There are quite a few Tribe fans who believe that the Indians can turn their luck around if the team signs several big-name contracts this off-season.
However, the free agents who will be available this winter do not offer many viable options. Although there are some talented players, most of them are not a good fit for Cleveland’s needs, or come at too high of a price. What this team needs more than anything is the second-coming of Justin Verlander – or at least an above-average pitcher who can be counted on for a quality start (and usually a win) every five games. With that in mind, the front office needs to be careful to save their money for an ace instead of spending it on other less-important players.
Throughout the last few months, several names have come up repeatedly. While many of them would be a poor use of the Indians’ limited resources, the four listed here would be the biggest mistakes of all.
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4) Josh Hamilton (Outfielder, Texas Rangers):
Josh Hamilton could be considered one of the icons of modern baseball. In 2012, the Texas Rangers paid the left-handed outfielder just over $13 million to drive in 128 RBIs and hit a career-high 43 home runs. He certainly isn’t the best defender in the game, but he makes up for it with his bat. Although he strikes out frequently, with 162 K’s this season, he also had a .354 OBP.
So, what would be so terrible about signing him?
There’s no question that Hamilton is a great player with extremely good offensive production. However, his price is too great, especially for a team that is already overstocked with left-handed bats – albeit, much less-powerful ones. With a salary budget as tight as the Indians’, they can’t afford to put so much money into one player.
Additionally, he is already 31 and has had several serious injuries, plus a long list of personal issues that could potentially affect his durability as a player. Regardless of his incredible talent, it would be foolish to give him the expensive, long-term contract he will most likely be seeking this winter.
3) David Ortiz (Designated Hitter, Boston Red Sox):
There are few hitters as powerful as David Ortiz. In just the first half of this season, he batted .309, hit 23 home runs and had an amazing .415 OBP.
Despite his talent, however, he would not be a good player for the Tribe next year. Ortiz missed all but five games in the second half of the 2012 season due to a heel injury. A player of his size is especially susceptible to getting hurt on the field after playing for so many years, and it could be a concern for the 37-year-old in the future. He plays a limited amount of first base, similar to Travis Hafner’s role with the Indians, but even as a designated hitter there is a huge possibility of injury.
Boston sources expect Ortiz to ask for a contract in the neighborhood of two years and $25 -$30 million. This is so far out of Cleveland’s price range that it’s absurd for anyone to even consider Ortiz as an option. More than likely, the Red Sox will re-sign him. Even if they don’t, the Indians don’t need an aging designated hitter who makes more than the majority of the roster combined — Hafner is always available to fill that role for less money than what Ortiz would want.
2) Anibal Sanchez (Starting Pitcher, Detroit Tigers):
One of the bigger free agent names this year is right-handed pitcher Anibal Sanchez. Sanchez, who has a career ERA of 3.75, is a valuable member of any rotation. He played for the Miami Marlins from 2006 until earlier this year, when he was traded to Detroit. This season, he had a 3.86 ERA and went 9-13 in 31 games between the two teams. With a 1.267 WHIP, he was decidedly better than anyone on the Indians’ rotation. He has a low walk rate, a fairly high strikeout rate and he has pitched 5 shutouts in his career. At first glance, it seems like the best possible signing for a team in desperate need of pitching.
However, signing the 28-year-old Sanchez would involve serious risks. In 2007, he had surgery on his right shoulder to repair a torn labrum. That procedure does not have the high success rate of Tommy John surgery; in fact, many pitchers who have it are never the same again. Although Sanchez did recover better than most others have, he also continues to be affected by the injury. He missed a good portion of the 2009 season after being placed on the 60-day disabled list with a shoulder strain. This year, he started spring training late after experiencing pain and tightness in it yet again. Although he has still pitched well in recent years, such a serious injury to his throwing arm that crops back up repeatedly is something to be concerned about.
Sanchez is a very good pitcher, but the Indians already have Justin Masterson, Zach McAllister and Corey Kluber, and most likely Carlos Carrasco will be back next spring after spending this year recovering from Tommy John surgery. The Tribe needs to focus on finding an ace, not another second- or third-best pitcher – especially one who may or may not spend part of the season on the disabled list anyway.
1) Delmon Young (Outfielder, Detroit Tigers):
For some reason, many people would like to see Delmon Young as a Cleveland Indian next year. He hasn’t been impressive at all this year, with a .267 average and 74 RBIs. He’s been below average in just about everything, including having only 20 walks. Excluding Vinnie Rotino, Cord Phelps and Matt LaPorta, every single position player who batted for the Indians this year has a higher walk percentage. That’s not a good sign, especially considering that Young also has 112 strike outs – the second highest total on the Tigers’ roster.
If it were just a one-year slump, Young might be a good gamble, but last season’s numbers were nearly identical. He also has had personal issues both on and off the field, including multiple suspensions. Plus, his next court date for an arrest that occurred during a Tigers’ road trip to New York in April isn’t set to take place until next month, and the outcome of that could have negative implications for whichever team he signs with next year.
Most likely, the biggest reason anyone wants to sign Young this off-season would be the fact that he is a right-handed hitter with 18 home runs. However, those home runs just aren’t enough to justify signing him. He has an overall WAR of -1.2 this year, yet the Tigers are paying him nearly 7 million dollars. His defensive WAR is even lower, at -1.6. Other than Shin-Soo Choo, not one player on the 2012 Indians team was beneath -1.0, so adding Young to the roster would actually make the team statistically worse.
Is that the kind of free agent the Tribe really needs?
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Some of the other names that have been tossed around include starting pitcher Brandon McCarthy and outfielder Ryan Ludwick. McCarthy posted impressive numbers before his season ended abruptly in early September, when he was seriously injured during a game. Although he would be the perfect candidate for the open rotation spot, the Oakland A’s will most likely re-sign him next year since he is still very affordable, considering his worth. Ludwick has provided valuable offensive production for the Cincinnati Reds this season, so the team is expected to pick up his option for next year. Realistically, neither player is likely to be available to play for the Tribe in 2013.
The Indians’ front office has already stated that because of the lack of choices available this year, they will probably focus most of their off-season efforts on trades, not free agent signings. Whether or not fans want to believe it, the team is making the right decision.