With all of the Indians’ minor trades and free agent signings this off-season, I started to think – what were some of the best and worst bargain basement off-season moves for the Tribe in the past 5 years? Moves that were done on the cheap instead of going for an elite free agent; moves like the ones the Indians have made this off-season (and practically every off-season). This list isn’t exhaustive, but includes some of my personal favorites.
Orlando Cabrera, prior to 2011 season. Even though he only hit .244/.277/.321 with 4 home runs and 38 RBI, I think that Cabrera’s contributions were greater than his offensive line shows. He was a great leader to young players, and gave Asdrubal Cabrera advice on his swing; advice that gave Asdrubal a career high total of home runs in 2011. I love signings like this for the intangibles they add to a team. When Terry Mulholland was with the Tribe, he was already in the twilight of his career. However, he gave young pitchers a ton of useful advice that made up for his shortcomings on the field.
Austin Kearns, prior to 2010 season. Even though Kearns drove me absolutely nuts in 2011, I can at least see why the Indians took a chance on signing him again. In 2010, he hit .272/.354/.419 with 8 home runs and 42 RBI before he was traded to the New York Yankees for Zach McAllister. Kearns put up solid numbers before the deal, and provided a nice return in the trade; this is the ideal situation when you sign a player like Kearns to a low-cost deal. You get great production and manage to flip him for an intriguing prospect with potential.
Mark DeRosa, prior to the 2009 season. DeRosa was traded to the Indians from the Cubs for a trio of pitching prospects – Chris Archer, John Gaub, and Jeff Stevens. Stevens and Gaub have been less than impressive at the Major League level, while Archer has yet to pitch at the Major League level (and is no longer in the Cubs system). So the Indians didn’t give up much for DeRosa, and for his half-season with the Indians he hit .270/.342/.457 with 13 home runs and 50 RBI. He was traded to the Cardinals near the deadline for Chris Perez and Jess Todd; after the trade DeRosa hit only .228/.291/.405, 10 home runs and 28 RBI and battled a wrist injury. The Indians basically flipped a trio of mediocre to poor minor league pitchers for current closer Chris Perez (Jess Todd is no longer with the organization). It may make you feel slightly better to think that (in a roundabout way) the Indians trade Brandon Phillips for Perez. Phillips went to the Reds for Stevens, who was flipped for DeRosa, and so on. (It makes me feel slightly better about losing Phillips.)
Joe Smith, prior to the 2009 season. Smith was part of a three team trade between the Indians, Mets and Mariners; the Indians sent Franklin Gutierrez to the Mariners and ended up with Luis Valbuena from Seattle and Smith from New York. He was decent in 2009 and 2010, but still struggled at times. In 2011, the sidearmer found his groove and pitched extremely well – a 2.01 ERA with a 1.09 WHIP and 45 strikeouts. Valbuena is no longer with the Indians, but Smith alone makes that trade more than worthwhile. Gutierrez has struggled with health issues since the trade and spent a considerable amount of time on the DL.
Austin Kearns, prior to 2011 season. Just like the 2010 Kearns deal was the best case scenario, the 2011 Kearns deal is the worst case scenario. He looked terrible until he was released in August, and took a spot on the 25-man that could’ve gone to a young prospect. He hit .200/.302/.287 with 2 home runs and 7 RBI, and was not getting traded for prospects to any team, anywhere.
Chad Durbin, prior to 2011 season. I joked all last season that Durbin should come with a slogan – “Chad Durbin: for when you’ve already given up on today’s game.” He was mostly relegated to mop up duty, but was kind of hard to watch regardless. Durbin was slightly more reliable during the second half of the season, and finished the year with a 2-2 record, 5.53 ERA, 1.64 WHIP and 59 strikeouts. Considering that his ERA was north of 6 for much of the year, this should actually be seen as a positive!
Kerry Wood, prior to 2009 season. This was probably the biggest free agent signing the Indians made over the past five years in terms of money spent and the “star power” of Wood. He was mediocre at best during his time in Cleveland – in 2009 he was 3-3 with a 4.25 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 63 strikeouts, 20 saves and 5 blown saves; in 2010 he was 1-4 with a 6.30 ERA, 1.60 WHIP, 18 strikeouts and 8 saves before his trade to the Yankees in July for Andrew Shive and Matt Cusick. These numbers are hardly worth the two year, $20.5 million deal that Wood signed with the Indians.
David Dellucci, prior to the 2007 season. Dellucci signed for 3 years and $11.5 million; a relatively modest deal that was still probably an overpay for Dellucci’s production. He was so terrible near the end of the deal, the Indians actually released him on June 1 of 2009; essentially paying him not to play for them the rest of the year. During those 2+ seasons, Dellucci hit .238/.305/.394 with 15 home runs and 68 RBI and was also injured on several different occasions. I’ll never forget the time I showed up to a game in 2008, only to see that Eric Wedge had penciled Dellucci into the cleanup spot as DH. I know the Indians’ lineup struggled at times during 2008 with slumps and injuries, but I don’t think there’s ever an appropriate time to DH David Dellucci and bat him 4th. I hate to say it, but it’s deals like these that make me secretly glad the Indians didn’t sign a Josh Willingham or a Michael Cuddyer.
Trot Nixon, prior to the 2007 season. He had a few great seasons with Boston, including the 2004 World Series winning squad. On the surface, I guess it doesn’t seem so odd that the Indians would give Nixon a shot during the 2007 season for 1 year, $3 million. He hit .251/.342/.336 with 3 home runs and 31 RBI; definitely not a terrible season, but not necessarily worthwhile for the budget-conscious Indians (Nixon had -1.0 WAR during this season).
Do you have any personal favorites, or ones to add to the “bad” list? I originally considered looking at the entire Jacobs/Progressive Field era, or at least the past 10 years, but decided instead to narrow it to the more recent past.