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Indians to sign OF David Murphy

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.

–Jordan Bastian

Indians eyeing lefty relief

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.

–Jordan Bastian

Antonetti talks trade market

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.”

–Jordan Bastian

Indians keeping eye on pitching market

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.

–Jordan Bastian

Indians items: Bay, Hannahan, trades

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.

 

--Jordan Bastian

Indians’ talks with Victorino intensifying

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.

–Jordan Bastian

Early Indians rumblings at Meetings

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.

–Jordan Bastian

Tribe notes: Choo on the move?

The Indians are willing to listen  to trade offers for a number of their players, but right fielder Shin-Soo Choo seems the likeliest candidate to be moved. He is in his final year of arbitration eligibility and is represented by uber agent Scott Boras.

Boras is famous for taking his players to free agency rather than exploring contract extensions. That is a large part of the reason Cleveland has not been able to sign Choo to a multi-year deal, despite the club’s efforts. During the recent GM Meetings, Boras continued to lay the groundwork for Choo’s likely exit out of Cleveland by firing a shot at Indians ownership.

“Choo’s let it be known that he has a desire to win,” Boras told a group of reporters. “I think the ownership in Cleveland, foundationally, they’re going to have to illustrate some dynamics with new revenues and where they stand about what they do to show their fan base and their players who they are in competing.

“That’s a new calling that they are going to have to bring forth to give players, and everybody involved, [an idea] about what their intentions are in their ownership.”

Indians GM Chris Antonetti chose not to get into a war of words with Boras.

“I don’t think we really need to react to that,” Antonetti said. “We obviously have to conduct business the way we think it makes sense for the franchise.”

As for Choo?

“We have, on numerous occasions, looked to try to extend Choo’s stay in Cleveland,” Antonetti said. “We’ve looked to extend his contract. We just haven’t been able to reach an agreement.”

Under the circumstances, it makes sense for the Indians to be open minded about trading Choo this offseason, or prior to the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline. Otherwise, Cleveland will likely be in line for Draft compensation if/when Choo hits free agency next winter.

Other items of note:

  • Kevin Youkilis fits a need for the Indians. He provides some pop from the right side and can fill the hole at first base. Plus, he can add some veteran leadership to a young clubhouse. All the signs point to Cleveland having interest in the free agent, and the club does. Other teams reported to be interested: Mariners, Marlins, Phillies, Dodgers and White Sox.
  • The Indians have been rumored to have some level of interest in outfielder Jason Bay. Free-agent outfielder Melky Cabrera might also be a player Cleveland targets in its search for outfield help this winter. The list of targets is undoubtedly long, and the Tribe is likely in the early stages of talks at this point.
  • According to ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick, the Indians are one of several teams who have shown interest in outfielder Shane Victorino. Texas and Boston have also been mentioned as potential suitors.
  • The Indians lack impact pitching prospects at the upper level of their farm system, so that is something the club will look to acquire as part of any trade (for Choo, Asdrubal Cabrera, Justin Masterson or Chris Perez, among others). So, it was not surprising that ESPN’s Buster Olney reported that the Tribe has sought young arms as part of trade discussions for Cabrera.

–Jordan Bastian 

Tribe rumor roundup

The Indians are in the market for help at first base, left field, designated hitter and in the rotation this winter. Coming off a 94-loss season, the club has potential trading chips in Shin-Soo Choo, Chris Perez, Asdrubal Cabrera and Justin Masterson, among others.

Here are some recent rumors and reports on the Tribe:

  • The Indians are reportedly one of several teams with interest in South Korean lefty Hyun-Jin Ryu. Teams needed to turn in posting bids for the 25-year-old lefty on Thursday. Other clubs reportedly with interest are the Cubs, Rangers, Phillies and Angels.
  • The Red Sox and Indians have had talks about the potential avaiability of Choo and Masterson, per Jon Paul Morosi of FOXSports.com. Choo is coming off a solid year, but is a Scott Boras client and will be eligible for free agency next winter. Masterson is coming off a down year, but is under control for two more years, and had a strong 2011 showing.
  • The Indians have reported interest in free-agent 1B/3B Kevin Youkilis. Other teams mentioned in rumors have been the Red Sox and Phillies. In Cleveland, Youkilies could be reunited with manager Terry Francona, and fill the Tribe’s need for a first baseman with some pop.
  • According to reports coming out of St. Louis, the Cardinals have interst in Cabrera. Cleveland traded for infielder Mike Aviles last week, fueling speculation that Cabrera could be on the block. GM Chris Antonetti has said a few times that the Indians are not shopping Cabrera and expect him to be the club’s Opening Day shortstop.
  • Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News reported that free-agent outfielder Nick Swisher has garnered interest from Texas, Seattle and three other teams so far. The Indians might have interest, especially if Choo is on the block.
  • Outfielder Grady Sizemore, coming off a variety of health woes and with zero games logged in 2012, hopes to play in 2013. According to Rob Bradford of WEEI.com, the Red Sox have checked in on Sizemore. The Indians have not ruled out bringing Sizemore back, but it would likely need to be on a Minor League contract.

–Jordan Bastian

Indians land Lars Anderson

The Indians made a minor move on Tuesday, reeling in Minor League first baseman Lars Anderson from the Red Sox. Cleveland sent Double-A Akron knuckleballer Steven Wright to Boston to complete the deal.

Anderson, 24, has spent the bulk of this season with Triple-A Pawtucket, where he hit .259 with nine home runs, 22 doubles and 52 RBIs in 93 games. Along the way, he has posted a .359 on-base percentage and a .415 slugging percentage.

In parts of three seasons with Boston, the left-hitting Anderson has gone 8-for-48 (.167) in 30 games. This season, Anderson went just 1-for-8 (.125) in a brief six-game stint with the Red Sox between April and May.

Anderson has spent most of his playing career at first base, but has experience in the outfield as well.

–Jordan Bastian

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