CLEVELAND: After Friday’s free-agency flurry, Indians fans might have felt like they were left off the invitation list to Major League Baseball’s Christmas bash.
There was no way the Tribe was going to be included in the crazy $240 million Great Gatsby-like soiree for New York Yankees All-Star second baseman Robinson Cano from which the Seattle Mariners emerged. Money is being spent at an early and outrageous rate, boosted by an extra $25 million each team received in television money, and the winter meetings don’t start until Monday.
But what’s more alarming to Indians followers is what the rest of the American League Central is doing and what their team is not.
The Detroit Tigers have been busy. The Tigers traded first baseman Prince Fielder to the Texas Rangers for second baseman Ian Kinsler, shipped pitcher Doug Fister to the Washington Nationals and signed closer Joe Nathan to a two-year, $20 million deal with a club option. The bullpen was the Indians’ edge on the Tigers — if it’s possible to have an edge against a foe they went 4-15 against last season — and that gap is narrowing, especially with the back end of the Tribe relief corps unsettled.
Others in the division have also made significant moves. The Minnesota Twins gave right-hander Ricky Nolasco a $48 million contract and paid right-hander Phil Hughes $24 million. The Chicago White Sox risked $68 million on slugging Cuban first baseman Jose Abreu.
All that makes the Indians’ signing of free-agent right fielder David Murphy (two years, $12 million, with a club option) last month seem trivial by comparison. They’re losing instead of gaining, with left-hander Scott Kazmir and right-handed reliever Joe Smith signing with the Oakland A’s and Los Angeles Angels, respectively. Right-hander Ulbaldo Jimenez is sure to follow.
Tribe General Manager Chris Antonetti realizes fans are restless. Meeting with reporters Friday at the Terrace Club, Antonetti pointed out that at this stage a year ago they hadn’t made any “significant acquisitions,” although he might have forgotten the trade with the Toronto Blue Jays that brought catcher Yan Gomes and infielder Mike Aviles.
On this date, still to come were the arrivals of Trevor Bauer, Bryan Shaw, Drew Stubbs and Matt Albers in a three-team trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks and Cincinnati Reds (Dec. 11) and the free-agent signings of Nick Swisher (Jan. 3), Kazmir (Jan. 8), Ryan Raburn (Jan. 21), Jason Giambi (Feb. 9) and Michael Bourn (Feb. 15). Antonetti said part of the strategy of all that was to position themselves for 2014.
There should be some Indians’ activity before the first full-squad spring training workout on Feb. 15. But those who want Antonetti to shell out millions for a big bat, probably a third baseman, are likely going to be disappointed.
To me, a big-bopper was the most glaring need after a 92-70 season ended with a 4-0 wild-card playoff loss to the Tampa Bay Rays. Now replacing Smith also seems crucial, especially considering how valuable Smith was when he took over for Chris Perez at the end of the season.
Antonetti said Friday his priority is pitching — both starting and relief. He said the Tribe addressed its primary position player need — a left-handed bat — by signing Murphy.
That’s not going to go over well with the fan base, even those who recognize that free-agency spending is already out of control. ($52 million for Jhonny Peralta?)
Some might wonder if Antonetti has the money to sign a bigger-name free agent than Murphy. Antonetti said he believes he has the resources he needs “to field a contending team.” He also has the lure of AL Manager of the Year Terry Francona, for whom many want to play. But he might be forced to rely on the Tribe’s old devices — trades and the search for a pitcher coming off an injury who won’t be as pricey.
Tribe fans must dream of a Happy New Year without Kazmir, Smith and surely Jimenez, with the Indians perhaps prepared to field the same lineup from 2013. Considering the big splash they made before last season, that doesn’t seem overly alarming. At least not until you look around.
Marla Ridenour can be reached at email@example.com. Read the her blog at http://www.ohio.com/marla. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.