Cleveland Indians: Qualifying Offers A Cold Dose of Reality


Cleveland Indians put in a predicament with qualifying offers

Maybe it’s just me, but the caliber of players who have received qualifying offers this offseason has been surprising. Even in today’s market, to see guys like Daniel Murphy, Ian Kennedy, and Ian Desmond valued at almost sixteen million dollars caught me off guard.

In particular, these numbers alter my thinking about the offseason prospects for the Indians, because if guys like these (Kennedy posted a 4.28 ERA in an extreme pitcher’s park; Desmond posted a .673 OPS and made 27 errors) are getting offered that much money, you have to wonder what sort of players will be in the Indians’ price range, given that three million for Ryan Raburn was deemed to be too rich. I was pondering the idea of the Indians pursuing David Freese to play third base and was thinking that 8-10 million a year might be enough, but, given that Freese is only two years older than Murphy and posted very similar numbers this season, that line of thinking seems silly.

If you can’t afford David Freese, who didn’t make Keith Law’s list of the top fifty free agents, the odds of finding someone who can provide real help next season are pretty low. I’ve already gone on record begging Chris Antonetti to be more aggressive, so there’s no need to do all that again, but the reality is that anyone who is willing to sign a free agent deal for less than ten million dollars a season in this market probably has some issue that should give a team pause. Still, doing nothing would be equivalent to surrendering before the season begins, so

Various analysis of the Indians’ payroll has determined that they could have between ten and fifteen million to spend on free agents or to add players through trades. Cutting Raburn loose may pad that number a bit. With that money or via trade they will be looking for upgrades at third base and center field and probably for one more guy who can pitch in the seventh or eighth inning.

At third base, the best option beyond Freese is probably Juan Uribe, who will be 37 before opening day. That fact will probably serve to drive Freese’s price even higher. Given the Indians’ history with signing free agents in their thirties and watching them age faster than the bad guy in the Indiana Jones movie, Uribe is probably an unacceptable risk.  The next best option is probably signing a veteran middle infielder with some pop in his bat such as Ben Zobrist or Asdrubal Cabrera and attempting to transition him to third.  There’s a risk that such a move just won’t work; the skill sets of third base and second are not all that similar. At least with Zobrist there is enough versatility that he will fit somewhere in the lineup, but if Cabrera doesn’t work at third the only option is DH. If the Indians can’t make any of those options work their best bet may be to ride with Giovanny Urshela and hope that his glove is good enough to compensate for his bat until he develops offensively.

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There is more depth in the center field market. While it may turn out that the players at the top of the list are out of the Indians’ range, that depth may provide an opportunity to snag a bargain. Law list four competent centerfielders in his top 25 free agents (Dexter Fowler, Austin Jackson, Denard Span, and Colby Rasmus). There have been times in the past when the market fixated on the top player at a position and paralyzed the bidding for everyone else. It’s hard to tell if that will be the case this year; it depends on how the GMs for big spending teams perceive their needs. Still, one of those four guys may slip through the cracks.  Span is the most likely since he was injured all season and is the oldest of the four. That no doubt conjures visions of Michael Bourn in your head; the only remedy for that is a contract of short duration. This could work for both sides: Span wants to have a healthy year and go for one more big deal while he is still somewhat in his prime, and the Indians don’t want to commit for a long time with Bradley Zimmer lurking.

I’ll throw one more name out there, one that makes no sense but could actually help. Doug Fister is a year removed from a four-year stretch with a WHIP of 1.22, which would have ranked 16th in the American League last year. He sucked last year, but he’s only 31 and I wouldn’t discount the possibility that everyone involved with the Nationals somehow got sucked into a vortex of bad mojo and that getting away from that situation may be all that a guy like Fister needs. He may be another guy who would come cheap on a one-year deal; if I could get him for five or six million I would do it. If you really wanted to gamble, you could slot Fister in as your fourth starter and trade Bauer or Carrasco for a good center fielder, but I would be more inclined to put him in the mix for the fifth starter spot and hope that we get the 2013 version, which would make for a hell of a rotation.