The Cleveland Indians have almost certainly missed out on Josh Willingham: the Star Tribune‘s Joe Christensen reported Tuesday evening that the Twins are closing in on a three-year deal with Willingham worth $21 million.
Christensen had reported earlier Tuesday that Willingham had narrowed his choices down to three teams: the Twins, and presumably the Indians and Rockies. The Red Sox and Reds had also been connected to Willingham, as had the Mariners and Rays.
As recently as Sunday, multiple sources said that the Indians were among two or three finalists for Willingham, yet oddly as of Tuesday afternoon MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian reported that Cleveland still hadn’t actually made him an offer.
Willingham’s signing is also significant for its impact on another player the Indians are rumored to be targeting: Michael Cuddyer. CBSSports.com’s Jon Heyman reported Wednesday that the Rockies have offered Cuddyer a deal worth more than $25 million (presumably for at least three years), but with the Twins now out of the bidding Colorado may lower its offer. The Mariners are also in the mix, Heyman says.
Willingham, 32, is known for his plate discipline and power. He hit .246/.332/.477 with 29 home runs, 98 RBI, and 2.1 fWAR in 2011, and owns a career .262/.361/.475 triple-slash. Using Bill James’ projections, our Simple WAR Calculator has Willingham at 1.5 wins above replacement for 2012.
It seems strange that after weeks of rumors and several days of being considered finalists in the bidding that the Indians never actually made an offer to Willingham. It’s possible that the front office knew he was out of the Tribe’s price range from the start (that $7 million a year is too expensive is a depressing thought) and was merely hoping he could be had for a bargain, but even so it’s puzzling. If the Indians were serious about signing him why didn’t they make an offer? And if they didn’t make an offer, what made everyone think they were serious about him?