As the Rule 5 draft approaches on December 6 (Players who were signed when they were 19 or older and have played in professional baseball for four years are eligible, as are players who were signed at 18 and have played for five years. Clubs pay $50,000 to select a player and if that player doesn't remain on the 25-man roster for the full season, he must be offered back to his former team for $25,000) teams are tinkering with their 40-man rosters to protect high-upside talent from being selected by other clubs.
While there are some players, like Johan Santana and Dan Uggla, who have established themselves as legitimate steals from the Rule 5 draft, teams will continue to build their rosters through trades and free agent signings in the coming weeks.
While the Cleveland Indians are not players in the Zack Greinke and Josh Hamilton markets, they may be able to capitalize on the second or third-tier free agents, while also keeping an eye on players that other teams have seemed to give up on.
The Indians should be held accountable for the trade or toss-away of All Star second baseman Brandon Phillips back in April of 2006; however, looking for talent like Phillips right now or as spring training winds down is a very good way to rebuild
Here are some players that the Tribe should target.
At one time, Domonic Brown and Jason Heyward were considered the top outfield prospects in baseball. While Heyward has an All Star appearance and a Gold Glove to go with his 1,503 career at-bats, Brown has several journeys between Philadelphia and Lehigh Valley to add to his failure to reach expectations.
A lot of that is due to mismanagement by the Phillies, but Brown's .236/.315/.388 line in 433 at-bats in Philadelphia leaves a lot to be desired. Ranked as the No. 4 overall prospect by Baseball America prior to the 2011 season, Brown has a career minor league OPS of .834 in parts of seven seasons, compiling 189 extra-base hits and 106 stolen bases.
Brown will be 25 next season, and while he has just 465 Triple-A at-bats, he deserves a long look. Even though the Phillies dealt Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence last season, the Phillies are rumored to be in on Cody Ross and B.J. Upton. With John Mayberry, Jr., Layce Nix, Nate Schierholtz, and Darin Ruf battling for playing time in the Philly outfield, Brown could be on his way out.
Even though Brown is a left-handed hitter, the Indians could use his youth and unmet expectations as a building block. He may or may not be tough to get from the Phillies, as their commitment to him has ranged from their future face of the franchise to just a guy to have around for depth, at times.
McDade is a switch-hitting first baseman who was a casualty of the Toronto Blue Jays enhanced organizational depth, due to developing one of the top farm systems in baseball in recent years. As the club was crunching their 40-man roster, he was cut loose.
The 6'1", 250-pounder won't turn 24 years old until May, and he was overlooked by a lot of prospect analysts due to his size and inability to draw walks in recent years. However, not all is bad with the young man.
While his career minor league on base percentage is just .323, it improved to .360 in 2012, as he posted his best walk rate of his career. While his improved rate is positive, it doesn't erase his 595-to-183 K-to-BB over 2,364 at-bats.
McDade has 76 home runs in his career, including 54 over the last three seasons, all at High-A ball or above. He'll probably never hit 30 home runs in a season, but a lot of people said the same thing about Mike Trout's power potential before he exploded for an incredible rookie season.
McDade will be very cheap and worth an investment by the Indians. He could use a little Triple-A seasoning, having accumulated just 71 at-bats at that level. But for a team desperate for offense, his increased discipline in 2012 and his ability to show some power far outweigh his mass and early minor league struggles.
Corey Hart will be 31 years old on Opening Day next season, but he could still have a future in Milwaukee. The slugging first baseman hasn't discussed an extension yet with the Brewers, but Ken Rosenthal says he wants a three-year extension.
Hart isn't the only person who could play first base for the Brewers, though, as Aramis Ramirez, who will be 35 next season, could move across the diamond if he remains in Milwaukee through his 2015 option year.
With that being said, the Indians could look at Hunter Morris as a possible first baseman of the future. Morris just turned 24 in October, but the left-handed hitter out of Auburn raked in 2012, posting a .925 OPS along with his 40 doubles and 28 home runs in Double-A.
According to John Sickels of minorleagueball.com, "reports from the Southern League weren't super-enthusiastic about his bat speed, although the consensus was that he made progress improving his hitting approach, and his defense was much better."
Due to the lack of scout enthusiasm, the lack of plate discipline (260:78 K:BB in 1,331 at-bats) and the presence of Hart and Ramirez, the Indians should at least check in on the slugger, who may or may not have a role going forward in Milwaukee.
Bauer posted a 12-2 record, 2.42 ERA and 157:61 K:BB in 130.1 innings in 22 starts in the minors in 2012 between Double-A and Triple-A. He was just 1-2 in four starts for Arizona, though, compiling a 6.06 ERA and 17:13 K:BB in 16.1 innings.
There have been rumors of the Diamondbacks not being pleased with Bauer's unorthodoxed way of preparing his body and arm, which includes long-tossing from foul line to foul line in the outfield, but the team president just came out and said they weren't interested in dealing the potential ace.
Anything is possible, though, especially when the Indians have Asdrubal Cabrera at short and the Diamondbacks currently have Cliff Pennington and Willie Bloomquist at the position. Yuck.
Bauer could vastly improve his ability to locate his pitches before taking the next step in becoming a legitimate ace, but he would be a huge addition to a team in desperate need of starting pitching help in Cleveland, especially a pitcher capable of missing so many bats.
Valencia finished third in Rookie of the Year voting in 2010 for the Minnesota Twins, then hit 15 home runs and drove in 72 runs in 2011 while seeing his batting line fall across the board to a .246/.294/.383 line. However, it got worse again in 2012, dropping to a .188/.199/.299 line in 154 at-bats with the Twins and Boston Red Sox.
Valencia is just 28 and he has had some success in the past. With Lonnie Chisenhall lined up up as the Tribe third baseman in 2013, Valencia could be a solid addition as a platoon partner against tough lefties. He has a career .316/.359/.472 line against left-handers in his career.
Valencia was designated for assignment and removed from the Red Sox 40-man roster on Tuesday, so the Indians could add him at a very reasonable price.
After posting a 44:27 K:BB in 48.2 innings with a 2.59 ERA in 2012 for Oakland, Miller was designated for assignment by the A's as the 40-man roster cleanup occurred out west.
Miller will be just 31 next August and would provide the Tribe with another solid bullpen arm. While he doesn't have a lot of major league experience, just 63.1 innings in 47 appearances, he has nine seasons of minor league relief experience, totalling a 3.48 ERA over 419 career appearances.
Miller has stayed healthy and posted very respectable numbers in his career, whether in the minors or the majors. He shouldn't last long on the waiver wire, and the Indians should move quickly to add more solid depth to their bullpen.
Stewart has a 3-10 record and an ugly 6.82 ERA over 33 appearances (14 starts) in the majors, and heading into his age 26 season, he has already been with four organizations.
Stewart has shown some skills in the minors, posting a 3.89 ERA over 296.1 innings since becoming a starter full-time in 2010 within the Toronto organization. It just, clearly, has not translated to the majors.
Stewart may be better served in a bullpen role, which is where he thrived within the Cincinnati organization, going forward. While he has struggled, he is still young enough to get another opportunity, while his arm is additional depth in whatever role he is plugged into.
After having shoulder surgery in February, Rich Harden collected an entire season of unplayed games in 2012, missing the whole season. No one had him on their roster, though, so the right-hander's career games missed on the DL sits at 487 games. For those of you keeping track, that is a little over three full season, so count it as four due to missing all of 2012.
While most of his issues stem from shoulder woes, his elbow was once an issue, as well.
It's truly a shame, as Harden showed dominant stuff with the A's from 2003 to 2008, going 36-19 with a 3.42 ERA. Since the start of 2009, he is just 18-18 with a 4.79 ERA in 315.2 innings.
While you probably don't want to guarantee much money to someone who seems incapable of being healthy, you could take the low-risk/high-reward mentality by, at least, giving him a chance. Considering the Indians depth at starting pitcher, a minor league contract with a spring training invitation would be solid, while giving Harden an out clause if he isn't on the roster by a certain date to give him an incentive to sign.
Sanchez battled some bicep soreness throughout the 2012 season, which could scare off a lot of teams, but he is probably looking to rebuild his value on a one-year contract in 2013. Having turned 30 in November, Sanchez to Cleveland, with a pitcher's park behind him, could be a fit.
Never having spectacular command, a career 5.0 BB:9, Sanchez totally fell apart in 2012, posting a 45:53 K:BB in just 64.2 innings. It was in 2010 that Sanchez posted a 3.07 ERA and struck out 205 in 193.1 innings, while having the lowest hits per nine (6.6) and leading the league in walks (96).
Sanchez is a power pitcher and with that comes command issues. After making $5.6 million in 2012, Sanchez probably won't get a multi-year deal, but anything is possible after the Royals gave Jeremy Guthrie his three-year, $25 million deal.
The Indians should do their due diligence on the left-hander, hoping to catch lightening in a bottle, with a south-paw who could shut down Prince Fielder, Justin Morneau, Joe Mauer and Adam Dunn in the AL Central.
After finishing 68-94, the Indians could go many ways in 2013. With Shin-Soo Choo reaching free agency after the season and Asdrubal Cabrera's salary jumping to $10 million in 2014, the core of the team is going to be gone or too expensive to keep around, especially if they aren't going to contend with the Tigers in the AL Central.
The players mentioned would be young, cheap alternatives to several players who may not be deserving of a 40-man roster spot, while, potentially, providing a spark for a small investment.
There are several others, unmentioned, who could make an impact in Cleveland as soon as next year. Who do you like on the list, or, do you have any players to add to the list?