MLB: Free Agents Who Could Have Revived Success Under Indians' Terry Francona
Terry Francona seems to suddenly have a lot to work with in Cleveland, as the Indians have added a variety of talent. From the middle-of-the-order bat that the club has longed for in recent years, Nick Swisher, to a solid backup infielder who can spell players at several positions, Mike Aviles, the Tribe looks to have a pretty respectable looking team.
The 53-year-old manager earned a lot of respect, himself, when leading the Boston Red Sox to their first two World Series titles in 2004 and 2007 since Babe Ruth was purchased from the club by the New York Yankees in January of 1920.
Eight straight winning seasons weren't enough to please fans and ownership, who suddenly forgot where the team was for the previous 80-plus years when the Red Sox slipped from two games up in first place on Aug. 27, 2011, to finishing seven games back, going just 7-20 in September, a collapse for the ages.
Shockingly, the club won 90 games in 2011, despite the September collapse. Francona was able to get a lot of his players due to the relationships that he had with them.
Can he get anything out of any remaining free agents? While the Indians don't have tremendous needs offensively, there are several players out there who could still help the club, guided by the managerial skills of Terry Francona.
Nyjer Morgan, Outfielder
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Nyjer Morgan has a long history of being a pretty negative clubhouse guy. He wants to play and he has split time in his career, only reaching 500 at-bats one time in his career (2010, Washington). At the age of 32, he could be a solid fit for Francona and the Indians.
In 2011, Morgan hit .304/.357/.421 for the Milwaukee Brewers, but he faltered to a .239/.302/.308 line in 2012. Over his six-year career, Morgan has managed a .280/.341/.364. More importantly, Morgan is a .283/.347/.361 hitter out of the leadoff spot in his career (1,091 at-bats), stealing 86 bases out of that spot in the order.
While Drew Stubbs is a great defensive outfielder, he is a platoon waiting to happen:
versus right-handers: .228/.301/.355 in 1,331 at-bats
versus left-handers: .276/.344/.476 in 460 at-bats
Morgan is a career .297/.352/.385 hitter in 1,560 at-bats against right-handed pitchers.
Could Francona harness the attitude of Morgan and create a valuable platoon in center with Stubbs?
A lot of Indians fans want Michael Brantley as their leadoff hitter in 2013, but is his bat worth more lower in the order (even No. 2) with his ability to make contact?
Erik Bedard, Left-Handed Pitcher
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Erik Bedard was a nightmare in Pittsburgh in 2012, posting a 5.01 ERA and 1.47 WHIP while going 7-14 in 24 starts for the Pirates. However, he wasn't that bad.
Bedard posted a 4.05 xFIP, while his strike out rate was in line with his career numbers (8.45 K:9 vs. career 8.72), his ground-ball rate was in line with his career rate (43.3 percent vs. career 43.4) and opposing hitters had a BABIP of .314, which is higher than the league average of .300.
Taking that into consideration, as well as the success that he has had (when healthy) over his career and Bedard is a perfect candidate for Francona and the Indians.
Could Bedard just use some confidence? A pitcher's park? Another chance?
On a one-year contract, Bedard could be a huge addition for any club, especially those who look deeper into his production in 2012.
Delmon Young, Designated Hitter/Outfielder
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Once upon a time, the Minnesota Twins released a 26-year-old who had just hit .272/.339/.500 with 20 home runs and 75 RBI. The following year, that player hit .288/.369/.592 with 31 home runs and 101 RBI with the Boston Red Sox. That player is David Ortiz.
Since Ortiz was with the Red Sox in 2003 and Francona arrived in 2004, it is possible that very little of his massive breakout is due to anything that Francona may have done, having more to do with Ortiz being in his prime (age 27 season) when he had his first of many excellent seasons in Boston.
However, Ortiz only got better for several seasons and made seven All-Star games while being managed by Francona.
Delmon Young is not David Ortiz...at least not yet. A career .284/.317/.426 hitter and he is just 27 years old. THAT is of the greatest importance to the comparison to Ortiz, as Young is a free agent in the midst of his prime.
Young has also made some terrible choices on and off the field, from altercations with umpires to gross altercations with fans. Could Francona be the leader that Young needs to finally reach his once massive potential?
Young would be another right-handed hitter in a lineup that is covered with switch-hitters and left-handed hitters and he does have some power that would be useful to the Tribe, even after the Mark Reynolds and Nick Swisher signings.
Luke Scott, Designated Hitter/Outfielder
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2011 and 2012 were terrible seasons for Luke Scott. He played in just 160 games due to shoulder woes, which led to surgery. After surgery, he had not yet regained his stroke or strength in the joint and the one-time slugger has managed to post a .226/.291/.365 over 523 at-bats over the last two seasons.
Scott ripped 131 doubles and 103 home runs over the previous five seasons in just 1,954 at-bats.
At the age of 35, Scott may have trouble regaining his bat speed to take advantage of the power that he once had, especially after the shoulder surgery; however, Scott is worth a small, short-term investment for many teams, especially a club looking for a DH at this point in the offseason.
Francona just needs to give him a chance to play to see if he has anything left. Could his trust in veterans be valuable on a possible small-risk/high-reward signing?
Chone Figgins, Infielder
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Chone Figgins was an absolute bust for the Seattle Mariners, hitting just .227/.302/.283 in three seasons, this after signing a four-year, $36 million deal. The M's released the soon-to-be 35-year-old in late November.
Figgins was tremendous in his time with the Angels, but three straight years of well-below average production could show that he doesn't have anything left.
While the Indians do have Mike Aviles to spell several positions, Figgins' ability to play nearly every position on the field but catcher and pitcher would be useful to any bench.
Due to the struggles that Figgins has had the last few seasons, you have to wonder if a player's manager, like Francona, could do anything to get anything out of him. If he is willing to accept a minor league contract, he could be a valuable 25th man on a roster, getting dumped for an arm or upgrade if or when the club needs one.
Daisuke Matsuzaka, Right-Handed Pitcher
After going 33-15 with a 3.72 ERA over his first two seasons in Boston (under Francona), injuries ruined Daisuke Matsuzaka:
Shoulder weakness, back strain, neck strain, forearm strain, Tommy John surgery (6/10/2011) and a back strain once returning in 2012 from surgery, Dice-K has had a rough go of things since his early success.
Now a free agent with an injury history, could Francona's relationship bring Matsuzaka to Cleveland?
He may not be the ace that he was thought to have been early in his career, but Matsuzaka 18-months removed from Tommy John surgery could be an asset for a rotation once again. Why not the Indians?
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What can a manager do to a career? The confidence that a leader gives to his followers can empower them to become great. Are any of these players worthy of that chance in Cleveland?
There are still some solid names in free agency: Kyle Lohse, Shaun Marcum, Rafael Soriano and Adam LaRoche are the highlights, yet others remain.
Chien-Ming Wang, Carlos Zambrano, Brad Penny and several other veterans remained unemployed. While some will regain their early career success, others will become analysts for televised baseball. We'll see how many players Terry Francona, or any other manager, can rejuvenate.