MLB Free Agents: Cleveland Indians Sign Free Agent 1B Casey Kotchman

Pat KondzellaCorrespondent IFebruary 2, 2012

BALTIMORE, MD - SEPTEMBER 12: Casey Kotchman #11 of the Tampa Bay Rays connects on a pitch against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on September 12, 2011 in Baltimore, Maryland.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Rob Carr/Getty Images

On Thursday, the Cleveland Indians signed the Tampa Bay Rays' free agent first baseman, Casey Kotchman, to a one-year, $3 million-plus incentives deal.

Kotchman's addition to the Indians fulfills the Tribe's need to add a bat to their lineup, strengthens the first base position and fills a need the team was seeking to fill.

Although the Tribe was looking for a right-handed power bat to strengthen their lineup because of a decidedly left-handed leaning squad, the former Rays first baseman will add defensive strength and a pretty good bat to the Tribe.

In 2011 with the Rays, Kotchman posted a slash line of .306/.378/.422 with 10 home runs, 48 runs batted in and 44 runs scored. Last year was the third highest OPS Kotchman has had in his eight-year major league career.

His best overall offensive year was probably in 2008 with the Braves and Angels when he posted a slash line of .272/.328/.410 with 14 home runs, 74 RBI and 65 runs scored.

Throughout his career, Kotchman has averaged a slash line of .268/.336/.398 with seven home runs, 42 RBI, 35 runs scored in an average of 98 games played.

Maybe not the power-hitting bat the Tribe was seeking, but a solid player nonetheless.

Kotchman might provide his biggest value as a defender.

He provides a solid glove at first, and according to's fielding stats, ranked first among 21 qualified (players who appeared in two-thirds of their team's games), first basemen in the majors with a .998 fielding percentage and committed only two errors in 146 games played and 135 games started.

Kotchman's addition should help improve the Indians' 2011 MLB rank of tied for 19th in team defense and should help support a Tribe staff that induces a lot of ground balls.

Derek Lowe ranked third in the majors last season in inducing ground balls, Justin Masterson was eighth and Ubaldo Jimenez was 31st. The artist formerly known as Fausto Carmona ranked fifth in this category last season.

Kotchman will most likely be the regular first baseman for the Indians in 2012. He was more effective against lefties (.709 OPS versus righties, .838 versus lefties).

This begs the question: Where does this leave Matt LaPorta?

It would seem that LaPorta would be the odd man out here.

Most likely against righties, it will be Carlos Santana catching, Kotchman at first and Travis Hafner at designated hitter. Against lefties, it will be Lou Marson catching, Kotchman at first and Santana at DH.

Left field, another LaPorta position, is most likely going to be occupied by Michael Brantley and Shelley Duncan.

Does that leave LaPorta as trade bait?

Personally, I think it would be a mistake to give up on LaPorta so soon as he could be a backup plan should Grady Sizemore re-visit the DL. If Sizemore does, Brantley could move to center and maybe LaPorta could move to left.

It does seem like LaPorta is the odd man out here because of the addition of Kotchman.