It would be unfair to say the Indians have done absolutely nothing this offseason. They did upgrade second base with a decent César Hernández signing, and they dumped the salary of their best pitcher this millennium for some extra cash. Those are both something, but are they enough?
The Indians’ two biggest rivals in the AL Central — the Twins and White Sox — have combined spent nearly $300 million this offseason, bringing into the division former All-Stars and MVPs like Josh Donaldson, Edwin Encarnación, Dallas Keuchel, Yasmani Grandal, and Michael Pineda who is none of those things but exists and is now on the Twins. Meanwhile, the Indians have added a second baseman who was DFA’d by his former team. At worst, it’s a sign of the apocalypse, at best it’s very, very bad optics.
It’s as if the Indians took the lessons they should have learned from last year and ignored them completely. A plethora of injuries sank their 2019 season, but some of that could have been avoided with more depth on offense. Adding César Hernández is certainly an upgrade over Eric Stamets (and even Jason Kipnis), but it’s nowhere near enough to solidify a starting lineup that was 17th in baseball in wRC+ last season. Even the pitching depth, which they so desperately needed last year, has been stripped away with the loss of Corey Kluber in exchange for deeper pockets and a volatile reliever.
Luckily, there’s still time. The Indians can reverse the narrative and enter the season with a better offense than last. Even this late in the offseason, there are a handful of players they could sweep in and get — maybe at a discount — to shore up the outfield.
The question is: Do they actually want to spend?
Yasiel Puig is the most obvious candidate if the Indians want to upgrade their outfield. He just turned 29 in December, and has hit at least 23 home runs in each of his last three seasons; he’s never even had a season with a below-average wRC+. He’s not a superstar, but if the Indians want a consistent bat they plug into right field everyday without worrying about — oh, I don’t know — Delino DeShields Jr. getting more than 0 at-bats, Puig is the guy. Steamer projects him to be around a 2.0-WAR player next season. He’s big, he’s fun, he has a cannon for an arm, and he can hit. Sign him already.
Along the same lines, but more expensive, are Marcell Ozuna and Nicholas Castellanos — arguably the two biggest names left on the free agent market. It sure would take the string out of seeing so many big names go to the White Sox and Twins if the Indians swooped in at the last minute and grabbed Ozuna’s projected 3.2 fWAR, 33 home runs, and 119 wRC+. Castellanos projects a bit worse, more along the lines of Puig, but still an upgrade over anything else the Indians will have in the outfield.
Among those three, Ozuna would be clearly be the top prize. Age is the biggest plus for Castellanos at only 27 years old and entering his prime, but Ozuna isn’t far behind at 29 and his Statcast numbers remain among the elite. Ozuna’s hard hit rate, xwOBA, and xSLG are all in the top 10% of baseball, and last year with the Cardinals he bumped his walk rate up to a career-high 11.3%. You can’t predict baseball, but if you’re a better man looking for a guy whose career probably won’t nosedive in the next three years, Ozuna looks like a pretty sure bet.
Any of these three would allow Franmil Reyes to stay as a full-time designated hitter — where he should be — and, I cannot stress this enough, keep Delino DeShields Jr. out of the everyday lineup. The Indians are notoriously quiet about their acquisition plans, so it’s possible they are already looking into these three, and hopefully more. Anything is better than spending time attempting to trade away Francisco Lindor.
We won’t know for sure until Opening Day, or when the Tigers sign all three just for fun.