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A look back at the biggest January signings in Indians history

A look back at some of the biggest transactions (non-trade variety) in the month of January in Tribe history.

Jason Miller

Continuing the review of January transactions, here we look at key free agent signings, a few miscellaneous transactions, and the best players drafted in January (Yes, there used to be a January draft).

Free Agent Signings

There have been numerous deals signed in January just before heading out for spring training. The majority of these are minor league deals with invites, but every now and then a MLB deal is signed. Note that signings are listed by when they were made official, not when word of a deal first came out.

January 19, 1998:

Signed Jolbert Cabrera as a minor league free agent.

He was a free agent after spending seven years in the Expos system. He spent most of 1998 with the Bisons in Buffalo (his debut with Cleveland was in April) and also in 1999. He was a utility guy on the Cleveland bench most of 2000 and 2001. He was sent to the Dodgers at the 2002 July deadline for Lance Caraccioli (never made the majors). Total WAR for the Tribe: -1.1

January 9, 2001:

Signed Juan Gonzalez as a free agent.

After playing out his final contract year with the Tigers in 2000 (116 OPS+), Juan signed a one year, $10M deal in Cleveland, hoping to boost his resume and get one last prime contract. He was fantastic in 2001, He hit 325/370/590, 148 OPS+, bombed 35 times and drove in 140. The Rangers signed him to a two year deal worth $24M that offseason. Total WAR for the Tribe: 4.5

January 25, 2002:

Signed Rafael Perez as an amateur free agent out of the Dominican Republic

The left-handed half of the set-up team, Iron and Steel, Raffy would go on to spectacular seasons in 2008, 2010 and 2012. Total WAR for the Tribe: 4.2

January 20, 2003:

Signed Rafael Betancourt as a minor league free agent.

In his first three seasons after signing with the Red Sox out of Venezuela, Betancourt was an infielder. They converted him to the mound in 1997 but he got hurt in 2001 and was cut. After sitting out 2002 rehabbing, the Tribe took a flyer. He made the Cleveland pen in mid-2003 and would stick around until the trade deadline in 2009 as the prime set-up guy in the seventh or eighth innings. Total WAR for the Tribe: 7.8

January 7, 2004:

Signed Bob Howry as a free agent.

Howry was coming off two injury riddled seasons with the Red Sox. He pitched very well in 37 games for the Tribe in 2004 and re-upped with them for 2005 before leaving as a free agent, netting a three year $12M deal from the Cubs. Total WAR for the Tribe: 2.5

January 8, 2005:

Signed Kevin Millwood as a free agent.

The beginning of an LGT meme: KMTS (Kevin Millwood type signing). He signed a one year $7M deal with Cleveland to try and get a better deal after the 2005 season. He led the league in ERA (2.86) and was part of one the most durable rotations ever (five starters made 158 starts that year). He parlayed that into a five year, $52M deal from the Rangers. Total WAR for the Tribe: 4.0

January 13, 2006:

Signed Eduardo Perez as a free agent.

Perez was at the end of his career and inked a one year $1.75M deal with the Tribe to be part of a first base platoon with Ben Broussard. This signing is more notable because of the fleecing the Indians received from the Mariners at the trade deadline, Asdrubal Cabrera. Total WAR for the Tribe: 0.6

January 3, 2013:

Signed Nick Swisher as a free agent.

The largest free agent deal ever doled out by the Cleveland front office, BrOhio made a successful return to the Buckeye state. He is signed through the 2017 season. Total WAR for the Tribe: 3.8 (so far)

January 19, 2013:

Signed Ryan Raburn as a free agent.

After suffering through a humiliating 2012 with the Tigers, Terry Francona wanted him as part of his roster. He signed a one year $1M deal and then re-upped midseason through 2016 for three years and $7.75M. Total WAR for the Tribe: 2.1 (so far)

Miscellaneous Transactions

January 9, 1957:

Released Bob Feller

This was in the days before retirements were announced. While Feller was officially released on this date, he had hung 'em up at the end of the 1956 season, after a long Hall of Fame career.

January 29, 1982:

Released Wayne Garland

The first free agent splash ever made by the Indians, he was signed to a ten year, $2M contract after the 1976 season from the Orioles. He pitched well in 1977 but led the league in losses with 19 on a very bad Indians squad. He hurt his arm in 1978 and was never the same pitcher. He retired after the 1981 season and was officially released off the roster in January.

January 29, 2007:

Lost Jeremy Guthrie on waivers to the Baltimore Orioles.

This was a failing of the front office when they originally signed Guthrie to a major league deal out of the draft. This caused him to run out of options prematurely. They tried to sneak him through waivers in January but the Orioles weren't fooled. They swiped him up, put him in their rotation and he has made 215 starts since leaving. He is no ace but would have been a fine 3/4 eating up innings in our rotation.


There used to be an amateur draft held in January. The MLB draft began in 1965 and consisted of three different drafts. The June draft was the biggest, and included all high school graduates and college seniors. The August draft was held for players who had participated in amateur summer leagues. That draft was done only in 1965 and 1966. The third draft occurred in January and was for high schoolers and college players who had graduated during the winter and players who hadn't signed from the previous June draft. This draft lasted until 1986.

Here are some of the key January draft picks made and signed by the Tribe from 1966 to 1986:

January Regular Phase

1966: Phil Hennigan (4th round): Relief Pitcher, 2.6 WAR, 1969-1972

1970: Chris Chambliss (1st round): First Baseman, 3.9 WAR, 1971-74

1986: Jeff Shaw (1st round): Relief Pitcher, -0.2 WAR, 1990-1992

January Secondary Phase

1967: Dick Tidrow (4th round), Starting Pitcher, 5.2 WAR, 1972-74

1971: Jim Norris (5th round), Outfielder, 5.0 WAR, 1977-79

1972: Duane Kuiper (1st round): Second Baseman, 5.3 WAR, 1974-81

1976: Garry Hancock (1st round): Outfielder, traded to Red Sox

The key additions from those drafts were Chambliss, Tidrow and Kuiper.

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There you have it, the highlights from the Tribe's January transaction history.