Major League Baseball’s annual winter meetings are underway in Dallas, meaning Indians GM Chris Antonetti and the rest of the front office are working even harder than usual to improve the team. Cleveland probably isn’t going to make a blockbuster deal this week, but that doesn’t mean important things aren’t happening.
Here’s a list of all the biggest rumors and whisperings we heard Monday (the first day of the meetings), and what they might mean for the Tribe in 2012 and beyond.
Patience, Iago. It’s no secret that the Indians are in the market for a first baseman, but the Plain Dealer‘s Paul Hoynes reports that they’re unlikely to get a deal done anytime soon on the free agent market. Because other first basemen are waiting for them to set the market, Hoynes writes, Antonetti will “probably have to wait until Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder become many times richer than they already are.”
Who’s (going to be) on first? Indians.com’s Jordan Bastian reports that the Indians are in on Casey Kotchman, who hit .306/.378./422 for the Rays in 2011. Don’t get too excited, though. Kotchman’s just a year removed from hitting an anemic .217/.280/.336. His 2011 breakout was fueled by a .335 BABIP—55 points higher than his career hit rate. And while his left-handedness isn’t in itself a reason not to sign him, the Tribe’s lineup is already quite southpaw-heavy.
Bastian also mentions Carlos Pena and Derrek Lee, but guesses they’d be out of Cleveland’s price range. He also suggests an interesting trade target: the Marlins’ Gaby Sanchez, who would become expendable in Miami if the Fish can land Pujols or Fielder.
There are also internal options: Antonetti said he thinks Matt LaPorta might become a legitimate everyday player in 2012, and Shelley Duncan is still available as well. Antonetti also mentioned Jack Hannahan‘s ability to play first base, though given his lackluster bat and phenomenal glove at third it seems like that would be a huge misallocation of resources.
Cleveland’s in on Josh Willingham. ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick reports that the Indians are among nine teams who are considering Willingham, though Bastian says the Tribe’s interest is merely “mild.” The Rays appear to be the frontrunners, while the Twins, Red Sox, and Reds are also reportedly involved.
Willingham, 32, is a right-handed corner outfielder who would presumably fit in as the Tribe’s primary understudy in the outfield and at DH. A low-average guy with lots of power and solid plate discipline, he hit .246/.332/.477 with 29 homers, 98 RBI and 2.1 fWAR for the A’s in 2011. His agent expects him to sign a three-year deal.
But wait! There’s more. Bastian reports that the Indians are in on three former Cleveland players for utility roles: Casey Blake, Mark DeRosa, and Kevin Kouzmanoff. Sentiment aside, I’m not wild about the idea of bringing any of them back since they would presumably be competing with Jason Donald (the Indians want to give him “every chance to make the club” as a utility player, Bastian writes), who is younger, has a higher ceiling, and is already on the team.
Yonder Alonso on the block? We’ve already heard the Indians connected to Alonso (I’m all in favor of trading for him). There weren’t any further developments on that specific front Monday (at least, not publicly), but Reds manager Dusty Baker acknowledged that Cincinnati dealing Alonso was a “possibility”—as opposed to some other prospects who the Reds will definitely keep.
Given that he won’t match the one-year, $2 million deal he got last year, Ramirez would be an intriguing low-risk signing were the Indians to bring him in as a right-handed bat off the bench. Then again, he’s in decline, he’s played exactly five MLB games in the last 14 months, and he’d have to sit out the first 50 games of the season as punishment for testing positive for PEDs last April.
Extending Shin-Soo Choo. In addition to trying to add players, the Indians are apparently trying to lock one up. According to Bastian, Cleveland is hoping to extend Choo, who is under team control via arbitration through 2013. We’ve heard these rumors before, but the timing is interesting considering Choo’s disappointing 2011 campaign.