Now that the 40 man roster is set, it's time to get to the nuts and bolts of the offseason. If most fans we were to rank the three biggest needs for the Tribe going in, they are 2B/3B, OF/DH, and two relievers, respectively. There is talent on the farm, players available in free agency, and intriguing trade options that can round out this talented roster to get back on top of the division and make a run at the World Series. The key is unlocking the right combination. If last year's 120 million dollar payroll is the ceiling for the budget, the Indians will have somewhere between 15 to 18 million dollars to spend on acquisitions based on where they currently stand and projected increases via arbitration. While that may sound like a decent amount of capital, there are four spots that need to be filled with contributing players. For this reason, targeting stars is out of the question but even 1-2 WAR players will eat up that money pretty quickly so it's important to extract value out of under-valued players.
I've separated free agents and trade targets of interest into high end, middle class, low end and non-roster invitee. These values are all relative to their standing with the Indians roster and in the Indians budget exclusively.These categories are not overall rankings within the larger structure of MLB players as a whole. As a result you will see some major free agents, such as World Series hero Anthony Rendon, omitted as here as there is no chance the tribe can afford him on their budget. It will likely take a combination of players on different ends of the spectrum to successfully build a formidable yet still affordable roster.
I value contact rates, walk rates, and ISO above all else in an offensive profile as I believe these are the most accurate instruments in predicting whether a player will be able to make an impact against quality pitching. The goal is not just to make the playoffs, it is to win the World Series and the pitching faced on that road to a title will be the best in the major leagues. A player who hits 40 HRs but doesn't walk and strikes out 200 times is not the type player who can put up a good at bat against the Max Scherzer/Justin Verlander/ Gerrit Cole level pitching. On the pitching end, I value control, movement, spin rate and velocity. It is important to remember however that the market places a premium on velocity so with budget constraints the Tribe will need to be a little more creative to fill out their bullpen needs. I don't advocate for a Lindor trade this season but those possibilities will be fleshed out as well.
Second Basemen/Third Basemen
High End: Starlin Castro/ Scooter Gennett
Middle Class: Asdrúbal Cabrera
Low End: Ben Zobrist
NRI: Devon Travis
Thoughts: Starlin Castro may surprise some with his placement in the top tier however he has a highly underrated skill set. He's extremely durable, playing all 162 last year and at least 130 games in eight out of his 10 big league season. This has added importance for a team that lacks infield depth up the middle. He plays a solid second base, exhibited by his UZR of .5 and .4 the last two years respectively. He also has an elite contact rate, 90% on pitches in the zone and 82% overall. His slash of .270/.300/.436 may not set the world on fire but that represents the low end of his production. Consider he was playing for the Marlins and at 30 next year and playing for a contender there is a chance for a slight uptick. Also, though counting stats aren't en vogue these days, 22 HRs and 86 RBIs is pretty good production out of second. One year, 5 million would get a deal done.
Soon to be 30 year old Scooter Gennett is the classic bounce back candidate as his OPS+ of 123 and 125 in 2017 and 2018, respectively, were elite for his position. He had the misfortune of getting hurt and struggling mightily in the 47 games he played in his walk year. He carries the added benefit of hitting left handed which will balance the lineup and play well with the short right field porch at Progressive Field. Gennett has been a solidly average fielder as well for the last few years. A one year, 3-5 million dollar make good contract with some incentives would be fair.
Our old droog Asdrubal Cabrera has been a productive hitter throughout his career and that continued after a slow start last year. An OPS+ of 98 leaves him as a solidly average hitter and he's become a much more patient hitter in his latter years, posting a career high 11.1 walk rate last season. He'd be great for lineup construction as he's a switch hitter without strong splits on either side. He's been a better defender at third than second which has some value depending on how much you value Nolan Jones's place in the system as he would be a solid placeholder and allow Jose to re-acclimate to second in the meantime. The only downside is at 34, he could fall off a cliff anytime now. There's not a ton of risk on a one year deal for 3-4 million. But if he struggles, much like Kipnis last year, we'll have nowhere to turn. Mike Freeman put your hand down.
I've always had a soft spot for Ben Zobrist, except for that time he broke my heart in game 7 of the World Series (though I still contend you play the lines in extra innings). He went through a tough divorce last year, missed a bunch of time, and had no pop when he was in the lineup. What he was still able to do was get on base at a .359 clip and put up an almost even strike out to walk ratio of 24:23. That tells me he can still control the strike zone at an elite level and perhaps with an offseason to mend emotionally and focus on baseball, he can have a successful campaign. He did post a wRC+ of 123 just a season ago. He has always been an above average defender at every position he plays and he plays a lot of positions so Tito would absolutely love him. The risk is that he is soon to be 39 and father time is undefeated, even for elite athletes like Zobrist. The hope would be that like Harold Baines and Eddie Murray before him, we can squeeze one more good year out.
Devon Travis was a good looking young hitter that used the whole field three years ago, then the injuries hit and his production took a major hit as did his ability to be on the field. If he's healthy, it'd be a flier with some decent upside but let's hope we go into the season with a more substantial plan. Maybe if he signs in addition to someone like Zobrist or Cabrera, it would be a good way of adding depth in case of injury or lack of performance from either party.
Potential targets not included: Wilmer Flores is not included only because I don't believe the Indians can afford him. Over the last four years he has a slash line of .278/.325/.462 and an OPS+ of 110 and is right in the middle of his prime at 28. He has also missed significant time in each of the past four years so he will represent a high risk/high reward signing not too unlike A.J. Pollock last year. Pollock had an OPS+ of 108 in his first season with the Dodgers but only played 86 games.
I have no interest in Jonathan Schoop as he has huge holes in his swing and approach. This fact is illustrated by his 4.5% BB Rate, 25% K-Rate and putrid 69.7% contact rate. He has pop but not enough to offset his flaws. Brian Dozier will be 33 years old next season had an OPS+ of 95 last season and that was considered a resurgent season after a horrific 2018. Much like Kipnis, I don't know what to expect from him but improvement seems unlikely given his age and profile. Eric Sogard was one of the surprise players of the year with his improved launch angle leading to career high stats. I feel like this is becoming a subset of free agency, the light hitting player who rides a new launch angle to career highs. Problem is these marginal players are normally over compensating and once the league adjusts to their new approach they typically come crashing down hard. See Logan Morrison and Yonder Alonzo recently. The holes created in their swing in search of loft are exploited and because they lack elite characteristics to adjust, they are pitched differently than they were before but to the same effect. Sogard is 33 and his avg exit velo of 84.5 and hard hit percentage of 20.5 are well below average and don't portend similar power stats in the future.
High End: Corey Dickerson
Mid Class: Yasiel Puig or Avisail Garcia
Low End: Eric Thames and Justin Smoak
Thoughts: Corey Dickerson is a left handed hitter with some serious thump, to the tune of a .906 OPS and 131 OPS+ last season. His defensive metrics took a huge hit this season so that is something to monitor but they were elite in 2018 so the validity of such a precipitous fall is not really a certainty at this point. He only had 279 PAs but had three full seasons to his name prior tom that so durability isn't a major concern. MLB trade rumors has his projection at 15 mil over two years. I think he could cost 8-10 AAV for two years. Either would be a steal but take a good chunk out of our 15-18 million to spend for next year. The on field production would make it worth it.
I have to group Avisail Garcia and Yasiel Puig in the same category at this point becomes they offer almost identical skill set. Both are below average defenders with Garcia having better range but Puig the better arm. Both have enough pop to hold down a corner spot (Puig .191 ISO, Garcia .182 ISO) but not enough to be in the top tier at their position. Puig has a higher walk rate and a lower strike out rate. He also comes with more eccentricities. I see it likely that both of these player will get 1-2 year deal with an AAV between 6-8 million, which generally jives with Mlbtraderumors take on them as well. Both would be good low upside options at that price, a solid 1-2 WAR addition. Would be an acceptable but not optimal use of the available money in my opinion.
One the lower end, we look at the DH only options in Eric Thames and Justin Smoak. Production wise Thames is head and shoulders above Smoak here as he was worth 1.6 WAR last season while putting up a OPS+ of 117. He's a left handed hitter who pulls the ball frequently which plays up at Progressive Field and balances the lineup after Franmil. His 30% K-Rate is rather unsightly though, even when paired with his above average 11.1% walk rate. Hit 25 HRs in 467 PAs last year. Likely a one year 4-5 million dollar deal gets it done with him.
Smoak, on the other hand, was the sabermetric darling of the two. His 15.8/21.2 BB/K rate indicates an elite approach at the plate for a power hitter and his hard hit percentage, expected weighted on base, avg exit velo, and expected slugging were all in the 72nd percentile or higher. This only managed to translate into a .208/.342/.406 line as his .223 BABIP heavily weighted down his line and didn't effectively represent his batted ball profile. There is a chance he could represent a tremendous value at one year in the 2-4 million dollar range. He's also a switch hitter though he's terrible from the right side so should be considered a left handed platoon bat. I generally advocate for a full time outfielder over a DH only but at this value I'd pick Smoak over Puig/Garcia and live with Franmil in the outfield against righties and DHing against lefties when Smoak sits. We have enough depth in the outfield to not waste time with NRIs this spring.
Potential targets not included: We can't afford Nick Castellanos or Marcell Ozuna, both of those guys are highly sought after for their skill sets and look to get 15+ million AAV which would reduce us to NRIs or pipeline minor leaguers for the rest of our holes. Gardner is old and talented however I don't see a scenario where we outbid the New York Yankees for his services.
Starters who could be interesting converts: Tyson Ross, Matt Harvey
Middle Class/Low End: Tyler Clippard, Joe Smith, Jeremy Jeffress
Can't Afford: Will Harris, Daniel Hudson, Drew Pomeranz, Dellin Betances
NRI Candidates: Trevor Rosenthal, Brandon Morrow
Thoughts: Honestly, this reliever market is terrible so I had to switch up the categories a bit. The players available will cost too much and provide too little value. Tyson Ross and Matt Harvey are both pitchers who have been good starters before but those days appear over. Ross's fastball/slider combo has spin rates in the 90th percentile and could potentially play up and be devastating in a bullpen role provided he drops both his below average cutter and sinker. Matt Harvey has above average spin on both his fastball and curveball with good velocity to boot. The question is whether he will humble himself and embrace the bullpen role. That is something that Chernoff would have to vet. A one year 2.5 million dollar deal with tons of incentives should be able to entice one to sign on the dotted line.
Tyler Clippard doesn't throw hard but as Indians fans witnessed last year, he's effective. Resigning him should be a priority, as he should again be cheap. His deal will be guaranteed this time but probably not more than 2 million. Jeremy Jeffress was bad last year mostly because he missed a lot less bats but his 3.96 FIP looks a lot better than his 5.02 ERA. In addition, he's one year removed from an All-Star campaign where he had a 0.991 WHIP, 2.78FIP and a 1.29 ERA. One year, 2-3 million to re-establish his value would be a fair bet. Former Indians setup man Joe Smith might be due for a third time around. He should be significantly cheaper than the last time he was a free agent due to his durability issues, age, and lack of the en vogue high velocity reliever profile. He can still get outs (3.09 FIP) and we know he'll fit in. One year, 2-3 million should get the job done. Smith could also lead to Adam Cimber being sent down which adds depth and takes away some bad innings from this bullpen. Honestly a lot of the improvement at this spot is going to come internally with Karinchak and one starters that miss out on the rotation but a couple veterans to buttress that approach would be wise to avoid wild swings in reliability and protect against attrition.
Trevor Rosenthal and Brandon Morrow have both been effective, high velocity, strikeout- inducing relievers in their careers but have fallen on hard times with injuries. There's nothing wrong with kicking the tires on them to see if you can get a season worth of tread out of them. If healthy, they both carry setup man upside.
Potential targets not included: Will Harris, Daniel Hudson, Drew Pomeranz, Dellin Betances are all relievers that would provide exactly what we need, some strikeouts out of the bullpen. All of those options except Will Harris have above average fastball velocity, another sorely needed trait in the bullpen. Unfortunately, for much the same reason, all of them will be targeted by contenders and get upwards of 6 million per year which will not work for a reliever on the tribe's budget. They have bigger holes to address where the money will need to be allocated so we are internal, trade or bargain hunting only here.
Best Trade Targets:
High End: Ken Giles, Starling Marte, Jonathan Villar, and Trey Mancini
Middle Class: Tommy LaStella, Brian Anderson (FLA)
Low End: Jose Martinez, Travis Shaw (if they resign Moose), Felipe Vázquez, David Dahl
Thoughts: Ken Giles is an elite, strikeout-inducing closer with heat but he is coming off a career year so the Blue Jays will want an exorbitant price paid for him. Considering general reliever volatility and a similar case in Blake Treinen and his precipitous fall last season, I would not consider this. Starling Marte is a five tool player whose is aging gracefully to this point. He would be tough to land as well, with the package including with Aaron Civale, Zach Plesac and a young lotto ticket like Luis Oviedo because the Pirates need pitching bad. Kluber might be a possibility instead of Plesac here as well because we would need to balance out the money that Marte is making with something and the Bucs have a lineup and parts to a bullpen that could contend with significantly improved starting pitching. This trade would of course be a big hit to the quality of the Indians starting pitch depth but if we strike out in free agency trying to improve the outfield it has to be considered as we have more young starters in reserve, such as Logan Allen, Scott Moss, Jefry Rodriguez, Triston McKenzie, Eli Morgan, Adam Scott, and the list goes on. Jonathan Villar has pop and speed (24 HRs and 40 SBs in 2019) and could fill the second base hole. He would cost a couple starters as well but less lower on the totem pole than Civale perhaps. A Logan Allen/ Zach Plesac, with a lotto pick trade may be a possibility here. He's not arb eligible until next season so it wouldn't hurt the bottom line and he'd be under team control through 2021. The Orioles do have Hanser Alberto waiting in the wings so that could make them more amenable to a trade to bolster their sad starting pitching staff. Trey Mancini would cost a package similar to that of Starling Marte as they are both franchise players on their respective teams and both teams need pitching and lots of it. Mancini is not arb eligible until next year though and the Orioles are nowhere near contending so it is unlikely Kluber would be part of this deal. They may want McKenzie included as a lotto ticket though and I'd be ok with that given his health concerns.
Tommy LaStella has long been a solid player but last year he put up a half season that looked like he was on the way to Scooter Gennett circa 2017-2018 type numbers (119 OPS+). He's arb eligible and will be a free agent after 2021 so he could give Tyler Freeman/Nolan Jones enough time to complete their minor league development before he leaves. The question is his value, as he clearly made some launch angle swing adjustments to go along with the jumping ball last season. It's an added complication that the Angels are trying to win now so they would want players that help right now. Perhaps Kluber in a straight up deal would work as the Angels would get a much needed workhorse and the Tribe a starting second baseman and significant salary relief which they can use to further improve another part of the team. The Angels already have the much ballyhooed Luis Rengifo to take over at second base so it works for both teams. Brian Anderson is a solid player at third with upside, slashing .268/.350/.430 with a 112 OPS+ the last two seasons. He's only 26 and would be under team control through 2024. I would think the Marlins would want tons of young talent in return so perhaps Naylor/Valera, Daniel Johnson, Luis Oviedo/Jean Carlos Mejia deal would be considered. A steep price but there is some significant bust potential in most of those prospects; Anderson has a solid baseline of production with star potential as he grows into his power.
Jose Martinez has put up a slash line of .296/.361/.458 the last three years while mostly playing as a part time outfielder for STL. The Cards don't really need anything that Martinez is capable of getting them but they have eight outfielders in the mix for at most 4 to 5 spots so they need to clear some bodies. They also have a ton of major league ready starting pitching so perhaps there is a prospect or two in low-A that they like in our system that could facilitate this deal getting done. We have some history of working well with their front office so that can only help. Martinez isn't arb eligible until 2021 and is set to make a little over 1.5 million this season so he won't affect the budget much. Travis Shaw put up wRC+s of 119 and 120 before cratering last season to 47 while seeing his strikeout rate rise from 15% to 33%. If Moustakas signs elsewhere, the Brewers will likely keep him and hope for a bounce back but if they decide to sign Moose, Shaw could be had for a young starter or two. I'd consider a Plesac/Eli Morgan type deal. Felipe Vazquez would be similar to the Andrew Miller trade in scope so perhaps Daniel Johnson, Zach Plesac, Ethan Hankins, and Sam Hentges. I would consider this because our bullpen would once again be elite at that point, a real weapon in the playoffs. Vazquez has been dominant his entire career. He's made the last two All-Star games. Last year, he had a 2.15 FIP while striking out 13.5/9 and walking only 2 per 9 innings. David Dahl has hit at every level and in three major league seasons owns a .297/.346/.521 slash line, good for a OPS+ of 111. The one caveat is that he's done this in Colorado. His career OPS is .987 at home and .733 on the road. Some players have adjusted fine after they left Colorado but that is of some concern, especially following the Carlos Gonzalez debacle last season. He's under control until 2024 so the package would have to be big, likely starting pitching laden. Not certain what a worthy package would look like here but if they don't ask for the moon he's certainly a worthy player to consider.
Mets: 2B/3B/OF Jeff McNeil and 3B/OF JD Davis
Dodgers: 2B Gavin Lux/ UTIL Max Muncy and OF Alex Verdugo
Thoughts: Since the stated goal is to win the 2020 World Series, I don't have a lot of interest in trading Lindor. As such I would need to be overwhelmed. The Mets and Dodgers are in win now mode so perhaps we can use that to our advantage. From the Mets, I would want Jeff McNeil, JD Davis and a young lotto player. Call this the future face of baseball tax. McNeil has a career 144 OPS+ in two seasons. He'll also be 28 at the start of the year and Lindor just turned 26. McNeil is decent with the glove but he's not a Gold Glover like Lindor nor is he anything special on the bases. So while you can argue that McNeil is the better hitter than Lindor but Lindor is clearly the better overall player with multiple ways to impact the game. OF JD Davis is a big guy with minor league pedigree as a home run hitter and he put it together in the majors in his third season with a .895 OPS/138 OPS+. We don't yet know how the league will adjust to this season, if this will be his norm or if it will fall below this so there is some risk for the Tribe but the value outweighs the risk in my estimation. He's also a below average defensive outfielder. I want one prospect from the top ten just in case one of the aforementioned pair becomes a bust for any given reason.
I would require a similar but more potentially more potent package from the Dodgers. Gavin Lux/Max Muncy and Alex Verdugo. Gavin Lux is the No. 2 prospect in all of baseball. He had a .705 OPS in 82 at bats with the Dodgers this season with a 8.5 walk rate and 29.3K rate. He slashed .392/.478/.719 at Triple-A which is good for an absurd wRC+ of 188. He's said to be untouchable. But considering Lindor is a top 5 player in all of baseball, I'm going for it here. If no means no, then counter with Max Muncy. Worth a combined 10 WAR over the past two seasons with a lot of power, versatility, and a patient approach he certainly is no slouch. He's an above average first baseman and solid at both second and third. He's also under club control through 2022. His upside however is about equivalent to Lindor in an off year because of Lindor's more varied skillset so more would be needed. Enter Alex Verdugo. He's a plus defender in center with an excellent arm who slashed .294/.342/.475 with a wRC+ of 114. The Dodgers have quality depth at both of these positions so it would not be hurting them on that end and it would give them a Hispanic face of the franchise in an area where that has added relevance. Verdugo would be under club control through 2024.
Do I think it's a slam dunk that either the Mets or Dodgers would do this, I do not. However, we should play hard ball or go out there with Lindor as the face of OUR franchise. Multiple times this offseason I've heard how meager the return would be for Lindor next offseason. I do not understand what people are basing this on. The Orioles are both a rebuilding team and a poorly run franchise so our trade would look nothing like the Machado deal. We just got an absolute haul for what essentially amounts to a year of Trevor Bauer for the Reds. Sure they had him for the second half but they weren't in the playoff chase so that was never the driving force behind the trade. Just to revisit we got one future 40 hr hitter, one BA rated top 100 left handed starter porspect with significant pedigree, one left handed starter who was dominating Double-A, a few months of Puig to aid the failed playoff push, and a 19-year-old lottery ticket. All of that bounty was for a frequently middling and generally irritating starter with great stuff.
An even better example would be Paul Goldschmidt. The Diamondbacks turned 1 year of Paul Goldschmidt into right-handed pitcher Luke Weaver, catcher Carson Kelly, and infielder Andy Young. Now I know what you're thinking, WHO!? Well, Luke Weaver is a former Cardinal first rounder who put up a 9.6 K/9, 1.9 BB/9, 3.07 FIP and 2.96 ERA for Arizona in 64.1 innings last year as a 26 year old. Carson Kelly slashed .245/.348/.478 with a 13.2 BB% and 21.6K% in 111 games last year at the offensively starved catching position. Andy Young is still at Triple-A but it doesn't appear he'll be there for long after slashing .280/.373/.611, good for a 131 wRC+ their last season. Oh and the player they replaced Goldschmidt with at first, Christian Walker, had a 29 HRs while slashing .259/.348/.476, which happens to be a higher OPS than Paul Goldschmidt this year. Fans may lack the vision and creativity to to extract value but Chris Antonetti and Mike Chernoff have proven adept at this trait.
The 26-man roster and a Summary:
- SP1: Mike Clevinger
- SP2: Shane Bieber
- SP3: Corey Kluber
- SP4: Aaron Civale
- SP5: Adam Plukto
- Bullpen: Brad Hand, Carlos Carrasco, Joe Smith, Tyler Clippard, James Karinchak, Nick Wittgren, Oliver Perez, Hunter Wood
- C: Roberto Perez,
- 1B: Carlos Santana
- 2B: Scooter Gennett
- 3B: Jose Ramirez
- SS: Francisco Lindor
- LF: Corey Dickerson
- CF: Oscar Mercado
- RF: Franmil Reyes
- DH: Justin Smoak
- Bench: Christian Arroyo, Kevin Plawecki, Jordan Luplow, Mike Freeman
Lineup vs RHP
Lineup vs LHP
Thoughts: I put Carrasco in the bullpen because I doubt the leukemia will allow him to thrown anywhere near 200 innings. We signed a total of 5 free agents for 17.5 million (Gennett 3.5, Smoak 2, Clippard 1.5, Smith 2.5 and Dickerson 8). If they don't sign Smoak, Luplow will get an extended chance against right handers. Bobby Bradley/Jake Bauers also has a chance to make the roster to pick up some of those at bats against righties if Luplow sits and Franmil is in RF. Same situation if Dickerson ends up being too expensive. We would also likely peruse the low end trade market of Jose Martinez and David Dahl. If Joe Smith doesn't sign, we get the return of Adam Cimber. I think we definitely sign one of the second baseman above even if it's not Gennett. That position is a priority. This author called Franmil Reyes as the center piece of the Bauer/Kluber trade last off season so I think I'm due for one or two more. At any rate, it's on you now Chernoff, let's play ball.