Dipping A Toe In Free Agency

Due to a change in rules, the period for signing free agents is starting earlier this year than it has in the past. The Indians aren't expected to be big players, choosing instead to save Dolan's duckets and maximize the at bats that go to young players who require evaluation. However, the Indians pick up at least a player or two each year through some combination of free agent signing and spring training NRIs This gives the front office something to do all winter, as well as something for them to do at the deadline next summer. Additionally, there's always some chatter about "veteran presence" and, sticking to their guns, you'll hear guys like Tom Hamilton laying it on thick in August about Shelley Duncan's leadership skills.

Adam already made a persuasive case that the Indians won't be going over two years for anyone and, likely, won't be going over a year for anyone. He's almost certainly right. In combing through the list of free agents, my interest was piqued by a couple of guys who, while likely not coming to Cleveland, still seemed compelling.

Hideki Matsui

Cleveland Likelihood: 10%

What He's About: Since making his big, splashy arrival in American baseball, Matsui has more or less lived up to billing. In his eight seasons in the majors, he's averaged 25 homeruns per 162 games and has a career OPS of 820. After spending the first seven years of his career in New York, Matsui went west to the Angels this year and saw his star fade along with that club's prospects. His production at the plate stayed robust, however, putting up a 124 OPS+, one point better than his career average. Matsui played very little left field last year, only wandering around out there for 123 innings in 145 games.

What He'd Do In Cleveland: Adam pointed out that the Indians need a right-handed batter for the oufield and Matsui's neither much of an outfielder or right-handed. However, he's got very little platoon split for his career (.291/.377/.488 vs RHP, .287/.349/.460 vs LHP). He did struggle mightily against lefties last year, posting a sub-700 OPS, but in 2009 he pounded them and his 2010 performance against lefties was marred by a low (.265) BABIP. If Matsui were in Cleveland, he'd optimistically shuttle between 1B, DH and LF, getting something close to starter's ABs.

Why He Makes Sense For Cleveland: This Cleveland squad is powerless. The team was 11th in the AL in homers and Matsui's 21 four-baggers would've been second on the Indians. Matsui is likely to have trade value within the time frame of a one or two year deal and, while this is a hard thing to advocate for, it wouldn't hurt either the fans or the young players to have an actually decent hitter wandering around the clubhouse.

Why He Doesn't Make Sense For Cleveland: Matsui more than earned a full-time DH job with his performance last year in LA—he was one of the top 5 or 6 full time DH's in the game. It's hard to imagine why he'd want to come to a losing team and rotate among a bunch of spots. Additionally, he probably can't really play LF anymore and he's never played 1B. He's a more durable Hafner without a platoon problem. Is that something Cleveland really wants or needs?

Why He'd End Up In Cleveland: There's a lot of weird power options banging around free agency this year: Troy Glaus, Derek Lee, Eric Hinske, Vlad Guerrero, Mike Lowell, Ty Wiggington, and Andruw Jones gets us through the first quarter of the list. It's possible Matsui gets frozen out of the market and ends up a bridesmaid. More likely, he gets a deal and freezes others out, since he's a proven playoff star and all.

What He'll Cost: Matsui made $6 million last year on a one-year deal. Have to imagine he'll be in that dollar range and time-frame again.

Juan Uribe

Cleveland Likelihood: 5%

What He's About: Stout (prior to winning his second world series ring, he was chubby) who hit quite a bit for the White Sox in 2004 and 2005 and the not much at all until he left town after the 2008 season. Since arriving in the NL West, which I'll remind you is the home of the World Series champs, he's found some late career magic in his bat. Turning 31 next year, Uribe sells out for power and he's got a lot of it for an infielder, having hit 19 homeruns per 162 games in his career. Seriously, Juan Uribe has 151 career homeruns. He's got ten fewer career homeruns than Matsui (Uribe has about 200 games on Hideki, granted).

What He'd Do In Cleveland: Play third base and hit homeruns.

Why He Makes Sense For Clevleand: The Indians have no obvious third baseman entering 2010, despite a weird glut of unattractive options. Marte, Nix, Goedert, Rodriguez, and Phelps are all guys that, for various reasons, don't seem like they're going to get the gig. Again, the Indians are a powerless squad and, again, it probably wouldn't hurt anybody to have an actual professional baseball player around and playing third base. Uribe's played about 1000 innings at the hot corner and, while he's mostly been a limited defensive shortstop in his career, a shift down the defensive spectrum seems like the direction he's heading. Like Matsui, likely to have some trade value.

Why He Doesn't Make Sense For Cleveland: If most of the Indians in-house options are square pegs for a round hole, Uribe is just a stouter square peg. He's played less career innings at third than Andy Marte and if the Indians are trying to get a professional to play third, it better be somebody who's not going to demoralize the city with his defense the way Nix and Marte have. I don't see any guarantees that Uribe would be any more defensively serviceable than the guys we've got. On top of that, Uribe is a pseudo-hero in San Francisco and there's a sentiment that he should return to help with the repeat (good luck with that one). Even if he doesn't stay with the Giants, he'll probably have the chance to go to a winner who will pay at least as much as Cleveland.

Finally, he was bad in the AL when he left for the easier league. It doesn't make a lot of sense to bring him back now that he's moving into his 30s.

Why He'd End Up In Cleveland: Again, he'd just have to end up on the outside of the market at a discount rate.

What He'll Cost: This past season, he made $3.25 million and he set career highs in HRs and RBI. I suspect he's looking for a raise and multiple years. Maybe 3 years at 4 million per?

Uribe and Matsui will probably not even be linked to Cleveland at any point this offseason and I'm not trying to imply they will. Part of my purpose in exploring these two guys was just to have something to follow over the next week or two. I will be interested to see, though, if Chris Antonetti's approach to free agency is any different than Shapiro's was (yes, I know, they are a wonder-twin team that has thought as one mind for years) and if the front office feels any pressure to "legitimize" this team with some established veterans. More than likely the answer is no but I wouldn't be shocked if they signed one player like Matsui or Uribe to a one-year deal and also found a veteran starter willing to come to Cleveland.

What do you think? What's the likely destination for these two guys? What guys will the Indians try to breathe some life into this year?

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