The Cleveland Indians are this close to having a perfect offseason, so why not finish the job? Since Chris Antoneeti has been so cooperative in following our suggestions regarding Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn, here are few more ideas of last-minute moves the Tribe could make to give the Indians the best possible chance to have a great season.
Use the surplus of relievers to get a backup catcher. Nick Hagadone deserves to be in the majors, and Bryan Shaw has been lights-out this spring. The two of them are definitely able to handle the seventh inning and get the ball to Vinnie Pestano and Chris Perez. Joe Smith makes over $3 million and is pushing the envelope for a middle reliever in that he has been healthy and effective for quite a few years. If the Indians find a team willing to part with a reliable veteran (Ramon Hernandez, for example) or a prospect who might be ready in a year or two in exchange for Smith, I would pull the trigger.
Make Brett Myers the long man. If the over/under on wins for Myers were 11, would you seriously take the over? I feel somewhat confident that either Carlos Carrasco or Trevor Bauer would be more effective right now than Myers, and they will only get better. Myers has Derek Lowe written all over him. He might be reasonably effective for two or three innings at a time, and most of the games in which you need a guy in the fifth or sixth are low-risk situations anyway. I realize that paying a long man $7 million is tantamount to admitting that they made a mistake in signing him, but they can either do it now or in June.
Replace Ryan Raburn with Cord Phelps. Raburn fooled the Tigers last spring. Maybe we should trade him to the Diamondbacks; the Arizona climate seems to agree with him. Phelps is younger, cheaper, and plays his heart out, and I would be inclined to go with the guy who has come up through the system, just to give the other guys some encouragement. This is the 25th spot on the roster; whoever fills it will get 150 at-bats at the most. The difference between Phelps and Raburn is probably five hits over the whole year, but my money would be on Phelps getting those five hits.
Add some outfield depth. At some point this year, Michael Bourn is going to pull a hamstring or Drew Stubbs is going to have an 0-fer week and the Indians will need a real replacement outfielder. I’m not crazy about the idea of Nick Swisher as the fourth outfielder. If he is going to be the first baseman for the next four years, he needs to focus on being a good first baseman and not worry about staying sharp as an outfielder. Mike Aviles has five career appearances in the outfield and does not have the bat you want for a long term replacement there. There will be a couple of options in Columbus, but if we need someone to cover a lengthy DL stint I don’t see an obvious candidate. If there is a way to grab an extra outfielder without touching the core of the roster I would try to do so.
Sign Justin Masterson to a contract extension. I can see a rotation of Masterson, Carrasco, Bauer, and Zach McAllister being the core of a playoff contender in 2014 or 2015. If Masterson goes into the upcoming offseason without a new contract his career as an Indian is essentially over, because they will feel compelled to trade him rather than risk losing him for nothing. That will leave a hole in the rotation that we will have to spend money to fill, so why not spend the money on Masterson rather than overpaying for a free agen?. He is in the prime of his career, he is durable, and I feel he will be one of the top 15 pitchers in the American League this year. A contract extension along the lines of what Kyle Lohse just got from the Brewers would be a fair deal.