Cleveland Indians: Free agent veteran outfielder options this offseason

CLEVELAND, OHIO – SEPTEMBER 25: Tyler Naquin #30 of the Cleveland Indians reacts after striking out to end the sixth inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Progressive Field on September 25, 2020 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

The Cleveland Indians are looking to reshape their roster heading into the 2021 season. Even with a wide array of young outfield potential, there will still be interests in veteran outfielders to add.

The Cleveland Indians outfield was a collective struggle for much of the 2020 season. There were injuries, inconsistencies, and just a basic lack of production. No Indians outfielder had an OPS over .700, with the highest OPS came from platoon outfielder Jordan Luplow.

For context, according to Fangraphs, an OPS below .700 would mean that the hitter is below average (.710). So to summarize, every outfielder that the Indians attempted to start in 2020, ended the season with below average offensive performances. This will be a critical need to address in 2021.

The Indians will have two choices this off-season to address the outfield. The first, is to trust the scouting and turn over the outfield to the young and internally developed options. This would be your Bradley Zimmer, Daniel Johnson, and Oscar Mercado option. Let them play thru their struggles, and no matter what, work to get them to figure it out as the solution.

While there are several fans who like that option, myself included, the front office hasn’t done that in recent years. Sometimes on a case-by-case basis they will, but mostly it’s been a solution of platoon young players until they earn more at-bats, and mix in a veteran addition.

Choice two, is the veteran addition(s) to improve the production. This is where the Indians will most likely look. In 2020, they added Domingo Santana as a veteran to fill that role. In 2019 it was utilizing Leonys Martin (trade from 2018). Before then it was additions like Brandon Guyer, Rajai Davis, and all the way back to Trot Nixon when they first returned to the World Series in the 2000s.

If they don’t add via free agency, it always seems to be a veteran that comes by via trade, like Martin and Guyer, but also Jay Bruce, Yasiul Puig, and the list can go on and on.

So who is in the Indians price range that they should target in free agency? Here are a few names to watch:

  1. Jackie Bradley Jr (Bos) Bradley Jr has been a rumored trade target of the Indians for a couple of seasons. Now that he is a pending free agent, he could be added to help the Indians CF shuffle. Bradley has postseason experience and since 2015 he has not had an OPS under .717. The price tag will be interesting, as he had a resurgence in 2020, finishing with a .814 OPS, but will also be 31 when the season begins.
  2. Enrique Hernandez (LAD) Hernandez, like Bradley Jr, would bring postseason experience to Cleveland. He’s more of a utility player than regular outfielder, but that fits the Indians lineup plan by shuffling players around to get them in games. Hernandez did have a OPS under .700 in 2020, but that was the first time in his career. The Indians seek out players looking to prove their way for bigger contracts, and Hernandez fits the bill to a tee.
  3. Jake Marisnick (NYM) Marisnick also is in the 30-year old club that plays centerfield and has a wealth of post season experience. Unlike other former Astros, Marisnick looked to have improved this year outside of Houston. Prior to getting injured, Marisnick played in 16 games with the Mets and had a .959 OPS.
  4. Yoenis Cespedes (NYM)Cespedes ended up opting out of the 2020 season, this was after a slow start and an injury year in 2019. At age 35, Cespedes will likely not command a long deal, but rather a short deal to a contender with moderate contract ($7-12 mil). The Indians have the ability to pay that if they feel he is the right fit. When healthy, Cespedes is an OPS machine. He has a career OPS of .824, and adds the pop the Indians lineup is looking for. The problem? He excels against righties, and with the Indians left-handed heavy lineup, will be looking for batters who can handle lefties.

What veteran do you think the Indians will add to improve their outfield production? I am ok with letting younger players develop and live with growing pains, but the odds aren’t likely Chris Antonetti will enter 2021 with that plan.