MLB: How the Cleveland Indians Can Have a Perfect Offseason
After finishing 68-94 and landing the fifth pick in the 2013 MLB Draft with a horrid season, the Cleveland Indians have started their offseason with a nice addition—new manager Terry Francona. While fans would have liked new management in the form of the firing of Mark Shapiro, Chris Antonetti and possibly new ownership, the two-time World Series champion manager is a solid start.
The only issue is, baseball is different from other sports. The managing that occurs from the bench very rarely has an impact on a game. You are not adding a spread offense, like a college football coach can take to another school and change their whole philosophy and future. You are not adding a crazy defensive scheme in basketball which can force turnovers and recreate your whole program.
A baseball manager creates lineups and hopes that the team that he has fielded that evening can execute the bunt, hit-and-run, double steals, defensive shifts or whatever attempted manipulation to the game they feel could change the game. While a single player, like LeBron James in basketball and an amazing quarterback in football, can impact other sports, baseball does not allow one man to carry a team.
The Indians learned that in 2012. They did not have a superstar, but they also had issues hitting as a team, finishing ninth in the AL in hitting (.251) and 13th in slugging (.381) out of 14 teams. Pitching was not much better, as the Indians ranked last in the AL in team ERA (4.78).
So, with several needs heading into the offseason, what can the Indians do to really impact the team? Obviously, the team will not be able to sign the likes of Zack Greinke and Josh Hamilton, but the Indians can make several low-key moves to get the roster aligned to become a contender in 2013. Realistic or not, due to the limitations of poor ownership (financially and intelligence-based), here are some moves the Indians need to make.
Sign Anibal Sanchez
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Anibal Sanchez turns 29 in February and he made $8 million in his final year of arbitration in 2012. Sanchez was traded to the Detroit Tigers by the Miami Marlins prior to the non-waiver trade deadline, and he rewarded Detroit with a 4-6 record and 3.74 ERA over 12 starts, while posting a 2.43 ERA and 37:5 K:BB over his final six starts and 40.2 innings, finally adjusting to the American League game.
Sanchez is 4-5 with a 3.28 ERA over 11 starts and 68.2 innings in AL Central parks in his career. While the win-loss record leaves much to be desired, the young man can pitch.
While you can not debate the value of a player within free agency when you are offering him a contract, the fact that Sanchez has never tossed 200-innings in a season (196.1 in 2011 is his career high) and his 48-51 career record could work against his long-term value.
Sanchez would be an excellent addition to the Indians because he has ace stuff, striking out 202 hitters in 2011. He also has walked just 2.8 per nine innings since becoming a staff anchor in 2010.
While Sanchez is not a true No.1 starter, he has the stuff and the peripheral stats to show that he is very much capable of establishing himself as such. Sanchez would immediately become the Indians ace, while knocking Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez into a less defined role in the middle of the rotation, where they belong.
Sign Melky Cabrera
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Baseball is a game of numbers and when you put up numbers, you get respect. While some will blast Melky Cabrera for using synthetic testosterone and getting suspended 50-games in 2012, the fact remains that he still had to hit the ball. Testosterone can do a lot of things, but it does not help your eyes.
Melky Cabrera hit .322/.364/.489 over the last two seasons, covering 1,117 at-bats. His 186 runs, 69 doubles, 15 triples, 29 home runs, 147 RBI and 33 stolen bases would be an asset for any team. The fact that he played center for all of 2011 with the Royals and can play either outfield corner only makes him that much more of an asset.
The Indians need someone on their team who can make consistent contact, get on base and be an asset to their club. By offering Melky Cabrera more guaranteed money this offseason, they could gain an All-Star caliber player. While his character is an issue, what do the Indians have to lose?
By making a high-reward/high-risk acquisition, the Indians either make a mistake and have a repeat of 2012 or they take a step forward due to the deal. With where the team was at the end of the 2012 season, this is a deal that makes a tremendous amount of sense for both sides.
Cabrera can earn $8-10 million on a one-year deal, show that he is capable of cleanly putting up respectable numbers, then he hits free agency again after the 2013 season at the age of 29.
The Indians need to pony up and make a strong push for a player who is capable of being their star.
Sign Eric Chavez
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Lonnie Chisenhall should be the everyday third baseman in 2013, but the Indians need a veteran to back him up and show him the ropes. Eric Chavez is a perfect example of a crafty veteran, who just so happens to have enough left offensively to actually have value, unlike 2012 third baseman Jack Hannahan.
Eric Chavez has battled and overcome severe issues with his back during his career. He could very well have been a Hall of Fame player had those injuries not totally derailed his career. While his range is limited (1.91 range factor compared to a league average of 2.59), Chavez is not going to be playing third base every day, and the Tribe can keep him healthy by plugging him in at first base or designated hitter from time to time.
Chavez posted an .845 OPS in 2012, getting more than 270 at-bats for the first time since 2007. Chavez hit 16 home runs while showing the solid on-base skills and power that made him a legitimate MVP candidate from 2000 to 2005 for the Oakland A's.
By keeping Chavez fresh and bringing in a player with a tremendous amount of individual success and success as a part of winning franchises, the Indians can create a different clubhouse, which will assist Terry Francona in establishing himself as a manager who can win anywhere.
Extend Asdrubal Cabrera
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Asdrubal Cabrera will turn 27 in November and the Indians extended him through 2014 about six month ago. Why should they bother further extending someone who is signed through the next two seasons right now?
The Indians need to keep the talent that they have. While the club is focused on preparing Francisco Lindor to eventually take over the shortstop job, the team has to realize that the 18-year-old top prospect was in Low-A in 2012. If he spends a full season at High-A and Double-A, Lindor will be ready for Triple-A in 2015, when the Indians will either be looking for another stopgap or hoping that another infield prospect is ready.
The problem with putting your hopes into young talent is that sometimes that talent becomes Ryan Garko or Matt LaPorta, someone who just does not cut it as an everyday player. What happens if the club does not have someone ready in 2015? Are they actually going to go out and sign someone else who can put up the same kind of numbers as Cabrera?
While Cabrera has struggled to find consistency over a full season, having slumped in the second half along with the Indians' record the last two seasons, he is still a middle infielder who has averaged 36 doubles, 20 home runs and 75 RBI over that time. He has been the Indians best player.
Cabrera will earn $6.5 million in 2013 and $10 million in 2014. Cabrera will reach free agency at the age of 29, but why not give him another two years? Cabrera could handle a move to the outfield or second base (Jason Kipnis could move to the outfield, possibly) if Lindor or another prospect deems themselves ready for the show. The Indians, while making a large financial commitment, then protect the franchise, their star and their fans by locking up the face of the team for a little longer.
Trade Chris Perez
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Fernando Rodney, Joel Hanrahan, Grant Balfour, Ernesto Frieri, Tom Wilhelmsen, Steve Cishek, Glen Perkins, and Addison Reed...all names of closers in the 2012 season who either came out of nowhere to post solid numbers, came out of nowhere from the minors to close some games or stole or took over the closers role by taking the grips of the closer role when given an opportunity.
Hanrahan made $4.1 million in 2012 in his second year of arbitration, Rodney made $2 million, Balfour has a $4.5 million option for 2013, Perkins signed a four-year $11.85 million extension, but the rest of the names here are making near the league minimum.
Why does that matter? Because Chris Perez made $4.5 million in 2012 and he is eligible for arbitration in both 2013 and 2014. He seemingly despises the Cleveland fans and has voiced his displeasure with the team's ownership. He wants out of Cleveland more than the Philadelphia Eagles want out from Michael Vick's contract.
When you want to go by the "small-market" label, you do not pay a closer the type of money that Perez, who now has 107 saves and a 3.23 ERA in 290 career appearances, will earn through the arbitration process.
Terry Francona needs a clubhouse of players committed to winning where they are, regardless of moves the ownership makes and how many fans are in the seats. He also needs a roster of players who can pitch a strong six to seven innings and position players who can hit and field better than the 2012 version of the roster.
Trading Chris Perez will bring the Tribe some solid prospects, while eliminating some payroll to free up the club's ability to add some solid talent elsewhere.
Vinnie Pestano is 4-5 with a 2.46 ERA over 132 innings and 137 appearances over the last two seasons. Pestano's ability to miss bats, a 160:48 K:BB the last two seasons, is shut down closer material. Pestano could actually close out games by dominating the opposition, rather than making it look interesting like Perez seems to always do, as well.
Count on Esmil Rogers
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Esmil Rogers was a nightmare as a starting pitcher for the Colorado Rockies. In 22 starts, Rogers' 6.24 ERA and 1.77 WHIP were pretty ugly. He really didn't do much better in relief in Denver, posting a 7.64 ERA over 70.2 innings pitched in 48 appearances.
Once purchased away from the Rockies, however, Rogers was absolutely dealing. His 3.06 ERA and 1.11 WHIP in 44 games and 53 innings was very impressive. Rogers typically sat around 98 mph with his fastball, while averaging 95.8 over the whole season.
The Indians rode Joe Smith, Vinnie Pestano and Chris Perez for most of the season, but in 2013, Esmil Rogers will (or should) take the reigns as a top set-up man for the Tribe.
Rogers will turn 28 next August and won't be eligible for arbitration for the first time until the 2014 season. If he turns in another fine season in Cleveland, he would be someone the Tribe should consider locking up for the long haul.
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68-94 requires action. Cleveland Indians fans can say that ownership is going to be unwilling to take most of these moves into consideration to improve the team.
Dolan is cheap and there is not a petition in the world that will make someone who dreamed of owning a baseball team sell off his dream on behalf of a sheet of paper with a bunch of people's signatures that mean nothing to him.
While fans sit back and wait, filled with the hope that a new season can bring, the reality is that the Indians have so much to do to field a winning team, that even making all of these moves could leave them short of every team's goal at the end of the 2013 season.
What do the fans think? What would you like to see done this offseason?