Thus far, the Cleveland front office’s offseason dealings haven’t been much to write home about. Offensively (no pun intended for a more expectant fan base), the Tribe has signed Felix Pie and Jose Lopez to minor league contracts and traded for outfield prospect Aaron Cunningham. None of these guys are anything more than marginal big leaguers, fifth outfielders or utility infielders at best. With the way the roster stands now, none of the three have the talent to justify supplanting another player on the Indians' roster. And yes, I’m including Matt LaPorta on that list.
A player the team should seriously consider is free-agent outfielder Luke Scott. A former ninth round pick of the Tribe in 2001, Scott is coming off an injury-riddled 2011 season in which he hit just .220 with nine home runs and 22 RBI in only 64 games played. Between 2008-2010, however, Scott averaged a .266/.348/.846 slash line with 25 HR and 71 RBI. With uncertainty at first base and left field, Scott would be an ideal candidate because he plays both positions.
Adding Scott to the Tribe offense would have both advantages and disadvantages. A healthy Scott is an upgrade offensively over both Michael Brantley and Matt LaPorta. Only two years removed from his best big league season, it’s not inconceivable that Scott could rebound after his shoulder surgery to become a big contributor for the Tribe in 2012. At best, the Tribe could be adding another bat of Carlos Santana-caliber to their lineup. At worst, it would equate to “Casey Blakesque” production: a decent number of solo home runs and RBIs not always coming at the most opportune times.
With the Tribe’s anemic offense rivaling only that of the Browns (their NFL counterpart), any added production would be welcome. When your starting left fielder and first baseman—two positions that demand offensive production—average a .258/.329/.707 slash line and only nine home runs and 50 RBI in 2011, Scott’s career slash line of .264/.349/.843 could make Tribe fans salivate.
A glaring downside to Scott is that he’s left-handed. With the Tribe in need of a right-handed bat, Scott may not be the ideal candidate to replace a team that struggles to hit left-handed pitching. His career slash line against lefties is only .240/.318/.787.
Defense may also be a bit of a concern. Scott hasn’t been an everyday defensive player since 2008, when he started 100 games in left field. Since then, he’s spent the majority of his time serving as the Orioles DH, splitting his time in the field between left and first base.
Another potentially damaging stain on Scott’s value to the Tribe is his clubhouse persona. For an organization so historically enamored with "character guys," Scott’s questionable behavior towards teammates could linger in GM Chris Antonetti’s mind. As a Tribe fan, however, I don’t care about Luke Scott’s blatant piety, outlandish political views or what he thinks of Barack Obama’s nationality. I care that he can hit. Furthermore, I wouldn’t count on former Orioles teammate Felix Pie actually making the Tribe’s big league roster in 2012.
Scott’s contract should ultimately prove to be the biggest chip in the Tribe’s favor. After making $6.4 million in 2011, his value will be hurt by the torn labrum that ended his season last June. If the Tribe front office was willing to take on $5 million of Derek Lowe’s contract, there’s no reason they shouldn’t be willing to clear cap space to make a similar one-year offer to Scott. With a dwindling free agent market and eleven teams supposedly interested in the former Baltimore slugger, Antonetti had better get on the phone with Scott’s agent if he’s serious about upgrading the Tribe offense in 2012.