Taking Out the Trash

Prior to the 2012 season, the Indians made a lot of signings. Looking for a new firstbaseman, particularly a right handed power bat, they signed light hitting lefty Casey Kotchman and Andy LaRoche. In an effort to shore up the starting rotation they traded for Derek Lowe and signed Kevin Slowey. To round out the bullpen they signed Dan Wheeler, Chris Seddon, Jeremy Accardo and Chris Ray. J.C. Romero was signed midseason for added depth. Looking for another utility infielder, the Tribe invited Christian Guzman, Gregorio Petit and Jose Lopez to camp and signed Russ Canzler. In search of a starting left fielder they picked up Felix Pie, Fred Lewis and Ryan Spilborghs. In mid season they signed Johnny Damon as a free agent since none of the other players worked out.

Where are these players now? Kotchman, Seddon and Lopez are still on the Major League team although Kotchman and Lopez have both underperformed and Seddon has only just joined the team (and as a starter, not the reliever he was signed to be). Slowey, Wheeler, Romero, Canzler and Petit are currently with AAA Columbus, most of whom haven’t seen any time on the Indians this year. Wheeler did spend about a month with the team and was absolutely dreadful during his time in Cleveland.

Guzman was released on March 28th and retired. Lewis was released on April 2nd and went on to New York with the Mets. Pie was baked on April 4th (he has since been picked up by Atlanta. Now he’s peach Pie). Spilborghs was sold to Texas on May 4th. On June 26th, the Indians released LaRoche (he was then signed by Boston). Ray was released on July 7th (then released by Oakland on July 26th). What do all these players have in common? They never got a sniff of the Major Leagues in 2012.

There is one last group of those mentioned above, the ones who played for the Indians for an extended amount of time, but no longer do so. This group consists of Lowe (released 8/2), Damon (8/4) and Accardo (8/5). This is what I call, taking out the trash. None of these players have done a single positive thing for the Tribe since May and they have all played below replacement level. The Indians have players in the minors better than all three of these old men, particularly those who were called up for them, Corey Kluber, Ezequiel Carrera and Seddon. These three have been a waste of time, money and talent for more than half a year, costing not just the Indians their payroll and the games they lost, but the minor league player’s playing time. This wouldn’t bother me if it was the first time, or an isolated incident, but this has happened before.

You may remember this list of players better or worse than those listed in the first paragraph: 

Player Signed Left ERA/OPS Salary Took Playing Time From
Adam Everett Pre 2011 Released Mid 2011 .510 OPS $700K Lonnie Chisenhall
Orlando Cabrera Pre 2011 Traded Mid 2011 .598 OPS $1M Jason Kipnis
Austin Kearns Pre 2011 Released Mid 2011 .589 OPS $1.3M Shelley Duncan
Travis Buck Pre 2011 Released End 2011 .755 OPS $625K Ezequiel Carrera
Chad Durbin Pre 2011 Released End 2011 5.53 ERA $800K Frank Herrmann, Aaron Laffey
Jamey Wright Pre 2010 Released Mid 2010 5.48 ERA $900K Carlos Carrasco, Jeanmar Gomez
Mike Redmond Pre 2010 Retired Mid 2010 .512 OPS $850K Luke Carlin
Mark Grudzielanek Pre 2010 Retired Mid 2010 .600 OPS $600K Jason Donald
Austin Kearns Pre 2010 Traded Mid 2010 .772 OPS $750K Michael Brantley
Carl Pavano Pre 2009 Traded Mid 2009 5.37 ERA $1.5M No one, Replaced by Justin Masterson
Tomo Ohka Pre 2009 Released End 2009 5.96 ERA $550K Jensen Lewis
Tony Graffanino Pre 2009 Retired End 2009 .341 OPS Min Josh Barfield
Kerry Wood Pre 2009 Traded Mid 2010 4.80 ERA $12.1M Chris Perez
Jason Tyner Pre 2008 Released Mid 2008 .333 OPS Min No one
Jorge Julio Pre 2008 Released Mid 2008 5.60 ERA $1M Tom Mastny
Craig Breslow Pre 2008 Released Mid 2008 3.24 ERA $392K Ed Mujica
Juan Rincon Mid 2008 Released End 2008 5.60 ERA Min No one
OG Roberto Hernandez Pre 2007 Released Mid 2007 6.23 ERA $3.3M Jensen Lewis
Mike Rouse Pre 2007 Released End 2007 .334 OPS $380K Asdrubal Cabrera
Luis Rivas Pre 2007 Released End 2007 1.000 OPS (11 AB) Min No one
Trot Nixon Pre 2007 Released End 2007 .677 OPS $3M Shin-Soo Choo
Aaron Fultz Pre 2007 Released Pre 2008 2.92 ERA $1.5M No one
Joe Borowski Pre 2007 Retired Mid 2008 5.57 ERA $8M Rafael Betancourt
David Dellucci Pre 2007 Released Mid 2009 .699 OPS $11.5M Ben Francisco
Jason Johnson Pre 2006 Sold Mid 2006 5.96 ERA $3.5M Jeremy Guthrie
Todd Hollandsworth Pre 2006 Sold Mid 2006 .695 OPS $900K Franklin Gutierrez
Paul Byrd Pre 2006 Traded Mid 2008 4.68 ERA $21.5M No one
Kevin Millwood Pre 2005 Released End 2005 2.86 ERA $7M No one
Aaron Boone Pre 2005 Released End 2006 .680 OPS $6.75M Andy Marte
Jose Jiminez Pre 2004 Released End 2004 8.42 ERA $1.025M Fernando Cabrera

This is a fairly complete list of every free agent the Indians have signed since 2004 that has made the team and stayed for 3 or less years. It includes when they came, how and when they left, their OPS or ERA while on the team, how much money they stole from the Indians and the player(s) they took playing time away from. Here are a few notes about the listing:

  • There were a couple of good signings by the Indians and these should be noted. Millwood lead the league in ERA in 2005 and was by far the Indians best pitcher. When it says a player didn’t take playing time away from anyone it means that their replacement was worse than them or they played so little it didn’t matter. Aaron Fultz was another good signing as relief pitchers tended to be the most needed position filled and the most successful. Breslow and Rincon were two other signings that didn’t work out poorly. Paul Byrd was an innings eater for years that should be commended for his performance in the 2007 post season.
  • Ed Mujica is listed next to Breslow, even though there is no question that Breslow was superior, then and now. However, Mujica did go on to close for Tampa Bay, meaning that one of the two teams misjudged him. 
  • The OG next to Roberto Hernandez stands for original gangsta, so he would not be confused with the newly created Roberto Heredia Hernandez. This is the Roberto Hernandez that was an All-Star closer for the White Sox and Devil Rays before coming to the Tribe.
  • In 2007 Borowski didn’t take playing time from Betancourt, but he did take the closers role. Betancourt was by far the best reliever on that team, while Borowski wasn’t in the top five, yet Borowski got almost every save opportunity while Betancourt set a team record for holds.
  • The worst signings were outfielders. With an overload of minor league outfielders through the years mentioned including Coco Crisp, Grady Sizemore, Shin-Soo Choo, Franklin Gutierrez, Ben Francisco and later Trevor Crowe and Ezequiel Carrera, it is offensive that the Indians continued to sign below average players that cost the Indians more wins than they generated. This list includes Hollandsworth, Dellucci, Nixon, Kearns (twice), Buck and this season Johnny Damon. Special mention goes to Jason Michaels who is not listed because he was picked up in trade, but also stole more than his share of playing time from much more talented, faster and better defensive outfielders. The Indians believed they were so deep in outfielders that they continued to trade them away, even as they signed new ones. Gutierrez went on to star with the Mariners while Francisco won a World Series with Philadelphia. Crisp has also seen decent success with the Royals and A’s and Crowe was recently signed by the Angels.
  • A half a season of the reject from a terrible Tigers team, Jason Johnson, was worth not even looking at a first round draft pick before trading him. Jeremy Guthrie was kept out of the starting rotation in 2006 by the signing of Johnson and was then traded to Baltimore after just a single start for the Tribe. He went on to be the Orioles ace for the next five seasons.
  • Two players are listed next to Chad Durbin’s name, even though he only took one roster spot. When Durbin was signed, the Indians designated Laffey and traded him to the Mariners when he didn’t clear waivers. Durbin was bad before the Indians signed him and they still gave up on the career of a left handed starting pitcher and a chance at seeing Frank Herrmann all season instead of moving him constantly between AAA and the pros. Durbin also cost the Indians some games as he was absolutely dreadful out of the bullpen and not usable during games that were decided by less than 5 runs.
  • In 2011 with the future of the franchise (Kipnis and Chisenhall) ready for the majors, they decided to go with more expensive less talented veteran options. If Kipnis had played a full 2011, maybe he wouldn’t be dealing with stamina issues in 2012. They compounded the mistake with Chisenhall this year by signing Jose Lopez. Instead of playing half a season before he broke his arm, he ended up playing less than a month.
  • Most of the players were sold, traded or released mid season when their replacements finally broke through. This means the Indians paid them for a whole year, but only got half. The one exception is Kerry Wood, who had $8.4 million of his salary paid for by the Yankees after he was traded. Usually when a player is released midseason, the new team is only required to pay the minimum while the rest of the salary is covered by the original team.
  • If the Indians had used minor league replacement level players instead of old men, most of whom never were very talented, they could have saved about $50 million in payroll over the last 8 years. That money could have been used to buy more midlevel players like Millwood (almost one a year), re-sign players like Choo or Cabrera to long term deals or to build another big windmill on top of the stadium. Whatever management found to be more important to creating a winning baseball team.

In general, starting players that sign for less than $5 million a year are being paid for their veteran status rather than their abilities. There is a threshold between there and about $12 million a year that include some very talented, but sometimes unappreciated players. This could include future free agents like B.J. Upton, Delmon Young, Luke Scott and James Shields and would have including Carlos Pena last offseason. Maybe the Indians wouldn’t be interested in any of these players, but they have been linked to all them in rumors and would be able to afford them if they stopped over paying for replacement level talent. The Indians could have had Scott for nothing if they had just avoided trading him for Jeriome Robertson in 2004, another player that would have been included on this list if only the Indians would have acquired him differently. The Indians need to immediately cease this inane obsession with signing veterans on their last legs and never-wills who have spent enough time in the majors to know what they truly are. Look to Choo, Hafner and Rafael Perez for that veteran leadership (they’ve all been around for a day or two and have played through playoff hunts and the playoffs themselves). Trust your draft picks to amount to what you projected them to be and put more faith in the minor leaguers you traded your stars for.

The moral of the story is, “Go big or stay home.”

Joseph Coblitz

About Joseph Coblitz

Joseph is the primary writer and editor of BurningRiverBaseball.com and has been since its inception in 2011. He also writes for The Outside Corner and the Comeback and hosts the Tribe Time Now podcast. He is a graduate of the University of Akron and currently resides in Goodyear, Arizona the Spring Training home of the Cleveland Indians. Follow on twitter @BurningRiverBB