- Mike Napoli is expected to decide shortly whether he’ll return to the Indians on another minor league contract, ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick reports (Twitter link). The presumption seemingly remains that he’ll return and open the year at Triple-A, as manager Terry Francona tells reporters including MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian (Twitter link). But nothing has been formalized at this point, with Napoli evidently still holding out hope of finding a big league opportunity elsewhere. The veteran first baseman, who was released yesterday from a minors deal with Cleveland, has struggled to generate interest at the MLB level all winter long after a middling 2017 season.
- Meanwhile, the Indians got a bit more clarity in their pitching plans with the decision to place Ryan Merritt on the DL to open the season, as Bastian reports. A combination of knee problems to open camp and a “tired arm” as it draws to a close have conspired to hold him back. The news also prevents the Cleveland organization from making a tough call on Merritt, an out-of-options hurler that the team would prefer not to expose to waivers.
Tyler Naquin and Rob Refsnyder are still competing for a potential spot on the Indians’ opening day roster, and Ryan Lewis of the Akron Beacon Journal tweets that manager Terry Francona has explained some details to them. Francona reportedly told the two players that the spot won’t simply go to the guy who gets the most hits over the last week, and that roster construction could be the biggest factor. For instance, if Brandon Guyer and/or Michael Brantley aren’t ready in time for opening day, Naquin and Refsnyder would stand a better chance to make the club out of camp. Whether the club chooses to carry seven or eight relievers will also affect their fates. It’s worth noting that Tyler Naquin has multiple options remaining, while Rob Refsnyder is an out-of-options player.
More out of the midwest…
- In a piece for The Athletic, Doug Gray details ten Reds prospects to keep an eye on for the coming season. The players in the article aren’t necessarily top prospects, but rather a group of under-the-radar players who Gray describes as “unheralded”. The list includes right-handers Nick Hanson and Ryan Hendrix, $10MM shortstop Jose Garcia, and Brandon Phillips’ cousin Montrell Marshall. Many of these players have significant upside and are worth the exploration by any Reds fan, or indeed any avid baseball follower.
- Wade Miley’s opt-out date has been pushed back, Bob Nightengale of USA Today Sports reports on Twitter. The southpaw seemed likely to make the Brewers’ rotation before suffering a torn groin that’s expected to keep him out two to four weeks. Miley could have opted out of his contract tomorrow after being informed that he wouldn’t make the opening day roster, but GM David Stearns apparently worked out a deal with his agent. Miley’s opt-out date has been extended until the point at which he’s able to start pitching again.
- Two-time MVP Miguel Cabrera is stuck in “baseball purgatory”, says Scott Miller in an opinion piece for Bleacher Report. Miller describes Cabrera as “an island unto himself”, on a rebuilding Tigers team that will not likely be able to deal him and the $192MM remaining on his contract, particularly coming off the worst season of his career wherein he was plagued by back issues. For his part, Cabrera doesn’t seem to be focused on that aspect of his situation. “I’m here to play,” he says. “I’m not here to give my opinion of what’s going to happen. I’m here to do my job, to help win games and to help the process.”
Indians skipper Terry Francona ran through a laundry list of roster moves today, as MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian reports in a series of tweets. Of particular note, the club intends to add outfielder Rajai Davis to the active roster for the start of the season and has released first baseman Mike Napoli, with expectations of re-signing him if he cannot find a MLB opportunity elsewhere.
Davis’s minor-league deal included an opt-out opportunity today, so it’s no surprise to see a decision come down. He’ll be slated to earn a $1.75MM salary with another $3.25MM possible through incentives.
The 37-year-old did not hit much this spring but obviously left a positive impression on the organization, which is plenty familiar with him from his 2016 run in Cleveland. Presumably, Davis will supplement youngster Bradley Zimmer in center while also seeing some time in the corners and functioning as a pinch-runner.
As for the 36-year-old Napoli, he’s slated to re-sign with the Indians on a new minor-league deal unless he finds a job elsewhere. Unless the market is suddenly more welcoming than it was just a few weeks back, he’ll presumably end up joining the Indians’ top affiliate to begin the season.
There were some other roster calls made or at least addressed today, as Bastian further details. Veteran righty Alexi Ogando won’t make the MLB team but will return to rotation duties at Triple-A. Fellow non-roster relievers Matt Belisle and Carlos Torres are still awaiting their fates, which will be decided by Article XX(B) bonus decision day (this coming Saturday).
- In better news for the Indians, left fielder Michael Brantley isn’t ruling himself out for Opening Day (via Hoynes). “We shall see. But the old saying is take it one day at a time,” said Brantley, who’s working his way back from the right ankle surgery he underwent last October. Neither that procedure nor Brantley’s lack of availability from 2016-17, when injuries cost him a combined 223 games, were enough to stop the Tribe from exercising his $12MM club option early in the offseason. The 30-year-old appeared in 90 games in 2017 and slashed a solid .299/.357/.444 over 375 plate appearances.
Indians right-hander Carlos Carrasco exited the club’s game Wednesday after taking a line drive off his left foot, Paul Hoynes of cleveland.com reports. Carrasco is now dealing with a contusion, and the Indians will further evaluate the star hurler Thursday, Hoynes tweets. In the event Carrasco misses regular-season time as a result of the injury, it could help open the door for the out-of-options Ryan Merritt to claim a roster spot, at least temporarily. Merritt and Josh Tomlin have been vying for the fifth spot in the Indians’ rotation this spring. Now, with Carrasco potentially injured and Danny Salazar set to miss the beginning of the year, the only sure things for the Indians’ season-opening starting staff appear to be Kluber, Trevor Bauer and Mike Clevinger (depth chart).
Indians first baseman/designated hitter Mike Napoli and outfielder Rajai Davis will be able to opt out of their minor league contracts Thursday, according to Paul Hoynes of cleveland.com. It’s unclear whether one or both will vacate their deals, though Napoli has seemed especially likely to do so since his late-February signing with the Indians, who don’t have an opening for him in the majors. Asked Wednesday if Napoli could stay in the organization in a minor league role, manager Terry Francona said: “The next step is for him to talk to (president) Chris (Antonetti) a little bit more to figure out what he wants to do and what is available as far as the organization goes. Obviously, we think a ton of Nap and respect him a lot. There’s just a lot of unknowns.”
Here’s the latest from both Buckeye State teams…
- Reds right-hander Michael Lorenzen suffered a Grade 1 strain of the teres muscle near his throwing shoulder, and will be kept from throwing “for several days,” manager Bryan Price told media (including the Cincinnati Enquirer’s John Fay). Lorenzen’s injury isn’t as severe as the similar issue that kept Brandon Finnegan out of action for half of the 2017 season, though it does seem unlikely that Lorenzen would be ready to go by Opening Day. The 26-year-old was attempting to win a spot in Cincy’s rotation but struggled to an 8.38 ERA over 9 2/3 Spring Training innings. Between those poor results and now this injury, Lorenzen is sure to resume his old role as a late-inning weapon out of the Reds bullpen.
- The Indians don’t have much payroll on the books beyond the 2019 season, but president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti tells MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand not to expect the team to make any splashy signings next winter. “That’s not the reality of our team-building,” Antonetti said. “We are one of the smallest markets in professional baseball….We’ve had incredible support from our ownership in which we’ve spent well beyond our revenues as we’ve gone through this competitive period. But we can’t build teams through free agency. Our success model is we need to draft and acquire players that are younger and help provide the right environment for them to grow and develop because that’s going to be the nucleus of our team. We’ll use free agency to complement that group, but not to build that group.” The Tribe is poised to exceed the $100MM payroll mark for the third straight season (all record highs for the organization) in pursuit of a World Series, with the Edwin Encarnacion signing standing out as an uncharacteristic move for the smaller-market team. Any future spending isn’t likely to reach nearly the heights of 2016-18, however, and it could be more internally-focused, such as trying to sign in-house players (i.e. Francisco Lindor) to extensions.
- After releasing Melvin Upton Jr. yesterday, the Indians could potentially re-sign the outfielder to another minor league deal if he can’t find a contract elsewhere, MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez writes. Manager Terry Francona said that the team chose to let Upton know prior to his opt-out date that the veteran wouldn’t be making the team, so Upton could have extra time to explore his options. Cleveland already has several outfielders ahead of Upton on both the MLB and minor league depth charts, though there are enough question marks at the position that Upton could provide some extra experience at Triple-A.
- In another piece from John Fay, Reds catcher Devin Mesoraco said that he is finally feeling healthy after three injury-ravaged seasons. “I feel great. I don’t have to worry about health. I work on my swing, work on my catching, play ball,” Mesoraco said. After breaking out with a huge 2014 that earned him a four-year, $28MM extension after that season, Mesoraco has since played in just 95 total games due to hip, shoulder, and foot injuries. The lack of durability cost Mesoraco the starting job as the Reds catcher, but he is prepared to contribute anyway he can as Tucker Barnhart’s backup.
- Indians right-hander Danny Salazar was one of several pitchers the Yankees considered as potential trade targets last winter, Joel Sherman of the New York Post writes. Salazar is controlled via arbitration through the 2020 season and he has shown excellent promise when healthy, posting a 3.82 ERA, 10.5 K/9, and 3.27 K/BB rate over 587 1/3 career innings with the Tribe. Unfortunately, Salazar has also been bothered by shoulder and elbow problems over the last two years, and he looks to miss at least a bit of time at the start of the 2018 season due to rotator cuff inflammation. Despite the health risks, Salazar has been a popular trade target for multiple teams, with the Cubs and Brewers both being linked to the righty this offseason.
The Indians announced Monday that they have released outfielder Melvin Upton Jr. and catcher Ryan Hanigan (via Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com). Both players signed minor league contracts with the Tribe over the winter.
The Indians added the 33-year-old Upton with the hope that he’d experience a revival similar to the one Austin Jackson enjoyed a season ago. Cleveland signed Jackson to a minor league deal and saw him turn in an excellent campaign as a reserve outfielder. Upton, meantime, essentially endured a lost 2017. After the Blue Jays released Upton during the spring, he settled for a minors pact with the Giants, but late-April surgery on a torn thumb ligament kept him off the field for several weeks. He ultimately totaled just 49 plate appearances, all with the Giants’ Triple-A affiliate.
Upton, who had been competing to be a backup outfielder this spring, struggled mightily in exhibition action before Cleveland released him. Across an admittedly small sample size of 37 at-bats, he hit just .189/.250/.297. That was enough to seal his fate with the Indians, though fellow minor league signing and veteran outfielder Rajai Davis hasn’t been any better (.242/.265/.373 in 33 ABs). He’s one of four outfielders remaining on the Indians’ projected Opening Day roster, though, while Michael Brantley and Brandon Guyer could each start the season on the disabled list.
Hanigan, 37, has a history of faring well defensively and getting on base (.344 lifetime OBP), but his production has gone backward in recent years. After combining to bat a woeful .218/.277/.291 in 225 PAs with the Red Sox and Rockies from 2016-17, he collected a meager 13 ABs this spring and hit .154/.214/.154. The Indians still have plenty of depth at catcher without Hanigan, as Yan Gomes, Roberto Perez, Francisco Mejia and Eric Haase remain on hand.
- Another top prospect, Indians catcher Francisco Mejia, could actually end up seeing some action in the outfield as part of a plan to utilize him in the majors in the near term, Paul Hoynes of the Plain Dealer reports. Mejia has previously been tried out at the hot corner, which Hoynes says “didn’t take,” so clearly the Cleveland organization isn’t fully committed to keeping him behind the dish. Regardless, he’s seen as a high-quality hitting prospect who could soon make an impact. The impression made by outfielder Abraham Almonte was not quite as positive, Hoynes notes, as he is not in shape and has already been optioned despite toting a $825K arb contract into camp.
Andrew Miller’s four-year, $36MM deal with the Yankees from the 2014-15 offseason has become one of the most influential contracts in recent baseball history, the New York Post’s Joel Sherman opines. Miller’s contract set a new standard for non-closer relievers, and its value has only grown in import thanks to the Indians’ usage of Miller as a multi-inning fireman. As teams have put a focus on deep and flexible bullpens, relievers have been increasingly well-compensated in free agency; even during this unusually slow offseason, several relief arms have scored hefty multi-year commitments. The fact that many notable relievers out-earned several notable sluggers and starting pitchers this winter is of no small concern to Miller, who is also a Players Association Representative. “We have to understand the economics of how this works. If one position or one skill is valued more highly, you probably will have another skill valued not as highly,” Miller noted.