The Cleveland Indians were a disappointment last season. The team was supposed to be a dark horse behind the pitching of: Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar but injuries to Michael Brantley and long stretches of anemic offensive performances instead left the team 81-80, in third place in the AL Central and looking up at seven teams in the AL who finished with better records.
But Cleveland also knows it performs a lot better when Brantley is healthy and nothing in free agency can account for that, and it knows the pitching staff arrived down the stretch. The Indians aren’t as far off as the record indicated. So suffice it to say signing Juan Uribe, Tommy Hunter and now, Marlon Byrd (to a minor league deal) may not only help get the team over the hump, but it also happened to be the most savvy trio of deals we’ve seen from a team this winter.
Uribe can still hit and a lot of teams could have probably used his help but weren’t willing to make room for the veteran third baseman in a starting role. Cleveland did and it was rewarded with a one year, $4 million dollar deal for a veteran who hit .253/.320 with 14 HR last season and has a penchant for big hits in the playoffs, something the Indians aspire to visit this fall.
That’s a bargain, but it’s nothing compared to the coup of signing Marlon Byrd to a minor league contract. Byrd seems to be the perennial outfielder who never gets enough appreciation for his bat. He may not hit right-handed pitchers well, but there is a major league market for a player who has hit 20+ home runs three years in a row for five different teams. He also may be 38-years-old, but the man is a .275/.329 career hitter finishing last season with 23 home runs. All he does is move teams, hit a bunch of home runs and leave.
And the Indians got him to basically exclusively try out for them for $1 million dollars, or around seven innings of David Price this season.
Both of those deals say nothing of Tommy Hunter. Hunter was signed to a one year deal as well, this time for $2 million dollars and he won’t be ready until possibly early May. Compared to the other two, this might seem like a ripoff, but Hunter won’t be 30 until July and has a multi-inning arm which, before injuries and a change of scenery in 2015, was giving the Orioles a sub 3.00 ERA in back to back years.
Cleveland has gained a solid swing-man (think a poor man’s Adam Warren which cost the Cubs Spring Training Superstar, Starlin Castro), a potential veteran in an outfield in need of it and a former playoff hero who can still hit and field.
All for a whopping $7 million dollars. To put it another way, they may have added about 40 home runs and an OBP above .300 to an offense in need of some pop and gained a reliever…For about one third of what the Red Sox paid Pablo Sandoval to hit a quarter of those home runs and to post an OBP of .292 and it doesn’t include the extra four years of commitment on the deal.
The Indians are going to need to prove the bargain bin pays off by winning on the field, but for now, they are at least the savviest team heading into April.