December 2008

"Wood, Jerry. Wood!"

You know, when you add it all up, the Indians, as we know them today, just don’t sign guys like Kerry Wood.

Ever since the glory days of free-spending at The Jake came to a close earlier this decade, Cleveland has become a place for the Paul Byrds and Jorge Julios of the free-agent world.

Wood would be — and, again, I feel confident in saying he will be — a sexy signing, for lack of a better term. Yes, his injury history is extensive (you make those kind of trade-offs in this market), but he is that traditional, shutdown type of closer that the Indians haven’t had since Jose Mesa.

The Indians invent closers; they don’t sign them. So this Wood signing, which should become officially official in the next few days, is significant. And I think there are several reasons it’s coming together in the Tribe’s favor:

1. It’s the economy, stupid: If your name isn’t CC Sabathia or Mark Teixeira, this is a brutal year to be a free agent. And if you’re a free-agent closer, you’re in double the trouble. That Francisco Rodriguez signing (three years, $37 million) seemed inconceivable just a few months ago. The guy saved 62 games last season, for crying out loud. No one — K-Rod, especially — figured he’d go for that kind of money (I recognize $37 million is not chump change, but, a year ago, 62 saves would have bought him a lot more than that). Now that he has, that next tier of Wood and Brian Fuentes will take its hit, too.

2. Goodyear is good: Wood might be a Texas boy at heart, but he calls Scottsdale, Ariz., his home in the offseason. I guarantee you the Indians would have been a much less attractive candidate for his services had they not made the jump from Winter Haven to Goodyear this year.

3.  Wear your Bere: This is more of a speculative matter, but I have it on good authority that Wood is really good buddies with former pitcher Jason Bere, who is a special assistant to the Indians’ baseball operations department. Word of mouth is a powerful thing.

4. Call a medic: The Indians’ medical department is one of the most well-respected in the game. And Wood is, unfortunately, no stranger to the trainer’s room. So I wonder if that reputation for keeping guys on the field (Travis Hafner aside) preceded the Indians here.

Anyway, those are just some of the thoughts running around my head on this one. Feel free to share your thoughts below. 

Talks with Wood gaining momentum

Well, things happen fast around here. Now I’m hearing the Indians might actually be close to landing Kerry Wood with a two-year contract. The length of the Tribe’s offer is unconfirmed — and the money is a question mark, as well — but I do know there is some definite momentum right now with Wood and the Tribe.

Wood went 5-4 with a 3.26 ERA and 34 saves in 65 appearances for the Cubs last season. He struck out 84 batters and walked 18 in 66 1/3 innings. Wood has a long history of arm troubles that subsided when the Cubs moved him to the bullpen permanently in 2007.

 

If the Indians sign Wood, they would move youngster Jensen Lewis, who saved 13 games down the stretch in '08, back to a setup role.

 

Be sure to check out Indians.com throughout the day as this story develops.

 

UPDATE: One thing worth mentioning here. Wood is a Type A free agent, but the Indians wouldn't lose any Draft picks if they signed him, because the Cubs didn't offer him salary arbitration. I've heard the Cubs didn't offer arbitration because Wood, who really wanted to stay in Chicago, indicated that he might accept it.

 

UPDATE No. 2 (3:30 p.m. ET): This thing is legit. I'm hearing it's two years and an option and could be done as soon as today (though, obviously, Wood would have to go through a physical and paperwork and all that fun stuff). Wood's agent isn't talking to the press today, so any on-the-record information would have to come from the Indians. Shapiro is having his daily session with reporters in a few hours. 

 

UPDATE No. 3 (5:45 p.m. ET): Just to clarify here, the deal will not be completed today. It's going to take a few days, if not longer, because of the aforementioned physical/paperwork logistics. But I remain cautiously confident in telling you Kerry Wood will be a member of the Indians soon.

 

UPDATE No. 4 (8:00 p.m. ET): As you might imagine, Mark Shapiro did not confirm the impending Wood deal. It is the Indians' long-standing policy not to comment on deals until they are done, and, as I wrote before, this deal isn't done.

 

But Shapiro has been pretty forthcoming all winter in saying the Indians hadn't made any offers, and he didn't say that today. His tone shifted to the next stage, which is that he won't comment on any offers made. Here's the meat of what he had to say:

 

"Nothing constructive comes out of commenting on negotiations. The one thing I will do is confirm that we have interest in guys. Kerry Wood is one of a number of guys we are interested in. As far as completion and numbers, I'm not going to comment on anything until the completion of a deal. It's not constructive to the process." 

What happens in Vegas…

…does not stay in Vegas. At least not this week. It gets reported obsessively in this blog and others, and it also turns up on the tube.

With that in mind, allow me to inform you that Matt Underwood of SportsTime Ohio is doing live updates all this week from the Winter Meetings during Bruce Drennan’s “All Bets Are Off” program, which runs from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. ET. If the spirit moves you, tune in.

Closer to a closer?

If the Mets do indeed lock up Francisco Rodriguez with a reported three-year, $37 million deal, the Indians will be in a better position to fill their closing vacancy on the open market.

The Tribe met with Pat Rooney, the agent for free-agent closer Kerry Wood, on Monday at the Bellagio. The Indians also remain interested in Brian Fuentes, who had been seeking a three-year, $30 million commitment but whose price might be dropping in this market saturated with ninth-inning arms. And Trevor Hoffman is obviously still on their radar, as well. Hoffman might be the most logical of the three, because he could probably be signed to a one- or two-year deal.

When it comes to trade possibilities, the Seattle Times reported that the Indians are not contenders for J.J. Putz because of their preference for signing a free agent. That seems a reasonable rationale, given the Indians’ longstanding reluctance toward dealing their young prospects

Big in Japan

This information has been floating around the Internet the last 24 hours or so, and now it’s officially official: Tom Mastny’s contract has been sold to the Yokohama BayStars of Japan’s Central League, bringing the Indians’ 40-man roster tally down to 38.

 

It comes down to this: Mastny didn’t have a guaranteed job in the bigs with the Indians for next season, and he has a guarantee in Japan. As we’ve seen the last couple years, Eric Wedge didn’t show a great deal of confidence in Mastny, who would often rot away on the bullpen bench.

 

I’m just wondering if Mastny’s Japanese highlights will be shown on the “Super Terrific Happy Hour.”

"You're so money" (but you don't have any of it)

The Indians feel confident Jhonny Peralta can make the switch to third base (he’s been playing there in the Dominican Winter League), but it’s still their first preference not to go that route.

But when you look at the market for third basemen, it’s pretty clear the Indians will have to get creative or tolerate plenty of risk (i.e. Joe Crede’s back) if they’re going to fill the hot corner with somebody from the outside. And second base is looking pretty dry, too, at the moment.

So… how about a shortstop?

The Indians were interested in Rafael Furcal, until it appeared he was on the verge of signing a four-year deal with the A’s. But Furcal reportedly turned down the A’s offer (which, I’m told, was actually three years, not four), which fuels speculation that the Indians might get involved again. That’s merely speculation for now, as GM Mark Shapiro has yet to meet with Furcal’s agent, Paul Kinzer, here at the Winter Meetings. They will, however, undoubtedly talk at some point. But if Furcal is really looking for four years times $12 million, I don’t think he’ll get it from the Tribe.

One rumor that sprouted up today linked the Indians to Astros shortstop Miguel Tejada. I wouldn’t get too emotionally invested in that rumor. Shapiro shook his head when it was brought up. And with Tejada due to make $13 million next season, the Astros would have to eat a large chunk of his contract — a scenario that seems unlikely.

The basic theme that came out of today’s session with Shapiro is that the Indians only have the financial resources to add one “impact” player at either closer, infielder or in the starting rotation. They can certainly fill those three spots, but it’s likely that only one of the acquisitions will be of the true, impact variety. And right now, it’s quite clear the Tribe’s priority in the impact department is at closer — a position that, as I wrote earlier, likely won’t be filled until the Mets knock down the first free-agent domino.

One-armed bandits crashing all your hopes down the drain


las-vegas.jpgA belated greetings from the Winter Meetings at the swanky Bellagio in Las Vegas — a ridiculous event in a ridiculous city. Quite a happy marriage, if you ask me.

Vegas is known as Sin City, but, thus far, my only sin was betting Alabama plus-10.

Last night, a group of us MLB.com scribes hit up the lovely (and by “lovely,” I mean… not so lovely) Imperial Palace, which is world renowned for its “dealertainers.” These are basically blackjack and poker dealers who resemble celebrities. But “resemble” is a very loose term here. If the dealer has one characteristic in common with said celebrity, he or she gets the gig. The woman portraying Pat Benatar, for example, had brown hair. So… she’s Pat Benatar. The woman playing Gwen Stefani had blonde hair, so… she’s Gwen Stefani. The guy playing Michael Jackson is Asian. I guess you get the idea.

What’s that? The Indians? Ah, yes, the Indians. Almost forgot about them.

Let’s make one thing clear from the start: The Mets control the pace of the Indians’ closer search. Because until New York lands its ninth-inning man, the market will not be established for everybody else, the Tribe included.

So, on that front, it’s worth mentioning here that the Mets have reportedly offered Francisco Rodriguez a three-year deal. They are also talking to Trevor Hoffman, who is believed to be here today, and Brian Fuentes.

Speaking of three-year contracts, the Dodgers are believed to have stepped up their offer to Casey Blake, giving him the third-year guarantee he is seeking. If that’s the case, Blake will undoubtedly be wearing the L.A. blue again in ’09, and the Indians can stop entertaining the possibility of having him back.

Not a whole heck of a lot else happening here right now, from the Indians’ perspective. And until the Mets knock down that domino, it might remain that way. But I’m meeting with GM Mark Shapiro in a little bit and will post more after that.

Gordon inducted to Hall of Fame

I’m coming to you live from the posh media workroom at the Bellagio in Las Vegas, where the Winter Meetings are officially underway.

I’ll hit you with all the token gambling references and salacious rumors a little later. For now, I’ll let you know that former Indians second baseman Joe Gordon has been elected to the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee.

Gordon was a nine-time All-Star and a five-time World Series champion, including the Tribe’s 1948 crown.

Picking up scraps

Not everybody in the organization is quiet. The short-season Mahoning Valley Scrappers unveiled their new logo yesterday. And because this blog is now highly technological and can handle pictures, I figured I’d share it with you here:

 

PrimaryLogo_Color.jpg

Things got real quiet real fast

Well, it’s quiet.

Not much action going on throughout baseball, let alone with the Indians. And the inactivity on this blog is reflective of that.

The Indians are hamstrung by two key factors at the moment — the slow-developing Hot Stove marketplace, in which (let’s face it) they don’t exactly rank high on the pecking order, and the brutal economic climate, which will no doubt hamper their spending. Reflective of the times, the Indians drastically cut back the hours of some of their part-time help in the front office in recent days.

Indeed, these are lean times… and quiet times. And more rumors involving the Tribe are getting refuted than substantiated.

That’s the case with 3B Casey Blake, who, as reported on the Indians.com site, does not appear to be coming back. If the Dodgers or Twins are willing to go to three years with Blake (and it appears they just might be), then count the Indians out.

The closer chase still looks promising, because of the glut of arms available. If the prices on Francisco Rodriguez and Brian Fuentes drop, that’s obviously beneficial to the Indians.

Next week, I’ll be reporting live from the Winter Meetings, and one would only have to assume that the activity around the sport will begin to heat up in Las Vegas, Perhaps that thaw will lead to more information about the Tribe’s pursuits.

So this is your invitation to stay tuned to this space next week for all the news that’s fit to blog. And some other inane stuff, too, I reckon.

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