Leo: Who’s on first?
The Cleveland Indians are continuing their pursuit of a first baseman, but the options may be more limited by the week. Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder were not realistic targets for the Tribe, and Michael Cuddyer inked a deal with Colorado back in December.
So who is left for the Indians to get?
The two biggest names remaining on the market are Casey Kotchman and Carlos Pena. The Indians have been linked to both in various reports. Tampa Bay has also been in serious talked with both players.
Kotchman, who turns 29 in February, batted .306 with 10 HR and 48 RBI in 146 games last year with the Rays. He’s played eight major league seasons with the Angels, Braves, Red Sox, Mariners, and last season with Tampa. Kotchman is a 6-3, 220 pounds, left-handed hitting former first round draft pick (2001, Angels). He carried a robust .378 on base percentage last season.
Pena, 33, is a former Clippers first baseman (2006 with the Yankees). He is a career .239 hitter over eleven big league seasons. Last year Pena batted .225 (up from .196 in 2010), but delivered 28 HR and 80 RBI. He’s played for the Rangers, A’s, Tigers, Red Sox, Rays, and Cubs.
To compare, Kotchman is a better “on base guy”, but Pena has more “pop” in his bat. Kotchman is a much better fielder (.998 fielding percentage compared to Pena’s .994).
If Cleveland can sign a free agent at first, it means Matt LaPorta likely begins the season with the Clippers with the opportunity to improve his game. If LaPorta is with the Clippers it puts Beau Mills situation up in the air. He could backup LaPorta with plenty of DH opportunities or go back to Double-A.
A signing would also mean Carlos Santana will primarily catch with sporadic chances at first and Shelley Duncan, assuming he makes the roster, will mostly play in the outfield. The Tribe could again be carrying five outfielders when camp breaks.
The Indians, and the fans, are hoping to scoop up a dependable first baseman and add some much needed offense before it’s time to turn on the electricity in Goodyear next month.
Balancing the budget…
It’s possible that the Tribe could get more aggressive in the Kotchman/Pena sweepstakes after arbitration is completed.
Shin-Soo Choo, Chris Perez, Asdrubal Cabrera, Rafael Perez, Joe Smith, Jack Hannahan, and Justin Masterson are all arbitration eligible and the Indians will be spending more than $20 million on this group. That expense is already going to increase the club’s payroll from last year, so there is question as to whether or not there is room for a free agent addition.
For more on arbitration players, check out this post.