It comes to us again. The dark times. The long cold of the offseason. This year's offseason brings us a particular challenge with the upstart Minnesota Twins, fresh off dethroning us in the AL Central, determined to keep the division in their corner. The Chicago White Sox could also threaten both teams for supremacy. With holes riddling the roster, the Tribe must focus this offseason on improving the team and challenging the new division champions, or at least snagging a Wild Card.
The Current Roster
Let's address our current roster before we determine our needs. Where are we strong, where do we require reinforcements?
Our pitching staff remains the backbone of the team. Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Mike Clevinger & Shane Bieber head the rotation in what should remain an industry leading bunch. Few teams can match Cleveland's best pitchers, especially if Kluber & Carrasco can return to form Aaron Civale, Zach Plesac, Adam Plutko & Jefrys Rodriguez provide some decent (if unspectacular) depth. Further down the depth chart includes Triston McKenzie, who struggled with injuries the past few seasons.
The bullpen lacks the star power of the rotation. However, Brad Hand at closer gives us a great start. James Karinchak pitched quite well for us at the end of the season, and throws hard, and Oliver Perez learned how to defy time and get lefties out regularly (although the new three batter minimum could hamstring him next season). After those three our bullpen is held together by cheap duck tape and bubblegum. Nick Goody was effective two years ago but boasts an FIP over 5.00 since, Adam Cimber failed to replicate the (brief) success he experienced when he debuted in San Diego, and nobody else in our 'pen really impressed the team in 2019.
The Tribe's lineup remains a stars and scrubs motley crew. Francisco Lindor & Jose Ramirez are nearly perennial MVP candidates, and both are arguably on pace for the Hall of Fame; this locks down two infield spots including shortstop. Carlos Santana posted the best season of his career after returning to Cleveland, and mans first base. Roberto Perez, in his debut season as our starting catcher, rebounded after a horrid offensive campaign in 2018 and won his first Gold Glove. In the outfield, Oscar Mercado fills in adequately in center field. After that, its a struggle. The Tribe lacks a solid infield candidate for either third base or second base, and while the Tribe is teeming with 4th outfielders, nobody appears good enough for a starting role outside Mercado. Franmil Reyes shows promise as a young DH, but did not hit well in Cleveland; the front office is determined to give him a shot in the outfield.
Our large collection of fourth outfielders bodes poorly for our starting lineup, but quite well for our bench. Greg Allen can play anywhere in the outfield reasonably well, and can run well (his bat leaves much to be desired). Jordan Luplow can mash lefties, taking Brandon Guyer's spot. Mike Freeman is a quality backup infielder, and Kevin Plawecki will get plate appearances as our backup catcher barring a surprise trade/DFA. Even if we dump Plawecki, the Tribe's bench largely appears set with Freeman guaranteed a position, and with Eric Haase on the roster.
Overall the Indians have excellent bones of a roster with stars in three or four spots in the lineup, and arguably four aces in the rotation. Brad Hand is as good a reliever as there is in the game. Unfortunately, the team lacks depth. Without improvements the team would rely on prospects or scrubs for 2/3 of our outfield and third base. The bullpen would likely become a wreck. In short, despite some excellent players this team is in dire need of some upgrades.
According to Steamer the Tribe's lineup projects as above average at:
The following positions are below average, but above replacement level:
The rest are at or below replacement level. Between Jordan Luplow & Tyler Naquin the Tribe arguably has another average outfielder, but with Naquin's injury this is far from a guarantee. Jake Bauers projects as a below average offensive player...again.
Our pitching staff is much healthier:
Overall that's four projected above average starting pitchers. Although, it's worth noting, none of our other starters rank as even replacement level.
Our bullpen is in worse shape: only Hand & Karinchak project ERAs below 4.00.
In short, our needs appear simple: an infielder (either third base or second base due to Jose Ramirez's flexibility), an outfielder (or two), and a few bullpen arms.
The Tribe should have some financial flexibility. Baseball Reference projects the Indians for $113.8M in 2020 with Cody Anderson & Danny Salazar still on the roster with arbitration eligibility. If we cut them off the roster, and MLB Trade Rumors projects them at a combined $5.3M, that brings us down to $108.5M in commitments for 2020. However, due to ownership's claimed financial restraints it is likely we will pursue solutions to our roster crunch via trade.
Given that, here are a few free agents which could make sense for the Indians and what MLB Trade Rumors projected their contract at:
Mike Moustakas, 2/$20M (18)
Drew Pomeranz, 2/$16M (23)
Corey Dickerson, 2/$15M (25)
Chris Martin, 2/$14M (27)
Howie Kendrick, 2/$12MM (30)
Brett Gardner, 1/$10M (32)
Craig Stammen, 2/$10M (35)
Steve Cishek, 2/$10M (36)
Yasiel Puig, 1/$8M (37)
Edwin Encarnacion, 1/$8M (38)
Brock Holt, 2/$8M 41)
Dellin Betances, 1/$7M (43)
Kole Calhoun, 1/$6M (44)
Shogo Akiyama, 2/$6M, CF (45)
I doubt most of these players actually sign for such small contracts. However, I could imagine at least one of these signing for a small contract, which would give Cleveland a chance to fill a hole somewhere. Unfortunately I would argue the most likely candidate to sign for this type of contract is Edwin Encarnacion who, as many pointed out to me, is not the best fir for Cleveland.
The trade market could be a salvation for the Indians, or it could be muddled. Starling Marte of the Pirates appears like the #1 potential trade target for Cleveland; the Pirates wont contend in 2020, and his $11.5M option would be attractive. If the Pirates felt like moving into full rebuild mode Josh Bell and Gregory Polanco could also make sense, although I expect Polanco's contract to far outstrip the Tribe's price range and given Pittsburgh's worse financial woes compared to Cleveland's I doubt they will offer any financial assistance. Kansas City could theoretically be a partner if they traded Whit Merrifield or Jorge Soler, although the Royals typically declined to move him for anything but an exorbitant price which I doubt the Tribe will pay. Baltimore might offer a more tempting partner. The Tribe could trade both for Mychal Givens & Trey Mancini if Baltimore will play game. Both are arbitration eligible and would cost less than $10M all together.
Overall, trade candidates are harder to judge as it takes both a willing seller at a reasonable price to line up. A list of trade candidates being:
My Preferred Strategy
My suggestion for the Tribe includes some free agents and probably a trade. Besides Whit Merrifield there are not too many attractive infielders I know of on the trade market, which means the Tribe is better off trading for bullpen and outfield help. In order of importance to me:
1. Infield. The Tribe cannot, in my opinion, afford to go with an unproven option at third base or second. Given some options on free agency: this is where they should spend their money.
2. Outfield. The Tribe has more options here, but nearly all of them are unproven or crappy. We should acquire at least one veteran outfielder, and pray one of their outfielders can fill the remaining void.
3. Bullpen. Everything else aside, the Tribe has done a good job finding scrap heap bullpen pieces the past several years. Given the season to season variability of performance: it makes the least sense for the Tribe to spend money in this area.
My Ideal Offseason
- Cleveland non-tenders Kevin Plawecki. We don't need Plawecki with Eric Haase on the roster, and with his awful performance in 2019, I don't see a reason to keep him on the roster. I'd rather save money and reallocate elsewhere.
- Cleveland signs IF Michael Moustakas to a two year, $20M deal. With Carlos Santana set to leave in 2020, Moustakas can fit on both the 2020 & 2021 squads. Unlike other infield options, Moustakas can fit on the team at a corner infield position, which makes him the most attractive option.
- Cleveland signs P Steve Cishek to a two year, $10M deal. $5M is a cheap price to pay for a consistently good reliever. Cishek has not posted a below average ERA since his debut, and despite his unusual arsenal manages to consistently get outs. However, in an age of fireballers its possible he winds up signing for less than his competitors.
- Cleveland trades P Triston McKenzie, P Zach Plesac, 1B Bobby Bradley, SS Tyler Freeman for P Mychal Givens & OF Trey Macini. I could be way, WAY, off on prospect value and I will leave it up to someone smarter than I to determine how this adds up on the FV front. However, this is also the rare trade which can help fix two of the Tribe's big problems in one swoop.
My Expected Offseason
- Cleveland signs OF Brock Holt to a two year $8.0M contract. Holt is unspectacular, but a surer bet than most players on our roster. He lacks power, but gets on base at a decent clip. OR Cleveland signs Kole Calhoun to a one year $6.0M contract. A one year commitment follows the Tribe's playbook better, and Calhoun is cheap enough to fit in the budget.
- Cleveland resigns P Tyler Clippard to a one year $4.0M contract. I do not expect a significant outlay in expenses for a bullpen piece. Clippard posted a successful 2019, and at 34 should probably come at a discount compared to other options. I can imagine the Tribe signing a ton of minor league free agents and bringing back Clippard on a cheap one year contract.