As Indians fans, we are used to watching the major free agent signings from the sidelines each winter. Even though the Tribe needs a first baseman, there was pretty much no chance that the Indians were ever going to consider elite free agents like Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder. The Indians are never one of the “interested” parties when it comes to these rumors, nor is there ever any hope that they are the ever elusive “mystery team.”
Most winters, I’m anxious to see where these high-profile players end up. Not just because of the drama and excitement that is ever-present in these situations, but because once those guys find a home, the rest of the dominoes start to fall into place. Everyone seems to be in a holding pattern until the big names end up trying on their new jerseys for the assembled media crowds.
This winter, I think there’s a possibility that these high-profile signings may have a ripple effect on the Indians. When the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim inked Pujols to that insane deal on Thursday morning, they locked in first base for the next 10 years (or possibly much less than that if Pujols starts to break down and is relegated to the DH role). This now means that they have two spare first basemen – Kendrys Morales and rookie Mark Trumbo. The Indians could use a heavy-hitting first baseman, and now the Angels have three…it could be a match!
It’s entirely possible that the Angels end up hoarding all three. Trumbo also plays some outfield, so they could just shift him around (I’ve even heard that they’d consider trying him at third base). He finished second in Rookie of the Year voting this year, so the Angels are probably very reluctant to part with him. (Not to mention that they’d probably expect a premium in a trade). Morales sustained a serious ankle injury several years ago during a home plate celebration. He’s never really been able to come back from that, so his status is kind of uncertain. This is the type of player that the Indians usually feast on – high risk, possible high reward. They may be able to get a deal on Morales, because people are uncertain of his ability to make a comeback. Unfortunately, that may be the exact reason the Angels opt to keep him – why sell low, when you could stick him at DH and hope he either helps your offense, or at least raises his value in a trade?
The other intriguing possibility involves the Jose Reyes signing in Miami. Hanley Ramirez will be pushed to third, while Reyes will stay at shortstop. Despite the fact that Miami keeps insisting there is no controversy, and Reyes keeps reiterating the fact that he and Ramirez are BFFs, the Marlins are supposedly trying to quietly gauge Ramirez’s value on the market. Even though the Indians’ infield is pretty much set outside of first base, there are some that want to try and find room for Ramirez. While he’s an amazing player, he’s already made it abundantly clear that he’s not open to position switches…there’s really no way for the Indians to get creative here. The only option would be to flip Ramirez to a third team for a first baseman or outfielder, or make the rest of the team play musical chairs and stick him at shortstop.
There may be other first base opportunities that open up once Prince Fielder signs. If he signs with a team like the Angels or the Marlins (who already have a first baseman in Gaby Sanchez), there may be a chance for the Indians to swoop in and work out a trade.
In other free agent news:
There are rumors that the Phillies may be close to signing Omar Vizquel. There are also rumors that Manny Ramirez is calling teams to offer his services, now that he’s seeking to be reinstated. Maybe the Phillies can sign him as well, and work on assembling a reunion of the 1990s Indians. (By the way, speaking of the Phillies, this story about the Phillie Phanatic had me laughing hysterically…mainly due to the headline and the photo).
The Tribe continues to look at free agent outfielders, and there have been rumors that they are interested in Michael Cuddyer and Josh Willingham. Cuddyer recently received an offer from the Twins, and his wife recently gave birth to Twins. Some think that’s an omen, but he’s yet to agree to terms with Minnesota. There are reports that he was unhappy with the team’s 2011 season and is afraid of a repeat in 2012. He also wants a 3 year deal, and that may be more than the Indians are willing to commit to. The Indians, Twins, and Rockies supposedly have interest in Willingham and I think he could end up being a great addition to the lineup. His 29 home runs last year could be the answer to the Indians’ lack of right-handed power. Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle said that she thought in a better hitter’s park, and with better protection in the lineup, Willingham could be poised for a monster year.
Perhaps we’ll find out soon if these bigger free agent deals have a ripple effect on the Tribe. As far as my personal free-agent predictions, I’ve been just dreadful so far this off-season. I said Pujols stays with the Cardinals, Reyes stays with the Mets or goes to the Red Sox (I also thought maybe the Giants), and C.J. Wilson to the Yankees. I predicted Prince Fielder would go to the Nationals, but I don’t think that will happen either. I’m not sure if this is a sign that this off-season has been pretty unpredictable, or that I’m just terrible with predictions (probably a combo of both). I have no idea where Fielder will go, but I’d count the Seattle Mariners as the dark horse in that one.