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The Cleveland Indians need to upgrade the roster, but at what positions?

Alright, so shortstop is covered, but what about the rest of the team?

Lance Iversen-USA TODAY Sports

The Indians have now finished with a winning record in three consecutive seasons, something that hadn't happened since 1999-2001. Their 81-80 record wasn't especially impressive, but after they traded away Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn, they went 32-22 during the final two months of the season, with the best record and best run differential in the AL Central. The Indians are a better team than they looked like in the first half, but they aren't the best team in the division either. Their true overall ability lies somewhere in the middle, in a place where contention in 2016 is entirely realistic, but some offseason upgrades are needed to turn that realistic possibility into something closer to likely.

The Indians should have some money to spend this offseason; once you add in probable arbitration and option payments, the team will still only has ~$65 million committed for $2016 payroll. The team averaged $85 million in Opening Day payroll during the last three years, meaning something close to $20 million might be available as the offseason begins.

For a team that finished 81-80 though, there aren't a ton of glaring weaknesses... So where exactly should the team look to make upgrades? Obviously new holes could be created if current players are traded away, but I just want to take a look at each position with players currently under team control.

Starting pitching:

Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, and Danny Salazar have a strong case for being the best 1-2-3 in the American League, so the Indians should feel pretty good about the starting rotation as is. It takes five to tango though, so what's the outlook for those final two spots? Trevor Bauer was moved to the bullpen near the end of the year, after having a number of rough starts in July and August. His overall numbers for the season were reasonable for a #4 or 5 starter though, and he's too young to give up on over a few bad games. The team will want a backup plan, but I imagine they're comfortable with the idea of Bauer in the #4 or 5 spot. Then you have Cody Anderson Josh Tomlin, and T.J. House, each of whom has had some success at the MLB level, albeit not in a large enough sample to inspire much confidence. I'd be fine with the Tribe standing pat on starting pitching though, or adding nothing more than a very low cost depth option.

Relief pitching:

Cody Allen has been really good, so the closer spot is covered. The rest of the bullpen has some question marks though. Set-up man Bryan Shaw's ERA was good, but his peripherals point to a pitcher in decline. None of the lefties in the pen did especially well either. I think it makes sense for the Indians to go after at least one more reliever, but I also don't think they should pay much money for one. A team with their resource limitations can't afford to put too much into a player who throws only 70 innings or so in the best-case scenario.


Yan Gomes had a down year, in part due to injuries, but I still have a lot of confidence in him, and Roberto Perez looks like one of the best backups in baseball. There's no reason to look to upgrade here.

First base:

The most argued-about player on the roster means this is a position Tribe fans won't arrive at any sort of consensus on. I'm of the mind that Carlos Santana (who even in a down year, was league-average offensively as a first baseman) is going to rebound some, and that the Indians should be content to pay $8.25 million for Santana's production in 2016, because there won't be better value than that available on the free agent market.

Second base:

He cooled off a lot during the second half of the season, but Jason Kipnis was the Tribe's best hitter this year, and his defense rebounded back to roughly average, where he was before a tough 2014 in the field. He's signed to a team friendly deal, and this is another position it doesn't make sense for the team to worry about.



Third base:

Giovanny Urshela's defense at the hot corner was a welcome change, but he really struggled at the plate. (His wRC+ was just 68.) He was only 23 years old this season, so there's plenty of time for his bat to develop, but if the Indians are going to contend in 2016, they probably can't settle for a full season of terrible offense from their third baseman. Chris Johnson is another option, but he's been really bad the last couple reasons, and there are reasons the Braves were willing to take on Swisher and Bourn's contracts to be rid of Johnson. If the front office thinks offseason work will be enough to round Urshela's bat into something closer to league average, so be it, but otherwise this is certainly a position they should investigate improving.

Left field:

Michael Brantley's defense inspires debate, but he's certainly not a hack out there, and he's been one of the best hitters in baseball during the last two years. The Indians are set here.

Center field:

Who is Abraham Almonte? Is he the somewhat below-average player who can't hit left-handed pitching that he appeared to be for most of his career before joining the Indians, or is he the above-average fielding and hitting player (who still can't really hit left-handed pitching) he appeared to be during his two months with the Indians? If it's the former, the Indians need to look for another option in center. If it's the latter, the Indians can feel good about sending Almonte out there, but might want to have a platoon partner for him on the bench.

Right field:

Another position that's hard to figure out because it's hard to know what to make of the incumbent. Lonnie Chisenhall was demoted early in the season because he wasn't hitting, and his defense at third base wasn't nearly enough to make up for him not hitting. Two months later he was back as the team's new right fielder, and his defense out there was pretty tremendous, as rated by both advanced metrics and most eye tests. In August, he also hit the ball well. In September though, he struggled at the plate again, continuing a very streaky career. If the defense we saw is legit, and he can be the not-quite league average hitter his career numbers suggest, he's plenty viable. If the defense regresses to even "pretty good, though not excellent" though, he's got to hit more, and even if the defense is excellent, he can't post the .513 OPS he had in September. Right field could be a disaster if Chisenhall's defense proves to have been a small sample fluke and his bat doesn't pick up, and corner outfield is a position with a lot of available options, so the Indians will have to consider going after one.


As currently constructed, the roster lends itself to different players playing here on different days, which is the way many teams operate these days. The Indians couldn't certainly use more pop in the lineup, and if that comes via adding a player who needs to DH most of the time, fine. Allowing players to semi-rest once every week or two isn't the worst thing in the world though, so there's no reason to think, "We have to add a DH."

In summation...

The Indians were one of the best teams in baseball during the final couple months of the season, when they often had Lindor, Almonte, and Chisenhall in the lineup instead of Aviles, Bourn, and Murphy. I think it's entirely possible that the same roster could come back and win the AL Central next year. I don't think it's likely though, because it would require too many things going right. On the pitching side, some relief help is all I'd go after, but I think the lineup needs one or maybe two changes. Third base, center field, right field, and DH are likely the best places to look, but the team will have to choose which ones are most vulnerable. If they had to target only one need, I think I'd go after an outfielder who can hit, because that gives them some additional help with three of the four most likely trouble spots. Should they try to spring for one big upgrade, or aim to make a series of smaller ones? There aren't enough roster spots to try and make too many small upgrades, so while they'll add more than one new face, I'm in favor of putting a lot of eggs in one basket, then hoping it was the right basket. How about you?