MLB Rumors: The Tribe’s Ongoing Search for a Right-handed Bat

I’m back with your weekly “search for the right-handed bat” update.

As we stand on December 14th, the Indians are still on the hunt. Names keep getting bandied about, but nothing as of yet has happened. Last week’s Winter Meetings spawned conversations, including the now infamous Chris Antonetti “if I gave you 50 chances, you wouldn’t guess” quote in regards to who the Indians are going after. In the past two days, two names were crossed off the Tribe’s wish list; Third Baseman Aramis Ramirez and Outfielder Josh Willingham.

Ramirez was more of a pipe dream. Though some of us had delusions of grandeur that somehow the Indians could make it work for the stud run producer, who spent the last seven seasons in Chicago, and move him to first base, this was never a realistic option. Willingham on the other hand, was thought to be.

The former A’s OF hit 28 homers and drove in 98 RBIs in a noted pitcher’s park in Oakland, was looking to cash in. This was his best, and perhaps last big chance to maximize his dollar value. His agents were looking for a three-year deal in upwards of $10 million per. While the Indians were sniffing around, a contract like that in terms of length and money was too rich for their blood. Willingham landed with a divisional foe, the Minnesota Twins, who gave him three years. The potential good news for the Indians there is that with the Twins going with Willingham, it almost assures that Michael Cuddyer won’t be returning there. On the other hand, the Twins may have decided to move on from Cuddyer because his asking price could be too high.

Back to Willingham – the Indians were right to not get locked into a three-year deal with him. While he is a nice player, he is not the difference maker this team needs. We’ve seen what giving big money and lots of years can do to our market (Travis Hafner, hello!) and if Willingham were to be a bust, like Hafner, you couldn’t give him away with that contract. Look at Houston; they are offering to literally hand over OF Carlos Lee for nothing AND eat half of his remaining one year and $18 million contract and they can’t seem to find any takers.

It’s plain to see that the Tribe’s best course of action to get that bat is via the trade, especially considering the likely $20 million extra in arbitration raises expected to come from the likes of Asdrubal Cabrera, Chris Perez, Rafael Perez, etc. I said this last week and I will say it again – the $5 million paid to Grady Sizemore, which is hampering the Indians free agent options, will be a move that will backfire.

So what’s the next move? (Billy Ray Valentine voice)

Obviously, Antonetti is working the phones on potential trades. The other thing he must do at this point is wait out the free agents. It’s possible that two guys in particular – Cuddyer and OF Carlos Beltran – have overplayed their hands and the money they hoped to get on the open market may not be there. I believe Cuddyer will eventually get what he wants, but what about Beltran?

He’s 34 years old and is coming off his monster contract with the New York Mets. He was tearing up NL pitching last year before being traded to the San Francisco Giants, where injuries derailed him late. His agent at the time, Scott Boras, shunned a trade to Cleveland because he wanted his client somewhere that he could sign with long-term after finishing up last season strong. That didn’t work out and the Giants made a deal for CF Melky Cabrera instead. The Rockies have been mentioned as a potential landing spot for Beltran, but if the years and the money aren’t there, could Beltran be looking at a Kevin Millwood/Juan Gonzalez type one year deal? Could the Indians make a one-year, $10 million commitment to the switch-hitting stud and plug him right into the middle of the order and let him set his market again for next year? Reports are that the money wouldn’t be there and someone would have to be dealt to make room (thanks to the Grady signing).

To me, it’s a no-lose situation for both sides if Beltran can’t get what he wants long term right now. Make yourself play for the contract, perform at a high level and you can hit the open market again next winter. If the Indians contend, you keep him. If they fall out of it and Beltran is playing well, there will for sure be a taker for him at the deadline, the same way there was last summer when the Mets sent him out west.

Do I think this will happen? Probably not, but the more days that go by, the better the chances are for Beltran’s price to come down. Certainly doesn’t hurt to wait.

  • Matt S

    I like Beltran, but I doubt he’s coming here. For one, the hole is at 1B, and he doesn’t play there. You’d end up having to send down Brantley, and I don’t think that’s a great idea. That being said, with Hafner, Sizemore and Beltran on the same team, I’m sure it wouldn’t be long before Brantley was called back up to fill in for an injured player.

    It would be nice if the Indians could find a way to trade for a Gabby Sanchez, Logan Morrison or Mark Trumbo type of player. Those don’t look likely. The guy I think they should be all-in on is Carlos Lee, if they can either only have to pay $5-7M of his contract OR if they can off-set his cost by trading away Chris Perez.

    The Indians have a lot of depth at SP and RP. They’ll likely go in to next year with all 5 AAA starters on the 40 man roster (Huff, Gomez, McAllister, Kluber, Barnes) and several relievers on it as well (De La Cruz, Hagadone, Putnam). Most of those guys are major league ready, and some of them aren’t really benefiting from staying in AAA. I really wish we could flip a few of them for a guy like Carlos Lee. My ideal would be Huff, Raffy Perez and a minor league OF like Fedroff in exchange for Lee (only having to pay half of his contract as reported).

  • mgbode

    I love this idea (though it does sort of rely on Brantley making the transition to 1B).

    If we can just co-ordinate Beltran and Sizemore’s DL stints, it may be like we always have that hot hitter in the lineup (Gralos Beltmore).

  • mgbode

    @Matt S – if we offered Huff, Raffy, Fedroff and to pay 1/2 of Lee’s contract, Houston would not only give us Lee, but they would give Antonetti a big, fat kiss on the mouth. The streets of Houston would explode in celebration. Parades would be held. Champagne would be uncorked. Beer would be spilt.

  • Anthony

    I don’t think Beltran is a realistic option. MLBtraderumors.com is reporting today that 5 teams are in on Beltran with multiyear deals. I just don’t see it happening.

    I really thought Willigham would have been a nice fit here for a two year deal. The Twins overpaid for him IMO.

    What scares me is the idea that the tribe will pick up someone like Jose Lopez (reports indicate they are talking with him) to man first base next year. I would rather they trade a few B level prospects for a risk like Kendrys Morales than go with Lopez, who looked terrible with Colorado/Florida last year (.216 with 8 HR in 242 AB).

    I feel like we have the pitching to win the Central next year, but we need the offense to match. Another year of Matt LaPorta with a splash of Jose Lopez just isn’t going to cut it.

  • Anthony

    I can’t wait to get my Gralos Beltmore jersey!

  • natedawg

    “if I gave you 50 chances, you wouldn’t guess”

    Does that mean he is not well know? Oohhh I am getting excited now!

  • humboldt

    Winner for best accompanying picture ever. Hopefully Lyon will see it

  • humboldt

    Actually, TD, on second thought, the picture could use a little Russell Branyon in the lower left corner

  • dwhit110

    @1,

    What are you talking about? First, as #3 pointed out, that proposed trade is ludicrisp (to quote Mike Tyson). We could literally trade a PTBNL for Carlos Lee if we were willing to pick up half his salary.

    Also, there’s no way in the world Brantley is getting sent down. As it stands Sizemore is going to need a day or two off a week (think the “rest Hafner’s shoulder” regiment) combining that with the off days that Hafner needs and your 4th OF is going to be pretty close to a full time player this year.

  • dwhit110

    @7,

    I agree, the picture with this post is hilarious.

  • NJ

    Morosi of FOXsports says the Indians are in talks with Jose Lopez, a right-handed utility infielder type (if you aren’t familiar with him, do yourself a favor and don’t look at his numbers).

    On it’s own, not a huge issue, but I do wonder why we’d be bringing in that kind of player with Hannahan and Donald already here. Maybe it’s just a depth move, but it makes me wonder if one of those guys are being talked about in a deal elsewhere?

  • http://waitingfornextyear.com Scott

    “Winner for best accompanying picture ever”

    I’ll take full credit for this one. Also, you’re welcome.

  • humboldt

    lol. Nice work Scott

  • AMC

    The Lopez move being rumored makes zero sense to me unless they’re trying to use it as leverage with Jack Hanahan. Otherwise their better off just plugging in Hanahan (in a platoon with Santana) at 1st, where he performed capably in spot duty last season.

  • TSR3000

    I am getting very frustrated by our failure to add a legit bat.

    I thought Cuddyer and/or Willingham would have been perfect.

  • dwhit110

    Marlon Byrd should be a guy who we’re kicking the tires on in the trade market. A bullpen arm would get it done and he’d give us the 4th OF that we seem to need since we can’t count on Sizemore.

  • mgbode

    i say we just given to our left-handedness and sign Luke Scott for 1B (and the funny thing is he plays RH in the field)

  • Ghost

    It was reported that Cuddyer asked for 3 years and 36 million while hoping to get 3 for 30. Nice player, but no thank you at that price. You could get 2 Michael Cuddyers for that price if you look hard enough. Cuddyer will be 33 at the beginning of the season and has 2 big seasons on his resume (06 and 09), other than that hes been an above average hitter but really nothing special. Signing Willingham is actually a very good deal for the Twins, they get basically the same player for substantially cheaper.

  • Shamrock

    Jose Lopez started as a 2B but was playing 1B for Seattle last year I do believe. Maybe that’s why the Indians would be interested. Michael Brantley @ 1B? Huh.

    I’m not surprised they haven’t been able to do anything.

  • Steve

    http://www.rlyw.net/index.php/RLYW/comments/cairo_2012_v0.3_and_some_extremely_early_and_completely_useless_2012_p

    Take this analysis for what you will (as the title suggests) but it’s something to chew on. It has the team at 87 wins (hey TD, contending!) but just outside the playoffs. This is the sweet spot for saying eff it and signing a guy like Willingham.

  • mgbode

    shamrock, brantley played some 1B in the minors and IPI reported the team is considering trying him out there in the spring.

  • Ghost

    Allow me to be captain obvious, but Brantley is not an ideal 1st baseman. Cant say that I like that idea, but it speaks volumes as to how little they think of LaPorta at this time.

  • DCTribeFan

    The Lopez/Pie conversations are just fodder for a slightly deeper Spring Training competition, and injury insurance. Hannahan was that guy last year, and I’m pretty damn glad they did that one.

    And to the Indians inactivity so far…good restraint! Willingham’s agent floating out 3/$36M was a nice try–sounds like the Twinks will get him for $21M instead. Still an overpay, IMHO, but that’s free agency.

    Letting the market develop is good fiscal strategy–most of the asking prices will wilt some in the coming weeks. Also, the closer market is saturated–so moving Perez in a quality deal for the Tribe will take longer than usual. Once the A’s trade Bailey, we’ll know a lot more how much value CP has, and a trade for a young 1B-type may follow. I still think we’ll see a different Laporta in ST, which of course you may lambast me for.

    Really though, any way you slice it, health will be the key issue for the 2012 Tribe. There’s no magic-bullet RH bat that will insure contention.

  • Steve

    DC – Letting the market develop will also take the talent off the market. How many hitters are left out there that can still be any useful to the Tribe? Beltran, Pena and Cuddyer? Wait any longer and you’re pretty much out of the market. And the value for Perez was actually pretty well set yesterday by Boston and Arizona. For your “proven closer” you can get a couple of decent-but-haven’t-lived-up-to-their-potential pieces. Certainly not a middle-of-the-order bat.

  • Derald

    OH NO the Russell Branyan photo creep continues!