Local News

Indians: Tribe finds first baseman Kotchman

Thursday, February 2nd, 2012

CLEVELAND — Though the Indians wouldn’t confirm as much, it appears they have finally found their first baseman.

According to multiple reports Thursday night, Cleveland has agreed to terms with free agent Casey Kotchman on a one-year contract worth $3 million plus incentives. The deal is likely pending a physical and will be announced today.

The reports came just two days after the Indians traded cash to Tampa Bay for first baseman Russ Cantzler, who was the International League MVP at Triple-A Durham last year.

If Kotchman’s acquisition becomes official, it will complete a lengthy process for the Indians, who have searched all offseason for a replacement for first baseman Matt LaPorta.

Cleveland was in the market for free-agent first baseman Carlos Pena, reportedly offering him more money (one year, $8 million) than Tampa Bay but ultimately losing out to the Rays, who signed Pena to replace Kotchman.

The Indians then turned their attention to the 28-year-old Kotchman, who had his best year of six-plus in the majors last season, batting .306 with 10 home runs and 48 RBIs in 146 games for the Rays.

Handing the job to Kotchman doesn’t appear likely, but he will come to spring training as all but a lock to win the starting spot at first in a competition with LaPorta and Cantzler — both of whom have minor league options.

Kotchman, a career .268 hitter, is a vast defensive improvement — .998 fielding percentage at first base — for the Indians, who have watched LaPorta struggle at the plate and in the field as the regular starter the past two seasons.

But he doesn’t fill Cleveland’s need for a power-hitting right-handed bat — another area of interest for the Indians this offseason.

The left-handed hitting Kotchman, has just 59 career homers, and LaPorta’s power numbers last year — 11 homers and 53 RBIs — outweighed Kotchman, who had 500 at-bats to LaPorta’s 352.

The Indians, who have been active this offseason, could still make more moves, but anything substantial seems unlikely at this point. That means they could enter the season with two switch-hitters — Asdrubal Cabrera and Carlos Santana — and seven left-handed hitters in their projected batting order.

LaPorta, the key cog in the 2008 trade with Milwaukee for CC Sabathia, now appears destined to begin the season at Triple-A Columbus. He could win a spot as a utility infielder/outfielder, but that job is likely to go to veteran Shelley Duncan, who is without minor league options and was a contributor off the bench for the Indians last year.

 

Steak stopper?

It’s down to Asdrubal.

Relief pitcher Rafael Perez agreed to a one year-contract Thursday, leaving Cabrera, the Indians’ all-star shortstop, as the the club’s only remaining arbitration-eligible player.

Cabrera, who stands in the way of a lengthy arbitration-less streak for the Indians, is asking for $5.2 million in 2012. Cleveland, which hasn’t had an arbitration case heard since two (Greg Swindell and Jerry Browne) in 1991, is offering $3.75 million. Cabrera made $2.03 million in 2011.

Major League Baseball arbitration cases began being heard Wednesday. Cabrera’s date has been scheduled but not revealed.

The 26-year-old Cabrera hit .273 with 25 home runs and 92 RBIs in 151 games for the Indians last year, starting for the American League in the All-Star Game.

Perez, 29, did his part to keep Cleveland’s arbitration streak intact, signing a one-year deal that will pay him $2,005,000 million in 2012.

The left-hander, who went 5-2 with a 3.00 ERA in 71 games last year, was asking for $2.4 million at arbitration, while the Indians were offering $1.6 million. He made $1.33 million last season.

Perez, who has been a staple at the back end of Cleveland’s bullpen since 2008, will earn a $25,000 performance bonus should he appear in 55 games in 2012, a total he’s reached in three of the past four seasons. His 71 appearances last year ranked second among AL relievers.

The Indians entered the offseason with seven arbitration-eligible players. They have agreed to terms with six of them — Perez, Shin-Soo Choo, Chris Perez, Justin Masterson, Jack Hannahan and Joe Smith.

Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7136 or cassenheimer@chroniclet.com. Fan him on Facebook or follow him on Twitter.

 

Indians: Rafael Perez signs; Cabrera still arbitration eligible

Thursday, February 2nd, 2012

CLEVELAND — It’s down to Asdrubal Cabrera.

Relief pitcher Rafael Perez agreed to a one year-contract Thursday, leaving Cabrera, the Indians’ all-star shortstop, as the the club’s only remaining arbitration-eligible player.

Cabrera, who stands in the way of a lengthy arbitration-less streak for the Indians, is asking for $5.2 million in 2012. Cleveland, which hasn’t had an arbitration case heard since two (Greg Swindell and Jerry Browne) in 1991, is offering $3.75 million. Cabrera made $2.03 million in 2011.

Major League Baseball arbitration cases began being heard Wednesday. Cabrera’s date has been scheduled but not revealed.

The 26-year-old Cabrera hit .273 with 25 home runs and 92 RBIs in 151 games for the Indians last year, starting for the American League in the All-Star Game.

Perez, 29, did his part to keep Cleveland’s arbitration streak intact, signing a one-year deal that will pay him $2,005,000 million in 2012.

The left-hander, who went 5-2 with a 3.00 ERA in 71 games last year, was asking for $2.4 million at arbitration, while the Indians were offering $1.6 million. He made $1.33 million last season.

Perez, who has been a staple at the back end of Cleveland’s bullpen since 2008, will earn a $25,000 performance bonus should he appear in 55 games in 2012, a total he’s reached in three of the past four seasons. His 71 appearances last year ranked second among AL relievers.

The Indians entered the offseason with seven arbitration-eligible players. They have agreed to terms with six of them — Perez, Shin-Soo Choo, Chris Perez, Justin Masterson, Jack Hannahan and Joe Smith.

 

Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7136 or cassenheimer@chroniclet.com. Fan him on Facebook or follow him on Twitter.

 

North Ridgeville soldier home after close call in Afghanistan

Thursday, February 2nd, 2012

NORTH RIDGEVILLE — Two months ago, an improvised explosive device blew up beneath the armored patrol vehicle carrying Army Spc. Joshua Kearney in Afghanistan and tossed it about like a children’s toy.

“It was like a soccer ball being kicked,” said Kearney, 23. “The truck flipped two times and landed on the passenger’s side.”

Everyone inside the Mine Resistant Ambush Protective vehicle was alive, but they all were banged up.

Kearney’s head was pounding from a concussion, muscles in his neck and shoulders were torn, and he suffered a cracked vertebra.

Training kicked in for Kearney, a 2007 graduate of the Lorain County Joint Vocational School, who is home until next Wednesday for some rest and relaxation.

Kearney, who was harnessed into the gunner’s seat, got out of the vehicle to make sure they wouldn’t be attacked again.

“I grabbed my M-4 (rifle) and crawled out of the gunner’s hatch to make sure there wasn’t a second IED,” he said. “Sometimes they do what’s called a ‘daisy chain’ — they’ll plant another bomb relatively close to the first one.”

Kearney helped his lieutenant tend to the driver, who had a concussion as well as leg injuries, and to an Afghan translator who also was hurt.

Kearney credits the 43,000-pound vehicle with saving their lives.

“If it had been a Humvee, I don’t think I’d be here,” he said.

There was a terrible odor in the air, and the blast blew a hole in the ground 7 feet deep, and 17 to 20 feet wide and long.

The force of the blast melted dirt into the truck’s chassis, and tore off thick bulletproof glass windows and blew open the top hatches, Kearney said.

It also broke straps inside the truck, launching gear and ammunition into the air like weapons.

“I got hit in the head with an ammo canister, and those weigh about 25 pounds,” Kearney said. “My fifth vertebra was cracked, and my doctor said I’ll probably have chronic back pain for the rest of my life.”

When help arrived, the soldiers eventually discovered that the bomb had been triggered by someone lying near a wooded area.

Kearney suspects the attack was engineered by forces loyal to the ousted Taliban or the Haqqani Network, an insurgent group The New York Times called “the Sopranos of the Afghanistan War.”

Kearney, who was awarded a Purple Heart, said he’ll return to Afghanistan and presumes he’ll work on fueling helicopters until his enlistment is over in December.

He is in the 4-1 field artillery, 3rd Brigade 1st Armored Division, whose motto is “First Or Not At All!”

While home, he has enjoyed the company of family and friends, especially his wife Anne, a 2006 graduate of Elyria Catholic High School.

He also found a little time to work on his 1987 Toyota Supra with his dad, Richard, who served in the U.S. Navy.

Kearney, who arrived in Afghanistan in September, said his other close calls in the war involve being shot at with high-powered rifles.

“There’s this weird supersonic crack — it’s almost like someone snapping fingers — and you’ll hear it hit close to you, and a split-second later, you hear the sound of the gunshot coming from the hills,” he said.

Asked if the U.S.-led NATO forces are winning the war, Kearney replied, “Yes — slowly but surely.”

“Our whole fight is counterinsurgency — to win over the locals and get them on our side to see what we’re doing as a good thing and to trust the (Afghan) government,” he said. “We’re already starting the drawdown process — the goal is to be out in 2013, which is a pretty lofty goal.”

Kearney said he is looking forward to returning to civilian life but is glad he served his country.

Upon his return, he plans to study at Lorain County Community College and earn a mechanical engineering degree.

“I eventually want to open up my own small machine shop,” he said.

Contact Cindy Leise at 329-7245 or cleise@chroniclet.com.

Former OSU coach Jim Tressel takes job with Akron

Thursday, February 2nd, 2012

AKRON, Ohio — Former Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel is going back to school— in a newly created position at the University of Akron.

The school announced Thursday that Tressel has been hired as vice president for strategic engagement and will earn a base salary of $200,000 per year. The job starts May. 1.

University officials say he will work with alumni, community organizations and friends of the school to develop strategies and efforts to help students succeed.

Akron president Luis Proenza said in a statement that Tressel will bring his energy, leadership, passion and compassion to the university.