The quest is over! And now we can finally get on with our lives. I wrote about the Indians search for an extra bat for months, and it has finally come to an end.
Two days ago, I flew back home from a business trip. Walking towards baggage claim, I saw a man from a limo company holding up a sign that said “Kotchman.” I then tweeted the following:
24 hours later, Casey Kotchman was your newest Cleveland Indian.
The soon to be 29-year old left-handed hitter has bounced around quote a bit, despite being a one-time top prospect of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim system. The Angels used their 2001 First Round pick on him and he played parts of five seasons with the big club. Then in 2008, Kotchman was used as trade bait in deal that brought Mark Teixiera to the Angels from Atlanta. He spent just a year and a half with the Braves and then was shipped to Boston at the trade deadline in 2009 for Adam LaRoche. The stay in Boston was even shorter. In January of 2010 the Red Sox dealt Kotchman to Seattle for utility man Bill Hall. That brutal 2010 campaign as a Mariner (he hit just .217/.280/.616) had him non-tendered and on the free agent market last winter. He wound up signing a minor league deal with Tampa Bay and became their regular first baseman.
I’ve written about Kotchman’s 2011 career year before. Click here and here for the details. My last thoughts on Kotchman came January 20th after Carlos Pena signed with Tampa Bay, spurning the Tribe’s offer:
Kotchman fits the bill. I am trying real hard to sell myself on him. He is a gold-glove caliber first baseman, which is obviously a positive. The fact that he is a high contact, gap to gap hitter is also attractive. He only K’d 66 times in 563 plate appearances last season, which was the best of his seven year career. The 2011 .306/.378/.800 numbers are something you would sign up for all day. As I’ve said before, what worries me is the Indians lack of power. Adding a guy like Kotchman wouldn’t help. In 500 AB’s, he drove in just 48 runs and hit just 10 homers. LaPorta can certainly do that (not that he could go .300/.378/.800 though). Lastly, the former Rays/Angels/Braves/Mariners/Red Sox will be just 29 on opening day and won’t cost nearly as much as the $7.5 million Pena received from Tampa Bay.
So we went from Michael Cuddyer to Josh Willingham to Derek Lee to Carlos Lee to Carlos Pena and settled on Casey Kotchman. As we all know now, Kotchman is another left-handed bat who cost the Indians just $3 million. Reports were that they offered Pena $8 million. The Kotchman signing loads the top Tribe lineup one way. This is a preliminary look at how things could shake out with Kotchman now in the fold:
LF Michael Brantley
SS Asdrubal Cabrera
RF Shin-Soo Choo
C Carlos Santana
DH Travis Hafner
1B Casey Kotchman
CF Grady Sizemore
2B Jason Kipnis
3B Lonnie Chisenhall/Jack Hannahan
That’s not too shabby, assuming everyone is healthy. That is a big if obviously.
When left-handed pitchers face the Tribe, the bench will have a bevy of right-handed options, including Shelley Duncan, Jason Donald, and whoever makes it between Ryan Spillborghs and Aaron Cunningham. When a right-handed starting pitcher is on the mound, he will face nine lefties (AC and Santana are switch-hitters).
GM Chris Antonetti spoke to the media this morning and said that he expects Kotchman will get the majority of the first base at-bats, but Santana should see plenty of time there to keep his bat in the lineup as well as allowing Lou Marson to get some ABs. Antonetti also pointed out that Kotchman jokingly told him when they talked that he made less errors last year (11) than the the Indians first basemen (12). He should definitely solidify the right-side defensively.
Sadly, the Indians should have never been it such a predicament. The hardcore search for a first baseman is an absolute indictment on the Matt LaPorta situation. The guy came over as the centerpiece of the CC Sabathia trade and was supposed to be the middle of the order, right-handed power bat and first baseman of the future. Instead, its 2012, he’s 27 years old, and has almost no shot to break camp with the Indians. He will spend his season back in AAA. You just never know with prospects. LaPorta and Andy Marte were probably the two most highly decorated prospects the Indians have acquired via trade in the past 10 years. You can call both of them giant busts.
So it looks as though the Indians have finalized their roster heading into Spring Training. Kotchman may be the final piece to the puzzle, but the bench roles are far from settled, with as many as 10 guys in the mix for a couple of roles. In addition, there will most likely be two bullpen spots up for grabs, a battle to be the fifth starter.