The Indians left baseball’s Winter Meetings in Nashville last week empty handed, but they were about as active as any team there. Many were disappointed by the Tribe’s closing abilities, but one thing you can say – they were far from dormant. For so many years, the Winter Meetings meant little to the apathetic fan base. Mark Shapiro and Chris Antonetti were there, essentially in spirit. But not this year.
With new manager, the credible and well like Terry Francona in tow, the Tribe was right in the center of the action. They went after Shane Victorino but finished as the bridesmaid to Boston. They were involved in several trade rumors, including three and four teams deals. They talked to many free agents, including one of the top pieces on the market, Nick Swisher, and other name players including Kevin Youkilis.
Last night, while still waiting to hear from Youkilis, the Indians decided they would go in another direction and nab themselves a power hitting first baseman. Mark Reynolds, who spent the last two seasons in Baltimore, was signed to a one-year deal pending his physical. He will reportedly get $6 million, with an additional $1.5 million in incentives. Bringing in Reynolds could be the opening salvo that will signal the change that we have all been waiting for.
Here is what I believe is about to occur.
Youkilis was said to be spending the weekend mulling over a two-year, $18 million deal from the Indians and a one-year, $12 million offer from the Yankees. The Indians didn’t want to wait any longer, so they went the less expensive (and smarter) route, choosing to go with Reynolds at first for 2013. The extra money saved from going with Reynolds instead of Youkilis, will be kicked into the proposed Swisher contract offer. I know that nobody thinks he will end up here, but I believe the Indians are in the best shape of anyone to sign Swisher and will. They will end up overpaying for him, but if you want a big name player to come to Cleveland, you are going to have to go over what that player is worth.
The next inevitable move is the trading of Asdrubal Cabrera for a couple of young, major league rotation ready arms (Arizona, anyone?). The longer the winter goes on, the less of a market I think there will be for Shin-Soo Choo, who everyone knows is on the final year of his contract and won’t be re-signing long term here. I have changed course on this, but I think Choo will start the season in Cleveland and be traded at the deadline to a contender. The same goes for Chris Perez.
If what I predict ends up actually coming to fruition, the opening day Indians lineup would look something like this:
CF Michael Brantley
RF Shin-Soo Choo
C Carlos Santana
1B Mark Reynolds
LF Nick Swisher
2B Jason Kipnis
DH Russ Canzler
3B Lonnie Chisenhall
SS Mike Aviles
Adding Aviles was the start, but bringing in Reynolds was the first true domino to fall. There is no way Antonetti is done. He can’t be. Reynolds represents a major bat upgrade from everyone’s favorite punch and judy hitting first baseman Casey Kotchman.
But lets get the big elephant in the room out of the way right from the jump; Mark Reynolds strikes out….. a lot.
He burst onto the scene in 2007 as a big time home run hitter, but nobody was/is a bigger windmill then Reynolds. Since 2008, he has averaged 198 K’s per year. Choo led the Indians in strikeouts last year with 155, Jason Kipnis was next with 109. So just prepare yourself.
Reynolds is not here to be the savior. That needs to be said. He is here as a complimentary piece and the right-handed power bat the Indians have sorely lacked for the last few seasons. Reynolds hit 28, 44, 32, 37, and 23 homers in his five full seasons as a regular in the big leagues. Some will tell you that home runs are a completely overrated statistic, but in a lineup that has exactly zero true power threats, Reynolds is a welcome sight. Defensively he was a train wreck at third base, where he played in Arizona. Baltimore moved him over to first base last season and saw a dramatic change with his glove. While he won’t be Kotchman at first, he became a very solid defensive player.
Choosing to go with Reynolds over Youkilis was a wise decision both financially and on the field. Youk has back issues, less power, and is a below average defensive player. Reynolds fits better with this lineup than Youkilis would. Per Jeff Ellis at Indians Prospect Insider, in 2012 Youkilis had a .960 OPS at home in the hitters havens of Fenway Park and US Cellular Field. On the road, his OPS was .557. Reynolds splits were .761 home/.765 road.
The Orioles declined an $11 million option on Reynolds just before the Winter Meetings, making him a free agent. At least eight teams had reportedly been in contact with him. In the end, he chose to come to Cleveland. He makes his offseason home in Arizona, close to where the Indians train in Goodyear.
Baltimore Sun writer Dan Connolly summed up Reynolds pretty well this morning:
Laidback in the clubhouse but mostly intense on the field, Reynolds was lauded by teammates for his work ethic and his toughness. Fans seemed to embrace his grittiness, but were frustrated by his penchant for striking out and his streakiness – which included red-hot periods and times when he couldn’t put the ball in play.
Still, without a set first baseman for next year – Chris Davis is the most likely candidate for now – and a lineup that could use some power, Reynolds’ departure leaves the Orioles with some uncertainty.
Even in a down year by his standards, Reynolds’s 23 homers would have led the Indians, his 69 RBIs would have been third, and his .764 OPS would have been third as well (Travis Hafner’s .784 came in 66 games).
Again, looking at his numbers, he should fit in well with the lineup the way it is currently constructed with so many left handed bats. Against left-handed pitching, Reynolds will most likely slide to DH with Carlos Santana taking over at first. If Reynolds turns out to be a disaster, he’s only on a one-year deal. The Tribe still needs to find a long term solution at first base, but Reynolds is a nice one-year stop gap option. Again, he is certainly an upgrade to Kotchman.
But as I said before, this is just the first of several moves Antonetti will make. He can’t stop here.
(Photo via J. Meric/Getty Images North America)