Monday, November 14, 2011

Looking for Lumber

Now that the dust has settled on the North Coast after the option decisions and the acquisition of Derek Lowe, the focus has turned to what the Indians are going to do to add position players and, specifically, how the Indians are going to “replace” Grady Sizemore (and I’m still of the belief that Grady will start going SuperSizemore again in 2012, you know…because I’m a Clevelander) in the OF and how the Indians are going to shore up their hole at 1B. This being the off-season, flush with rankings of FA and with reports linking every FA to nearly every team, much of the focus to date has inexplicably been on that FA market with Paul Hoynes even devoting a whole column to the FA market for OF and 1B (in which he writes that Josh Willingham would “look good in right field”, apparently forgetting about the Indians RF, who was an elite player in the three years prior to know, The BLC), while ignoring the fact that the Indians aren’t likely to add veterans (or anyone) of much significance via FA.

While that idea that marquee FA are unlikely to end up in Cleveland shouldn’t come as a surprise and only leads the “DOLANZ R CHEEP” crowd to en masse, let’s think about how teams like the Indians add value to their team while minimizing risk (contracts that last too long) and how the last couple of moves by the Indians have involved a particular type of acquisition. Those recent acquisitions involved adding a player who had signed a regrettable contract that was entering the last year of said contract, with their team looking to get out from the financial albatross that they strapped around their own neck.

Remember Fukudome last year?
Lest you forget, Kosuke Fukudome earned more than Hafner did in 2011 and was a disappointment in Chicago, largely because of the money paid to him and the expectations that accompanied that salary. With lower expectations (and a low price tag), he was a revelation of sorts in Cleveland, mainly because he represented an upgrade over the “Zeke and Shelley Show” and because those preconceptions about his monetary worth didn’t play a role in how he was perceived as it was on the North Side.

Now, I’m not saying the Indians should re-sign Fukudome as he’s now back out on the FA market and the Indians would have to overpay for his services, when they were able to basically take him off of the Cubs’ hands last year, for a nominal price. But the Fukudome deal is just one example…does the scenario sound familiar in terms of the Lowe addition with the Braves looking to move a player and willing to absorb money in the process?

If you’re talking about essentially signing Lowe to a one-year deal for $5M, it makes it pretty understandable, particularly when you consider that the detritus of the FA starting pitcher market is going to look for 2-year deals or incentive-laden deals while the Indians’ risk with Lowe is minimized to a 1-year, $5M deal while giving up a non-prospect. Truthfully, I know I’m not breaking any new ground here as there was a blurb in Terry Pluto’s Sunday column a couple of weeks ago along these lines that may have gotten overlooked (and I’m not talking about Pluto using the save “statistic” as a justification for C. Perez as the closer, which is like saying that Dave Huff’s 11 wins in 2009 were a “good sign”) as it was the final bullet point:
While the Indians will bid on some free agents, they have a much better chance of finding a hitter via a trade where they pick up part of the contract. The Tribe did that with Kosuke Fukudome last season when he was acquired from the Cubs, and are paying $5 million of Lowe’s $15 million salary in 2012.

Realizing that Pluto’s Sunday Notes column comes from conversations with the Indians every week, how does this revelation get buried as the last bullet point and why is there still so much focus on THIS FA class as Carlos Pena and Josh Willingham continue to get all of the attention, despite the fact that they’re unlikely to come to Cleveland?

If you think it was just a concept in passing that Pluto was passing along, realize that Pluto led with it again in his most recent Sunday piece (which, again, generally comes from the team) as he wrote:
The best way for the Indians to add an outfielder who can hit is through a trade. Yes, fans can demand that they spend a lot of money to sign a free agent such as Michael Cuddyer, but it’s not going to happen.

Of course, Pluto then went on to again look at the underwhelming FA market that is “not going to happen” in adding an OF as the names that everyone keeps saying (Willingham, Pena, Ludwick, Lee, Kotchman, etc.) are examined and revealed for what they are – flawed options that are going to cost too much in terms of money on the FA market and (this is important) that are probably going to command more than one-year deals when they aren’t really all that deserving of them. For a team like the Indians, whose financial flexibility is a key to their success as this new “core” of players matures and evolves, the prospect of giving Josh Willingham a 3-year deal is more than unsavory and, if you’re following along here, it’s pretty likely that these 3-year deals aren’t being given all that much thought at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario as perhaps a different strategy is at play.

So why are we still talking about the FA market if we’ve all seen this movie and know how it ends up?
Really, if nobody else is going to connect these dots, let’s pull out the ol’ pencil and start connecting here…

Which brings us all back to how this team is going to add bats if they’re unlikely to via FA. Truthfully, my astute friend Tyler e-mailed me this idea a few weeks back (prior to the Pluto articles) saying that perhaps the “answer” to where the Indians add bats to this team isn’t on the FA market or a “blockbuster” deal, but in players that would essentially be other teams’ salary dumps, as both Fukudome and Lowe were. As Tyler wrote me, “They’re expensive in upfront cash but low in long term risk. It’s either cash or bust in terms of talent acquisition. Given that ... it seems that payroll relief deals are the cheapest route available. Give us your perennially disappointing, your over-priced, your moderately wounded ...”

Maybe “cash or bust” isn’t the accepted Modus Operandi of this organization and “perennially disappointing”, etc. is not exactly inspiring, but he’s exactly right…

The names that the Indians are going to be targeting are the guys that maybe have one-year left on their existing deal (as Lowe did) or who underperformed their original contract (as Fukudome did) meaning that their current team may be looking to move their salary to jettison what they deem as flotsam and jetsam. Perhaps some of those guys are on the list of potential FA after the 2012 season, seen here, and the trade is the way to get them here.

Right off of the bat, I’ll ignore Carlos Lee and Bobby Abreu on the list due to their defensive…um, stylings and while the name that practically jumps off that list belongs to “BJ Upton”, as Anthony Castrovince wrote in a piece last week (that deserves a full read and I’ll wait right here until you finish…OK, done?), Upton is “going to make $7.6M this year” and he’s not going to come cheap in terms of prospects, even if he’s essentially a one-year rental. The Rays are looking to stockpile their cupboard with more prospects and the Indians having to give up prime prospects AND pay Upton $7.6M in arbitration (and don’t think that the Rays are throwing money in) for one year of playing doesn’t seem like the best use of resources.

Rather, what the Indians should be doing is targeting players like the ones that AC goes on to mention in the piece:
Two options that might make a lot of sense for the Indians are Andres Torres and Angel Pagan. Both regressed in 2011 after a strong 2010. With their arbitration costs rising, Torres and Pagan could be released by the Giants (who just acquired Melky Cabrera) and Mets, respectively. If so, the Indians ought to investigate.

Pagan is particularly interesting, because of his ability in the OF and his speed…plus the fact that the Mets were rumored to be discussing non-tendering him, meaning that he could perhaps be had for a pittance. For a player that posted a 3-year cumulative line of .294 BA / .344 OBP / .441 SLG / .785 OPS from 2008 to 2011, that may be a player that could fill a hole in the Indians’ OF.

Maybe a player like Pagan is underwhelming in terms of the desire to add a middle-of-the-order RH bat, but there are other players that would (and should) interest the Tribe. Perhaps those guys aren’t players you want on long-term deals or even on incentive-laden deals, but they’re productive enough that if a team is looking to jettison them or save some money, the Indians can pick up the remainder of their salary (or a portion of it) and get some production out of these players that would dwarf what could be legitimately expected of internal options without any future commitment to them past this year.

Just like they did with Fukudome and Lowe (and even DeRosa back before the 2009 season), perhaps could do with another player in the final year of his deal who may be available this off-season and could step into the Indians’ void in the OF and lineup and represent an upgrade over the internal options without tying up money for the next few years – Marlon Byrd.

Just for some background here, Byrd is scheduled to make $6.5M in 2012, the final year of the three-year contract he inked before the 2010 season. While his 2011 (.719 OPS) was his worst season since 2006, he accumulated a .294 BA / .350 OBP / .456 SLG / .807 OPS from 2007 to 2010, with some of that time spent in the AL as a Ranger. While it is true that Byrd is not a HR hitter (21 HR combined in the last two years), he’s averaged 30 2B over the last 5 years and could represent that player that could be had for lower prospects or whose current team may kick in money on his 2012 salary that the Indians have focused on recently.

Now is Marlon Byrd going to change the balance of power in the AL Central?
No, but I could assure you that he’d be an upgrade over Zeke Carrera or even Shelley Duncan as an everyday OF. Maybe that isn’t enough for those who still have visions of that “BIG RH BAT” in their heads, but Byrd is a RH hitter that can play CF who is going to hit more than Coco Crisp (who will probably get a multi-year deal this off-season because of the dearth of OF options on the FA market) or Juan Pierre. For some perspective here, if Juan Rivera is getting $4M from the Dodgers after posting an OPS of .701 last year and a .721 OPS in 2010 and THAT’s the going rate for a marginal OF on the FA market…um yeah, maybe the FA market isn’t the place to be.

Perhaps you would prefer BJ Upton to a Marlon Byrd if the Indians are going to make a move for that one-year rental (considering that Upton’s going to earn about $1.1M more than Byrd in 2012), but consider the following lines put up by each over the last three years:
BJ Upton: 2008-2011 – 1,876 PA
.240 BA / .322 OBP / .408 SLG / .730 OPS averaging 17 HR and 22 2B per season

Marlon Byrd: 2008-2011 – 1,711 PA
.285 BA / .334 OBP / .437 SLG / .771 OPS averaging 14 HR and 35 2B per season

Maybe a guy like Upton offers more “upside”, but if we’re talking about recent performance or what can be expected for one year only in 2012, a veteran hitter like Marlon Byrd would be the preference here. Additionally, the Rays feel that they have a valuable commodity in Upton that they’ll auction off to the highest bidder (in terms of prospects) while the Cubs likely feel that they’d like to give a young player a shot in the OF and would likely move Byrd for lesser prospects or would subsidize some of the remaining money on Byrd’s contract.

Admittedly, Byrd is a flawed player who actually hits RHP better than LHP despite being a RH hitter, but in case you don’t remember, the Cubs have a new power structure in place, and the new regime has no ties to Marlon Byrd. As Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer try to get out from under some contracts and start to re-make the Cubs in a manner that will help them compete in the long-term, maybe they look at a player like Cord Phelps and throw some money in with Byrd to net a player like Phelps, who could step into their 2012 starting lineup and fill an organizational hole while the Indians deal from a position of strength (middle infield depth) to fill a 2011 hole, even if it largely represents a short-term fix.

Perhaps you think that a longer-term fix is preferable to adding a player like Byrd (or someone else of his ilk, made available on the Trade Market) and I wouldn’t disagree with that. Of course, I still think that the Indians are going to add two position players this off-season via trade, one of the “long-term” variety and one from the “band-aid” category with the “long-term” answer still coming from wherever Pujols/Prince land and the dominoes that fall as a result.

Realizing that I’ve been harping on this for a while, it is worth noting that pretty much every national outlet is reporting that the Marlins are interested in Pujols and/or Fielder (though more likely Prince) and that they can upgrade pretty significantly, despite the fact that they have Gaby Sanchez as their current 1B. Of course, as the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel’s Tom Haudricourt writes, “Even though the Marlins have a first baseman in Gaby Sanchez, he isn’t Prince Fielder. You could move him elsewhere or trade him or whatever.”

Yes…trade him. To Cleveland, for relievers. Maybe one in particular.
While I know I’ve floated this out there a couple of times, if the Indians could flip Chris Perez for Gaby Sanchez, it would represent a coup for the team in terms of moving Perez before he starts to get expensive in arbitration and finding a long-term solution at 1B. Though I’ve been told that this is pie-in-the-sky thinking and that teams don’t REALLY value closers this much, that there’s no way any team would move an under-club-control 1B for one, realize that the Blue Jays are telling folks that they have “sticker shock” at what FA closers are looking for and “may turn to the Trade Market instead”.

With SO many teams looking for closers or bullpen help (Red Sox, Mets, Angels, Rangers, Cubs, Giants, and…ahem, the Marlins) and in light of the fact that the Phillies just gave Jon Papelbon a FOUR YEAR DEAL worth $50M, this FA closer market is about to go bananas and the trade market for closers is going to look awfully attractive to a team that doesn’t want to tie up that much money and that many years in the closers out there on the FA market.

Ultimately, the Indians (still) need to find a couple of bats and FA probably isn’t how they’re going to add them as they can allow the Trade Market to come to them, whether that be teams looking to move veterans on the last year of their deals (like Byrd) or to take advantage of a “FA Closer Market Gone Wild” to sell high on Chris Perez to perhaps solve one of their positional holes. They have fungible pieces in the middle of their infield (and Asdrubal is not “fungible”…just trust me on that) and in their bullpen to find some trade partners to add bats.

Those bats may not come in the form of Mike Cuddyer or Derrick Lee or Carlos Pena (which means it doesn’t attract the attention of making that FA “splash”), but if recent history is any indicator, the Indians might be able to get creative on the trade market to add players like Marlon Byrd and Gaby Sanchez to their roster. If they are able to add players that upgrade their lineup significantly (and Byrd and Sanchez are both significant upgrades) and do so without locking themselves into overpaying players on the FA market, they could set themselves up for a nice run at the 2012 season and even beyond.


Halifax said...

If the Indians can deal Cord Phelps and Chris Perez for Byrd and Sanchez I'd turn cartwheels over how much that would improve their team.

Anonymous said...

If the Marlins sign the King or the Prince, how many teams are going to try to acquire Gaby Sanchez? That could be expensive, too.

Last two seasons:
BJ Upton: .326 OBP, .426 SLG, OPS+ 111
Gaby Sanchez: .346 OBP, .437 SLG, OPS+ 111

Other than the obvious positional differences, the two are (pretty much) Identical.

Elia said...

I wonder how much the "window of opportunity" will play into these decisions? If they have a chance at both Sanchez and Upton and Byrd, do they take the one who they think they can keep for a couple of years?

Halifax said...

I'd go Snachez because he's there for two years, is young and at a position where he can play 1B or DH with Hafner leaving, and/or being injured this year...hey, it COULD happen.

Halifax said...

Kubel at 2/$15M or Cuddyer at 3/$33M?

Hands down...Cuddyer.