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"Collin's a guy we've liked for quite a while," said Chris Antonetti, the Indians' president of baseball operations. "He's a right-handed-hitting outfielder that's capable of playing all three outfield spots. He's a very good defender in the corners and very capable in center field as well. And he's had some success against left-handed pitching.
"It's a guy that not only complements our team well on the field, but a guy that's very well respected in the clubhouse."
In order to clear room on the 40-man roster, Cleveland designated left-hander Nick Hagadone for assignment and subsequently non-tendered the reliever, making him a free agent. Antonetti said the Indians still have interest in re-signing the pitcher, who is rehabbing from the fractured left elbow injury he sustained in July.
Closer Cody Allen, setup man Bryan Shaw, right fielder Lonnie Chisenhall, starter Josh Tomlin, and right-handed relievers Jeff Manship and Zach McAllister were each tendered contracts for the 2016 season by the Tribe. That group will be eligible to file for arbitration on Jan. 12 and the two sides can exchange salary figures on Jan. 15. If necessary, arbitration hearings will be held from Feb. 1-21, but a deal can be reached at any point up until the scheduled hearing for each player.
The 29-year-old Cowgill hit only .188 in 55 games for Los Angeles last season, but missed 84 games from May 26-Aug. 31 with a sprained right wrist. The outfielder has hit .236 (.633 OPS) in 308 career games in parts of five seasons between stints with the D-backs, A's, Mets and Angels.
What the Indians like is his production against left-handed pitching (.271 average with a .733 OPS in his career) and his ability to offer above-average defense. Cowgill has a 21.4 UZR/150 in 790 2/3 career innings in left field and a 25.9 UZR/150 in 542 career innings in right. The Indians also feel that he can be a backup option for center (minus-13.6 UZR/150 in 369 2/3 innings).
Cowgill fits as a complementary piece for the Tribe's outfield. Cleveland has a plus defender in right field in Chisenhall, but he hits right-handed pitching better than lefties. Likewise, center fielder Abraham Almonte is better against right-handers than left-handers. Cowgill could spell either player against southpaws.
"He can do all those things," Antonetti said. "One of the things we like is versatility and the fact that he's really capable of playing all three outfield spots and playing them pretty well. And with us being predominantly left-handed in the outfield, his right-handed bat complements the group of guys we currently have really well."
The bigger issue facing the Indians right now is the fact that left fielder Michael Brantley could be out for all of April and some of May after undergoing right-shoulder surgery this winter. While Cowgill helps solidify the outfield depth, Cleveland will still be looking to the trade and free-agent markets for more help.
"We want to continue to improve," Antonetti said. "I think that will continue to be our goal between now and Spring Training. We think this is a step in that direction. We feel Collin really improves upon the alternatives we had prior to the deal."
Hagadone, 29, posted a 4.28 ERA in 36 games last season before landing on the disabled list with a back issue and then injurying his elbow during a Minor League rehab outing. The Indians initially acquired Hagadone from the Red Sox as part of the July 31, 2009, trade that sent Victor Martinez to Boston. The lefty posted a 4.72 ERA with 122 strikeouts in 118 1/3 career innings (143 games) with Cleveland.
"It was a really tough decision with Nick," Antonetti said. "Obviously, he's a player and person we've had a long history with and a great appreciation for. He's a great worker, a good teammate, goes about things the right way. Unfortunately, he suffered the injury last year and we got to a point where we needed to try to create a roster spot and this is the direction we had to go.
"We're still hopeful that Nick will be able to contribute in some way in 2016 and we definitely have interest in bringing him back."