Assuming everything goes well with his physical, Juan Uribe has a new home as a member of the Cleveland Indians. The Tribe agreed to terms with Uribe earlier today on a deal reportedly worth less than $5 million, which is only slightly below the average annual value of the two-year, $15 million extension Uribe signed with the Dodgers in 2014. Are the Indians going to get their money's worth?
Before even getting into Uribe himself, let's keep in mind who he will be replacing. Unless the Indians plan to keep two dedicated third baseman on the 25-man roster -- which looks unlikely with Jose Ramirez and Lonnie Chisenhall both able to fill-in as needed -- youngster Giovanny Urshela is likely heading back down to Triple-A for the time being. While Urshela's defense would probably be spectacular next season, it would not be enough to make up for his offense. The Indians obviously knew this, so the solution was to go after a slight downgraded glove for a much better bat.
Over the past three seasons, 36-year-old Juan Uribe has been on a steady decline. Nothing jumps out as a sign of a steep fall-off-a-cliff kind of decline, but he is aging as you would expect a player in his mid-30s to decline. In 2014, one year before year he signed that $15 million extension, he was worth a career-high 5.0 fWAR and slashed .278/.331/.438 while playing the best defense of his career. Then, in 2014, he was worth 3.6 fWAR while slashing .311/.337/.440 and his defense statistics declining. Last year he slipped to 1.9 fWAR, but still slashed .253/.320/.417 with 14 home runs. That may not sound like a lot of home runs, but it would have been the third-highest total on the Indians if he had been playing in Cleveland last year.
Now, jumping ahead to next year, let's see what some projection systems see Uribe doing:
With the exception of PECOTA, which really does not like Uribe, that is not an awful pill for the Indians to swallow at $5 million. Again, considering the production he is replacing, I will gladly take the ~7 to ~11 home runs and a .310 on-base percentage. Assuming he can still play defense (for what it's worth, both Steamer and PECOTA give him positive grades), there is reason to believe he will be quite the bargain for the Tribe.
One thing that Uribe had going for him last season, that I hope to see next season, is his walk rate. He walked in a career-high 8.6 percent of his plate appearances last season, up from a mere 3.7 percent rate the year prior. There is not a lot of upside left in Uribe, but if he can provide some level of certainty at third base and continually get on base for the Indians, this is a pretty solid signing.