Originally posted on Waiting For Next Year  |  Last updated 8/8/13
The Cleveland Indians front office has to be nearly flawless to compete for the playoffs in any year. If you don’t believe that proposition, just ask the Moneyball A’s or Wall Street Rays, whose innovation and knack for value propelled them to long playoff runs. Entering 2013, the Tribe made major long-term investments on Nick Swisher (4 years, $56 million) and Michael Bourn (4 years, $48 million). Those signings alone added significant payroll for this upcoming season. But the team also inked one-year deals with two veteran free agents expected to provide stability at key positions: right-handed pitcher Brett Myers ($7 million) and free-swinging first baseman Mark Reynolds ($6 million). With today’s move to designate Reynolds for assignment, it’s likely neither one will play again for the Indians in 2013. They finished the year with a combined -1.7 WAR. It’s easy to wither away in sadness with the Tribe just losing their third straight game to the rival Detroit Tigers. But there also are some not-so-awful components of these deals and where Cleveland stands right now with 48 more games remaining in the season. Let’s review a few of the main talking points in bullet-point form: — Reynolds and Myers entered the year as not-so-sexy but reliable veterans. They had averaged a combined 2.4 WAR per season since 2007, when the former player first broke into the big leagues with the Arizona Diamondbacks. In TD’s article about the Reynolds signing on Dec. 10, he wrote: “Last night, while still waiting to hear from Youkilis, the Indians decided they would go in another direction and nab themselves a power hitting first baseman. … Bringing in Reynolds could be the opening salvo that will signal the change that we have all been waiting for.” In my article about the Myers signing on Jan. 5, I wrote: “Myers, a 32-year-old who spent 2012 as a reliever with the Astros and White Sox, brings a reliable reputation as a solid innings-eater to Terry Francona’s club. He will easily be the most experienced pitcher on the team’s roster in 2013.” If one recalls, the Indians had one of the worst starting pitching rotations in decades last season. The rotation’s 5.25 ERA ranked 28th in baseball and their .801 OPS allowed ranked 27th. They also had inconsistent (at best) production at first base from the likes of Casey Kotchman, Matt LaPorta and Jose Lopez. The team’s .675 OPS from first baseman ranked 28th in baseball. These two players were expected to contribute immediately, bring a veteran presence to a young roster and not be awful. Yet, they were. 1 — One-year deals are the trademark of low-payroll organizations like the Indians. TD had a fantastic article in May about the past hit-and-miss rates on deals like those for Kevin Millwood, Ronnie Belliard, Joe Borowski and Jason Johnson. At the time, TD placed Reynolds into the Millwood category because of his incredible early production and their price. Scott Kazmir was just starting to pick up steam back in May. Myers had already landed on the disabled list after his horrific start to the season. So yes, I whole-heartedly agree that one-year deals are great. They’re relatively low risk. Some work out for a great one season, yet may work out too well, leading to long-term deals with other organizations. Some don’t work out too well, but at least it’s not multiple years of an albatross contract like the one for Travis Hafner. Yet, big money – especially in the range of $13 million – does not live in a vacuum for a team like Cleveland. Numbers are all over the place on the Internet, but the team’s Opening Day payroll was somewhere in the range of $76-82 million. That means Reynolds and Myers were making about one-sixth of the money. Spending $13 million in 2013 does affect the team’s ability and willingness to spend major money in future years. The front office and ownership put a lot of money into this past offseason, but will they do it again? These misses hurt a lot and money just doesn’t grow on trees, especially when considering … — Indians salaries for 2014 are expected to balloon anyway. I wrote about this topic two weeks ago when the team was again struggling at new Target Field. Per that article: The increases for Bourn, Swisher and catcher Carlos Santana add nearly $13.5 million alone to the payroll docket next season. Factor in the unknown status of shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera ($3.5 million increase) and that could be even more. This also doesn’t consider the $2 million contract just given to Ryan Raburn. So immediately, those first three players’ increases counteract the $13 million that was spent in 2013 on just Reynolds and Myers. In addition, the team has an $8 million mutual option with starter Ubaldo Jimenez, plus free agency decisions to make on Joe Smith, Matt Albers, Jason Giambi and Kazmir. By the end of 2014, de facto ace Justin Masterson will be a free agent, too. Again, while I applaud the Indians effort for going out and grabbing two guys they thought would help the team immediately, it failed miserably. Myers was hurt within a few weeks and probably won’t return. Reynolds has now been kicked to the curb after an abysmal three-month slump. My guess is that the Indians won’t have the financial flexibility to make similar one-year deals with actual veterans this coming season. They missed big on their $13 million investment to bring in talent and assist a winning team. Who knows when that opportunity might come up again? (AP File Photo/Mark Duncan) ___________________________________ A quick aside: If it weren’t for the production of low-money investments Ryan Raburn, Yan Gomes, Mike Aviles and Scott Kazmir in 2013, where would the Indians be? Those four have combined for a 6.1 WAR. Overall, 62-52 is a far better pace than what the WFNY crew predicted for this season. Those four are the true unsung heroes of this season.
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