Indians interested in Pena, Kotchman
It has been well-documented throughout this winter that the Indians have checked in on just about every available first baseman not named Prince Fielder. As spring approaches, two names high on Cleveland’s list are Carlos Pena and Casey Kotchman.
On Thursday, Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported that Indians GM Chris Antonetti has approached ownership about potentially providing the necessary funds to afford the likes of Pena. The Scott Boras client is a coming off a season in which he slugged 28 homers and it is believed that he is seeking a multi-year deal.
The more realistic option might be Kotchman, who could improve the Tribe’s average, on-base percentage and strikeout rate. A year ago, the Indians whiffed 1,269 times, marking the most in team history and the fourth-highest total in American League history. Kotchman hit .306 with 66 strikeouts in 500 at-bats last season, while Pena hit .225 with 161 strikeouts in 493 ABs.
With only 10 homers a year ago, though, Kotchman obviously does not boast Pena’s power potential.
Pena netted a one-year, $10 million contract with the Cubs last offseason after hitting .196/.325/.407 with 28 homers and 84 RBIs in 2010 with Tampa Bay. This past season with Chicago, he improved in batting average, OBP (.357) and SLG (.462), while offering his typically sound defense.
Another consideration is Cleveland’s current situation at first base. Regular catcher Carlos Santana (a switch hitter) figures to see some playing time at first — most likely against left-handed pitching. While the general thought has been that the Indians could benefit from a power-hitting, right-handed first baseman (to replace a struggling Matt LaPorta), Cleveland’s decision-makers believe a lefty-hitting first baseman such as Pena or Kotchman might make more sense.
On days when Santana does not start behind the plate, the Indians project to feature catcher Lou Marson, who hit .297 against left-handed pitching last year. So having Santana (1B) and Marson (C) in against a left-hander and a lefty-hitting first baseman paired with Santana (C) against right-handers is something the Tribe is evaluating.
One unanswered question is whether Pena or Kotchman would be willing to accept that kind of playing time situation. It seems more likely that Kotchman — coming off a year in which he earned $750,000 after signing a Minor League contract with the Rays — would be open to a platoon-like scenario. Kotchman is also more affordable for an Indians team that does not have much financial flexibility.
If the Indians do not add a first baseman before Opening Day, the team’s top internal candidates currently consist of LaPorta (who has a Minor League option remaining) and Shelley Duncan (who is out of options).