Red Right 88

In Cleveland, hope dies last

First things first for the Tribe

It wasn’t Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder, but the Cleveland Indians made two moves this week to help fill out the first base position, at least for a year.

Just a few days after picking up International League Most Valuable Player Russ Canzler from Tampa Bay in exchange for cash (just where did the Dolans get extra cash from?) the Tribe signed Casey Kotchman to a one-year contract worth $3 million plus incentives.

“I’m really excited to join the club,” Kotchman said. “Just seeing how great a start they got off to last year. That was fun for me to watch on the outside, just being a fan of baseball and seeing how good they were playing. For me to have the opportunity to go up there this season and try to help contribute to sustaining that start … it’s exciting.”

Kotchman hit .306 last season in 146 games for Tampa Bay. He had a .378 on-base percentage, and batted .313 against right-handers and .289 vs. left-handers. That followed a season where Kotchman hit just .210 in 125 games in Seattle.

“He complements our lineup well,” Indians general manager Chris Antonetti said in announcing the signing. “He’s a guy that controls the strike zone well. He puts up a quality at-bat. He’s a professional hitter. He doesn’t strike out very much. He puts the ball in play and does a good job of managing his at-bats.”

The concern here is that the Indians are getting the Kotchman of 2010, rather than the Kotchman of 2011. After all, Kotchman is a career .268 hitter in eight seasons.

Kotchman brings a good glove to the position, though, as he has only committed 11 errors in his career (the Indians had 12 errors at first base just last year alone). So while he made not jump start the Tribe’s offense, his defense is important for a team with a pitching staff that is heavy on ground balls pitchers and for an offense that will probably struggle to score runs.

And the fact that Kotchman bats from the left side will help against the Tigers (you know, the team that has already won at least the next four or five division titles) as Detroit will most likely start the season with a starting rotation filled with right handers.

The signing of Kotchman, who it appears will platoon with Carlos Santana at first base, likely means that unless someone is injurde, Matt LaPorta (who hit .247 last season, with 11 homers and 53 RBI) will spend the season at AAA.

That news alone makes this one of those “addition by subtraction” deals.

“We said earlier that he will come to spring training to compete for a job, and that still is the case,” Antonetti said. “But now there will be one less job for him to compete for.”

Kotchman joining the team certainly isn’t going to result in a run on ticket sales, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a good move. Antonetti is doing what he can to improve the team and bringing in Kotchman for one year isn’t all that bad; he certainly can’t be any more disappointing than LaPorta has been since arriving in Cleveland.

(Photo by Getty Images)

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