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Indians, other teams still looking into FA 3B Juan Uribe

By Ryan Lewis Published: February 8, 2016
Uribe

The market on free agent third baseman Juan Uribe is still in a holding pattern.

The Indians have been connected to Uribe for a while. Last season Uribe, who turns 37 in march, hit .253 with a .320 on-base percentage, 14 home runs and 43 RBI in 119 games between the Los Angeles Dodgers, Atlanta Braves and New York Mets. He amassed a 1.9 WAR, per FanGraphs, after finishing 2014 with a 3.6 WAR with the Dodgers. Defensively, he’s been an above-average third baseman for most of his career. In 2013 and 2014 he had 15 and 17 defensive runs saved, respectively. That number dipped to one last season, though.

ESPN’s Buster Olney reported that the San Francisco Giants recently moved on from Uribe due to his asking price. Olney then reported that Uribe and his agent were dissatisfied with the Indians’ offer of about $3 million, creating a holding pattern. For now, Uribe, third baseman David Freese, shortstop Ian Desmond, outfielder Dexter Fowler and several others represent a talented free agent crop still available, a bit of a surprise considering pitchers and catchers report in less than two weeks.

Uribe would relieve some every-day pressure at third base for Giovanny Urshela, coming off his first full season and still only 24 years old. The Indians know they couldn’t properly evaluate Urshela, as he played through back and shoulder injuries all last season. But they might not want to hand him the position every day, either. Urshela played well defensively—his advanced fielding metrics are similar to that of Uribe, though one season isn’t an ideal sample size—but hit just .225 with six home runs in 81 games.

Uribe represents a veteran option to split time with Urshela and provide an offensive upgrade at third base or even take over the position full-time if Jose Ramirez can stand in as the primary backup. As of now, the club is mulling over its options as it prepares to head to Goodyear, Ariz. for spring camp.

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Indians add RP Craig Stammen to bullpen mix with non-roster invite

By Ryan Lewis Published: February 8, 2016
Stammen

 

The Indians added another option to the bullpen on Monday, signing relief pitcher Craig Stammen to a minor league deal that includes a non-roster invitation to camp this spring.

Stammen, 31, has compiled a career 3.91 ERA in 229 appearances (he was converted to a reliever in 2010) including 370 strikeouts in 490 2/3 innings pitched with the Washington Nationals. Last season, Stammen pitched only four innings before being shut down on April 19 with forearm/elbow complications that warranted season-ending surgery. In 2014, he went 4-5 with a 3.84 ERA and 56 strikeouts in 72 2/3 innings.

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Indians continue campaign for Bob Feller; Jim Thome hopes Albert Belle comes to ceremony

By Ryan Lewis Published: February 5, 2016
BelleLoftonBaerga

The trucks packed with gear are leaving for Goodyear, Arizona, a promissory note that baseball will soon arrive.

Pitchers and catchers will report on Feb. 17, all players will report by Feb. 21 and the Indians kick off their spring training slate against the Cincinnati Reds on March 1.

Spring is near and baseball is coming. Here’s a roundup of Indians notes to pass the time.

Presidential Medal

The Indians have started a campaign with the goal of awarding the late Bob Feller with the Presidential Medal of Freedom via a petition.

The petition, filed on WhiteHouse.gov on Wednesday, needs 100,000 signatures in 30 days to warrant a response from the White House. As of Friday morning, the petition had 7,676 signatures. Yogi Berra, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Ernie Banks, Roberto Clemente, Joe DiMaggio, Frank Robinson and Jackie Robinson are some of the players who have been awarded this honor in the past.

Feller holds the distinction as the first baseball player to enlist in the U.S. Navy following the bombings of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.

“In addition to the incredible and lasting impact Bob made on the Indians organization, we think his meritorious contribution to the security and national interests of the United States makes him worthy of consideration for the Presidential Medal of Freedom,” said Indians Senior Vice President of Public Affairs Bob DiBiasio in a release.

The petition can be viewed at indians.com/Feller.

Answer the Belle

Jim Thome and Albert Belle, two members of the lethal 1995 Indians lineup, are each being named to the Indians Hall of Fame, along with former player/manager Frank Robinson and Charlie Jamieson.

The foursome will be inducted in a ceremony on July 30 at Progressive Field. One question remaining is if Belle will attend, as he at times had a rocky relationship with fans. Thome says he hasn’t talked with Belle recently but hopes that he can be a part of the festivities as well.

“It would be wonderful,” Thome said. “I think it’d be great for him, personally, and I think it’d be great for the city.”

Does Thome have a favorite Belle story?

“We might have to sit for a long time, there’s many of them,” Thome said, laughing. “Albert was a true competitor. He played it right. He did it right. He competed at a level I don’t think personally I’ve ever seen. He was one of the most tenacious not only right-handed players [I have seen] but when it was clutch time, he was as good as there was.”

Shoulder ready

All-Star second baseman Jason Kipnis underwent a shoulder program this winter after he was placed on the disabled list with right shoulder inflammation in August.

The program was more of a cautionary one to make sure Kipnis’ shoulder was properly healed and strengthened after the injury. It mostly affected his throwing motion, though Kipnis’ production at the plate also took a dip compared to his torrid first half.

“For the last three months, Monday-Wednesday-Friday was a little physical therapy, which was to strengthen everything around the shoulder,” Kipnis said. “It was a good offseason. It went really well. I think we’re getting smarter every year we go through this, knowing what works for me, knowing how to handle my body and what it needs to get ready for the season.”

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Jim Thome, Albert Belle, Frank Robinson, Charlie Jamieson to be inducted into Indians Hall of Fame

By Ryan Lewis Published: January 29, 2016
Thome

Four former Indians will make up the class of 2016 Hall of Fame inductees, including two of the organization’s greatest hitters who fueled the offensive surge in the mid-90s, a player/manager that broke down boundaries and a member of the 1920 World Series club.

The four—Jim Thome, Albert Belle, Frank Robinson and Charlie Jamieson—will be inducted into the Indians Hall of Fame in a ceremony on July 30 at Progressive Field. The first 15,000 fans to attend that game against Oakland will receive a Thome bobblehead.

”These are four of the all-time great players in our franchise’s storied history, and through their individual personalities and achievements, each has created his own special memories for generations of Indians fans,” said Indians Senior Vice President of Public Affairs Bob DiBiasio in a statement. “We’re excited to officially recognize their contributions to our franchise and the game of baseball by inducting them into the Indians Hall of Fame.”

Thome already has a case as an Indians legend, as his statue stands next to Bob Feller’s and Larry Doby’s in right-center field. He is the franchise leader in home runs (337) and walks (1008), is second in RBI (937) and is third in on-base percentage (.414), slugging percentage (.566) and OPS (.980). He was a three-time All-Star in Cleveland and finished in the top-10 in American League MVP voting four times.

“It’s special, humbling,” said Thome Friday night, ahead of Saturday’s Tribe Fest. “You look at the guys that are on that list and you look over the years, the organization, all the great players who have come through here and have their numbers retired and are in the Hall of Fame. To be a part of that is humbling, but cool. It’s kind of something I don’t think you ever forget.”

Belle is most noted for his 50-50 season in 1995, in which he became and still is the only player in history to record 50 home runs and 50 doubles in the same season. Belle is second to Thome in home runs (242) and is second in franchise history in slugging percentage (.580). He was a four-time All-Star and three times finished in the top-three in AL MVP voting.

With Thome’s and Bell’s inductions, it now stands that most of the storied 1995 Indians lineup has been enshrined among the franchise’s all-time greats. Sandy Alomar (2009), Carlos Baerga (2013), Kenny Lofton (2010) and Omar Vizquel (2014) were all previously inducted members who played a role in a lineup that is largely considered one of the greatest in baseball history.

As Thome has previously said, he thinks the thing that made that lineup so special was the friendly competition it fueled each day. Thome, Belle, Manny Ramirez and others never wanted to be left behind as several guys put together strong seasons.

“It’s special. I think the thing about good teams and having good players is you filter off each other and they make you better,” Thome said. “If you have the talent and you’re able to work hard and help your talent progress, we all fed off of each other. It’s pretty neat to see a lot of us going in.”

Robinson had a Hall of Fame playing career, the last three of which took place in Cleveland, but is most noted in Indians history as becoming the first African-American manager in baseball in 1975.

Jamieson in his 14-year Indians career hit .316 and was a member of the 1920 team that took home a World Series title. He ranks fifth in Indians history with 1,753 hits, behind Nap Lajoie, Tris Speaker, Earl Averill and Joe Sewell.

The Indians Hall of Fame now stands at 44 members.

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OF Bradley Zimmer, OF Clint Frazier, 1B Bobby Bradley make top 10 positional prospect lists

By Ryan Lewis Published: January 29, 2016
Zimmer

Outfielders Bradley Zimmer and Clint Frazier and first baseman Bobby Bradley all made MLB.com’s top 10 prospect lists for their respective positions this week.

Zimmer and Frazier were ranked right next to each other as the sixth and seventh best outfield prospects in the game.

Zimmer played much of last season with a fractured foot and hit .273 with a .368 on-base percentage, 16 home runs, 26 doubles, 63 RBI and 44 stolen bases between High-A Lynchburg and Double-A Akron.

Zimmer was also recently ranked as the No. 1 prospect in the Indians’ organization by Baseball Prospectus, which called him a, “five-tool player who impact the game in every capacity.” Zimmer figures to begin the 2016 season in Akron and has given given an ETA of 2017 by Baseball Prospectus.

Frazier spent the 2015 season at High-A Lynchburg, hitting .285 with a .377 on-base percentage, 16 home runs, 36 doubles, 72 RBI and 15 stolen bases. He got off to a slow start but was much improved after making an adjustment to his timing and simplifying his swing around midseason. Frazier is ranked as the No. 3 prospect in the system by Baseball Prospectus and shares Zimmer’s 2017 ETA. He’ll likely see significant time in Double-A Akron this season as well.

Both Zimmer and Frazier could potentially end up in center field, with Zimmer holding a slide edge defensively. The development of those two could have been a factor in the Indians’ decision to not go after a bigger-name free agent that would have required a long-term contract, such as Dexter Fowler, Austin Jackson and a slew of others. Zimmer, Frazier and Tyler Naquin have been holding steady three of the system’s top positional player prospects for a while, but the former two have started to pull away.

Neither Zimmer nor Frazier, tough, have yet received an invite to big league camp this spring. Much of that has to do with the Indians having a higher number of players who could make an impact this season.

“It's not an issue with the seasons they had, who they are, the progress they made,” said Indians general manager Mike Chernoff on Tuesday. “The decision not to bring them to camp is instead just about the depth that we have in our Major League clubhouse and on our roster in the outfield. And, you kind of always strike this balance of, when you have guys in camp, making sure there's enough opportunity for them. So, if those are two guys that are not looking like they’re going to make the Major League team out of Spring Training, it's less important to have them as part of that unit in camp.”

Minnesota Twins top prospect Byron Buxton tops all outfield prospects, and still has a strong case as the No. 1 prospect in baseball.

Bradley came in as the No. 4 first baseman prospect, per MLB.com. He had a superb season statistically for Class-A Lake County in 2015, hitting .269 with 27 home runs, 15 doubles and 92 RBI. He figures to open the season with High-A Lynchburg. Baseball Prospectus has Bradley as the No. 5 prospect in the system with an ETA of 2018.

Left-handed pitchers Brady Aiken (No. 2) and and Justus Sheffield (No. 4) round out the Indians’ top-5 prospects on MLB.com’s list. A third left-handed pitcher, Rob Kaminsky, is No. 6.

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Indians LF Michael Brantley progressing in shoulder rehab, “targeting” Opening Day but realistic

By Ryan Lewis Published: January 28, 2016
Brantley

Indians left fielder Michael Brantley says he’d still dive for the fly ball that eventually led to November 9 shoulder surgery, even as it’ll likely cost him the first month of the 2016 season.

“One-hundred precent. Absolutely,” Brantley said when asked if he’d dive for it again. “I only know one way to play, and that’s as hard as I can. I’ll never change the way I play or not dive because I’ve had a problem. That’s letting down my teammates and I can’t do that.”

Brantley hurt his non-throwing (right) shoulder diving for a ball in Minnesota on September 22. The team tried to allow him to work through the injury with a training program in October, but it was clear in November that he’d need surgery. That has pushed his likely return to some time in May, leaving the Indians without their No. 3 hitter for the season’s first month.

Brantley participated in a team workout Thursday morning and is progressing in his rehab, though he isn’t sure when he’ll be able to start hitting again. The realistic timetable hasn’t changed, though Brantley is of course hopeful to get some good news and be ready for the Indians’ Opening Day game against Boston on April 4.

“I don’t think it’s fair to give myself a target,” said Brantley at the Greater Cleveland Sports Awards Thursday night, where he was a finalist for Pro Athlete of the Year. “My target is Opening Day. It’s not that I’m not going to go any slower or faster, but I’m going to do everything the training staff asks me to do, follow their schedule and do it the best of my ability.”

Brantley has spent most of the offseason in Cleveland working with the trainers. The full squad must report to camp in Goodyear by February 21.

“Progress is going well,” he said. “We have a great medical staff that’s doing a phenomenal job keeping me on my routine. … I’ll do whatever it takes to get back as soon as I can.”

The Indians brought in free agent outfielder Rajai Davis, along with a couple secondary options, to account for his absence in addition to providing an option in center field once Brantley
returns.

“The front office does a great job of getting good players in there and good people in there,” Brantley said. “We have a great group of guys, a great nucleus of guys. When we add veterans like Davis and [first baseman Mike Napoli] that are good character guys in the locker room that fit so well, it makes it very exciting.”

Brantley was a nominee for Professional Athlete of the Year along with Browns tight end Gary Barnidge and Cavaliers superstar LeBron James. James won the award. Brantley considered it an honor to be nominated, particularly after a season in which he dealt with back issues nearly the entire year.

“You work very hard in the offseason, you prepare easy and every day and you play your best,” Brantley said. “To be recognized for it, it’s a blessing and it doesn’t go unnoticed.”

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Indians add three area restaurants to stadium food options for 2016 season

By Ryan Lewis Published: January 27, 2016
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The Indians will be adding three area restaurants as food options within Progressive Field for the 2016 season, the team announced on Wednesday.

Happy Dog, Ohio City Burrito and Cleveland Pickle, all Cleveland-based eateries, will be serving food in the the newly renovated Infield District. These three restaurants will join the group of five that were inserted into the Right Field District prior to last season, including Melt, Barrio, Sweet moses, Great Lakes Brewing Co. and Dynomite Burger.

“Those local additions continue the club’s long-standing commitment to partner with local food service providers and producers,” said Curtis Danburg, Indians senior director of communications. “We’re very excited to bring all three restaurants [to Progressive Field].”

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Indians sign Josh Tomlin to contract extension

By Ryan Lewis Published: January 26, 2016
Tomlin

The Indians on Tuesday agreed to terms with starting pitcher Josh Tomlin on a two-year contract extension. The deal also includes a club option for the 2018 season.

Tomlin, 31, was already the likely front runner for the No. 5 spot in the rotation ahead of lead challenger Cody Anderson. This extension furthers his cause.

“I think that’s the plan,” said Indians general manager Mike Chernoff when asked if he envisioned Tomlin being in the Opening Day rotation. “He’s obviously pitched out of the bullpen before, so he is going to play a meaningful role on the team and he’ll have every opportunity to be in the starting rotation.”

Tomlin will make $2.25 million in 2016, $2.5 million in 2017 and $3 million in 2018 if the Indians pick up his option, according to cleveland.com. The deal includes $2 million in incentives in 2017 and 2018 and a $750,000 buyout if the option year isn’t exercised.

Tomlin missed most of last season after he needed shoulder surgery in March. Once healthy in mid-August, he joined the rotation and responded nicely, posting a 7-2 record with a 3.02 ERA, 57 strikeouts and only eight walks in 10 starts.

Staying healthy has been Tomlin’s biggest hurdle to finding a steady spot in the Indians’ rotation. He needed Tommy John Surgery in 2012 and was just starting to make progress in 2014. Then, this past spring, he started to feel discomfort in his throwing shoulder while competing for the fifth spot, warranting a second major surgery. The Indians sticking by him through his rehab led Tomlin to not think much about the money he could have made on the open market after this
season.

“When they approached my agent about that contract, it was something that excited me and got me looking forward to this season,” Tomlin said. “I wasn’t really looking towards the future saying, ‘OK, these guys are getting this much money. I could potentially have that kind of money.’ It never entered my head. It was, ‘The Cleveland Indians wanted to give me a shot and I’m all about it.’”

This signing also furthers the Indians’ case that they have one of the most controllable, affordable and talented starting rotations in baseball. Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco are signed long term to team-friendly and market-friendly contracts. Danny Salazar, Trevor Bauer and Anderson are all under team control through at least the 2020 season. And, now, Tomlin is signed through at least next season at an affordable price comparable to other deals handed out to pitchers this winter.

Most importantly, the Indians didn’t have to wade into unfriendly waters and compete with other teams as pitchers’ price tags have continued to rise.

“A contract like this is a mutual decision, and it’s a way for, hopefully, us to provide Josh with an alternative that allows him to stay in one place,” Chernoff said. “And, on his end, he’s provided us with some certainty moving forward and the ability—hopefully, given what his production is, the type of guy he is, the type of teammate he is—the ability to have somebody potentially on our staff that can make that type of impact without having to go on the free-agent market and compete for that talent.”

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Indians avoid arbitration with Cody Allen, Lonnie Chisenhall, Jeff Manship and Josh Tomlin

By Ryan Lewis Published: January 15, 2016
Allen

The Indians won’t need the arbitration hearings in February, as they came to terms with all four of their remaining eligible players ahead of Friday’s deadline.

Those four were closer Cody Allen, third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall, starting pitcher Josh Tomlin and relief pitcher Jeff Manship.

Allen will make $4.15 million in 2016 in his first year of arbitration eligibility.

Allen has been a valuable commodity in the back-end of the Indians’ bullpen the last few seasons. He saved 24 games with a 2.07 ERA and struck out 91 batters in 69 2/3 innings pitched in 2014. Last season,  his numbers ballooned—somewhat artificially—in April thanks to a few poor outings but his production was much of the same, as he recorded 34 saves, a 2.99 ERA and 99 strikeouts in 69 1/3 innings. Thanks to a higher-than-normal BABIP (batting average on balls in play) in 2015, his FIP was actually better last season than in 2014 (1.82 to 2.99 the year before).

Chisenhall came to terms at $2.725 million, according to MLB.com. He had an up-and-down 2015 after he was optioned down to Triple-A in early June. He was recalled on July 30 and carved out his place in the Indians’ plans with his superb defensive play in right field in August and September. Per FanGraphs, he had seven defensive runs saved and a UZR/150 of 10.2, putting him among the best defensive right fielders in the league, albeit with a small sample size.

Tomlin and the Indians came to an agreement at $2.25 million and Manship at $765,000, per MLB.com. Tomlin will be competing for the fifth spot in the Indians’ rotation this spring along with Cody Anderson, and Manship came somewhat out of nowhere last season and was, at least statistically, one of the best relievers in the game with an 0.92 ERA in 39 1/3 innings.

On Thursday, the Indians reached an agreement with relief pitcher Bryan Shaw at $2.75 million.

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Indians avoid arbitration with one-year, $2.75M deal with RP Bryan Shaw

By Ryan Lewis Published: January 14, 2016
Shaw

The Indians on Thursday night avoided arbitration with relief pitcher Bryan Shaw, coming to terms with a one-year deal.

Shaw will be paid $2.75 million for the 2016 season, according to Fox Sport’s Ken Rosenthal. Shaw was projected to make $2.8 million in arbitration, according to MLBTradeRumors.com.

For the most part, Shaw has been perhaps the Indians’ most consistent relief pitcher the last few years. From 2013-15, his ERA has gone from 3.24 to 2.59 to 2.95 last season. He’s appeared in at least 70 games in all three seasons and struck out 191 batters in 215 1/3 innings pitched in that time.

Closer Cody Allen ($3.5 million projected per MLBTradeRumors), relief pitcher Jeff Manship ($700,000), starting pitcher Josh Tomlin ($3.1 million) and outfielder Lonnie Chisenhall ($3 million) are the remaining arbitration-eligible players on the Indians’ roster.

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