The Winter Meetings are over, but the hot stove remains hot. Maybe not searing hot, but it’s at least set on medium-low heat, which is perfect for making scrambled eggs. Or adding mid-level free agents who can help push your baseball team over the top. Either one.
The Cleveland Indians, like most teams, are probably not done with the 2016-2017 offseason. To this point, though, they have done almost nothing. They grabbed a reliever from the St. Louis Cardinals, Tim Cooney, off waivers. Then a week later they signed Daniel Robertson to a minor-league contract with an invite to spring training and before you could settle your excitement they went out and signed catcher Erik Kratz to a minor-league deal of his own on December 1. Hot diggity.
When looking at the Winter Meetings themselves, the Indians came out net neutral. They gained left-handed reliever Hoby Milner in the Major League phase of the Rule 5 draft but also lost Anthony Santander, a rising outfield prospect, to a Baltimore Orioles team that loves the Rule 5 draft more than life itself.
I cannot fault anyone for feeling antsy at this point — the Indians were so close to winning a World Series and the immediate reaction is to want them to pump money into the team to push them over the edge. And to this point they haven’t done that.
However, on top of no real need to spend on a big-money free agent (especially in the current FA class), there is also no need for urgency. Only a handful of players have been signed, most of them ones that were out of the Indians’ price range anyway. Sorry, the Indians were never going to sign Yoenis Cespedes or Dexter Fowler and they were out on Carlos Beltran and Matt Holliday rather quickly. Most of the Tribe’s rumored targets throughout the Winter Meetings — the Mike Napolis and Adam Linds of the world — are still waiting for phone calls while drinking solid gold or whatever else baseball players do in the offseason.
The Indians do not exactly have a lengthy history of big offseason moves, but considering the few moves they do make, a disproportionate amount were actually made after the Winter Meetings. All of last year’s major (and I use that word lightly with some of them) signings were post-meetings: Robbie Grossman, Dan Otero, Mike Napoli, Rajai Davis, and Juan Uribe were all added on December 11 or later.
Going back a little further, all the big transactions of the 2012 offseason were made after the 11th of December as well. The Indians acquired Trevor Bauer and Bryan Shaw in exchange for Shin-Soo Choo that day, then went on to sign Mark Reynolds, Nick Swisher, Jason Giambi, and Michael Bourn in the span of a little over a month. Two years prior to that they signed Russell Branyan in February before he turned in one of his best half-seasons as a pro for the Tribe.
Two years ago our own talonk took a great look at the moves the Indians have made in Januarys gone by. Juan Gonzalez (2001), Rafael Perez (2002), and Rafael Betancourt (2003) were some of the best January Indians babies, as was Ryan Raburn in 2013.
None of these signings probably inspire a whole lot of confidence, but confidence is not really what you are ever going to find while looking through old free agent signings of the Indians. Point being things still happen after the first week of December. And very few times have the Indians been in such a good position — or at least been perceived to be in such a good position — to land a free agent like Edwin Encarnacion. It’s certainly not off the table, at least.
So what are we likely to see them actually do? Signing Encarnacion feels like a real possibility at this point, if anything just because his market has been swept out from under him. When the Houston Astros signed Carlos Bentran (who the Indians were targeting) things were bad and when the Toronto Blue Jays signed Steve Pearce things were really bad. The bridge between Edwin and the Jays seems almost entirely burned at this point, with both sides coming out and publicly saying they do not see a way forward with each other. So who else? The Texas Rangers?
But assuming the Indians don’t get Encarnacion, the fallback plan is very Indians-like. My uneducated guess is that Encarnacion waits too long for the Indians’ taste and they end up going elsewhere for their short-term 1B/DH. Adam Lind is still out there, as unexciting as he is, as is Mike Napoli. And for as much as the market for Encarnacion has dried up, it has for those two as well. The Indians have reportedly at least talked with Chris Carter, which makes sense even if I don’t personally love it.
The Indians could also come out of nowhere for a free agent target; it wouldn’t be completely unprecedented for this front office. Pedro Alvarez is still looking for a team, and would probably be a better overall hitter than Mike Napoli, even if he doesn’t hit quite as many home runs. Pedro is currently “marketing” himself as an outfielder, though he has never played the position in the majors and has never been great as a first or third baseman, either. Simply as a DH — or splitting time at first with Carlos Santana — he makes perfect sense as a fit for the Indians. They have not been publicly tied to him, but I could easily see them being one of the “number of teams” rumored to be interested in him.
Or, if the Indians want to use the throw-everything-at-a-wall approach, they could offer low-end contracts to players like Chris Colabello, Dustin Ackley, and Logan Morrison to see if any can hang around in spring training.
If nothing else, there’s always #FreeAguilar.