By: T.J. Zuppe
Indians general manager Chris Antonetti has already laid the foundation for the 2011-2012 offseason in Cleveland. On top of making a decision to decline the option on outfielder Grady Sizemore and pick up the option on pitcher Fausto Carmona, the team has already landed veteran starting pitcher Derek Lowe in a trade with the Braves.
While it is probably true that the team will only find something of impact in another trade or two, the team could stand to improve several areas by supplementing a few free-agents from the available talent pool.
Players such as first basemen Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder and left-handed pitcher C.J. Wilson lead the class and will be hitting major paydays in this offseason. While the destination of those players is unlikely to be the north coast in Cleveland, it should not stop the front office from targeting some players that could really assist the club in reaching the next level, playing in October.
The following list is a group the Tribe should be putting in their cross-hairs, along with some commentary on why they make (or do not make) sense. Just with any kid at Christmas, expect several revisions to the wish list as free-agency plays out.
First baseman Carlos Pena
Carlos Pena – 1B – Chicago Cubs
It seems the writing is on the wall for incumbent Matt LaPorta. The team is looking for a significant upgrade at first. Pena’s average and strike out rate is always an issue, but his power and run production is not (28 HR – 80 RBI). He still gets on base and plays a very solid defense. With Cleveland’s abundance of ground ball pitchers, improving the glove work should be a large part of any equation. I would consider him near the top of the wish list.
Michael Cuddyer – 1B/OF – Minnesota Twins
The biggest positive for Cuddyer is the side of the plate he hits from – the right. He would provide a calming veteran presence in the clubhouse and a smart professional approach to the lineup. However, Cuddyer is probably better suited for the role of designated hitter at this point in his career.
Cody Ross – OF – San Francisco Giants
If you want to jump on him, now is the time. After lifting the Giants to a World Series championship in 2010, the right-handed hitter’s numbers hit the decline in a full year in the Giants ballpark. He is an above average defender in left field, and has displayed 15-20 home run power. I expect Ross to bounce back in 2012 and it would not be a bad thing to watch him do it in an Indians uniform.
Aramis Ramirez – 3B – Chicago Cubs
Even into the later stages of his career, the right-handed hitting Ramirez is still a feared stick. However, he stands to get a big contract on the open-market, and it would probably only make sense for the Tribe if Ramirez was moved long-term to first. Ramirez may say thanks, but no thanks to that offer. At the end of the day, he stands to make too much from a squad with money burning a hole in their pocket.
Coco Crisp – OF – Oakland A’s
That is right; the former Indians outfielder could certainly help his old team in several ways. He has lost a step in speed and with his glove, but he could provide some very good depth in the outfield. He would fill the role of a fringe starter in Cleveland but the club learned a valuable lesson last season in injuries. Getting some healthy backups and options is extremely important.
David DeJesus – OF – Oakland A’s
Probably the best example of a supplemental addition. DeJesus has much more upside than Crisp, and could be a perfect reclamation project for the Indians to pursue. At one time extremely dynamic, had an absolutely awful year in Oakland. Could be more of an everyday player, and would flourish in a platoon role. At the right price, definitely worth a shot. He fits the mold of a quiet signing that pays big dividends later.
Outfielder Josh Willingham
Josh Willingham – OF – Oakland A’s
Did I really just list the entire Athletics outfield? Yes, it happened. The only reason Willingham probably does not work in Cleveland is the amount of interest surrounding him. His power numbers were respectable in an awful park, but the average and on-base percentage dipped in 2011. More than likely, Willingham will be overpaid by a desperate organization. He is good, but not worthy of breaking the bank.
Jason Kubel – OF / DH – Minnesota Twins
Kubel probably earned himself some cash with a respectable average and solid power last year. However, it is still tough to count on the injury prone left-handed hitter in an everyday role. His defense is suspect and makes more sense in a platoon / bench role. He would provide an upgrade and the Indians did put a claim in on him in August.
Other Possibilities: Magglio Ordonez – OF – Detroit Tigers, Ryan Ludwick – OF – Pittsburgh Pirates, Reed Johnson – OF – Chicago Cubs
There are even a few more players the Tribe should kick the tires on before making any final decisions.
Keep in mind, this year’s class is not abundantly full of “difference-making” talent. The Indians should supplement free agency with trades, not simply rely on it.
Would a Pujols or Fielder signing win the press conference? Absolutely – but there is a degree or realism that must be realized.
As is usually the case with free-agency, the majority of signings somehow come back to get you. Spending just to spend on the open market will only put future financial handcuffs on the team.
Spending wisely – as always – will be the name of the game.
Anyone you think I should add? Who did I leave out? Be sure to shoot me your suggestions on Twitter!
Follow TJ on Twitter @TJZuppe