The Cleveland Indians are naturally not expected to be in on the top dogs in this year’s free agent class. But are they really going to sit it out entirely?
On Tuesday, November 5, MLB Trade Rumors released a lengthy and thorough examination of the top 50 free agents in this year’s class, along with predictions on where each player will sign.
Among the more notable takeaways from their discussion is that they expect the Cleveland Indians to stand idly by while all of those 50 players sign with other teams. The piece did not project one single player among the top 50 to sign with the Tribe.
At the very top of the list, this shouldn’t come as much of a surprise given the players in question: Gerrit Cole, Stephen Strasburg, Anthony Rendon, Josh Donaldson, to name a few. But as the list wears on and the projected contracts shrink in term and value, it’s frustrating to notice that the baseball community outside of Cleveland possesses minimal faith in the organization’s desire to truly go for it.
Six of the top 10 free agents (Cole, Donaldson, Nicholas Castellanos, Madison Bumgarner, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Jake Odorizzi) are all projected to go to teams that will directly compete with the Indians for an AL Wild Card spot or division title next season.
Cole is projected for the Angels, who stand to be among baseball’s more revitalized teams in 2020 with new manager Joe Maddon at the helm. MLBTR estimates the Rangers will sign both Donaldson and Ryu, while the White Sox and Twins, respectively, are the predicted landing spots for Castellanos and Bumgarner.
As for Odorizzi, who already played with the Twins in 2019, the article suggests he’ll be back at Target Field for 2020 and beyond. For good measure, the piece goes on to chalk up one more top-15 free agent as destined for Minnesota in reliever Will Smith, with Dallas Keuchel (no. 14) also lining up with the White Sox and Jose Abreu (no. 16) staying in Chicago as well.
It’s evident after last winter that the White Sox will be aggressive on this year’s free agent market, so if they end up with some combination of the players projected to sign with them it won’t come as much of a shock.
The Twins proved to themselves that they were capable of winning in 2019 without going over the top in terms of payroll, so perhaps their early playoff exit this October will serve as incentive to push things a little further in that regard.
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The discouraging thing is that nobody seems to think the Indians will try to do anything about it. Cleveland almost made the 2019 postseason despite losing 80% of its starting rotation during the season for one reason or another. If anyone should be motivated to push the envelope this winter, it should be the Tribe.
The Indians also don’t have the financial constraints they faced last offseason, in which offloading salary was an obvious priority. They need not worry about an arbitration raise for Trevor Bauer, and Jason Kipnis’ above-market-value salary is now off the books as well after the team declined his 2020 option.
Why shouldn’t the Indians be in on players like Mike Moustakas or Corey Dickerson among the article’s top 25? Why shouldn’t Brock Holt (no. 41) be discussed as a possibility to play a super-utility role? Why should the bottom-dwelling Detroit Tigers (Michael Wacha, Yasiel Puig) be projected as more active participants in this year’s high-end free agent market than the Indians, who expect to contend for a World Series?
The answer, sadly enough, probably comes down to the reputation of Indians ownership. Cleveland’s response to getting waxed out of the 2018 playoffs in three games by the Astros was to shed payroll. This winter, there have been more rumblings that the team will trade Francisco Lindor than there have been that they will attempt to extend him.
In any case, what these free agent predictions indicate is pretty simple: there is faith that the Twins (and several other AL teams) will do what is necessary to go for broke, and the same cannot be said for the Tribe. They’re just predictions, but if they come to fruition as discussed in MLBTR’s article, it will be another disheartening and dreary winter in Cleveland.