February Reflections on the Cleveland Indians

Perhaps the most exciting thing that happened to the Cleveland Indians over the last month was a transaction that didn’t even involve the Indians.

It may have been a signing by the dreaded New York Yankees that gave Tribe fans the most to smile about in the last 30 days.

Don’t get me wrong, Indians vs. Yankees is nowhere near the rivalry of the Boston Red Sox and Yankees, but there still aren’t a lot of good feelings about the Bronx Bombers in northeast Ohio. With the Indians in the midst of perhaps their most exciting off season in a decade, the Yankees’ biggest acquisition thus far was to sign former Tribe designated hitter Travis Hafner.

Matt Capps could make his way into the role of Cleveland Indian set-up man.

Matt Capps could make his way into the role of Cleveland Indian set-up man.

Hafner was a fan favorite in 2007 when he was staying healthy and hitting home runs to the part of Progressive Field that became known as Pronkville. However, his performance declined because of constant injuries and he became a contractual burden.

Being paid $13 million per year over the past few seasons, Hafner couldn’t even play a day game after a night game despite the fact that he never took the field on defense, not even in interleague play. This may come off as insensitive, but after being mocked by Yankee fans for overpaying Nick Swisher a month ago, seeing the Yanks throw $2 million at Hafner for him to play 35 games next year gives Tribe nation reason to smile. Make note that since 2007, there really hasn’t been anything to smile about, so let us off the hook with this one.

Clearly, the last month in Indian movements can’t compare to the acquisitions from earlier this off-season, but the team did make a few moves to bolster its line-up. One of the acquisitions was to sign free-agent reliever Matt Capps to a minor league deal with an invitation to spring training. Capps played for the Twins last year which declined his option for $6 million in favor of buying him out for $250,000.

Capps has seen his stock go downhill quite quickly since he was the winning pitcher for the National League in the 2010 All-Star Game with the Washington Nationals. At this point, the Indians’ most viable trade piece is their All-Star closer, Chris Perez. They do have a star in the making in Vinny Pestano who is filling the set-up role at this time. If Capps can fill Pestano’s shoes, it could make the team more comfortable to deal Perez.

The Indians also signed free agent outfielder Jeremy Hermida to a minor-league deal with an invite to major league spring training. Hermida spent last season with the San Diego Padres, but spent some of the year in the minors. He only played in 60 games last year between Triple A and the majors because of injuries. Hermida is 29 years old and has hit 65 home runs and driven in 250 runs in his career with a lifetime major league average of .257.

Pitcher Rich Hill was also signed to a minor-league contract with an invitation to spring training. Hill is 32 years of age and has spent the last three years with the Boston Red Sox. In those three seasons, he was used out of the bullpen and had a 2-0 record with a 1.14 ERA in 40 outings. He was limited due to surgery on his elbow.

Another important happening for the Indians is that they yet again avoided going into arbitration with any players. The Tribe has the longest streak in the majors of staying away from the arbiter and the team added to that streak during the first week of February when they agreed to terms with infielder Mike Aviles on a two-year contract worth $6 million. The Wahoos made it 22 seasons straight of no arbitration when they signed Aviles, who they traded the Toronto Blue Jays for this off-season. Aviles served as the main shortstop for the Red Sox for most of last year.


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