This weekend, the Cleveland Indians signed a pair of veterans to minor league deals: Jason Giambi and Daisuke Matsuzaka. Giambi will be in competition for a bench spot as a left-handed DH option, while Matsuzaka will attempt to win a job on Cleveland's pitching staff.
Neither signing represents much risk for the Indians due to the nature of minor league deals, but the rewards that Giambi can give them outweigh the potential rewards from Matsuzaka. Heading into Spring Training, Cleveland's DH is Chris McGuiness, a Rule 5 pick from the Rangers that spent last year at AA, mashing 23 homers for Frisco in 123 games. The other options for the Indians at DH include former Blue Jays Yan Gomes and Mike McDade and both Cord Phelps and Ezequiel Carrera, who struggled in brief stints in the majors over the last two seasons. There's also Ryan Raburn and Mike Aviles on the major league roster, but neither should be logging any at bats as a DH this year for the Tribe.
Giambi hasn't been an every day player since 2008 with the Yankees. He was pretty awful with the Rockies in 2012, homering just once in 113 plate appearances. But the 42-year old did mash 13 homers in just 152 plate appearances in 2011, and has continually walked at a double digit clip even as a part-time player. He's not the be-all, end-all solution for Cleveland, but the Indians only had a .702 OPS out of their DHs last season, ahead of only the Tigers, Rays, and Mariners in the American League. All of those teams upgraded at the position this year, and the Indians were in severe danger of having the worse DH corps in the league. Besides, maybe some of his good traits can rub off on McGuiness, McDade, and Gomes, and they can become better players this season with him in the fold as a mentor this spring. It's an intangible factor, but worth rolling with, considering the lack of awesome options in-house right now.
Matsuzaka is another story, though. The Indians actually have a little bit of a starting pitching surplus right now, with veterans Ubaldo Jimenez, Justin Masterson, and Brett Myers having rotation spots locked up, and Zach McAllister, Carlos Carrasco, and Trevor Bauer battling for the last two spots in the rotation. The 32-year old Dice-K was putrid in 11 starts for Boston last season due to a ridiculously high homer rate in his return from Tommy John surgery, but his command was actually pretty solid and his velocity wasn't a total disaster. Maybe he can recapture some of the magic from earlier in his Red Sox career now that he's reunited with Terry Francona, but I doubt it.
Here's one way Dice-K's signing makes sense for Cleveland. Carlos Carrasco didn't pitch at all in 2012 after Tommy John surgery in September 2011, and while he'll probably be fully healed and ready to roll, there's the slight chance that he won't be. If the Indians want to take it slow with him and let Bauer marinate in AAA, it might make sense to let Matsuzaka start the season in the major league rotation for the Indians if he has a solid spring. I don't necessarily think that they'll end up doing that, but it at least makes sense when you look at the big picture. At the end of the day though, I think Dice-K winds up in AAA to start the year with the Tribe, or he's simply flat-out released at the end of the spring. As I mentioned in the opening, Giambi's signing has a better chance of paying dividends more than Matsuzaka's signing, but neither is something that will shape the franchise's season in 2013 and beyond.