Cleveland Indians must respond to White Sox offseason activity

CLEVELAND, OH - NOVEMBER 02: A view of Progressive Field prior to Game Seven of the 2016 World Series between the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians on November 2, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OH - NOVEMBER 02: A view of Progressive Field prior to Game Seven of the 2016 World Series between the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians on November 2, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images) /
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For the second straight winter, an AL Central rival is loading up to take a run at the Cleveland Indians. Will the Tribe retaliate this time around?

Nothing the Minnesota Twins did last offseason gave me the impression they would go on to win 100 games in 2019. I was marginally concerned about their potential to threaten the Cleveland Indians‘ three-year reign atop the AL Central. I was woefully mistaken.

As it turned out, Minnesota’s proactive approach to the winter of 2018-19 helped catapult the team to its first division title in nearly a decade. But maybe the Twins’ acquisitions of Nelson Cruz and Marwin Gonzalez, among others, were only half of the equation.

Maybe the other half was that the Indians got too complacent. Cleveland hadn’t faced any real adversity in the AL Central since about July of 2016, and perhaps the front office got a little too comfortable resting on its laurels, leading to an uncomfortably passive 2018-19 offseason.

Of course, it didn’t help that ownership placed a heavy emphasis on cutting costs as opposed to fielding the most competitive team possible. The Indians let Michael Brantley walk for nothing, dumped what salaries they could, and maximized the value of the one sizable contract they couldn’t leave by the roadside (Edwin Encarnacion) by trading it in exchange for Carlos Santana. That last one, to be fair, wound up working out pretty well.

And then when Opening Day came and the Indians were without Francisco Lindor and Jason Kipnis, their replacements were Eric Stamets, Brad Miller, and Max Moroff. You can’t exactly have All-Star-caliber players populating your bench, but my goodness…

Whether the fault lies entirely on ownership for backing the front office into a corner, or whether the blame should be spread among all those with decision-making authority within the organization, the end result is all that really matters: the Indians missed the playoffs for the first time in three years.

It’s extremely difficult to reach the MLB postseason, much less four times in a row. The players on the field can be forgiven for coming up short. What can’t be forgiven is coming up short due to a drop-off in dedication from those at the highest levels of the franchise.

There is simply no excuse–financial restrictions aside–for mailing in an offseason while the ticking clock of Francisco Lindor‘s time in an Indians uniform approaches zero hour. Cleveland did that last year anyway, and the Twins took advantage.

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This year, it’s the upstart Chicago White Sox who are taking aim at the AL Central crown. Chicago signed Yasmani Grandal to the first eye-catching position player contract of the winter on Thursday, and on Friday locked longtime thumper Jose Abreu up for three more years.

It shouldn’t take the Midnight Ride of Paul Revere for the Indians to feel some sense of urgency on this matter. The White Sox are coming.

Chicago already showed flashes in 2019–particularly in their season series against the Indians–of what kind of trouble they’re fixing to cause in the AL Central for the next several years. With a lineup led by Abreu, Tim Anderson, Yoan Moncada, Eloy JimenezJames McCann, and now Grandal, this offense isn’t going to be any fun to deal with.

The White Sox also hold a blossoming ace in Lucas Giolito, Dylan Cease possesses a great deal of promise, and Michael Kopech should reenter the equation at starting pitcher sometime next year as well. Maybe it doesn’t all come together right away for Chicago the way it did for the Twins, but this is not a team to be taken lightly any longer.

I already wrote extensively on how Mike Moustakas needs to be the focal point of Cleveland’s free agency search this winter, and how acquiring him would go a long way toward positioning the Indians to take on the now-two pretty good teams in their own division.

But in a more general sense, the Indians have to do something, if for no other reason than the message it sends to an already disenchanted fan base if they stand idly by while their primary competitors gear up to beat them–for the second year in a row.

The offseason is largely just beginning; the winter meetings haven’t even taken place yet. For all we know, the top brass in Cleveland do have a few moves lined up in the crosshairs. Two months from now, we may all be rejoicing.

But the sourness left behind by last winter’s payroll-shedding still lingers. It will take an act of good faith on the part of Indians ownership to restore the confidence of the team’s supporters, and rightfully so.

Whether that olive branch comes in the form of a legitimate extension offer to Lindor or the signing of at least one impact free agent, it does not matter. What matters is that the Indians demonstrate that they have learned from last winter’s mistakes, and are committed to not repeating them.

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The American League Central isn’t a cakewalk anymore, and the Indians can’t even claim to be the best team in it. Inaction is not an option. They must respond to what the Twins did in 2019, and they must prepare themselves for the haymaker Chicago is winding up to throw in 2020 and beyond.