The story of the MLB offseason has undoubtedly been the collapse of the free agent market and the tight wallets of franchise owners. SB Nation’s entire season preview was based around it, and there are still players left to be signed mere days away from Opening Day.
For the Cleveland Indians, the offseason consisted of one big move: Signing Yonder Alonso. They agreed to pay the first baseman $16 million over two years (with an option for a third), then claimed they were tapped out and sat on their hands. They reportedly did poke around with a few other targets, however, including preliminary talks with the Baltimore Orioles for Manny Machado and they offered Logan Morrison a two-year, $20 million deal that he rejected only to later signed a one-year, $6.5 million deal with the Minnesota Twins later in the offseason.
The Indians did, however, make a number of small, smart moves to gamble on some big seasons from veterans. Melvin Upton Jr., Alexi Ogando, Rajai Davis, and Mike Napoli were all signed to minor league deals. Only Davis is doing to make the Opening Day roster, but there’s a chance that Ogando can be lightning in a bottle, similar to the Dan Otero, Jeff Manship, and most recently Tyler Olson.
The biggest criticisms of the Indians offseason are they didn’t sign and outfielder or a reliever to bolster two of the biggest — and only — weaknesses when so many players could be had at massive discounts. I’d argue a different angle, that there just were not big enough upgrades on the market to warrant going after them. I believe Jason Lukehart and I have discussed this on the Let’s Talk Tribe podcast, but I’ve never quite put the same thoughts to text before.
Sure, the Indians could have paid Lorenzo Cain a deal similar to the five-year, $80 million deal he signed with the Milwaukee Brewers. Or, they could bet on Bradley Zimmer coming close to his production without having to pay an aging outfielder $16 million a year into his mid-30s for a marginal boost in production for a season. The same could be said for J.D. Martinez, who would be a definite upgrade at either corner outfield spot, but still would be nowhere near a $110 million upgrade over what the Indians already have.
That’s the problem with the few weaknesses in the Indians’ roster — they just aren’t weak enough to be able to be patched over with the above-average-at-best free agents that emerged this offseason. We knew going in it was a relatively weak class, and unfortunately, two of the best free agents were former Indians. When those two were gone, the Indians were left looking at minor upgrades at positions they didn’t necessarily need upgraded.
For instance, when Mike Moustakas signed an absurdly low deal with his former team the Indians came up as a team that should have been pursuing him. Suddenly, Moustakas was some kind of savior, Hall of Fame caliber third baseman instead of the inconsistent player that he’s been for the last half-decade.
“Sign Moustakas, move Jose Ramirez to second and move Jason Kipnis to the outfield!” Twitter yelled. Excuse me, what? Not only has Jason Kipnis been an overall better player than Moustakas over his entire career (despite an injury-plagued season last year), but he’s probably not a great outfielder. The suggestion of many was to move Kipnis to a position he’s unfamiliar with so a lesser option could play worse defense at third base. It was purely writers and analysts not familiar with the Indians yelling at the Indians for not spending money they had no reason to spend.
I’m not about to argue that Indians ownership couldn’t afford to spend a lot more money if they really wanted to. Every MLB team can, and there’s no use debating the opposite. I am entirely in favor of as much money getting to the players, but that doesn’t mean teams like the Indians — who are mostly complete teams fighting for a World Series — have to spend to gamble on big seasons from free agents when they can make those same gambles with the Jason Kipnises and Bradley Zimmers of the world who are already on the payroll.
If anything, be more upset the Indians didn’t pursue some of the better options available on the trade market. If Manny Machado gets traded for anything less valuable than what the Indians could easily part with, by all means shake your fist at the clouds. Be angry that they didn’t trade for Marcell Ozuna, or somehow work out a deal for Domingo Santana. Don’t be mad that they didn’t want a part of one of the weakest free agent classes in recent memory.
The fact that the Indians apparently didn’t push that hard to bring back Carlos Santana is also another big negative when looking at the offseason as a whole. Yonder Alonso is a drop-off from Carlos Santana (although maybe not as big as you may think), but Santana was clearly the best first baseman in the class. Don’t even @ me with Eric Hosmer. Sure, the Indians could have been the ones to massively overpay for Gold Gloves like the San Diego Padres did and ease the effect of losing Santana, but I’m not going to fault them for not doing it.
The Indians are a net-negative heading into the season compared to 2017, but it’s hard to find anything in the free agent market they could have used to give them a huge push. Those kind of moves are going to come at the trade deadline, more than likely, and they are betting on some promising young players emerging to fill out the roster. That’s how they’ve gotten to this point, and there’s no reason they can’t keep succeeding with that plan.
But those are just my thoughts. What do you think? Did the Indians do enough this offseason?
What grade would you give the Indians offseason?
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