This weekend, the Indians inked Jason Giambi and Daisuke Matsuzaka to minor league deals with invites to spring training. While I’ve seen some people praising the moves around the internet, I’ve also seen a lot of people absolutely livid over these two signings (particularly Giambi). This post is directed more toward that second group – take a deep breath, because this is not the end of the world.
The Indians have signed quite a few players to minor league deals with invites to spring training this winter – RHP Matt Capps, LHP Rich Hill, LHP Scott Kazmir, infielder/outfielder Ryan Raburn, outfielder Ben Francisco, outfielder Jeremy Hermida, RHP Jerry Gil, RHP Joe Martinez, RHP Fernando Nieve, catcher Omir Santos, and outfielder Matt Carson to name a few. Perhaps the frustration over Giambi is due to the fact that he’s a more famous name than some of the others? Or perhaps because the Johnny Damon experiment is still fresh in peoples’ minds? Because Giambi has just as good of a chance of sticking with the team as any of these other invited players. Last spring, former major leaguers Ryan Spilborghs and Felix Pie competed for the left field spot and neither made the team. The Indians have enough options this spring, so unless Giambi comes into camp and absolutely blows people away, he probably won’t earn one of the roster spots. If he manages to make the team, he’ll receive a $750,000 base salary with incentives.
Giambi spent the last few seasons with the Rockies, and in 2012 hit .225/.372/.303 with one home run in 113 plate appearances. While it’s not the worst line I’ve ever seen, it changes dramatically when you compare his Coors Field numbers to his stats away from Denver. At Coors: .242/.405/.394 with one home run. Away from Coors: .214/.352/.250 with zero home runs. His OPS was .799 at Coors and .602 away; that’s almost a 200 point drop once he left the mile high air. Giambi could be beneficial against left-handed pitching; in 2012 he hit .296/.367/.481 with one home run against lefties, but .194/.373/.226 with zero home runs against righties. So while he could help the team in certain situations, there really isn’t room on a roster for a 42-year-old with little remaining power, that can’t really hit right-handed pitching. While he technically can still play first base, he only played first in 13 games last season with a National League team.
One of the primary questions I’ve seen people ask is “why Giambi instead of Thome?” It’s a good question, since they are similar in the sense that they are aging sluggers that will minimally play in the field. The only thing I can guess is that the Indians didn’t want an awkward situation if they had to release Thome. What if he came to camp, and didn’t earn a spot on the team? Then the Tribe would be forced to either release him (which could be a PR nightmare) or put him on the roster over someone that performed better. If he didn’t start to perform better, they’d be put in the awkward position where they’d have to consider designating him for assignment around May or June. If Giambi doesn’t pan out, will anyone really be heartbroken in Cleveland? People are more likely to shrug and say, “it didn’t sound like a great idea when they signed him in the first place.”
I like the Dice-K signing and was secretly hoping the Indians would give him a shot. He’s coming off Tommy John surgery, but like Kazmir, it’s a chance to buy low and hope for the best. The deal includes a $1.5 million base salary if Dice-K makes the team, and he could earn up to $4 million with incentives. If he’s good, he gives the rotation some depth. If he’s bad, he doesn’t make the team. Dice-K was the World Baseball Classic MVP in both 2006 and 2009, and helped lead the Red Sox to a World Series championship in 2007 (after they knocked the Indians out. Sigh.) It’s worth a chance to see if he still has anything left in the tank.
Even though pitchers and catchers reported today (HOORAY!), we still have quite a way to go before the season starts. Opening Day in Toronto isn’t until April 2. A lot could happen between February 10 and April 2, and it will be interesting to see how it all unfolds.