Well, there really isn't that much Indians news right now, so let's talk about some longer-term strategy, using this Hey Hoynsie! question as a jumping-off point:
Hey, Hoynsie: I know it’s only winter ball, but first baseman Jesus Aguilar has been hitting a ton. Any word on what the organization projects him as? I know he's probably a couple years from the bigs, but he's a big right-handed bat, and he's only 23 -- David Burrows, San Francisco.
Aguilar is hitting .309/.372/.561 in Venezuela this winter in 123 AB.
Leaving Francisco Lindor aside, if I had to choose three minor-league position players that could make meaningful contributions to the Indians in 2014, they would be Jose Ramirez (who has kinda already done that), Carlos Moncrief, and Jesus Aguilar. All three had fine seasons in Akron last season, and all of them will be starters in Columbus this upcoming season. Moncrief (as of now) seems to have an easier path to regular playing time than the other two, as Drew Stubbs is right now the "starter" in right field. For Ramirez and Aguilar, it would have to take an injury for them to get playing time in Cleveland. But unexpected things tend to happen during a season, so it's nice to have some actual depth in the system for once. Last year the Indians were extremely lucky that not many position players missed much time, because they had nobody in Columbus worth calling up after Yan Gomes was recalled early in the season.
I guess what I'm getting to is this: for a medium-market club like the Indians, you need to have that constant stream of minor-leaguers breaking into the majors in meaningful roles. Otherwise at some point your core players get too expensive and you have to start all over. The trick is to come up with at least a couple regulars each year so that you have that nice mix of young (and cheaper) talent along with your more established (and more expensive) players. The Indians have actually done a good job of this in the rotation, with McAllister, Kluber, and Salazar establishing themselves in the rotation in the last couple of years, so that even with the presumed losses of Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir they can still be competitive. In 2013 Yan Gomes was that guy for the position players, with Lonnie Chisenhall at times showing some potential.
So Jesus Aguilar having a fantastic showing in the Venezuelan Winter League (which has a lot of major-league talent) is a big deal, as he may be turning into a potential major-league regular, somebody that could hold down a job for 3-4 years until the next cycle happens. Usually there's a hard and fast dividing line between a real prospect and good minor-leaguer. We saw that with Matt LaPorta, who looked great in the minors but couldn't lay off a major-league breaking ball. You can't have that type of weakness as a hitter, because pitchers will exploit that. Aguilar has slowly but steadily improved at the plate through the system to the point where he have crossed that line into viable major league player. The Indians may try to get away with leaving him off the 40-man roster, as he doesn't fit the profile of a Rule 5 pick, but that doesn't mean he's not someone worth following.
The issue of course is whether there would be a spot for Aguilar. He's only going to be able to play first base, and with Nick Swisher the regular first baseman, there doesn't seem be a short-term or even medium-term opportunity for him barring injury. He could DH, but for now it looks like Carlos Santana will be doing most of that. So for now he'll make the jump to AAA, try to duplicate his success there, and wait for an opportunity.
AL Central News
If anyone fits the Scott Kazmir template on the free agent market, it's Phil Hughes. No, Hughes hasn't had his year in the Independent League wilderness, but a lot of other things fit. Up in the majors at a young age, a couple of years of success, then career stagnation in his mid-20s. He had a bad contract season (145.2 IP, 5.19 ERA, 78 ERA+), so he's not going to get anything beyond a one-year contract. He seems to be a guy that needs that change of scenery, and the Indians should be an attractive destination because of the success of pitchers like Kazmir and Jimenez with pitching coach Mickey Callaway. From the Indians' standpoint, Hughes shouldn't have any problems getting through the season (he's thrown 337 innings over the past two seasons) and has the same type of upside that Kazmir had.
It looks like the White Sox aren't done spending after landing Abreu. Well, I think that could be said about almost any club this winter, what with the new TV revenue dollars kicking in. That's why I'm expecting the free agents out there to really cash in, including players you wouldn't expect to get much interest.
The Metrodome is going to be demolished soon, so several pieces of the doomed building are going to be placed up for auction. Including the famous (or infamous) right field baggie.