There’s been a lot of discussion, on this blog and elsewhere, about the impact of the Indians’ trades and signings this offseason. People have broken down the strength of the rotation, and the strength of the lineup, particularly when compared to last year. I thought I’d look at some of the intangible and more hidden consequences/benefits of these moves. We’ve already looked at Nick Swisher’s OPS from both sides of the plate, and the strikeout potential of Mark Reynolds and Drew Stubbs. Now it’s time to think about lesser-analyzed on-field impact, as well as the off-field impact.
I’ll start with what I see as the most negative consequence of the Nick Swisher signing – the loss of a draft pick. I guess in some ways we should be thankful for the team’s August swoon; their poor record at the end of the season meant that they only lose a second round pick to a Swisher signing instead of a first round selection. In fact, the loss of draft picks is likely the reason that some big names are still on the market – like Michael Bourn and Kyle Lohse. This story in the New York Daily News looks at how Scott Boras’s influence may be waning (I don’t count him as down and out as they seem to, though). One of the kernels tucked away in the story is the off-field impact of the Swisher signing on the Indians. They mention the loss of the second round pick, but the other point worth mentioning is that the Indians will also lose $1.3 million of their official “pool” for signing players in the draft (which the Daily News estimates will be about $5 million total in the Indians’ case). They also speculate that Larry Dolan is “dressing up” the team in order to sell it, although it seems like every few months someone thinks there are clues that the Dolans plan to sell. They still haven’t, and until I hear something more official, I’m not buying it. The loss of the bonus money and the draft pick certainly don’t cripple the Indians, in my opinion, but it’s definitely one of the more negative aspects of Swisher coming to Cleveland.
I think there are several positive aspects to a Swisher signing, beyond the on-field impact. His contract officially becomes the largest contract the Indians have ever given a free agent. While their overall budget probably won’t be too much higher than last year, it still gives the impression that the Indians are willing to spend, and willing to compete against the big guns for players. I’ve seen people who have been angry at the Indians for years suddenly praising them, and expressing optimism for the new season. While this is still a team with a number of flaws, I like that people are excited about the season and seem interested in the team again. If they’re able to translate this into increased ticket sales, than it’s not a complete loss no matter how good or poor the Indians actually are in 2013.
People keep talking about the high strikeout rates of Mark Reynolds and Drew Stubbs, and that should obviously be a concern. While nobody likes to watch a player flail at the plate, is a strikeout really that much worse than any other kind of out? I got so tired of watching Casey Kotchman hit weak ground balls to the left side that automatically turned into double plays. If he struck out instead, then there’s still a runner at first and only one out instead of two. Their OBP is going to be the same whether they strike out or fly out, and while I’d prefer neither (and a higher OBP) I don’t think it’s that much worse than any other kind of out. Plus, it gets hot in the sun at Progressive Field during day games, and people would probably appreciate the cool air from a swing and a miss.
To make room for all of these new players, there have been several people designated for assignment – Russ Canzler (twice!), Jeanmar Gomez, and Thomas Neal. We know that the Yankees already claimed Canzler last week, and the Indians are supposedly attempting to find a trade partner for Gomez. It’s unclear what will happen with Neal, although I personally hope he clears waivers and ends up back in the Indians’ minor league system. There are other players out of options as of spring training, the most notable is probably Matt LaPorta. I really wanted to see LaPorta succeed, in fact I kept hoping that he would storm into spring training last year and snag the first base job. I think it’s obvious that he probably isn’t going anywhere, and that the Indians have pretty much given up on him as well. (After he was called up to the major league club toward the end of the 2012 season, he saw little to no playing time). New signings also push people like LaPorta further to the periphery when considering the makeup of the 25-man roster.
Nobody knows what the 2013 season will hold. While the team definitely looks to be in better shape than it did heading into spring training in 2012, there are still holes and weak spots in the roster. What we do know for sure is that these moves bring optimism and give many Indians fans a more positive image of the team. Regardless of Swisher’s performance, they will still lose a draft pick and a portion of their bonus pool due to his signing with the team. These moves also mean that some players on the periphery draw the short straw and will end up competing for a spot on some other team’s roster come spring training.