Signed IF Alex Cora to a two-year, $2.7M contract
Believe it or not, this is the first multi-year contract given out by the Indians since the 2001-2002 offseason, when CC Sabathia, Bob Wickman, and Matt Lawton were given contract extensions and Ricky Gutierrez was signed as a free agent. Technically, Aaron Boone's deal is a multi-year contract, but he didn't actually play for the team last season. Given that whoever lost the battle between Brandon Phillips and Jhonny Peralta wasn't going to be a backup, adding Cora to the mix is a nice insurance policy. Hopefully it isn't too attractive to Eric Wedge, who may be tempted to bench Peralta if he goes through an extended slump. If Cora is used like the team says they're going use him, he should be a nice complementary part. In a previous post, I said that Cora's main asset is his defense. He also is a left-handed hitter, which I previously alluded too but failed to mention explicity. Cora's main job should be to give Belliard one or two days off a week, and spot Peralta once in a while. He can be used in a late-inning situation when defense is a priority. Heck, he may become Jake Westbrook's personal infielder.
Whither Brandon Phillips, assuming he does lose out to Peralta? Back to Buffalo, where he'll probably play shortstop most of the time. The Indians have an option on Belliard, but I get the sense that it won't get picked up based on Shapiro said during today's conference call. That leaves second base open to Phillips, Cora, or both in 2006. Unless Brandon Pinckney makes gigantic strides next season, it looks like the job will be Phillips' to lose. Also, Peralta may eventually grow out of the shortstop position, possibly moving to third base, so Phillips, thanks to his quasi-rebound in 2004, still has a future with the club.
Also in today's press conference Shapiro said that Jose Hernandez would be more of utility player, playing first, third, left or even center field against a left-handed pitcher. Blake, although he's a right-handed hitter, tended to struggle against southpaws; he posted an OPS of only .785 against left-handers in 2004, compared to .865 against right-handers. That added to the possibility that 2004 may have been a career year leads me to believe that the Indians are planning for a drop in production from Casey with the acquisitions of Juan Gonzalez and Jose Hernandez.
Designated 3B/OF Corey Smith for Assignment
Better late than never, I guess. Smith didn't really deserve roster protection last winter, but because of his first-round pedigree, he got it. I would think that he'd be claimed on waivers, but with most of the free agents already signed, a lot of teams may not have the roster spot to spare. Maybe he just needs a change of scenery
Signed RHRP David Riske to one-year, $1.425M contract, avoiding arbitration
A pretty good deal for a reliever who still has excellent stuff. I wouldn't be surprised if he supplants Bob Howry as Wickman's primary setup man next season. I think the days of Riske as closer are probably long gone, but he can be just as valuable in the 8th inning.
Signed 2B Warren Morris and IF Jake Thrower to minor-league contracts
Morris will probably take over Brent Abernathy's role in Buffalo. Given the recent infielder signings, picking Cleveland might not have been the best career move for Warren. As for Thrower, I haven't heard too much about him. His minor-league numbers look fairly pedestrian, and the press release said that he was a utility player with the Angel's AAA affiliate last season. So it looks like he'll be going to Buffalo along with Morris.
Re-signed C Dusty Wathan to a minor-league contract
Wathan might be the Bisons' starting catcher next year, depending on where Ryan Garko is playing positionally. I would think that the Indians want Garko as a catcher if for no other reason than to maximize his value, but he should also see some time at first base, leaving Wathan to fill in the gaps.
I apologize for the short hiatus in posting, but the beginning of the semester has kept me on the run. I'm working on the All-Time pitchers as of this moment, so the Excel sheet should be updated by the weekend.