The notoriously cheap poor Dolan Family ownership just threw money at a big free agent. A year after refusing to give a third year for OF Josh Willingham and being burned by it, ownership signed off on a four year deal for Victorino. Like it or not (I didn’t), the front office is showing that they are serious about wanting to build a winner right now. Terry Francona is their trump card, and they are playing it. Tito was said to be putting on the full court recruiting press with Victorino in efforts to get him to Cleveland. However in the end, the free agent chose a shorter deal at money money per year to play for a perennial contender. I can’t say I blame him.
But trust me when I tell you, this was a major dodged bullet for the Indians.
Shane Victorino by all accounts is a great guy and teammate. He is a 32-year old switch hitter who does well against left-handed pitching (.906 OPS in 2012 vs. lefties). Victorino is durable and has good speed. With all of that is the other side – he is clearly a player on the decline. Like Grady Sizemore, Victorino is a all-out hustle player who takes a beating on the field. In a lineup so bereft of power, bringing in the former Phillie would make little sense at that price tag. He is a slap hitter coming off of the worst season of his career in a contract year. Philadelphia, who is in dire need of a center fielder, traded him at the deadline and was more than happy to let him walk with no ready-made replacement because keeping their pitching intact is the most important thing to them.
Had you told me that Victorino would come to Cleveland at say two years and $15 million, I would have been on board for that. But four years for him makes zero sense. Consider that last year Carlos Beltran only got two-year offers (including one from the Indians), and ended up with $26 million from St. Louis. 100 out of 100 baseball people would take Beltran over Victorino today despite the age difference.
Now to the bigger issue. I truly worry that Antonetti threw all of that money at Victorino in order to appease an angry fan base, which we all know is just plain bad business. The rabbit ears that both he and Mark Shapiro have been developing (see the Les Levine interview backlash and the defensive nature of Shapiro’s season ending interview on All Bets are Off with Bruce Drennan) are disturbing. Missing out on Willingham and the subsequent moaning and groaning over it have them making reactionary moves. Antonetti cannot lose focus and have stars in his eyes for the wrong reasons.
Look, I am all for the Indians wanting to finally spend some money on free agents, but as we’ve said many times, that is not the way to build a team in this market. If you are going to pony up, it has to be for the right player. Victorino was not that guy. Had Victorino come here and been a huge bust, his contract would have been the same kind of immovable anchor that Travis Hafner’s deal was. We just got out of that four-year nightmare, now they want to enter back into one with a declining, 32-year old, corner outfielder with no power?
It wouldn’t surprise me if Antonetti turned his attention to Nick Swisher, who is looking for a home. He can play both first base and right-field, has power from both sides of the plate, is a fantastic clubhouse guy, and has Ohio roots. Swisher has been incredibly consistent these last four seasons, averaging 25 homers, 87 RBIs, and an .850 OPS. He fits with the Tribe’s needs much better than Victorino would have. I’d be much more comfortable taking that money and giving it to Swisher if they are hellbent of buying a free agent outfielder.
I believe Antonetti needs to stay the course and deal from their strengths to rebuild the rotation first. You cannot win with the rotation as it is currently constructed. Reports this morning are that the Indians and Diamondbacks are discussing a deal that would include Asdrubal Cabrera and could net one of the best pitching prospects in baseball, Trevor Bauer. That would be a great place to start. I think its become clear over the last 24 hours that Asdrubal is not long for this team. The time seems to be now to maximize his value, which is smart.
They also need to find themselves a first baseman (I vote for Mark Reynolds on a one-year deal) and an outfielder (could they get involved in the Justin Upton sweepstakes, perhaps in an Asdrubal deal? )
Stay strapped in folks, I expect something major one way or another to come from the Indians in the next two days.