Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported yesterday that the Indians’ front office had approached ownership about expanding the payroll to sign Carlos Pena, but he might not be the only free agent first baseman on the team’s radar.
Jordan Bastian of MLB.com confirms the team’s interest in Pena, but adds that Casey Kotchman is also in the mix and says together they’re “two names high on Cleveland’s list.”
Bastian goes on to call Kotchman “the more realistic option” and that makes sense, because he’s also the less productive option. Kotchman had a .306 batting average last season while Pena hit just .225, yet Pena still posted the higher OPS with an .819 mark compared to .800 from Kotchman. And that was Kotchman’s best season since 2008, whereas Pena has topped an .800 OPS in four of the past five years and has a career OPS that’s 100 points higher than Kotchman’s.
If the Indians fail to sign Pena or Kotchman their fallback plan at first base involves Carlos Santana, Matt LaPorta, and Shelley Duncan, but it certainly sounds as though their adding a free agent is likely.
The Rays started Sergio Romo on back-to-back days and if that sounds weird to you, you’re not alone. Romo, of course, was the star closer for the Giants for a while, helping them win the World Series in 2012 and ’14. He’s been a full-time reliever dating back to 2006, when he was at Single-A.
In an effort to prevent lefty Ryan Yarbrough from facing the righty-heavy top of the Angels’ lineup (Zack Cozart, Mike Trout, Justin Upton), Romo started Saturday’s game, pitching the first inning before giving way to Yarbrough in the second. Romo struck out the side, in fact. The Rays went on to win 5-3.
The Rays did it again on Sunday afternoon, starting Romo. This time, he got four outs before giving way to Matt Andriese. Romo walked two without giving up a hit while striking out three. The Angels managed to win 5-2 however.
Despite Sunday’s win, Cozart wasn’t a happy camper with the way the Rays used Romo. Via Fabian Ardaya of The Athletic, Cozart said, “It was weird … It’s bad for baseball, in my opinion … It’s spring training. That’s the best way to explain it.”
It’s difficult to see merit in Cozart’s argument. It’s not like the Rays were making excessive amounts of pitching changes; they used five on Saturday and four on Sunday. The games lasted three hours and three hours, 15 minutes, respectively. The average game time is exactly three hours so far this season. I’m having trouble wondering how else Cozart might mean the strategy is bad for baseball.
It seems like the real issue is that Cozart is afraid of the sport changing around him. The Rays, like most small market teams, have to find their edges in slight ways. The Rays aren’t doing this blindly; the strategy makes sense based on their opponents’ starting lineup. The idea of valuing on-base percentage was scoffed at. Shifting was scoffed at and now every team employs them to some degree. Who knows if starting a reliever for the first three or four outs will become a trend, but it’s shortsighted to write it off at first glance.