DiaTRIBE #1: “Piece of Mind”

If you’re an ardent follower of roster transactions and personnel movement as I am, the MLB offseason between the end of the World Series, through the winter meetings, and into Spring Training provides a welcomed dearth of speculation and salivation for what awaits in the upcoming season. Only the July 31st trading deadline comes close, and even that’s been occasionally trumped by unforeseen deals come the conclusion of August. As several teams across both leagues have conducted their necessary adjusting and retooling, so have the Indians in a comparatively more active period than in recent (and certainly more forgettable) years. With Spring Training now less than a full month away and the arbitration negotiations mostly concluded, media outlets across town have provided your eyes and ears with their .02 and then some several times over about who’s come, who’s gone, and who cares!

Rather than provide yet another regurgitation of the hiring of Terry Francona or the Shin-Soo Choo trade or the Nick Swisher signing, etc. which you’re already familiar with tenfold, let’s just pick up where the team’s left off over the past couple weeks with some moves that have gone far lower beneath the radar. Nothing earth-shattering, I assure you! However, filling out the 40-man and ST rosters with non-roster invitees and minor-league signings is one of the more quirkier fascinations I have with this time of year, and these moves certainly fall in that category.

  • 1/08/2013: LHP Scott Kazmir, RHP Jerry Gil, and LHP Edward Paredes to minor-league contracts with invites to Spring Training. Of these three, Kazmir is the only name of relevance, but even that’s putting it somewhat generously. The front office is not one to shy away from reclamation projects and attempts to catch lightning in a bottle and this is another one of those fliers. In spite of the Brett Myers signing, the rotation is anything but stable as there is little idea of what to expect from Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez anymore, much less Myers himself whose bounced between starting and bullpen roles over the past couple of seasons. Assuming the aforementioned fill out the first three spots in the rotation and Zach McAllister takes over as the #4 (or higher,), the final placeholder is very much up for grabs. Kazmir will be competing against other arms battling their way back to relevance in Carlos Carrasco, whom missed all of ’12 following Tommy John surgery, second-year man Corey Kluber, Jeremy Sow… excuse me… David Huff, and potentially highly touted prospect Trevor Bauer acquired from Arizona. I suspect Bauer will start at AAA regardless of his ST performance, but a complete meltdown or injury of the expected locks at 1-4 will definitely get Francona to consider other options. Left-handed invitee T.J. House and Austin Adams, yet another victim of shoulder surgery last year, may get some long looks as well whether that’s as starters or a long relief/spot starter role. Kazmir’s velocity was down in the mid-80’s over the past season or so, but is said to be back in the low to mid-90’s pitching in winter ball. All in all, bringing in Kazmir has about the same foreseeable impact as the Kevin Slowey signing of last year, but a questionable rotation could change that role very quickly.

  • 1/02 – 1/04/2013: UTL Russ Canzler reclaimed off waivers from the Blue Jays, lost off waivers to the Yankees. When the woes of the Indians’ offense reached their nadir by mid-season, Canzler’s name was typically the first mentioned as a reinforcement. Picked up from Tampa Bay for cash considerations, he seemed like a front-runner to take over at first base prior to the maligned Casey Kotchman Experiment. And why not? As the 2011 International League MVP, he hit .314 with 18 HRs and 83 RBIs. Between his stick and relative versatility in left field, surely his chance had arrived. Once finally summoned for September, he’d manage to eek out .269 with 3 HRs and 11 RBIs in 26 games. Not exactly setting the world on fire, but showing after yet another strong AAA season that he could finally provide some right-handed hitting relief this team had desperately needed, and still does. Initially lost to Toronto in the Rule V Draft and let go to clear room for 200-plus strikeout staple Mark Reynolds, he’ll have to chance to prove on a Yankees lineup what he never could in 3 prior organizations on a potentially consistent basis. In spite of losing Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter for what will be a significant portion of time, there’s still enough protection in that lineup to turn out some serious numbers. Why, look at Nick Swisher!

  • 1/03 – 1/12/2013: OF Thomas Neal designated for assignment, cleared waivers, and elects free agency. Not much to see here. DFA’d to make room on the 40-man roster for the new acquisitions. There’s a clearly better OF option waiting in Tim Fedroff but the mismanagement of prospects, especially regarding position players, would have likely kept Neal shuttling away between Columbus and Cleveland to occasionally fill in as a fourth outfielder at best. He never fit into the club’s long-term plans, but his opportunities with the Indians were minimal at best during a late season call-up last year. The farm is already barren for hitters, and I fear Fedroff may eventually find himself in a similar fate this coming season.

  • 1/09/2013: RHP Jeanmar Gomez traded to the Pirates for OF Quincy Latimore. Like Josh Tomlin, whose time with the team is likely also limited, injuries and inconsistencies forced the FO’s hand to look elsewhere for starting pitching after most of the rotation became a revolving door of auditions in the last two months of the season. He’ll be battling for a starting job with the Pirates the same as if he was still in town, but their lack of options for longmen and his youth might give him an edge. In Latimore, the Indians get another fringe OF prospect to take a gander at in ST alongside Cedric Hunter and Tyler Holt while ultimately filling out a sorely lacking farm system.

  • 1/17 – 1/18/2013: OF Drew Stubbs, RHPs Joe Smith, Chris Perez, Justin Masterson, Matt Albers, and C Lou Marson agree to one-year contracts avoiding arbitration. The one head scratcher among all these agreements is Stubbs’s. He’ll get to bask in a comfy raise of $500,000 to $2.9 million. His line last year: .214/14/40 with 166 strikeouts in 136 games. 30 to 7 stolen base ratio, you say? That’s all fine and dandy, but as a leadoff man with the Reds, he had better been able to have done SOMETHING the few times he actually got on base (only 42 walks and a .277 on-base percentage.)

  • 1/21/2013: Agree to terms with UTL Ryan Raburn and OF Ben Francisco to minor-league contracts. As with the acquisition of infielder Mike Aviles, there may be a larger role awaiting Raburn then merely taking up space in AAA. With the DH position still in a state of flux and rumors of Asdrubal Cabrera, whom seems to be doing his best to become the new Jhonny Peralta in both performance and appearance, being moved, the veteran utilityman would shore up a lackluster bench that’s jettisoned both Jack Hannahan and Shelly Duncan into the aether to flounder for themselves. Given that this is also a a make-or-break year for third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall, Raburn’s experience gives Francona a viable option if the aforementioned ultimately falters. The return of Ben Francisco is an inconsequential one, sure, but Delmon Young signing with the Phillies for the league minimum tells me that that the FO wasn’t even looking in that direction, in spite of him being a younger and more talented player that could have at least fought for a starting job in left field, thus moving Brantley back to center where he belongs. I suppose his history of “attitude problems” played into that neglect, but that’s more personality than what’s been seen in this roster in a long time if you’re not named Chris Perez. As far as I’m concerned, an a professional athlete is here to perform first – not shake hands and kiss babies and be an all-around likable guy. In either case, the inability to sign Josh Willingham before last season now looks even more foolish in hindsight. I cannot and will not be sold on Stubbs as the starting centerfielder in the slightest and the thought of him platooning there with Zeke Carrera is also nauseating. Francona should be giving long looks at Fedroff and whomever else can provide some stability in the outfield, as such an ineffective platoon in a key position won’t be doing anyone any favors.  It’s going to be every bit as much of a repeat of last year if any combination of CF, 3B, and DH become the vacuums of time and space as LF and 1B were.

That’s gonna do it to it for me. If by some strange reason you read this whole thing, first, thank you and second, any and all feedback is appreciated because this is strange and new experience for me. And usually I enjoy those sort of things – especially when they’re for free! Keep your hot stoves and space heaters lit, folks.


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