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.

 

8 Comments

  • Al says:

    I think the Dice-K signing a good move. Best case scenario he makes the team, puts up around a 4.50 era as the 4th or 5th starter, worst case scenario he sucks at spring training and doesn’t make the team. Win-win situation.

  • John says:

    Dice-K and Trevor Bauer can vie for who has the most different pitches.

  • Mary Jo says:

    If I wasn’t so vain about my hair I would be pulling it out over the Dicey-K signing. I fear he’ll do well in camp and then turn into the pitcher I saw in sports lowlights up here after he would pitch a game. He is a walking disaster with demands out the ying-yang. IF he makes the team I hope they tell him they’ll treat him like every other player on the roster. When he was with the Red Sux he had a list of special privileges that were, IMO, completely unreasonable. Also, his agent it Scott Boras ((shudder)).

  • Steve Alex says:

    Matzuzaka is only 32 and probably came back too soon last year because Boston was desperate for pitching. There’s no guaranteed money, so no risk. There’s absolutely nothing to complain about. I’d love to see him or Kazmir come out of nowhere to pitch well and make the team, or even Rich Hill as a situational lefty.

  • DaveR says:

    If the Indians had a star-studded rotation I would pull my hair out too. They don’t. They are actually relying on a bullpen guy Myers to round it out. And the current Indians “aces” would be 3rd, 4th, maybe 5th guys on a good team. So giving Dice-K a minors shot and even paying him $1.5M doesn’t make me lose sleep. If nothing else they get another year of developing Bauer and the younger arms.

  • Mary Jo says:

    I LIVE in MA. My local stations are out of Boston. I guess I have a different perspective from seeing clips of him regularly and listening to some Boston sports talk radio. But: Dice-K was erratic before he had any sign of a shoulder problem. He’s had a tired arm, a weak arm, and a poorly conditioned arm. For crying out loud, the guy is a pitcher and has to use his arm to do his job! IMO 2008 was an outlier year. If you take the stats for that good year plus the TJ rehab year out of the equation you still end up with an average guy’s 5 ERA. He’s a prima donna with a lot of flash and meh skills. So, he would fit right in with what we already have. ;-)

  • TDA says:

    Dice K is 32. With the right trainer and work regiment, he could be as good as anyone on the Tribe staff. Does the Tribe have that trainer? But there is very little risk and great reward as a starter for several years or trade bait in mid season. Maybe he could learn a knuckler ;-)

    Gianni could be great with the young players. He wants to manage, so there is incentive. The great (good) Indian teams always had an elderly statesman, past his prime for sure, to guide the youth. But Giambi could be too far past his prime to work out. Once again little risk.

    I think both moves are great. With a much higher upside than downside.

    I also agree Thome is a pr issue you unless you are ready to move him somewhere when he fail. Hitting coach, minor league manager, front office. Beats me where he fits.