The Cleveland Indians signing Melvin Upton Jr. shouldn't really move the needle, huh. He put up an 85 wRC+ in 2016, earned the San Diego Padres and Toronto Blue Jays a combined 1.2 fWAR, and was instrumental in Tyler Naquin's walk-off inside-the-park home run. He also got hurt last year and missed the whole season due to hand surgery. And he's approaching the dreaded mid-30s. For a former power/speed guy, losing half of that after the other one disappeared for a few years, it's a bit scary. But that doesn't make it a bad deal. He was good once. This is the kind of move the Indains have to do, and should be doing. The whole of baseballdom isn't only stars.
It's the same thing with the Alexi Ogando deal. This is a player that not too long ago was electrifying. The Indians are going to be able to stash him down in Columbus, and have an insurance policy for the inevitable dead arm or doubleheader that will be suddenly sprung on them this year. He hasn't been good for a couple years but the Indians building this vertical depth is what will get them through the regular season with a sterling record. This cannot be overlooked.
The idea isn't to really hit on a 2018 version of Austin Jackson with Upton, or turn Ogando into a latter day Jeff Manship or Scott Kazmir. The idea is simply to survive the blips of the season better than other teams, aggregate wins. The biggest reason for the Chicago White Sox being so terrible the last few years wasn't their not having some great players. The top of their rotation, the back end of their bullpen, a couple solid position players, they had the meatier bits. It was the everything else that killed them. They were terrible at being merely decent. Not just at the big club level, but all the way down. When Abreu or Eaton needed time off or got hurt, or Sale got a dead arm, they had no bin to reach into to find at least better than replacement level players. Nobody is expecting Alexi Odando to come up from Columbus and throw seven shutout innings, but he can eat some pitches up and give the team a chance to win at least. Or fill a hole in the bullpen made by a strained knee or some such thing. At least for a little while.
That's the key to it all too, that "for a little while". There's a reason these players are on the waiver wire, or absent from American baseball altogether. Over the net of the season they can certainly do damage to your chances of winning. But over a short stretch there's some good that can be found in Upton or Ogando or, say, Arismendy Alcantara for instance. Being bad but versatile is a talent that can carry you surprisingly far in baseball. Literally it’s Michael Martinez’s only skill. And he’s REAL bad. It’s like being 7 feet tall in basketball. You get drafted, you’re going to play for 15 years. Plus, Upton put up some very strong platoon numbers the last few years - a 129 wRC+ against lefties. If nothing else he can be a nice insurance policy if Michael Brantely forgot how to hit southpaws, or Brandon Guyer is still generally bad again. If they end up re-signing Austin Jackson the pair of them could turn into an amazing player. Tito is going to love Upton.
This isn't to say the Indians should keep it cheap and fiddle with faded glory. Especially now that Santana is leaving. Money needs spending, the lineup needs bolstering. This cannot be ignored. But when I hear about an Upton or Ogando or whoever signing, it always interests me because of where that guy might fit into the greater tapestry that the 2018 season will be. These signings won't win championships. But they can be the difference between home-field advantage in the playoffs, or a wild card spot or not. Those marginal wins around the edges - that's where the Indians make hay time and again. Or it ends up being garbage. But that's the fun part too. Spinning the wheel and hoping Ogando figured out how to destroy bats again. You sign enough of these guys, eventually you hit.
The Tribe has a lot of practice finding these diamonds in the rough, and it makes me irrationally almost excited to see Melvin Upton play baseball again. A feeling I haven't had in about a decade.