When cost is a factor, the Indians’ options are limited; particularly in an offseason with a thin free agent market and just a few marquis players. There are still a number of decent free agents that could fit in Cleveland. They may not be long-term options, but could at least provide a stop-gap until the Indians are able to solve the problem through a player in the minor league system, or a trade. Paul Hoynes recently provided a list of free agent options, and I think it’s a good starting point; my only additions for consideration would be Kevin Youkilis, Melky Cabrera, Shane Victorino, and Torii Hunter.
Here are a number of players that the Indians could likely realistically target:
Jason Bay – Already discussed this possibility here. My verdict: Acceptable under the right circumstances.
Delmon Young – He made a big splash during the offseason, when he was named the MVP of the ALCS. While Delmon Young would still be an improvement over the Shelley Duncan/Johnny Damon/Aaron Cunningham platoon, I still have some reservations about bringing him to Cleveland. The right-handed Young hit .267/.296/.411 with 18 home runs in 574 at-bats in 2012. I like the power numbers, and I like the fact that he’s a right-handed bat. What I dislike – his defense, his plate discipline (exhibited by his poor on base percentage total), and the fact that even with his decent enough stats from the past season he still was worth -1.2 WAR. In fact, Young has never had a WAR higher than 1.5 throughout his career (he had this figure in 2010), and he’s had negative totals in four different seasons since 2006. Why pay money for someone like Young, when you can almost replace him with any generic player? Just as an example, in 232 at-bats last season, Shelley Duncan hit .203/.288/.388 with 11 home runs. If he would have gotten the same number of at-bats as Young, he may have been able to hit close to 18 home runs. His OBP and slugging percentage numbers aren’t that far off from Young’s, even though his average is much worse. I happen to have a few friends that are Twins and Tigers fans; the Twins fans are elated to be rid of him, and the Tigers fans are praying he doesn’t return. They’ve seen enough flailing at-bats and poor defense from him to last a lifetime. My verdict: avoid.
Carlos Lee – Lee hit .264/.332/.365 with 9 home runs between the Houston Astros and Miami Marlins in 2012. Lee had relatively poor 2010 and 2012 seasons, compared to his career averages (.285/.339/.483), but was solid in 2011 when he hit .275/.342/.446 with 18 home runs. An interesting fact about his performance last season – 2012 was the first season in Lee’s major league career (which started full time in 2004 with the Chicago White Sox) in which he did not have a double-digit home run total. Even though he’s a right-handed hitter, he was actually worse against left-handed pitching last season (.206/.261/.298). His career numbers are much better against lefties – .290/.351/.471. Lee is now 36-years-old, and is probably in decline as a hitter. It’s tough to tell whether or not 2012 was sort of the beginning of the end for him, or if he could experience a bounce back in 2013 (he did bounce back in 2011 from his poor 2010 season). My verdict: avoid, unless you can get a really good deal.
Carlos Pena – I never know quite what to think of Carlos Pena. He typically has good power numbers, and good OBP, but his batting average is usually pretty poor. He hit below the Mendoza line in 2012, .197/.330/.354. There were rumors that the Indians made the 34-year-old a competitive offer prior to the 2012 season, but that he chose to return to Tampa Bay instead. I like his power numbers (he hit 28 or more home runs from 2007 to 2011), but even those declined in 2012 when he hit just 19. To put that in perspective though, Carlos Santana led the Indians in homers in 2012 with 18. His “poor” total would still put him at the top of the heap in Cleveland. Like with Lee, is his decline just due to age, or could he bounce back in 2013? If the Indians made him an offer, would he even accept it this time? This is a really tough one for me. He’s not a right-handed bat, and the .197 average does make me cringe. Could his power numbers return to pre-2012 levels? Because the Indians need more power in the lineup, particularly if Hafner is gone. My verdict: consider under the right circumstances (i.e. cheap).
Mike Napoli – I’ve always had a lot of respect for Mike Napoli, even though I think his excellent 2011 season may be more of an outlier than the norm. There is only one season in his major league career that he has had an OPS below .800 – in 2007 it was .794. Since he’s marketed as a catcher/first baseman, I think he will be priced out of the Indians budget; there are too many teams in need of catching help. The Indians would be looking at him primarily as a first baseman, or possibly in a platoon role at catcher/1B. My verdict: I’d love him at first, but I never see it happening.
Aubrey Huff – Huff had just 78 at-bats in 2012, where he hit .192/.326/.282 with one home run for the San Francisco Giants. Huff actually left the team for a while with anxiety disorder and battled injuries, but reportedly is a good clubhouse presence. He really seems to fit the Indians mold – someone they could rescue from the scrap heap for a likely low price, and someone that is a good team guy. However, Huff is 35 and there’s no reason to be overly optimistic that he could somehow bounce back in 2013. My verdict: avoid, unless it’s on a minor league deal with an invite to spring training, like Felix Pie and Ryan Spilbourghs last spring.
Travis Ishikawa – He had a respectable season with Milwaukee in 2012, where he hit .257/.329/.428 with 4 home runs in 152 at-bats. These numbers are fairly on par with his career numbers, so you at least know what to expect from the 29-year-old, left-handed bat. He elected free agency after the Brewers outrighted him off their 40-man roster last week. This is the kind of player you sign if you already have an established first baseman, and just want someone to act as a platoon player/DH from time to time. The Indians don’t have that kind of situation in Cleveland, therefore – My verdict: avoid.
Ty Wigginton – He just screams “Ryan Spilbourghs” to me, albeit an older (35) version. In three of the past four seasons, he’s had a negative WAR, meaning that he was actually worse than a replacement player. Wigginton is right-handed, but just seems like the kind of player that would annoy/infuriate me and other fans. My verdict: definitely avoid.
Jeff Keppinger – For some reason, Keppinger really reminds me of Casey Kotchman. He’s coming off a great 2012 season, where he hit .325/.367/.439 with 9 home runs in Tampa Bay, which is above his career numbers of .288/.337/.396. I feel like every doubt I have about him, is just because I’m (somewhat unfairly) linking him to Kotchman in my brain – he’s coming off a good year, and was in Tampa last season. However, Keppinger’s numbers weren’t totally out of the blue – he had above average seasons in 2011 and 2007 as well. There are also a number of seasons where he had an OPS below .700. He strikes me as someone that could be streaky from time to time, so I could see this being a good fit, or another frustrating fit. Even though the greatest majority of his starts have come at second, he has played some first and outfield, and also has played shortstop and third. I’d support this if the Indians wouldn’t have just traded for Mike Aviles. I feel like they’re relatively similar players, and how many of those types do you really need to stockpile? My verdict: avoid.
Kevin Youkilis – I already discussed this here. My verdict: consider
Melky Cabrera – This is someone that the Indians would never have a shot at if it wasn’t for his testing positive for PEDs last season. It’s like a store having a very expensive television for sale, that really looks top of the line. Then someone accidentally drops the television while they’re moving it. Sure, you can get a great deal on it, but how well will it work? Will the deal end up being more trouble than it’s worth? That’s how I feel about Cabrera – will his return be too big of a distraction? How will he play after everything that’s happened? For how long was he using the PEDs? That’s an important question, because his numbers in 2011 with Kansas City (.305/.339/.470 with 18 home runs and a 4.1 WAR) aren’t too far below his scandal-tainted 2012 stats – .346/.390/.516 with 11 home runs and a 4.7 WAR. If he was only using in 2012, there’s no reason to believe that he couldn’t at least reproduce his 2011 numbers, particularly since he’s still only 28-years-old. There’s also the possibility that he really wants to prove himself on a one-year deal with the hopes that he could rebound and cash in prior to the 2014 season. The only bad thing is that supposedly there are at least five teams interested in him. Maybe not for the dollars or years he would have once gotten, but that much interest could still drive up the price. My verdict: consider
Shane Victorino – I thought he would be a lock to stay in Los Angeles, particularly with the free spending Dodgers. When they made the big trade with Boston though, it meant it was less of a certainty that Victorino would remain with them. I’ve also seen some rumors that they may be targeting Torii Hunter, which means there would definitely be no room for Victorino. He’s been pretty consistent throughout his major league career, typically not straying too far from his career averages of .275/.341/.430 in any given season. His rare miss years were 2010 and 2012 – his .255/.321/.383 between Philadelphia and Los Angeles in 2012 was statistically one of the worst seasons of his career. He’s only 31 though, so it could just be an anomaly. A switch hitter, he has great numbers against left-handed pitching – .301/.373/.508. I think that’s part of what makes him so appealing to me; for a team that really struggled against lefties in 2012, he could be a big improvement over other options. My only fear is that he’ll be priced out of the Indians budget. I see him getting a multi-year deal somewhere and the Indians were hesitant to even go to three years last offseason with Josh Willingham. Jerry Crasnick said that the Indians, Red Sox, Rangers, and Reds may be in on Victorino. My verdict: consider
Torii Hunter – At the age of 37, the right-handed Hunter is likely entering the twilight of his career. You wouldn’t know that by looking at his 2012 figures, as he hit .313/.365/.451 with 16 home runs and had a WAR of 5.5. In fact, if you look at his WAR for the past 10 seasons, it’s never been lower than 2.7 (2010) in any given season. That’s solid value, and also shows a great deal of consistency as he ages. This is someone I’d really like to see the Indians sign, but if the Dodgers are interested, there may be no chance for the Tribe. The Dodgers have shown no fear as far as bidding high, or taking on salary. It was just revealed that they bid $25,737,737.33 for Korean pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu (threes and sevens are considered lucky in Korea) and that’s just for his posting amount – they still have to negotiate an actual deal with Ryu. If they want Torii Hunter, I fear they’ll end up with Torii Hunter. My verdict: consider
As I was writing this, I considered each player as I got to their name. When I sit back and look at all of them, it seems like there are a lot that really don’t excite me, or that I’d want to see the Indians consider. As an Indians fan though, that’s really par for the course as far as free agents are typically concerned. We’re always going to be looking through the discount bin, and sometimes the toys in the discount bin just aren’t as exciting.