The Cleveland Fan on Facebook

The Cleveland Fan on Twitter
Indians Indians Archive Opposite Field #22: Revisiting Those Winter Transactions
Written by Andrew Clayman

Andrew Clayman

indians-hot-stove-stars2012 copy“They did nothing over the off-season to make this team better.” So goes the standard, widely accepted preface to the enormously disappointing tale of the 2012 Cleveland Indians. As to whether it’s the truth? Well, the team certainly isn’t any better, so can’t really argue with that part. But, in the interest of fairness, it’s simply incorrect to say the Indians did “nothing” during the last hot stove season. In fact, they went out and acquired nearly TWENTY players with recent Major League experience—including former all-stars, top ten prospects, ex-closers, and Minor League Players of the Year. Were any of them expected to be big contributors in 2012? Not really. But when you start to consider what really separates baseball’s contenders from the pretenders, it’s often a handful of these overachieving B-listers that wind up tipping the scales. In other words, the production you didn’t expect can matter as much as the production you counted on. And in 2012, the Indians’ failure to capture lightning in any of those bottles wound up spelling the team’s doom as much as anything.

A Diamondless Rough

The blame game has no box score. And as the Indians’ season tumbles desperately further into self-parody (see video representation here), that lack of a definitive scapegoat has become all the more frustrating for a bloodthirsty fan base. Sure, it’s easy enough to prop Ubaldo Jimenez up on the dunk tank, or to question Manny Acta’s laid back demeanor (funny that Robin Ventura is being praised for the same trait in Chicago). We’ve all taken our turn bemoaning those terrible draft classes, too—an argument well countered once and for all by Al Ciammiachella.

What you won’t hear quite so often, though, are statements like, “Man, if only Felix Pie had worked out,” or, “the whole season might have gone differently if Kevin Slowey had figured his shit out.” Obviously, it’d just be ridiculous to put so much emphasis on any one of those journeyman, shot-in-the-dark pickups Chris Antonetti stockpiled over the winter. However, if we look at the entirety of the Indians’ off-season acquisitions as one unified entity, it suddenly becomes a lot easier to assess how they helped or hindered the team’s efforts to compete in 2012. No GM expects ALL of his low-level free agent signings to play beyond expectations. He should, however, presume that at least a couple of them will.

Every team in the AL playoff race made a few less-than-splashy additions in the off-season that have worked out far better than they could have anticipated. Along with the nice bounce-back season from free agent pitcher Jason Hammel (8-6, 3.54), the Orioles (65-55) have also found diamonds in the rough with a couple cheap pickups in bullpen arm Luis Ayala (2.97 ERA) and young starter Miguel Gonzalez (5-2, 3.38). In Oakland (64-55), Cuban free agent Yoenis Cespedes (16 HR, 60 RBI, .306) has lived up to the headlines, but the Athletics’ surprise season is as much about the improbable contributions of the ageless Bartolo Colon (10-9, 3.43) and a relatively unheralded ex-Nationals farmhand Tommy Milone (9-9, 4.03). Then there’s Detroit (64-56), where—Prince Fielder aside—you can find a guy like Quintin Berry (.274, 16 steals); a high-energy outfielder cut by the Reds and fished out of the preseason scrap heap.

People can say that luck is the result of preparation meeting opportunity, but sometimes a team just has to throw a bunch of darts at the board and hope a few stick.  It’s not much more scientific than that. Even the mighty Yankees work that way (albeit with a lot more room for error), as they’ve managed to get shockingly effective numbers out of presumed baseball corpses like Eric Chavez (13 HR, 31 RBI, .305) and reliever Clay Rapada (3-0, 2.97).

So, if we look at the current Cleveland roster, the question becomes: are ANY of the Indians’ off-season signings making a difference? Any whatsoever? Well, to make sure we cover all the bases (weak pun intended), let’s actually do a “Where are They Now” for the Tribe’s Infamous Hot Stove 2012 Crew.

Where Are They Now? The Indians 2012 Hot Stove Team

caseykotchmancardFirst Base

Casey Kotchman
Age 29
Signed: February 3; 1 year, $3 million
Current Team: Cleveland (Starting 1B)
Tribe Stats: 106 G, 11 HR, 42 RBI, .227 AVG, .638 OPS
If all you wanted was a defensive replacement over the disaster that was LaPorta and Santana, you got it. He's also the only everyday player on this list.

joselopezSecond Base
Jose Lopez
Age 28
Signed: December 16; 1 year, $800,000
Released: August 12
Current Team: Charlotte (White Sox AAA)
Tribe Stats: 66 G, 4 HR, 28 RBI, .249 AVG, .639 OPS
The former two-time All-Star batted cleanup for the Tribe on a regular basis this summer, but after getting cut, he was only deemed worthy of a minor league assignment.

Gregorio Petit
Age 27
Signed: January 19 (minor league deal)
Current Team: Columbus
Tribe Stats: N/A
Minor League Stats: 97 G, 9 HR, 39 RBI, .266 AVG, .743 OPS
Probably unlikely he gets a September callup.

andylarocheThird Base
Andy LaRoche
Age 28
Signed: December 21 (minor league deal)
Released: June 26
Current Team: Pawtucket (Red Sox AAA)
Tribe Stats: N/A
Minor League Stats (at Columbus): 46 G, 5 HR, 16 RBI, .234 AVG, .704 OPS
Despite the Indians’ numerous corner infield questions, LaRoche never even got a sniff.

Matt Pagnozzi
Age 29
Signed: December 2 (minor league deal)
Current Team: Columbus
Tribe Stats: N/A
Minor League Stats: 69 G, 6 HR, 29 RBI, .206 AVG, .647 OPS
Vital depth for a scenario in which Carlos Santana and Lou Marson are killed in a tandem bike accident.

aaroncunninghamLeft Field
Aaron Cunningham
Age 26
Signed: December 16 via trade with San Diego ($482,000)
Current Team: Columbus
Tribe Stats: 72 G, 1 HR, 7 RBI, .175 AVG, .493 OPS
Minor League Stats: 11 G, 0 HR, 2 RBI, .171 AVG, .437 OPS
At no point this season was he referred to as a “sparkplug off the bench.”

felixpieCenter Field
Felix Pie
Age 27
Signed: December 12 (minor league deal)
Released: April 4
Current Team: Gwinnett (Braves AAA)
Tribe Stats: N/A
The once much-ballyhooed Cubs prospect never even suited up with the Clippers.

ryanspilborghsRight Field
Ryan Spilborghs
Age 32
Signed: January 20 (minor league deal)
Released: May 4 (sold to Texas)
Current Team: Round Rock (Rangers AAA)
Tribe Stats: N/A
Minor League Stats (with Columbus): 21 G, 1 HR, 13 RBI, .250 AVG, .675 OPS
The former Rockie was beaten out by Aaron Cunningham for the reserve outfield slot in Cleveland, and was out of the plans completely a month later.

Fred Lewis
Age 31
Signed: January 19 (minor league deal)
Released: April 2
Current Team: Buffalo (Mets AAA)
Tribe Stats: N/A
Lewis was released to make room for Trevor Crowe, Beau Mills, and Ryan Spilborghs, all of whom have since been released.

russcanzlercard copy_copyOF/1B/DH
Russ Canzler
Age 26
Signed: January 31 (purchased from Rays)
Current Team: Columbus
Tribe Stats: N/A
Minor League Stats: 118 G, 19 HR, 65 RBI, .259 AVG, .797 OPS
The 2011 International League Player of the Year has essentially given the Indians’ a second Matt LaPorta—a power hitting 1B/LF in whom they have no real confidence.

dereklowecardStarting Pitcher
Derek Lowe
Age 39
Signed: October 31, via trade with Atlanta (1 year, $5 million)
Released: August 10
Current Team: New York Yankees
Tribe Stats: 21 G, 8-10, 5.52 ERA, 1.69 WHIP
Sometimes it takes a while to tell if a gamble actually paid off or not. Lowe was looking like the Tribe’s surprise X-factor acquisition back in May. But his epic unraveling quickly shuffled him into the regrets bin.

kevinsloweyStarting Pitcher
Kevin Slowey
Age 28
Signed: January 20, via trade with Colorado ($1.5 million)
Current Team: Columbus
Tribe Stats: N/A
Minor League Stats: 8 G, 3-3, 5.14 ERA, 1.33 WHIP
The once promising Twins right-hander was brought in to fill the gap created by the Fausto debacle, but back problems have put Slowey on the shelf for the majority of the season.

chrisseddonBullpen (Non-Mafia)
Chris Seddon
Age 28
Signed: January 9 (minor league deal)
Current Team: Cleveland (bullpen)
Tribe Stats: 5 G, 0-1, 5.79 ERA, 1.86 WHIP
Minor League Stats: 20 G, 11-5, 3.44 ERA, 1.13 WHIP
In case you hadn’t noticed, Seddon and Kotchman are the only off-season pickups on the current Indians roster.

danwheelerBullpen (Non-Mafia)
Dan Wheeler
Age 34
Signed: January 26 (1 year, $900,000)
Current Team: Columbus
Tribe Stats: 12 G, 0-0, 8.76 ERA, 1.95 WHIP
Minor League Stats: 29 G, 2-3, 2.67 ERA, 1.28 WHIP
With the backend of the bullpen in good shape, the Indians took casting calls for the middle innings. The veteran Wheeler failed his audition.

jeremyaccardocardBullpen (Non-Mafia)
Jeremy Accardo
Age 30
Signed: January 19 (minor league deal)
Released: August 9
Current Team: Sacramento (A’s AAA)
Tribe Stats: 26 G, 0-0, 4.58 ERA, 1.53 WHIP
I mean, he pitched better than Dan Wheeler.

robinsontejedaBullpen (Non-Mafia)
Robinson Tejeda
Age 30
Signed: January 3 (minor league deal)
Released: May 16
Current Team: N/A
Tribe Stats: N/A
Minor League Stats (in Columbus): 1 G, 0-0. 18.00 ERA, 2.00 WHIP
The former Royal hurler left quite the impression in the state capital, making one appearance before getting the permanent ax.

chrisrayBullpen (Non-Mafia)
Chris Ray
Age 30
Signed: January 12 (minor league deal)
Released: July 7
Current Team: N/A
Tribe Stats: N/A
Minor League Stats (in Columbus): 33 G, 2-4, 2.75 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, 11 Saves
The ex-Oriole closer was actually doing a decent job for the Clippers. But he has subsequently been signed and released by the A’s, too. The writing is on the wall, buddy.

Subtraction By Addition

There are 17 players listed above. Two of them (Kotchman and Lowe) were considered automatic members of the 25-man roster when acquired. Out of the remaining 15, the hope was to find (a) a handful of depth players, but also (b) a couple surprising standouts. Minor league deals or not, these were financial investments, after all.

Roughly five months later, only two of the players are members of the Indians big league roster (Kotchman and Chris Seddon). NINE of the 17 have been given their outright release. And ZERO of the 17 have put up better than mediocre numbers at the Major League level (feel free to throw Johnny Damon into this mix, since he was brought in just a couple weeks into the season). Outside of Russ Canzler, it could be argued that none of the 17 players even put up solid stats at the Minor League level this year.

Now none of us looked at these guys back in February and thought there was boundless potential in their midst. But for a middle-of-the-road team to make the leap into pennant contention, they have to get some help from unlikely sources and see a couple rolls of the dice come up roses. Nothing was further from the truth for the Tribe in 2012. 

The TCF Forums