2012 40-man review: Reviewing the roster decisions
The Indians added right-handed pitchers Trey Haley and Chen-Change Lee, left-handed pitcher T.J. House, and outfielder Tim Fedroff to the 40-man roster yesterday. To make room for them they designated three players for assignment: first baseman Matt LaPorta, infielder Brent Lillibridge, and right-handed pitcher Fabio Martinez.
Here are some thoughts on all of the decisions…
- Here is what I posted in the premium piece last Wednesday where I broke down who would be added to the roster: “So at the moment – barring a trade or a player or two being designated for assignment in the next few days – I am going to predict the Indians officially non-tender Hannahan and Lillibridge to clear up two spots on the roster to add Haley and Lee. If they choose to designate someone for assignment (my prediction would be Seddon or Martinez), then I could see House being added.” That is pretty much exactly what happened. I was iffy on what roster moves they would make to create space, and had I known they would remove more players, then I would have predicted that Fedroff was added to the roster as he was my next choice.
- There were no surprises added to the roster this year like last year with Danny Salazar and Juan Diaz, but the removal of Matt LaPorta came as a mild surprise. Not the fact he was designated for assignment (DFAed), but that they did it now. I thought that he would have stayed on the roster until the end of spring training and get DFAed then, but this just goes to show how far off the big league map he has fallen for the Indians. He cleared waivers and was outrighted to Triple-A Columbus, so he is the Indians’ property for the 2013 season unless they roster him again and designate him for assignment a second time (he can then refuse the outright assignment to the minors and elect free agency). I think at this point his chances of sniffing a Major League roster with the Indians is a long shot considering how he was never called up when he got off to a hot start this year in April and May and never really had a chance to play when he was called up. The interesting thing will be following how he handles the situation next spring and during the season. It would be human nature to pout and act like you don’t want to be there, but he wants to create value for himself with a good season since it is essentially an audition for others teams. In any case, barring a crazy bout of injuries, we have probably seen the last of LaPorta at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario.
- In my initial review of the 40-man roster and who would be protected, I was actually including lefty Nick Hagadone as part of the 40-man roster (MLB.com actually shows him on the 40-man roster and no longer has any designation saying he is restricted). Had I known he was still off the roster, it may have changed my view on things, though his roster opening kind of replaced my prediction that Jack Hannahan would be non-tendered. The removal of Brent Lillibridge made sense, and was actually a smart decision to go that route rather than non-tender him. Had they simply non-tendered him he would be a free agent, but by designating him for assignment there still remains a possibility they could retain him if he accepts the assignment. He would also no longer be eligible for salary arbitration since he is not on a 40-man roster. The removal of Fabio Martinez was expected at some point this offseason. He has an electric arm, but is very inconsistent and still only pitching in Single-A. If he clears waivers (he should), he would still be property of the Indians for 2013 as he would be outrighted to the minors (he cannot refuse).
- Speaking of Hannahan, I have to think the fact the Indians have yet to non-tender him is directly connected to trade talks the Indians are having with other teams. The Indians are talking to a lot of teams about a lot of different players, so it makes sense to keep Hannahan on board for now until those trade discussions become clearer. He may still be useful to them as a stopgap if they trade someone on the roster, and as long as he is still on the roster he exists as an internal option to fill in where needed. The Indians could trade Asdrubal Cabrera or even Lonnie Chisenhall, and there is still a hole at first base that Hannahan could fill if they don’t like what is out there in the free agent and trade market. Hannahan is still expected to be non-tendered before the non-tender deadline on November 30th, so a decision on him is just days away.
- The decision to add Lee was a no-brainer. Yes, his 2012 season came to an abrupt end in April when he came down with a right elbow injury and resulted in reconstructive surgery, and yes, he will probably not be available to pitch in games until May or June. But, he was the Indians best relief pitching prospect before he got hurt because of his mid-90s fastball that he throws from a unique arm slot, was Major League ready, and was in line to be the first reliever called up when a serious need arose. To my knowledge he has not had any setbacks to date in his rehab and is expected to be ready for spring training, though will probably open the season in extended spring training in order to finish off the rehab and monitor his workload on the front end of the season. Because of the success rate of Tommy John surgery, he still has immediate value as an impact arm in the bullpen and is expected to impact the Indians bullpen at some point this coming summer. Had he been left unprotected a team could have easily picked him in the Rule 5 Draft, 60-day DLed him for the first two months or so, and then stuffed him in the back of a big league bullpen so he could get his required 90 days on an active Major League roster. Like I said, this was a no-brainer move.
- The decision to add Haley was also a no brainer. My only concern was if a roster spot would be opened up, and as long as one was, he was the clear #2 choice to be added. Haley has the best arm in the Indians system and may have the best arm they have had in a very long time – even better than Adam Miller. I can’t think of a pitcher they have had over the past ten years or so that throws as hard as he does so consistently and effortlessly. He came in as a raw, immature high school kid in 2008, but in four years he has really matured as a player and gotten better with his stuff and stronger every year – especially in the last two seasons. His fastball sits in the upper 90s and he touches 100 MPH consistently, and he has a good plus curveball. He had a nagging sports hernia injury that affected him the past three seasons that kept getting misdiagnosed, and that issue was finally resolved with surgery this past June so now that that is behind him it may help him with his consistency. The Indians like him in the bullpen and feel he is comfortable there, but with his arm, strength, frame, and stuff he still projects well as a starting pitcher and there is some talk from the Indians that they may try him out as a starter again now that the sports hernia issue is behind him. Power bullpen arms are gold in the Rule 5 Draft, so the Indians were wise to protect him.
- The decision to roster House was another good choice and one I was confident they would make provided they cleared the space for him. The roster move caps off an impressive comeback year for him after a disastrous 2011 campaign at High-A Kinston (6-12, 5.19 ERA, 1.53 WHIP, 4.6 BB/9, 6.2 K/9) that dropped him far off the prospect radar. He rededicated himself in the offseason and came into spring training in great shape after losing close to 30 pounds and had the best year of his career in 27 combined starts at High-A Carolina and Double-A Akron (10-5, 3.56 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 3.0 BB/9, 7.0 K/9). He even followed that up with an impressive showing in the Arizona Fall League this fall (3-1, 3.00 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 3.0 BB/9, 8.7 K/9). His improved conditioning and change to a lower arm slot helped him be much more consistent with his delivery this past season, which in turn helped the crispness of his stuff and he saw more consistent velocity peaking at 93-94 MPH. Bottom line, the Indians need starting pitching in a big way and they can ill afford to let any potential impact starting pitching slip away in the Rule 5 Draft. Behind Danny Salazar, House is arguably the next best starting pitching prospect in the upper levels of the Indians system that has yet to make their Major League debut.
- Fedroff was another good choice, though after not rostering him last season and gambling on him in Rule 5 and the unknown of how many spots would be open I did not predict he would be rostered. But had you told me that they would add four players from the minors, he’d have easily been my fourth choice. It is no secret that the Indians have a huge gaping hole in left field, and depending on what they do with Shin-Soo Choo this offseason there could be another one in right field, so it makes sense to protect any potential outfield assets. The Indians will say that Fedroff has a shot to make the team out of spring training as an extra outfielder, but the reality is he does not. If he truly did they would have called him up in September to get him some looks and a little experience, plus they rarely ever have a player make their Major League debut at the outset of the season (roster control reasons, over-excitement, the Brandon Phillips debacle of 2003, etc). Instead – barring injury – he will open the season at Triple-A Columbus and be one of the first options they call upon when a need arises. His bat would be a lot more interesting if he could play center field on a regular basis in the big leagues, but he is more of a corner outfielder in the big leagues and would probably only play center field in an emergency. That hurts his value some as teams like their fourth outfielder to be a true center field option, something he is not. If he hits, they will find a spot for him, and I could see him breaking into the big leagues at some point in a platoon in left field.
- As for the players the Indians did not protect and are now subject to the Rule 5 Draft on December 6th, my initial quick analysis is that the Indians are not in danger of losing anyone of consequence. There are a few players like Matt Langwell, Austin Adams, and Tyler Sturdevant who I think could generate some interest, but I am unsure if anyone is taken. Over the next week I will be researching that and talking to people in the industry to get a feel for who may have interest and who could possibly be lost, and will post all my findings in a Rule 5 Draft preview piece the first week of December. But the Indians are in no danger of losing a significant prospect. Even if a player is taken that player probably would be returned fairly quickly.
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