The Cleveland Indians have signed Casey Kotchman to a 1-year deal for 2012 to be their first baseman. This comes on the heels of trading for corner defender and reining IL MVP Russ Canzler.
This does a couple things for the Tribe for the upcoming season. First it gives Cleveland an established Major-Leaguer at what was the biggest position of need heading into the off-season. It certainly is not like inking Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder, but Kotchman raised his stock considerably with what may have been his career best offensive season in 2011. Playing on a one-year minor league deal with the TB Rays, Kotchman hit .306 with an OBP of .378. He is regarded as a fine defender at 1B and does not strike out much. These are all good things and part of what the Indians were looking for when seeking to fill the position. The rest of what Kotchman as everyday 1B means leaves some holes unfilled. He hits from the left side, which does not help the balance of the line-up (though as the Indians have noted over recent days, the Tigers and Twins project to have rotations with 9 of 10 slots filled by right-handed pitchers). Also Kotchman does not provide much in the way of power, which is something the Indians need more out of 1B than they have gotten. So what it comes down to is that Cleveland opted to solve some, but not all of the issues they have had at 1B over the last few seasons with the resources they had available. Kotchman signed for a reported $3 million, a windfall after a minor-league deal last year, but still far less than what the other 1B free-agent options garnered. It should be noted that the Indians made a higher offer to Carlos Pena than he took from TB. Pena, like Kotchman, provided some, but not all of what Cleveland was looking for at 1B. The Indians were never in on Pujols or Fielder (though maybe they should have been on Fielder) and so you have to be selective in what needs you address given your financial constraints.
All of this 1B talk could have been avoided if the Indians had a first baseman who hit right-handed, had pop in his bat and didn’t strike out much. If only they had a prospect who had a .298/.390./566 minor league slash line who only K’s once every 6 PA’s who could play passable defense. That’s exactly what they had in Matt LaPorta, but he has not found consistent success in the Majors. The recent moves seem to indicate that he will start the year in Columbus barring a spectacular Spring Training. For Clippers fans, this is great news. LaPorta has hit .313 as a Clipper with 27-2B’s 23-HR’s and 79-RBI’s in 113 games. Matt is 27 and his window for establishing himself is closing, so hopefully he will find a way to put it all together this season in Columbus and get another shot in The Show.
Pitchers and catchers report in less than 3 weeks, so next time we will look at some position battles.