With the Winter Meetings officially beginning today, and the real action expected to pick up Monday, it marks the start of another week of non-stop rumors and — if we’re lucky — a transaction or two.
For the Indians, they head into the Winter Meetings with mostly the same holes they had last season, now with extra uncertainty in the infield. No matter your feelings on Jason Kipnis’s effectiveness the last couple years, it was clear he had a spot and the Indians didn’t necessarily “need” to find a second baseman (or third baseman if they’re willing to move José Ramírez back to his natural position).
This time around, there’s a clear hole in the infield as well as some depth required elsewhere. So here are a few ideas about what the Indians should do this week, sorted by mouth feel.
Acquire a second or third baseman
It would behoove the Indians to find someone — anyone — to have consistent playing time not named Mike Freeman or Andrew Velazquez.
Against all odds, Freeman was a viable backup piece for the Indians last season, but the smart money is on him not repeating his 99 wRC+, 1.0 fWAR season given his poor Statcast measurements and, age, and history.
The Indians clearly see something in the 25-year-old versatile Velazquez, seeing as they traded for him then tendered him a contract prior to the season, but realistically he’s not much more than a do-everything backup. Not a starting second baseman on a team hoping to play in October.
Unless they do something crazy like sign Anthony Rendon (PLEASE DO IT), then whoever they get at the Winter Meetings will likely just be a stop-gap for top prospect Nolan Jones. But still, they need to get someone. Even if they want to go cheap, Travis Shaw and César Hernández are two clear bounce back candidates who were recently not tendered contracts by their former teams.
Acquire a star outfielder
There’s a very important word in this category: Star. The Indians are awash with outfielders capable of a one-win season. That’s typically the type of outfielder the Indians target as their lottery tickets. But if they want to make a series run at this thing, they need a star to hold down at least one of the spots. Yasiel Puig was a godsend in his half-season with the Tribe, and there seemed to be mutual adoration from both sides. He’s a good a fit as any.
Puig’s defense prevents him from maybe qualifying as a “star” in this case, but if he get back to the 110+ wRC+ of year’s past, he’s instantly the star of the Indians outfield.
Alternatively, the Indians could hit the trade market for the likes of Starling Marte — a 31-year-old who has been worth at least three fWAR in six of his last seven seasons in the majors — or even kick the tires on bringing back old friend Clint Frazier to give him everyday playing time. I hear the Yankees need pitching, and the Indians happen to have a lot of it.
Don’t let the White Sox catch you
Whether we or the Indians want to admit, it this is the theme for the Winter Meetings and offseason as a whole. Last season was supposed to be in the bag from day one, but they let the Twins out-spend and out-maneuver them and they lost the AL Central for the first time in three years. Don’t let the White Sox do the same thing.
I’m not saying the Indians have to follow the White Sox tit-for-tat every time their division rival makes a move, but the White Sox are not shy about attempting to approve, and neither should the Indians. The age of underestimating the division and steam-rolling opponents is over unless they actually act.
Acquire bullpen depth
They’re gonna do it, whether it’s now or in January. They’ll bring in someone you’ve never heard of, he’ll somehow have a sub-3.00 ERA then implode the following season. This is the way.
Do something with Eric Haase
As he enters his mid-20’s, it’s slowly looking like Eric Haase might not have a long-term home with the Indians. Roberto Pérez is easily one of baseball’s best catchers and a few recent acquisitions show that the Indians value defense in their catchers above all.
Haase some noted defensive issues working his way up through the minors, but has proven he can hit 20 home runs at multiple levels. If he can translate that to the big leagues — and the Indians can find a trade partner that eschews defensive-first catchers — why not see what they can get for it?
Alternatively, I’m also not opposed to just committing to Haase as the backup for Roberto instead of the recently-acquired Sandy León. That seems unlikely, though.
Don’t trade Francisco Lindor
This should go without saying. Keep your franchise player while you’re in your window to win. You have him for two more full seasons. The end goal of trading him is, what, to get another Francisco Lindor-esque player in your window to win? Guess what, you already have him. Use him. Pay him.
The Indians are notoriously tight-lipped about their offseason plans, but what little they’ve seemed to leak to reporters seem to be on the side of keeping Lindor. That could of course just be a leverage play, but maybe they’re as annoyed with the “rumors” as everyone else. One can hope.