The Offseason Begins

First of all, congrats to the Boston Red Sox, the 2004 World Series Champions.

When the last out was recorded in Game 4, baseball’s 2004-2005 offseason officially began. Players who are eligible can declare free agency beginning today, and in a couple weeks clubs can begin to sign free agents from other teams. In November, clubs must decide who among their Rule 5 eligibles to protect on their 40-man roster. In December, clubs decide whether to offer arbitration to players on their roster who are eligible.

To help sort these things out, I’ve provided a graphical representation of the Tribe’s offseason in the left and right columns. The first thing you’ll see on the left-hand column is the 40-man roster. The number currently on the roster is in parenthesis. As free agents file, they will officially leave the roster. These players are noted by a “(FA)” next to their name. When they do file for free agency, I’ll place them under “Pending Free Agents.” The players currently on the 60-day Disabled List will be reinstated to the 40-man roster fairly soon, so this list should disappear until right before the 2005 season begins. The players on the 40-man roster with an “(A)” next to their name are eligible for arbitration. In late December, if they haven’t been signed, the Indians have to decide whether to offer them arbitration or non-tender them. If a player is non-tendered, they automatically become a free agent eligible to sign with any club. And finally, the “Pending m-Free Agents” refers to players in the organization who are minor-league free agents. These players can sign with any organization immediately.

In the right-hand column, there’s just a few things to explain. The “Signed for 2005” column is a holding area for players the Indians have signed for minor-league contracts, but haven’t been assigned to a minor-league roster. When the team starts releasing lists of players invited to Spring Training, some of the players will go there. Guys like Jeremy Sowers and Brian Barton are there just because they haven’t been assigned to a specific roster yet.

Minor-league players with a “(5)” next to their name are, to my estimation, eligible for the Rule 5 draft. I’ll get more into this in a month or so.

Player Reviews: Renewables, Part I

“Renewables” refers to players on the 40-man roster who are not yet eligible for arbitration (0-2 years of MLB service time). Some players I will cover when I do my prospect rankings later in the winter, so if I skip over someone, you’ll know why. Oh, by the way, “AE” is short for “Arbitration Eligible.” Take these dates with a grain of salt, for they assume that the player will from next year on spend the entire time on the 25-man roster. This obviously is not going to the case for a lot of players, but I’d rather err on the side of caution. For example, Fernando Cabrera will be arbitration eligible after the 2007 season if he spends the next three seasons with the major-league club. Ok, on with the reviews.

C Josh Bard – Age 26
2004 Salary: ~$300,000
2004 EQA: .377 (19 AB)
Contract Status: Renewable (AE in 2005 or 2006)

With the imminent departure of Tim Laker, Bard is finally the permanent backup catcher. That’s a good thing; Bard has some offensive ability, is a pretty good defender, and he’s a switch-hitter. Moreover, he’s good enough to allow Wedge to sit Victor Martinez more often in 2005. Some clubs have worse starting catchers than Bard, so when he’s eligible for arbitration in one or two years, should fetch something in a trade. Until then, the Indians should have the best catching tandem in baseball.

LHRP Cliff Bartosh – Age 25
2004 Salary: ~$300,000
2004 VORP: 3.5 (19.1 IP)
Contract Status: Renewable (AE in 2006)

Bartosh is a LOOGY-in-training, and might eventually become a nice one, judging by his strikeout rates. He may become expendible with the addition of Scott Sauerbeck and the return of Brian Tallet, but both are coming back from injuries, and Bartosh has been healthy. If the Indians need a spot on their 40-man roster, he’s the first one to go. As with most bullpen arms, your guess is as good as mine as to what numbers he’ll put up next season, whoever he pitches with.

RHRP Rafael Betancourt – Age 29
2004 Salary: $305,200
2004 VORP: 14.5 (66.2 IP)
Contract Status: Renewable (AE in 2005 or 2006)

A nice find via minor-league free agency, Betancourt was the bullpen’s most consistent pitcher in 2004. The one note of caution is that while his strikeouts and walks have remained pretty stable compared to 2003, his hit ratio has gone up. With Raffy’s unconventional delivery, you could take this trend as AL hitters getting used to his short-armed delivery. Or you could just look at his other numbers and decide the hits are more indicative of luck (or lack thereof). Betancourt isn’t a pitcher you should be spending a lot of money on when he gets to arbitration, but the Indians will gladly take this while he’s only making six figures.

1B Ben Broussard – Age 28
2004 Salary: $324,100
2004 EQA: .289 (418 AB)
Contract Status: Renewable (AE in 2005)

He’s still probably a placeholder for Michael Aubrey, but you certainly can’t compain with his performance in 2004. Broussard might be overvalued right because of all the RBIs, leading to referrals of “clutchness,” but if it increases his trade value in a year or two, I’m all for it. He should again be a part-timer in 2005, sharing time with Josh Phelps. He still has to hit for more power, but everything else looks pretty good.

OF Coco Crisp – Age 24
2004 Salary: $319,400
2004 EQA: .266 (491 AB)
Contract Status: Renewable (AE in 2005)

Fourth outfielder, or Shannon Stewart Lite? That’s what I’ve been asking myself regarding Crisp lately. I think if Crisp can fully use his speed to his advantage, then he’s a full-time player. That means a better on-base percentage, and a better steal percentage. If he does those two things next season, he’s a keeper. Otherwise, he’ll get stuck in between, and hopefully the Indians won’t be the team that overpays for him. His power has been a nice revelation, but I think that he’ll be more of a doubles hitter than a home-run threat. If things stay the same in the outfield, he should get 500 at-bats next season. That should be enough to tell us what kind of player Coco is.

I’ll cover Andrew Brown, Fernando Cabrera, and Francisco Cruceta later in the winter, when I rank the organization’s top 20 prospects.

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