Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports.com had a series of tweets on Tuesday, citing a source that indicated that the Indians are exploring a “wide range of options,” including potential trades for Nick Swisher in exchange for “another player with an inflated contract.”
This speaks to due diligence on the part of Cleveland, which inked the 33-year-old Swisher to a four-year contract worth $56 million prior to the 2013 season. Swisher performed admirably in the first year of the deal, but experienced an injury-plagued, career-worst season in 2014. In only 97 games, Swisher hit .208 with eight homers, 42 RBIs and a .608 OPS before undergoing season-ending surgery on both knees.
Swisher is owed $30 million over the next two seasons ($15 million annually) and his deal includes a vesting option worth $14 million for 2017. Similarly, center fielder Michael Bourn is owed $27.5 million over the 2015-16 seasons and has a vesting option worth $12 million for ’17. Both players have underperformed since arriving in Cleveland, so it makes sense for the club to gauge what offers might exist on the trade market.
At this point, Swisher’s position is a bit of an unknown with the Indians. His knees appeared to have a negative impact on his defense at first base and his arm issues in ’13 took right field nearly entirely out of the equation. Swisher can play first and potentially right, but he looks to be a DH at the moment for the Indians, who place a high value on versatility.
Rosenthal mentions players such as Ubaldo Jimenez, B.J. Upton and Ryan Howard in terms of others with inflated contracts around the league who are trade candidates. Rosenthal makes it clear, however, that the Indians might not have interest in those players specifically. Jimenez (owed $38.75 million through 2017) is interesting in the sense that he excelled down the stretch for the Indians in ’13 and Cleveland is looking for rotation depth this winter.
The Indians have some financial flexibility, especially due to the fact that the club features one of the most cost-effective rotations in baseball, but the club is contractually hamstrung on its 25-man roster. In order to make an impact addition this winter, the Tribe would likely need to free up space on the roster via trade. That is why floating Swisher’s name, and likely Bourn as well, makes complete sense for the Indians right now.
The Indians have been linked to Rays lefty David Price in trade rumors since last season and the club continues to monitor the ace’s market, according to multiple reports of late. In a recent video, FOXSports.com’s Ken Rosenthal cited a team employee who believes Cleveland’s current chances of landing Price sit at less than one percent.
In a recent chat with reporters, Indians GM Chris Antonetti said that the team is looking for players under club control beyond 2014.
“We’ve spent a lot of energy on fits for acquiring guys that we’d have control over beyond this year,” Antonetti said, “not just guys that would just be here for the balance of the year.”
Antonetti also hinted that Cleveland might be looking to make a big splash.
“For us to improve, we need to improve upon a higher standard,” said the GM.
According to FOXSports.com’s Jon Paul Morosi, the Giants have shown interest in Indians shortstops Asdrubal Cabrera and Mike Aviles. Cabrera will be eligible for free agency at the end of the season, but Cleveland being in contention might lead the club to hesitate to part with the two-time All-Star.
The Indians have already pulled the trigger on a pair of low-level trades. Cleveland reeled in outfielder Chris Dickerson from the Pirates on in exchange for a player to be named or cash on Monday and acquired Minor League lefty Nick Maronde on Saturday.
Neither move was of the blockbuster variety, but that doesn’t mean the Indians aren’t looking to make a splash before the July 31 Trade Deadline.
“We’re exploring a lot of different things,” Indians general manager Chris Antonetti said on Sunday, “opportunities to improve our team for the balance of this season and then position us better moving forward, too. We’ve spent a lot of energy on fits for acquiring guys that we’d have control over beyond this year, not just guys that would just be here for the balance of the year.”
One aspect of the Indians that has been problematic through the first half, limiting the club to a .500 showing (47-47) to date, has been the starting pitching. Three of the teams Opening Day rotation members — Justin Masterson (15-day DL), righty Danny Salazar (Triple-A) and Carlos Carrasco (bullpen) — were not in the starting staff when the first half of the season ended for Cleveland.
The Indians are surely in the market for starting pitching help, but Antonetti’s not tipping his hand just yet.
“We’re exploring all avenues to improve,” said the GM. “The one thing we continue to believe is we have quality Major League starting pitchers. Any time you acquire a guy, you have to think about who it displaces from the team and the rotation, in that case. You have to have a high degree of confidence that it’s an improvement.”
Asked which area of the team he’s most like to improve, Antonetti replied: “It’s actually one of the interesting challenges that we have. I think there are teams out there that have glaring holes at particular spots, that it’s clear, ‘Hey, go out and get a right fielder, or go out and get a third baseman, or a shortstop.’
“I think with us, we’re in a little bit of a different position in that we’ve got guys in those roles that are capable of contributing. So, for us to improve, we need to improve upon a higher standard. And, in some cases, we’re counting on guys that we’ve already made commitments to rebounding.
“So, it’s a little bit of a different dynamic for us as we look to try to improve our roster.”
The Indians have agreed to a two-year, $12-million contract with free-agent outfielder David Murphy. The deal, which includes a club option for 2016, could be made official later this week after Murphy completes his physical.
The move gives Cleveland a new right fielder for 2014, creating a logjam of sorts in the outfield. Left and center are in order with Michael Brantley and Michael Bourn, respectively, but the Tribe currently has Murphy, Drew Stubbs and Ryan Raburn in the fold as options for right field.
The Indians could take on a platoon situation in right with Murphy handling right-handed pitching and Stubbs or Raburn handling the bulk of the at-bats against lefties. Stubbs might be the odd-man out, considering he is arbitration eligible this winter. That makes him a candidate to be traded, or non-tendered prior to the Dec. 2 deadline, in order to give the Indians some salary relief.
Murphy had a down season in 2013 (.220/.282/.374), but his production was consistent across the 2008-12 campaigns (.283/.346/.449). His .227 BaBIP in ’13 (compared to .302 for his career) also makes Murphy a strong bounceback candidate. Teaming Murphy (.271 with .789 OPS vs .RHP over past three seasons) with either Raburn (.788 OPS vs. LHP last three years) or Stubbs (.795 OPS vs. LHP last three years) in a right-field platoon has the potential to improve on Cleveland’s production out of right field in 2013 (.247/.325/.432 overall).
This also likely means Nick Swisher will stay at first base or designated hitter most of the time, as opposed to making as many starts in right as he did last season. Carlos Santana would then seemingly remain in a role that has him cycling part-time through first base, DH and catcher.
The Indians remain in the market for rotation and bullpen help.
Prior to Wednesday’s deadline for 40-man roster protection, the Indians rostered RHP Austin Adams, 1B Jesus Aguilar, INF Erik Gonzalez, OF Carlos Moncrief and RHP Bryan Price. Cleveland designated INF Cord Phelps to clear the necessary room to add all five players. When the Murphy deal is made official, the Indians will need to vacate one more spot on the 40-man roster as well.
The Indians continue to hunt for left-handed relief help for their bullpen.
One possible fit is Giants lefty Javier Lopez, who played under Indians manager Terry Francona during their days with the Red Sox. The 36-year-old southpaw is eligible for free agency at the end of the season, making him a likely target for Cleveland. The Indians had a scout following San Francisco earlier this month.
The Indians declined comment on potential interest in the reliever.
In 45 appearances, Lopez has posted a 1.42 ERA for the Giants. He has held left-handed hitters to a .172 average (.466 OPS) in 71 plate appearances, compared to a .281 (.712) mark in 40 plate appearances vs. right-handed batters.
Entering Monday, Cleveland’s left-handed relievers had combined for a 6.54 ERA and 1.48 WHIP on the season.
The New York Post reported that Cleveland has had talks with Colorado about lefty reliever Josh Outman, who has limited lefty hitters to a .224 average and .576 OPS, to go along with a 7.50 strikeout-to-walk ratio, through 84 plate appearances this season.
The Indians may have been looking at veteran lefty Scott Downs, but the Braves acquired him from the Angels on Monday in exchange for reliever Cory Rasmus.
Indians GM Chris Antonetti sat down with reporters at Progressive Field on Friday and discussed the current landscape of the trade market. With the non-waiver Trade Deadline looming on Wednesday, Cleveland is staring at few sellers and steep asking prices.
“As we’ve looked at the 30 teams,” Antonetti said, “you can make the argument that there are 24, or maybe even 25 teams that are either buying or at least holding on to players, and only a select handful of teams that are willing to trade off Major League players.
“It’s further complicated for us that at least one, if not more, of those teams that are willing to sell players, are in our division.”
As has been well-documented, the addition of a second Wild Card in each league, along with the removal of draft-pick compensation for players headed to free agency, has altered both the numbers of sellers and the willingness of buyers to part with prospects. Antonetti said this will likely lead to continued talks about possibly pushing the Trade Deadline’s date back at some point down the road.
“We’ve talked about that a lot,” Antonetti said. “We’ve talked about it at each of the last two GM Meetings, that exact topic. So I imagine it’ll be a topic for discussion again this fall, especially now that we have two years with the new CBA rules. I anticipate it’s something we’ll talk about again in November.”
As for the Indians’ needs, Antonetti said he hasn’t ruled anything out, but the GM did cite left-handed relief as one specific area that could be improved. Heading into Friday’s game with Texas, Cleveland’s left-handed relievers had combined for a 6.54 ERA and 1.48 WHIP on the season.
“I think in the bullpen we could be a little bit more consistent,” Antonetti said. “I think that’s one area where we haven’t been as consistent maybe as we would like, especially our ability to get left-handed hitters out. That’s an area that we’ll try to improve, whether it’s internal alternatives or external alternatives.”
Cleveland was in the discussion for pitcher Matt Garza, who was traded to the Rangers by the Cubs, but the Indians were reportedly unwilling to part with third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall as part of the deal. Now, with the Tribe’s rotation sporting a MLB-leading 2.05 ERA over the past 13 games and a 3.60 ERA going back to June 11 (third-best in the AL over that span), the Indians might not be looking at rotation alternatives.
“When you look at the rotation,” Antonetti said, “those guys have done a good job over the course of the last four or five weeks. So the question of which of those guys would come out of the rotation, if we acquired a starter, is not an easy question to answer.”
The Indians’ rotation has been better than anticipated, but injuries and inconsistencies have again put Cleveland in a position where acquiring a starter is a talking point within the front office as the Trade Deadline nears.
In a column on Thursday, MLB.com’s Anthony Castrovince broke down the Tribe’s rotation situation well, mentioning arms such as Yovani Gallardo, Jeff Samardzija and Bud Norris as potential targets. ESPN’s Buster Olney reported Friday that Cleveland was among those actively talking to the Cubs about right-hander Matt Garza.
Olney listed the Rangers, Red Sox, Blue Jays and Dodgers as other suitors for Garza, who is 3-0 with a 0.90 ERA in his past four starts and 4-1 with a 3.45 ERA (52 strikeouts, 18 walks, 57.1 innings) through nine outings this season for Chicago. Olney calls Garza the “belle of the ball” in this summer’s trade market.
Cleveland’s rotation — led by sinkerballer Justin Masterson — has been strong in stretches, but the group was still only 30-32 with a 4.48 ERA (11th in the American League) on the season, entering Friday’s game with the Tigers. The Indians are currently without starter Zach McAllister (right middle finger sprain) and Carlos Carrasco and Travor Bauer have each been wildly inconsistent as rotation fill-ins.
The rotation inconsistency has also put some strain on Cleveland’s bullpen, which has not been as solid in the late innings as in recent seasons. The Indians have experienced issues with its left-handed relief, and setup man Vinnie Pestano and closer Chris Perez have each dealt with injury, command and velocity problems at various points. It goes without saying that the Indians will likely be eyeing bullpen help as the Deadline nears, too.
The Indians have offered Jason Bay a one-year contract, according to a source, and the free-agent outfielder is nearing a decision on where to sign. Seattle, and others, remain in play. Bay has a history with Indians manager Terry Francona from their days in Boston.
As MLB.com’s Anthony Castrovince wrote overnight, the Indians have talked to the D-backs about a trade that would involve shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera and highly-touted pitcher Trevor Bauer. It would likely take another player or two for the Tribe to pull the trigger.
Multiple reports have indicated that the Indians and De-backs are also involved in a potential four-team trade. The Rays, Rangers and Royals have all been mentioned as possible partners.
ESPN’s Buster Olney reported that the Indians — after missing out on Shane Victorino — have interest in outfielder Nick Swisher.
Free-agent Jack Hannahan has received “genuine” interest from five teams, with two offers on the table at the moment. Cleveand remains interested in re-signing the infielder, but that seems unlikely given that he has opportunities to start or platoon elsewhere. The White Sox, Twins, Reds and Yankees are among those who have checked in on Hannahan.
The Indians have been eyeing free-agent outfielder Shane Victorino all offseason, but talks appear to be gaining steam here in Nashville. According to multiple reports, Cleveland remains a primary suitor for the outfielder.
ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick called the Indians the “prime” suitor in the current negotiations, which also reportedly include the Red Sox, Yankees and Cubs. The Phillies are believed to be involved to a lesser extent, while the Braves and Reds have backed off for now.
The general consensus is that the 32-year-old Victorino will warrant a three- or four-year deal, and it might take a four-year pact to convince him to join the Tribe. According to Crasnick, manager Terry Francona personally reached out to Victorino earlier this offseason.
Last year, Victorino posted a slash line of .255/.321/.383/.704 across 154 games between stints with the Phillies and Dodgers. He mixed in 11 homers, 29 doubles, 39 stolen bases, 55 RBIs and 72 runs scored.
Over the past three seasons, Victorino has hit .264/.334/.432/.766, and he has appeared in at least 131 games in each of the past seven years, averaging 146 games over that span.
On Monday, Indians GM Chris Antonetti said the club was comfortable with Michael Brantley in center field, though he also has the ability to shift to left. Victorino can also play both spots. In L.A., he spent 48 of his 53 games in left field for the Dodgers.
Victorino would potentially give Cleveland an experienced leadoff man as well. Last year, Shin-Soo Choo spent a lot of time in that role for the Indians, but the club is currently listening to trade offers for the right fielder.
Here are a few items of note concerning the Indians…
- Indians shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera reportedly has a limited no-trade clause in his contract, allowing him to veto trades to the Yankees, Red Sox, Tigers, Nationals, Giants and Mets. Cleveland is willing to listen to trade offers for Cabrera.
- In any trade talks, whether it’s for Cabrera or someone else like Shin-Soo Choo, Cleveland is asking a lot. The top priority is acquiring young starting pitching prospects.
- According to ESPN’s Buster Olney, the Indians had serious interest in fre-agent James Loney before he signed with the Rays.
- MLB.com has confirmed a report in the Plain Dealer that the Indians are in the process of selling the SportsTime Ohio TV network to Fox Sports Ohio. According to the PD, the deal could be worth $200-250 million and might be wrapped up before the end of this month.
- 6 p.m. CT — We met with Antonetti in his suite a little while ago. I will follow with some highlights in a bit.
- MLB.com’s Anthony Castrovince has learned that free-agent OF Grady Sizemore underwent microfracture surgery on his right knee in September. He will be sidelined until at least mid-season. The guy just can’t catch a break.
- Indians have been linked to free-agent outfielder Scott Hairston.