It’s the end of January and just about every spot on the Indians’ 2013 roster is taken care of. With the exception of a designated hitter, odds are we won’t see the Tribe sign any other free agents to guaranteed contracts before Opening Day. But that doesn’t mean that Cleveland is done for the winter—in fact, as Spring Training nears, you can expect to see a flurry of activity out of the Indians’ front office.
Yes, the peak of minor-league signing season is almost upon us. And though many fans might find such deals boring, a shrewd minor-league signing often ends up to be the best deal a team makes in a given offseason.
Most people don’t pay attention to minor-league signings, for obvious reasons. It’s almost tautological: Anyone who has to settle for a minor-league deal isn’t good enough to get a major-league deal, and most non-prospects who aren’t good enough for The Show aren’t worth fans’ time to care about. But, in the words of the greatest Disney movie ever, you don’t make a minor-league deal to find obvious talent—you do it search of the “diamond in the rough.”
Jack Hannahan. Shelley Duncan. Austin Kearns. Each was among the dozens of minor-league signings the Indians have made in the last three years, and all three turned into solid (if not good) players at some point during their respective tenures with the Tribe. Heck, how about Casey Blake? Even forgetting the six years he spent as a fixture in the Tribe’s lineup, if we hadn’t signed him we wouldn’t have Carlos Santana now.
But even if you can’t any reason to get excited about a minor-league signing (guys like Joe Martinez and Brian Jeroloman probably aren’t full of untapped potential) there’s another reason not to be down on it: There’s nothing to lose! The worst that happens is the player fails to make the Opening Day roster out of Spring Training and either gets his release or heads to the minors. Don’t think of it as low-risk, low-reward. Think of it as no-risk, some-reward.
Okay, it’s not quite that simple. As Jeff Sullivan wrote Monday (regarding Yuniesky Betancourt), “The risk is that a bad player on a minor-league contract can end up on the major-league roster.” Cleveland fans should be familiar with this phenomenon—call it the Jose Lopez effect. But in that case, there’s a failure somewhere else along the line: a roster spot opens up unexpectedly, the team calls him up, the manager becomes enamored with him. That doesn’t mean the actual signing was a bad move.
A minor-league deal means the team gets a possibility of something without giving up anything of real value. Best-case scenario, someone like Scott Kazmir or Ryan Raburn steps up and makes a real impact in the majors. The worst that happens if a minor-league signing goes wrong is that it’s like he wasn’t even there. There’s nothing to lose and something to gain, so here’s hoping we see a lot of unfamiliar faces show up to Goodyear this month.