What is going on with the Cleveland Indians?
They clearly aren’t going to be doing anything this offseason since they haven’t made a major move since the David Murphy signing on November 25th.
Look, it’s December 15th, and the while “the rest” of Major League baseball are busy spending ludicrous amounts of money on the rather adequate 2013-2014 free agent pool, the Tribe has been busy sitting on their hands over the past several weeks.
Okay, so they really haven’t been sitting on their hands. They’ve been working the phones of several agents and GMs searching for the right mix of player and money. That’s clearly a finicky job for a team like the Erie Warriors, who are already at or near their soft pay ceiling as they try to fill out their 2014 roster.
Last season, Chris Antonetti had a similar difficult path in front of him, but had more dollars to work with. Last year, even with Terry Francona in tow, Antonetti had to convince a free agent or two to actually come to Cleveland.
He had some advantages last year with most of the rest of the big league front offices trying to figure out the ramifications of the group of players that had turned down their qualifying offers, costing a team signing them their first round pick.
The Tribe didn’t have to worry about that pick because theirs was protected, so when you combine that with some financial flexibility, Terry Francona and a Free Agent who’s more or less from Ohio and attended Ohio State, you had a perfect storm of sorts.
Past that though, Francona and Antonetti were able to do some other things prior to their January 3rd Nick Swisher signing.
The Indians’ front office was really working under a honeymoon that they perhaps had never had before. In early October, they had signed Francona to be their manager, which was the coup of all coups. By the end of October, he had his complete coaching staff in place, and was able to keep Sandy Alomar Jr. on his staff, which was a ratings win in and of itself.
On November 3rd, before anyone could catch their breath, Antonetti dealt reliever Esmil Rogers to the Toronto Blue Jays for Mike Aviles and Yan Gomes, sparking a fanbase that started looking at Asdrubal Cabrera as expendable.
A week later, Jerry Crasnick began reporting that the Indians were extremely interesting in Philadelphia Phillies free agent outfielder Shane Victorino. That business steamrolled right into the Winter Meeting during the first week of December, and then the Indians made a serious offer of four years and $44 million.
They were outbid by Boston, who signed him to a three-year, $39 million contract.
The fans on the North Coast weren’t happy to have been out of the running, but were content that the Indians were massively aggressive for the first time in years.
As if taking on the Red Sox weren’t enough, the Indians then tackled the Yankees, who had offered Kevin Youkilis a one-year, $12 million deal, by making a serious run at Francona’s former 1B/3B/DH. The Indians weren’t willing to match the Yankees one year deal, but did make him a substantial two-year deal for $18 million dollars.
When Youkilis dragged his feet for a couple of days while he pondered, the Indians got sick of waiting and made a one-year, $6 million offer to Mark Reynolds on December 9th that he accepted. While it didn’t become official until over a week later, it was already pretty much in the books.
Youkilis eventually signed with the Yankees.
Now in the mix of all of this came the infamous shot of Chris Antonetti and Terry Francona meeting with the Arizona Diamondbacks in their hotel suite/war room on December 4th, that kept fanning the flames of that Asdrubal rumor.
That thing had more legs than a centipede, and it ultimately came to fruition with the Shin-Soo Choo to Cincy for Trevor Bauer, Drew Stubbs, Matt Albers and Bryan Shaw (along with a lot of other parts that I don’t really need to retell here).
Yeah, Asdrubal was still with the team.
There was a ruthless aggression to this offseason from the Tribe’s front office that was absolutely needed, because the team had so many holes. They needed outfielders and corner infielders and starting pitchers and just a whole bunch of parts, and they actually were given the okay to spend the money to get them.
The Indians were able to make their splash in early January with Swisher, and then again with Bourn in mid-January, and had a few other moves in between.
A lot is made of moves made outside of the Indians this year as well, but last year had some major bluster too, and from teams within the division in the mix.
The Rangers signed Aaron Cunningham on November 12th (sorry, had to do it).
The Tigers signed Torii Hunter on November 16th.
The Marlins traded their entire roster to Toronto on November 19th, and announced the signing of Melky Cabreraon the same day.
The Royals signed Jeremy Guthrie on November 20th.
Denard Span was traded from Minnesota to Washington.
The Pirates signed Russell Martin on November 30th.
I could go on-and-on, but you get what I’m saying. My point here though isn’t to map out last year so much as it’s to contrast it to this year, but to say that there weren’t major deals last year to put fans on edge would be a misnomer.
The difference, of course, is the money that’s being thrown around. As of December 6th, MLB had spent $1.238 billion total on 55 players (there have been signings since that figure was put out by MLBTraderumors, but I believe it includes Cano and Ellsbury) who signed either one-year, or multiple year, guaranteed deals. To put it in perspective, last season, the guaranteed deals came in at $1.463 billion for 112 players.
According to MLBTraderumors, there are still 20-25 top free agents…still free.
If you get a chance, click that link above. It really is an interesting read, as it looks at the market this year, and compares it to the six previous season with all guaranteed contracts, as well as looking at the specific multi-year deals. It turns out that there has been a spending spree like this before with multi-year deals, and what’s scary is that it came the year after the Indians nearly beat Francona’s Red Sox to get into the playoffs.
That’s not for here though, as I’ll be getting into that in my Sunday Drive piece over at Clevelandsportsinsiders.com.
But as to the big picture this year, you can do the math with regards to free agent spending this year, and what the Indians have to spend.
So the differences in perception between last year and this year are astronomical.
Last year there was a lot of Indians buzz and that honeymoon I was talking about. Last year there was that horrible team that couldn’t seem to do much of anything after August 1st.
Last year, you could close your eyes, reach your hand into a bucket of free agents, and pull out a need without really trying.
I’m not saying there weren’t challenges, but I am saying that there was certainly more leeway coming off a season in which there were no playoffs and no real hope, buoyed by the signing of Francona and many buzzworthy moments.
This year’s different, as the Indians have far less holes.
You can make a serious case that their offense, while not perfect, is solidified, and doesn’t need any tweaking at this point. Actually, the offensive side of things is done. The Indian have their team, minus maybe the last offensive spot.
The buzz from this year’s team is of “almost,” as the Indians made the playoffs, if only for a game.
Up came the expectations.
Up came the comparisons.
Up came…well…everything, including those salaries I talked about earlier.
They made their move with Murphy in the outfield, and have now turned to the rotation and the bullpen, after losing Scott Kazmir and Joe Smith to free agency, Chris Perez who was non-tendered, and face the real possibility that Matt Albers and Ubaldo Jimenez won’t return either.
The Indians entered the Winter Meetings this year looking for a reliever, likely a trade or two, and perhaps a starter, if they could find the right deal.
They couldn’t, but not for a lack of trying.
This brings me to today’s Spin Cycle question.
What should the Cleveland Indians do over the coming weeks to enhance their team?
Should they offer these $7-$9 million deals for Fernando Rodney or Joaquin Benoit or Grant Balfour, as they have reportedly done, sinking an eighth or more of their salary to one player who only pitches in 60-70 innings a year?
Should they offer John Axford a $3-5 million deal as they’ve been rumored to have done, understanding that he’s not going to be lights out?
Should they wait and hope that Ubaldo doesn’t get the long-term deal he’s looking for, and hope they can sign him to something either more cost effective or shorter in duration (or with Garza or Santana, which is doubtful, since I don’t think the Indians want to lose that first round pick as compensation)?
Should they scrape the barrel and hunt for more Scott Kazmirs?
Should they scrap making a free agent deal for any of these high priced guys, and start pushing for trades with the commodities they do have?
Should they continue to preach patience and wait for the deals to come to them as salaries begin to drop, if they begin to drop?
It’s a murky market out there for the Indians, but what should they do to avoid what happened to them in 2008, and to some extent, in 2006?
Now obviously, the names I have given are just barometers, and they may prove to move from one level to another. You may choose to consider “high price” free agents to be multi-year guys, as one-year contracts, even at $10+ may be more doable for the Tribe.
I may have also missed a scenario, and that’s fine.
You have up to five clicks, because honestly, if you are pulling five more major-ish deals in the next two months as the GM, then you are likely doing too much…but that’s up to you to decide. If all your options are here, take them. You don’t have to use five either.
If you need to clarify specific players or specific things, POST A COMMENT!
Good luck, and happy voting…