Robinson Tejeda, Grady Sizemore and Other Big Cleveland Indians Offseason Moves
Indians General Manager Chris Antonetti
On Tuesday, the Cleveland Indians signed Robinson Tejeda to add another arm to the already solid Tribe bullpen.
There’s got to be a misprint, right? They must have signed Carlos Pena or Derek Lee, right? Hell, I'll take Casey Kotchman right now.
During the meetings, the Indians' general manager Chris Antonetti hinted at a big deal in the works.
Indeed—before, during and after the winter meetings in Dallas, major league baseball teams made huge, blockbuster free-agent deals. Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson went to the Angels. Jose Reyes and Heath Bell signed with the Marlins and Jonathan Papelbon moved to the Phillies.
The Indians also made some moves in the offseason—just not so huge and not so blockbuster. The Indians, shackled by a small-market payroll and led by an owner who fans think is cheap, signed some key (ahem) players, made some trades and held on to a fan favorite.
Let’s take a look at the acquisitions and moves the Tribe made in order of possible impact—from lowest impact to highest. I also assigned each move a letter grade.
Felix Pie: He Should Wear a Cup When He Plays
On Dec. 16, the Tribe signed Felix Pie to a minor league contract which included a non-roster invite to spring training.
Pie, 26, has put up meager career numbers ( .249 BA 17 HR 97 RBI) in five seasons with the Chicago Cubs and most recently the Baltimore Orioles. Over the past three seasons with the Orioles, Pie hit .259 with 14 home runs, nine triples, 33 doubles and 67 RBI in 268 games.
The move was made to provide outfield depth for the Tribe, and Pie will probably be in a battle for extra outfield and bench spots with Ezequiel Carrera, Shelley Duncan, Kosuke Fukudome (if re-signed), newly acquired Aaron Cunningham and Trevor Crowe.
Pie has been solid defensively throughout his career and has only committed three errors in 666 total chances in the outfield. This comprises two plus seasons if you look at a full-time center fielder. Comparatively, Jacoby Ellsbury had 388 total chances in 2011.
Pie will probably not hurt you defensively and has a little speed having stolen eight stolen bases in 87 games in 2007 for the Cubs.
This speed, however, was largely reduced in 2008 due to an unfortunate injury. Indian fans would like their heroes to be strong, swift and have “brass balls,” as it were.
Pie doesn’t have this last trait.
Regrettably…painfully…Pie had to endure a twisted testicle that season.
Let it sink in.
A twisted testicle.
How does one suffer such a malady?
I don’t know and I don’t want to know.
For this reason, I am already a big Felix Pie fan, but I don’t see him as much of a contributor to the Tribe in 2012.
Matt Pagnozzi: The Italian Guy
The Matt Pagnozzi scouting report and the Matt Pagnozzi highlight reel could not be found.
The Indians signed Pagnozzi to a minor league deal on Dec. 2 with a non-roster invite to spring training. Does that sound familiar? I don’t think those were the deals that Pujols and Reyes got.
There isn’t a whole lot to go on here to evaluate this move. Baseball-reference.com used Pagnozzi’s career (33 games in three years) and projected those numbers out over a full year which resulted in a .310 batting average, five homers and 64 RBI.
Those are pretty good numbers for a backup and would beat incumbent Indians backup catcher Lou Marson’s (.218 BA 5 HR 47 RBI) four-year average. Pagnozzi will most likely compete with Marson for backup catching duties on days where starting catcher Carlos Santana plays first base or designated hitter.
Marson’s strength is defense as demonstrated by his 40 percent rate of throwing out base stealers. Pagnozzi in comparison is at 25 percent—mind you with many less games under his belt.
It will be interesting to see who will win the backup role. With Pagnozzi, you might gain a little offense but lose some defense. If he makes the team, this unnoticed move could prove to be a decent one.
Jose Lopez: He's Happy He Doesn't Have to Wear Those Ugly Miami Marlins Uniforms
On Dec.11 the Tribe made another blockbuster move and signed once-good Jose Lopez to a minor league contract which includes a non-roster invite to spring training.
Are we sensing a trend here?
In 2011, Lopez slugged a .216 BA, smashed eight home runs and drove in 21 runs in 82 games for the former Florida Marlins. In the last two years, Lopez hit .233 in 232 games. In nine seasons with various clubs he has had an average season of 11 home runs, 56 RBI and a .263 BA.
Lopez was an All-Star for the Seattle Mariners in 2006 while hitting .282 with 10 homers and 79 RBI but his best year was 2009 when he hit .272, had 25 bombs and drove in 96 runs.
He was once good, has tailed off after a big campaign and the Tribe organization hopes he could recover some of that old magic.
If he makes the club, he could log some at-bats while manning third base, second and at first and could provide some pop coming off the bench.
If Lopez can recover some of that offensive pop he has had in the past, this could be another pretty good move. I don’t see him making a huge impact on the team, but he might be able to help the squad with his bat in some spot starts and pinch hits.
Aaron Cunningham: Please Don’t Call Me Richie
The trade for Aaron Cunningham on Dec.16 made a big impact on my thought process.
It made me say, “Who?”
Cunningham (.178 BA 3 HR 9 RBI) was a bit player for the San Diego Padres in 2011, and he did not impress in his 90 at-bats in 52 games.
Upon further inspection, however, Cunningham did put up good numbers with the Padres’ Triple-A affiliate Tucson in 2011. In his 87 games he had 384 plate appearances and hit .324 with nine home runs and 63 runs batted in.
Yes, those are minor league numbers and he has yet to show that kind of promise in the bigs, but maybe—just maybe—those minor league numbers are an indication of the future Aaron Cunningham.
Hey, we can dream can’t we?
And dreams about diamonds in the rough and former stars recapturing their glory are about all Tribe fans can lean on these days.
The Indians starting outfield is pretty set these days with Grady Sizemore in center, Michael Brantley in left and Shin-Soo Choo in right. However, there is big-time uncertainty with Sizemore’s health, and Brantley and Choo are also coming off injuries in 2011. Therefore, Cunningham could possibly provide some outfield depth as he can play both the corner outfield slots.
The Cunningham trade was another move that involved little risk and might come with some reward. Because of his youth and upside, Cunningham merits a higher grade.
Fausto Carmona: 2012 Called, They Want Their 2007 Pitcher Back
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Fausto Carmona is an enigma.
Carmona has, at times, dominating stuff and can baffle opposing hitters with his hard sinker, but Tribe fans have not seen anything close to the 2007 version of Carmona (19-8 W-L 3.06 ERA 215 IP) that won him fourth place in the Cy Young voting. That season, Torii Hunter said of Carmona, "I can't wait until we face normal pitchers. This guy's sinker is practically unhittable."
Tribe fans would love to see more opposing sluggers walking back to their dugouts scratching their heads.
Since the stellar 2007 campaign, Carmona has gone 33-48 with a 5.18 ERA in four seasons. Carmona is a durable starter having logged 188 innings last year and didn’t pitch five innings or more in only six of his 32 starts. He pitched 210 innings in 2010.
Carmona has swing-and-miss pitches and induces a lot of ground-ball outs—54 percent of his outs were beat into the ground.
Stuff is not—and never has been—the issue with Carmona.
His shaky confidence, erratic mechanics and lack of trust in his pitches are the culprits.
Carmona seems to get rattled with men on base and his technique is herky-jerky which leads to inconsistency. He also needs to trust the movement on his pitches by throwing his nasty sinker to the middle of the plate and letting it dance.
Tribe brass still trust in Carmona and showed that faith by exercising his 2012 option which will pay him $7 million next year.
I think this was a good move, and I still think Carmona can be a successful pitcher. My confidence in him will probably not extend much past 2012, however, and I need to see better results from in order to stay behind him.
Derek Lowe: Piles Up Innings, Ground Balls and Hopefully Wins
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In October, the Indians acquired Derek Lowe from the Atlanta Braves for what amounts to a one-year deal worth $5 million. The Braves are eating $10 million of Lowe’s $15 million contract.
In 2011, Lowe (9-17 W-L 5.05 ERA) lost six of his last seven starts. Despite those underwhelming numbers, last season Lowe gave up only 14 home runs in 187 innings pitched and had the second highest ground-ball rate in the majors at 59 percent. He joins a Tribe staff that now boasts three ( Justin Masterson at 55.1 percent and Carmona at 54.8) of the top seven in this category.
Are Lowe’s best years behind him?
Probably. His best year was an All-Star year in 2002 where he went 21-8, had a 2.58 ERA and piled up 219 innings.
However, Lowe is—and has been—a very durable starter throughout his career and eats up innings. He averaged 196 innings pitched over the last four campaigns.
I see Lowe as having a bounce-back year in 2012 and view this as another low-risk, low cost and possible high-reward move. Lowe’s durability will help the Tribe’s solid bullpen stay even more rested next season.
Grady Sizemore: He Used to Be Really Good
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Grady Sizemore was an All-Star from 2006-2008. He was one of the most exciting, dynamic players in the game. He had speed, power and was a human highlight film roaming center field for the Indians. He dove into gaps denying the opposition of sure base hits and climbed walls denying home runs.
During Sizemore’s stellar seasons he averaged 26 home runs, 81 RBI, a .281 BA, 29 stolen bases and snagged Gold Glove awards.
And then in 2009…the injury bug hit.
Not so much a bug but a huge, tumbling avalanche of All-Star crushing demolition.
That year Sizemore endured left elbow and lower abdominal surgeries. The latter was to repair a hernia.
In 2010, he was sidelined due to micro-fracture surgery on his left knee for the rest of the season after playing only 33 games.
In 2011, he suffered a right knee contusion, came back, re-injured that same knee and was shelved for the rest of the year due to another sports hernia.
The Indians’ brain trust had a decision to make. Would they exercise Sizemore’s option for 2012 or would they let the beloved and still talented Sizemore walk?
They decided (understandably so) to decline the option on Sizemore and let him walk. There were plenty of suitors for Sizemore, but the Indians re-considered and in November signed him to a $5 million contract which could reach $9 million if Sizemore hits at-bat benchmarks.
I don’t think so.
Yes, Sizemore’s average numbers (.228 BA 9 HR 36 RBI 6 SB) in an average of 70 games played have plummeted from his sparkling 2006-2008 years. He has lost one of his biggest weapons—speed. His ability to track down everything in the outfield has also diminished and stolen bases are a thing of the past.
This move, however was low risk. For a one-year $5 million (maxed out at $9 million) the signing makes sense. No question there is a chance that Sizemore could spend more time on the disabled list in 2012, but I think we had to take this chance on a very talented player.
If Sizemore stays healthy and regains some of that All-Star magic, this move will prove to be a smart and beneficial one for the Tribe in 2012.
This grade is more for the impact he could make to the team more than the move itself.
Here’s hoping “Grady’s Ladies” will be giddy with excitement in watching Sizemore provide many highlights at Progressive Field in 2012.
Conclusion: Is There an Impact Player Coming?
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For now, this is what the Indians’ brass has done to improve our beloved Tribe. Hopefully these moves, even the seemingly inconsequential ones will prove to pay off for the team next year.
Here’s hoping that those who were once stars will be again and future stars will emerge.
I did mention that these weren’t exactly blockbuster deals, didn’t I? Antonetti’s hint at a “surprising deal” has not yet materialized.
Or has it?
Please don’t tell me the surprising deal was Aaron Cunningham. Very surprising indeed.
Hopefully, I will be able to add an impact player like Carlos Pena or Derrek Lee to this list and give the move an “A.”
I’m not holding my breath.
Which of these moves was the best one?