Sep 21, 2014; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Cleveland Indians third basemanLonnie Chisenhall
(8) talks to designated hitterJason Kipnis
(22) in the on deck circle against the Minnesota Twins at Target Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports
Part two of a two-part opus setting the stage for the Tribe’s offseason. Part one can be found here.
4) If the Indians do extend ace Corey Kluber, it would further eat into their cash reserves for 2015. A possible Kluber extension and lack of flexibility in 2016 more or less takes the Indians out of the running for a large swath of big-name free agents. We can already knock those likely to receive qualifying offers off the list, and anyone likely to receive a multi-year deal of significant value will be a tough fit. (Let’s all take a moment to thank our lucky stars that we have a front office that doesn’t do things such as give up the 15th overall pick in the draft to sign a 36-year old 1B/DH who struggles to play 100 games a season to a two year deal.)
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The downside of having a near-complete roster is it’s difficult to find cost-effective upgrades. The most obvious spot to upgrade would be right field, where David Murphy and Ryan Raburn combined to form one of the worst platoons since the heady days of Dellucci and Michaels.
I won’t go into too much detail here, as on WahoosOnFirst we will be running our own series of articles breaking down the free agent and trade options for the Tribe, but at first glance there would appear to be a couple of palatable options available who won’t be tied to a qualifying offer, including Torii Hunter, Alex Rios, Norichika Aoki, and perhaps Nick Markakis depending on what the Orioles decide to do with him. It’s likely that Rios, and Markakis receive multi-year contracts for at least $8 million in AAV (if the Indians can nab Rios for the one year, $8.5 million contract suggested by MLBTradeRumors.com they should do so without hesitation, though I expect he’ll get at least two years). Hunter will be 39-years old; it’s fair to ask whether he’d be willing to play out the remainder of his career in Cleveland. The team may have to decide whether adding a guy like Aoki for around $6-8 million for 2015 is even an upgrade over Murphy and Raburn. With outfielder Chris Young heading back to the Yankees, a right-handed bat such as Chris Denorfia may end up in Cleveland on a cheap one-year deal.
The same thought process holds at third base as well. Pablo Sandoval, Chase Headley, and Aramis Ramirez represent the only clear upgrades available in free agency, and each will either receive a qualifying offer or be priced out of the Indians’ budget. The Tribe could possibly look outside the organization for a trade, with Trevor Plouffe, Casey McGehee, and Juan Uribe as options. Plouffe would be a near-perfect fit due to his ability to hit lefties and play right field as well as third base, but the Twins are unlikely to part with a player with three years of team control unless they get a decent prospect haul in return. McGehee hasn’t posted an OPS+ above 100 since 2010, and the Dodgers have no real motivation to move Uribe and create their own hole at third base.
Again, it comes back to the question of whether these guys represent enough of an upgrade over what’s on hand to justify the cost in dollars and prospects. The Indians may be satisfied going into 2015 with Chisenhall as the primary third baseman with sure-handed prospect Giovanny Urshela waiting in the wings if Chisenhall’s doesn’t produce enough at the plate to justify his poor defense.
5) Perhaps the spot that most the most sense to add to is the Tribe’s strongest: the starting rotation.
Despite the success of the Tribe’s rotation over the second half of last season, the team would still be wise to at least investigate making an addition. As exciting as the Kluber, Carrasco, Bauer, Salazar, House quintet is, only Kluber has been above average or better over the course of a full season. Some progression from the young guys can be expected, but it’s always risky counting on players to do things or play to a certain level over a full season when they’ve never previously done so. Yes, the team does have Zach McAllister and Josh Tomlin in reserve, but they really should try using Tomlin as little as possible, and Zach McAllister has potential to be a “shutdown reliever“ if he’s not required to deputize in the rotation. T.J. House has certainly made a mockery of my doubts regarding his performance, but with options remaining he would be a fantastic fallback option if (when?) one of the guys in front of him goes down.
The issue here is the same as with right field and third base: pitching is expensive, and the Indians would have to find a pitcher that 1) fits into the budget and 2) is an upgrade over what they have, and that might prove tough to find in this market. Guys such as Francisco Liriano, Brandon McCarthy, and Jason Hammel might be out of Cleveland’s price range. Old friend Justin Masterson would make a nice speculative target, and guys coming off major injuries such as Gavin Floyd or perennial speculative Tribe target Brett Anderson might also make sense.
Aug 30, 2014; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Justin Masterson (63) delivers a pitch against the Chicago Cubs at Busch Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports
There’s also the trade market, where a team like the New York Mets might be willing to part with some pitching depth, such as (really) old friend Bartolo Colon, who could be a target, depending on how much of the $11 million owed to him the Indians are willing to take on, or the Indians could potentially deal from their minor league position player depth for Jon Niese. (Not really related to this section, but I’d also love to see the Tribe try acquiring Wilmer Flores, who the Mets may have soured on but can still hit, even if he doesn’t stick at shortstop.)
Despite all the hand-wringing about the offense, it was actually not that bad, and there’s potential for some nice bounce-back performances from Kipnis and Swisher. The perception of the starting rotation being a strength and the lineup being a weakness shouldn’t discourage the team from adding a starter if the price is right.
6) One area the Tribe should absolutely avoid spending on in free agency is the bullpen. For one thing, the Indians are already bringing back the core of last season’s bullpen, plus have the possibility of unearthing another quality reliever in Zach McAllister. But more importantly, it’s simply an inefficient market for a team that needs to be efficient everywhere it can.
The Kansas City Royals playoff success has shown what a dominant bullpen can do in the postseason, but the reality is that a starting pitcher throwing 180+ innings or a position player getting 500+ plate appearances have a much greater influence on a team making the postseason than a 60-70 inning reliever. All of that comes before mentioning that spending significant dollars on a reliever hardly guarantees he will be any good. The Indians invested in John Axford last season and were rewarded with a 4.71 FIP, but Axford is hardly the only example. One need not look any further than the LA Dodgers to see that an expensive bullpen doesn’t always equate to a good one.
7) Despite any potential issues regarding possible budget restrictions, Indians fans can be optimistic heading into the offseason because the roster is already good, and potentially great, even if the team doesn’t make a major addition. Having a well-rounded roster gives the front office the flexibility to augment the team however they see fit, and I fully expect them to make smart decisions that help the team in the short term without mortgaging the future, budgetary restrictions be damned. This offseason is going to be an entertaining adventure, and when we emerge on the other sign we will have nothing less than a contender to cheer on in 2015.
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