It seems that every off-season, the Cleveland Indians’ front office looks at their club and decides to conduct a science experiment.
The science involved is sabermetrics, and they seem to be always trying a different “theory” in terms of making the team successful for the upcoming season.
While they have put together three straight winning seasons (last year is kind of up for debate because they played only 161 games and finished one over .500), their victory total has declined since Terry Francona took the Indians to 92 wins in 2013 and a berth in the wild card game.
Over the years, GM Chris Antonetti took a look throughout baseball and saw the majority of pitchers were right-handed, and decided to make his team left-handed hitting dominant.
While the Indians were successful vs. righties, the problem became situational southpaws came out of the opponent’s bullpens and other teams decided to adjust rotations to throw lefties against Cleveland, with great success.
After the Tribe was burned by the signings of Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn, two players in their early 30’s when inked, the Indians’ front office seems to be staying away from the long term deals to free agents.
Actually, this theory has merit. Don’t you think the Angels would love to get out of the Albert Pujols deal right now? And we know Boston would love for some team to take Hanley Ramirez and/or Pablo Sandoval off of their hands.
If you sign a player over 30 to a long term deal, you are paying top dollar for a player’s declining years. After a year or two of doing that, teams get tired of it.
The best free agents to sign are guys who hit that position in their mid-to-late 20’s, let’s say from age 27-29. That way you still get some prime years at big cash.
The problem is the players and agents are now looking for agreements which last six or seven years. This means it is inevitable that you will be paying big money to a player when he is no longer producing at an optimum level.
We totally understand why the Indians, and their payroll constraints, either self imposed or market imposed, stay away from the free agent process.
This year’s plan du jour is to improve the offense, which was a major trouble spot in 2015, with a series of veteran free agents, giving them non-threatening one year contracts.
1B Mike Napoli will play all of the 2016 season at 34 years old. The problem with him is his OPS has declined each of the last three seasons (842, 789, 734). Cleveland hopes his second half resurgence with Texas is the player they will get this season.
Rajai Davis is 35 years old, and although his OPS rose since he started playing in Detroit, he is a platoon player with an OPS vs. lefties at 798, but only a 654 figure against right-handers.
And there are rumors the Indians are talking seriously to another veteran, 3B Juan Uribe, who will turn 37 in March. Uribe is a good clubhouse influence and was well respected with the Dodgers and Mets last season.
He is starting to slow down a bit, with his OPS dropping 40 points last season.
If signed, his presence will allow the Tribe to start Giovanny Urshela at AAA to begin the season.
Signing these guys is a gamble, because if they don’t produce because age is catching up to them, then the Indians are in the same boat they were in last season. Actually, a little worse because Michael Brantley will likely miss the first two months of the season.
The Indians could have just went out and acquired a solid middle of the order bat, and they still might, although it isn’t likely.
They chose this latest experiment.
That can’t make the fan base all warm and fuzzy.