The Indians are likely one of the top 10 teams in baseball this year. They’re certainly still one of the favorites to win the AL Central, even if the field is getting more crowded. Even with the subtraction of Corey Kluber, there is a good ball club under contract in Cleveland.
But everything feels icky right now.
Besides the salary dump, there are major issues with the roster. As TJ Zuppe noted, only one team, the Tigers, has a lower projected WAR from second base in 2020 than the Indians. Likewise, despite having approximately 45 outfielders, the Tribe has just one (Franmil Reyes, whose outfield credentials are, uh, questionable) projected for more than 1.0 WAR.
Everything could become a lot better with just one move, however. Something I hinted at in my article on Monday: Sign Nicholas Castellanos.
Imploring the Indians to make a free agent signing is a tradition as older than dreading Christmas at the in-laws, but the idea of Castellanos in Cleveland makes a lot of sense. For one, he’s a solid middle-of-the-lineup hitter that will add some thump to a team that had just a 95 OPS+ in 2019. Castellanos has a career 113 OPS+, built on being a doubles machine, with 25 doubles in each full season he’s been in the big leagues and a league-leading 58 in 2019. Getting away from the cavernous grounds of Comerica Park proved a boon for him last year as well, as his splits between 100 games with Detroit and 51 with the Cubs diverged greatly (.273/.328/.462 vs. .321/.356/.646).
But even when he was, perhaps, underperforming in Detroit, he was still an above-average hitter. And his time with the Tigers provides him with great knowledge of the AL Central. With six and a half years in Detroit, the right-handed slugger has to feel at home in Midwestern surroundings. Of the 32 parks he’s hit in (according to Baseball-Reference), the only places he’s garnered more than 100 plate appearances are AL Central parks and Wrigley Field, where he played home games after being traded to the Cubs.
Moreover, of the parks Castellanos has recorded more than 100 PA, Progressive Field trails only Wrigley in terms of highest OPS+ (117 vs. 201). Getting him to Cleveland for 81 games a year might even bump him above 30 home runs for the first time in his career. As you can see from the gif below, some of his doubles, triples, and even fly outs might clear the fences in Cleveland.
Of course, dreaming about his stats is easy, but even dreaming that the Indians will actually shell out for him is another thing. I remain skeptical, but do think this is one of the few high-profile free agent signings the Indians could absorb with minimal pain. The team might be able to swing adding Castellanos if only because he’s not projected to make as much as some of the big names that have signed already. Although he’s a proven commodity that would be an improvement for the Indians, he’s not likely to command a nine-figure deal. MLB Trade Rumors projects four years and $58 million; FanGraphs’ median projection is four years and $56 million; and SB Nation is the highest among these at four years and $60 million.
Castellanos will get no small sum from whatever team signs him, to be sure, but perhaps the Cleveland front office can sell this to leadership based on it not being the largest contract in team history in terms of overall dollars or average annual value (both from Edwin Encarnación’s three-year $60 million deal from 2017). Still, I might be delusional. I mean, I’m asking the Indians to spend money when they’ve shown no inclination to do so since 2017. Beyond that, it might not be what Castellanos wants, regardless of how well he’d fit. Sahadev Sharma of The Athletic reports that he is looking for a team “who value him for more than just his offense and that treat ‘clubhouse culture’ as more than just T-shirts and talking points.” Cleveland will have plenty of young players next year (especially if Christian Arroyo is the second baseman) that will need veteran guidance, but Castellanos could be surplus to requirements next to Carlos Santana, Francisco Lindor, and José Ramírez.
Regardless, I’m still asking Santa to deliver a heart of the Indians order featuring Reyes, Santana, and Castellanos.