Signed OF Grady Sizemore to a 1-Year, $5M Contract (with $4M Incentives)
This is a unique signing for the Indians; normally once a player enters the open market, he's gone, as the Indians haven't been known to have either deep pockets or an aggressive nature. But in this case, there were several factors that pushed Grady back to the Indians. First, he's damaged goods because of the knee injuries, so he was not going to get the huge free agent contract that a player of his talents would normally get. Second, because he's been essentially rehabbing with the Indians over the past three years, he felt that going to another club right now would be counter-productive. After all, if his goal is to get that huge contract, he needs to prove that he can stay on the field for an entire season. Thirdly, the Indians were willing to keep him in center field, and other clubs wanted instead to move him to a corner. Now playing a corner may eventually be where Grady ends up for the rest of his career, but if does have a comeback season, he's going to get a much bigger contract as a center fielder than a left fielder. And finally, it seems that Sizemore feels some affection to the organization; he specifically mentioned that Chris Antonetti personally informed him that the Indians were declining his option. Now a gesture like that may not have made a $12M difference, but when all the other offers were in the ballpark, it seemed to play a considerable part in Sizemore's decision.
The Indians will pay Sizemore a base guaranteed salary of $5M, but he can earn an additional $4M in incentives based on plate appearances. The incentives start to kick in after 450 plate appearances, which is more than he made in either 2010 or 2011, but it's a very reachable incentive, as most full-time position players have in excess of 550 or 600 plate appearances. Sizemore also gets a $500K bonus if he wins the AL Comeback Player of the Year award, which he's a natural fit for. But the incentives pale in comparison for the paycheck waiting for Grady at the end of the year if he's healthy and productive.
So as of now the Tribe outfield looks a lot like it did at the beginning of the 2011: a rehabbing Sizemore in center, Shin-Soo Choo in right, and Michael Brantley in left. Although it looks like the Indians are turning their attention to first base, I would still like them to sign either a quality NRI or even a major-leaguer, as the organizational depth in the outfield just isn't very good. They did acquire Thomas Neal at the trade deadline last season, who has some power potential, but the Indians still need to drastically upgrade the position.
Because the 40-man roster was full when the Indians signed Sizemore, someone had to go, and that someone was: (Correction: Valbuena was removed when the Indians protected three players from the Rule 5 Draft).
Thus continuing a tradition of the Indians sending marginal infielders to the Blue Jays. John McDonald, who the Indians dealt to Toronto in 2004 for Tom Mastny, made a nice career for himself in Canada as autility infielder, and even Joe Inglett, who was claimed off waivers in late 2007, was still playing in the majors last season.
Luis Valbuena probably can't stick at shortstop, but I think he can be a major-league second baseman if he can transfer the success he's had in the minors to the majors. He has surprising power for someone his size, and has glimpses of that in the majors. But each time he's gotten chance with the Indians, he's been awful. And with second base being the deepest position on the roster (with Jason Donald and Cord Phelps behind Jason Kipnis) and Valbuena being out of options, he wasn't going to last the winter.