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February 12, 2013

Rumor Roundup

Tuesday, February 12

by Daniel Rathman

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About a week ago, ESPN’s Buster Olney reported that the Indians could enter the Michael Bourn derby “if his price tag dropped A LOT.” Well, his price tag, once rumored to be $75 million over five years, dropped to $48 million over four years, and that was enough for general manager Chris Antonetti to pull the trigger. R.J. Anderson tackled the implications of the move for Bourn and the Indians in his Transaction Analysis; today’s Roundup begins with a look at the next item on Antonetti’s docket.

Indians could move Drew Stubbs after adding Bourn
With Bourn in tow, the Indians appear to have four outfielders for three spots. The lone holdover, Michael Brantley, will move from center field to left to make room for Bourn, who will be flanked by fellow free-agent pickup Nick Swisher. So, where does that leave Stubbs, who was acquired from the Reds in the three-team trade that also brought former Diamondbacks top prospect Trevor Bauer to Cleveland? According to CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman, there is a chance that he will be asked to pack his bags yet again.

Heyman was told on Monday night that Stubbs is the most likely castoff, assuming that the Tribe opts to cut down its list of position players instead of rearranging them. Antonetti and first-year manager Terry Francona could also resolve the glut by making Swisher their regular first baseman and using Mark Reynolds as their primary designated hitter. That option would give Cleveland one of the league’s best defensive outfields, but it comes with two drawbacks.

The primary concern is the Indians’ starting rotation, which should improve with the infusion of Bauer and Brett Myers, but remains a glaring question mark. Justin Masterson can’t go toe-to-toe with any of the American League Central’s other number-one starters, so rotation depth is of paramount importance. And unless Ubaldo Jimenez rediscovers his 2009-2010 form, Cleveland simply does not have much of it. If Stubbs could fetch a dependable mid-rotation arm, then the hypothetical deal—in tandem with the Bourn signing—would improve the Tribe’s long-shot 2013 hopes and help to buy time for Antonetti to find a frontline starter.

The second, more technical, case for exporting Stubbs is rooted in the lineup flexibility that Francona would enjoy. Carlos Santana, one of the Indians’ best hitters, made more than one-sixth of his starts at first base last season, the position that would be occupied by Swisher—another key offensive cog—in the event that Stubbs retains a regular outfield role. In order to give Santana a break from catching and still keep his bat in the lineup, Francona would need to bench Swisher, Reynolds, or Stubbs, and he might be forced to reach that decision based on the opposing pitcher, since Stubbs has a significant platoon split. That level of shuffling does not jibe with the lineup-construction tendencies that Francona showed during most of his tenure with the Red Sox, when his emphasis on stability bolstered his reputation as a player-friendly skipper. Francona told WEEI’s Alex Speier back in 2010, “if we were making changes, something isn’t going right,” and he would need to make changes routinely if Stubbs were to stay around.

Cleveland Plain-Dealer beat writer Paul Hoynes tweeted later on Monday night that the Indians seem inclined to keep both Stubbs and Brantley, but, as always, Antonetti’s mind could change with a single phone call. If Stubbs is placed on the block, then Heyman believes that the Mets—who reportedly matched Cleveland’s offer for Bourn, but were wary of surrendering their first-round pick—could view him as a fallback plan. The 28-year-old’s .290 career TAv versus left-handed pitching makes him an intriguing complement to the left-handed-hitting Kirk Nieuwenhuis. General manager Sandy Alderson brought in Collin Cowgill in a swap with the Athletics on December 18, but Stubbs offers more upside and has three years of team control remaining before he can test free agency.

Meanwhile, other teams that might enter the fray include the Yankees—whose search for right-handed outfield depth has thus far yielded only non-roster invitees like Matt Diaz and Juan Rivera—and the Cubs, who were “on the fringes” of the Bourn saga, per an Olney tweet in the hours before news of the agreement with the Indians surfaced. Stubbs is set to earn $2.825 million in 2013, after foregoing his first year of arbitration eligibility, so most clubs that are intrigued by his power-speed combination and track record of success against southpaws should be able to squeeze him into their late-offseason budgets.

Nationals “getting closer” in one-year talks with Jordan Zimmermann
Speaking of settling arbitration cases, the Nationals are trying to do just that with Zimmermann, a Super Two player now in his second year of eligibility. After recovering from Tommy John surgery to amass 26 starts in 2011, the 26-year-old northpaw took home $2.3 million last season, through a pact reached on January 17, 2012. Amanda Comak, who covers the Nats for the Washington Times, heard on Monday that the sides are making headway with a week to go before their scheduled hearing to determine Zimmermann’s 2013 salary.

The gap between Zimmermann’s request ($5.8 million) and the team’s offer ($4.6 million) is relatively small, so any tangible progress in negotiations seems likely to result in an agreement. Zimmermann is the only player of the seven Nats who were eligible for arbitration that has not yet found common ground with general manager Mike Rizzo. As Rizzo continues to exchange figures with the righty’s representatives at SFX, our own R.J. Anderson and Jeff Euston will tackle the case in tomorrow’s installment of the Arbitration Showdown.

Daniel Rathman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Daniel's other articles. You can contact Daniel by clicking here

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