Tribe inks Pie, Lopez to Minor League deals
Both players extended non-roster invitations to Spring Training
CLEVELAND -- Protecting the big league club by adding depth through Minor League signings has been an important approach for the Indians in recent years. This offseason is no exception.
Cleveland announced on Friday that it signed Felix Pie and Jose Lopez to Minor League deals. Both players will attend Spring Training with the Indians as non-roster invitees.
The Indians continued to bolster their outfield depth later in the day, dealing Minor League hurler Cody Burns to the Padres for Aaron Cunningham.
Pie gives the Tribe an extra outfielder to throw into the mix for the fourth job behind starters Michael Brantley, Grady Sizemore and Shin-Soo Choo. All three of those players dealt with injuries last season, so having Pie -- capable of playing left or center field -- gives Cleveland some insurance.
"He's one of those guys that's been among some of the better prospects in the game when he was a Minor League player," Indians general manager Chris Antonetti said of Pie. "He's had some success at the Major League level, but not as much recently. But, he's a guy that's still young and we feel like he still has some upside. He'll come into camp and should have an opportunity to earn a job.
"The thing we're excited about is he still has a lot of tools. All of the tools that made him so attractive as a young player and got him on those prospect lists are still evident. The performance has yet to follow, but we're hopeful that his best years are still ahead of him."
Soon to be 27 years old, Pie hit .259 with 14 homers, 33 doubles, nine triples and 67 RBIs in 268 games for the Orioles over the past three seasons. Last year, he hit .220 with no homers and seven RBIs in 85 games before being designed for assignment on Aug. 23. Pie became a free agent at the end of the season.
Cunningham, 25, might have a leg up on Pie for a fourth outfielder role, considering the former San Diego outfielder is out of options. Cleveland views Cunningham as a good right-handed option off the bench, especially given his ability against left-handed pitching.
Last season, Cunningham split the year between Triple-A Tucson and San Diego. In the Minors, he hit .329 (.395 against left-handers) with nine home runs, 34 doubles and 63 RBIs over 87 games. With the Padres, the corner outfielder hit .178 across 52 games.
Lopez adds a reserve option in the infield.
The 28-year-old is coming off a down year, during which he hit .216 with eight homers and 21 RBIs in 82 games between stints with the Rockies and Marlins. His best season came in 2009, when he hit .272 with 25 homers and 96 RBIs for the Mariners. Since then, however, Lopez has hit just .233 in 232 games over two years.
Lopez is a former American League All-Star and can play multiple infield positions, making him a possibility as a bench player with Cleveland. Right now, the Indians have left-handed hitters at third base (Lonnie Chisenhall and Jack Hannahan) and at second base (Jason Kipnis).
"He can compete for regular at-bats at third base," Antonetti said, "and potentially at first base, depending on how well he swings the bat and who our other alternatives are. I think he could be a very good complement to some of our regulars on the infield who are predominantly left-handed hitters.
"He's a right-handed hitter who has versatility to play the corners and to play second base. He could be a very good complementary player to our players if everyone's healthy. If we have an injury or two, or a dip in performance with one of those guys, he has the ability to step in and contribute, certainly with a lot of Major League experience."