December 2013

Tribe Winter Meetings round-up

photoGreetings from the Winter Meetings at the Swan & Dolphin resort. Keep checking back here for a round-up of reports and rumors involving the Indians. Cleveland’s primary need heading into these Meetings was pitching, both for the starting rotation and for the bullpen. Here are the rumblings from around the hotel:

Wednesday:

  • There are still rumblings about teams inquiring about Justin Masterson (Bob Nightengale of USA Today says the Yankees would love to have him), but it just doesn’t make sense for the Tribe to deal the big sinkerballer right now. Indians GM Chris Antonetti addressed such discussions — while being careful not to specifically talk about negotiations with or about Masterson — on Tuesday. In short: the Indians listen on any players. Click the link for more.
  • The Indians have yet to talk about an extension with Masterson, but his camp is not alarmed. The pitcher’s agent, Randy Rowley, is currently preparing case for one-year arbitration talks, but would welcome long-term discussions, too. Such talks can often be included in arbitration negotiations, and often are initiated after Jan. 1. Masterson’s camp is simply interested in a fair deal with respect to the current market for starting pitchers.
  • The Indians have a surplus of outfielders (Michael Brantley, Michael Bourn, David Murphy, Drew Stubbs, Ryan Raburn) and are willing to listen on any of them, per Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports. Stubbs still remains the likely odd-man out given his role and arbitration status.
  • Indians are rumored to have interest in veteran infielder Jamey Carroll, according to John Heyman of CBS Sports. He named the Rays and Rangers as other suitors.
  • Indians first-base prospect Jesus Aguilar launched two more home runs in the Venezuelan Winter League on Tuesday. He’s now hitting .318/.378/.619 with 16 homers and 45 RBIs in 176 at-bats in the VWL. In 2013, between MLB Spring Training, Double-A and winter ball, all Aguilar has done is post a .287/.357/.476 slash line with 32 home runs, 34 doubles, 152 RBIs, 75 walks, 99 runs and 145 strikeouts in 687 at-bats. Expect him to be at Triple-A this season.
  • Rather than a pile of bullet points with updates on Masterson and much more, here’s a one-stop shopping link to a roundup of items from manager Terry Francona and Antonetti. Click here for today’s Winter Meetings notebook.

Tuesday:

  • Word is the Indians are willing to listen to trade proposals for Masterson. There is no reason to overreact to this right now. Cleveland is doing its due diligence, gauging value for a pitcher in the final year of his contract. Consider that the White Sox are open to listening on Chris Sale and the Rays are doing the same with David Price. The starting pitching market is getting extremely expensive and, if the Indians are considering signing Masterson to an extension, it makes sense to first see what return might be available in a trade.
  • The same applies to shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, though the situation is a little different. Masterson is leading a staff that stands to lose 350-plus innings with Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir hitting free agency. Cabrera is coming off a down year, and another subpar second half, and is due to earn $10 million this season. With shortstop Mike Aviles in the fold, and Cleveland needing arms, it makes sense to listen to offers for the shortstop.
  • Masterson and Cabrera are a part of Cleveland’s Opening Day plans right now — Masterson, especially — but having such talks now can also lay groundwork for future discussions. In theory, if the Indians endure a terrible first half and 2014 goes off the rails, it would make sense for the Tribe to then resume talks with teams around the Trade Deadline.
  • The Indians have interest in free-agent reliever John Axford, who has also been linked to the Cubs, Mariners and Orioles. Axford has closing experience, but might come a little cheaper than free-agents such as Balfour and Fernando Rodney.
  • Pitching coach Mickey Callaway, Francona and bullpen coach Kevin Cash met with Indians pitcher Carlos Carrasco at the Meetings on Tuesday. Carrasco (out of options) has first crack at the fifth spot in the rotation, as the roster currently stands. If he doesn’t wind up in the rotation, Carrasco could also transition to the bullpen. Josh Tomlin and Trevor Bauer are also in the fifth-starter mix right now. The rotation landscape would obviously change if the Indians sign a free agent or add an arm via trade.
  • Paul Hoynes of the Plain Dealer reported that the Indians are trying to re-sign righty Tyler Cloyd to a Minor League deal after designating him for assignment to clear room for OF David Murphy. Hoynes also reported that the Indians were impressed by Cuban shortstop prospect Erisbel Arrubarrena in a workout, but noted that the Dodgers, Cubs and Yankees are also involved.
  • Former Indians prospect Drew Pomeranz, and Minor League righty Chris Jensen, were traded to the A’s in exchange for lefty Brett Anderson.
  • Tribe fans hoping to land Mark Trumbo will also be disappointed to learn he was dealt to the D-backs in a three-team trade involving the White Sox and Angels. L.A reeled in pitchers Hector Santiago and Tyler Skaggs, Arizona netted Trumbo (plus two PTBNL’s) and the ChiSox landed outfielder Adam Eaton.
  • Was able to confirm a report by Rosenthal that the Indians have expressed interest in reliever Joba Chamberlain. Rosenthal named the Tigers, D-backs, Rockies and Cubs as other clubs showing varying levels of interest in the pitcher.

Monday:

  • We already knew Carlos Santana was going to try his hand soon at third base, but on Day 1 of the Meetings, Antonetti noted that the team is still evaluating how much time the catcher will spend behind the plate. Cleveland is definitely in the market for a third-string catcher with big league experience, but the club might also consider backup options if it is determined it is best served with Santana in a 1B/DH/3B-exclusive role.
  • The Indians made two announcements on Monday: they signed first baseman David Cooper to a Major League contract and infielder Jose Ramirez might need surgery after injuring his left thumb in winter ball. Cooper will continue an incredible comeback story with a shot at earning a bench job for the Indians this spring.
  • The Indians recently lost out on signing reliever Edward Mujica (two-year deal with Red Sox) in their search for bullpen help. On the first day of the Meetings, Cleveland was reported to have interest in Grant Balfour. If an available arm has late-inning experience, the Tribe is looking into it.
  • Cleveland expressed interest in free-agent right-hander Jason Hammel (to the point that Callaway spoke with the pitcher). Hammel is reportedly seeking a three- or four-year deal, though, which likely takes the Indians out of the running.
  • Former Indians closer Chris Perez — a free agent — was on hand at the Swan and Dolphin on Monday to meet with interested teams. Former Indians outfielder Grady Sizemore is also expected to be at the Meetings this week to do the same thing.
  • Indians outfield prospect Tyler Naquin (selected by the Indians with the 15th pick in the 2012 Draft) was named to the Arizona Fall League’s 2013 Top Prospects Team. In 27 games, Naquin posted a .339/.400/.417 slash line with six extra-base hits, 18 RBIs and 22 runs scored.

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

Pre-Winter Meetings chat with Antonetti

Chris AntonettiCome Monday, the who’s who of Major League Baseball’s decision makers will be on site at Swan and Dolphin Resort. They’re going to Disney World! For the annual Winter Meetings.

Between official MLB meetings, general managers and agents gather to discuss free agents and trades, and plenty tends to get done given the face-to-face aspect of the event. For the Indians, the goal now is fairly specific.

“Pitching,” Indians GM Chris Antonetti said. “We’re still focused on trying to improve our pitching alternatives. We come into the offseason in a much better position than we have in prior offseasons with the quality and quantity of our alternatives that we currently have on our roster and within the organization. That said, we’re going to continue to try to find a way to improve it.”

That goes without saying, considering Cleveland stands to lose the 559 1/3 innings logged last year by Ubaldo Jimenez, Scott Kazmir, Joe Smith, Matt Albers, Rich Hill and Chris Perez. Kazmir (A’s) and Smith (Angels) have already headed West, and the rest could be gone via free agency as well. That’s a considerable chunk of innings to replace, whether that’s via internal or external options.

Antonetti discussed the coming Meetings and a wide array of topics during a lunch sit-down with Indians reporters on Friday afternoon. There was no hard news, but there were plenty of notes about the team and its approach as the Winter Meetings draw closer.

Here are some highlights from Antonetti’s Q&A session…

On landscape of American League Central:

“Every team is going out to try to improve themselves heading into the following year. So far this offseason, it’s been no exception. The Tigers and the Twins and the Royals have all made moves to improve themselves. The White Sox added a really good player in [Jose] Abreu, too. I expect it to be a very competitive division. Hopefully we’ll be right there in the mix.”

On perception that Indians have been relatively inactive:

“We went into the offseason with a defined set of needs, and in a much better position than maybe the last few offseasons. Really, some of our strategy last offseason was to put ourselves in a stronger position this offseason, where we acquired players that would fit and impact our roster beyond just the 2013 season. So now that we’re looking at 2014, some of those same players we acquired last year, we expect will impact us going forward. That’s lessened some of the needs going into this offseason.”

On approaching last offseason with this offseason’s market in mind:

“We try to do the best that we can to look forward. There were a lot of factors that pointed to this being a … [pause] … free agency is an expensive process and a challenging process to work through for a lot of reasons. This offseason, there were even more factors probably contributing to that.”

On losing Jimenez and Kazmir to free agency:

“Well, only one has happened so far, with the loss of Kaz. But both guys made very meaningful contributions to our team last year and were a big part of our success. It’s going to sound redundant, but we feel like we have quality in-house alternatives. If you look at where our rotation is now compared to where our rotation was last year, we’re in a much better spot.”

On viewing it as losing one set of innings, not two, due to emergence of Danny Salazar:

“Right. And hopefully we get more innings from Corey [Kluber] and more innings from Zach [McAllister]. Josh Tomlin is going to be unrestricted coming into this year. Carlos Carrasco will come into the year unrestricted. We feel like we’ve got a number of alternatives and a number of quality alternatives.”

On having success with reclamation projects such as Kazmir:

“We’ll spend time trying to find those guys again this offseason. Really, our medical staff and our coaches do a really good job of working together. Our medical staff, our strength and conditioning staff and our on-field staff have a coordinated approach to try to put those guys in the best position to be successful.”

On adding from outside organization to improve rotation and bullpen:

“I’m not sure we need to. Our preference would be, if we find the right guys at the right value, to try to improve our alternatives.”

On possibly acquiring more position players:

“I think we addressed what we felt was one of our primary offseason objectives, improving against right-handed pitching, by signing David Murphy. Now, we’ll continue to look at options to try to find ways to improve, but our focus right now is on pitching.”

On trades possibly being more feasible given free-agent asking prices:

“The trade prices haven’t been inexpensive, either. We’re engaged in both. We’re engaged with both free agents and trades. Which one is more likely, it’s hard to say. We actually have outstanding offers both ways, on trades and free agents. So we could go either direction, or both.”

On current bullpen:

“It’s a youthful group, but we have guys that we feel are capable of pitching and capable of absorbing some of those innings. Some of those guys are guys we’re hopeful will have bounceback years, guys like Vinnie Pestano. And other guys from our Minor League system who we expect to contribute and take up some of those innings. But again, if we can find some guys externally to fortify that group, that’s certainly something we’ll look to do.”

On solving closer role internally:

“We could. With Bryan [Shaw] and Cody [Allen], we feel both of those guys have not only the stuff, but the makeup to pitch in the most highly leveraged innings. They did that last year and excelled in those roles, but they weren’t the ones primarily responsible for getting the 27th out. But we feel that they are both well-equipped to do that. But they don’t have the experience.”

On potentially signing a free-agent to be the new closer:

“There are a number of alternatives out there externally that have experience at the end of games. Now, whether or not we’ll align on those values, it’s still too early in the offseason to say. But there are a number of guys out there with that experience.”

On Pestano’s progress this offseason:

“He’s doing well. His mindset is in a good spot. He’s anticipating going to the complex and working hard to put himself in a better position coming into this season. He is set on having a much better year this year than he did last year.”

On what the organization learned about Trevor Bauer last season:

“That he cares a great deal about being really good, and he’s willing to work really hard to do it. … We’ve always had good dialogue with Trevor from the day we acquired him, and that’s continued through today. I think it’s one thing to know what you want to do, and it’s another thing to be able to accomplish it. Pitching at a high level is really hard to do. I think Trevor got to t level pitching one way, and was very successful doing it, but he undertook considerable delivery adjustments that he initiated last offseason, and I think maybe we and he, if anything, underestimated the magnitude of those adjustments and maybe how long it would take him to get to the point where he’s comfortable executing that delivery consistently. … The videos that we’ve seen, he’s continued to work toward our joint vision of what we think his delivery should be.”

On Michael Bourn’s recovery from hamstring surgery:

“He’s doing well. His recovery is on track and he’ll come into Spring Training without restrictions. He’ll have a relatively normal offseason, too, in terms of conditioning.”

On Carlos Santana playing some third base in winter ball:

“We’ll see. We were really encouraged by the approach Carlos took. He really is passionate about wanting to find a way to impact the team any way he can. He said, ‘Hey, I’ll do what I can to try to find a way to find a way to play another position.’ He recognized how well Yan [Gomes] caught, and how important  Yan was and the contributions he made to our team. So Carlos took it upon himself and said, ‘Hey, I’ll not only catch, but if I can be serviceable at third base, that gives Tito [manager Terry Francona] potentially another option. So, to his credit, he’s down there, he’s worked at it, he’s been at the complex, he’s taking ground balls there and now he’ll progress into games at winter ball for a to-be-determined amount of time, but for at least a month.”

On Asdrubal Cabrera’s showing last season:

“It was probably less consistent than Asdrubal’s performance have been in the past, but the one thing about Asdrubal is he never wavered in how he approached the game, the teammate he was. Throughout the course of the season, he worked hard to find a way to contribute. Last offseason, he worked hard, came into Spring training in good shape. He just may not have had the numbers he had in other years, but it wasn’t for a lack of effort.”

On Carrasco’s role within the pitching staff:

“He’ll be on the team. He’s going to be on the team either way — he’s out of options. We think he’s got a chance to still be a very good Major League starting pitcher. So he’s going to condition this offseason as a starter. That obviously gives he and us the flexibility to adjust from there. If we determine as a team that we’re better served having him in the bullpen, we can make that adjustment in Spring Training. But he’s been a very successful starter in the Minor Leagues and, prior to his injury, at the Major League level was a successful starter. We think that he’s certainly capable of doing that again.”

On importance of this spring for third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall:

“Every winter is important for every player and every spring is important, especially for any young player With Lonnie, it coms down to just he has a ton of ability. That’s clear. That’s been evident. He needs to work to figure out a way to become a consistent Major League player. I have no doubt that, if Lonnie puts in the work — offensively, defensively, conditioning — that he’ll be a really good Major League player.”

On continuing to give Chisenhall chances in light of struggles:

“I think it’s about us trying to build the best team and best organization, and figuring out how Lonnie fits into that. We’ll have a better sense of that once we get through the offseason, about what our options are. But Lonnie can’t control any of that. The only thing that Lonnie can control is what he does this winter, how he prepares for Spring Training and take advantage of the opportunity that’s there in front of him. Without question, regardless of what the role is for Lonnie to start the year, we’ll be a much better team if he’s contributing to our Major League team next year the way we think he’s capable of doing.”

On possibly continuing to limit Chisenhall’s at-bats against left-handed pitching:

“That’s a possibility. I think a lot of it will depend upon what our roster construction is, and also how things go this spring for Lonnie. It’s always a balance. Our goal is to win as many games as we can next year, to get back to the playoffs and to advance further than we did this past year. That’s what we’d like to do. That will be our primary motivation. With that, we’ll try to balance the individual development of the younger guys on the roster, including Lonnie.”

On Salazar’s ceiling as a starting pitcher:

“I wouldn’t want to set any ceiling on Danny. Danny deserves a lot of credit for the way he worked through his [elbow] rehab. He made considerable adjustments to his delivery as he was progressing through the rehab process to put him in a better position to be durable long term. I think we’ve seen the benefits of that. He’s a really athletic guy that works hard and has a lot of ingredients to be a really successful Major League pitcher. Where that settles for him, I wouldn’t want to limit it.”

On going 4-15 against the Tigers last season:

“We don’t really look at any one way about a particular opponent. Inevitably, there are going to be teams in a given year that you fare better against others. I think I joked about this before, is anyone asking the Tigers why they couldn’t beat anyone but the Indians? Because our record against everyone else was better than the Tigers. Again, when you look at the balance of a 162 game schedule, a lot of different things can happen. I would expect us to better against the Tigers next year, but maybe not go 17-2 against the White Sox. I don’t think when you play a team 19 games against a team, you can expect it to be that lopsided either way.”

On his reaction to the Tigers trading Prince Fielder and Doug Fister:

“That I expect them to be a better team next year. Dave Dombrowski is extraordinarily good at what he does, at building a roster and an organization. I’m quite confident that they will once again build a very strong team for next year. And they got a lot of good players back.”

On not having to face Miguel Cabrera and Fielder back to back in Detroit’s lineup:

“Well, yeah, but there are other guys you need to face. Individually, am I happy that we don’t have to face Prince Fielder? Yeah. But now we have to face Ian Kinsler instead, and there are other guys that will fill that lineup. I know and am very confident that Detroit is going to have a very good and very formidable lineup. They already do.”

On Justin Masterson’s showing last season:

“It was a really good year. Justin, I think, if you reflect back on the year that he had this year, he was one of the better pitchers in the American League for a large portion of the season. He ended up transitioning to the bullpen at the end of the year, because we had an opportunity there and it as really a selfless thing for Justin to do, to try to figure out  a way where he can help impact the team while he was not yet built back up to full strength. I think Justin deserves a lot of credit for that.”

On younger players vying for bullpen jobs:

“They’re all viable. As it stands now, we’ll have considerable competition in our bullpen going into Spring Training with only a handful of guys probably locked into roles, maybe less than a handful actually.”

On any virtual locks for the rotation behind Masterson:

“[Kluber and McAllister] are in a good spot heading into Spring Training. And then [Salazar], if he continues to work and comes into Spring Training in a similar place as he has in the past, then he’s in a good spot, too. But again, maybe not a certainty. And then we have other guys in that group with Josh Tomlin, Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer.”

On prospect Francisco Lindor’s recovery from his back injury:

“He’s fine. He has a relatively normal offseason. He’s down working on his strength and conditioning. He’s got a pretty good offseason routine. His back is fine.”

–JB

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