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December 20, 2004  

CIR UPDATE: Belliard re-signs for '05  
The Indians and Ronnie Belliard agreed to a one-year contract for 2005 that includes a club option for 2006. Terms of the deal are not yet available. Today was the last day for teams to tender contracts to unsigned players for the 2005 and it had been speculated that the Indians would non-tender Belliard if they could not agree to terms prior to the deadline out of fear of what salary Belliard could be awarded in arbitration. Such a move would have made Belliard a free-agent although the Indians could have continued negotiating with him as a free-agent. With Belliard in camp, the infield now shapes up as Ben Broussard at first, Belliard at second, Jhonny Peralta (or Brandon Phillips) at short, Aaron Boone at third, and Jose Hernandez as the utility guy. Casey Blake joins Grady Sizemore, Coco Crisp, and Ryan Ludwick in the outfield. With Victor Martinez and Josh Bard behind the plate and Travis Hafner as the DH, the above roster configuration leaves one open roster spot for a position player this spring (provided the Indians carry 12 pitchers north). Note that Jody Gerut will open the season on the disabled list and Josh Phelps was recently designated for assignment. More in the next CIR.


December 14, 2004  

CIR UPDATE: Indians complete McDonald trade  
The Indians acquired right-handed pitcher Thomas Mastny from the Blue Jays to complete the John McDonald trade. Mastny was the Jays #11 pick in the 2003 draft out of Furman and led the South Atlantic League in ERA last year at 2.17 with a 10-3 record and 143 strikeouts in 149 innings with just 123 hits and 41 walks allowed for Charleston. Despite those impressive numbers, Mastny was not ranked among the Jays top 10 prospects by Baseball America. His age (23) and level (low-A) likely figure into that. Still, those numbers are intriguing. More in the next CIR.

CIR UPDATE: Infield changes  
The Indians officially announced the signing of infielder Jose Hernandez today. They also designated Josh Phelps for assignment. More in the next CIR.


December 13, 2004  

CIR UPDATE: Pitching depth lost in Rule 5  
The minor league phase of the Rule 5 draft, that is. In the triple-A phase, the Indians lost Lee Gronkiewicz, Keith "Perfect Game" Ramsey, Blake Allen, Landon Stockman, Richard De Los Santos, and Armando Gabino. The Tribe will receive $12,000 for each of the six lost players but the downfall is that there are no roster requirements in the triple-A phase and, thus, no opportunity for the Indians to reclaim those players. The Tribe did add a player, selecting Neomar Flores out of the Blue Jays organization. The 22-year old right-hander was 6-10 with a 5.72 ERA in the Florida State League last year. No Tribe farmhand came or went in the double-A phase of the draft. More in the next CIR.

CIR UPDATE: Rule 5 Update  
The major league portion of the Rule 5 draft is complete and the Indians did not have a single player selected. Nor did they select a player, but with a full 40-man roster, that was known going in. Only 12 players were selected this year, down from previous seasons. 51 players were selected in the triple-A portion of the draft, details on that as they become available.

The Denver Post reports this morning that the Indians have inquired about outfielder Preston Wilson, likely as part of Mark Shapiro's alternative plan should a starting pitcher not be signed. Wilson and his $12 million contract are being shopped by the Rockies who have reportedly been offered Jay Payton for Wilson by the Padres. Wilson's best season came in 2003 when he hit .282/.343/.537/.880 with 36 homeruns in his first season in Colorado. Before that, he did post OPS's of .852, .817, .825 from 2000-2002 with the Marlins. Limited to just 58 games last season because of a knee injury, the 30-year old hit just .248 with six longballs. He also underwent a second knee surgery in September but is expected to be ready for spring training. Questions surrounding his knee had the Rockies considering moving him from center to an outfield corner which is where he would likely play with the Indians. His arm is solid for right and he's always had good speed although the recent knee problems should reduce that. Wilson does strike out a lot and hasn't displayed much plate discipline throughout his career. He also used to be a 20-30 SB threat but, again, the knees might impact that. The Post notes that the Rockies are looking for a power arm in the bullpen and a centerfielder in return. The Tribe does have some arms in the 'pen (Riske, Howry, Cabrera, Betancourt) and some outfielders (Gerut, Ludwick) that may interest the Rox. Colorado would also have to be willing to pick up a large portion of Wilson's 2005 salary. From their reported offer of Wilson and Shawn Chacon for Alfonso Soriano to the Rangers, it appears they may be setting their sights higher than what the Indians may be willing/able to offer so we'll see if this moves beyond the interest stage. At any rate, you can now see that the Indians are actively looking at options beyond a starter which hints again that Matt Clement does not appear headed to the North Coast.

CIR UPDATE: Rule 5 Today  
Just a reminder that the Rule 5 draft is slated to be conducted later this morning. Tribe prospects Jason Cooper, Brian Slocum, Dan Denham, JD Martin, Pat Osborn, Nathan Panther, Ben Francisco, Dave Wallace, Ivan Ochoa, and Chris Cooper could all draw interest. Remember that defensive middle infielders with speed (Ochoa), power arms (Denham), raw power (J.Cooper), backstops (Wallace), and potential LOOGYs (C.Cooper) typically draw the most interest because they are the ones most likely to be able to contribute something as the 25th man for a full season in the big leagues. Teams selecting an Indian prospect today will pay the Tribe $50,000 and must keep that player on their major league roster for the entire 2005 season. If they want to send the player to the minor leagues, he must first clear waivers (with the full Rule 5 requirements and Indians rights traveling with the player), and then be offered back to the Indians for half of the purchase price ($25,000). The two sides could also work out a deal similar to what the Indians and Astros worked out last year with Willy Taveras for Jeriome Robertson. The minor league portion of the Rule 5, typically used to fill holes on minor league rosters, will also be conducted today.

In other news, the Indians remain a player in the Matt Clement sweepstakes according to Clement's agent but the more I hear, the more that sounds like agentspeak to me.

Sheldon Ocker reports in the ABJ that the Indians are close to signing veteran infielder Jose Hernandez to a one-year deal. For $1, he served me well in my NL fantasy league last year. More on Hernandez later, if/when he signs.

Updates on the Rule 5 later today as they cross the wire.


December 11, 2004  

CIR UPDATE: Wright fails Yanks physical  
ESPN is reporting that Jaret Wright failed his physical with the Yankees which may void the 3-year, $21 million contract he agreed to with the Bombers earlier this week. ESPN also notes that the Yanks are asking Wright to take another physical. If the two sides do agree to part ways (the Yanks may just use this as a way to reduce his salary), could a team sign Wright to a one-year deal (pending a physical, of course) for a reasonable base (given the failed Yanks physical) with incentives that would allow Wright to test the market again after an expected healthy and successful 2005 season? Maybe with a somewhat club friendly option with a decent buyout for 2006 added on? Could that team be the Indians? Perhaps, if they cannot sign Matt Clement or Eric Milton. After all, they were believed to be interested in Wright before he signed with the Yanks. It's not without it's risk, but for one year, and at a reasonable price, it might be attractive enough compared to what's out on the market. It's a long shot, for sure, but something to keep in the back of your mind. Hey, the Winter Meetings is what speculation is all about. Also note that failed physicals can mean different things to different teams if that makes sense. Just remember that Omar Vizquel failed a Mariners physical last winter and then went out and enjoyed a productive full season for the Indians.

CIR UPDATE: It's Official (almost)  
Mark Schwab is reporting for WTAM (with 99.9% certainty) that Matt Lawton has been dealt to Pittsburgh for Arthur Rhodes. An official announcement could come as soon as this afternoon.

Quick thoughts...

I like Matt Lawton (as a DH). He was just overpaid (15-20% of the payroll) and couldn't play defense.

How much money is changing hands? By my thoughts, it should be none.

If the Indians now have $3 million extra dollars to spend this off-season, does it go towards Matt Clement, Eric Milton, Ronnie Belliard, a veteran outfielder, or some combination of the above.

As Coco Crisp goes, so goes the Indians 2005 offense.

Richard Hidalgo (signed with Texas for 1 year, $4.5 million) would have been a great fit for the 2005 Indians. Tremendous defense and arm in right and a right-hander power bat for the middle of the lineup. I wonder if the Indians ever considered going this route.

Looks like the Tribe will be starting two (essentially) rookies up the middle in Grady Sizemore in center and Jhonny Peralta (or Brandon Phillips) at short.

Dear Santa,
Please bring me a new outfield glove.
P.S. A really big rubberband and some glove oil too.

Should we expect a Ronnie Belliard signing next week (before the Dec 20 tender deadline)? I think so.

With Lawton in Pittsburgh, looks like the Pittsburgh Browns Backers will have a target for cheers and/or jeers at the annual summer outing.

Arthur Rhodes is all the Indians have to show for the Robbie Alomar trade. Billy Traber (lost on waivers to the Red Sox), Alex Escobar (lost on waivers to the White Sox), Jerrod Riggan (long gone), Earl Snyder (long gone), Ricky Gutierrez (released, hey, although he was a free-agent, he was a part of this deal as well) have all departed. Spare me the rationalization that Alomar hasn't done anything since leaving Cleveland. The fact remains that at the time of the deal, Alomar was at the top of his game and a sure-fire first ballot hall of famer and, three years later, we have nothing to show for it. That's awful.

(deep breath)

So let's see what the Indians do now. Arthur Rhodes + Player A? + Player B? for Matt Lawton. Any chance the Tribe could interest Oakland in Brandon Phillips and something for Tim Hudson? That something had better be something really good. Stay tuned.

CLEVELAND INDIANS REPORT: Saturday, December 11  
The Pittsburgh Tribune Review is reporting this morning that the Pirates are "closing in" on a trade for Matt Lawton. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette also notes that a deal could be near with both papers speculation based on the fact that the Indians and Pirates have exchanged medical records on Lawton and Arthur Rhodes. They also wonder how much of Lawton's salary the Indians would pick up this season. I still can't see the Indians picking up any salary considering that they would still be on the hook for Rhodes' $3 million plus in 2006. Maybe this is just wishful thinking on my part but Lawton is the better player and the total dollars involved are pretty even. If the Tribe picks up salary in '05 then the Pirates should pick up salary in '06. Hey, it sounds good on paper.

ESPN reports this morning that David Wells is close to signing with the Red Sox for $8 million with incentives that could push the deal to $13 million. Goodbye Boomer (not that the Indians ever had much of a chance).

Speculation on Matt Clement continues to center around the notion that the budding is heading out of the Indians comfort zone. The local Cleveland papers have reported that the Indians have a 3-year, $19.5 million deal on the table which may have been on the table for awhile. The Toronto papers report this morning that Blue Jays have reportedly offered Clement $21 million over three years but aren't optimistic about signing him because they believe the Angels have (or will) go higher. I'm guessing Clement's eventual signing will be in the neighborhood of $25 million for three years or $33 million for four years (or Russ Ortiz money). I would not be adverse to paying him that. I like Matt Clement.

Paul Hoynes notes in the PD this morning that the Indians turned down a Vicente Padilla or Brett Myers for Coco Crisp deal which led to the Phils trading for Kenny Lofton. Padilla is a former all-star (2002, 14-11, 3.28, 206IP-198-53-128) who went 7-7 in 20 starts with a 4.53 ERA (115.1IP-119H-36BB-82K) last season. He missed 10 weeks over the summer with elbow tendinitis, made $2.5 million last year, and could receive up to $4.5 million in arbitration. That last figure, the injury, and the view that he might be an underachiever hints at the Indians lack of interest. Not to mention that they'd be giving up a big part of their offense. Myers, on the other hand, is a 24-year old, hard-throwing right-hander who was regarded as one of the top five pitching prospects in the game a few years ago. After cruising through the minors, however, Myers has yet to experience sustained success at the major league level, posting declining ERAs of 4.25, 4.43, and 5.52 over the past three seasons. Last year, Myers was 11-11 with a 5.52 ERA and, most discouraging, his home run totals skyrocketed (31 HR in 176 IP) while his dominance faded (62 BB, 116K, 176IP). He still has a lot of potential but the Indians are beyond that point as they look to contend in 2005.

Stay tuned, the hot stove is just heating up.


December 10, 2004  

CIR UPDATE: More rumors  
Ken Rosenthal notes for the Sporting News that the Indians are showing interest in right-hander Esteban Loaiza, most recently of the White Sox and Yankees. Loaiza is reportedly seeking a three-year deal and Rosenthal notes that the Expos may be willing to offer that. Let's hope the Indians aren't. Rosenthal also reports that the big money Angels have emerged as a possible suitor for Matt Clement, along with the Indians, Blue Jays, Cardinals, and Dodgers.

CIR UPDATE: Indians make offer to Wells  
According to Greg Clifton, the agent for David Wells, both the Indians and Red Sox made offers to the left-hander today. "We received a proposal from both the Indians and the Red Sox, which I think were both very sincere, very serious proposals," said Clifton. "I think they were both definitely getting David's attention and showing him how serious they are about trying to attain his services for next season." If the Sox and Indians offers are similar, I would have to think at this point in his career, Wells would choose the Sox for another chance at the Series. I wonder how much the Indians are offering? I wonder how much the bidding on Matt Clement has gone up? I'd much rather have Clement than Wells. More in the next CIR.

CIR UPDATE: A Boom on the North Coast?  
The Newark Star-Ledger reports this morning that Gregg Clifton, the agent for David "Boomer" Wells, is scheduled to meet today with both the Indians and the Red Sox. The paper notes that the Red Sox are "very, very, very interested" in Wells and that Wells is only looking for a one-year deal with speculation that the dollars involved are in the $7-8 million range. Is the Indians interest simply a matter of covering all bases or an indication that the dollars for Matt Clement are rising out of their comfort zone and a one-year deal for a veteran starter is plan B? Boomer was 12-8 with a 3.73 ERA for the Padres last season, allowing more than a hit (203) an inning (195.2) but fashioning his trademark pinpoint control (20 BB). He'll turn 42 in May.


December 08, 2004  

CIR UPDATE: Lieber signs with Phils  
ESPN is reporting that Jon Lieber signed a three-year, $21 million deal with the Phillies today. Lieber had reportedly been high on the Indians starting pitching wish list, which was further reduced on Tuesday night when former Indian Jaret Wright signed with the Yankees for 3-years and $21 million and Brad Radke re-upped with the Twins for two years and $18 million. That leaves Matt Clement and Eric Milton as pitchers who have been linked to the Indians in the rumor mill. Other starters remaining on the market include Derek Lowe, Kevin Millwood, Odalis Perez, Russ Ortiz, Woody Williams, and David Wells. Beyond that group, the quality and expected price tags fall off sharply. Shawn Estes or Paul Byrd, anyone? Perhaps the market picture above combined with the potential Lawton trade to Pittsburgh indicates that the Indians realize they may have to pony up more to land a Clement or Milton and avoid having to overpay for (their perception) lesser class of pitcher. More in the next CIR.

CLEVELAND INDIANS REPORT: Wednesday, December 8  

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is reporting this morning that the Indians and Pirates are talking about a Matt Lawton for Arthur Rhodes swap that could happen at the Winter Meetings this weekend in Anaheim. It's no secret that the Indians have been shopping Lawton to free up space in a crowded outfield situation but Arthur Rhodes? He of the 5.12 ERA, bad back, questionable elbow, and blown closer opportunity in Oakland last year? Unfortunately, when you're shopping a productive but highly overpaid Matt Lawton, that may be all you can expect in return. Namely, an exchange of salaries.

Here's what the Indians are likely thinking. Moving Lawton frees up space in the outfield for Ryan Ludwick, Jody Gerut (when healthy), or (more likely) Casey Blake. Moving Blake to the outfield, frees up second-base for the return of Ronnie Belliard or the signing of a veteran second-sacker (they were reportedly in on Todd Walker again before he re-signed with the Cubs) to team with either Jhonny Peralta or Brandon Phillips at second. Remember, with Aaron Boone at third, Casey Blake is likely headed to second or the outfield to maintain an everyday spot in the lineup. Under the above scenario, Blake moves to the outfield. Whether he can play there (the Indians seem to think so) remains to be seen this spring.

Furthermore, trading Lawton for Rhodes frees up money this season for the Indians to re-sign Belliard or another second-sacker, with (maybe) some left-over money to be used to sweeten the offer to Matt Clement and/or sign a veteran utility infielder. Lawton is owed $7.25 million this season which is the final year of his contract. Rhodes is owed anywhere between $3.0-$3.5 million this season and next which are the final two years of the three year, $9.2 million contract he signed as a free-agent last year with the A's. Note that Oakland just dealt Arthur Lee and Mark Redman to the Pirates for Jason Kendall in another salary-driven deal. So, while the total dollars moved in this Lawton-Rhodes swap are approximately the same ($7 million), the Indians would actually save money this year which they could then reallocate to fill other needs. The Tribe would take a hit in 2005 for the final year of Rhodes contract but I suspect the brass might be ok with that since the total dollars balance out. For the Pirates, they would have an increase in payroll this season but they free up money for 2005. Plus, they get the better player of the two and fill a need in the outfield.

As for Rhodes and the Indians, the 35-year old could potentially fill a role in the bullpen as a left-handed option for Eric Wedge but four consecutive years of decline, a loss of command the past two seasons (BB/K ratio has dropped from 6.92 in '01 to 6.23 in '02, 2.67 in '03, and 1.21 in '04)., a troublesome back, and a lot of appearances built up on that elbow, leave the betting man saying that a rebound is unlikely. It should also be noted that Rhodes did not fare well against left-handers last season (.314/.874) although, to be fair, he did miss eight weeks with a strained back over the summer.

For the Indians, though, this deal is all about moving Lawton's salary and using the savings to fill other needs. Anything they would get from Rhodes (or whomever they would receive in a Lawton deal) would essentially be gravy. The key to this deal is what other deals it would allow the Indians to make. In theory, dealing Lawton for Rhodes makes sense provided that in subsequent deals, it becomes Lawton for Rhodes + Player A + Player B and players A & B are good additions. I will say that I would not be adverse to the Indians dealing Lawton and then turning around and signing a veteran right-fielder to a one-year deal . Perhaps someone like a Jermaine Dye or Richard Hidalgo, who may prefer a one-year contract for a low base plus incentives that would allow them re-enter the free-agent market in the 2005 off-season after an anticipated 2005 rebound season. In other words, something similar to what the Indians did with Juan Gonzalez in 2001 but on a lesser scale. I say this with the assumption that Casey Blake could play full-time at second-base.

The next two weeks should be very interesting. The Indians need to make a decision on whether to tender Ronnie Belliard a 2005 contract by December 20 and that decision could hinge on whether they can free up enough money to sign him. I can't see the Indians tendering him a contract (out of fear of arbitration) without having a deal already in the works. In that case, they wouldn't even tender him, they would just likely re-sign him before the December 20 deadline. And to make that happen, moving Lawton might be necessary.

The Rick White era is officially over after the Indians declined to offer the right-hander arbitration yesterday. This means that White cannot not re-sign with the Indians until May 1, although I suppose he could sign a minor league deal with the Tribe and remain in Buffalo until May 1. White did a serviceable enough job last season for the role he was asked to fill, posting a 5.29 ERA in 78.1 innings, and providing some needed innings early in the season when the bullpen was floundering. He'll likely sign a minor league deal with someone this off-season and report to camp as a non-roster invitee in the spring.

Remember Greg LaRocca? The former Bison infielder who enjoyed a couple of productive years in Buffalo in 2002 and 2003 before heading for the land of the rising sun? According to the Japan Times, LaRocca just re-signed with the Hiroshima Carp for 2005 and $850k with an option worth a reported $1.25 million for 2006 plus incentives. Note that a multi-year deal is a rarity in Japan for a foreign player. LaRocca was named a Central League all-star last season after hitting .328 with 40 homeruns and 101 RBIs for the Carp.


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