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Opening Day roster taking shape

TitoCAThis can be a tense time during Spring Training. On most days, the clubhouse is buzzing with conversations, card games and music. This week, the room has been noticeably quiet. These are the days when the tap on the shoulder arrives, followed by the walk to the manager’s office.

You’ll see some subtle handshakes or slaps on the back — signs that Player X just received some good news. But, the celebrations in the clubhouse are always subdued, because good news for one player usually means bad news for another. And that player might be sitting at his locker, calling his family or agent to figure out his future.

On Monday morning, the locker room was a little more lively again, as the bulk of Cleveland’s Opening Day roster has come into focus. Most, if not all, of the players know their fate by now, even if the news hasn’t been made public.

Indians manager Terry Francona went through a few of the team’s decisions with reporters. Let’s walk through where the team stands with a week left until Opening Day.

What we already knew…

First basemen Mike Napoli and Carlos Santana, second baseman Jason Kipnis, shortstop Francisco Lindor and third baseman Juan Uribe will make up the infield. Jose Ramirez will make the team as a utility man, backing up second, short, third, left and center. Catchers Yan Gomes and Roberto Perez are on the team, along with outfielders Rajai Davis and Tyler Naquin.

The rotation will include Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar. Trevor Bauer and Josh Tomlin are on the team in some capacity. Closer Cody Allen will be joined in the bullpen by Bryan Shaw, Zach McAllister, Jeff Manship, Joba Chamberlain and Ross Detwiler.

Despite his efforts to get ready for Opening Day, left fielder Michael Brantley will open the season on the 15-day disabled list. That was the expectation months ago, so — aside from a brief period of optimism when he appeared in games — this really isn’t a surprise. The Indians need him strong for as long as possible, so it’d make zero sense to rush him back.

What we learned Monday…

Right fielder Lonnie Chisenhall will open on the 15-day DL…

And it won’t be due to the right forearm tightness that’s bothered him off and on this spring. No, Francona said Chisenhall is now dealing with a left wrist issue (the team described it as an impingement) that may be the result of compensating for the forearm while swinging. Either way, Chisenhall was short on spring at-bats and struggling at the plate. This decision buys him time to get more at-bats and get back to full strength. It also make sense given that the Indians open with series against the Red Sox and White Sox, who both feature a bunch of lefties. Chisenhall would’ve likely been on the bench for most of those games.

Collin Cowgill and Marlon Byrd win Opening Day jobs…

They both might have earned spots even without the Chisenhall development, but that news secured their place on the roster. The Indians like Cowgill, because he can provide depth at all three spots and offer a decent bat against lefties. He can also be disruptive on the basepaths. Byrd offers power and has shown this spring in limited at-bats that his swing is doing just fine. He can play right field while Chisenhall is out and, while he performs better against lefties, he can play against right-handers, too.

This means the Indians can conceivably carry an extra pitcher…

Intrigue! Francona said that, yes, the Chisenhall news might open the door for an extra pitcher. Prior to today, it looked like a five-man rotation and seven-man bullpen was pretty much locked in. What does this mean? Well, looking at the pitcher left in camp, it seems as though Josh Tomlin AND Cody Anderson could make the Opening Day roster. That is, of course, unless Cleveland has something else up its sleeve.

Dan Otero will be in the bullpen, while Kyle Crockett goes to Triple-A…

This one sort of rounds out the relief corps. In a seven-man scenario, Otero (without options) is the last man in. Crockett (with options) heads to Triple-A. That move maintains a layer of depth to start the season and also allowed Crockett to get regular work in the Minors. Francona pointed to all the April off-days and said Crockett could benefit from a more predictable schedule in the Minors before rejoining the big league bullpen.

The Indians aren’t ready to name their fifth starter…

Given the roster moves and decisions, it sure looks like Tomlin and Anderson can both be carried come Opening Day. Maybe Anderson gets the fifth spot and Tomlin heads to the ‘pen as a long man? I also asked Francona if Bauer — the presumed No. 4 arm — might actually be the fifth starter. The manager sidestepped the question, saying it was a good question to ask, but quickly adding that Cleveland is not ready to reveal the final makeup of its staff. Could this also potentially mean Bauer might be an option for the bullpen?

A big reason for Francona’s hesitation to announce anything is the nature of Tuesday’s schedule. Cleveland has an afternoon game in Tempe (Bauer is starting) and a night game in Goodyear (Tomlin is starting). Francona wants to get through that complicated day before setting anything in stone. But, if Cleveland believes Anderson or Tomlin give the team a better chance to win, I could see Bauer opening as the fifth, or even in the ‘pen.

We might not have real clarity on this one until Wednesday morning.

Robbie Grossman will not make the team…

The Indians liked Grossman a lot and hope to keep him in the Minor Leagues. Francona called this decision “one of the toughest” among the position players. Grossman, who can opt out of his Minor League contract on Tuesday, has been given the chance to explore other opportunities by Cleveland.

Lefty Tom Gorzelanny will stay with the team…

Francona said Cleveland was “thrilled” that Gorzelanny has agreed to stay in the Minors. The lefty pitcher will received a $100,000 retention bonus and will have a June 1 opt-out clause, if he isn’t in the Majors by then. The Indians explained to Gorzelanny that just because he isn’t on the Opening Day roster doesn’t mean he won’t be in the Majors at some point. The most recent example is Manship. He was coming off a horrid 2014, signed a Minors deal with the Tribe, went to the Minors and then earned his way to the Majors and is now locked into the bullpen for ’16.

What will need to happen…

The Indians are currently at capacity with their 40-man roster, but have informed three non-roster players (Byrd, Chamberlain and Detwiler) that they will be on the Opening Day roster. That means three roster spots need to be cleared, and there will be some tough decisions to make along those lines. I’m not sure if Tommy Hunter is a 60-day DL candidate, given his return date has been estimated at May. It would stun me if Brantley went on the 60-day DL, given the progress he made until the recent setback. That means three players could have a tough phone call coming from Cleveland.

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

The Tito Translator

TitoMillsyPitchers, catchers, position players and cliches have all reported to Spring Training. That last group is already in mid-season form in the early portion of the preseason schedule.

MLB.com’s Anthony Castrovince captured plenty of the spring cliches heard annually, and it got me thinking. There are some cliches or phrases that are a little more common in certain places. Here in Goodyear, we’re getting our daily dose of Tito-isms, for example.

There are plenty of reporters well-versed in Franconaspeak, but I thought it’d be helpful for you the reader to have a handy guide available to understand the meaning behind his many go-to lines. You could even create a Tito Bingo card and play along at home during press conferences.

Here are a few squares for your Tito Bingo board:

1. “Oh boy.”

This one is often followed by, “I wasn’t ready for that.” Mom always said there was no such thing as a stupid question, but when Tito drops an “Oh boy” on you, you wonder if mom might’ve been wrong. This one can have two meanings. First, it can simply mean that you caught the veteran manager off-guard with your question. He has a good sense of what questions he’ll hear each day, but one out of left field might generate an “Ohh, boy” as he collects his thoughts. The other explanation is that, yes, you just asked a really stupid question.

2. “To your point…”

This one is also in response to a reporter’s question. This will typically come in the second part of an answer. The first part is how Francona feels about the issue that was addressed in the question. When he says, “To your point” and continues on, it usually means he didn’t necessarily agree with your take, but he sees where you’re coming from. Hey, at least it wasn’t a stupid question.

3. “I’m not going to make out my [lineup/rotation] on [insert date].”

This is when a reporter has put the ol’ cart ahead of the horse. You want to know who’s going to hit leadoff? It’s best to ask closer to an actual game. Who’s going to be the No. 3 starter? Hey, somebody might get hurt tomorrow and change the plans. Rather than throw out lineups or rotation orders that could change depending on injuries, additions or other outside factors, Tito will say this to politely hint that you’re getting a little too far ahead of yourself.

4. “Guys get to their levels.”

You’ll hear this one during Spring Training and during the season. It’s usually in response to a discussion about a slumping hitter, or a hitter who is coming off a season with two drastically different sections. A player’s season batting average is called an average for a reason and, more often than not, that average should fall within an expected range by the end of a season. Some guys go through peaks and valleys. Some guys stay consistent. One way or another, “guys get to their levels.”

5. “I think [insert player name] will come back with a vengeance.”

Jason Kipnis was the posterboy for this phrase in 2015. Following Kipnis’ rough ’14 showing — one impacted by injuries — Francona insisted that the second baseman would “come back with a vengeance.” When Kipnis roared out of the gates in 2015 and made the All-Star team, Tito went back to his predication a few times: “I said he’d come back with a vengeance, and he did exactly that.” This year, I would wager that catcher Yan Gomes will star in Come Back With a Vengeance 2.

6. “I wouldn’t say ‘surprised.'”

A default question a lot of times for reporters — and I’m definitely guilty of this one, too — is asking, “Were you surprised that [so-and-so did whatever he did]?” It’s usually about a breakout showing or career year. Example: “Were you surprised by Francisco Lindor’s power in 2015?” Well, guess what? Francona will rarely admit to being “surprised,” because that makes it sound like he had low expectations. He is a manager and he expects the best out of his players. So, even if he was surprised, he wasn’t surprised. Got it?

7. “He’s a baseball player.”

Well, aren’t they all baseball players? Every person who wears a Cleveland Indians uniform is indeed a baseball player, but some of those baseball players are “baseball players.” Just the other day, Francona used this one to describe Mike Napoli. Tito even took it to a new level: “He’s a down-and-dirty baseball player.” What does it mean? It means the player in question has great instincts, that he does more reacting than thinking, and he does so well, when he’s out on the field. He’ll get his uniform dirty and do whatever it takes to put the team first and his own stats second. Another go-to descriptor for a “baseball player” is that he’s “conscientious.” Tito used that one for Michael Bourn all the time. Once, I asked Francona, “When you say he’s a ‘baseball player,’ what do you mean exactly?” He replied: “You know, he’s just a baseball player.” And I nodded.

8. “I’m just happy that there’s people smarter than me who are working on it.”

When Major League Baseball institutes a new rule, or if there is a league-wide issue under debate and potentially in need of change, Francona often slips into self-deprecating mode in his quotes. A lot of times, it means Francona wants to gather more information before expressing an opinion. Do not be fooled. Francona is plenty smart and plenty of MLB’s decision-makers will seek his input, given his wealth of experience and success in the game, while discussing changes for rules or other areas. Francona would just rather those people handle the bulk of the answers, so he’s “happy they’re smarter” than him.

9. “Crisp.”

There is the old, familiar cliche that a “ball was coming out of his hand good.” Well, Francona has his own variation. Often, when he’s asked about a pitcher who had a good game or threw a good bullpen session, the manager will say that pitcher looked “crisp” It’s also a way of avoiding the nitty-gritty details of what a pitcher was doing mechanically. Francona is, after all, a former hitter. If you want specifics on the in-depth nature of the pitcher in question, it’s best to go to pitching coach Mickey Callaway. And, more often than not, Callaway will agree. That guy did look crisp.

10. “What day is it?”

Ding! Ding! Ding! You must have just asked Francona if a player has reached [milestone X] in his rehab from [insert injury]. Each day, the manager meets with his training and medical staff, along with the coaches, to go over a variety of schedules. And, if you know anything about baseball, it’s Groundhog Day out here. I’m not sure what day it is, either. Once, I wrote multiple stories with “on Wednesday” in each one, and my editor finally e-mailed me and said, “You know it’s Sunday, right?” Nope. I didn’t know that. Once you are able to remind Tito what day it is (if you remember correctly yourself), he can then proceed to give you the player’s timetable in question.

11. Tito nickname generator

How Francona develops a nickname is not always as simple as adding a “y” to the end of a name. For many years, I had a coach refer to me as “Jordy,” for example. With Tito, he might replace an “r” with an “s,” or replace an “s” with an “r.” Two examples of those are Klubes (see: Corey Kluber) and Gomer (see: Yan Gomes). They “y” is common for his coaches: Millsy, Sarby, and Mickey and Sandy, by default. Or, maybe Francona will just call you by a letter. There’s “G” for Jason Giambi or “Q” for assistant hitting coach Matt Quatraro. Others on the Indians are ‘Berto (Roberto Perez), ‘Los (Carlos Santana), Kip, Frankie (Francisco Lindor) and, most recently, Nake (as in, Naq, for Tyler Naquin). Mossy, Bourney, Mikey and Murph are missed.

–JB

 

 

Welcome back, baseball.

Everyone’s got jokes. And that’s how you know baseball is back.

At least that’s how it goes for beat writers much of the time. When I walked through the doors to the clubhouse on Tuesday morning, seeing that old familiar hallway at the Tribe’s Goodyear complex, manager Terry Francona was headed in my direction, plate of breakfast in hand, hustling off to a morning meeting.

“NO MEDIA!” Francona bellowed, before smiling wide and disappearing down a side hall.

Welcome back.

Here we are again. Another season. We’re in the starting corral, waiting to see the marathon starting line that is Opening Day. Here at the Indians’ camp, pitchers and catcher officially reported for duty on Wednesday. Everyone was accounted for, and then some. Most of the position players — not required to show their faces until Sunday — have already arrived and set up shop at the complex.

That includes left fielder Michael Brantley, who is making great progress in his right shoulder rehab and is already in mid-season form when it comes to dealing with media. After a non-contact hitting session on Wednesday morning, marking the early portion of his gradual return to the batter’s box, Brantley quipped, “I’m not even here, yet. I won’t be here until Sunday. Talk to you Sunday.”

So, officially, Brantley had no comment on his comeback. Unofficially, he said he felt great and everyone who has seen him working behind the scenes says he is looking great, too. Of course, looking great and feeling strong on Feb. 17 means little. Cleveland needs Brantley looking great and feeling strong when the season is dragging into August, September and, as the Indians hope, October.

With that in mind, it’s up to the Indians to make sure Brantley does not push things too hard, too soon.

“That’s our job and that’s our medical staff’s job,” Indians general manager Mike Chernoff said. “If you ask him, he’ll probably tell you [he’s aiming to be ready by] Opening Day. So, it’s on us to make sure that we do this for the long haul, and that it doesn’t end up being something that lingers, because we rushed his rehab process.”

Beyond Brantley’s progress, there has been little in the way of news over the past few days. The Indians are still monitoring the free-agent market for additional help (see: Juan Uribe), but there is nothing imminent on that front as of this writing. On Thursday, pitchers and catchers will run through physicals. Come Friday, there will be an actually, official, springtime workout.

Yep, baseball is back alright. It didn’t really hit me until third base coach Mike Sarbaugh punched me in the side when he walked by this morning. Everyone’s got jokes.

Here are some links to hold you over:

 

 

A reminder to follow me on Twitter (@MLBastian) and on Instagram (bastianmlb) for all the latest from Spring Training. And, it should go without saying, but keep reading Indians.com.

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

Bye, 2015: Your Top 10 List

It’s New Years Eve. It’s a time for reflection, resolutions and, of course, lists. Everybody looooves year-end lists.

Rather than just post my favorite moments of 2015, I thought I’d share what were your favorite moments… from my Twitter feed. With a hat tip to @Indians for the idea, here were my Top 10 Tribe-related tweets from 2015, based on interaction (clicks, retweets, likes, etc;).

One thing this little exercise showed me? There was a lot of optimism about this team in the spring, as half of the tweets on this list came during the preseason.

Thanks for following along. Have a great New Year celebration and an even better 2016!

10. Trevor Bauer imitates his teammates (July 3)

10Bauer

9. Sad fireworks guy is sad (Sept. 15)

9FireworksGuy

8. Swisher takes a swing (Feb. 18)

8SwishSwing

7. Tito’s ill-time bathroom break (June 17)

7TitoQuote

6. Kipnis does a unique spring drill (Feb. 18)

6Kipnis

5. Teammates prank Jose Ramirez (March 26)

5RamirezCar

4. Kluber preps for the season (March 1)

4Kluber

3. The slow march to Opening Day (Jan. 23)

3Countdown

2. Lindor gets the call… err, text (June 14)

2Lindor

1. Pitchers in sync (Feb. 28)

1Pitchers

Other notable tweets outside these 10 from 2015…

Most retweets:

https://twitter.com/MLBastian/status/602811463359664128

Most likes:

https://twitter.com/MLBastian/status/640544298988015616

A personal favorite:

https://twitter.com/MLBastian/status/651967749338611712

Happy New Year, everyone.

–JB

The Tribe Awakens

Tweet

Whenever I take a week of vacation, I always post a little note on Twitter so followers don’t think I disappeared off the face of the Earth. Using one of my weeks right after the Winter Meetings is good, because it gives you some time to readjust to the world outside of the Opryland Hotel. Of course, there’s also the risk that news happens in the immediate wake of baseball’s annual gathering.

Welp, @ClevelandPhil hit the nail on the head. While I was away (and I don’t think the Indians orchestrated all of this because I was away. Then again, the timing was fishy. Hmm…) Cleveland made a handful of moves. While none of the additions stole national headlines, they were the kind of complementary adds the Indians had been looking to make, especially in the wake of some trade talks going nowhere.

I’ll run through some here with my thoughts:

ADDITIONS

OF Rajai Davis

This signing makes perfect sense, especially on a one-year contract. With left fielder Michael Brantley out at least a month, Cleveland needed someone capable of filling in as an everyday player, but willing to maybe slide into a backup role upon Brantley’s return. Enter Davis. He can handle left field out of the gates and then can be worked in as a backup for left and part-timer in center when Brantley comes back.

Last year, Davis slashed .258/.306/.440 with 35 extra-base hits, 30 RBIs, 18 steals and 55 runs in 112 games for Detroit. He actually hit better against righties (.267/.312/.426) than lefties (.245/.298/.460), but that is not the norm for his career (.255/.298/.356 against righties and .296/.351/.448 against lefties). I’d lean more toward the career track record in terms of expectation.

Davis, who bats righty, could be a good complement for Abraham Almonte when Brantley returns. Before Brantley is back, Collin Cowgill can also help off-set some of the versus-LHP issues for Almonte, or even right fielder Lonnie Chisenhall. Almonte hit an even .250 against LHP and RHP last year, but his OBP/SLG were much different vs. LHP (.319/.459) than RHP (.281/.267).

Defensively, Davis has been best in center and left field, though his year to year results at those positions has varied. He actually performed better in left and center in 2015 than over the course of his career as a whole. Now, sample sizes for defense are best when expanded beyond a single year. That being the case, it’s fair to say Davis has been better in center (1.3 UZR/150 in his career) than left (minus 9.4) on the whole, but he can certainly handle himself in the corner (1 DRS and 9.0 UZR/150 in 2015).

1B Mike Napoli

Now, this one isn’t official yet, but it was reported last week that the Indians inked Napoli to a one-year pact. Napoli underwent a physical on Friday and sounds like everything went OK. Injuries and health issues have been a consistent issue for Napoli, who dealt with a hip problem in the past, had surgery to help with sleep apea before last year and had a finger issue in ’15.

Some of that might explain why Napoli slashed .236/.348/.415 in 2014-15 after posting an .842 OPS in 2013. Napoli hit .224 (.734 OPS) last year with the Red Sox and Rangers, but posted a strong showing (.278 with a .954 OPS) against left-handed pitching. He hit just .191 (.603) against right-handers. For his career, Napoli has a .917 OPS against LHP and an .804 OPS vs. RHP. So, at the very least, Cleveland has a strong versus-lefties bat. Right now, it looks like Napoli would be a regular in the lineup.

Over the course of his career, Napoli has logged 20 DRS and a 5.6 UZR/150 at first base. Last year, he had 3 DRS and a 5.5 UZR/150 at first. Bringing him into the fold essentially pushes Carlos Santana into regular DH duty. Santana has below-average marks at first base, but his bat is valuable enough to play as an everyday DH, no matter what the anti-Santana crowd is shouting.

LHP Tom Gorzelanny & LHP Joe Thatcher

OK, so these additions didn’t technically happen last week. The Indians announced Monday that both lefties were signed to Minor League deals with spring invites. I would’ve thought at least one of these pitchers could’ve signed a Major League deal, so consider these signings a pair of wins for the Tribe. Lefty relief was on the to-do list and both Gorzelanny and Thatcher offer veteran options.

Thatcher has held lefties to a .232 (.645 OPS) showing in his career and held them to a .245 (.686) showing last year with Houston. Gorzelanny has limited left-handed batters to a .230 (.662) mark in his career and .222 (.664) last year, when he had a bloated 5.95 ERA with Detroit. This is where it must be noted that the Tigers exposed him to righties a lot and Gorzelanny gave up a .354 average and 1.063 OPS in that unfortunate sample. As lefty specialists, both pitchers are good possibilities.

Both Gorzelanny and Thatcher are Article XX-B free agents. What that means is they signed Minor League deals as six-year free agents who ended last season on Major League deals. If they do not figure into the Opening Day roster plans, both pitchers will be eligible for a $100,000 retention bonus and a June 1 opt-out clause, if they go to the Minors. Cleveland also added outs for the end of Spring Training.

These additions take a little bit of pressure off young lefties Kyle Crockett and Giovanni Soto. Crockett took a slight step backward in 2015 and Soto has all of 3 1/3 innings under his Major League belt. If the Indians aren’t comfortable with them in the big league ‘pen out of the gates, Gorzelanny and Thatcher make it easier to start them off in the Minors. Also, Cleveland can keep lefties like Ryan Merritt and Shawn Morimando in the Minor Leagues as starting pitchers, rather than mulling having them make a career switch to relieving this spring.

RHP Dan Otero

Hey, sure. The Indians grabbed Otero from the Phillies in exchange for cash and the bullpen depth chart got a little deeper. Otera is under control for four seasons, so it’s a nice add in terms of long-term depth, too. Otero had an off year in 2015, posting a 6.75 ERA with an .887 OPS allowed to righties and an .884 OPS allowed to lefties. Not good. That said, the right-hander had a 2.01 ERA in 125 2/3 innings from 2013-14. He is a strike-throwing machine. Last year, he just happened to also be a hit-allowing machine. We’ll see if pitching coach Mickey Callaway and bullpen coach Jason Bere can work some magic on him this spring. Otero is out of Minor League options, so a strong spring showing would likely net a spot in the Opening Day roster.

Right now, the only pitchers who look like locks for the bullpen are Cody Allen, Bryan Shaw, Zach McAllister and Jeff Manship. Then, there’s lefties like Crockett, Soto, Gorzelanny and Thatcher. Righties in the mix would be Austin Adams, Shawn Armstrong, Kirby Yates and also Otero. Plus, Joba Chamberlain is in the fold as a non-roster invitee, too.

RHP Jarrett Grube

Added on a Minor League deal with a non-roster invite. Why not? What a great story here. I’m a sucker for cup-of-coffee players and Grube is a classic tale. On May 31, 2014, the righty was called out of the Angels bullpen to face Josh Donaldson, Yoenis Cespedes and Derrek Norris. Grube got two out of three. That ain’t bad. In between the outs, though, Cespedes drilled a three-run home run. The pitcher, taken in the 10th round of the 2004 Draft, returned to the Minors with a 13.50 ERA and was pitching for Quintana Roo in the Mexican League a year later. Cleveland signed him and Grube went 9-0 with a 2.26 ERA in 15 games for Triple-A Columbus. You know he’s itching to get another shot on the Major League stage.

SUBTRACTIONS

1B/DH Chris Johnson

Johnson was designated for assignment to clear room for Davis. This one was a bit stunning simply due to the financial implications. Cleveland had to take on Johnson and his contract in order to part with Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn last August. Now, Johnson is off the roster and still owed $17.5 million ($7.5 million in ’15 and $9 million in ’16, plus a $1 million buyout for ’17). The addition of Napoli made Johnson a bit redundant, especially since Johnson is not a good alternative for third base. With Santana and Napoli in the mix, the Indians had little use for another first baseman-slash-DH who hits lefties as his speciality. This move showed that the Tribe cares most about roster flexibility at the moment.

1B/OF Jerry Sands

Sands was DFA’d when Otero was acquired from the Phillies. Like Johnson, Sands became a bit redundant in light of Cleveland’s other moves this winter. The outfield additions (Cowgill, Davis and Joey Butler) plus the emergence of Chisenhall in right field, combined with Napoli entering the fold for first base, left little room for Sands. In Sands, Cleveland had a versus-lefty bat with some pop, capable of playing right field or first base. He hit lefties well (.297 with an .838 OPS) last year, but slumped hard as the season wore on. Sands hit .375 with a 1.028 OPS in his first 10 games and fans loved chanting, “JER-RY! JER-RY! JER-RY!” And then hit hit .202 in his next 40 games.

INF Mike Aviles

Aviles was a free agent and has agreed to a one-year deal with the rival Tigers. This led to some angered Indians fans in the social-media realms. First things first, I’ll miss having Aviles in the clubhouse, and I’m sure teammates will, too. He was a leader for the Tribe and a source of levity in tough times. Aviles knows how to keep things loose. On top of that, I can’t imagine going through what he did last year. With his daughter battling leukemia, Aviles played on, balancing the everyday life of a Major Leaguer with a very hard situation at home with his family. Seeing the Indians and their fans rally around Aviles this year was something I won’t soon forget. All of this said, it made sense for Cleveland to part ways with him this winter. The team has a younger bench option in Jose Ramirez, who can offer a similar super utility skill-set. Aviles also has a .281 on-base percentage over the past five years combined and his production slipped in each of the past three years (.663 OPS In ’12, .650 OPS in ’13, .616 OPS in ’14 and .599 OPS in ’15). Tough to see Aviles go? Yes. Did the move make sense? Absolutely.

SWING AND A MISS

3B Todd Frazier

Frazier would’ve looked great at third base and in the middle of the Tribe’s order — even with his history of second-half fades. That said, it wouldn’t have looked as good had Cleveland parted with what the Reds sought from the Indians. Cleveland.com reported last week that the Reds first tried for Danny Salazar or Cody Allen. Then, Cincinnati asked for outfield prospects Clint Frazier or Brad Zimmer. The Reds weren’t done, either. They also wanted two players from a grouping of Bobby Bradley, Mike Clevinger, Juan Hillman and Justus Sheffield. That’s a huge ask and I’m glad Cleveland held its ground.

Remember when Brandon Moss was acquired for infield prospect Joey Wendle in a one-for-one last winter? Moss was arbitration eligible for two seasons at the time. It was, at best, a two-year commitment to Moss. At worst, it was a one-year deal, or less if he was traded (which he was), in the event that things went south. Frazier is signed for one year and arb-eligible for 2017. Similar to the Moss situation, if Frazier excelled, this had the potential to be a two-year deal. If he fizzled, then suddenly he looks like a non-tender candidate or trade bait before ’17 even arrives. You don’t sell the farm for that kind of contract situation. Frazier wound up with the White Sox as part of a three-team deal including the Reds and Dodgers.

–JB

Winter Meetings: Day 3

WM3Hello again from the Opryland Hotel in Nashville. On deck today on Day 3 of the Winter Meetings: Indians manager Terry Francona will hold his formal media session at 3:30 p.m. ET, a little ahead of local reporters’ daily sit-down with president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti and GM Mike Chernoff.

Throughout the day, I’ll post updates and links here to Tribe-related developments.

Updates:

  • Here is the main Indians.com story from Tuesday: Tribe looking to add to offense without subtracting from rotation
  • According to Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle, the Astros have inquired with Cleveland about right-hander Carlos Carrasco. At this point, it would seem more newsworthy if a team has not checked in on the Tribe’s starting pitchers. But, add Houston to the list of interested clubs.
  • Per various reports, the Indians, Twins and Rangers have all shown interest in free-agent outfielder Rajai Davis.
  • Joel Sherman of the New York Post, the Braves have been “besieged” with calls about outfielder Ender Inciarte since acquiring him from the D-backs. It seems safe to assume that Cleveland is among the teams that has checked on his potential availability.
  • The Cardinals claimed lefty Jayson Aquino off waivers from the Indians, who designated the pitcher for assignment on Monday after acquiring outfielder Joey Butler.
  • The Braves acquired a big package from D-backs (Inciarte, Dansby Swanson, Aaron Blair) for Shelby Miller. Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports.com reported that Cleveland can’t duplicate that kind of return because the Indians are seeking MLB talent, not prospects, in trade talks for starting pitching.
  • Bob Nightengale of USA Today reports that the Indians have talked to the Reds about third baseman Todd Frazier. MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon quickly followed up, reporting that it doesn’t look like a match. Reds’ asking price is high.
  • Anthony Castrovince of MLB.com reports that the Indians were one of four teams to bid at least $11M for rights to negotiate with Korean slugger Byung Ho Park. Twins won the bidding at $12.85M.
  • In talks for Danny Salazar, the Indians asked the Giants for Joe Panik plus four top prospects, per reporter Andrew Baggarly.
  • Francona and Chernoff noted Wednesday that the Indians are looking for lefty relief help.
  • Paul Hoynes of Cleveland.com reports that the Indians have shown interest in 1B/OF/DH Steve Pearce.
  • Jon Paul Morosi of FOXSports.com reportst that the Cubs have also talked to Cleveland about Carrasco and Salazar. Jorge Soler was discussed. “No momentum now” however.

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

Winter Meetings: Day 2

MLBcom

Aaand we’re back.

Welcome to Day 2 of the Winter Meetings from the Opryland Biodome Hotel here in Nashville. This will once again be your one-stop shop for Indians reports and rumors throughout the day, plus links to coverage on Indians.com.

Updates:

  • Chris Antonetti, the Indians president of baseball operations, addressed all those Michael Brantley whispers on Day 1 of the Meetings.
  • Antonetti also said the Indians have set a “high bar” in any talks for their starting pitchers. Translation: it has to be the kind of impact deal Cleveland can’t walk away from.
  • Included in that last link are some other tidbits, including reports that Cleveland is among the teams that have checked in on A’s infielder Brett Lawrie.
  • Here’s more on the claim of outfielder Joey Butler.
  • ESPN’s Buster Olney reported Tuesday morning that Cleveland doesn’t seem like a “natural landing spot” for Lawrie, though. Right now, Giovanny Urshela projects to be the Tribe’s starter at third base.
  • According to Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic, the Indians offered righty Danny Salazar in trade discussions for D-backs outfielder A.J. Pollock. Arizona, however, is not motivated to deal Pollock at the moment.
  • Cleveland.com reports that the Braves have inquired about catcher Roberto Perez, but it doesn’t look like there’s a match between the two clubs.
  • Paul Hoynes of Cleveland.com reports that Indians have discussed a 1-year deal (with an option) with OF Rajai Davis.
  • MLB.com’s TR Sullivan reports that the Rangers have talked about a trade with the Indians. Texas is looking for starting pitching. The Rangers also have a stated need for catching, making Perez a possible target for Texas, too.

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

Winter Meetings: Day 1

OprylandHello from the Opryland Hotel in Nashville. This space will be used to give updates throughout these Winter Meetings on any rumblings involving the Indians.

I’ll update throughout each day as rumors and reports surface, and following our sit-downs with Cleveland’s decision-makers, including president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti, general manager Mike Chernoff and manager Terry Francona.

Worth noting:

  • On Sunday night, Peter Gammons said on MLB Tonight that Indians outfielder Michael Brantley could be out until August due to complications with his right shoulder surgery. Multiple sources within the Indians indicated that the report was not accurate. Paul Hoynes of Cleveland.com hears Brantley could be out until June. The Indians say the timetable has not changed, meaning their projection of late April of some time in May is the expectation.
  • Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle has reported that the Indians are among teams who have expressed interest in infielder Brett Lawrie, who can play second and third base. Presumably, the Tribe would see Lawrie as an option mainly for third, where Giovanny Urshela is the projected starter at the moment. Slusser reported that the White Sox and Tigers have also shown interest.
  • Not surprisingly, ESPN’s Jayson Stark hears that the Indians might be leaning toward holding on to its starting pitching, rather than trading from a strength to address the offense. He quotes a source who opines that such a move could potentially be “shifting around your problems.”
  • ESPN’s Buster Olney reported Sunday that the Indians are open to exploring trades involving catcher Roberto Perez. This isn’t really surprising, either. It could be argued that Perez is the best backup catcher in baseball and he could be a starting catcher on a number of teams. There is value there worth exploring for Cleveland.
  • The Indians announced Monday morning that the scoreboard at Progressive Field is being upgraded for 2016. From the press release: “The new scoreboard, manufactured and installed by Daktronics, will feature premier high-definition technology for every fan at Progressive Field. It measures 59 feet high by 221 feet wide, amounting to 13,000 square feet of active display area.”
  • According to CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman, the Indians are among the teams who have shown interest in Mike Napoli.
  • Wes Ferrell, who went 102-62 with a 3.67 ERA for the Indians from 1927-33, did not receive enough votes via the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum’s Pre-Integration Era Committee to make it into the Hall. No one was voted in during Monday’s announcement.
  • OF Clint Frazier has been named to the Arizona Fall League’s Top Prospects Team.
  • Indians have claimed OF Joey Butler off waivers from the Rays. The Tribe designated lefty Jayson Aquino for assignment to vacate a roster spot. Butler is, of course, the player who broke up Carlos Carrasco’s no-hitter on July 1 with two outs in the ninth inning.

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

Indians fall short in Park bidding

Byung-Ho-ParkThe Indians are in the market for power and right-handed slugging has been seemingly an annual need for the club in recent years. One intriguing solution would have been Korean slugger Byung-ho Park.

The Nexen Heroes made Park available to Major League teams via the posting system last week, setting a deadline of 5 p.m. ET on Friday. Cleveland was among the teams that submitted a blind bid, though the Tribe did not win the right to negotiate a contract with Park.

Reports out of Korea indicated that the Heroes accepted a top bid of $12.85 million, though the winning club has yet to be revealed. MLB.com learned Saturday morning that the Indians fell short of that price, which will give the top team an exclusive 30-day window to try to sign the first baseman.

It isn’t immediately known how much Cleveland bid for the right to talk to Park.

This past season, the 29-year-old Park hit .343 with 53 home runs and 146 RBIs in 140 games for Nexen. He launched 173 homers and knocked in 492 runs from 2012-15, though he also had 510 strikeouts in that time period. Park was the KBO MVP in 2012-13 and will likely win another for his work this past season.

Bidding on a player like Park makes sense for the Indians, who are not expected to be major players in free agency. Park would come at a lower annual rate than a similar Major League free agent and would not be tied to any Draft pick compensation. Cleveland’s top pick for the 2016 Draft (16th overall) is unprotected, so any free agents who decline Qualifying Offers (20 received a QO on Friday) would not only come at a high price financially, but would eliminate that first-round selection.

At first base, the Indians have the switch-hitting Carlos Santana ($8.25 million in 2016) and Chris Johnson ($7.5 million) for the time being, but each are trade candidates this winter. If both Santana and Johnson are back in ’16, they would also project to serve as a designated hitter at times, with Johnson also seeing innings at third base and potentially in the corner outfield spots. Johnson would primarily be used against left-handed pitching.

Cleveland has little wiggle room financially for any major free-agent additions this offseason, so the club will be looking more toward the trade market to address its need for an impact bat. Taking a flier on a player like Park also made sense. Given the success of Korean infielder Jung Ho Kang (posting fee of $5.1 million, followed by a four-year, $11-million contract) with the Pirates, though, Park’s price exceeded Cleveland’s comfort zone in a blind-bid scenario.

–JB

Breaking down the Tribe’s payroll

Chris AntonettiThe Indians enter this offseason in a familiar position. Much of Cleveland’s core group is under contract and the payroll projects to be in the same range as recent years. That means little monetary wiggle room.

Chris Antonetti, the Indians president of baseball operations, has been upfront that the Tribe’s top priority this winter is upgrading the position-player side of the roster. To do so, under the usual restraints, it looks like the trade market is the most realistic route for the Indians to follow.

If the Indians had money to spare, maybe they would’ve picked up Ryan Raburn’s $3-million team option on Wednesday. He was one of baseball’s top hitters vs. lefty pitching last year (Raburn’s 1.004 OPS ranked behind only Nelson Cruz, Mike Trout and Josh Donaldson in the American League) and his deal was affordable.

Instead, the Tribe declined Raburn’s option, will pay him a $100,000 buyout and Antonetti offered this reasoning: “In the end, a lot of this comes down to timing. With where we are in the offseason, we just felt that we were best served by not committing the $3 million at this point to that spot on our roster. That’s really what it came down to.”

That familiar word —  “flexibility” — was quickly in a subsequent quote. So, just how much flexibility does Cleveland have this winter? Perhaps not as much as people might have thought when the team dealt Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn. It’s important to remember that that trade, which brought Chris Johnson and his contract to Cleveland, was more about loosening up the roster than the purse strings.

Let’s take a walk through the Indians’ current payroll situation.

GUARANTEED CONTRACTS FOR 2016

Carlos Santana, $8.25 million
Chris Johnson, $7.5 million
Michael Brantley, $7.38 million
Jason Kipnis, $6.17 million
Corey Kluber, $4.7 million
Carlos Carrasco, $4.5 million
Yan Gomes, $2.5 million

That group of seven players are slated to earn approximately $41 million for the upcoming season.

ARBITRATION ELIGIBLE

Cody Allen
Lonnie Chisenhall
Nick Hagadone
Jeff Manship
Zach McAllister
Bryan Shaw
Josh Tomlin

According to the educated guess work of MLBTradeRumors.com, that group could net $14.7 million through arbitration. Obviously, that’s not a firm number. So, for now, we have to assume that the arbitration cases, if everyone is retained, will account for roughly $13-15 million. That brings us to around $56 million on the high end.

PRE-ARBITRATION PLAYERS

While I don’t know Trevor Bauer’s specific salary for 2016 at the moment, it will be north of $1.5 million, in accordance with the Major League contract he signed at the time he was drafted. We’re currently at 15 roster spots. So, at this point we can put the other 10 spots in the range of $5.5 million. That’s around $7 million (and I’m probably a little short here) for the pre-arbitration section of the roster. Now, we’re at $63 million.

OTHER OBLIGATIONS

Now that we know the decision on Raburn’s deal, we know that we’re not adding $3 million to that total. But, assuming I was a little short on the pre-arb class, and accounting for Raburn’s buyout, we can say the payroll is around $63-64 million. This is where it gets a little tricky. We have to account for the cash sent to Atlanta as part of the trade that shipped Swisher and Bourn to the Braves. The Indians haven’t said the specific amount, only that they picked up “a majority” of the difference between Johnson’s contract and the Swisher/Bourn contracts. That money was deferred over the life of Johnson’s deal, which is guaranteed through 2017 ($7.5 million in ’16 and $9 million in ’17, plus a $1-million buyout if his $10-million option isn’t picked up for ’18). Again, I haven’t received specific details, but I have been told that projecting a current payroll status of $70-75 million puts me “in the ballpark” of where Cleveland is at the moment. That means, if the Indians are sticking to the $85-million neighborhood for its payroll, we can guesstimate that the team has $10-15 million worth of flexibility to play with this winter. So, don’t expect any major free-agent additions, but rather Cleveland targeting younger, controllable players through trades. And, obviously, trading away a contract or two from the current roster would alter the situation, too.

OFFSEASON NEEDS

Antonetti reiterated on Wednesday that the team plans on focusing more on its offense than its pitching, though I’d wager that we’ll see some depth adds on the pitching front. Cleveland could stand to shore up its lefty-relief situation and, let’s be honest, the rotation gets a little thing behind the Tribe’s talented front four. Offensively, the Indians could target right field, the corner infield spots and designated hitter as areas to use in an effort to add some offense. Cleveland’s preference is to keep Michael Brantley in left field, too. That probably means the Indians will look for alternatives for center field, potentially moving Abraham Almonte into a fourth-outfielder role. The Tribe likes Lonnie Chisenhall in right field, but he might be in a platoon-esque scenario.

–JB

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