Hold fast on prospects, build supporting cast via free agency
The alternative to going for broke in the immediate future is for the Indians to keep a majority of their farm system in tact in order to maximize their “window” in terms of employing cost-effective, young players for as long as possible.
One positive of operating this way is that there’s something to be said for putting a winning team together built primarily around homegrown talent. Whether they were drafted by Cleveland or not, a majority of the key players who figure to make an impact on the Indians’ 2020 season have been developed by the Indians themselves: Lindor, Ramirez, Kluber, Bieber, Clevinger, Carlos Santana–you get the picture.
The downside, especially for a small-market franchise like Cleveland, is that there’s always a ticking clock on how long these homegrown teams have to actually accomplish their ultimate objective. Spirits were high after the 2016 close call because Lindor and his cohorts were all locked up into the distant future. Now? Not so much.
The Indians run the risk of repeating this cycle over and over again if they remain committed to the homegrown approach without taking the chances necessary to improve the roster through other means. And the problem is, with the lone exception of the good-faith Edwin Encarnacion signing before the 2017 season, Cleveland doesn’t have a decorated history of taking these chances.
Keeping the Indians’ farm system predominantly together so that the franchise can continue to field a competitive and inexpensive core down the road is great in theory, if the organization in turn takes every measure to provide that core with the best supporting cast possible. For Indians ownership, there is no hiding from the thinly veiled reluctance to push even the current iteration of the homegrown heroes at Progressive Field over the top.
If the organization continues to operate this way going forward, it might not matter how good Nolan Jones, Tyler Freeman, or Triston McKenzie are in three years. Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez, and nearly a half-dozen starting pitchers are pretty good right now.