The Cleveland Indians came into the 2014 offseason with some glaring needs in the bullpen, starting rotation, on the bench and also at third base.
The team was able to remedy some of those needs by signing the likes of John Axford, Shaun Marcum, David Murphy and Jason Giambi among others.
While the offseason is not over, the Indians have likely made the bulk of their offseason transactions, save a few non-roster spring training invitees. Therefore, it's a great time to stop and grade their signings in relation to team need and financial commitment.
We'll begin by taking a look at one of the team's most recent signings, closer John Axford.
Contract figures and contract status courtesy of Baseballprospectus.com unless otherwise noted.
After cutting ties with closer Chris Perez following the 2013 season, the Indians had a significant void to fill in the bullpen. To fill that void, the Indians chose to sign John Axford.
Between 2009 and 2011, Axford was a stud.
In that time, the 30-year-old righty managed a 2.26 ERA with a 1.18 WHIP and per-nine averages of 11.0 K/9, 3.7 BB/9, 6.8 H/9 and 0.3 HR/9. In fact, Axford's 2011 season was so good, he was able to gain significant Cy Young and MVP consideration despite his role as a closer—finishing ninth and 17th respectively in voting.
However, in 2012 and 2013, Axford's career began to spiral.
In that time, Axford appeared in 150 games, allowing a 4.70 ERA and a 1.48 WHIP to go along with severely diminished ratios including 10.6 K/9, 4.4 BB/9, 9.0 H/9 and 1.3 HR/9.
Axford was traded to St. Louis during the 2013 season, where he was able to right the ship, posting a 1.74 ERA and a 1.36 WHIP over 13 appearances with the Cardinals. However, those 13 appearances came as a set-up man, a role far different from that of a closer where the pressure is always on.
The move makes almost no sense though.
Perez was cut from the team due to poor performance—and possibly for some humorous off-field issues, but was still a more productive player than Axford over the past two seasons.
Given the fact that the Indians now owe him $4.5 million plus incentives for the 2014 season, it's safe to assume the front office is assuming that Axford will revert to pre-2012 form. If he doesn't, then the Indians have created an even bigger problem for themselves, especially when you consider that they passed up on closers like Joaquin Benoit and Grant Balfour.
The second signing for the Tribe yesterday came when they brought in Shaun Marcum under a minor-league deal.
Prior to the 2013 season, Shaun Marcum would be a solid addition to the middle of any MLB starting rotation. Between 2005 and 2012, Marcum pitched with a 3.76 ERA with a 1.22 WHIP and per-nine averages of 7.3 K/9, 2.8 BB/9, 8.2 H/9 and 1.2 HR/9.
Marcum had a tendency to allow a few too many home runs, but he was always a pitcher who gave you a little bit of everything while doing a solid job of limiting baserunners.
However, after an injury-shortened 2013 season in which the 32-year-old allowed a 5.29 ERA and a 1.35 WHIP while averaging 6.9 K/9, 2.4 BB/9, 9.8 H/9 and 0.8 HR/9, one has to wonder if Marcum is going to be healthy enough to pitch in 2014.
After sustaining yet another injury, this time a nerve injury which caused numbness in his throwing hand, Marcum underwent season-ending surgery after just 14 appearances.
The Indians need help in the starting rotation, and Marcum could provide that if healthy. However, even a healthy Marcum doesn't help to bolster the front end of the rotation, which is where the Tribe need the most help.
While Justin Masterson and Danny Salazar could form a solid one-two punch at the top of the rotation, Salazar will likely succumb to an innings limit at some point in the season, leaving the Indians to scramble for pitching help in its latter stages.
Marcum will enter spring training on a minor-league deal, so there's no financial risk for the Indians. However, with a team that could really use another front-end pitcher, a guy like Marcum with an extensive injury history is a peculiar choice.
The 31-year-old boasts a career slash line of .275/.337/.441 with 162-game averages of 16 HR, 31 doubles, 69 RBI and 69 runs scored.
Murphy is a very average fielder and possesses a career Total Zone rating of negative-one.
The Texas native can play all three outfield positions, but is markedly better in the corner-outfield positions as indicated by his 6.1, -31.0 and 10.3 UZR/150 ratings in left field, center field and right field respectively.
On the surface, this signing looks good for the Indians.However, a few things are at play here that turn this into somewhat of a head scratcher.
First of all, Murphy had a dismal 2013 season.
Over 436 at-bats, Murphy registered a .220/.282/.374 slash line with 13 home runs, 26 doubles, 45 RBI and 51 runs scored.
Murphy's 77 OPS+ was the lowest of his career, as was his .227 BAbip.
A lot of Murphy's poor season can be attributed to bad luck. In a season where Murphy posted career bests in line-drive rate and in-play rate—77 percent and 22 percent respectively—it's peculiar that Murphy would also post the worst season of his career.
Then there's the fact that the Indians really didn't need another outfielder.
The Tribe has a significant buildup of outfielders on their active roster. Between Drew Stubbs, Michael Brantley, Michael Bourn and Ryan Raburn, the Indians already had four players receiving significant time in the outfield.
Additionally, with the surprise that was Yan Gomes' 2013 season, the Indians will likely transition Carlos Santana into a full-time first base/DH role, making Nick Swisher a prime candidate to return to right field.
In short, there's a log jam in the outfield, and while Murphy does help to make the team better if he's getting enough at-bats, signing him to a two-year, $12 million contract doesn't seem like the best use of resources.
David Adams got his first taste of big-league play last season as a member of the New York Yankees.
The 26-year-old rookie appeared in 43 games with the Bronx Bombers last season and left a lot to be desired.
In 140 at-bats with the Yankees, the 26-year-old infielder managed just a .193/.252/.286 slash line with two home runs, eight extra-base hits, 13 RBI and 10 runs scored.
Adams is one of those players who will keep himself in the conversation for a roster spot through his play in the field and his scrappy nature. Adams averaged a 4.29 RF/G as a minor leaguer, nearly a full point higher than the big league average last season.
The Indians chose to sign Adams this offseason, but it's unclear as to whether or not he'll make the team out of spring training.
While it's certainly difficult to come into the season under the bright lights of New York City as an injury replacement, Adams did little to prove that he's capable of holding down a bench/utility spot with any team and could have a problem finding a spot to play with the Indians in 2014.
With no other takers last season, Jason Giambi resorted to signing a one-year, $750,000 contract with the Indians to work as a bench player and occasional DH.
Surprisingly, the 42-year-old had a little left in the tank and was able to contribute nine home runs, eight doubles, 31 RBI, and 21 runs scored on top of a .183/.282/.371 slash line in 186 at-bats.
Although his batting average left plenty to be desired, Giambi brought a solid veteran presence to a club with many new faces, and even delivered a couple of walk-off victories last season.
Because of that, the team elected to bring Giambi back for the 2014 season on a minor-league deal. He'll likely make the big league club out of spring training and would occupy the same role he did last season.
However, Giambi's at-bats could take a slight hit given the log jam building up in the Indians outfield, and the multitude of players looking for at-bats.
Either way, with no financial risk to go along with Giambi's veteran leadership and clutch hitting abilities, the move was a good one for the Indians.
Cooper spent his first five seasons with the Blue Jays, working his way through every level of the farm system. Cooper even earned himself a promotion to the big league level during the 2011 season, where he slashed .211/.284/.394 with a pair of home runs, seven doubles, 12 RBI and nine runs scored.
Cooper got another cup of coffee with the Jays in 2012, appearing in 45 games while slashing .300/.324/.464 with four home runs, 11 doubles, 11 RBI and 19 runs scored. Though he performed well in his second call up, the team elected to release Cooper, paving the way for him to sign with the Indians prior to the 2013 season.
Last year, the 26-year-old appeared in just 13 games with the team's Arizona League, and Triple-A affiliates, and managed a .314/.364/.373 triple slash with three doubles, six RBI, and five runs scored over 51 at-bats.
The Indians thought enough of Cooper to bring him back on a minor-league contract, with an invite to spring training for the 2014 season.
Minor-league deals carry no risk for the team, so financially, the Indians lose nothing. It's unlikely that Cooper makes the team out of spring training. However, should a few injuries pop up, he could play his way into a bench role with the team next season, providing he elects not to opt out of his deal.
Ramirez, a 25-year-old native of Nicaragua, spent the past eight seasons as a member of the Phillies minor league system. In that time, the righty managed a stat line including a 4.29 ERA, and a 1.34 WHIP with per-nine averages of 7.7 K/9, 4.9 BB/9, 8.5 H/9 and 0.7 HR/9.
Ramirez made the transition to the bullpen after the 2011 season and has allowed a 4.02 ERA over 116.1 innings pitched in that role.
The Indians are a team in need of bullpen help.
The team cut closer Chris Perez following the 2013 season, and the loss of Joe Smith to free agency created a major void in what was a very middle-of-the-road unit for the Tribe last season.
Ramirez made 18 appearances at the big league level, all coming in the 2013 season. If his performance in those appearances is any indication, then the likelihood of him making the big-league roster out of spring training is far-fetched.
Over said 18 appearances last season, Ramirez allowed a dismal 7.50 ERA and a 1.88 WHIP, all while walking an alarmingly high 5.6 BB/9 and 11.3 H/9.
Financially, the deal has little-to-no impact on the team, as most players invited to spring training on minor-league deals choose to opt out if they aren't selected for the 25-man roster.
Chalk this one up as a spring training roster filler.
After a stellar 2012 season in which he was named International League Pitcher of the Year, Tyler Cloyd seemed poised to join the Phillies starting rotation sometime during the 2013 season.
Though he did join the team mid-way through the year, Cloyd nearly squandered his opportunity, allowing a 4.71 ERA with a 1.34 WHIP and per-nine averages of 7.4 K/9, 2.1 BB/9, 10.0 H/9 and 1.7 HR/9.
Cloyd joined the Phillies as a starter on May 10th, but was unable to gain any traction with the club, pitching to a 6.56 ERA and a 1.79 WHIP while averaging 6.1 K/9, 3.7 BB/9, 1.64 K/BB and 12.4 H/9.
Cloyd was non-tendered by the Phillies and joined on with the Indians under a minor-league deal. The move to sign Cloyd to a minor-league deal is a low-risk/high-reward deal, where Cloyd—who's just 26 years old—could develop enough under the tutelage of pitching coach Mickey Callaway to challenge for the fifth spot in the team's rotation.
Even so, it's a long shot that Cloyd both makes the roster and has a significant, positive impact on the team this season. He's struggled to break in at the big league level, and when he has made the jump to the show, he's shown little in the way of potential.
Given the team's need to bolster the front end of the rotation, this move seems like a long shot in terms of possible payoff. However, because of the low salary commitments to minor-league deals, it's hard to criticize the team too much for bolstering their rotational depth.