“You learn to sleep at night with the price you pay”

By Anthony Castrovince/MLB.com
On Twitter: @Castrovince

ImageOn the day Robinson Cano got $240 million from the Mariners and Curtis Granderson got $60 million from the Mets and Scott Feldman got $30 million from the Astros, Chris Antonetti met with reporters in the Terrace Club at Progressive Field to discuss… uh… the chicken marsala lunch special?

No, no. Antonetti had plenty else to discuss in this little pre-Winter Meetings gathering. Starting outlook and bullpen roles and Carlos Santana’s flirtation with the hot corner and David Murphy’s kindergarten teacher somehow breaking the news that the outfielder had signed with the Tribe a couple weeks back.

It’s just that all of this discussion pales in comparison to the seemingly daily round of ridiculous news emanating elsewhere in the Major League landscape.

And that’s pretty much what the Indians expected all along.

Antonetti wanted absolutely no part of this wild winter. He saw it coming a little more than a year ago, when the new national television contracts were negotiated and it became clear clubs would have new revenue streams come 2014. Better, Antonetti surmised at the time, to overpay at that point for a weakened free-agent crop than to drastically overpay for an even weaker crop here in 2013-14.

And Antonetti was right, not only because the prices this winter have been unbelievable even by free-agency standards but because the Indians’ surprising investments of a year ago (borne out of their own regional TV deal) help orchestrate a 24-win upturn and the top AL Wild Card spot.

Alas, the good vibes from a one-and-done playoff berth only last so long, and the AL Central is increasingly complex (maybe not better or worse, but certainly more complex), based on what we’ve seen thus far from the Tigers, Royals and Twins this winter. With a hole ripped through his rotation and the back end of the bullpen, Antonetti has found the business of augmenting what should still be a solid club predictably difficult.

“We came into the offseason in a much better position than we have in prior offseason with the quality and quantity of our alternatives that we currently have on our roster and within the organization,” Antonetti said. “That said, we’re going to continue to try to find a way to improve it.”

Pitching is the central focus, because the Indians seem to feel good enough about the offense, now that Murphy is aboard as a left-handed bat, to let it ride. They’re careful to downplay the importance of Santana’s dabble in the Dominican with third base, but the mere possibility of that proving a worthwhile pursuit is enough to add another layer of intrigue to their Spring Training plotline, which would otherwise revolve around praying Lonnie Chisenhall turns it on.

Granted, I, personally, don’t have the slightest bit of money or job security or even personal pride riding on this statement, but I wouldn’t put it past Santana to make it work at third. The motivated professional athlete is a powerful thing, and Santana, bound to the Indians under the terms of a team-friendly deal that they have no need to shop, has to be motivated to become something other than a 28-year-old DH.

As far as the pitching is concerned, Scott Kazmir is gone, and Ubaldo Jimenez is presumably not far behind, even though the Draft pick compensation that will be owed to the Indians has undoubtedly impacted his market. This left Antonetti dabbling in the middle tier of the dilapidated starter’s market, and that tier has all but disappeared quite quickly.

When it became clear Kazmir would accept a one-year, $14.1 million qualifying offer, the Indians, concerned about his injury history and the number of minor injury issues that cropped up over the course of his comeback season, opted not to offer it to him. Kazmir went into the offseason more inclined to take a one-year deal to further build up his value, but that was before teams like the A’s got increasingly serious with the bidding.

Kazmir might turn out to be the biggest steal of the offseason, or maybe those small issues will turn into something more substantial. Whatever the case, the Indians didn’t want to pay $14.1 million – or $22 million, for that matter – to find out, and it’s hard to blame them.

They were aggressive on Tim Hudson, but they weren’t alone. The Giants lured him with a pitcher’s park and $23 million over two – an impressive haul for a 38-year-old coming off an ugly ankle injury.

They talked to Feldman’s agent and liked him as an under-the-radar signing with upside. But a $30 million guarantee for Scott Feldman? What a world.

Maybe you could fault the Indians for this cautious approach if you didn’t factor in the extension they hope to work out with staff ace Justin Masterson. Or the possibility that there might be other bounceback candidates a la Kazmir — John Lannan is one such guy that would seem to make sense — looming on the horizon. Antonetti did say he has offers and proposals on the table on both the free-agent and trade front, so we’ll see.

What’s increasingly clear, though, is that the Indians, given the starter’s market conditions, are probably better off devoting what limited financial resources remain to adding another option or two to the reconstructed bullpen. Even there, though, the internal depth is not quite as bleak as you might assume after the loss of Joe Smith and the dismissal of Chris Perez.

Carlos Carrasco, for instance, will be on the Opening Day roster one way or another, and there is ample reason to believe, given his high-velocity fastball, his solid career groundball rate and his struggle to put everything together as a big league starter for a significant stretch, that a long-term relief role might suit him well.

As it stands, Carrasco, Josh Tomlin and the enigmatic Trevor Bauer will compete for the final spot in a rotation currently set to include Masterson, Corey Kluber, Zach McAllister and Danny Salazar. That’s a lot to dream on and not much to bank on, but I’d expect Antonetti to be aggressive in the unheralded but sometimes-productive area of Minor League signings to try to find another diamond in the rough.

Hate to say it, but Murphy might wind up being the Indians’ most significant financial expenditure this winter. And when you note that Garrett Jones, who has similar career splits against right-handed pitchers, just signed up for two years with the Marlins and will make $4.5 million less than Murphy over those two years, you wonder if that expenditure was entirely worthwhile.

But this, for better or worse, is the kind of 2013-14 Antonetti envisioned when he went on a protected-Draft-pick-aided spending spree in 2012-13. He knew the free-agent market was about to spiral out of control, and, with Terry Francona aboard, he opted to speed up the timetable, so to speak.

It’s only natural for fans to want the follow-up to a fascinating season to be a fascinating winter, but the price tags scrolling across your screen demonstrate how unrealistic that was.

For all their activity last winter, the 2013 Indians became a playoff team largely on the might of the under-the-radar moves, and Antonetti will have to come up with more of the same to build a winner for 2014. Fortunately, he’s not in need of another 24-win improvement. And fortunately, his pantry isn’t barren in a winter in which the market prices have skyrocketed.

~AC

20 Comments

At the very least, we have interesting options for the bullpen. The rotation is much less exciting. That’s not to say we shouldn’t add another reliever, particularly since it might be all we can afford (perhaps involving a trade that sends Stubbs somewhere).

It’s hard to feel good about any of our starting options.

Totally agree about the current state of the rotation. If the Tribe could work out a reasonable trade with the Cubs for Samardjiza, that would make me feel a lot better. I’d prefer him over Bret Anderson.

I feel as though we need to make the Samardjiza trade a big priority next week. I think if the tribe has any cash left to spend I would lock up Masty and Samardjiza to long term extensions right away after. The Indians rotation would be definitively set for the next several years to come. I’m willing to deal an Aguilar to get that trade done as well. Bret Anderson seems like a deal with too many question marks. Any bullpen can always been improved very cheaply. Look where we got Rafael Betancourt from a few years back. I kind of agree on Santana at third as well. There are absolutely no 3B options anywhere to be found in baseball via trade and we will have to improve that position internally somehow. If he can make it work I think the tribe will be an absolute force in the central, and I think we can surpass the Tigers next year.

Sadly, I have to completely agree with this post. I WANT the Tribe to play ball in the free agent market, but the current market is so flush with cash, it doesn’t make sense to dramatically commit resources in such a manner. I’m still hopeful for a few meaningful trades.

Always been a big fan of Kazmir for some reason. Really enjoyed watching him resurrect his career in a Tribe uni. I’m a believer. I think that Kaz, having traveled to the depths of baseball hell, gotten lost there for a few years, then working his way all the way back to being an above average Major League starting pitcher? Logging 158 innings after 2 years out of the league, posting career bests in BB% and K:BB? One left handed starter had a better K rate than Kazmir, Chris Sale. Scott Kazmir used to be a decent pitcher. In my opinion his best is yet to come. He’s been around the block a few times so to speak. Been humbled, grown up. Obviously I had no problem with the prospect of extending him the qualifying offer. That being said there is definitely risk with Kazmir. He missed his share of starts and dealt with some arm fatigue (obviously given workload). There’s good reason to believe 158 innings after 1.5 innings in 2 years had a lot to do with it. On the other hand he could just be a guy that will always have issues staying healthy. Operating out of Cleveland as our beloved Tribe does indeed, we simply can’t afford to pay above market for a player with substantial risk involved. I just have a feeling though….there were definitely flashes of a dominant left handed starter in 2013. :(

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