It’s the most wonderful time of the non-baseball season year. No more excruciating Hall of Fame debates, no more Giancarlo Stanton will-he-or-won’t-he’s — the Winter Meetings are here. For the Cleveland Indians, it’s a chance to kick-start and offseason, potentially re-sign a Let’s Go Tribe favorite, and maybe trade away one of their longest-tenured players.
After watching the Indians post their first 100-win season since 1995, it’s tempting to expect them to go out and make a big splash in the offseason. For the second year in a row, they are a great team with very few players leaving. Why wouldn’t they go out and grab another Edwin Encarnacion just to shore up a few things up before firing up the ‘ole engine again for another World Series run?
Well, money, for one.
The Indians made a big splash last offseason in signing Edwin (and later on the illustrious Boone Logan), but don’t expect it again. According to Spotrac, the Indians currently have a payroll of $92.2 million (which will go up another $30 million or so before the season starts), a shade above the league average, and smaller than just 12 over teams. The Indians are far from basement dwellers in terms of payroll and would never be confused with the largest market. However, we already know that. It’s all we ever hear, and it’s not always the right excuse for not going all-in during the offseason. There’s also this other minor issue of a bland free agent class.
Shohei Ohtani was the only exciting option as a pseudo free agent, but now that he’s off the board, the Indians would be best served just bringing back the pieces that left in Carlos Santana and Bryan Shaw. The specter of the next year’s massive free agent class looms, but for now, we’re stuck with what we’ve got. Yu Darvish is a potentially enticing option, but if the Indians are going to surprise everyone and spend big money this winter, it’d be surprising to see it spent on a 31-year-old pitcher. J.D. Martinez? Maybe, albeit a little weird choice? Eric Hosmer? Gag me with a dirty sock?
All I’m saying is, don’t get too amped up for the Indians to sign anyone in the coming months that will sweep you off your feet. That doesn’t mean they won’t show up on Ken Rosenthal’s Twitter timeline a few times, though.
Here are some things to keep an eye on.
Trading Jason Kipnis
Kipnis’ entire career has been spent with the Indians to the tune of 19.7 FanGraphs WAR over seven mostly successful seasons. It’s hard not to feel like the writing is on the wall for Kipnis making a departure sooner than later, though. At the very least, someone is looking at the wall and pulling the cap off the marker if pre-meetings rumors are to be believed.
A series of injuries limited Kipnis to just 90 games in 2017, the fewest games he’s played since he permanently took over second base for the Tribe in 2012. In his absence, the Indians found lightning in a bottle with the dynamic duo of Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez up the middle and some mix of Yandy Diaz and Giovanny Urshela at the third base. We know the Indians have full faith in Jose Ramriez, as they should, but their willingness to deal Kipnis comes down to how much they believe in Diaz or Urshela at third.
In theory, Diaz is the better offensive option and Urshela is a lock for a future Gold Glove if he sticks around. Neither of them are likely to equal the overall production of a healthy, at-his-peak Jason Kipnis but we don’t know the Indians are going to get that. Even if they do, if they can trade him for an upgrade in the outfield or even a legit third baseman, it makes sense.
Re-signing Carlos Santana
As I said before, if the Indians are going to do anything at the Winter Meetings, I’d be shocked if it doesn’t involve signing someone with the same name as a Latin-American music legend. According to Paul Hoynes, the Indians are one of the teams talking to Santana, and they have offered a contract. More interestingly, it appears Santana is giving them the ability to counter any offer made by other teams.
While the Indians' offer was considered a required first step in negotiations, it wasn't enough to get Santana to return to Cleveland. The Indians have been assured that if Santana does receive an offer to his liking, the Indians will be given a chance to counter it before he makes his final decision.
It could just be a show of good faith to the team that gave him his shot in the majors, or it could be a legitimate signal that he really wants to be back in Cleveland as long as the Tribe are willing to put up the money he deserves.
Carlos Santana posted one of his best seasons in his walk year, with a .259/.363/.455 slash and 23 home runs. His legendary patience at the plate has resulted in a 15.2 percent walk rate over his career, and he has had 20 home runs in four of his last five seasons. The dude is legit at the plate — not to mention his sudden emergence as a Gold Glove-caliber first baseman — yet he’s getting overlooked in favor of Eric Hosmer in the rumor mill.
The only real advantage Hosmer should have is age (28 to Santana’s 31 years on this floating rock), but any front office with a hard-nosed fan of Night Court as their general manager falls head over heels to bring his “toughness” and “grittasity” to their team.
I will take whatever antiquated thinking leads other teams to devalue Santana, allowing him to come back to Cleveland.
Helping out the Marlins with their rebuild
Have you heard the news? The Miami Marlins are rebuilding. Hard. And if the Giancarlo Stanton trade with the New York Yankees is any indication, they’re willing to dump salary for little in return. That could mean Christian Yelich or Marcell Ozuna at below-market prices just to eat some salary as the Marlins begin a very, very deep rebuild.
Neither will come as cheap as the return for Stanton, of course, but two outfielders shy of 28 should be enticing for the Indians. Yelich put up 4.5 fWAR last season with 18 home runs — the third time in four seasons that he’s reached a value of exactly 4.5 wins, which is a neat anomaly I just now noticed while typing this sentence. The 26-year-old is owed at least $43 million through the 2021 season, with a 2022 team option on the table for $15 million or a $1.2 million buyout.
Ozuna had a similar breakout last season at 4.8 fWAR and a career-high 37 home runs for the struggling Marlins, but he still has two years of arbitration remaining, meaning he is much more cost effective if the Indians want to go that route. Maybe they’ll take neither, and maybe they believe in Bradley Zimmer and Greg Allen. Still, the idea of flipping either of them for a couple of prime years from the likes of Yelich or Ozuna doesn’t sound too out there.