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.
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.
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.
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.
The Indians aren’t necessarily waiting until the Trade Deadline’s arrival to make a move, that’s just the way things appear to be going. If the right trade proposal was in hand, Cleveland wouldn’t hesitate to pull the trigger.
“If we had the right deal, we would move on that deal,” Indians general Chris Antonetti said on Friday. “There’s nothing keeping us from doing it. We don’t have to wait for the Deadline.
“But, it has to b the right deal that makes the right sense, and I don’t necessarily see that happening in the short term.”
The clock is ticking and Cleveland still has needs in the rotation, lineup and bullpen. While Antonetti has said no singular area is a higher priority than another, the main issues this year have been a lack of consistent starting pitching and an impact right-handed bat.
The Tribe prefers to target players under control beyond 2012.
One player that fits that mold is San Diego’s switch-hitting third baseman, Chase Headley. He won’t become eligible for free agency until after the 2014 season, making him the type of player Cleveland likes. The Tribe has indeed inquired about Headley, but the asking price is expensive.
ESPN.com reported that the Orioles, A’s and Pirates are also among Headley’s most aggressive suitors.
In the selling department, the Indians have attractive chips in closer Chris Perez (whose salary will spike through arbitration this winter) and right fielder Shin-Soo Choo (likely headed for free agency after next season). As things currently stand, Cleveland seems unlikely to deal either player.
It’s not always about aggressively buying or selling, though. There is a chance that Cleveland might partner up with another “buyer” to try to orchestrate a trade that addresses needs for both teams.
“You can try to re-position yourselves,” Antonetti said. “There may be opportunities in this market where two buyers potentially line up to address other needs, because there aren’t enough sellers for the buyers that are out there.
“It could spur teams to be more creative and potentially trade from an area of depth or perceived depth to address another need.”
The Indians are “working on” a deal with free-agent right-hander Jon Garland, according to Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports via Twitter.
Garland, 32, underwent surgery on his throwing shoulder in July and missed the remainder of the 2011 season. His recovery time was projected to be at least six months. The Dodgers declined an $8 million 2012 club option to retain Garland, opting instead to pay a buyout of $500,000 and sending the pitcher into the free-agent pool.
Targeting Garland as a low-risk addition makes sense for Cleveland, which enters 2012 with a few rotation questions. As things currently stand, the four pitchers virtually locked in for jobs are Ubaldo Jimenez, Justin Masterson, Derek Lowe and Josh Tomlin. Kevin Slowey, Jeanmar Gomez and David Huff will compete for the fifth spot this spring.
The pitcher known to date as Fausto Carmona (his real name is believed to be Roberto Hernandez Heredia) is currently dealing with legal and visa problems in the Dominican Republic. Carmona is on MLB’s restricted list and it is unclear when or if he will be able to rejoin the Indians this summer.
Garland has spent parts of 12 seasons in the Majors with the White Sox, Angels, D-backs, Padres and Dodgers. He has won at least 12 games seven times and twice won 18 games in a season. Overall, the righty has gone 132-119 with a 4.32 ERA across 353 games in the big leagues. Garland was 1-5 with a 4.33 in nine outings last year before the shoulder injury sent him to the disabled list.
The Indians reached an agreement on a Minor League contract with veteran infielder Julio Lugo more than a week ago, but MLB.com has learned that the proposed deal is no longer expected to come to fruition.
Lugo, 36, was going to receive an invitation to attend Spring Training with the big league club with a shot at competing for a bench job. His chances of making the Opening Day roster appeared thin, and now he will re-enter the free-agent pool.
In parts of 12 Major League seasons — including stops with the Astros, Rays, Dodgers, Red Sox, Cardinals, Orioles and Braves — Lugo has hit .269 over 1,352 career games. Last year, he signed a Minor League contract with Atlanta in May, but was ultimately released in September.
Lugo hit .231 (12-for-52) in 13 games for Triple-A Gwinnett and .136 (6-for-44) in 22 games with the Braves during the 2011 season. The infielder hits right-handed and has experience at second base, shortstop, third base and in the outfield.
Right now, the Indians have 20 non-roster invitees in the fold for this spring.
It has been well-documented throughout this winter that the Indians have checked in on just about every available first baseman not named Prince Fielder. As spring approaches, two names high on Cleveland’s list are Carlos Pena and Casey Kotchman.
On Thursday, Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported that Indians GM Chris Antonetti has approached ownership about potentially providing the necessary funds to afford the likes of Pena. The Scott Boras client is a coming off a season in which he slugged 28 homers and it is believed that he is seeking a multi-year deal.
The more realistic option might be Kotchman, who could improve the Tribe’s average, on-base percentage and strikeout rate. A year ago, the Indians whiffed 1,269 times, marking the most in team history and the fourth-highest total in American League history. Kotchman hit .306 with 66 strikeouts in 500 at-bats last season, while Pena hit .225 with 161 strikeouts in 493 ABs.
With only 10 homers a year ago, though, Kotchman obviously does not boast Pena’s power potential.
Pena netted a one-year, $10 million contract with the Cubs last offseason after hitting .196/.325/.407 with 28 homers and 84 RBIs in 2010 with Tampa Bay. This past season with Chicago, he improved in batting average, OBP (.357) and SLG (.462), while offering his typically sound defense.
Another consideration is Cleveland’s current situation at first base. Regular catcher Carlos Santana (a switch hitter) figures to see some playing time at first — most likely against left-handed pitching. While the general thought has been that the Indians could benefit from a power-hitting, right-handed first baseman (to replace a struggling Matt LaPorta), Cleveland’s decision-makers believe a lefty-hitting first baseman such as Pena or Kotchman might make more sense.
On days when Santana does not start behind the plate, the Indians project to feature catcher Lou Marson, who hit .297 against left-handed pitching last year. So having Santana (1B) and Marson (C) in against a left-hander and a lefty-hitting first baseman paired with Santana (C) against right-handers is something the Tribe is evaluating.
One unanswered question is whether Pena or Kotchman would be willing to accept that kind of playing time situation. It seems more likely that Kotchman — coming off a year in which he earned $750,000 after signing a Minor League contract with the Rays — would be open to a platoon-like scenario. Kotchman is also more affordable for an Indians team that does not have much financial flexibility.
If the Indians do not add a first baseman before Opening Day, the team’s top internal candidates currently consist of LaPorta (who has a Minor League option remaining) and Shelley Duncan (who is out of options).
Back in July, the Indians expressed interest in acquiring outfielder Carlos Beltran from the Mets before the Trade Deadline. MLB.com has confirmed multiple reports indicating that Cleveland is now showing interest in signing Beltran as a free agent.
According to various reports, the Cardinals, Blue Jays, Red Sox and Rays, and possibly at least one other club, are also in on Beltran at the moment. Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reported that the field has since narrowed to St. Louis, Toronto and Cleveland.
The Indians are known to be searching for offensive help, but their sudden inclusion in the Beltran race is a bit surprising. For starters, Beltran blocked the process last July when he would reportedly only accept a trade to the Giants or Phillies. The interest between Cleveland and Beltran was not mutual on the surface.
Since then, however, Beltran has switched agents. He is now represented by Dan Lozano after previously having Scott Boras as his agent.
While Beltran would be an upgrade for Cleveland — a team in need of an offensive boost — theclub’s outfield is already crowded with Shin-Soo Choo, Grady Sizemore, Michael Brantley, Aaron Cunningham and Shelley Duncan in the mix. The Indians’ financial situation is also such that the team might have to shed some payroll space in order to take on the cost of adding Beltran.
Nothing has changed behind the scenes for the Indians in regard to their financial limitations.
It is believed that Beltran is seeking at least a two- or three-year deal worth around $12-13 million annually — possibly more. Up to this point this winter, it has been clear that adding something in the range of $7-10 million would be difficult for the Indians to do without also freeing up some salary space.
The Indians had early talks with free-agent outfielder Josh Willingham, for example, on a two-year deal in the $14-16 million range. Had Cleveland taken on his contract, the Indians might have needed a subsequent trade to free up some cash. Willingham went on to sign a three-year, $21 million deal with the Twins.
Cleveland could backload a contract for Beltran, considering a number of contracts will come off the books after the 2012 season (Travis Hafner, Grady Sizemore, Derek Lowe). Even so, the Tribe might be forced to shift some things around a little in order to make it work for this year.
Beltran could play left field — Sizemore was re-signed for center — which would seemingly push Brantley into a fourth outfielder role. Brantley has also expressed a willingness to help out at first base, if needed. First base is currently Cleveland’s primary position of concern.