The Indians signed David Murphy early in the offseason, and since then haven't made a move that will affect the Opening Day roster. It seems that there's three major moves left to make:
- Trade an outfielder (presumably Drew Stubbs)
- Sign a starting pitcher
- Sign a relief pitcher, possibly a closer
Perhaps the Indians could land a reliever in Stubbs trade, so they could take care of #1 and # on the to-do at the same time, but it seems that the Indians are expending their energy on signing a closer, something they probably couldn't get via a Stubbs trade. And there's a financial component to that, although it's not the one that you think.
After the season, the Indians released/non-tendered Chris Perez, as he would have gotten upwards of $9-10M had he remained on the roster. Closers get much more in arbitration than even a very good setup man. Joe Smith, in his final year of arbitration, only got $3.15M from the Indians, while Perez, in his penultimate arbitration season, got $7.3M. Was that because Perez was trice the reliever of Smith. Absolutely not, as Smith was in many measures a better pitcher than Perez in 2012. But the arbitration process values the save and pitching in the ninth inning disproportionately high, and so the Indians didn't have much of a choice in what to do with Perez after the season.
The Indians have a couple of internal candidates in Cody Allen and Bryan Shaw who could do good jobs as closer, but if they'd do that then either pitcher would quickly become more and more expensive over the next couple seasons. In that case it's better to sign a perhaps less-talented free agent to a cost-controlled contract than deal with an escalating salary from your most valuable relievers. For instance, if the Indians end up signing Joaquin Benoit to a two-year deal worth $7M a year, that signing could actually save the Indians in the medium-term through lower arbitration contracts. The alternative is to lock up Allen or Shaw through their arbitration years, but relievers are so volatile (witness Vinnie Pestano last year) that it wouldn't be worth the risk. So you sign a free agent closer and keep your better relievers' arbitration salaries lower from year to year.
I think the Indians will end up signing a closer, whether it Benoit or John Axford or someone of that ilk. A starting pitcher seems to be another matter, given the money being thrown around at even second- and third-tier free agents. And that's a problem, as unlike with their relievers, the Indians have very little starting pitching depth. Carrasco, Tomlin, and Bauer are the major-league depth right now, with one going into the rotation and the other being the backups. Carrasco is out of options, so he would have the leg up on the other two because of that status. If the Indians do not sign a starting pitcher and go with (let's say) Carrasco in the rotation to start the season, they're taking a huge gamble that the other pitchers in the rotation will stay healthy and effective throughout the season, with four of them (Carrasco, Salazar, Kluber, McAllister) never having thrown 150 innings in a major-league season.
The Indians have been tinkering around the edges, though. Last season they got away with very little position player depth on the 40-man roster, and they've addressed that with the additions of David Cooper and David Adams to the roster. Both players have options remaining, so they should give the Indians decent options if someone would get hurt.
Here is the latest 25-man/40-man roster:
(click to embiggen):
AL Central News
Chicago has largely stayed out of the free agent sweepstakes (though with one rather important exception in Jose Abreu). It's very possible that the White Sox will have the lowest payroll in the division come Opening Day.
The addition of Infante is a rather large upgrade because the Royals had a bunch of dreck at second base last year. Four years does seem rather long for a player already in his early 30s, but the AAV isn't that much ($7.5M). There's still rumors that Billy Butler will be traded, but if he isn't, the Royals should have a rather formidable lineup in 2014.
The Twins have been very aggressive in the free agent market for pitchers, signing both Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes to contracts worth $73M. Now it looks like they're close to re-signing Mike Pelfrey to a multi-year deal.