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Let’s pretend Cleveland isn’t done this offseason

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Talking through a handful of moves they could make before spring training’s scheduled start next month

Baltimore Orioles v Boston Red Sox Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

Between claims of “irons in the fire” from prominent reporters, and hints that teams are asking about Amed Rosario, there is reason to believe that Cleveland may not be done yet this offseason.

They are still not going to go out and sign a big multi-year free agent, and they will probably not pull the trigger on a trade that brings back a player making eight figures, but they have plenty of holes on their roster that need to be addressed.

Luckily for them, the free-agent market is as slow as it has ever been and many outfielders are still available. So let’s start with a look at who they could sign.

The big names are gone — and of course out of Cleveland’s price range — but some interesting players still out there include Kevin Pillar, Nomar Mazara, Josh Reddick, Albert Almora Jr., and Steve Souza Jr. They could bring back some old friends in Tyler Naquin and Delino DeShields.

Cleveland’s recent run of targeting former top prospects who have lost their sheen would point them in the direction of Mazara, who was signed by the Rangers as a 16-year-old international free agent in 2011 and hammered his way through the minors to a 2016 debut with Texas. He doesn’t turn 26 until April and hit exactly 20 home runs in each of his first three seasons. Unfortunately, that home run power is about the only part of his game as an exciting prospect that translated to the majors.

Even last year with the White Sox, Mazara was able to blister the ball with a hard-hit rate among the best in baseball, but he had issues doing anything with all that solid contact — on top of that he is painfully slow on the bases and average-at-best in the outfield. Still, he was non-tendered by Chicago, should cost Cleveland almost nothing, and ZiPS projects him to finish 130 games with a .248/.308/.416 slash and 18 home runs. He probably wouldn’t be Cleveland's worst outfielder.

Kevin Pillar is a former defensive stalwart for the Blue Jays and fits Cleveland’s mold of desired position players nicely. That is to say, he makes a decent amount of contact — albeit not hard contact — and can play every position in the outfield. His defensive metrics tanked in the shortened 2020 season, though, and throwing his body all over the field may be catching up to him as he prepares for his age-32 season.

If Cleveland wants to get crazy and go for the best players remaining, they could be taking a long look at the likes of Jackie Bradley Jr., Joc Pederson, and Eddie Rosario.

Bradley Jr. had his best season in half a decade with a .283/.364/.450 slash and 120 wRC+, but it came with a .343 BABIP and in the equivalent of one-third of a normal season. You can bet his agent will be playing that up in an attempt to start a bidding war — something Cleveland would likely bow out of immediately. Even if he levels out into an average bat, as projections think he will, he is a great defender and could be a one- or two-year stop-gap as Cleveland figures out who can actually hit in the outfield.

On the opposite end of that spectrum is Joc Pederson, who struggled in 43 games for the Dodgers last year, but projections expect him to be back to a well-above-average hitter — ZiPS has him at 113 wRC+ and Steamer at 119. He’s almost strictly a platoon bat at this point, though, with a career .255 wOBA against lefties and .360 wOBA against righties. He would pair nicely with lefty killer Jordan Luplow, but can (or should?) Cleveland be willing to pay upwards of $8 or $9 million for another platoon bat?

If not, they could look towards Eddie Rosario, who is only a year older than Pederson and has a much less dramatic split of .304 wOBA versus lefties and .341 against righties. Rosario has not had a below-average offensive season since 2016 as he was a consistent presence in the Twins outfield — playing mostly in the corner but dabbling in center early in his career.

Rosario is capable of hitting 30 bombs and his strikeout rate has trended down every year since 2016 — from 25.7% at its peak to 14.6% in 2019 and 14.7% in the abbreviated 2020 season. There is not much truly remarkable about his game; he’s basically the outfield equivalent of César Hernández as a necessary stabilizing force that any lineup needs. Especially one as young as Cleveland’s.

As for Amed Rosario, trading him is not the first thing that came to my mind when thinking of how to deal with all their infielders (I thought for sure he’d be moved to the outfield), but it’s an interesting thing to think through. Mike Puma of the New York Post reported that teams are “showing interest” in him, so surely they are talking to people.

That does not necessarily mean Cleveland is shopping him, but there were only five dedicated free agent shortstops on the market when free agency began, and all but Didi Gregorious are signed. If Cleveland’s plan of hoarding middle infielders was to eventually start flipping them for needs, now seems like the time.

Your guess is as good as mine as to where he could end up. Just don’t expect to be wowed by any return — if they can pry a major-league ready outfielder away from someone for him that would be a win. Rosario is owed $2.4 million this year and will go through arbitration two more times before becoming a free agent in 2024.

There is, of course, the possibility that Cleveland is truly done making meaningful additions to their roster. Sure, there will be some spring training fillers and a couple of minor-league contracts handed out, but if they do want to move Rosario to the outfield and they believe that Nolan Jones and Daniel Johnson can both eventually contribute, maybe they don’t see the need to spend any more money. If they turn out to be right, more power to them — they will have a great young core anchored by the veteran leadership of Hernández at second base. But it’s one hell of a gamble to waste another year of Shane Bieber and the rotation they spent so long building if it doesn’t pan out.

As it stands, Cleveland enters today having spent half of what Terry Pluto suggests would be their high-end spending limit of $10 million. Their payroll as-is, after factoring in the minimum salaries of the majority of their 40-man roster, will be lucky to cross $40 million. There is no longer any denial about 2021 being a retooling year for Cleveland, but an addition or two could make it slightly less painful.