Cleveland Indians: 2016 Offseason Report Card

Dave Reginek/Getty Images North America

Dave Reginek/Getty Images North America

The Indians offseason started a bit late and on a rather underwhelming note, as their first MLB acquisition was outfielder Collin Cowgill, who was purchased from the Los Angeles Angels on December 2. Cowgill’s major-league career has been underwhelming to say the least, with his best season coming in 2014 when he posted a career-high 2.2 WAR in 293 plate appearances for a 250/.330/.354 line and a 103 wRC+. In 2015 he played significantly less, and worse, than the season previous. In just 74 plate appearances, he batted .188/.233/.290 with only four extra-base hits in 55 games. By virtue of a shallow outfield talent pool on the Indians’ 40-man roster, Cowgill will likely begin the season as a backup in the majors.

Next up is 29-year-old OF/DH Joey Butler, selected off waivers from Tampa Bay and placed on the 40-man roster on December 7. After accruing just 21 plate appearances in the MLB between 2013 and 2014, Butler had a quietly solid 2015 as a part-time outfielder with the Rays. In 276 plate appearances, Butler hit .276/.326/.416 with 12 doubles and eight homers, good for a 105 OPS+ and 109 wRC+, splitting time between designated hitter (37 starts) and left field (22 starts). Butler likely won’t see as much playing time with the Indians, and he’ll have to fight to retain his roster spot when star outfielder Michael Brantley returns from injury.

Ten days later, the Indians and Antonetti added a more impactful outfield asset, signing Rajai Davis to a one-year contract worth $5.25 million. Davis has been a pretty consistent performer in his major league career, getting on base at a respectable rate, stealing an above-average number of bases, and slugging relatively well, for a small center fielder. His defense has been more inconsistent, posting DRS numbers as low as -11 (2014) and as high as 7 (2008 & 2009), accumulating a -1 career total DRS. In 2015, Davis was solid, batting .258/.306/.440 in 370 trips to the plate, stealing 18 bases and hitting 16 doubles, 11 triples, and eight homers. In the field, he had one of his better years, posting a DRS of 7 in over 550.0 innings between left and center field. Davis projects to see significantly more playing time in 2016, given he stays healthy in his age-35 season.

The next day, Antonetti purchased the rights of relief pitcher Dan Otero from the Philadelphia Phillies. After pitching 125.2 innings for the Athletics from 2013-2014, posting an impressive 2.01 ERA and 2.92 FIP, Otero struggled mightily in 2015, racking up an impressively poor 6.75 ERA in 46.2 innings pitched. Averaging right around 90 miles per hour with his fastball, Otero isn’t a strikeout artist, but he excelled in his first two seasons with the A’s by keeping his walk rate low and inducing lots of ground balls. In 2015, his walk rate stayed low, but he got hit harder than he ever had been before, with his ground ball rate dropping nearly eight points from 56.4-percent t0 48.5-percent, almost all of said difference being accounted for in his fly ball rate. Otero also allowed home runs at over twice the rate as he did in 2014, posting a home run per fly ball rate of 14.9 percent compared to 7.1 percent in 2014. Otero was also killed by an abnormally high .354 BABIP against. If he can turn things around and roll ground balls like he did in the past, Otero should be able to find success in the Indians ‘pen, but if the concerning trends from 2015 continue, he may not last long on the major-league roster.

On December 21, Antonetti again added to the club’s bullpen, signing Joe Thatcher to a $1 million deal for the 2016 season. Thatcher was relatively solid in limited time with the Astros in 2015, after missing nearly a month and a half after being designated for assignment by the Astros. In 22.2 innings and 43 appearances, Thatcher struck out 26 batters and walked 12, good for a 3.18 ERA and 3.00 FIP. In nine MLB seasons, Thatcher sports similar statistics, with a 3.38 ERA and 3.19 FIP for his career with 270 strikeouts and 91 walks in 260.2 innings. He’ll get a shot to be a contributing member in the front end of the Indians bullpen to start the season.

The last of Cleveland’s offensive additions came in early January, when first baseman Mike Napoli signed a one-year, $7 million dollar deal with the club. After performing poorly with Boston to open the season, Napoli made a resurgence with Texas down the stretch after being traded on August 7. In 91 plate appearances with the Rangers, Napoli hit .295/.396/.513 with a 12:19 BB:K ratio. An excellent defender at first base, Napoli looks to take most the innings at the position for the Indians in 2016, hopefully building on his positive close to the 2015 season.

The club also added reliever Tommy Hunter to the roster on a one-year, $2 million deal in early February, but he’ll likely begin the season on the disabled list after suffering a core muscle injury in the offseason. Splitting the season between Baltimore and Chicago in 2015, Hunter posted a 4.18 ERA and 3.83 FIP in 60.1 innings out of the bullpen, striking out 47 and walking 14 with a 1.243 WHIP. Upon his return from injury, Hunter will likely get a chance to earn a spot in the middle of Cleveland’s bullpen.

Cleveland also signed a number of players to minor-league contract in the offseason. Catchers Anthony Recker, Guillermo Quiroz, outfielders Robbie Grossman and Shane Robinson, and pitchers Felipe Paulino, Craig Stammen, Tom Gorzelanny, Ross Detwiler, and Joba Chamberlain with all be in big-league spring training on non-roster invitations.

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