Cleveland Sports Weekly: Expensive free agents might not fit for Cleveland



Jim Piascik

Jim Piascik

Jim Piascik is a sports columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected]

Follow at @JimPiascik

Marlon Byrd, a 36-year-old outfielder who was suspended from Major League Baseball in 2012 for performance-enhancing drug use, signed a two-year, $16 million contract with the Philadelphia Phillies.

Tim Hudson, a 38-year-old starting pitcher who suffered a particularly nasty broken ankle in July, signed a two-year, $23 million contract with the San Francisco Giants.

The prices of free agents this offseason are soaring, which could prevent big-name additions from coming to Cleveland this winter.

General Manager Chris Antonetti made headlines last offseason by signing Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn, Mark Reynolds and Brett Myers to a combined $117 million in guaranteed money. Those signings had their ups and downs — Reynolds and Myers were both cut midseason — but the newfound spending keyed a 24-win turnaround that propelled Cleveland into the playoffs.

Reynolds and Myers both signed one-year contracts, meaning they are not counting against the 2014 payroll. Swisher and Bourn, however, have salaries that rise for the upcoming season. Bourn’s contract is jumping from $7 million to $13.5 million this year, and Swisher’s is going from $11 million to $15 million. That $10.5 million difference, along with significant raises in arbitration for players like Justin Masterson, will take up most of Cleveland’s payroll.

Cleveland made it into the playoffs in 2013, but that does not mean the team is perfect. Two-fifths of the starting rotation — Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir — are likely to leave in free agency. Most of the back end of the bullpen is gone, with Chris Perez already released and Joe Smith attracting plenty of suitors on the open market.

Those additions are going to be hard to come by with the state of Cleveland’s payroll. Even before making any moves, the Indians are essentially at their 2013 payroll.

Even if the front office raised the payroll by $10 million, it would not go very far. Former Cleveland minor league reliever Kelvin De La Cruz just signed a major league contract with the Baltimore Orioles. If De La Cruz is getting a major league contract, Byrd is getting $8 million a year, and Hudson is getting $11.5 million a year, a small increase in payroll will not help Antonetti very much.

Hudson was someone Cleveland had interest in before he signed with San Francisco. If he had come to Cleveland at $11.5 million per year, he would have taken up around 13 percent of Cleveland’s total payroll.

This escalation of salaries will make developing young talent even more important for the organization. If the solutions come from the inside, then they come significantly cheaper.

Cleveland could use right-fielder Carlos Moncrief, the 25-year-old who posted a .284/.354/.470 line with 17 home runs and 15 steals in 126 games at Double-A.

It would be much easier if first baseman Jesus Aguilar fills the offensive void. Aguilar posted a .275/.349/.427 line with 16 home runs and 105 RBI in 130 games, plus he made adjustments to his swing midseason that should allow him to handle major league pitching.

If Danny Salazar, who started the wildcard game, can fill in at the top of the rotation, then Cleveland will only need a low-risk signing or two to add to the back of the rotation.

Cleveland has a plethora of relief arms working their way up through the minor leagues. Just calling a few of them up, along with Cody Allen and Bryan Shaw locking down the late innings, would be a cost-effective solution for Antonetti.

Antonetti could move some money around, but as of right now, I would not expect Cleveland to be very active on the free agent market. It will not make headlines, but utilizing the organization’s depth in the minor leagues just might be a better route for the team in the short and long term.