© 2008 MLB Advanced Media, L.P. All rights reserved.
CLEVELAND -- The Indians have found their third baseman.
It just so happened that he was somebody else's second baseman.
The Tribe acquired infielder Mark DeRosa from the Cubs in a New Year's Eve swap that sent Minor League right-handers Jeff Stevens and Chris Archer and left-hander John Gaub to the Cubs. With that, the Indians filled the only glaring hole in their infield with a versatile defender and productive bat.
Though the 33-year-old DeRosa played primarily at second base for the Cubs, he will make the move to the hot corner for the Indians, who would rather not disrupt their infield by moving Jhonny Peralta from shortstop to third and Asdrubal Cabrera from second to short. DeRosa has played 206 career games at third, and some consider it to be his best position. He should also see some time in the Indians' corner outfield spots.
"What's important about Mark DeRosa is he's a perfect fit for our team," general manager Mark Shapiro said. "He's a right-handed, versatile, high-character guy with postseason experience. He fits well in our lineup and in the culture of our team. He's going to help us win from every side you look at it."
The Indians did not have to give up a single proven Major Leaguer to acquire DeRosa, who is coming off his career-best season. The key to that achievement is DeRosa's impending free-agent eligibility. He is in the final year of a three-year, $13 million deal that will pay him $5.5 million in 2009, and he will be eligible for free agency after the season.
DeRosa, who was not immediately available for comment but is expected to speak with Cleveland reporters Friday, has the ability to play all four infield positions and both corner outfield spots. That should be a real asset to an Indians team with flexibility in its infield composition. Peralta played third during his stint in the Dominican Winter League this offseason, and Cabrera's natural position is shortstop.
"He can play second base, first base, left field or right field," manager Eric Wedge said. "He's a guy we're not going to hesitate to throw in the outfield, depending on who we're giving a day off or who we're facing. That versatility is huge. This is a very solid pickup."
The right-handed hitting DeRosa should also be a nice complement to the Indians' lineup, where, Wedge said, he might bat in the No. 2 spot. In '08, DeRosa batted .285 with 30 doubles, three triples, 21 homers and 87 RBIs in 149 games. He notched career highs in on-base percentage (.376), homers, RBIs, walks (69) and runs scored (103). He hit .310 off left-handed pitching and .322 with runners in scoring position, ranking sixth in the National League.
Shapiro said the Indians are bracing themselves for DeRosa's homer total to take a little bit of a dip when he makes the move from cozy Wrigley Field to Progressive Field.
"But we expect him to be productive and to complement our lineup extremely well," Shapiro said.
DeRosa's Cubs teammates began referring to him as "The Pulse" earlier this year, after an irregular heartbeat forced him out of action during Spring Training drills. He had a medical procedure performed to address the issue in late February. "The Pulse" is now the title of a blog DeRosa writes for MLB.com.
As far as the upcoming Spring Training is concerned, DeRosa, like Indians center fielder Grady Sizemore, has already committed to play for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic. Wedge said he has no concerns about that commitment affecting DeRosa's acclimation to the Indians.
"It's just kind of the norm now," Wedge said. "It's something you have to deal with every couple years. If that's something he's decided to do, we'll work around that."
Originally selected by the Braves in the seventh round of the 1996 First-Year Player Draft out of the University of Pennsylvania, DeRosa has compiled a .280 batting average, 58 homers and 310 RBIs over 11 seasons with the Braves, Rangers and Cubs. He didn't truly make his mark in the bigs until injuries thrust him into a starting role with the Rangers in '06. He went on to bat .296 with 13 homers and 74 RBIs that season, earning him the multiyear offer from the Cubs.
The Indians had good reports on Peralta's play at third in winter ball, but they don't feel the need to shake up their infield dramatically -- particularly for a player who might be a one-year rental.
With Jamey Carroll locked in as the primary utility infielder and outfielder Franklin Gutierrez shipped off to Seattle, Wedge said second basemen Josh Barfield and Luis Valbuena will also compete for a spot on the Opening Day roster.
As for what the Indians are giving up to get DeRosa, Stevens is the closest to being a big league commodity, as he could factor into bullpen consideration in '09. Stevens went a combined 5-4 while racking up six saves with a 3.24 ERA in 36 games between Triple-A Buffalo and Double-A Akron in '08. He missed some time while participating for Team USA in the Beijing Olympic Games.
The 25-year-old Stevens was the player to be named in the 2006 trade that sent Brandon Phillips to the Reds.
Archer, a 20-year-old who was a fifth round selection in the 2006 Draft, spent the '08 season at low Class A Lake County, where he went 4-8 with a 4.29 ERA in 27 starts. He struck out 106 and walked 84 in 115 1/3 innings.
Gaub, 23, is a lefty reliever who was taken by the Tribe in the 21st round of the '06 Draft. He also spent '08 at Lake County, going 1-1 with a 3.38 ERA in 34 appearances, notching a pair of saves. Gaub struck out 100 and walked 32 in 64 innings.
"We liked all three guys, they've all got some upside," Shapiro said. "Two of them are certainly further away. Jeff Stevens is a guy we felt could contribute in the big league bullpen at some point this year. You make these trades, and you're not looking to just steal a guy. My hope is that at least two of those guys end up contributing for [Cubs GM Jim Hendry] at some point and Mark DeRosa has an outstanding year for us."
The Indians have filled two holes with Cubs imports this offseason, having also signed free-agent Kerry Wood to a two-year, $20.5 million contract to be their new closer. With the Wood and DeRosa contracts eating up a sizable chunk of the '09 payroll, Shapiro will have to get creative if he's going to fill the Indians' other glaring need in the starting rotation.
"The lion's share of our resources have been committed," Shapiro said. "If we do anything else, it's going to require a creative contract or some sense of subtraction [of payroll] before addition."