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What the Cleveland Indians offseason moves thus far say about their future intentions

The outfield is on fire and they might let this mother burn.

Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Despite several holes that need to be filled before 2016, the Cleveland Indians have mostly been quiet this offseason. A few minor league signings, a roster swap here and there and that is about it. There is nothing wrong with that, mind you--the majority of the offseason moves have yet to be made by any team. Free agency is only a few weeks old and the bigger names need to start falling before we know for sure what kind of market is out there. This time now, between the General Manager Meetings and the Winter Meetings, is always especially dull, but once the Winter Meetings get under way in early December things should start happening.

Until then, we can take what the Indians have done in preparation for the Winter Meetings and feel out what they could be doing once that time comes. To start, we need to look at everything first year General Manager Mike Chernoff and President of Baseball Operations Chris Antonetti have done to this point. Starting on November 2, here is every transaction the Indians have made:

November 2

  • Mike Aviles elects free agency
  • Ryan Webb elects free agency
  • Gavin Floyd elects free agency
November 4
  • Bought out Ryan Raburn's $3 million option for $100,000
November 6
  • Outrighted Adam Moore to Triple-A, elected free agency
November 10
  • Outrighted Michael Martinez to Triple-A, elected free agency
November 13
  • Signed Michael Martinez to a minor league contract with non-roster invite to Spring Training
November 19
  • Signed Shane Robinson to a minor league contract with non-roster invite to Spring Training
  • Signed Adam Moore to a minor league contract with non-roster invite to Spring Training
November 20
  • Sold contract of C.C. Lee to Nippon League.
  • Added James Ramsey to 40-man roster
  • Added Tyler Naquin to 40-man roster
  • Added Shawn Morimando to 40-man roster
  • Added Mike Clevinger to 40-man roster
  • Added Dylan Baker to 40-man roster
The most telling moves are the most recent additions to the 40-man roster. All of those moves were made to protect prospects from the upcoming Rule 5 draft (which also takes place during the Winter Meetings) so, in theory, they should all be players that have future value to the Indians. Tyler Naquin, Shawn Morimando, and Mike Clevinger are all not surprising. Even Dylan Baker, who fans did not expect to be added to the 40-man roster, makes sense as he the Indians can add him to the disabled list when the regular season rolls around and maintain an extra roster spot because of it. And then we get to James Ramsey.

Adding James Ramsey on the 40-man roster and signing Shane Robinson both tell the same story for the Indians offseason moves: The outfield is a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Both players could provide replacement-level depth at the Major League level at best and be average in Triple-A at the worst. Both of them provide little in terms of Major League value to the Indians but, Ramsey, in particular, could be dangled as part of a trade for a better Major League outfielder. Ramsey would not be a centerpiece by any means, but if the Indians feel that a deal could live or die by throwing in a near-ready outfielder as part of another trade, it makes sense to add him to the 40-man roster now. Without doing so, his trade value is essentially nil as the receiving team in the trade would not be permitted to add him to the 40-man roster next month, leaving him exposed to the draft. I would hope that the Indians have a very specific team and trade in mind if they kept Ramsey instead of picking someone else like reliever Jeff Johnson, who could have easily contributed to the team’s bullpen in 2016.

The Indians also opted to fill out their 40-man roster completely before the Rule 5 draft, another hint that a move could be coming. If the plan is to load up the 40-man roster now to maintain trade value for a player like Ramsey, they could be planning a big two- or three-for-one trade for an outfield piece before leaving a spot open for the Rule 5 draft. Which, if we are going to keep going down this rabbit hole, reinforces the theory that the Indians front office does not want to trade a pitcher like Danny Salazar or Carlos Carrasco. Trading multiple players for one outfielder would mostly likely mean they plan to use Trevor Bauer, Josh Tomlin, or Cody Anderson in a deal to fill a team need. As discussed previously, they could be targeting Miami Marlins outfielder Marcell Ozuna, or another outfielder that could be had for a young starting pitcher and a James Ramsey.

It seems like it happened forever ago already, but also consider the fact the Indians opted not to pay Ryan Raburn $3 million for a year of his services. I would hope that this means the Indians are considering using that money on another outfielder, or they could even consider bringing him back later in the offseason for less than $3 million if his market is completely dry. The lack of signing Raburn, combined with keeping a player whose only real value at this point is in a trade leads me to believe a semi-big trade has to be coming sometime before or at the Winter Meetings.

These are, of course, the most exciting scenarios. But there is also the small possibility that this is it. Does the front office believe that adding such shallow depth as Shane Robinson and keeping James Ramsey is enough to get this team over the hump? Could they honestly believe that Jerry Sands and a non-injured Tyler Naquin are enough to fill out the Major League outfield? Maybe they believe that last year was a fluke year filled with injuries and this is still the same team that was picked to win it all prior to last season. I sincerely hope not (and honestly, I do not think that is the case), but the possibility still looms.