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.