I warned that I couldn't say with certainty that I would be free of work that day. It is the offseason, after all. The moment a reporter sets out on any type of trip, they are tempting the baseball gods to send breaking news flying down from the fields of Iowa. That is where heaven is, right?
Naturally, an accident shut down the highway and we were diverted to some country roads. A two-hour drive quickly spiraled into a five-hour disaster. Then, while stuck on this doomed journey, the news broke that slugger Prince Fielder had agreed to a monster contract with the Tigers.
As the Indians' writer, this news warranted a reaction story from the Cleveland perspective. Once we reached our destination, I was dropped off at a nearby coffee shop to make some calls and write, while my wife headed off to see her friend. The baseball gods struck again. Such is the unpredictable life of a journalist.
What was most striking in the immediate reaction received from Indians players -- pitcher Josh Tomlin hadn't heard of the Fielder signing until my call -- was the overall sense of indifference. And I don't mean to say the Tribe players didn't care. What I mean is they sounded undeterred in their confidence.
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Skeptical fans might say the players were only saying what people would want them to say. But isn't that the type of attitude fans want the team to have in the wake of such news? Fielder's signing might have been a shot into the confidence of many Indians fans, but the players viewed the situation as another challenge.
In the tweet heard 'round Cleveland, Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis wrote, "The bigger they are, the harder they fall." The Tribe's squad might be young, but they certainly do not lack in self confidence. The Indians believe they can contend for the division crown, and I say fans should believe them until proven otherwise.
Here is this week's Inbox ...
With all of the arms the Tribe has been stockpiling over the past few weeks, two questions come to mind. One: Will some of these guys accept assignments to the Minors if they don't make the team out of Spring Training? Two: Is there a major trade on the horizon involving a bullpen arm (Chris Perez)?
-- Eric S., Columbus, Ohio
The Indians just handed Perez a $4.5 million contract to be their closer in 2012. I find it highly unlikely that Cleveland would turn around and trade him, weakening the back end of the bullpen, especially since this cast of relievers has been so strong for the better part of the past two years.
What the Indians have tried to do with their bullpen this offseason is make low-risk decisions that provide depth and flexibility. Last winter, Cleveland signed veteran righty Chad Durbin to a big league deal. He was a good fit in the clubhouse, and had his moments on the mound, but an overall down year (combined with the structure of his contract) hindered the roster flexibility.
This winter, the Tribe has added experienced relievers in Dan Wheeler, Robinson Tejeda, Jeremy Accardo and Chris Ray on Minor League contracts that include Spring Training invites. They will compete for the one or two vacant spots in the 'pen, and the structure of their deals will not handcuff Cleveland's decision making.
Of those four pitchers, Ray and Accardo have an out clause in their contracts. If Ray is not added to the 40-man roster by April 3, he must be released by request, or added to the roster within 72 hours. In Accardo's case, if he isn't on the Major League roster by June 1, he can also ask to be released, or must be added within 72 hours.
Right now, Perez projects to anchor a bullpen that will also include Vinnie Pestano, Tony Sipp, Joe Smith and Rafael Perez. Top candidates on the 40-man roster include Frank Herrmann and Nick Hagadone. Some other non-roster invitees include Hector Ambriz, C.C. Lee and Tyler Sturdevant.
OK, let's pretend "Fausto Carmona" luckily gets cleared to play by Opening Day. Does Indians manager Manny Acta really drop him into the lion's den right off the bat? His recent struggles are no secret, and this incident is not going to help by any means. Cleveland should run Jeanmar Gomez, David Huff, or Kevin Slowey out there.
-- Rex H., Cedar Rapids, Iowa
For those lacking context, I'll remind that the pitcher known to date as Fausto Carmona was recently arrested in the Dominican Republic on charges of using a false identity. He is believed to actually be named Roberto (Heredia) Hernandez and his legal and visa woes could last weeks or months. So far, no one is sure how long the situation might drag on.
Personally, I find it hard to believe that Carmona -- the Indians plan on referring to him by that name until the dust settles and the facts are made official -- will be available by Opening Day. Marlins pitcher Juan Carlos Oviedo (formerly Leo Nunez) had similar issues beginning last September and he still hasn't been cleared to return to the United States.
That said, I'll entertain your hypothetical scenario. If Carmona were somehow ready by Opening Day, I'd imagine that he would need to be built up innings-wise much like a pitcher is during Spring Training. That said, he will probably engage in some sort of program like that before potentially returning to the Tribe.
The way I see it, the Indians will let Gomez, Huff, Slowey and McAllister battle it out for the fifth job this spring. When and if Carmona will be able to return is so unclear that it is hard to answer these questions with any certainty. Cleveland surely would not throw him into the rotation until he was deemed completely ready.
My question is: Any idea how the Indians are viewing the $7 million allocated to Carmona? After hearing that they supposedly beat the Rays' offer on Carlos Pena, and with my instinct being that Carmona will not be back in the U.S. this season, it seems like there might be $10-$15M to either spend now in free agency or use to take on a player at the Trade Deadline.
Does the Indians front-office thinking align with that? Or is the Carmona money seen as gone? Are there intricacies of the restricted list that affect this in ways I don't realize?
-- Andrew H., Chicago
It really depends on when the Indians believe Carmona will become available to them again. I do not think Cleveland is viewing his $7 million salary for 2012 as entirely available for other needs. A portion of that money might be available for other uses if the pitcher isn't able to return until midseason.
The Indians would only be responsible for a prorated portion of Carmona's salary at the time of his return through the end of the season. Once there is more clarity about when he could rejoin the club, Cleveland will obviously have a better idea of how much he will actually be paid (if he's paid) this season.
This is pure speculation, but my educated guess would be that the Indians would be better able to project how to possibly use any available funds during the season (maybe around the July 31 Trade Deadline) than in the final weeks of this offseason.
Can you give us Indians fans a ray of hope? Can you tell us about Jesus Aguilar and does he have any chance of joining the Indians some time in 2012?
-- Bill W., Albany, Ky.
Aguilar is one reason why the Indians are excited about some of the talent in the lower levels of the club's Minor League system. That said, expecting to see him in Cleveland in 2012 does not seem realistic right now. Maybe Aguilar could break through some time in 2013.
Aguilar is a right-handed-hitting first baseman who is listed at 6-foot-3, 241 pounds. Between four stops in 2011 (low Class A Lake County, high Class A Kinston, Arizona Fall League and Venezuelan Winter League), all he did was hit .288 (170-for-590) with 42 doubles, 29 homers and 105 RBIs across 164 games.
He will probably begin this season with high Class A Carolina.
Should we be concerned with free agents not wanting to come to Cleveland? Pena reportedly turned down more money from the Indians to sign with the Rays and now Roy Oswalt has reportedly told the Tribe he isn't interested in signing here. Is there a perception from players that the Indians are not contenders this year?
-- Mike M., Akron, Ohio
In Pena's case, he took only slightly less ($7.25 million) than the reported $8 million, one-year offer from Cleveland in order to sign with Tampa Bay. I believe Pena's decision had more to do with familiarity with the Rays, whom he has played for in the past. Tampa Bay also made the postseason a year ago and is poised to contend again.
As for Oswalt, reports are that his preference is to sign with Texas or St. Louis. Those teams appeared in the most recent World Series. Hard to blame him if those are the teams highest on his list.
Cleveland had the third-youngest team in baseball last year and will field a young and developing group again in 2012. The Indians are also coming off an 80-win season. So in that sense, sure, there is definitely a risk on the part of a free agent who chooses to sign with the Tribe.
Now, if the Indians see a similar improvement this season (the team won 11 more games last year than in 2010), the team will probably see a spike in offseason predictions. And, perhaps, there will also be more mutual interest with players on the open market.
During the Winter Meetings, general manager Chris Antonetti made a statement hinting that he was on the verge of major deal that, even with 50 chances, no one would ever guess. Why would someone as tight-lipped as Antonetti make a public statement like this? Doesn't he realize the delicate psyche of us Cleveland fans?
-- Damien T., Baltimore
It is quite possible that Antonetti felt bad for the local reporters and decided to throw them a bone. It is also possible that the GM thought he was close to pulling the trigger on that trade. Antonetti said in a recent meeting with the media that he did indeed think he was close to getting a deal done.
There are countless deals discussed each winter that do not happen when it's all said and done.
Any chance of the Indians signing free-agent first baseman Casey Kotchman? He is excellent defensively and I have to believe that if he hits at least .300 again, he'll have more RBI opportunities this year.
--Andrew P., Cleveland Heights
Is there a chance? Definitely. The Indians still have interest in Kotchman, who might be a solid option to split time with catcher Carlos Santana at first base. Kotchman doesn't offer much in the way of power, but his average and on-base ability -- and his defense, as you noted -- could benefit the Tribe.
I've been a Tribe fan since I was a child. Are the Indians really going to add a power bat before the season? It looks like they don't want to pay the price.
-- Manuel L., Dominican Republic
I still think the Indians will try to add a hitter before the offseason's conclusion, but I don't know what is left if we're talking about impact power. At this point, Cleveland's best chance at adding a powerful hitter might come in the weeks before the July 31 Trade Deadline.
Give it to me straight. Is Lou Marson a Major League-caliber catcher or not? I like his approach at the plate and the dynamite arm, but I'm not entirely convinced. Any chance the Tribe goes all in with Marson and makes Santana the new full-time first baseman?
-- David F., Columbus, Ohio
Marson has been one of the better defensive catchers in the game for the past two years. His offense definitely needs some work. What the Indians do like is the fact that he hits left-handed pitching well. That helps the team's plans to use Santana on occasion at first base. As for making Santana a full-time catcher, that is not something the Tribe is considering at the moment.
I haven't heard much on the Yoenis Cespedes front. Have the Indians made any progress in contract talks with him?
-- Andy L., Littleton, Colo.
Cespedes only recently was declared a free agent by Major League Baseball after securing residency in the Dominican Republic. All I can tell you at this point is that the Indians have interest in the Cuban outfielder. He has said as much, publicly narrowing his list of suitors to the Cubs, White Sox, Marlins, Orioles, Tigers and Tribe.
In closing ...
On a scale of 1-10, how realistic is the likelihood of another Tribe trade before Spring Training, whether it's for a first baseman, a right-handed bat, a pitcher, a mascot or something else?
-- Joe P., Chicago
I'll say zero for Slider and the Hot Dogs. I believe the Indians' mascots have full no-trade clauses in their contracts.
Beyond that, I'll say four. This late in the offseason, I think it's more likely that we'll see one or two more signings before camp opens in Goodyear, Ariz. Cleveland already projects to have 60 players on hand this spring.