Cleveland Indians: Five takeaways from 2020 season

CLEVELAND, OHIO - SEPTEMBER 30: Cesar Hernandez #7 of the Cleveland Indians rounds third on his way to score on a double by Jose Ramirez #11 during the first inning of Game Two of the American League Wild Card Series against the New York Yankees at Progressive Field on September 30, 2020 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OHIO - SEPTEMBER 30: Cesar Hernandez #7 of the Cleveland Indians rounds third on his way to score on a double by Jose Ramirez #11 during the first inning of Game Two of the American League Wild Card Series against the New York Yankees at Progressive Field on September 30, 2020 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images) /

When looking back at the 2020 season for the Cleveland Indians, what are the five takeaways that could possibly impact the 2021 season and beyond?

The 2020 season didn’t end how the Cleveland Indians, or their fans, would have hoped. After squeaking into the fourth seed after winning nine of their last 11 games to end the season, the season ended in heartbreak in the American League Wild Card Series.

Throughout the 2020 season it was clear that the Cleveland Indians offense just couldn’t find their groove for more than a couple games at a time. The pitching staff on the other hand was stellar for most of the year, besides a game or two. But other than those select games, it was the pitching staff that carried this team to a fourth seed in the 2020 MLB Playoffs. What’s next for the Indians? First, one has to look at the recent past, to see what the future holds with the Tribe.

1. Offensive Stuggles

The most glaring factor to take away from the 2020 season was how much the offense struggled to string good games together. There were games when the offense was scoring eight to 10 runs a game, only to score four runs over the next three games combined. Overall, the offense looked lost and could never make the adjustments necessary to get it going for longer than a game or two.

What hurt the Cleveland Indians the most was that guys like Francisco Lindor, Carlos Santana, Franmil Reyes, and even AL MVP candidate José Ramirez struggled for most, or all, of the season. Up until the last two or three weeks of the season, Ramirez struggled by either striking out or hitting a vast majority of pop-ups. Although, he did end the season on a hot streak which game him a slash line of .292/.386/.607 according to Baseball Reference.

Unfortunately, guys like Santana just couldn’t find their groove over the 60-game season this year. Despite Santana going 3-3 in the last game against the Pittsburgh Pirates, he still finished with a .199 average. That kind of average isn’t what’s going to get it done when given the role of being a clean-off hitter.

Back in 2019, Santana finished the season, which was 162-game, with an average of .281. What made the difference was that he hung back on pitches or had situational awareness to drive the ball the opposite way. This year, Santana just seemed to be pull happy, looking for that monster home run that maybe wasn’t the key at-bat the Indians needed right then.

The last key guy that needs to be focused on is Lindor. Coming into the 2020 season it was unclear if the Cleveland Indians were going to move Lindor in the offseason or not. Back in 2019 at the MLB Winter Meetings, there was tons of speculation and rumors of Lindor being traded that week. It seemed like he could have been on his way to Los Angeles to play for the Dodgers. But, that never came to fruition, and the Indians kept him for the 2020 season.

After that, it seemed like Lindor was pressing all season as the teams number three hitter. There was even a point with about a month left into the season that the Indians moved Lindor back to the leadoff spot to get him going. According to Rotowire, Lindor hit .169 with runners in scoring position. That is the kind of season that a team like the Cleveland Indians cannot make a case to pay a guy $25M+ a season.

Lindor is going into his last year of arbitration where he could see a $20M contract for the season, depending on the arbitrators ruling. After that, who knows what his next deal could be. There’s been speculation of him getting a $300-400M contract after this last year of arbitration. In turn, that’s a contract the Cleveland Indians have never, and probably will never, give to any player.

2. Free Agent signing of Cesar Hernandez 

There is a case to be made for a player to has been a key signing for a club looking back on the 2020 season. There’s the case for Mike Moustakas in Cincinnati, but there’s one that’s even better for Cesar Hernandez who the Cleveland Indians have a one year/$6.25M contract in the off-season.

It was clear from the start that Hernandez would keep on the hitting prowess that gave him a good reputation as a solid hitter, like he was in Philadelphia with the Phillies. There was a point where he got on base safely in 40 of first 42 games of the season. He was the most consistent hitter the Indians had over the 60-game slate either as the leadoff guy or hitting second behind Lindor. He finished with a slash line of .283/.355/.408 while leading the league in doubles with 20. The Indians clearly got a steal in free agency with getting Hernandez for what they did.

The looming question for the Cleveland Indians when it comes to Hernandez is if the team can afford him or willing to bring him back for the 2021 season. After a solid 2020 season, and him going to free agency, there’s a chance that other teams will be calling for Hernandez to play for them and get a contract that’s well deserved. That could be a problem for the Indians who look to cut payroll this year. Hernandez could have out-priced himself with the Indians, but, if the Indians give him an offer of three-years and $30M there might be chance of him staying in Cleveland.

3. Revolving door in Outfield 

Outfield issues seem to be the same song-and-dance every offseason for the Cleveland Indians. It seems like for whatever reason, the Indians cannot seem to develop outfielders, or bring in guys to solidify the position.

It seemed as if every game had a different combination of outfielders that for some reason just couldn’t lock three guys down to be the guys that the Indians could rely on all year. After the second half of the 2019 season it seemed like Oscar Mercado could hold down the centerfield spot, but was ultimately sent down to the alternate site in Lake County after having an abysmal season. That would lead the way for Delino DeShields to lead the team in games played in center field this year.

Furthermore, the platooning of Tyler Naquin, Jordan Luplow, Domingo Santana at one point, and Josh Naylor was the Indians attempt to get someone going at some point in the season. Unfortunately, it seemed like no one could get on it for more than a couple weeks. Naylor did have a great Game 1 of the Wild Card Series against the New York Yankees going 4-for-4 in that game. But other than that, the outfield had issues all year.

The Cleveland Indians seriously need to address the outfield this offseason because the team cannot afford to mix and match guys all season next year. There needs to be a consistent group of guys that plays a majority of the games in the outfield next year. Rather if it’s by a trade or free agency, the team needs to fix the outfield which has been an issue over the last six years, maybe even more.

4. Rotation future looks bright 

The biggest bright spot for the Cleveland Indians during the 2020 season was the pitching staff but more importantly, it was the rotation. Despite trading Mike Clevinger to the San Diego Padres, the Indians rotation was solid for almost the entire season. There was a couple games here, and there that tripped them up, but mainly, the rotation showed why the Indians are considered a pitching factory.

Just by looking at the team’s ace Shane Bieber for example, he just finished a season to remember for a pitcher by winning the MLB Pitching Triple Crown in Wins (8), ERA (1.63), and Strikeouts (122). He is staring down a possible unanimous vote as the AL Cy Young Award winner. Granted the first game of the Wild Card Series didn’t go well for him, but other than that, teams couldn’t ask for more of a stellar year from their ace pitcher.

When looking at the rest of the rotation, it’s clear that the Cleveland Indians could be set for another great year from the their staff. The Indians will most likely be running with a rotation of Carlos Carrasco, Zach Plesac, Triston McKenzie, and Aaron Civale after their ace Bieber. There is a solid chance that this rotation for the Indians could lead this team to a possible playoff appearance but that’s all on if the offense can have a consistent showing next year.

5. Life After Tito?

For a majority of the season, the Cleveland Indians played almost all of their games without manager Terry Francona. Francona left the team back on August 2nd with gastrointestinal issues, but did come back on the 9th before leaving again for surgery which kept him out for the rest of the season. That in turn left the team to have Sandy Alomar Jr. manage the team for the rest of the year, including the playoffs. In the 46 games managed by Alomar, the Indians went 28-18 with a .609 winning percentage.

There is talk of Francona coming back to manage the team in 2021, but that still is uncertain at his point. That is what begs the question, if Francona doesn’t comeback, who manages the team in 2021 or beyond once Tito does leave?

While Alomar Jr did a pretty decent job as acting manager, it’s not clear of the Indians would pick him to be the successor to Francona. He did struggle at times when it came to pitching changes and setting the lineup, which could have been discussed with Francona along with pitching coach Carl Willis and Mike Saurbauh. Overall, Alomar Jr. didn’t do a bad job considering he’s mainly the team’s first base coach. It just makes fans, and maybe the team, wonder if Alomar Jr. is the guy for the Indians after Francona leaves, or maybe they’ll be looking outside for the next manager of the team.


Overall, the 2020 season was a wild one to say the least in terms of an offense that looked like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The team’s pitching staff had a solid year, all things considered, while playing for an acting manager in Sandy Alomar Jr. What’s going to be important moving forward for the Cleveland Indians is what the ownership and the front office does when it comes to managing the team to set it up for the upcoming 2021 season that is only five months away when the team breaks camp for spring training in February. All in all, it’s going to be an interesting offseason after wild 2020 season.

Next. Four burning questions heading into the offseason. dark