The Cleveland Indians, despite not winning the World Series, enjoyed a competitive 10 years of MLB baseball. During that period they reached the World Series and secured a postseason berth in four of those 10 campaigns.
The new decade doesn’t look very bright and promising. Cleveland has been very quiet at the free agent market despite having tons of needs and holes in their roster. A rotation, which had an incredible second half, is now without its 2-time Cy Young winner Corey Kluber, who was traded to the Rangers.
The only major move, if you can even call it that, was a 1-year, $6.5-million deal with former Phillies second baseman Cesar Hernandez. That provides a new starting second baseman for the Indians, but that’s only a part of the problem that Cleveland faces after a dynamic period of free agency.
The outfield situation is an absolute mess. While Oscar Mercado is a lock to start the season in center field, Franmil Reyes’ defensive skills aren’t what the team wants in right field and might use him as a designated hitter. Delino DeShields and Jake Bauers fit the same description, without the offensive part.
Meanwhile, the rumors out of Progressive Field have implied that the Indians are getting rid of stars rather than going for outfield upgrades. Francisco Lindor was at a time regarded a lock to be traded away by Cleveland, with the Reds and the Dodgers rumored as his main suitors.
Dealing Lindor is viewed as a move aimed at freeing up payroll space, but it still puts the team in an extremely uncomfortable position, especially in the wake of the improvements that the White Sox made and the amount of players that the Twins were able to retain, re-signing the ace of the rotation Jake Oddorizzi earlier this offseason.
The Indians seem to be fading away in a possibly competitive AL Central division, and that is very disappointing for a team that just recently reached the postseason three straight years. Chicago and Minnesota are now close to being postseason-caliber clubs while Cleveland is strongly trending down.
Last year the team’s strengths in the rotation and the bullpen were what helped the Indians make a comeback and almost reach the playoffs. As things currently stand, that won’t be enough to make them a competitive team in 2020.
If the Indians don’t become more active on the market, their season will be in the balance of whether Jose Ramirez and Franmil Reyes can be good hitters on everyday basis in order to provide improvement as opposed to last year. Reyes, after being traded by the Padres, batted just .237 with 10 homers in the second half.
Ramirez, meanwhile, doesn’t seem to be trusted much by Cleveland media, despite him placing in the top 3 of AL MVP voting in each of the two campaigns prior to his worst season in a couple of years in 2019. He’ll probably end up improving, and makes for a solid top of the order alongside Lindor, Reyes and All-Star first baseman Carlos Santana.
The Indians still need a good outfield addition in order to really bear any resemblance to the elite offenses in Major League Baseball. However, the fact that they are sellers at this point doesn’t make any sense from organizational standpoint.
Cleveland continues to be amongst the bottom 6 in payroll. CBS Sports’ Dayn Perry states that teams like the Indians and the Brewers are crazy to use the small-market excuse about not pushing to compete.
A team like the Padres signed Manny Machado during the spring to the then-biggest free agent contract in history. The Reds are the team most interested in Lindor at this moment. The Indians have no leverage or reason not to spend – it’s neither the luxury tax, which they’re about $110 million short of, nor a rebuild strategy.
The Indians have had probably the most disappointing offseason by any team in a long time. Let’s examine a few of their needs, and potential candidates:
It’s very odd for the Indians to not be pursuing a new signing with their current outfield situation. Oscar Mercado could be a solid option, but Bauers and DeShields aren’t going to make the cut, and Franmil is clearly a DH.
They’re both above-average hitters. Castellanos maybe fits Cleveland better as he’s more consistent while Ozuna is a power hitter that the Indians already have in Reyes. Castellanos is a near .300 batter, hitting .293 last season with Detroit and the Chicago Cubs, and is the Indians’ best chance to save the 2020 season now that the best cheap option, Corey Dickerson, is headed to Miami.
The Indians have now lost Trevor Bauer and Corey Kluber in just a six-month span. Mike Clevinger is likely to stay, despite some trade rumors. Shane Bieber and Carlos Carrasco make for a fascinating 1-through-3, but clearly the staff could use more than Adam Civale and Zach Plesac in the remaining two spots.
Out of the three best starters still out there, Nova had the most 2019 WAR (2.12). Meanwhile, Alex Wood is only 29 and is an intriguing starting pitcher when healthy, as proved by his 2017 Dodgers campaign.
Roberto Perez registered career-highs in WAR (3.9) and homers with 24 – the first season in his MLB career when he’s hit more than 10 out of the ballpark. He also played 119 games, and could be expected to take part in fewer entering his age-31 season. His backup option, meanwhile, isn’t impressive at all – Sandy Leon has recorded 0 WAR or less in five of eight MLB seasons with Boston and Washington.
Candidates: Robinson Chirinos
Not much has left from the original catching class from the start of the offseason, but the name that a few teams could still chase to ensure depth at the position is the former Rangers and Astros catcher, who had the highest OBP in his career despite playing in career-high 114 games. His offensive and defensive resurgence, in addition to a lacking catching class, gives him a shot at a long-term deal.