With the Dodgers knocking off the Rays in six games, the improbable 2020 MLB season is over.
Like everything else, the offseason is going to look different as we head into next year. Teams are tightening their budgets like never before, including the Indians. Does that play into their favor and leave more inexpensive options that would not otherwise be there? Or do they, like other teams, opt to do nothing and prepare for another year of financial loss?
Whatever happens, here is a general timeline of how it will all go down, along with some Indians tidbits to keep in mind at each step.
Now: Contact option and qualifying offer period
For the next five days, teams will have time to make decisions on exercising options and extending qualifying offers before free agency gets fully under.
The Indians have quite a few difficult decisions to make right away with club options on the table for Carlos Santana ($17.5 million), Brad Hand ($10 million), Roberto Pérez ($5.5 million), and Domingo Santana ($5 million).
Unless the Indians feel that Austin Hedges can be an effective clone of Pérez with his defense behind the plate, he seems like a no-brainer to pick up. Hand and Santana are more difficult decisions given Santana’s apparent decline and Hand’s option alone eating being a large chunk of the team’s total miniscule payroll.
Domingo Santana was an interesting acquisition and worth the cheap flyer to take a shot on his power, but with a .157/.298/.286 slash in 84 plate appearances and being designated for assignment after 24 games, it’s highly unlikely he returns or gets any deal worth $5 million.
This is also the period for teams to offer the qualifying offer, which is a record-high $18.9 million dollars this offseason. César Hernández, Sandy León, and Oliver Pérez are eligible, but don’t expect the Indians to extend the offer to any of them.
Nov. 1, 2020: Free agency begins
Following the five-day grace period, after qualifying offers have been offered and options exercised, free agency will begin in full force. Catcher JT Realmuto and outfielder George Springer highlight this year’s free agency class, along with a boatload of pitchers including Trevor Bauer, but of course don’t hold your breath for the Indians to be in on any of them.
Chris Antonetti after their early postseason exit said that the Indians want to address the poor outfield play, but in that same media session didn’t seem optimistic about the Tribe’s financial outlook. They aren’t going to make another Edwin Encarnacion type splash, but there are still several potential outfielders on the market that they could consider.
Along with Springer, who is well out of Cleveland’s price range, Joc Pederson, Brock Holt, Robbie Grossman, Dee Gordon, Marcell Ozuna, Cameron Maybin, Jackie Bradley Jr., Starling Marte, Josh Reddick, Steven Souza Jr., and old friend Michael Brantley among others will be available.
The Indians have some young talent waiting to get a long-term shot like Daniel Johnson and even potentially Nolan Jones getting work in left, but if there’s a low-cost option out there you they’re going to jump at it the first chance they get.
Nov. 9, 2020: Rookie of the Year winners announced
It may surprise you to know that the 2020 Cleveland Indians did not receive many contributions from rookies outside of James Karinchak and a late addition of Triston McKenzie. Karinchak was second in fWAR among American League rookie pitchers at 1.1 wins (yes, that’s all pitchers, not just relievers), and struck out an astounding 48.6% of the batters he faced, leading all AL Rookies.
Karinchak was great, but the award seems in the bag for Kyle Lewis, the stud outfielder for the Mariners who hit 11 homers, slashed .262/.364/.437 with a 126 wRC+ and AL Rookie-leading 1.7 fWAR. Luis Robert still managed to be one of the better rookies despite his offense cratering late in the year, and old friend Willi Castro had the third-best rookie bat with a 151 wRC+ (aided by a .448 BABIP, but that’s a discussion for another day).
The point of all this is: the Indians probably aren’t going to win this award.
Nov. 10, 2020: Manager of the Year winners announced
Most Indians fans who watched Sandy Alomar day in and day out would probably agree that he was not the best manager in the American League. With that said, voters tend to weigh a manager’s ability to guide his team through turmoil more than anything. That’s arguably what Sandy did by jumping in to take over the team when the manager, bench coach, and hitting coach were all sidelined for various reasons.
Nov. 11, 2020: Cy Young Award winners announced
The playoffs do not count for these awards, so Shane Bieber is the only option here. As he should be.
Nov. 12, 2020: Most Valuable Player Award winners announced
Shane Bieber is going to come up in this discussion, too. José Ramírez should also be heavily considered as he led all position players in fWAR with a solid bat and great defense at third base. There are better option by pure statistical standards if you look past WAR rankings exclusively, but if any voter takes the “valuable” aspect of Most Valuable Player to mean “valuable to his team” there is no other choice than José.
Nov. 20, 2020: Rule 5 Draft protected list deadline
The Rule 5 draft normally takes place at the end of the Winter Meetings, but with everything up in the air we still don’t know for sure when they will happen. That uncertainty also means that the Rule 5 deadline could potentially move before next month. As it stands now, teams will have until Nov. 20 to move Rule 5-eligible players to the 40-man roster to prevent them from being left exposed in the draft.
Rule 5-eligible players are defined by their time spent in the minors, relative to the age they were signed. To be eligible for the Rule 5 draft, a player must fit one of the following criteria:
- Signed at age 18 or younger and have spent five years in the minors.
- Signed at age 19 or older and have spent four years in the minors.
Last year the Indians lost three players in the Rule 5 draft: second baseman Wilbis Santiago, catcher Jose Colina, and outfielder Christopher Cespedes.
Some notable Rule 5 eligible prospects to keep an eye on this year include top prospect Nolan Jones (who will obviously be protected by the deadline), infielder Tyler Krieger, infielder Ernie Clement, outfielder Mitch Longo, and pitcher Eli Morgan.
Dec. 2, 2020: Non-tender deadline
The Indians will have three outfielders hitting arbitration, so it stands to reason that one of them could potentially be non-tendered by the Dec. 2 deadline. Tyler Naquin and his one-sided approach seems like a candidate, but so is Delino DeShields entering his third year of arbitration.
Dec. 6-10, 2020: Winter Meetings
This is typically the most exciting week of the offseason with team general managers and front office personnel rubbing elbows and making deals. Due to the ongoing pandemic, it’s not going to be the same if it even happens. At best, it will be virtual and not nearly as conductive to constant deals. And without in-person journalists catching team presidents in elevators or overhearing conversations in hotel lobbies, we’re probably not going to get nearly the same number of rumors, either.
Jan. 15, 2021: Arbitration figures deadline
The Indians like to avoid the messy process of arbitration as much as possible. I guess something about arguing in a court of law why someone you want to win you a championship is actually bad doesn’t feel good.
Last year they avoided it altogether with Francisco Lindor, Mike Clevinger, Delino DeShields, Tyler Naquin, and Nick Wittgren to the tune of a combined $26.1 million. This year, there’s a good chance half those players are gone by the time arbitration rolls around. Clevinger is already gone, but assuming no one else is traded — someone who names with Shrancisco Shrindor — their arbitration filings will look something like this:
- Delino DeShields (Arbitration 3)
- Francisco Lindor (Arbitration 3)
- Tyler Naquin (Arbitration 2)
- Nick Wittgren (Arbitration 2)
- Phil Maton (Arbitration 1)
- Adam Cimber (Arbitration 1)
These should all be pretty simple for the Indians to settle before court, especially if Lindor is traded beforehand.
Jan. 25 - Feb. 12, 2021: Arbitration hearings take place
If all goes well this will be another uneventful period for the Indians.
Feb. 27, 2021: Spring training begins
Maybe! Major League Baseball lists this date as subject to change, and it very much is. We still don’t know what the world will look like next February, but we can only hope it will feature complexes full of baseball players.
April 1, 2021: Opening Day!
Maybe! With any luck, the Indians and Tigers will open the 2021 season in Detroit on April Fool’s Day.