Over the past week few weeks the Indians have been busy adding depth to the roster with minor league signings. They, like many other teams, sign low-risk players as injury insurance, but also to potentially hit the lottery like the Indians did last year with the likes of Scott Kazmir and Ryan Raburn.
The Indians added some intrigue this offseason with the signing of outfielders Jeff Francoeur and Nyjer Morgan to minor league deals. Neither have a good recent history, which is why both were available for such a low cost; yet both also have had success in the not too distant past.
Francoeur, who just turned 30, had a miserable year last season hitting .204 with 3 HR, 17 RBI and .536 OPS in 81 combined games with the Royals and Giants. His last good year was in 2011 when he hit .285 with 20 HR, 87 RBI and .805 OPS with the Royals. But his last two seasons show a player who is in rapid decline both offensively and defensively. He still has a rocket arm in the outfield but he’s become a liability defensively. Offensively, he’s just no longer the same powerful bat that made him so interesting when he was younger.
Morgan, 33, spent all of last season in Japan with the Yokohama DeNa BayStars and hit .294 with 11 homers. His last full season in the majors came in 2012 with the Brewers where he hit .239 with 3 HR, 16 RBI, 12 stolen bases and .610 OPS in 122 games. He is a career .280 hitter with 117 stolen bases and a .705 OPS over six seasons and 583 games. His best season came in 2011 when he hit .304 with a .778 OPS in 119 games for the Brewers. Not only does he bring speed, defense and versatility to the outfield, but he brings a lot of personality, which will make for an interesting mix in the Indians clubhouse this spring.
The Indians’ current outfield situation is pretty much set with Michael Bourn and Michael Brantley as the regulars in center and left field, with Ryan Raburn and David Murphy forming a platoon in right. There is a lot of versatility among those four outfielders, so there would be no need for a fifth — especially if the Indians once again go with a three man that includes Jason Giambi.
But there may still be some concerns with Raburn’s Achilles heel injury he suffered in August last year which hampered him for the rest of the season. His injury could open up a spot in the outfield rotation.
There are also some questions surrounding Giambi. He signed a minor league deal, so he’s not guaranteed to make the team. But if he gets hurt or really struggles, he and the Indians decide it’s time for him to move into a front office or coaching role, openining up a spot on the bench.
The unknown with Raburn and Giambi is enough for the Indians to continue to tweak the roster and add additional veterans. There’s no risk involved since they’re not guaranteed and the Indians can simply walk away from them at any time.
Last year, the Indians signed Raburn, Kazmir, Giambi and Rich Hill to minor league deals and all four impressed during the spring and lasted with the team all season. Chances are, at least one of the minor league signings this offseason will make the opening day roster.
There are some similarities between Francoeur and Raburn. Raburn suffered through an awful 2012 campaign where he hit .171 with 1 HR, 12 RBI and .480 OPS in 66 games with the Tigers, only to bounce back and hit .272 with 16 HR, 55 RBI and .901 OPS in 87 games with the Indians last year. Francoeur is coming off a similarly bad season and hoping he can bounce back and resurrect his rapidly fading career.
Raburn’s bounce back season last year was an extreme case, but if Francoeur or Morgan can return to their career norms they may still have some value. Neither will have a huge impact, but over the course of a 162-game season, a team needs additional options to turn to when injuries and performance issues crop up.
Both Francoeur and Morgan have proven to be solid complementary players in the past, so if they come to camp this spring and surprise they may still have some value as major league players. If not, then one or both of them will go to Triple-A Columbus and be on call as depth options unless they request their release in order to look for an opportunity elsewhere.
Minor league deals are a no lose situation for the Indians, but a lot of times bring some intrigue.