In lieu of my typical introduction, I'm going to use this space to simply wish all my readers happy holidays and a great New Year. Enjoy your family, hug your kids and take time to notice life's blessings this week. As snow falls in Ohio today, it's nice to think about another baseball season coming in just a few months. So, go grab some eggnog and cookies, and settle in for this week's Indians Inbox.
How in play are the Indians realistically for free-agent outfielder Nick Swisher? I understand that he's an Ohio guy, but he seems to have a personality that would thrive in a big market. Please tell me there's a legitimate chance!
-- Michael D., Salem, Ore.
This is similar to the top question from the previous Inbox, but there has been progress on the Swisher front over the past two weeks. Yes, as of this writing, Cleveland remains realistically in play to sign Swisher to patrol right field. There is a standing contract offer, which is believed to cover four years at around $12-13 million annually.
Earlier this week, the Indians brought Swisher and his wife, along with the outfielder's agent, to Cleveland to give them a tour of the ballpark and facilities. The Tribe also brought out former Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel to try to sway the former Buckeye to come home to Ohio. Swisher was also shown a video message on the Progressive Field scoreboard featuring the likes of OSU football coach Urban Meyer and basketball coach Thad Matta, among others.
The Tribe treated Swisher like a top recruit and, according to a couple of sources, the outfielder was impressed with his two-day visit (they flew in Monday night and toured the stadium on Tuesday). Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News reported earlier this week that Swisher had two offers on the table, with as many as four other teams expressing interest in the free agent.
Isn't it true and relevant that signing Swisher would cost his new team its first-round selection in the First-Year Player Draft? Wouldn't that make him overly-expensive to a club like Cleveland, which picks fifth in June?
-- Mark L., Amherst, Ohio
That is both right, and wrong, as it relates to the Indians. Yes, signing Swisher has the potential to cost the acquiring club its first-round pick in the next Draft, under the rules of the latest Collective Bargaining Agreement. That said, the first 10 picks are protected. So, in Cleveland's case, the club would not lose the fifth overall selection. Instead, the Indians would lose a second-round pick for signing Swisher.
If the Indians don't sign Swisher, or another free-agent outfielder, who internally has the best shot at making the Opening Day roster?
-- Mike D., Cleveland
In a recent chat with reporters, general manager Chris Antonetti was asked this very question. The first names he rattled off were Ezequiel Carrera and Tim Fedroff. Thomas Neal would also be a possibility. Given those internal options, you can bet Cleveland will try to add some more experienced players via free agency, trade or Minor League contracts. It's not hard to see why the Indians are running a full-court press in an effort to land Swisher.
With Shin-Soo Choo traded to the Reds, who will bat in the leadoff spot for the Tribe in 2013? Michael Brantley has proven that he really doesn't fit that role, but there is really no one else on the big league team who does, either. Are the Indians pursuing a leadoff hitter?
--Manny C., Copley, Ohio
I do not think the Indians are targeting a player specifically for the leadoff spot. The bigger concern for the offense this winter has been adding right-handed power (Mark Reynolds) and improving the club's performance against left-handed pitching (Mike Aviles, Drew Stubbs and Reynolds). As the roster currently stands, Brantley and Jason Kipnis appear to be the top candidates to lead off.
Was there any reason why they only offered Reynolds a one-year deal? They offered four years to Shane Victorino, are rumored to have offered four years to Swisher, and could use some stability and power at first base and designated hitter.
-- Evan R., Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio
Based on his performance in previous seasons, Reynolds had a down year with the Orioles in 2012. Signing a one-year contract with the Indians -- a structure that was mutually agreed upon -- gives him a year to try to re-establish himself for next winter's market, and it minimizes risk on Cleveland's end if the first baseman falls through in that regard. Reynolds is still young, so if he excels, there is always the possibility of a longer contract down the road.
Do you think that being a No. 1 starter put too much pressure on Justin Masterson last season, contributing to his struggles?
-- Daniel Z., Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio
As the rotation began to struggle, I think each pitcher buckled some under the growing pressure as last season progressed. Within that, I'm sure being the staff horse weighed on Masterson throughout the group's collective problems. It is also worth pointing out that Masterson noted at the end of the season that he never felt right last year, an issue that possibly stemmed from his left shoulder surgery last offseason. Here's hoping a new year, and a normal offseason, will mean better things for Masterson and the Tribe's rotation in 2013.
Are the Indians looking to add any starting pitching through free agency?
-- Jordan F., Bucyrus, Ohio
You can bet that the Indians are trying. Free-agent right-hander Edwin Jackson just agreed to a four-year contract with the Cubs, but Cleveland was reportedly in the hunt to sign him until the end. If the Tribe was willing to dish out the money to sign Jackson, it's a safe bet it's exploring alternatives such as Shaun Marcum, Kyle Loshe, and others. The Indians will undoubtedly look at the possibilities via trades, too. For example, a team such as the Dodgers suddenly has an excess of starting pitching.
During the Winter Meetings, it was revealed that the Indians turned down a trade for Asdrubal Cabrera that would have netted a Major League pitcher and two high-level prospects, because the Tribe wanted a third prospect. Do you have any knowledge of this team and the players involved?
--Jim L., Phoenix
According to the Plain Dealer's Paul Hoynes, it was the Phillies who tried to nab Cabrera for their (since filled) vacancy at third base. Philadelphia was offering pitcher Vance Worley and two prospects, and Cleveland wanted one more player. The Phillies backed out, traded Worley to the Twins in the deal that netted outfielder Ben Revere, and later acquired Michael Young from Texas to play third.