Earlier this week, we paid homage to the most underrated category of baseball transactions: minor-league signings. The no-risk, some-reward nature of a non-guaranteed deal makes it a worthwhile endeavor in almost any situation, and as a small-market team with a reputation for making shrewd moves you can bet Cleveland will make a few in the coming weeks.
So in this edition of the Weekly Wroundtable, we asked our participants: Of the plausible options among the remaining free agents, who is your top choice for the Indians to sign to a minor-league deal? Joining us this week are guest panelists Vince Guerrieri from Did the Tribe Win Last Night? and TD from WaitingForNextYear.
Vince Guerrieri (Did the Tribe Win Last Night?): The Indians have already made their splash on the free agent market, signing Nick Swisher. Now it’s time for them to do some reclamation work. Sometimes it works out well (Kevin Millwood comes to mind). Sometimes, not so much.
This year, I think the Indians can sign Freddy Sanchez, and I think there’s a lot of potential upside. Sanchez is a right-handed bat, always a premium in the Tribe’s lineup, and he did win a batting title six years ago. The Indians are looking for a DH, and Sanchez would fit the bill, as well as being able to spell Jason Kipnis or Chisenhall in the day-to-day lineup.
I don’t think he’s an everyday player. Hell, he hasn’t played a game in a season and a half because of back and shoulder surgeries. And he is 35. Sanchez’s agent says 20 teams have an interest in his client. And the last thing the Indians want to do is get in a bidding war. But if he can be had for the right price, he could make a great addition to the lineup.
TD (WaitingForNextYear): I’m always in favor of adding more starting rotation options. You can never have enough arms for the rotation. One guy that intrigues me is former Chicago Cub Carlos Zambrano. Carlos spent 2012 in Miami with the Marlins and had a pretty solid open to the season, allowing 22 earned runs in 66 innings. Yes, he faltered in June and July before being moved to the bullpen, but Zambrano is worth a flier. He is only 31 years old and not that long ago he was a work horse for the Cubs. Yes, he is a volatile personality, but on a minor league deal, there is little risk. Not to mention if anyone can handle Zambrano, its Terry Francona.
Jason Leonard: A couple weeks ago in the Wroundtable I said the Indians shouldn’t seek another starting pitcher. But there is a guy it might make sense to bring aboard on a minor league deal: Jonathan Sanchez. He had a disastrous 2012 for Kansas City and Colorado in which he posted a career low K/9, a career high H/9, and walked everybody under the sun.
FanGraphs’ Wendy Thurm has suggested his poor season was the result of a drop in his fastball velocity and a rise in his changeup velocity. Sanchez clearly has work to do on his mechanics, but it’s not like his velocity concerns are Ubaldo-esque. He’s just 30 years old. I think the Indians should invite him to Spring Training and see they can help him rediscover his magical hit rate of 2010 (6.6 H/9,) or at least the stuff that has enabled him to strike out more than a batter an inning over his career.
Steve Kinsella: With my DH options dropping like flies (Luke Scott to the Rays and Travis Hafner to the Yankees) and the Indians’ need for a left-handed batter to DH versus right-handed pitchers I’d take a look at Aubrey Huff. The last two years for Huff have been miserable; he has had issues in his personal life and has had trouble staying healthy thanks to some odd injuries. In April he suffered from a panic attack which caused him to miss over a month. He was diagnosed with anxiety disorder and when he returned to the Giants he continued seeing a therapist and taking medication. In June he jumped out of the dugout to go celebrate Matt Cain‘s perfect game and sprained his knee which caused him to miss three months.
He was able to work things out in his personal life and avoid divorce, he was able to get his anxiety under control, and he is hungry to continue his baseball career. A hungry player with something to prove is certainly someone I’d invite to my Spring Training.
Ed Carroll: My top choice for a minor-league deal is a three-time All-Star, a grizzled veteran of eight seasons, should-have-been the MVP of the league in 2008, and he’s barely 30. Unfortunately, this guy is also none other than Grady Sizemore, who hasn’t been able to put together anything resembling a healthy season since 2009.
I know this is a cop-out, and I know Indians fans will groan. But I can’t let it go. Though I don’t ever expect anything close to the production he put out from 2005-2009, I think if he’s at all recovered, he can help this team. Admittedly, the Tribe has been burned by thinking Sizemore would come back before, but on a minor-league deal, I’d give him another shot. Maybe he never roams the outfield at Progressive Field again, but he might be able to help fill-in at DH.
Maybe I’m wrong, maybe Grady is totally done. But I simply can’t give up on him. I don’t want Sizemore ever in another uniform; if that means the Indians need to keep him on minor-league deals until he finally quits, so be it. The Indians shouldn’t let another team reap the rewards of Sizemore’s rehab. Sizemore matters, and I won’t give up on Grady till he retires.
Lewie Pollis: Say what you want about the Tribe, but there’s no denying that the organization has an incredible amount of depth. With the exception of a designated hitter the team has all its bases covered. So given that there’s no real risk for a minor-league deal, the Indians should go after someone with a sky-high ceiling. Someone who needs a ton of work but could deliver a huge reward. Someone like Daisuke Matsuzaka.
It’s safe to say Matsuzaka has been a disappointment after his much-hyped move stateside six years ago, especially the last couple seasons—he’s made only 18 starts over the past two years, during which he’s posted an ERA of almost 7.00. But while he’ll never be the ace the Red Sox had hoped he would become, it might not be too late for him to resurrect his career as a serviceable pitcher.
Sign him to a no-pressure minor-league deal. Get him out of the spotlight in Boston and into the lower-key atmosphere of Cleveland. A fresh start with a new team might be just what the doctor ordered to put the metaphorical tzatziki sauce back on his gyroball.
Brian Heise: If I had a say, I would go after Carlos Lee. Yes, he’s 37 years old and coming off of a down year, but that down year would still fit nicely within the heart of the Indians order. Last season, while being traded from the lowly Astros to the lowly Marlins and then facing even more trade rumors afterwards, Lee managed to deliver a .264 batting average and .332 OBP. The downfall was a significant decrease in power. Lee slugged a career worst .365 and his 9 home runs and 77 RBI were the fewest his has ever had in a single season.
That said, Lee has a built reputation as being an exceptional hitter and while he may very well be in decline, I don’t believe his 2012 numbers are a true indication of his current skill level. Being in an Astros lineup with zero protection, followed by joining a Marlins team conducting a fire sale, and ultimately facing an uncertain future on a daily basis hurt more than it helped. Given a stable situation in a lineup with actual big league hitters around him, there’s no reason to think Carlos Lee can’t find a middle ground between what he was in 2012 and what he’s always been. And as an added bonus, he would fit nicely as a full time DH and part time first baseman.
Katrina Putnam: I have a weakness for players who are great at defense, so my top choice would be Casey Kotchman. He would likely at least consider a minor-league deal if he remains a free agent for much longer. Mark Reynolds might not be a regular on the disabled list, but he has missed quite a few games with day-to-day injuries, and it would be nice to have a first base option available just in case—especially one with major league experience (that isn’t named Matt LaPorta).
Kotchman’s seasons are pretty hit-or-miss to begin with, and with the way last year ended, it’s unlikely that he’ll get a whole lot of interest as an everyday player. But his defensive skills are outstanding and he has had good seasons at the plate in the past. There’s really no such thing as a bad minor league deal, so if he remains unsigned, the Indians should consider it.
Merritt Rohlfing: The Indians should offer a minor league deal to Scott Podsednik. I feel like his scrappy play and grit will…
No, wait, let’s not do that. But what about Austin Kearns? I haven’t heard much from him, and he’s still got some tread on the tires, right? His power numbers were dreadful last year, but that park in Miami is pretty dreadful to hit in unless you’re named Stanton. He was actually on a major league team last year so it’s a bit of a reach, but Kearns can get it done if the Indians need him in a pinch. He bats righty, he gets on base, and he is by all accounts a pretty good guy – what’s not to love? My only real worry is that he reminds me too much of the last few years of dreadful baseball in Cleveland, and I’d rather like to move on from that. There’s enough upside where I’ve convinced myself though, so Austin, come to Columbus.