Former Tampa Bay first basemen is the new market inefficiency.
Signed 1B Casey Kotchman, to a 1-Year, $3.0M Contract
It's not official yet, but there's enough noise from people on the Tribe beat that I'll treat this as a done deal. Jon Heyman first reported that the Indians had signed Kotchman, and Paul Hoynes noted the salary.
And so the winter-long quest for a Bat is over. It's not over because Kotchman is that Bat, but because now that Kotchman has been signed, the Indians will cease looking for a Bat. Let me explain.
Kotchman had a career year in 2011, batting .306/.378/.422 for the Rays in 563 Plate Appearances. But that's tempered by a couple things: 1) his Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP) in 2011 was .335, well above the league average and well above anything he'd done in the past, and 2) the previous season (2010, with Seattle), he hit .217/.280/.336. In his non-Tampa career, Kotchman's batting line is .259/.326/.392 (91 OPS+). Players have been known to suddenly fundamentally change their games in mid-career (as we saw with Cliff Lee), so perhaps Kotchman's 2011 is a harbinger of success to come. But it looks like other MLB GMs were not that visionary.
I do think, though, that the signing has some positives. Kotchman has always been a very good defender at first base (career UZR of +32.3), and that should be a help behind a staff predicted to be full of ground-ball pitchers. If the Indians go with Jack Hannahan at third, they'll have very good defenders on both corners of the infield.
If you're Matt LaPorta, this type of signing isn't the worst thing in the world. Matt was going to AAA regardless of who they signed, but Kotchman isn't likely to stay in Cleveland beyond this year, whether it be due to success (free agency) or lack of it (minor-league free agency). So Matt will have a season in Columbus to earn another chance, and with the Indians only on the hook for $3M, they shouldn't feel obligated to play or keep Kotchman if he isn't hitting.
The Kotchman signing will make the Indians choose between Lonnie Chisenhall and Shelley Duncan this spring. I think Duncan still fits well on the roster, especially with the addition of a left-handed first baseman. He'd be one of the few right-handed power hitters in camp, and with Travis Hafner's injury history, he'd be a nice backup option for DH. But that would mean the Indians would have to send Lonnie Chisenhall to AAA.
The Indians had to bring in someone to force Matt LaPorta to AAA. This has been accomplished. But I don't think Kotchman is a Bat in the sense that Josh Willingham or Carlos Beltran or even Carlos Pena would have been. Kotchman is a modest improvement over what the Indians had, and no more.