MLB Report Cards: Grading Each of the 2011 Cleveland Indians' Offseason Moves
The Indians front office, as usual, was relatively dormant in the offseason. By now, everyone has heard the joke: "were the Indians even AT the Winter Meetings?".
Still, with the ever-looming budget restrictions in mind, first-year GM Chris Antonetti made a series of smaller moves designed to support the team's core of young players.
With so many of the Indians' offseason signings being minor league contracts for players who may not even make the Opening Day roster, it is difficult to grade Antonetti's performance before a single pitch has been thrown.
Thus it is with a great deal of uncertainty that I present the following grades for each significant move Antonetti and the Tribe front office made this offseason.
Please feel free to share your thoughts on the matter in the comments below, and we'll reassess the grades for these moves at the close of the 2011 season to see if the Antonetti's offseason actions wind up looking better or worse after 162 games than they did on paper before Spring Training.
1. OF Austin Kearns
It was deja vu all over again when the Tribe signed Austin Kearns to a one year deal in December, just like they did prior to the 2010 season.
Kearns hit .272 in 84 games with Cleveland last season before being traded to the Yankees. He finished 2010 with a .263 average, 21 doubles, 10 homeruns, and 49 RBIs.
Despite his unspectacular numbers, the tear he went on in the first half of last season was a tremendous help for the Tribe. He provides a solid right-handed option in the outfield, and proved last year that he can serve as a veteran presence in the clubhouse and a mentor to young players.
Kearns came at a relatively modest price, just as he did last season, and will likely have trade value midseason if the Tribe chooses to move him for prospects as they did in 2010.
2. 3B Jack Hannahan
The Indians signed free agent third baseman Jack Hannahan to a minor league contract with an invitation to Spring Training.
Hannahan split time in 2010 between Boston and Seattle's minor league systems. Hannahan is 30 and posts just a .224 average over parts of four seasons with the Tigers, A's, and Mariners.
Obviously not signed for his bat, Hannahan has a .969 fielding percentage at third base, making him a candidate to make the team as a utility infielder or as a backup at the ever-troublesome spot for the Tribe, the hot corner.
3. C Paul Phillips
Career backup backstop Paul Phillips has played in just 91 games since 2004, spending time with the Royals, White Sox, and most recently, the Rockies. The Indians signed him to a minor league contract, likely just as insurance at the catcher's position.
We should expect to see the lovable defensive ace Lou Marson backing up catching prodigy Carlos Santana, but Philips may be kept around as an option for a third catcher depending on how the rest of the roster shakes out, whether the team sustains early injuries at the position, and whether he'd be willing to wait it out in the minors for an opportunity.
4. SS Adam Everett
Shortstop Adam Everett should be one of the more familiar faces signed to a minor league contract by the Indians this offseason due to his past stints with fellow AL Central teams the Twins and the Tigers.
Everett's about as light a hitter as can be, so he certainly wasn't brought in to bolster the team's offense. Rather, he was signed to provide a solid-fielding, veteran utility option for an infield desperately needing depth, especially in terms of its defense. Everett could serve as a dependable backup at shortstop, and could possibly even wind up with the bulk of the playing time at third base, depending how his competition looks this spring.
While Everett's minor league deal with the Tribe includes only a non-roster invite to Spring Training and no guarantee of making the team, I'd expect to see Everett stick around unless one of the young infielders really steps up. Everett is cheap, experienced, and has little competition for the utility role at this point.
5. RHP Toru Murata
Right-handed pitcher Toru Murata was signed as a free agent out of the Japan League. It's hard to assess this move because it's so difficult to predict how players from the Japan League will fare in MLB.
Murata's recent numbers are unimpressive and he was released from the Yomouiri Giants in early December, but he's also a former first round draft pick who is still just 25 years old.
If nothing else, this is a strong indication that the Indians have made good on their promise to scout the Pacific Rim more heavily, a good sign for a team that has been criticized in the past for failing to scout aggressively in several international markets.
6. OF Travis Buck
Outfielder Travis Buck was given a minor league contract with an invitation to Spring Training by the Indians.
Buck is a career .250 hitter who logged 18 home runs, 36 doubles, and 71 RBIs in 170 games with Oakland from 2007-2010, after which the A's let him go.
Of all the offseason moves made by the Tribe, this one seems to be the most superfluous. In an already crowded outfield, it's unlikely Buck will be kept in the Indians organization after Spring Training roster cuts unless he's willing to accept a minor league assignment.
7. RHP Joe Martinez
The Indians acquired right-handed pitcher Joe Martinez from the Pirates in early January for a player to be named later or cash considerations. Martinez spent last season in both Triple-A and the majors with the Pirates and Giants organizations.
Martinez had just nine appearances and one start in the majors last year and posted a 4.12 ERA with nine strikeouts and nine walks in 19 2/3 innings. While his numbers don't look great on paper, he's a young player with a relatively decent upside.
Likely he's a candidate for a bullpen role, though at this point there appear to be just two available jobs there. He'll be competing with Murata, Doug Mathis, Aaron Laffey, Frank Herrmann, Justin Germano, Vinnie Pestano, Josh Judy, and perhaps still others for one of the two spots.
8. RHP Doug Mathis
Former Texas Ranger Doug Mathis is yet another right-handed pitcher signed to a minor league contract with an invitation to Spring Training.
He's logged games with the Rangers at the major league level over the past three years, and had 13 appearances with Texas last season, where he went 1-1 with a 6.04 ERA and spent the rest of the year in Triple-A Oklahoma City.
He's a candidate for one of the two available bullpen jobs. He's shown flashes of potential in the past, though the Tribe may be leery of a couple of particularly bad starts he's had at the major league level where he blew up to the tune of eight earned runs in less than two innings. As it stands and unless he appears very impressive in Spring Training, Mathis is a long shot to make the team.
9. One Year Deals For Choo, Rafael Perez, Chris Perez, and Cabrera
The Indians wisely avoided arbitration with Shin-Soo Choo, Chris Perez, Asdrubal Cabrera and Rafael Perez by signing each of them to one year contracts before the arbitration deadline.
While the Indians would like to sign all of these players (or at least Choo and Chris Perez) to multi-year contracts, avoiding arbitration and giving each of them a one year contract was the smart play given the circumstances at hand.
We should expect to see the Tribe eventually attempt to nail down Chris Perez and Choo for at least the remainder of their arbitration-eligible years (and ideally longer), but for the time being the matter is taken care of.
Antonetti deserves kudos for this one; Choo looks like a total steal at $3.975MM. Chris Perez was payed fairly at $2.225MM, and Rafael Perez got what I would call a safe deal for both sides at $1.33MM.
The only one who may have been truly overpayed is Cabrera at $2.025MM. That will depend on which Cabrera shows up. In the past we've seen him play like a guy worth twice that amount at times, and half that amount at other times.
Regardless of how Cabrera's season plays out though, it appears that Antonetti handled the signing of his arbitration-eligible players almost flawlessly.
10. Special Assistant Mike Hargrove
In a semi-surprising twist earlier this week, the Indians made perhaps their best move of the offseason which, unusually, involved someone who won't log a single inning of playing time this season.
That person is beloved ex-manager Mike Hargrove, long a Cleveland fan favorite and skipper of the Indians during their late 1990s heyday.
I don't really know whether Hargrove brings huge value to the table as an adviser or a baseball strategist of sorts, but his association with the team from a PR standpoint is invaluable.
After many years of seeing favorite players traded or lost to free agency due to a tight budget, the Indians needed to do something to appease disgruntled fans and give them a reminder of the team's past glory with the hopes of getting more of them out to the ballpark on a regular basis.
Hargrove's presence in the organization won't silence detractors if the team crashes and burns completely again, but should the team perform well enough to at least spark a glimmer of hope among its followers, the inclusion of the lovable Grover in the team's plans will surely serve to further fan interest.