Friday, January 19, 2007

Tribe Signs Trot and other Odd Indians News

The Cleveland Indians have signed Free Agent and former Red Sox outfielder Trot Nixon to a one-year, three million dollar contract.

Huh? What? Trot Nixon? Where did this come from?...and Why? I've purposely avoided all other blogs on this one, so I could get a clear take on it. The spin on this signing is that Trot Nixon brings a playoff presence, a solid on base percentage and low-strike out guy. Nixon has been described as "heart and hustle" in just about every article that I've read. I know Trot Nixon, and I don't disagree with any of what I just typed. He's all of the above. So do I like the signing?

Right now...NO.

Nixon hasn't played even close to a full season in three years due to a variety of reasons. In 2004, he had a herniated disc. In 2005, he had a left oblique muscle strain. In 2006, he had a right biceps strain, and a staph infection that followed. He's obviously injury prone. A lot of that is due to the way that he plays. He is 100% tough, a roughneck who charges pop flies like a linebacker. Unfortunately, it's cost him many games, and more importantly, sapped him of the strength that led to his best season, in 2003, in which he hit .306 with 28 taters and 87 RBI. Since then, Nixon hasn't hit more than 13 homers in one season, and has 27 three seasons. Not all that good.

Nixon does bring a presence to this club, and the playoff experience will help. At 3 million, it's another low risk signing.

Nixon's signing can mean only one thing for the 24-year old Shin-Soo Choo: back to the minors. Choo was expected to start in right field for the Tribe, and certainly has the talent to be the starter. With the addition of the veteran bat however, it's believed that because of the now veteran mix of Jason Michaels, David Dellucci, Casey Blake, Grady Sizemore and Trot Nixon, that Choo will find himself roaming the outfield in Buffalo.

It really seems as though Shapiro lacks the confidence in his young players.

Now, there is some potential to this signing, and keep in mind that Cleveland isn't trading away young talent to pick up Nixon. It's another low-risk, potential high-yield signing. If Nixon stays healthy, and plays close to the player in his prime, you can count on a .280 average, somewhere in the realm of 20-30 dingers, and 75-85 RBI coming out of the 2 whole. It does set the lineup a bit better.

The Lineup would look as follows, right now:

Grady Sizemore
Trot Nixon
Casey Blake
David Dellucci
Andy Marte
Jhonny Peralta
Josh Barfield

Now, let's go a bit further. Imagine if one of the following three bring the stick that we think they can: Andy Marte, Jhonny Peralta or Josh Barfield. If Peralta returns to his freshman form, or Barfield continues to progress offensively, you can move either to the two-hole, and move Nixon to the five-hole. I like this a lot better if Nixon is the player of old, because he provides instant protection for VMart if he simply is the guy that has a .360 OBP. Imagine if Marte begins to really develop the power. In my humble opinion, anything that you can do to move Dellucci, Michaels or Blake down in the order, makes your team that much better.

The other way to look at this is on the trade front. If Nixon pans out, it certainly allows you to entertain some trades with your depth in the outfield. With Choo, Francisco, Crowe and Gutierrez knocking on the door, you'd have to expect that Cleveland will be looking to make a move down the line for a better outfielder at the deadline, or a package with Garko for a better first baseman. Who knows. I suppose we need to wait to see what happens down the line, but overall, I can't figure this deal out.

So, again, the Indians and Mark Shapiro surprise me, and go out and sign someone unexpected to a low risk deal. Let's hope it pans out.

Cleveland designates Jeremy Guthrie for assignment: One question is answered with the signing of Nixon. To make room for Trot, Cleveland designated Guthrie for assignment, who was out of options. Guthrie, a former #1 pick, has yet to show the Indians that he was worthy of the pick. Shapiro said it best:

"It might have been a slight miscalculation on us on how advanced he was when we drafted him."
You always hope that the light turns on with a guy with this much talent. It just doesn't happen yet. Don't be surprised though, if Guthrie turns into a decent pitcher down the road, if someone gives him a chance. He will certainly be picked up.

Cleveland avoids arbitration...again: As most of you know, Cleveland has avoided arbitration with any players over the past 15 years. Davis was the last player this year, who was eligible. Cleveland, in typical fashion, came in at the deadline, and signed Davis to a one-year, $650,000 deal. Davis was asking for $760,000, and Cleveland was asking $600,000. Davis has wicked talent and a blazing fastball. If he ever puts the talent together with a bit of a mental game, he could be something special. Cleveland won't be letting him go until he proves that he'll never mature into that mental game. There seems to be a lot of evidence showing that this may be Davis' year. He was a bit of a bright spot in the bullpen last year, going 3-2 in 39 appearances, with a 3.74 ERA in 55 1/3 innings. He only gave up one home run. If he continues to advance, he really adds to this team. For more on the arbitration deal, check out two fantastic articles at Erik Cassano's Weblog, and at The Diatribe.

Cleveland also signed Rafael Bettancourt: Another player up for arbitration was Rafael Bettancourt. Rafael signed a one-year, $850,000 contract, which was over a 100% raise from last year. After a rough spot, Bettancourt, rom Aug. 23 through the end of the season, had an ERA of 1.10 in 13 games, and converted three straight save opportunities. He's another player, that if plays to standards, or improves, really makes the Tribe a hard team to beat in the last four innings.

Thursday, January 4, 2007

Foulke signs a 1-year deal, and Tribe ups the ante to Mark Mulder

Keith Foulke is an Indian: Foulke passed his physical yesterday, and the only questions remaining was HOW MUCH and WHEN? We found out today. Foulke was given a 5 million dollar base salary, with 2 million dollars in incentives. Apparently, if Foulke "closes all year" according to his agent, he will make 7 million. To put that in perspective, Eric Gagne was offered a 1 year deal for 6 million, with incentives that could take it to 10? Is Gagne THAT much better than Foulke? Gagne certainly has much more upside, but Foulke IS healthy, and HAS pitched since his injury woes, and effectively. Let's not forget that Foulke has been a fireman of the year as recently as 4 years ago, saved game 7 of a world series 3 years ago, and is currently riding an 11+ inning scoreless streak. The interesting piece of this contract is that whatever incentives he earns THIS season becomes part of his BASE salary next season. It could be enough to get him to stay a second season if he pitches effectively this season. The other bonus, according to his agent, Dan Horwits, is his eagerness to be an Indian.
"Keith is very excited about coming to Cleveland...they pursued him very aggressively."
Now you can look at it how you want to, but when it's all said and done, it's very possible that Foulke waited on THE INDIANS, not the other way around.

So how does the bullpen shape up, now that it appears we've made our final bullpen move? I'm going to ASSUME that Cleveland is going to use a 12 man pitching staff, although the potential is there for 13. Why? All those wondering about and whining about all the multi-position players the Indians have, can now see a potential benefit of such a makeup. If it's 12 OR 13, it should look something like this:
Closer--Keith Foulke
setup/closer--Joe Borowski
setup/situational--Rafael Bettancourt
setup/situational--Roberto Hernandez
Spot Lefty/situational--Aaron Fultz
Middle Relief--Fernando Cabrera
Long and Middle Relief--Jason Davis
(13th Man)Either Lefty Juan Lara or Rafael Perez or wildcard Fausto Carmona if they want him close by.

Starter--CC Sabathia
Starter--Jake Westbrook
Starter--Cliff Lee
Starter--Paul Byrd
Starter--Jeremy Sowers

There are lots of odd men out, and still the potential for a big deal before or during spring training. It's my belief that the Indians really want Carmona in the rotation THIS year. I don't see him in the bullpen at all. If he makes the rotation, that gives the Tribe TON of flex, and could prompt a major deal involving either Lee or Westbrook, or in the happenstance that the Tribe signs Mark Mulder, BOTH players. I just don't see Jeremy Guthrie, one or both of the lefties, Tom Mastny, Carmona, Ed Mujica, Matt and Adam Miller (come July), among others, sitting in Buffalo (Brian Sikorski was designated for assignment to make room for Foulke). It does give us incredible depth to either deal, or make sure the Foulkes, Borowskis and Robertos stay healthy. Watch Jason Davis and Fernando Cabrera though. I believe Cleveland will keep them, rather than try and make them through waivers (out of options, and someone will claim them), and will give them a chance to not only make this club, but be a factor. There seems to be a bit of noise about Jason Davis' maturity level having improved drastically. We'll see if it pays off. His stuff is that good.

In other news on Thursday, the Tribe has upped their offer to Mark Mulder, according to the St. Louis-Post Dispatch. Both Cleveland and Texas have given Mulder an offer that will pay him 7.75 million in year one, and could go up to 10 million in year two. It appears as though Texas' offer is slightly better than Cleveland's. The interesting twist here appears to be St. Louis. They've only offered Mulder a one-year deal, but are now being given a chance to match the other deals. It's obvious that Mulder would like to stay. I just don't see St. Louis doing it. We shall see. I still think Texas is the front runner here, but Cleveland is still in the race.

Some final Tribe Notes: Cleveland also signed veteran infielders Luis Rivas and Keith Ginter to minor league deals. There's really not much to say here other than both players at one time or another were above average prospects for their organizations (Rivas-Twins, Ginter-Astros/Brewers). They will be given an opportunity to earn a spot on the team as a utility infielder. Rivas and Ginter both have good gloves. Ginter has more pop, having hit 19 dingers in 2004 in only 113 games. Rivas has had injury issues curtail a potentially blossoming career with Minnesota. In 2001, his first full season, Rivas had 31 Stolen bases. His issues, however, have been a bad stick, and a ton of K's. Either way, both have good gloves, and could be the answer at the utility role.

So we wait for Mulder, who is waiting on the Cardinals. I don't care if the players think the Indians should be their first choice...

just their best choice...

See you tonight with a bit on the NFL coaching carousels.