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The current state of Cleveland’s roster

A pitching staff, José Ramírez, and a wasteland

Cleveland Baseball Team Will Drop Its Indians Team Name Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

It has been difficult to project Cleveland’s roster this offseason for a number of reasons. Namely the fact that we knew a trade was coming sooner or later, and it would involve one or more of their biggest names.

Well, that sooner became now, and Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco are members of the New York Mets.

The return, as expected, did feature some help for the current roster, but it will by no means even out the loss of Lindor’s bat and defense or Carrasco’s steady presence in the upper half of the rotation next season.

Other variables in what to expect out of the team’s Opening Day squad include which prospects get a call up straight out of spring training, and which stay in Triple-A to work on defense until the moment the Super 2 deadline passes and they are locked up for an extra season.

As a starting point, here’s what FanGraphs’ Roster Resource has as the team’s lineup:

  • 2B: Andrés Giménez
  • LF: Josh Naylor
  • 3B: José Ramírez
  • DH: Franmil Reyes
  • 1B: Jakes Bauers
  • C: Roberto Pérez
  • RF: Daniel Johnson
  • SS: Amed Rosario
  • CF: Bradley Zimmer
  • BN: Austin Hedges, Yu Chang, Jordan Luplow, Oscar Mercado

And here is their pitching staff:

  • SP: Shane Bieber
  • SP: Zach Plesac
  • SP: Aaron Civale
  • SP: Triston McKenzie
  • SP: Logan Allen
  • RP: James Karinchak, Nick Wittgren, Emmanuel Clase, Cal Quantrill, Phil Maton, Adam Plutko, Kyle Nelson, Trevor Stephan

Factoring in projected arbitration estimates, this amounts to a very flexible payroll of around $40 million, with only José Ramírez and Roberto Pérez on guaranteed, post-arbitration contracts beyond this season. A disgrace for any professional sports team to carry, and the lowest team payroll in Major League Baseball.

Giménez, who I guess you could call the headliner in the Lindor/Carrasco deal, was ranked as the Mets’ No. 2 prospect by FanGraphs prior to last season.

Although he was ranked so high in the Mets system, he didn’t exactly garner a glowing review from Eric Longehagen and the scouts he spoke to. Some highlights include “physically overmatched against Double-A pitching”, “not optimistic that any kind of power impact will ever come”, and a potential to play every day if he “learns to be more selective” at the plate.

It’s important to note that Giménez has been young at every level of the minors, and he debuted last season as a 21-year-old. Performing well at advanced levels relative to one’s age is something the Cleveland front office has always valued, and he was doing so as a 19- and 20-year-old in the lower levels. But as FanGraphs noted in their assessment, he slowed down once he hit Double-A in 2018 and repeated the level for the entirety of 2019.

Giménez made his major-league debut last season, slashing .263/.333/.398 for the Mets. As expected, he did not provide much power (just three home runs) and didn’t walk a lot. Steamer projects him to be worth 1.2 fWAR with an 85 wRC+ in 2021.

With the glut of middle infielders coming up the ranks in the minors, there are plenty of options to replace him if he struggles early or in the next couple of years. Yu Chang, who is already on the roster and has slashed .179/.289/.262 in 97 plate appearances, is an option. Owen Miller, brought over in last season’s Mike Clevinger trade, should also be ready to contribute in 2021. From that same Clevinger trade, Gabriel Arias could make a big leap in his age-21 season and get to the majors this year.

Amed Rosario has not had an impactful bat over his four-year career, slashing .268/.302/.403 with the Mets and an average exit velocity in the 15th percentile last season. He has had one season with an even 100 wRC+, but other than that he has failed to live up to the hype that had him as a top-15 prospect in 2016. He’s on his last year of team control and will be arbitration-eligible in 2022, but should not cost a lot as a defensive-first infielder. Steamer projects him to finish 2021 with a 1.1 fWAR and 93 wRC+.

Outside of the new additions, expect some kind of veteran to be added to the mix. César Hernández is still out there (though that seems unlikely with Rosario on the team), and take your pick of any over-30 outfielder they could grab for virtually nothing: Jurickson Profar, Ryan Braun, Jay Bruce, Kevin Pillar, Cameron Maybin, and Eduardo Núñez all exist.

Roster Resource optimistically puts Bradley Zimmer as the team’s starting center fielder, but that seems like Oscar Mercado’s job to lose before any signings are made. While he probably will not be on the Opening Day roster, you can expect Nolan Jones to get the call at some point this season, most likely to play somewhere in the outfield.

Jake Bauers at first base seems like a doomsday scenario unless something clicked in the alternate site last year. Bobby Bradley and his prodigious power figures to get first shot at the first base job if Josh Naylor is truly sticking in the outfield.

If this team is going anywhere but full bore into a rebuild in 2021, it will have to be anchored by the rotation. Shane Bieber will defend his Cy Young win from last year and be immediately followed by Zach Plesac and Aaron Civale.

The bottom of the rotation could see some shuffling away from Roster Resource’s projections. If Triston McKenzie is still healthy and it is believed he can carry a full load of regular season starts, by all means, he should be the team’s fourth starter if not higher. If there are concerns about his slow velocity dip last season — which saw him go from the upper-90s to as low as 90 in his final outing — maybe he starts the season, or eventually spends some time, in the bullpen.

The fifth spot is seemingly open, but there is still a chance it can be filled with a promising pitcher — that’s just how deep this staff is. Roster Resource puts Logan Allen there, but Cal Quantrill would be my more likely pick.

Quantrill spent his entire minor-league career and most of his rookie season with the Padres as a starter. It wasn’t until 2020 where he spent the majority of his time pitching out of the pen. He started twice for Cleveland down the stretch in an “opener” role and finished with a 1.84 ERA in 14.2 innings.

The bullpen might just be the best Cleveland has had since 2016. James Karinchak has a year of experience and glove-chewing under his belt and figures to be a force who could easily lead all relievers in strikeouts next year. Emmanuel Clase will be back from a PED suspension; assuming he can still hit triple digits with regularity, he and Karinchak will be a formidable duo to cover the eighth and ninth innings. Whichever pitcher doesn’t earn a starting role (Quantrill, Allen, Scott Moss, Adam Plutko, et al), will also get a shot at throwing out of the pen to compliment Clase, Karinchak, the sneakily good Nick Wittgren and the outstanding peripherals of Phil Maton.

Buckle up, for better and worse, it’s gonna be a ride.