Baseball is going through a weird shift right now as teams figure out if they are tearing down for the start of a rebuild, or going for it all with what they have left. The result is quite a few intriguing players being non-tendered by their former teams.
The obvious needs of the Indians are outfield and bullpen, with catcher not far behind if they aren’t ready to fully commit to Eric Haase (or somehow believe Roberto Perez can shoulder a full starter load).
So far, the front office’s plan seems to be amassing fourth outfielder types and hoping to mash something together into a formidable squad. Greg Allen, Jordan Luplow, Leonys Martin, Oscar Mercado, Tyler Naquin, and Bradley Zimmer round out the current outfield on the 40-man roster — half of those were acquired in minor trades over the last calendar year, and none of them stick out as All-Star caliber. They also signed 27-year-old Trayce Thompson to a minor-league deal with an invite to spring training last week.
Assuming the Indians want to do something wild and try and find an impact player in the outfield, the meaty non-tender class should help.
Here are some of the more interesting options available.
Yangervis Solarte, IF
Okay, so I’m technically not starting with an infielder, but if the Indians can live with Jason Kipnis in center field, Solarte is an interesting fit to play third base while Jose Ramirez forms an unbelievable center of the infield with Francisco Lindor.
The 31-year-old Solarte has played for for the Yankees, Padres, and Blue Jays since he debuted in 2014 and has put up a career .259/.317/.410 slash. He puts the ball in play a lot and he has at least 14 home runs in the last four seasons, peaking with 18 in 2017.
After declining his $5.5 million option earlier in the offseason, the Blue Jays let him go without tendering a contract after he struggled in 2018 with a 77 wRC+ and carrer-low .227 on-base percentage. He’s projected to make nearly $6 million in arbitration.
Billy Hamilton, OF
If the Indians want to take Merritt Rohlfing’s advice and go full-blown defense in the outfield next year, Billy Hamilton is the perfect fit.
The fastest man in baseball sure can’t hit with his .245/.298/.333 career slash (70 wRC), but he’s consistently swiped 50 bases up until last season when he dipped to 34. That’s about as far as his offensive contributions will get, but his speed is stellar in the outfield.
Personally, I’d rather just use Greg Allen or Bradley Zimmer in a similar defensive-first role, but maybe Hamilton could be useful as a pinch-runner in the playoffs when a rebuilding team signs him and tries to flip him at the deadline.
Avisail Garcia, OF
If Garcia can reach the plateau he hit in in his All-Star 2017 season, he could be a tremendous reward for any team grabbing him this offseason.
Garcia saw his wRC+ drop from 137 in his stellar 2017 campaign to just 92 last season when he slashed .236/.281/.438 for the Chicago White Sox. He still hit a career-high 19 home runs, but his strikeouts jumped seven percent to 26.5 percent and the .392 BABIP from 2017 didn’t hold.
Even if the Indians can get him relatively cheap and hope for something in the middle, there are far worse options for right field this season, including pretty much anything they currently have on their roster.
Jordan Patterson, OF
The 26-year-old Jordan Patterson is a perfect fit for the Frankenstein’s Monster the Indians are trying to create in the outfield right now. He’s shown a lot of talent at Triple-A year after year with 66 home runs over the last three seasons and a .271/.367/.525 slash last year. His strikeout-to-walk ratio and high BABIP is worrying — it paints him as a typical Quad-A player, especially in the home run happy PCL — but he’s another potential big discount with sneaky power after being blocked in Colorado his whole career. He just needs a shot somewhere.
Brad Boxberger, RP
In previous years with Mickey Callaway calling the shots, there would be no doubt about the Indians’ ability to take a pitcher like Brad Boxberger — one with potential, a few struggles, and a ton of strikeouts — and turn him into another Jeff Manship circa 2016. Unfortunately, Callaway isn’t here anymore, but they should still consider taking a shot.
Boxberger was non-tendered by the Diamondbacks after his total implosion late in the season. The 30-year-old carrier a 3.45 ERA, 12.83 K/9, and 4.60 BB/9 in his first 47.0 innings for the Diamondbacks but that soured to eight earned runs, eight walks, and just four strikeouts in his final nine appearances.
James McCann, C
This would be a depressing signal from the Indians if they pulled the trigger — either Roberto Perez or James McCann would be the starting catcher in 2019. Even going with an evenly split tandem of the two, it would still be a glaring hole in the lineup. Please be ready, Haase.
Robbie Grossman, OF
BRING. HIM. HOME.
Remember when Robbie Grossman looked great for the Triple-A Columbus Clippers, slashing .256/.370/.443 in 2016 and then was cut by the Indians? He ended up going to the Minnesota Twins where he maintained that level of production at the major-league level with a .280/.386/.443 slash and a wRC+ of 127. It was bizarre as all hell, and he just kept hitting over the next two seasons with the Twins, keeping his wRC+ above the league-average 100 mark. He’s hardly a defensive wizard, but if the Indians find themselves in need of a new on-base machine like Carlos Santana sans home run power, he’s not a terrible option.
Blake Parker, RP
Like every player on the Los Angeles Angels, regardless of talent, you’ve probably never heard of Blake Parker. That’s okay, but the 33-year-old reliever was once a stud in the Halos’ bullpen, with a 2.54 ERA a 11.50 K/9 in 2017. His strikeouts-per-nine dipped into the single digits last season, though, and he couldn’t keep the ball on the ground. Still, he was able to maintain a 3.26 ERA despite all the signs that regression would hit him.
If the Indians can fix something to get him back to 2017 form, it could be another deal if the bidding war doesn’t get too out of control.
Dan Jennings, RP
Dan Jennings is an interesting lefty for the Indians’ bullpen. He has a 2.96 ERA over his career and has still kept below 3.50 in 2017 and 2018. He’s not a big strikeout guy, but his 55.4 percent ground ball rate could play really well with the Indians’ great infield defense.