Indians: Tribe adds three players to the fold

CLEVELAND — At the recent winter meetings, Indians general manager Chris Antonetti hinted that he had something surprising up his sleeve.

Tribe fans are hoping this isn’t it.

Cleveland was busy Friday, acquiring three players, but it was more quantity than quality, with only one of them, outfielder Aaron Cunningham, a safe bet to grace the big league roster on opening day.

The Indians signed free agents, veteran infielder Jose Lopez and outfielder Felix Pie, to minor league contracts before landing Cunningham in a trade with the Padres for Double-A right-hander Cory Burns.

Though Lopez and Pie have all spent significant time in the majors, Cunningham, 25, was the more substantial move of the day. Out of minor league options, he is considered the frontrunner to win the job as fourth outfielder behind Michael Brantley (left field), Grady Sizemore (center) and Shin-Soo Choo (right).

“We feel like we’re getting a guy that has a chance to be a major league outfielder for us,” Antonetti said of Cunningham, who batted .329 with nine home runs and 63 RBIs in 87 games at the Triple-A level last year. “He’s a right-handed hitter that has some versatility to play both corner outfield spots and should complement the rest of the players we have on our roster very well.”

Cunningham hit just .178 in 52 games for the Padres last year, but batted .288 with a homer and 15 RBIs in 53 games for San Diego in 2010 after being acquired in a trade with Oakland.

The 24-year-old Burns was Cleveland’s eighth-round draft pick in 2009, going 2-5 with a 2.11 ERA and 35 saves for Double-A Akron last year. He was not on the 40-man roster, so a move had to be made to add Cunningham, with Triple-A right-hander Josh Judy designated for assignment to clear a spot.

Lopez, 28, will come to camp hoping to win a job as the utility infielder.

The Venezuela native was Seattle’s regular second baseman from 2006-10. He made the all-star team in 2006, but his best season came in 2009 when he hit .272 with 25 homers and 96 RBIs in 153 games.

Lopez’s production has plummeted since. He hit just .216 with eight homers and 21 RBIs in 82 games with Colorado and Florida last season.

“He can compete for regular at-bats at third base and potentially at first base, depending on how well he swings the bat and who our other alternatives are,” Antonetti said of Lopez, who will earn $900,000 should he make the opening day roster. “I think he could be a very good complement to some of our regulars on the infield who are predominantly left-handed hitters.”

As it stands, the Indians will employ left-handed hitters at third base in Lonnie Chisenhall and Jack Hannahan, as well as at second (Jason Kipnis). Switch-hitter Carlos Santana and right-handed hitting Shelley Duncan will most likely get the majority of the reps at first base, unless Matt LaPorta shines during spring training.

Pie, 26, began his big league career with the Cubs in 2007, spending the past three seasons in Baltimore. He was designated for assignment and became a free agent at the end of the year after batting just .220 without a homer and seven RBIs in 85 games for the Orioles.

Pie, who will earn $700,000 should he make the big league roster, will compete with Cunningham and Ezequiel Carrera for the extra outfield spot.

Indians fans can continue to hold out hope for something more, with Antonetti saying the club still has financial flexibility. But the 40-man roster the team employs once Cunningham is added, might be the one Cleveland takes to spring training.

“It could be what we go to camp with, but we’re going to continue to work to find alternatives,” Antonetti said.


Swing and a drive

The Indians announced that longtime radio voice Tom Hamilton will return for his 23rd season as part of a multi-year extension for the Avon Lake resident.

Hamilton will be joined by Bay Village resident Jim Rosenhaus, who took over for Mike Hegan when he stepped down during the season last year.

Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7136 or Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.



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