A few weeks ago, I gave my take on the ten best pitchers and the ten best position players available in free agency and guessed at each one’s eventual contract. The top free agents are still out there, and most will continue to be out there all this week. The Winter Meetings are in Nashville this year, from December 3rd to 6th, and most of the action won’t take place until the GMs get together then.
There have been some notable signings though, so it’s worthwhile to examine things during this calm before the storm. The Indians ought to be in the market for starting pitching, an outfielder, and a first baseman, so I’ll focus on those positions. For players who’ve already signed, I’ll weigh in on whether or not I’d have been happy to see the Tribe top the offer (I’ll go with $1 million per season, for simplicity's sake).
Hiroki Kuroda re-signed with the Yankees for 1 year, $15 million. The Yankees were in the rare (and fortunate position) of having a good pitcher who only wanted to sign a one year deal. Because he’d like to return to Japan to end his career, Kuroda didn’t want to commit beyond 2013. Would I have been happy to see the Indians sign him for 1 year, $16 million? Yes (but it was never going to happen).
Jeremy Guthrie re-signed with the Royals for 3 years, $25 million. Guthrie (the Indians 1st round pick in 2002) was a wreck in the first half of 2012 while pitching for Colorado, but after being traded to Kansas City he turned things around. Guthrie has averaged 200 innings with an ERA+ of 97 (just below league average) over the last five seasons, which has real value. He’ll turn 34 in April though. Would I have been happy to see the Indians sign him for 3 years, $28 million? No, it’s too long a commitment.
Scott Baker signed with the Cubs for 1 year, $5.5 million (with another $1.5 million in incentives). Baker didn’t pitch in 2012 after having Tommy John surgery in April, but he was very good in 2011. It is unknown whether or not he’ll be ready for Opening Day. Many expect him to miss the first month or so. Would I have been happy to see the Indians sign him for 1 year, $6.5 million? Yes. It’s the kind of low risk gamble the Tribe should be looking for.
Signed First Basemen and Outfielders:
Torii Hunter signed with the Tigers for 2 years, $26 million. Hunter is the best player to have changed teams through free agency so far this off-season and it’s a drag to see Detroit getting better. Hunter’s .389 BABIP is not going to repeat, but he’s been worth $13 million or more for probably twelve straight seasons. Would I have been happy to see the Indians sign him for 2 years, $28 million? Kind of. The years are good, but $14M per isn't cheap.
Melky Cabrera signed with the Blue Jays for 2 years, $16 million. Cabrera’s failed PED test cost him dearly, as he was in line for at least 4 years and $50 million before the suspension. This signing surprised me, because I thought Cabrera would take the highest 1-year offer he could, to try and prove he’s still a very good player and hit free agency again while still in his 20s. Would I have been happy to see the Indians sign him for 2 years, $18 million? Yes. Cabrera’s 2011 season was worth well over $9M and I think he can settle in around that level.
Jonny Gomes signed with the Red Sox for 2 years, $10 million. Gomes only got 333 plate appearances in 2012, but he put up a slash line of .262/.377/.491 while playing half his games in Oakland Coliseum, a pitchers’ park. Would I have been happy to see the Indians sign him for 2 years, $12 million? Not really. He’s a right handed bat, which the Tribe needs, but he’s not really an outfielder, because he’s terrible on defense, and while the 2012 hitting numbers were good, it was only the second time he’s been an above average hitter in the last seven years.
Juan Pierre signed with the Marlins for 1 year, $1.6 million. Pierre has stolen more bases in the 2000s (591) than any other player. That's neat, but over the last three years, Pierre has a slash line of .284/.339/.333, an OPS+ of 84 and a bWAR of 1.1. Would I have been happy to see the Indians sign him for 1 year, $2.6M? No. It wouldn’t take much for Pierre to earn his 2013 salary, but I wouldn’t be happy going into 2013 with him in the Indians' lineup.
Other Free Agent News:
B.J. Upton is thought to be the only one of the best available players who might sign before the Winter Meetings. The Braves and Phillies seem to have expressed the most interest, but I’ve also seen reports of the Nationals and Rangers kicking the tires on Upton. He’s not coming to Cleveland, but I think he's going to be a good signing for whatever team lands him.
The Red Sox (who in addition to adding Gomes also re-signed David Ortiz) have reportedly had discussions with Mike Napoli, Adam LaRoche, and Nick Swisher. They're also seen as a potential landing spot for Hamilton. Clearly they won't sign all of those players, but at least one seems likely and two would not surprise.
Brandon McCarthy has been medically cleared to begin throwing in December, which is great news. His track record of shoulder injuries should be of some concern, but I think he’d be a great target for the Tribe.
The Padres are said to be interested in both Dan Haren and Shaun Marcum. There’s no reason the Indians can’t be in on a player if a team like the Padres can.
He wasn't a free agent, but I'll include this anyway: Evan Longoria and the Rays have agreed to an extension that will cover the 2017 to 2022 seasons (ages 31 to 36 for Longoria) at an additional $100M. $16.7M a year is team friendly (and likely to be even more so by 2017), but it gives Longoria great security. Cost certainty is a gamble, but one a small market team like the Rays (or the Indians) should be looking to make with their best players.