A confession: for three weeks after Game 7, I didn’t want to think about baseball, specifically the types of mundane things I usually gravitate towards. Stuff like the Rule 5 draft, arbitration, free agency deadlines. Because the way last season ended, thinking about those small moves brought back to mind the long journey ahead, and the last thing I wanted to think about was how arduous and ultimately fruitless last year’s journey turned out to be.
But this happens (unfortunately) every year; it’s just that this time it just so happened to be in November instead of October or even September. And just like every other year, my obsession/interest did come back, and so, while I missed a lot of the fun stuff while it was happening, I’m ready once again to cover the probably irrelevant, mostly minuscule, and occasionally important moves that the Indians make this winter.
And thankfully to this point the Indians have stayed away from big moves. A big reason for that is because they don’t really have to make any massive acquisitions, as the vast majority of last year’s team was under contract or team control through at least 2017. Mike Napoli, Rajai Davis, and Coco Crisp are free agents, but everyone else who was on the World Series roster should report to Spring Training in a Cleveland uniform.
Here’s the offseason version of the 25-man/40-man roster.
Some general thoughts:
Even though the Indians haven’t signed anyone to a major-league contract so far, their projected salary is still projected to jump significantly. A lot of players are raises via either arbitration (I used MLBTR’s arbitration tracker) or raises built into their contracts. Carlos Santana will be making $3.75M more this year, Jason Kipnis $3M more, Cody Allen perhaps $3.5 more, Danny Salazar perhaps $3.3M more. And those aren’t the only ones. So if the Indians just dab a toe into the free agent waters, adding $10M in 2017 salaries, their payroll will be around the $105M mark. It’s going to get expensive just keeping the gang together, and could lead in the future to the Indians trading a core player in order to afford everyone else. But let’s not think about that just yet.
Since the end of the season, they’ve added 3 pitchers (Hoby Milner, Tim Cooney, and Edwin Escobar) and 1 position player (Francisco Mejia). Milner was a Rule 5 pick, meaning that he’ll need to remain on either the 25-man roster or the Disabled List the entire season, otherwise the Indians would have to offer him back to the Phillies. If the Indians don’t sign a free agent reliever, Milner has a decent chance of making the club, as his competition would be among three other left-handed pitchers (Kyle Crockett, Cooney, Escobar) at similar stages in their career.
The 40-man roster is filled with pitchers, so much so that there’s only 2 position players projected to start the season in the minors (assuming the Indians carry 4 bench players). By contrast, if the Indians go with a 7-man bullpen, there will be 12 pitchers on the 40-man roster in the minors, basically an entire minor-league pitching staff. Some of those pitchers are probably (coughAustinAdamscough) going to jettisoned to make room for a free agent, but a lot of that depth is actually going to be useful in 2017. Mike Clevinger, Cody Anderson, and Ryan Merritt all pitched in the playoffs, Adam Plutko and Shawn Morimando made starts last year, Shawn Armstrong and Joe Colon both appeared in meaningful games, etc.
Because of that imbalance, I think the Indians will be signing more position player NRIs than pitchers. Free agents can read a roster as well as we can, and I don’t see too many opportunities for a AAAA pitcher on this club. The Indians still could (and usually do) grab a pitcher rehabbing from a serious injury. But overall I think the recognizable names will be on the position player side. Because Erik Gonzalez has one more option year left, that leaves open the possibility that Michael Martinez gets added to the roster at the end of Spring Training. There’s also Yandy Diaz, who didn’t need to be added to the 40-man roster this winter, and hasn’t yet been given an invitation to major-league camp, but could very well make the club if there’s injuries or the Indians don’t sign a free agent position player.
Transactions (November 3 - December 15)
I don’t have too much to say about these that I haven’t said above, but I’ll stick around in the comments section if you want to chat about anything.
OF Rajai Davis, OF Marlon Byrd, 1B Mike Napoli, OF Coco Crisp declared free agency
Activated OF Michael Brantley and RHP Carlos Carrasco from the 60-day Disabled List
Sent C Adam Moore outright to Columbus (AAA)
Signed C Guillermo Quiroz to a minor-league contract and invited him to spring training
Sent C Chris Gimenez outright to Columbus (AAA)
Claimed LHP Tim Cooney off waivers from St. Louis Cardinals
Claimed LHP Edwin Escobar off waivers from Arizona Diamondbacks
Purchased the contract from C Francisco Mejia from Lynchburg (A)
Sent IF Michael Martinez outright to Columbus (AAA)
Signed OF Daniel Robertson to a minor-league contract and invited him to spring training
Signed C Erik Kratz to a minor-league contract and invited him to spring training
Non-tendered RHP Jeff Manship
Rule 5: Selected LHP Hoby Milner from Philadelphia Phillies
Rule 5: Baltimore selected OF Anthony Santander from Cleveland