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Indians Offseason Moves: What Spots Need Filled? Who Should Tribe Pursue?

A month later and some time to settle down and get over the bitter World Series defeat, it is now that time to start looking forward to 2017 with the Winter Meetings right around the corner and some free agents beginning to sign. The Indians fell one win short of winning their first World Series since 1948 so what will they do to get over the hump? The answer in short is pretty much nothing. Shorthanded and hurt, they almost pulled off a feat that seemed daunting and impossible come September. The good news is the team remains mostly intact and should be healthier next year going forward. So why not spend the extra money to get there? There a few different answers.
First, the front office did a good chunk of their offseason spending already. At the trade deadline, they picked up all of Andrew Miller and his nine million dollar per year contract. Then right after the season, they picked up Carlos Santana’s 12 million dollar option. There is 21 million dollars already spent for a team that averages about 80-90 million for the whole 25 man roster.
As far as losses, the team only has three free agents from the playoffs; Coco Crisp, Rajai Davis, and Mike Napoli. My assumption is that Coco Crisp will be gone. He was a waiver addition late in the season but his main role was to replace Abraham Almonte for the postseason when he was ineligible. With Almonte back, there isn’t a need for Coco since they share a similar role. Both are switch hitting OFs that can play multiple positions with decent speed except that Almonte is 10 years younger and has more to offer long term.
Mike Napoli will be the harder of the remaining two to sign. He had a career year and is the most valuable Cleveland free agent because of his power bat among the weakest free agency class in a very long time. The team was correct in not offering him a qualifying offer for 17 million. I don’t see teams biting to give a 35 year old 1B/DH a large multiyear contract or a one year offer greater than that. From the Indians standpoint it makes complete sense to make all attempts to resign him. He was a great compliment to Santana and a fan favorite coming off a career year. He will rotate between 1B and DH giving both guys a chance to keep fresh legs over the course of the long MLB season. He does carry a big hit or bust potential though with him likely looking for a multiyear deal secondary to his age and 2016 performance. If he can perform like he did in the regular season it is money well spent but he goes through his streaks of strikeouts and hitless at bats too often like we saw in the postseason. If the money and contract length come together Cleveland fans will be happy to see him again.
Rajai Davis is the easiest one to resign but may or may not make sense. Where it makes sense is that he is a right handed bat. Currently Brandon Guyer would be the only true right hander on the roster. The determining factor on resigning Davis is likely going to be Michael Brantley’s injury. If Brantley is going to miss time or struggles in the spring, the Indians will need an additional outfielder. Davis has that familiarity with the team and still has a lot to offer the club. Just because of the setup of the team right now, if he would resign I would not expect it to come before March.
Another reason for a low budget free agency is that arbitration costs will hurt this year with Guyer, McAllister, Chisenhall, Bauer, Shaw, Otero, Allen, and Salazar all eligible for it. Each of those players will get a raise but for how much is still to be determined. It is estimated the arbitration costs for those eight players may fall just short of 30 million. Each raise a player gets takes away from the pool of money the Tribe can spend elsewhere.
Looking at the current roster, the team could look like these 22 spots.
SP Corey Kluber
SP Danny Salazar
SP Carlos Carrasco
SP Trevor Bauer
SP Mike Tomlin
RP Mike Clevinger
RP Zach McAllister
RP Bryan Shaw
RP Dan Otero
RP Andrew Miller
RP Cody Allen
C Yan Gomes
C Roberto Perez
1B Carlos Santana
2B Jason Kipnis
SS Francisco Lindor
3B Jose Ramirez
INF Michael Martinez
OF Abraham Almonte
OF Michael Brantley
OF Lonnie Chisenhall
OF Brandon Guyer
OF Tyler Naquin
That current roster leaves three open roster spots, one for another infielder and two for relief pitchers with Manship being non-tendered. I would have to think they will make an attempt to sign a left handed reliever so Tito can use matchups and not waste Andrew Miller. Left handed relievers were an Achilles heel for the Indians in 2016 especially early on with a constant revolving door of relievers. Some free agent names that come to mind would be Boone Logan, Mark Rzepczynski, and JP Howell. Boone Logan was a possible trade deadline candidate from Colorado and will be just 32. He’s coming off one of the best seasons of his 11 year career with a career low in hits allowed and one of his best ERA and SO wise. Rzepczynski has experience with both Cleveland and Tito when he was with the bullpen from 2013-15. Since then he has journeyed around the MLB but posted a 2.64 ERA this past season. He was the matchup guy in his first tenure here and would make sense to come back and retake that role. However it sounds like he is finalizing a deal with Seattle. Howell might be a stretch to get from LA but he’s coming off a bad year with a 4.04 ERA and will be 34. From 2013-15 he was one of the best relievers in baseball with his highest ERA being 2.39 for any of those seasons. In November Cleveland claimed Tim Cooney from St. Louis. The 25 year old lefty missed all of 2016 with a shoulder injury but is a former third round pick who has pitched well in the minors and had a 3.16 ERA in six starts in 2015. He could also be in contention for that spot. The second spot could go to a lefty or righty but my guess would be the team would use that spot on somebody already in the organization or somebody brought in on a minor league deal to save money.
If Napoli leaves, two names that come to mind are Kendrys Morales and Steve Pearce. Kendrys Morales would have made sense as a permanent DH leaving Santana to play a lot of 1B while also coming over from a division rival. He’s hit .277 with 52 HRs and 199 RBIs the last two years. Those numbers are very comparable to Napoli including a higher batting average. Unfortunately he’s already become insurance property for Toronto, signing a three year 33 million dollar contract. Steve Pearce won’t provide the same power, maybe just a 15-20 HR per year player but can play 1B, 2B, and some OF to give the team defensive versatility. He also hit .288 last season. However with the market being extremely thin, the pressure to resign Napoli would be the best move Cleveland can make this offseason.
If the team looks at an OF other than Rajai I don’t think it would come until the spring. As it stands now, the team already has a full five outfielders on their roster so somebody would have to be moved for a spot on the active roster. This is why spring makes the most sense. The training staff will have a better feel of where Brantley is on his rehab closer to the springtime. If they feel he is behind, they can scour for another player like they did this season with Marlon Byrd. They also have an internal option in Yandy Diaz. The 25 year old 3B/OF hit .325 in 95 games for Columbus last year. He ranks in the top 10 prospects for the Tribe going into the season and like Naquin last year is knocking on the door for an opportunity.
The rest of the team is well set. The staff feels comfortable behind the plate with Gomes hopefully returning to form and Perez showing signs of progress from the postseason. The starting rotation has no reason to be touched or altered with. Finally the Indians have a complete infield with Jason Kipnis, Francisco Lindor, and Jose Ramirez to round it out. The only question there is which utility infielder the team wants to back the starters up.
If the Indians are looking to make a trade to improve I don’t see a lot happening. The Andrew Miller trade took some good talent away from the team and I wouldn’t expect them to part with any of their top four prospects; Bradley Zimmer, Brady Aiken, Bobby Bradley, or Francisco Mejia. With Francisco Lindor and Jason Kipnis in the middle infield, trading some of the depth there would be the most logical. Five of the top 16 prospects for Cleveland are at either 2B or SS. With a logjam at the position, prospects like Erik Gonzalez, Yu-Cheng Chang, or Willi Castro could be the first on the move. Once again I don’t expect any major trades to happen and for the team to keep their core. The only trade making sense would be for that power bat but finding one that a team will part with will be equally as hard.
Fans of the 2016 Cleveland Indians should be in store for an exciting 2017 season. Barring some unexpected turn of events, the front office will keep the roster the same and hope that a healthy lineup was the only thing short of a World Series in 2016. The rotation is still in the top three in baseball and the lineup has a good balance of contact hitters, speed, fielding, and a strong backend of the bullpen. If they can put up points consistently, avoid the injury bug, and the long relievers can hold their own then another playoff run is most likely a possibility.


While a pharmacy major at Toledo by day, Brandon Urasek is now making his mark in the journalism scene specializing in fantasy football and all things Cleveland sports. A five time fantasy football league champ and two time runner-up in ten tries, Brandon strives to help people with their lineups each week in both personal and weekly fantasy leagues in addition to covering the other various Cleveland teams. Follow Brandon on twitter @burasek10

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