With the Giants’ sweep of the Tigers in the Fall Classic, we have officially entered that dark period where there is no baseball. Yes, there are fall and winter leagues, but we will need to wait until pitchers and catchers report before we see the Major Leaguers back in action. This also marks the beginning of the offseason hot stove – rumblings on free agents, trades, and option pickups will dominate the news over the next few months.
While I don’t necessarily expect the Indians to be big spenders on the free agent market, I would not be surprised to see one or two trades this offseason. I doubt they can do too much to fill their gaping holes, but I’m guessing they’re at least going to make an attempt. I think the larger, more immediate question that should be on Indians fans’ minds is what will happen with players under option for 2013. There are five players from the 2012 roster that are not under contract for 2013, or I should say, not under contract or team control (as in players that are not yet eligible for free agency). Of the five, Grady Sizemore and Casey Kotchman are outright free agents, with no options for next season. Travis Hafner, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Roberto Hernandez all have options for 2013. The Indians are expected to make decisions very soon, so I figured I’d try to predict their next moves.
Travis Hafner – $13 million team option for 2013, with a $2.75 million buyout. Even though Hafner got off to a strong start in 2012, he once again spent a significant portion of the season on the DL and had just 219 at-bats. I think the Indians decline his option and pay the buyout. However – I think they may try to resign him at a reduced rate for 2013. I’m not sure if I completely agree with this move, but I can’t see the penny-pinching Indians essentially paying him $2.75 million to essentially go play somewhere else. There aren’t a lot of fantastic options for DH available this offseason, but in my opinion, that’s a position you can always plug with a stop-gap. Hafner was only worth 0.7 WAR in 2012, according to Baseball Reference, so you could almost fill his spot with a generic replacement player.
Ubaldo Jimenez – $5.75 million option for 2013, with a $1 million buyout. I think every Indians fan collectively cringed every time Jimenez took the mound in 2012. If you’re like me, you continued to have some bizarre, misguided hope that he’d manage to turn things around, before you just gave up. I’m not sure if a new coaching staff can better reach him and correct whatever is wrong with him. I’m not sure if I have the patience to wait and see at this point. According to Baseball Reference, Jimenez had a -1.0 WAR, meaning that he’s actually worse than a replacement player. You could replace him with pretty much any generic minor leaguer at this point, with similar results. Despite this fact, I’m going to go ahead and predict that the Indians pick up this option. I think to decline it, would be to admit failure on the Jimenez trade from 2011; I don’t think they’re ready to do that yet, no matter how misguided the sentiment.
Roberto Hernandez – $7 million option for 2013, originally $9 million. After Hernandez was busted for his false identity, he made a deal to reduce his 2012 salary, as well as the amount of his 2013 and 2014 options. After he returned to the United States this season, he pitched just 14.1 innings, going 0-3 with a 7.53 ERA and 1.395 WHIP. What was most striking to me was the fact that he looked even more out of shape than usual, and continues to gain weight each offseason. While I may not be the ideal person to criticize someone else’s fitness level, I’m also not getting paid millions of dollars to pitch in the major leagues. Hernandez’s brief stint with the Indians last season was worth a -0.5 WAR with Baseball Reference, meaning that he was slightly below an average replacement player. I figured the Indians would pick this option up, banking on the fact that there will be no more legal setbacks and that they could work on Hernandez’s mechanics and fitness level in the offseason. I’m now less certain of that fact – I think they’ll decline this, figuring that $7 million is too steep of a price. Then they’ll still sign Hernandez for a reduced amount in 2013. If they can get a bargain on him, I would support this with a caveat – they come up with some kind of conditioning agreement for the offseason. If he shows up to spring training in the same shape as this season, there’s absolutely no point in bringing him back.
Grady Sizemore – I honestly feel bad for Sizemore and everything he’s gone through over the past couple of years. He never struck me as a player that was in it just for the paycheck, and I got the impression that he truly loved the game and wants to be back out on the field. It was extremely frustrating to watch the Indians pay him $5 million last season to do nothing, but I’m sure he really preferred to be out on the field. The only way I would want to see him back with the Indians is if he signs a minor league deal with an invite to spring training, or a ridiculously low base salary with incentives for plate appearances, performance, etc. I think it may be time to wish him well though, and hope that he’s someday able to find his way back to baseball. When part of the motivation for signing him in the back of my head is “I don’t want to see him be awesome with another team when the Indians could have kept him,” it may be time to part ways. You can’t build a team based on the fact that you’re afraid that a player you let go will have success somewhere else.
Casey Kotchman – In 2012, Kotchman actually was a -1.1 WAR according to Baseball Reference – the lowest total for any player on the Indians. (He’s like the anti-MVP.) I know that he’s solid defensively, but when he’s -1.1 below a replacement player, it doesn’t really matter what his defense looks like. I doubt he’ll be back, although I did question why he got so much playing time at the end of the season. Why not bench him regularly in favor of some of the young guys the Indians called up? If he’s actually worse than a replacement player, just let replacement players play.
There should be some resolution to some of these situations relatively soon. The Indians have said they would make these decisions within a few days of the World Series ending. Update: Paul Hoynes is reporting that the Indians will announce their decisions tomorrow (Tuesday). While we won’t know yet if declined options will be resigned, we’ll at least know which ones they decline and which ones they pick up.
In other news:
– The Indians signed 18-year-old Japanese outfielder Takuya Tsuchida, and he will report to spring training in 2013. The Indians signed a few other international prospects recently, including Grofy Cruz, Francisco Mejia, Yoiber Marquina, and Naoki Hashimoto. Due to the collective bargaining agreement, the Indians are capped at $2.9 million for international free agent signings. According to Paul Hoynes, Chris Antonetti had about $700,000 left to work with prior to the Tsuchida signing.