It’s no secret that the Indians have been disappointed in Matt LaPorta’s production and development, and today they took a step towards replacing him at first base. Jon Heyman reports that Cleveland will sign Casey Kotchman to what I presume is a one- or two-year contract.
Update: Paul Hoynes says it’s a one-year deal worth $3 million plus incentives.
Kotchman has been the butt of many jokes over the last few seasons, which tends to happen when you’re first baseman that musters just a .304 wOBA and an 84 wRC+ with a measly .125 ISO in nearly 1,500 plate appearances across a three-year stretch like Kotchman did from 2008-2010. He did give the Rays 563 quality plate appearances last season — .351 wOBA and a 125 wRC+ — after coming up in April to replace the suddenly retired Manny Ramirez. That’s the Kotchman the Tribe hope they agreed to sign this afternoon.
As you can see in the graph below, there has been no significant change in the first baseman’s batted ball profile over the last few seasons…
There’s nothing outrageous there that would support his .333 BABIP last season compared to the .277 mark he put up from 2004-2010. I don’t want to take the easy way out and call it good luck, but it is something to be mindful of going forward. It’s possible that many of those ground balls that skirted through the turf infield in Tropicana Field will be slowed down enough by natural grass that fielders will be able to make a play on them, which would do a number on his BABIP and production. For what it’s worth, Kotchman had a .250 BABIP on ground balls last year compared to the .237 league average and his .194 career mark. He also had an eye procedure last winter, which is definitely worth mentioning.
Kotchman is a very strong gloveman at first base, so he will improve Cleveland’s defense. He’ll also make their lineup even more left-handed than it already is, with switch-hitters Carlos Santana and Asdrubal Cabrera representing the team’s only everyday threats from the right side. That can be problematic for a team trying to make a run at a division title, and I can’t help but think Derrek Lee might have been a better fit. Assuming the money isn’t outrageous — and there’s no reason to think it will be — the Indians have upgraded their defense and potentially their offense if the 28-year-old made real improvement last season.