The other day I looked at some potential pitching bargains on the free agent market, someone that had the potential to be 2014’s Scott Kazmir. I figured I’d take a look at some potential position player bargains in the areas where the Indians have the most need – first, third, and a corner outfielder. I think the signing that fans should hope to reproduce next season is something like Ryan Raburn. He had a terrible 2012 season in Detroit and came to camp on a minor league deal. Once in Cleveland, he excelled – particularly against left-handed pitching. In fact, his performance landed him a two-year deal in Cleveland, and membership in the Indians’ “Goon Squad” of bench players. I think the list of potential bargains for potential position players is a lot thinner and less interesting when compared to the list of pitchers out there.
The Indians have a certain degree of flexibility when it comes to right field, catcher, first base, and DH. If all are healthy, you have have a combination of Carlos Santana, Yan Gomes, Nick Swisher, and Drew Stubbs to man those positions. Lonnie Chisenhall still hasn’t really taken charge and claimed third base as his own, so the Indians may look for someone that can play at either of the corners, and possibly even a bit in the outfield.
Ryan P. already looked at some of the power threats that are on the market this offseason. Those players are all likely to get decent deals this winter; the only name I have that overlaps is Marlon Byrd. I tried to look for players that could be had for a bargain, and could be poised for a bounce back season – either because they performed poorly, or because of injury issues. I should add that just because I put a player on the list, it’s not necessarily an endorsement for their being signed by the Indians. However, I’m willing to consider anything if the price is right. I’d always give any player a shot on a minor league deal with an invite to spring training.
Kevin Youkilis – The Indians pursued Youkilis last offseason, and it was thought that the Indians may have an edge because of his relationship with Terry Francona. In the end, Youkilis opted for a one-year, $12 million deal with the Yankees. With Alex Rodriguez out at the beginning of the year due to a hip injury, they needed someone to man third base. Youkilis probably thought that he could have a solid year and reestablish his value on the open market. Instead, he spent most of 2013 injured – he played in just 28 games and had only 118 plate appearances, hitting .219/.305/.345 with 2 home runs. The Indians actually dodged a bullet last offseason when Youkilis chose the Yankees; is he worth another shot this offseason? After his injury-plagued 2013 campaign, he may be able to be signed for a bargain. However, if Alex Rodriguez ends up missing substantial time due to his impending Biogenesis PED suspension, the Yankees may vie for his services once again this offseason and would likely be willing to outbid other suitors. They’ll have some money to burn with several players coming off the books, and the fact that A-Rod won’t be paid his monster salary during a suspension.
Wilson Betemit – Betemit just completed a two-year deal with the Baltimore Orioles, but only played in six games last season before he was released. He left the field on a stretcher during spring training due to a knee injury, and spent most of the year recovering. He finally returned to the team in late August and early September but was released after going hitless in 10 at-bats. With Baltimore in the midst of a playoff race, they probably didn’t want to waste at-bats (or a roster spot) on a player that just came back from a lengthy injury. Betemit’s career numbers are .267/.332/.442, and he hit 12 home runs as a part-time player in 2012, the last year he was healthy. Even though the 32-year-old switch hitter isn’t necessarily an all-star caliber player, he could be an option for the Indians at third. Since he’s coming back from a fairly severe knee injury, a team may be able to nab him for a minor league deal with an invite to spring training. He would be worth a look in that situation, if nothing else. Throughout his career he’s had much better numbers against right-handed pitching.
Raul Ibanez – Maybe Giambi just needs someone that will sit around and talk about the ’90s with him? (Ibanez will be 42 when the season starts, while Giambi will be 43). At the risk of turning the Indians into a convalescent home for aging players, the left-handed hitting Ibanez still has some pop in his bat – he hit 29 home runs last season with the Seattle Mariners, while hitting .242/.306/.487. He’s hit 15+ home runs every year since 2002; in eight of those 12 seasons he hit 20+. Even though Michael Brantley is in left field, Ibanez could also play first and DH. I mean, we probably don’t really want to see him throw anything from the outfield anyway.
Grady Sizemore – Oh come on, I had to at least mention him! I’d really like to see Sizemore make a comeback with someone; I hate to see such a talented player fade away at such a young age. Someone somewhere should offer him a minor league deal with an invite to spring training if his knees are at least marginally better. Not necessarily sure I want that team to be the Indians, but he’s out there and probably can be had for a bargain.
Marlon Byrd – Byrd is an intriguing choice, and I can’t quite put my finger on whether or not he’ll go for a bargain. On one hand, he’s 36 and had a 50-game PED suspension last season. On the other hand, he put together a nice 2013 season and helped catapult the Pirates into the playoffs (and NLDS) after he was traded there in August. I know a lot of Pirates fans that loved Byrd when he came over, and thought he had a big (and positive) impact on the team. Pittsburgh was unable to extend a qualifying offer, since he did not play the entire season with them. It still sounds as if they’d like to keep him, and that may inhibit any other interested teams (and drive his price up). Overall between the Mets and the Pirates last season he hit .291/.336/.511 with 24 home runs; after his trade to Pittsburgh he hit .318/.357/.486 with 3 home runs.
Franklin Gutierrez – I’ve always liked Gutierrez, back from his days with the Indians. (In case you forgot, he went to Seattle after the 2008 season in the trade that brought Joe Smith and Luis Valbuena to Cleveland). He was decent at the plate and solid defensively with a cannon for an arm. The bad thing about Gutierrez is that his body seems to be made of the finest tissue paper. So while his injury issue may lower his price on the market, it also makes him a more dangerous gamble. Over the past three seasons he had just 151 plate appearances over 41 games (2013), 163 plate appearances over 40 games (2012), and 344 plate appearances over 92 games (2011). During the limited action in 2013 he hit .248/.273/.503 with 10 home runs.
Paul Konerko – I highly doubt Konerko would ever go anywhere except back to the White Sox. He considered retirement at one point, and I think he’s more likely to retire than he is to leave the South Side. Since the White Sox signed Jose Dariel Abreu, there may not be a spot for Konerko with Adam Dunn still on his big-money deal. Konerko had a down year in 2013, hitting .244/.313/.355 with 12 home runs while struggling with injuries; his career averages are .281/.356/.491 and has hit 20+ home runs every other year back to 2004. If you can judge by this sign, Cleveland fans would probably welcome their former rival:
Carlos Pena – The Indians had interest in Pena prior to the 2012 season, before he took an offer to return to the Tampa Bay Rays. In 2013, he was actually released by the Houston Astros at the end of July, a team that went 51-111. You have to fall pretty far to be released by a team that lost north of 100 games; Pena hit .209/.324/.350 with 8 home runs for Houston. He was actually picked up by the Royals near the end of August, but was hitless in 3 plate appearances over 4 games. From 2007-2011, Pena had great power numbers; even in 2012 he still managed to hit 19 homers in a “down” year. (Home run totals for seasons during that period were 46, 31, 39, 28, and 28). He may be worth the gamble on an incentive laden deal, although he is 35 now and he probably won’t ever reach those power numbers again.
Justin Morneau – A few years ago, I would have expected Morneau to cash in during free agency. After several injuries, including the after effects to a relatively severe concussion, a team may be able to sign him for a more reasonable amount of money. Like Byrd, he was traded to the Pirates in August, although he did not mimic Byrd’s good performance. Between the Twins and the Pirates in 2013, he hit .259/.323/.411 with 27 home runs (none of which came after his move to the National League). When he was traded, it sounded like Minnesota had interesting in bringing him back. While I still expect that to happen, it’s possible he may end up with a new team in 2014.
Eric Chavez – When I added Chavez to this list, I honestly had a moment where I thought “Wait, is he even still in baseball?” He is, and he even had a pretty solid season in 2013 in a part-time role with the Diamondbacks despite the fact he missed some time mid-season with an oblique tear. Chavez hit .281/.332/.478 with 9 home runs and split time between first and third base. Even though he’s 35 and has struggled with injuries, he’s put up some decent numbers between 2011 and 2013 (he spent 2011 and 2012 with the Yankees). If you could sign him for the right price, he could play some first and third, while taking some at-bats at DH as well.
Placido Polanco – Since he’s 38-years-old, Polanco’s best days may be behind him. Because of that, you may be able to sign him for a bargain. After spending three years in Philadelphia, he signed a one-year, $2.75 million deal with the Miami Marlins in 2013 (he was the second highest paid player on the team). Playing third for the Marlins, he hit .260/.315/.302 with 1 home run; his career averages are .297/.343/.397 and does not really hit for power. Once again though – 38 and his best days are probably gone. He may provide a cheap alternative to Chisenhall at third base though.
These are some of the free agents I thought may be able to be signed for a relative discount compared to other players. Like I said, some of these may not be the greatest options, and may not be better than what the Indians could put together in-house with Mike Aviles, Ryan Raburn, and Drew Stubbs. However, if you’re looking to strike gold, as they did with the Raburn signing last offseason, one of these players may be your guy.