Saturday, December 02, 2006

Arms Dealing

The Tribe’s bullpen got a much needed injection of experience and arms today with the signings of RHP Roberto Hernandez and LHP Aaron Fultz.

Both deals are for one year with an option for 2008, so this certainly doesn’t fall under the Baltimoresque 3-year deals that they were giving out to players who are, essentially, on par with Hernandez and Fultz. Realistically, any deal for a reliever (whose effectiveness fluctuates so drastically from year to year) for more than 2 years, unless his name is Mo Rivera or Trevor Hoffman, is irresponsible.

Hernandez and Fultz bolster the pen without marrying the Indians to either for a long period of time, potentially saddling the club with a poor contract or blocking the development of one of the young arms on the farm.

Before the signings are derided as not solving the closer problem, realize that neither is being depended upon to be the closer. Both add depth to a bullpen sorely in need of some.

The signings allow the bullpen to set up like this:
If another reliever is signed as a potential set-up guy, it knocks everyone on the list down a notch, as well as allowing the Indians to start with more veteran relievers in the bullpen. As we saw last year, it’s more prudent to enter the season with too many proven arms in the bullpen as opposed to too few.

It won’t end here, either. The names that have been floated around that are still available are Joe Borowski and Keith Foulke, both of whom have closing experience and could be viewed as one-year trials with a possibility to blossom into something more. Borowski recently had a multi-year contract pulled off of the table by the Phillies, so there are certainly some red flags on doling out a multi-year deal to sign him. However, both can be had with flexible deals that allow the Indians to add more depth to the pen.

Still possible (even if Borowski or Foulke are signed) is that deal to add a younger closer (Pittsburgh’s Mike Gonzalez) or closer-in-training (LAA’s Scot Shields) at the Winter Meetings, but they won’t come cheap. With the relief market so shallow and with the Orioles setting the market far too high (the Indians’ recent signings being much more feasible), the demand for young, affordable closers will be high.

In an interview on WTAM, Shapiro was asked if he would be able to fill all of the team’s needs through Free Agency. Shapiro said that the lack of depth in the FA market would not allow him to do so and that the Indians would have to make a trade to fill their needs. He mentioned that the Kouzmanoff deal could be indicative of the type of deal that they’re going to have to execute. That is, they’ll give up a prospect (whom they generally tend to hold onto because of depth and affordability issues) to bolster the big league team.

Interestingly, he implied that the addition of Dellucci means that either Ryan Garko OR Big League Choo would be with the team next year, but not both. If Garko is moved, Blake moves to 1B and Choo to RF. If Choo is moved, Garko stays at 1B and Blake in RF.

There’s a lot of conjecture that can be made before the Winter Meetings, but by knocking the LOOGY role and a possible set-up reliever off of his list, Shapiro can go to the Winter Meetings ready to wheel and deal.

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