By Mark Warmuth
After being swept in the 2018 American League Division Series by the Houston Astros, the front office of the Cleveland Indians developed a plan.
They looked at the roster, which featured a starting lineup of position players all over the age of 30, with the exception of the team’s two stars–Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez.
We believe they felt the hitting was incapable of improvement except for the pair of young players, and so they set out on making the roster younger.
Oh yeah, at the same time, ownership wanted them to cut the payroll.
One of the team’s best offensive players, Michael Brantley, was a free agent. We believe he was a guy the baseball people wanted to resign, but the move to cut the players’ salary prohibited that.
So, Brantley, the professional hitter the team desperately needed, went off to Houston, leaving a big hole in the lineup.
You see, the Tribe was very top heavy last season. For the most part, when the Indians scored runs, it was because of Lindor, Ramirez, Brantley, and slugger Edwin Encarnacion, the only players with OPS over 800 on the roster.
Chris Antonetti and Mike Chernoff knew this, and that’s why they traded for Josh Donaldson at the end of the season. They needed another productive bat (or two).
They also knew Encarnacion declined from his first season with the Tribe (881 OPS in ’17, compared to 810 in ’18), and he would be 36 years old in 2019. So, they took the opportunity to move him and get a younger, though with less powerful hitter in Carlos Santana, who has been very good (840 OPS) thus far.
The brass also moved Yan Gomes (31), Yonder Alonso (32) in deals, and let Melky Cabrera (34) walk as a free agent. Coincidentally, the first two also were very well paid, so they saved money.
The also gave up on right-handed hitting Yandy Diaz, with his ability to get on base and a hitter who hit the ball hard, although on the ground. Still, Diaz didn’t make outs, he got on base.
The front office did bring in some young players, like Jake Bauers, a top prospect with Tampa (for Diaz), and Jordan Luplow, a good prospect for the Pirates. But, they didn’t bring in another proven bat, to lengthen the lineup.
The entire hope was that Bauers and Luplow, and perhaps Greg Allen, would step in and perform right away and give the batting order some oomph.
When the young guys struggled early in training camp, the front office panicked, bringing veterans like Matt Joyce, Hanley Ramirez, and Carlos Gonzalez. Joyce was released in camp, signing with Atlanta, and the latter two appear to be through as productive big league hitters.
So, the plan failed in not bringing in at least one bona fide hitter to replace Brantley, and then not sticking with Bauers and Luplow immediately.
There were some veteran bats out there in free agency and in the trade market. We believe the plan was to deal Corey Kluber for a young, stud bat, but when they couldn’t get what they felt was a great return, they stopped short.
We also think if the organization could have dealt Jason Kipnis, who falls in the same category as Gomes and Alonso, he would be gone as well.
One more thing, there was one young hitter who stood out in Arizona, Oscar Mercado. Cleveland sent him to the minors to start the season, and he was very impressive, and finally was called up last week.
But, the front office didn’t trust what they saw in Mercado. Would he have hit in the bigs like he did at Columbus? We will never know.
If you were going to go young, you should have done it. The slow start in spring training by the young guys caused someone to have cold feet.
Hopefully, it works out and Bauers, Luplow, and Mercado can be productive big league hitters and the offense improves. Otherwise, the front office has a lot of issues with the moves they made last winter.