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A monster free agent class is coming in 2018, how will the Cleveland Indians approach it?

Every team should be preparing for the massive 2018 free agent class, including the Indians.

Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

By most estimates, MLB’s 2018  free agent class is going to be insane. No one can know for sure which players will re-sign in the next three years, but even if a huge chunk of them does, there will still be over a dozen established baseball stars hitting the free agent market. Starting pitchers, outfielders, infielders, relief pitchers, you name it. If your team will need it in 2019, it will most likely be available after the 2018 season. So many players could be available, in fact, that even a "small market" team like the Cleveland Indians could get in on the fun.

When 2018 rolls around, the Indians could look like a very similar team to the one they put out in 2015. Assuming they do not trade anyone away before then, their core will consist of Jason Kipnis, Corey Kluber, Yan Gomes, Danny Salazar, Lonnie Chisenhall, and Carlos Carrasco. Prospects Bradley Zimmer and Clint Frazier are expected to be ready by 2017, but there is no guarantee with prospects, no matter how good their projections may be.

The biggest omissions from the list of returning players are Carlos Santana and Michael Brantley, the latter of whom will be part of this massive 2018 class. Assuming the Indians do not sign him to an extension beforehand, Santana will have become a free agent following the 2017 season.

Using Baseball Reference’s handy payroll page (and their arbitration estimates) the Indians could have a payroll of somewhere between $35.5 million and $93 million. The lower estimate being just guaranteed contracts, with $9 million more being added if they exercise their option on Carrasco, and potentially $47.7 million more coming from salary arbitration cases (including Francisco Lindor’s first year of eligibility).

The list of free agents following the 2018 season, as detailed by Yahoo! Sports’ Jeff Passan, is massive. It includes players the Indians obviously will not be in on (like Bryce Harper and his potentially half-billion dollar contract), and some who could opt out of contracts they signed just this year, such as David Price and Jason Heyward.

Here are just a few of the big names that could be available:

  • Bryce Harper
  • David Price
  • Jason Heyward
  • Josh Donaldson
  • Clayton Kershaw
  • Dallas Keuchel
  • Jose Fernandez
  • Matt Harvey
  • Andrew McCutchen
  • Adam Jones
  • Manny Machado
  • Michael Brantley
  • Craig Kimbrel
  • Zach Britton
  • Trevor Rosenthal
  • Andrew Miller
  • Jeurys Familia
  • Glen Perkins
  • Kelvin Herrera
  • A.J. Ramos
  • Carter Capps
  • David Robertson
  • Adam Wainright
  • Garret Richards
  • Shelby Miller
  • Nelson Cruz
  • Hunter Pence
  • Adrian Gonzalez
  • A.J. Pollock
  • Charlie Blackmon
  • Dee Gordon
  • Brian Dozer
  • Yasmani Grandal
  • Derek Norris
  • Joe Mauer
  • Victor Martinez

Because I am currently in a fantasyland where I can set the Indians payroll to determine who they could go after, I am going to assume that somewhere along the line the Tribe found a way to get their budget up to $100 million. This would be their highest budget in team history (not accounting for inflation), which seems like a stretch. However, if the Indians win over the next couple of years and do not need to head into a rebuild, their window to win will be rapidly closing.

The majority of those Indians players listed above will be gone by at least 2020, meaning they will have a two-year window to win when this free agent class hits after the 2018 season. The Dolans r cheep and the front office could determine it worth it to go all-in on a few key players, even if it means inflating their budget. So who could the Indians pursue?

If the Indians determine they want to go big on one player to start, Manny Machado would be a great start. Who knows what Machado will do over the next two years, but assuming he does not suffer a devastating injury he will be a 26-year-old third base free agent when 2018 rolls around. If Giovanny Urshela or Yandy Diaz do not turn out to be legitimate options, Machado would fill in perfectly at the hot corner.

The Indians have also shown interest in Arizona Diamondbacks outfielder A.J. Pollock this offseason, but he may not be needed by the time 2018 rolls around, assuming Zimmer or Frazier come through for the Indians. Who knows, the Indians could also pursue Brantley if they do not sign him to an extension before he hits free agency.

Victor Martinez is also an interesting one. He will be 40 when the 2019 season rolls around, but he could be one of the cheaper designated hitter options in this free agent class—assuming he does not retire first.

There is always the caveat that any of these players could re-sign before hitting free agency, but this class is so massive and so deep, that even if half of them do stay with their current teams it would still be a great class. With so many players left, and so many teams courting them, the Indians could be in a position to sit back and wait for discounts on players who would be the lone headliner any other year. We will have to wait and see.