As if the calendar turning from November to December flipped a switch in every general manager’s brain, the Hot Stove is finally starting to heat up. For the Cleveland Indians, it is almost nothing but rumors at this point, but now they are linked to free agent outfielder Will Venable, according to Jerry Crasnick and the dreaded "sources."
Similar to Nori Aoki, who the Indians missed out on earlier today, Venable would be a fine temporary fill-in while Michael Brantley recovers from surgery on his torn labrum. If the Indians sign him to a one- or two-year deal (again, similar to the deal Aoki received), he could also be the perfect stopgap while Bradley Zimmer and Clint Frazier develop in the minors. And, unlike Aoki, Venable has considerable time playing center field in the Majors.
Venable spent the first seven full years of his career on the San Diego Padres before being traded to the Texas Rangers at the trade deadline last season. In 135 total plate appearances in 2015, split between San Diego and Texas, Venable slashed .244/.320/.350. His 9.5 percent walk rate was the highest it has been since 2010, but his strikeouts could be on the rise as he ages. Over the past four seasons, his K-rate has steadily increased:
- 2012: 20.0%
- 2013: 22.9%
- 2014: 23.9%
- 2015: 24.1%
Venable should come cheap, which could be a reason the Indians are interested in him, despite the ho-hum offensive output. He is coming off a 2-year, $8.5 million contract. The deal was signed following the 2013 season, when Venable had the best year of his career, posting a 3.0 fWAR and hitting 22 home runs for the Padres. The Indians should easily be able to get him for less than the $4 million per year of that contract.
Age is the biggest issue with Venable, he just turned 33 in October, but the Indians will also have to consider that he is yet another left-handed bat in an already lefty-heavy lineup. He has a definitive split in his career against lefties (.610 OPS) compared to righties (.745), so he could be used as a platoon option with someone like Ryan Raburn or another inexpensive free agent option.