4 years, that might tempt him to the corner of Carnegie and Ontario. Committing between $45-60 million over that time frame is a risk that a small market club like the Indians are likely hesitant to make but Fowler could be worth it.

The switch-hitting center fielder has a career OBP of .363 and showed signs of power last year, hitting 17 home runs, a career high. He has great speed as well, stealing 20 bases in 2015 and plays a passable defense, although defensive metrics don't rate him. Fowler will be 30 years-old on Opening Day so he still has some youth left, plus he's remained remarkably healthy during his career, playing in a career high 156 games in Chicago last season. Apparently the Indians would only lose a second-round draft pick, not a precious first-rounder, if they acquired Fowler (due to him declining the qualifying offer) so that's a bonus too. Fowler could be a terrific leadoff hitter for the Tribe and if the club are willing to push the boat out just a little bit, I think they could bring him on board.

If the Indians don't want to spend that much and would also like somebody a bit more defensively-minded, then Gerardo Parra would be a suitable alternative. Parra is a Gold Glove caliber outfielder who can play across the entire outfield and he's also handy with the bat. He's a career .277 hitter and finished 2015 with a .291/.328/.452 batting line, despite his production falling off quite a bit after his mid-season move to Baltimore. Still, the 28 year-old Parra presents a significant upgrade and is within the Indians price range, reportedly around $27 million over 3 years. Both Fowler and Parra will have plenty of suitors during the off-season but if we could sign either one, I would be incredibly happy.

Rajai Davis and Drew Stubbs are strictly back up options, who I would both like to see offered minor-league contracts with invitations to Spring Training. Davis could provide a bit of pop off the bench and can still steal a base (20 SBs in 2015) and I really liked Stubbs in 2013 and would like to see him given another chance, despite an awful 2015 (a batting line of .195/.283/.382). Neither of these guys are the answer to Cleveland's outfield woes but some veteran insurance for depth can't hurt.


That's a wrap for Part 1. In the next segment I will look at how the Indians could explore some trades to fix the outfield, probably involving a starting pitcher or two leaving the club.

Thanks for reading.