By: T.J. Zuppe
With movement picking up around major league baseball, the only thing moving more quickly than the players from team to team is the amount of money being tossed at mid-level (and in some cases overrated) talent.
Looking to build through free-agency? Good luck.
From B.J. Upton signing with the Atlanta Braves (5 years - $75.25 million), Torii Hunter with the Detroit Tigers (2 years - $26 million) to Jonny Gomes inking with the Boston Red Sox (2 years - $10 million) and everyone in between, it is a damn good time to be a free-agent in major league baseball.
What a country.
Contracts are spinning out of control and probably only going to get worse. Bigger fish are still on the market and baseball’s winter meetings quickly approaching.
For a small-to-mid market club - much like the Indians - free-agency is becoming less and less of an option to quickly make your team better. Supplementing the current roster is one thing, building through free-market is quite an impossible other.
Could the Tribe land someone like an Upton? Possibly - but they have to be willing to overpay. In that scenario, that player has to be the right calculated risk.
For a guy with a WAR of 2.6 (0.3 lower than current Indians centerfielder Michael Brantley) Upton is simply not that guy - and god bless him for being able to land that type of money from Atlanta.
However, you could certainly make the case - and many of us did all last season - that a Josh Willingham was. That was a missed opportunity.
The bottom line is free agency is a way of filling a few holes but dangerous overspending this time of the year leads to quick sinking ships and handcuffed movement when not careful. Everyone loves instant gratification. No one wants to live with the consequences.
What this again stresses is the important of drafting and developing - something the Indians have done a poor job of roughly over the last 10 years. It has only been recently the Tribe has turned the corner on drafting players, but even then have failed to hit the proverbial home run.
It is understandable that Cleveland cannot spend like New York, Boston or even Detroit.
What is not understandable is why the front office continuously points out the reasons they cannot contend with larger markets instead of finding ways in which they can.
Developing young talent is at the very core of that solution.
Not only will the Tribe front office have to find talented players high in the draft, but they will also need to change their philosophy on how quickly to bring them along. Yes, that has seemed to have changed, case in point a young pitcher like Cody Allen climbing through the ranks last season.
But they need a lot more of that.
Finding the right mix of balance and avoiding the use of kid gloves are critical. Too much coddling may just stunt the growth of players that need to experience as much failure as they do success.
As a result, the Indians find themselves being reactive as opposed to proactive far too often. That needs to change.
In the immediate future, building a club without dabbling in too much free-agency requires savvy trading, something else that has been lacking in recent years.
True, netting players like shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, pitcher Chris Perez and outfielder Shin-Soo Choo for next to nothing is impressive. But those trades took place long ago and hardly off-set the miscues they withstood in acquiring little for two Cy Young award winning pitchers.
Acquiring the right talent - stud younger players - can be the difference between taking a small step back or being crippled for several seasons. That requires being unafraid to shake up a roster that truly needs a shot in the arm.
After all, teams like the Chicago White Sox and Oakland Athletics proved last season that trading off proven talent is not a death sentence but only when you bring back the right talent in return.
So, if you are waiting for the Indians to make themselves a contender only through free-agency, be prepared to keep waiting.
It would be far better to see the club built the right way - through drafting, developing and trading - and that is where fans should choose to apply the pressure and need to see the improvement made this off-season and beyond.
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