As the MLB trade deadline approaches today at 4 PM, the Cleveland Indians sit in a strange place. They won’t be buying, could be selling, but most likely will be standing pat. They have been put in this position by their failures to add an impact guy or two this past offseason, on top of some underwhelming seasons from a few of their key guys.
During the winter, the Indians searched high and low for bats. They shot for the moon and the looked at the bottom of the barrel. In the end, the names bandied about never came to fruition and the Tribe ended up with Casey Kotchman for $3 million to play first base while counting on a healthy Grady Sizemore to come back strong for one more year in the sun.
Ah, the best laid plans of Chris Antonetti.
We all know what happened. Kotchman has been as advertised as an absolute wizard with the glove, but his bat has left something to be desired. He was coming off of his best year with the bat (.306/.378/.800) and the Indians hoped for a repeat. The thing of it is, if left field and third base weren’t such a mess and Travis Hafner and Carlos Santana had played up to their potential this season, nobody would care about Kotchman’s lack of offense.
Then again, what Kotchman has given us (.226/.290/.648/10 HR/38 RBIs) are Hall of fame numbers compared to what Sizemore has done. Grady has more surgeries (one) than at-bats (zero). Really, I can’t get started again on my feelings about the front office’s decision to put all of their faith into Sizemore. It was a move that completely backfired and set their season back in countless ways.
While they were searching for that right-handed, middle of the order big bat, they either passed on or were passed over by a number of players who would have looked good in Wahoo Red, White, and Blue. Lets take a look at how those players are doing in their new homes. (stats are as yesterday afternoon)
Josh Willingham – Minnesota Twins – three years, $21 million – .273/.384/.955/27 HR/79 RBIs/352 ABs
Why not get the most depressing figure out of the way right off the bat! Like with me rehashing the Sizemore mistake for the 250th time, do I really need to get into this again? After watching Willingham destroy the Indians in person this weekend, I literally became sick to my stomach at what could have been. If I was this worked up about it, I can’t imagine what must have been going through the head of Antonetti.
The Indians stubbornly wouldn’t give into Willingham’s demand of a three-year deal. The Twins were more than happy to do so at a club friendly $7 million per year. He was coming off a 28 HR/98 RBI season in a pitcher park in Oakland. The 33-year old hits right-handed, plays left field, and has admitted that had the Indians given that third year, he’d be in Cleveland right now.
Passing on Willingham literally has changed the fortunes of the entire season for the Tribe, not to mention the fact that they are now searching for someone EXACTLY LIKE HIM.
Carlos Beltran – St. Louis Cardinals – two years, $26 million – .282/.358/.883/23 HR/73 RBIs/351 ABs
In the case of Beltran, you cannot fault the Indians one bit. Their interest in the 35-year old outfielder came almost out of nowhere, but it was sincere. It was leaked on December 22nd that that the Indians were amongst the finalist for the All Star’s services. Beltran fit the criteria for what the Indians were looking for. He is a switch hitter with power, who can play either of the corner outfield positions as well as center field in a pinch.
Unfortunately the Indians were the bridesmaid to the Cardinals. Their reported two-year, $24 million deal was not good enough for Beltran, who desired to stay in the National League and play for the defending World Series Champs. Naturally, Beltran has been a complete stud in St. Louis with power to boot. Like Willingham, he would have completely changed the dynamic of the Indians offense.
Carlos Pena – Tampa Bay Rays – one year, $7.5 million – .194/.323/.674/14 HR/41 HR/361 ABs
Before the Indians settled on Kotchman, they made an offer to Pena, a power hitting, left-handed bat who plays first base at a gold glove level. He spent 2011 in Chicago on a one-year, $10 million deal with the Cubs. The 34-year old has always had a ton of power, but also has been strikeout machine for years. He played four years in Tampa Bay prior to the 2011 season and never hit less than 28 home runs. He peaked with 46 in 2007.
Apparently, his familiarity with the Rays won out of over money. The Indians made an offer of one year and $8 million to Pena, hoping he could provide the middle of the order power they sorely lacked. Instead, he took a little less money (and no state income tax) to return to Florida. When you see the statistics above, it seems as if the Indians may have dodged a bullet passing on him for the price. Kotchman for $3 million has been a better plan.
Carlos Lee – Houston Astros/Miami Marlins – one year remaining at $18 million – .284/.348/.744/6 HR/41 RBIs/328 ABs
While not a free agent this winter, Lee was a $18 million noose around the rebuilding Astros neck. Reportedly, Houston was willing to essentially give him away while eating half of the salary owed to him in the final year of his deal. Lee has been a career left fielder who switched to first base in 2011. He was coming off his worst power season since his rookie year of 1999 (18 HR/94 RBIs), but the hope was that he’d have one more good year in the sun at age 36.
The Indians approached the Astros at a point, but nothing ever became serious. Lee started the season hot and the Astros decided to parlay that into a trade. The Indians looked at him, but again decided to pass and instead he ended up with Miami. Now with Miami falling way out of the race, reports are that the Marlins are “begging anyone” to take Lee’s salary off their books.
Jason Kubel – Arizona Diamondbacks – two years, $15 million – .291/.364/.931/22 HR/72 RBIs/385 ABs
Back in November, the Indians showed early interest in Kubel, the former Minnesota Twin. He was a Tribe killer during his time in Minnesota and caught the brass’s eye. At the time, I couldn’t understand why the Indians wanted another left-handed hitting corner outfielder, especially with Sizemore signed. He played in just 99 games in 2011 because of injury, but the Indians liked his familiarity of the AL Central.
Back in November, I wrote the following:
While Kubel is a “nice” player, do the Indians really want to give him a three- year deal between $20-$25 million, which he could command? It would still leave them as an extremely left-handed loaded lineup, as they were most of last year.
My first thought when hearing about the Tribe’s interest in Kubel, I had to scratch my head for one simple reason – he is left-handed. Isn’t this offseason a quest for a right-handed power stick?
Now we fast forward to July and Kubel looks like a steal for the Diamondbacks. He has been terrific with the stick and a stabilizing force in the middle of the Arizona lineup.
Cody Ross – Boston Red Sox – one year, $3 million – .260/.331/.854/16 HR/50 RBIs/258 ABs
Ross was a World Series hero with the San Francisco Giants back in 2010 after coming over as an August waiver claim from the Marlins who were looking to shed salary. He struggled in 2011 with the Giants and headed into free agency looking for work. Ross has never been a star player, more of a fourth outfielder type, but nobody will forget just how good he was during that 2010 playoff run. At the end of January, the Indians were still in search of a right-handed bat and corner outfield type.
Ross’s name was on their radar screen, but they had set their sights a bit higher. Maybe they shouldn’t have. Maybe they should have added Ross as the fall back option to Sizemore. Instead of making the move, the Indians watched as the Red Sox gave him $3 million and playing time in left field as Carl Crawford wouldn’t be back until around the All Star break.
Ross went out and played perhaps the best baseball of his career before spending a month on the DL with a broken foot. After his return, he had a nice stretch that included a 5-9 tear with three homers and nine RBIs in two wins over the White Sox. Ross would have been more of the Indians speed; not a crazy impact guy, but a solid veteran who could have been a decent short term fill in. They most likely figured they have that in a known quantity to them in Duncan, so they passed on Ross.