Possible Indians free agent targets

Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports
Top Outfielder/First Basemen Free Agents the Indians Might Sign

1. Carlos Santana, Switch-hitter, 1B, 31 years old, 2017: 3.4 WAR,* 112 OPS+,* 23 HR – The Indians have extended Santana a qualifying offer, which, if he accepted, would keep him here for one more year. If he rejects it, the team that signs him would surrender a high draft pick to the Indians. While I would be surprised if Santana accepts the one-year offer, as he’s older and probably wants at least a three-year contract, I know he wants to stay with the Indians and I wonder if a 3-year contract around $50 million could be worked out eventually with the Tribe. If it happens, it will probably take until late December or January to be finalized. Santana himself would be the best way to fill the hole in the Indians line-up that exists without Santana.

2. Austin Jackson, Right-handed, OF, 30 years old, 2017: 1.9 WAR, 126 OPS+, 7 HR – The Indians need a right-handed outfielder who can play one of the corner positions. Again, the player they had last year, Jackson, may be the best fit for the hole his free agency corrects. Two cautions: (1) Francona had a lot of success keeping Jackson healthy and effective by limiting his playing time last season. If the Indians re-sign AJax, we might see Jackson and Kipnis platoon in left, and Brantley and Encarnacion split some time at first base. (2) Jackson is not a consistent home-run threat. If Santana leaves, the Indians will be missing some home runs they’ll have to fill in from players like Brantley, Kipnis, Chisenhall and Zimmer.

3. Carlos Gomez, Right-handed, OF, 31 years old, 2017: 1.8 WAR, 106 OPS+, 17 HR – Gomez would probably be evaluated by most teams in comparison with other available outfielders as a rich-man’s Austin Jackson, with more power and more consistent playing ability. However, I’m not entirely convinced he’s an upgrade, and he is actually older than Jackson. His right-handed bat does fit nicely in the Indians outfield.

4. Todd Frazier 31 years old (27 HR, 3.2 WAR, 105 OPS+) is a right-handed power-hitter and certainly worth a long look. I initially left him off the list because I felt like the Indians weren't going to put a lot of money into a third-baseman, with Yandy Diaz coming up, Urshela clearly being a favorite for them, and Ramirez also able to play third. But, Frazier can play first, he's a right-handed hitter, and he may be available for a contract the length of a year or two

5. Lucas Duda, Left-handed, 1B, 31 years old, 2017: 1.1 WAR, 116 OPS+, 30 HR – With so many first-basemen available, and so many of them being left-handed, I could see Duda getting a one-year deal for far less than what his bat is likely worth. He would play the majority of time at first, with Encarnacion giving him a day off in the field periodically. If Santana leaves, I would expect Duda’s name to come up with regularity in Indians’ Hot Stove rumors.

6. Eduardo Nunez, Right-handed, IF/OF, 30 years old, 2017: 1.3 WAR, 110 OPS+, 12 HR– Nunez is a player in the Indians’ mold, as he can play any position. He spent some time at first base for the Red Sox, and he has solid power and speed, but isn’t overwhelming in any particular offensive category. His versatility makes me suspect that he will be overvalued and priced above what the Indians would be willing to pay. Plus, his home-run hitting ability would not replace Santana’s.

7. Neil Walker, Switch-hitter, IF, 32 years old, 2017: 1.5 WAR, 111 OPS+, 14 HR – If the Indians end up trying to fill their roster holes with economy foremost in mind, I think Walker would be an interesting option to play first, though he has not done it yet. He could also be put at second, Brantley could be worked out at first, Ramirez at third, and Kipnis in left. At 32, he provides switch-hitting consistency, though his splits against lefties are not great.

8. Mitch Moreland, Left-handed, 1B, 32 years old, 2017: 2.0 WAR, 99 OPS+, 22 HR – If Moreland was right-handed, I would be willing to put a small wager on the Indians signing him. Being left-handed makes him an awkward fit into a team that has the potential for an all left-handed-hitting outfield if the Indians devote most of their free agent spending to Moreland. Still, he’s a great defensive first basemen who can hit with a little power, so certainly worth considering if the price is right.

9. Adam Lind, Left-handed, 1B/LF, 34 years old, 2017: 0.8 WAR, 123 OPS+, 14 HR – Lind excelled in a part-time role for Washington last year, and, if signed by the Indians, would split time between first base and DH with Encarnacion. I don’t think this would be the Tribe’s preference, but it certainly has the potential to compensate for the power deficit in the event of Santana’s signing elsewhere.

10. Michael Saunders, Left-handed, OF, 30 years old, 2016: 1.3 WAR, 116 OPS+, 24 HR –Saunders had an absolutely terrible 2017, so I included his 2016 numbers above. The drop-off makes Saunders an excellent candidate for the Indians to try one of their patented reclamation signings on him, but his left-handed bat makes it somewhat unlikely. As I noted above, between Kipnis, Zimmer, Brantley, Chisenhall, and Naquin, the Indians have a LOT of left-handed hitters in the outfield mix. However, if the Indians believe they could get Saunders back to 2016 form, he could be an excellent low-risk, high-reward option.

Honorable Mention: A couple more names popped up in discussion - . Mike Napoli, Right-handed, 1B, 36 years old, 2017: -0.4 WAR, 82 OPS+, 29 HR – Who didn’t love the parties at Napoli’s? And who wouldn’t love to see Napoli come back and get redemption with the Indians? However, Napoli had an absolutely horrible year with the Rangers, and it’s hard to imagine the Indians having both Encarnacion and Napoli on the same roster. Jarrod Dyson and Cameron Maybin - Two speedy outfielders who could get a look. I think Dyson might be a bit overpriced for the Indians, and essentially doubles what Zimmer provides (he's also a left-handed hitter). Maybin is a bit more interesting as a right-handed hitter, and if the Indians miss on a big-time power bat, maybe they try a more manufacturing-oriented approach (which worked well for them in 2016).

Possible Signings Who Are Likely Over the Indians’ Price Range

Jay Bruce – Everybody loved BRUUUUCE and the boost he provided for the Indians for the stretch run. However, being a Scott Boras client, being 30 years old, and being a legitimate middle-of-the-order bat for any lineup makes me think he’s going to be priced out of the Indians’ range. I could be wrong. I also wonder how well his left-handed bat would fit into the Indians lineup as it’s currently constructed. A great hitter is a great hitter, but with Kipnis, Brantley, Chisenhall and Zimmer looking like lineup mainstays, that's a vulnerability against left-handed starters we've seen rear its ugly head over and over. Yonder Alonzo – A left-handed-hitting first baseman who had a career year seems like he might be over the Indians price-range. Logan Morrison – see above, only more so. Eric Hosmer – Will get a huge deal, and consider that his past statistics indicate that he’s more likely to decline from his 2017 production than to maintain or improve. Carlos Gonzalez – The Coors Field effect scares me, as does the fact that he’s one of the few, legitimate power-threats in this year’s crop of outfield free agents. He’s older than Jay Bruce, however, so it will be interesting to see if he actually gets a lesser contract than our old friend.

As you can see, there are a lot of options in both the outfield and at first base, so it is very possible the Indians may sign any one of a dozen or so of the fifteen guys listed above, and do so at a reasonable price.

Top Relief Pitcher Free Agents the Indians Might Sign

1. Tommy Hunter, RHP – Hunter was on the Indians briefly, before getting released and becoming a dominant force in relief for the Orioles. Could he make a return trip?

2. Luke Gregerson, RHP – This would be a case of buying low, as Gregerson had a rough year in Houston, but his past numbers indicate this may have been an anomaly.

3. Joe Smith, RHP – I honestly think re-signing Smith would make the most sense out of all of these possibilities. He has deep ties to Cleveland, and would be a great right-handed complement to Tyler Olsen.

4. Fernando Abad, LHP – Another pitcher who had a difficult year whose peripheral numbers indicate he may be a lot better than he showed.

5. Craig Breslow, LHP – The Indians’ staff turned Breslow’s season around in the short time he was with the Tribe. Might he be up for a return at a reasonable price?

Honorable Mention: Bryan Shaw - I appreciate you, Bryan. But, odds are the workload is going to catch up with you here soon. The time to get out is probably now, especially at the price he's likely to fetch this offseason.

IF the Indians end up filling their needs through free agency, I predict that they will re-sign Austin Jackson and Joe Smith and sign Neil Walker to a one-year deal to play first base. My hope is to get Santana and Jackson back, but I fear Santana will end up being a little more than they can spend. Let me know what you think below!

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