The 2020 season is over for the Cleveland Indians. And after enduring the longest nine-inning game in Major League Baseball history, Tribe fans could be in store for one of the longest offseasons in recent memory, at least in terms of anguish and uncertainty.
Five questions, in particular, loom large as we look ahead to 2021.
1. What will be the asking price for Francisco Lindor, and is there a team willing to pay it?
I think most fans assume that we have seen the last of Francisco Lindor in a Tribe uniform. His contract expires after next season, any extension talks between him and the club have gone nowhere, and we all know the Indians are not going to offer him a competitive contract in the free agent market. It is what it is. Unfortunately, Cleveland only has one guaranteed season of Lindor to use as trade bait, and the shortstop is coming off the worst season of his career, statistically.
Only a contending club is going to give up anything of value for a one-year rental, so that limits their options in term of trade partners. Then the question becomes what their asking price is and whether there is a club willing to match it. Is there a minimum threshold for what the Indians will accept in exchange for Lindor? Or will they simply trade him for the best deal on the table?
2. What is the status of Terry Francona?
Has Tito managed his last game in Cleveland? The 61-year-old manager has been with the Indians for eight seasons now but was absent for 48 games this year while dealing with gastrointestinal issues that required surgery. Francona is no stranger to health problems, but he has never missed this much time and the Indians’ front office has been understandably coy about his status. Prior to 2020, most assumed first base coach Sandy Alomar Jr. would be the heir apparent, but I’d say reactions to his stint as interim manager have been, uh, mixed. So there is a great deal of uncertainty as to who will be managing the Indians going forward.
3. César Hernández is a free agent and Carlos Santana, Brad Hand, and Roberto Pérez all have club options for 2021. Who are you bringing back?
César Hernández was the Tribe’s key offseason pick-up last offseason and he was worth every dollar of his one-year contract, contributing a healthy .283/.355/.763 slash line. Cleveland will still have a vacancy at second base, with no clear successor, so re-signing Hernández would make sense, but I assume it will depend on his asking price.
You can bet the house the Indians will not be picking up Carlos Santana’s $17.5 million club option for 2021. The first baseman had the worst season of his career at the plate, giving the front office ample reason to decline his option. That does not rule out the possibility of re-signing him at a discount, though. I am fairly confident Cleveland will pick up Roberto Pérez’s $5.5 million option, pairing him with Austin Hedges as their 1-2 punch behind the plate.
I am less certain about Brad Hand’s $10 million club option. That is a hefty price tag for a reliever, and I am not sure the Indians’ front office is willing to pay it, based on their penchant for cost-cutting. I think they’ll either decline it or pick it up and then trade him before the start of the season. Either way, I don’t think they’ll be paying Hand $10 million next season.
4. What is to be done about the Indians’ god forsaken outfield?
Ten different outfielders recorded at least one plate appearance for the Tribe in 2020, and the Indians’ outfield as a whole posted 53 wRC+, second-worst in all of baseball and trailing only the Pirates. The bad news is that pretty much everyone responsible for that putrid offensive production is under contract for next season. The lone outlier is Greg Allen, who was traded to San Diego.
Josh Naylor enters the offseason riding a wave of fan enthusiasm after a torrid AL Wild Card Series and would seem to be the prohibitive favorite to start again in left field, but what about center field? Will the Indians continue to trot out Delino DeShields, rather than taking their lumps with Oscar Mercado, Bradley Zimmer, or even Daniel Johnson and hoping one of them can break through? Johnson could also be a contender in right field, where Tylor Naquin seems to be the default starter in spite of a career-worst .248 OBP this year. And what about Jordan Luplow? He finished the season strong, slashing .313/.389/.594 in the month of September and delivering a game-tying two-run double pinch-hitting against a right-hander(!) in Game 2 of the ALWCS.
Domingo Santana has a $5 million club option, too, if you’re into that sort of thing.
Cleveland has plenty of options, but the question remains whether there is a combination of those outfielders that can produce at a big league level.
5. Is this the end of the road for the Indians name?
The Cleveland Indians announced back in July that the organization was exploring “the best path forward” regarding the team name, citing a “responsibility to advance social justice and equality.” That same month, the Washington Redskins decided to retire their longstanding name and logo, re-branding as the Washington Football Team until a new mascot could be agreed upon. I would expect Cleveland to follow suit this offseason, but how that process will unfold is anyone’s guess. We’ve certainly done our part here at LGT to provide replacement names.