It’s always good when the Yankees come to town for a weekend series. The Indians get to sell some tickets and their fans get to see real, live baseballing players. It’s a win-win, really.
There was one of those baseballers from the Bronx who caught my eye this weekend in particular, and made me think some Tribe thoughts. I think too often we look at the Bombers and see all the things that we can’t have—players like Alex Rodriguez or Derek Jeter or Mark Teixeira or Curtis Granderson. Players who are simply beyond the financial constraints of this (and most other) franchises.
But the Yankees also have some players we can have. And here I’m talking of course about Eric Chavez.
Chavez signed with the Yankees as a bench player this off-season for $900,000 plus performance incentives. Granted, this was coming off of several injury-plagued, sub-par years, but still. The Yankees signed Eric Chavez to a one-year free agency deal for less than a million bucks. This is the part of the pool that the Indians can play in.
This season, Eric Chavez has a higher OPS (.857) than any Indian. He has 13 HRs which would put him behind only Choo and Cabrera, despite having fewer than half as many plate appearances (243) as either one. He is a fine third baseman, and can play the outfield in a pinch. And he was guaranteed less money this year than: Jack Hannahan, Rafael Perez, Joe Smith, Kevin Slowey, and Casey Kotchman, among others.
You are likely out there biting your thumb at me. After all, it’s particularly unreasonable to expect the Indians to have known that Eric Chavez would catch fire this season with newfound health and opportunity. How could they have known? Isn’t this the worst sort of hindsight, backseat driving nonsense?
Well, yeah. It is unfair to argue the Indians should have known that Chavez was going to outperform their entire team. But I’m not saying the Indians should’ve known.
What I’m saying, I think, is that I can’t remember the last bargain bin free agent the Indians signed who actually worked out. There was David Dellucci (hardly a bargain, we should remember) and Jason Michaels and Trot Nixon and Masa Kobayashi and Mark DeRosa and Kevin Slowey and Jamey Carroll and Mark Grudzielanek and Orlando Cabrera. Oh god. I just remembered Obie. The horror.
That’s just off the top of my head, and we’re not even counting the league minimum guys here. And not one of them benefitted this team in any appreciable way. The best of them were glorified bench players miscast into everyday duty. The worst were named Orlando. But not one of them provided anything near the sort of value that every once in a while you expect to find if your talent evaluation is anything near average.
I don’t think that every free agent signing has to be Eric Chavez—that’s not remotely possible, given the constraints of the space time continuum. But I’m not sure why they all have to be Masa Kobayashi either. As the Chavez example should make clear, there is real value on the free agent market each off-season that is within the Indians’ financial grasp.
Too often, we prefer to throw our hands up when faced with the unlevel playing field in MLB. And don’t get me wrong: it’s seriously warped. But the Indians’ front office as well as the fans need to be asking why other teams are able to find free agent value on the cheap.