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Tribe Happenings: The Indians' offseason begins NOW

Tribe Happenings: The Indians' offseason begins NOW
November 25, 2012
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Thanksgiving represents a beginning of sorts, as most of us get ready for the holiday season. While Thanksgiving day is a pause for most of us to eat about a hundred pounds of food, then sleep in front of a TV in a Triptophan-induced coma, Thursday Night begins the wonder known as the holidays. Most will spend Friday, Saturday and Sunday spending hundreds and thousands of dollars on gifts and decorations that will end up in boxes, under beds, in closets and the attic by the time 2013 rolls around (NON-RELATED-OHIO-STATE-PLUG-WARNING! Some of us will even spend Saturday watching THE Ohio State Buckeyes roll the Michigan Wolverines in a yearly thrashing).

The joy of the holidays.

It warms you up inside, doesn't it? The Indians are doing the same. While many are frustrated that the Indians have only acquired a back-up shortstop and utility catcher so far, as well as their normal slew of non-roster invites, this weekend really is the start of a long process that Chris Antonetti and Terry Francona will use to re-image this team. Hopefully, the dominos will fall in the right order, and the presents won't get shelved by December 27th (right Grady Sizemore?). Let's find out what's HAPPENING!!!

It’s early yet, but the Indians’ offseason certainly feels familiar, doesn’t it? Chris Antonetti and the Indians front office certainly made waves to start their hot stove season with the hire of Terry Francona. It was the right move to make for the FO, and it was a great way (on paper) to show the ownership that they still had clout, and it was equally important (on paper) to display a new direction to potential free agents that the Indians were serious about winning. Francona was arguably  the best manager available, and the Indians got him. Congratulations, the Indians got it right.
 
In the nearly two months since the Francona hire, the Indians have continued to make some minor moves to improve the team, anchored by the Esmil Rogers for Mike Aviles and Yan Gomes trade earlier in the month. Prior to that, right-handed reliever Blake Wood was claimed off of waivers from the Kansas City Royals. They also have signed infielders Nate Spears and Luis Hernandez and outfielders Matt Carson and Cedric Hunter to minor league deals, and also re-signed former top prospect Hector Rondon.
 
Mike Aviles is the one player mentioned above that has a legit chance at starting for an extended period of time, but the reality of his situation is that he shouldn’t. He’s the perfect supplement on the bench to a successful infield, and that’s the role that he’ll play going forward. We’ve discussed, at length, why he could start, so we’ll have to see if Aviles is part of a bigger plan, and if he is, will the Indians be able to execute that plan.
 
Blake Wood is another intriguing player in that he fits the mold of a typical Indians’ sign. He’s got upper-90’s potential, but he’s coming off of Tommy John surgery. The Royals tried to sneak him through waivers, but the Tribe was more than willing to take a chance on the arbitration-eligible reliever.
 
The rest of the players mentioned are minor league fodder really. This isn’t a knock to them, but if Gomes, Spears, Hernandez, Carson, Rondon or Hunter play significant time with the Tribe in 2013, then the Indians will truly be in some trouble.
 
The Indians also altered their 40-man rosters this past week as we head towards the Rule 5 draft in Nashville on December 6th. The Rule 5 caps off the winter meetings, that take place from December 3rd through the 6th, but I’ll get more into that in a second.
 
The Indians purchased the contracts of outfielder Tim Fedroff and pitchers Chen Lee, Trey Haley and T.J. House, outrighted Matt LaPorta and Brent Lillibridge to Columbus, and designated Fabio for assignment.
 
There weren’t really any surprises there. Fedroff deserved to be rostered, and is an intriguing option going forward. He couldn’t have been worse than what was put out there in left field in 2012, and I think really could become an interesting piece to the right major league team.
 
Lee and Haley both could find their way to the Tribe pen in 2013, although 2014 is their likely full-time destination year, as is House. Lee and Haley should be major contributors down the road, and House is a wildcard that could show more progression with his new approach, but unless someone enters the Cody Allen zone, it’s likely we won’t be talking about any significant time for any in 2013, unless the Indians are really struggling with healthy.
 
It’s important to keep in mind that rarely does anyone in any sort of long-distance race or competition actually win the race based only on the start. What’s to come in the next month will represent the first quarter of the race to next year’s postseason. 

Of course, we really have to define what the Indians are racing towards, and who they are racing against before we can decide if they are successful.

 
The Indians aren’t in a “rebuilding mode” heading into 2013, but there are layers of rebuilding that goes on every year. Seriously, if the Indians are trying to rebuild off of the laughable 2012 seasons, then the front office should be fired be taken to task. With that said, the Indians aren’t starting from scratch, and they realize that. They have anchor players such as Carlos Santana, Jason Kipnis, Michael Brantley and Vinnie Pestano, and tradable commodities in Shin-Soo Choo, Chris Perez and Asdrubal Cabrera.
 
They should also have cash before and after any trades go down, meaning that the team could look very different in 2013, but still have a legitimate shot at winning some baseball games. Reality dictates that they likely won’t be winning enough to get into the playoffs, but that truly has more to do with what other teams are doing, although what the Indians can’t do will help magnify that.
 
So what race is Chris Antonetti, Mark Shapiro and Terry Francona running in? It’s a realistic one, to be quite honest, and it’s stark reality that the Indians are dealing with on a day-to-day basis. While I can’t stand excuses, think about what they are dealing with. The Dolans aren’t going to overspend, that’s just a fact. The Cleveland Market isn’t a good one for baseball to begin with, and fans don’t show up to help supplement any possible moves. Players don’t want to come here when they can sign with teams that can win, and win soon. The Indians can’t afford to take on half a team, as the Blue Jays did when the Marlins traded them everyone. There’s more to it than that, but it does appear to be a steep, uphill race for any management group.
 
Can it be done? Sure it can, but it certainly isn’t an easy path, and it gets harder day by day. You can certainly argue that Chris Antonetti may not be the guy to lead the Indians through these murky-at-best times in which baseball continues to tilt the playing field away from small-market teams, but the road is going to be difficult for anyone.
 
Impossible? Certainly not, but with big market franchises now hiring the same brilliant minds that could usurp the system at the start of the decade (most of those guys got their start in the Indians organization, by the way), it’s nearly impossible for the small market teams to compete for longer than a year or two.
 
Sure, the A’s won this past year, but Billy Beane lives and dies by calculated, baseball metric gambles from year-to-year. Sometimes they work, and sometimes they don’t, but the major difference is that he’s willing to take the chance.
 
While several folks here (including myself) have stated that their approach is the best way for the Indians to delve into this cess-pool of ridiculousness set up by baseball’s big market teams, it’s also not an easy approach. The A’s rarely keep their good players for very long, using them to continually rebuild, and if they miss on a couple of deals, they don’t win. Granted, their losing seasons are nothing like the Indians, but they do go through stretches of struggle.
 
The fact that a team like the A’s is a standard bearer for the Indians really spotlights the bigger picture issues that the Indians deal with, but that’s for another article, and another day.
 
If you were to ask Billy Beane if he rebuilds, he’d likely say either “No,” or “Every Year.” You see, rebuilding doesn’t mean what it used to, because teams like the A’s and Indians have to continually utilize players with control (as the A’s did with Gio Gonzalez last year) to bring in players with more control.
 
What does that mean? The big market teams have created a market in which they can sign all the free agents because they can overspend on them, and they now can essentially bid on players who are about to enter arbitration on small market teams, because THOSE contracts are getting too big, and those players (with multiple years of control) are the only ones that will yield multiple (at best) prospects. Of course, big market teams don’t mind giving up those prospects anymore, because they get seasoned in a small-market, and in three years, end up back in a big market when that small market tries to continue their winning cycle.
 
Hell, it’s even hard to explain, let alone navigate through.
 
On top of that, you have owners like Jeffrey Loria, who continues to erode the owner/player relationship for a team like the Indians when he goes out and signs a multitude of free agents under the guise of building a winner, then promptly trades them all away. No, owners aren’t new to this type of behavior. It’s been around since there have been baseball teams. But, in this hypersensitive day and age in which players are looking for the quickest way to win, who would ever buy a Dolan promise to put a winner on the field (of course, they would never spend the money that Loria did, which compounds the problem for free agent signings to begin with).
 
On top of that, Mark Shapiro had an in-depth discussion with Fox Sports Ohio’s Pat McManamon about how the Indians utilize advanced metrics, and how they view the use of WAR (wins against replacement) with regards to free agent players:
 
Shapiro: Our analysts can put a value on what it costs in free agency to sign a player and what that means in Wins Above Replacement and what those players end up costing in free agency and that changes every year. They measure all the players signed in free agency and what their history has been and what they offer going forward and they place a value. The challenge in free agency is you're often paying for that in the first year of a contract, and in the out years of a contract the players WAR usually goes down because he's usually past his prime. So it becomes a less efficient contract over time. That's why free agency is never the best way to build. It's a good way to supplement but not build.

McManamon: So $8 million for one win?

Shapiro: It's $9 (million) now. It was $8 (million) two years ago. I think at the end of this year they figured out it was nine. And when those wins come in the win curve are important. What does that win mean if it's the difference between 80 and 81? Very little. But if that win's the difference between 89 and 90, that could be a meaningful win.

Small market teams live and die by metrics, and while old-school purists like myself hate it, it’s a nature of the beast. The big market teams have now meshed that old-school mentality with the new school metrics. They overspend for the RBI and homers, for the wins and the strikeouts, than outmaneuver teams like the Indians for the players that have those advanced metric numbers. It’s the same mentality that John Hart really created in the 90’s. He was a smart guy, but a self-proclaimed old school guy. He brought in a front office that was really second-to-none, but it was a different era, and one in which the Indians could actually spend with some of the big-market teams. Once they lost that leverage, the substance of the old-school methodology went out the window simply because they can’t afford it. Home Runs, RBI, Runs, Wins, Saves and Strikeouts cost a boatload of money, and the Indians just don’t have it. The Indians would have more of it with a guy like Mark Cuban at the helm, but baseball would constrict him as well. I disagree with Tony Lastoria to a degree in that I believe in time, a billionaire owner would alter the spending culture, but I do agree with Tony in that it’s likely not enough to create a halo of wonder that brings in the best and the brightest.
 
So where does that leave the Indians, on November 25th, 2012, Chris Antonetti faces another crucial offseason? The same place we were, this time last year. The Indians had made some ancillary moves, such as trading for Derek Lowe and signing Grady Sizemore, and were ready to move on some moves of more substance. Ultimately, they weren’t able to bring in the left fielder they wanted (they tried), nor bolster their rotation (not so much).
 
It’s important to keep in mind that we are still over a week away from the winter meetings, which is the traditional lynch pin to the majority of the offseason signings, and more important to the Tribe, the offseason trading, which the Indians are absolutely dependent on to alter the face of this franchise.
 
Will the Indians sign a free agent? I believe that they will, although it’s hard to say who, or when, especially when you take into account what Shapiro said in that interview. I really believe that the trade market will set their free agency.
 
Take into account what would happen if they do make a trade or two or three, and if it’s the players that have been rumored:
  • If they trade Shin-Soo Choo, they will save somewhere between $6 and $8 million dollars (assuming that Choo gets close to $8 million in arbitration, and assuming that the players the Indians get in return make some sorta cash).
  • If they trade Chris Perez, they will save somewhere between $6 and $7 ½ million dollars, and $12-$15 million in congruence with Choo.
  • If they trade Asdrubal Cabrera, they’ll save $5 ½ to $6 ½ million dollars in 2013, and $10 million in 2014.
 
If you take into account the fact that Hafner and his $13 million are gone, and the fact that Grady Sizemore and his $5 million are gone, and you begin to see that the Indians COULD have some money to play with. No, it’s not the $40 million that it looks like, as arbitration and salary increases will created a dent in that, as will contract payouts, but it does give the Indians some flexibility to make some moves.
 
The key is not only making trades, but getting a return on them.
 
Now, there’s a lot of speculation as to who and what the Indians will trade for, and it’s fairly simple: Young Starting pitchers. Some folks predict that each player mentioned above will net two major league quality starters each. That’s ludicrous. The expectations should be one, and not necessarily top 100, MLB prospects either.
 
Asdrubal Cabrera may be the exception, but if Perez and Choo net one starter each, that’s a win. Anything more than that is icing on the cake. With moves made, then the Indians can put some money into free agency.
 
Of course, we know that the dominos rarely fall that way, so it will be interesting to see how the next two weeks play out.
 
I didn’t talk about the draft, as that plays a part in the make-up of a team, but that’s really not the direction that I wanted to go in. Just to say I covered it in this piece, I will reiterate what we all know: The drafting during the bulk of the 2000’s wasn’t very good, and that has created a hole of massive proportions.
 
It looks like the drafts of the past three years have improved. We shall see how that transcends this team over the next three seasons. It could be a game changer.
 
Melky Cabrera and Jonny Gomes, two players that we’ve talked about signing several times over the past two months, have signed elsewhere. Here lies the problem for the Indians. There’s no doubt in my mind that the Indians were players for at least Cabrera, and likely Gomes as well. They just can’t compete on several levels.
 
The Blue Jays signed Cabrera to a two-year, $16 million dollar deal that was finalized before thanksgiving. Should the Indians have offered the same deal? Should the Indians have made it a three-year deal at $24 million?
 
The Boston Red Sox signed Jonny Gomes to a two-year, $10 million dollar deal that was finalized after Thanksgiving. Should the Indians have offered the same deal? Should the Indians have made it a three-year deal at $15 million?
 
If they had, would Cabrera or Gomes have signed with the Indians anyways?
 
Did the Indians make offers to both?
 
Melky Cabrera was a guy that I wanted on this team, but to say that there were questions would be an understatement. He signed with the Jays, who just acquired 40 players from the Marlins, and signed for a bunch of money (more than I thought he would get). I’m a proponent of overspending for the right guy, but there’s just no way I’d over $8 million for two years, let alone three. It’s a gamble, but a big one for the Tribe. There’s a part of me that thinks the Indians made an offer to Cabrera, and that it was substantial. Just a gut call.
 
I also have to believe they were in on Gomes as well. Gomes is extremely respected, and had a fantastic season for the A’s last year (hello Billy Beane). They signed him for a cool million in 2012, and got massive returns for that small amount of money (his WAR as 1.6, so you can see that he was a massive value according to advanced metrics and based on the million). But, was Gomes worth a two-year deal at $5 million?
 
According to WAR…no…unless he continues to replicate last season’s numbers. His career WAR in 10 seasons is 2.3, and last season’s was 1.6…so you figure it out. He also only played in 99 games, so it’s not like we are talking a full-time guy here. He’s only had one season with more than 117 games…so I’m not bullish on Gomes.
 
The hope is that the Indians are making offers, and letting free agents know that they are building something with Francona. Then, if the right dominos fall in the right order, the Indians can “rebuild” and “contend” at the same time.
 
It sure isn’t going to be easy though.

 

Jim is currently the senior editor and Columnist, as well as  the host of IBI's weekly online radio shows, Smoke Signals and Cleveland Sports Insiders. You can follow Jim on Twitter @Jim_IBI, or contact him via e-mail at jpete@indiansprospectinsider.com.

User Comments

Tommy Lee
November 26, 2012 - 12:19 PM EST
I don't know this guy, but this analytics department run by Keith Woolner has been a total disaster. I forget the economist's name that described this, but cycles have 3 I's; Innovators (Moneyballers), imitators and idiots. Woolner is more imitator than idiot, but the Indians bought in on this sabermetrics crusade far too late -- the market inefficiencies that sabermetrics were championed to exploit vanished by the time the Indians adopted these practices. Quantitative applications in MLB have value, but hey bought in far too late to these concepts and depend on sabermetrics far too much.

An article in 2007 claimed that Woolner was to embark upon "working on integrating the information from the disparate worlds of scouting and stats in a way that makes each stronger." I'd say he's failed at this and this analytics department's presence in the scouting arena destroyed materially more value than it created. Hard to argue otherwise.

Want to talk about revised formulas? How about this;

Success = Cleveland Indians - Baseball Analytics Department (and Keith Woolner)
Tony
November 26, 2012 - 11:26 AM EST
Yes, the Indians have their own way of using metrics. Every team tweaks them to what they believe is the right way to compute them. The Indians have Keith Woolner running the statistics stuff....and considering how they have been kind of off the last few years, maybe they may want to consider revising their formulas.;)
Jim
November 25, 2012 - 6:23 PM EST
I believe he makes a comment Seth...in that interview...where he says something about his team having their own way of looking at the numbers...

I can't remember though, and honestly...don't want to...lol...

but I'm sure metrics change from team to team.

I'm sure that a team like the Indians skews their free agents to the high side...since it gives them the proof they need not to overspend...lol...the catch-22 of the numbers is that you can make something objective to subjective in the blink of an eye.
Seth
November 25, 2012 - 5:01 PM EST
The regret comment was aimed at Matt underwood below ... Gomes would've been a good sign last year for the price and since they needed a right-handed platoon outfielder ... it wouldn't have made much different though (without Shelley Duncan's clubhouse presense, they may have wilted even sooner. Right, Acta and Antonetti?) Not a fit this year though, better to sign one guy for a little more who can play when all kinds of pitchers are pitching.

I'm not sure where that $9 mil number comes from though. Fangraphs has done research on this and I've never seen anything close to the $9 million Shapiro's stating, according to this it was $5.6 million in 2011: http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/index.php/a-retrospective-look-at-the-price-of-a-win-part-two/

Those numbers are for free agents, not guys like Trout who are under team control. So the Indians' numbers must be vastly different somehow, unless he's talking about projections for a few years from now.
Jim
November 25, 2012 - 3:46 PM EST
Did I say I regretted not signing Gomes somewhere? I just read the message boards Seth. As a matter of fact, I think the point of the article was exactly what u r trying to point out...that the real meat of the offseason hasn't even started. As per Shapiro's comments with regards to 9 million per year, clearly that's an average, and clearly to get an average, there are guys that skew it up, and guys that skew it down...u know, like Gomes and his 1 1/2 WAR for only a million..or that kid for the Angels...what was his name? I can't think of it, but his WAR was 10, and his contract was $480,000. It's probably more skewed up because of the more bloated deals from big market franchises, but I think that was my point...

There's a long way to go in the offseason, and it will be interesting to see how things shake out.
Seth
November 25, 2012 - 3:09 PM EST
Regretting guys like Melky and Gomes is pointless until the Indians do or don't sign someone else. Gomes would be better than nothing I guess, but he's a right-handed platoon player ... for a fanbase where "David Dellucci" is synonymous with pointless free agent signings, are you really regretting that they didn't go after the right-handed Dellucci? The reason Gomes' numbers were so crappy in 2011 is he was more full-time and had a lot more ABs against right handed pitchers. Gomes is exactly the type of guy who they SHOULDN'T sign, and I wouldn't trust Melky to anything more than what Toronto is paying him (and I certainly wouldn't regret that they didn't sign him last year so he could play half the year and get suspended). If they sign Victorino or Cody Ross, I will be happy, and I will be even more happy that they didn't sign Jonny Gomes.

The $9 million per one win number Shapiro's stating ... where is he getting that from? 1-win players don't get $9 million contracts. I believe the average was around $5 million per win in 2012. Just because teams do things like pay A-Rod over $20 million a year when he's in his 40s, doesn't mean that it should cost a team like the Indians $9 million on the free agent market to improve by 1 win. The number Shapiro's quoting would be skewed by massive above-market contracts like A-Rod, Jeter, the Pujols Angels' contract. When you're dealing with Cody Ross's, it's not $9 million per win.


rob
November 25, 2012 - 1:56 PM EST
tribe need to go after jason bay
Matt underwood
November 25, 2012 - 1:37 PM EST
I think guys like milky, Gomes, Cody Ross, etc... Are guys they should have targeted a year prior at least. Now those guys have performed well and have "out priced" themselves.

This circles back to front office decisions that have been screwed up - player evaluations, drafting, trades, etc...

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