Tribe Hot Stove – A look at the Indians' options this offseason

The Indians will likely make roster changes for 2020

James Rapien
November 26, 2019 - 12:21 pm
Jul 28, 2019; Kansas City, MO, USA; Cleveland Indians designated hitter Carlos Santana (41) is congratulated by shortstop Francisco Lindor (12) after scoring against the Kansas City Royals in the first inning at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny M

Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

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CLEVELAND, OH – The Indians are expected to make some changes to their roster this offseason. The organization will continue the re-tooling that began last winter. The Indians want to remain competitive, while they get younger and put themselves in position for future success.

They traded Trevor Bauer, Yan Gomes and Edwin Encarnacion in the past 12 months in an effort to gain assets and avoid bottoming out after winning four straight AL Central titles.

The Indians’ starting rotation is still their biggest strength. They exercised Corey Kluber’s $17.5 million option for 2020. The two-time Cy Young Award winner will be the elder stateman in a rotation filled with talent. Mike Clevinger and Shane Bieber lead the way, with Carlos Carrasco, Aaron Civale, Zach Plesac and Adam Plutko all in the mix to be a part of the rotation.

The Indians are expected to listen to offers for some of their young arms, including Plesac and Civale. They know how important starting pitching is, but they have a surplus and could use it to find extra outfield or bullpen help.

Veteran players like Jason Kipnis will likely sign elsewhere this offseason. José Ramírez told the organization that he would be willing to move to second base permanently if it would benefit the team. With top prospect Nolan Jones on track to join the big leagues by 2021 (at the latest), it could make sense to slide Ramírez over to second base permanently and sign a stopgap third baseman.

Free Agent Targets

In a perfect world, the Indians would sign a veteran that could start at third base until Nolan Jones is Major League ready.

Todd Frazier would be a perfect target for the Indians. The two-time All-Star has played for the Reds, White Sox, Yankees and Mets. He posted a .251/.329/.443 slash line last season, finishing with 21 home runs and 67 RBI in 133 games. He has experience at both third and first base.

Frazier, 33, has played in 18 playoff games. He hasn’t played in the postseason since 2017 and would likely welcome a chance to join a contender. The Indians could offer Frazier a one-year deal worth $7-8 million with a team option for 2021. He signed a two-year, $17 million contract with the Mets prior to the 2018 season.

Nicholas Castellanos is another free agent that would fit in well with the Tribe. He will cost more than Frazier, but is younger (27) and would instanty give their outfield a boost. Castellanos is versatile, which will be appealing to plenty of teams that are expected to make a run at him in free agency. He has some experience playing third base and left field, but would primarily be a right fielder.

Castellanos posted a .289/.337/.525 slash line last season, finishing with 27 home runs and 73 RBI. He was a great midseason addition to the Cubs. He hit 16 homers and posted a .321 batting average in 51 games for Chicago.

The Reds, Cubs and White Sox are three of the many teams that are expected to pursue the veteran right fielder in free agency. Castellanos is projected to sign a 2-3 year deal worth $15-16 million per season.

Back in the Land?

It may not be likely, but there’s a chance outfielder Yasiel Puig re-signs with the Indians. Puig posted a .297/.377/.423 slash line in 49 games with the Tribe. He only hit two home runs, but still had 22 RBI and gave the offense a midseason boost.

He was a great teammate and worked well with manager Terry Francona. So why wouldn’t the Indians re-sign him? Like most things in life –– it’s complicated.

Right fielder Daniel Johnson played well in the minor leagues last season. He participated in the Future’s Game at Progressive Field and showed plenty of potential in both Double-A Akron and Triple-A Columbus.

Johnson posted a .290/.361/.507 slash line in 123 games last season, finishing with 19 home runs and 77 RBI. He had a .306 batting average in 84 games with Triple-A Columbus.

The Indians will likely give Johnson a chance to earn the starting right field spot in spring training. They had success with Oscar Mercado last season, which could give them even more confidence that an outfield full of youth could be beneficial – both in the short and long-term.

Signing Puig is an option, but it certainly isn’t at the top of the Indians’ free agent list. If he doesn’t have an active market in free agency, Cleveland might entertain the idea of signing Puig to a 1-2 year deal worth $25-30 million.

Would the former All-Star be willing to stick with the Indians for one or two seasons, before testing free agency again? If he needs to rebuild his value and re-shape his image, joining Francona and proving he can thrive in Cleveland could do wonders for his long-term value. Re-signing Puig isn’t likely, but there’s a scenario where he’s the Indians’ Opening Day right fielder.

Worth Watching

Chris Antonetti and Mike Chernoff know they aren’t going to be able to go big fish hunting this offseason and they like maintaining financial flexibility for in-season trades. If they still want to address the outfield without breaking the bank, a player like Corey Dickerson could be on their radar. He posted a .304 batting average with 12 home runs and a .906 OPS last season in 78 games for the Phillies and Pirates.

Dickerson was an All-Star in 2017. He would instantly slide in and compete with Jordan Luplow, Jake Bauers and potentially Tyler Naquin (depending on his ACL recovery) to be the starting left fielder. Dickerson signed a 1-year, $8.5 million deal last offseason.

He may not be a flashy name like Puig or Castellanos, but Dickerson could be a realistic option for the Indians, especially if they pursue a veteran third baseman like Frazier.

Bullpen Growth

The Indians’ bullpen needs some help if they’re going to win the AL Central and contend in 2020. Their relief pitching was solid for most of last season, but it fell apart down the stretch.

They put a lot  of pressure on closer Brad Hand early in the season and he delivered, but he limped to the finish and had to be shut down during a cruical part of the year.

The Indians have to make sure they don’t burnout their All-Star reliever next season. Part of that can be addressed internally. A player like James Karinchak should have a much bigger role in 2020. He could be a difference maker for the Indians.

They may also consider moving Jefry Rodriguez or another one of their potential starters into a long relief role. Re-signing Tyler Clippard is one thing the Indians will look at after the veteran reliever pitched well for most of the 2019 season. He signed a 1-year, $1.5 million deal with the Indians last year. The 34-year-old has value and could stick around for another run with the Tribe.

The Indians could pursue Drew Pomeranz. The Tribe originally drafted him in the first round of the 2010 MLB Draft. It was a short marriage, as the club packaged Pomeranz with Alex White, Joe Gardner and Matt McBride to land ace Ubaldo Jiménez from the Rockies in 2011.

The Giants used Pomeranz as a starter at the beginning of last season before dealing him to the Brewers. He thrived out of the bullpen allowing seven runs in 26⅓ innings for Milwaukee. Pomeranz posted a 2.39 ERA and had 45 strikeouts in 25 appearances for the Brewers.

The 31-year-old has made nearly $19 million in his career, but he could be looking to cash in after a stellar second half of the season. Pomeranz would be a great addition to the Indians’ bullpen, depending on how many teams are interested in his services. He signed a 1-year, $1.5 million deal with the Giants last season. He should get a sizable raise in 2020.

Options Aplenty

The Indians have plenty of options this offseason. They could trade Francisco Lindor or sign him to an extension. The organization may decide to stand pat with its' stars, but they'll entertain offers for Carlos Santana and Kluber. The duo is set to make $35 million combined ($17.5 million apiece) in 2020.

One thing is certain – Antonetti and Chernoff are willing to do whatever it takes to win. They want to win now and set the table for the future. They aren’t going to be on the right side of every signing or trade, but they’re willing to make aggressive moves.

It should be a fun and interesting offseason for the Tribe, as they look to make themselves contenders in 2020.