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2019 Indians: In For A Penny, In For A Pennant

Discussion in 'Adopt-a-Team' started by Ford Frick's Asterisk, Jan 5, 2019.

  1. Ford Frick's Asterisk

    Ford Frick's Asterisk Member SoSH Member

    For a team that sleepwalked to a division title in 2018 and expect to reign again in 2019, the Indians are looking at a lot of upheaval. Beyond Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez and Jason Kipnis, every position on the field is likely to be held down by a different player than last season, and even Ramirez and Kipnis could be holding down new positions. They'll fill a lot of holes (after creating some of them for purely budget minded reasons), all with an eye on Larry Dolan's profit margins. Edwin Encarnacion, Michael Brantley, Yonder Alonso and Yan Gomes are out. Only Carlos Santana and Jake Bauers have replaced those vacancies, and Bauers at least formally has to earn the starting job. Roberto Perez, a catcher who hasn't hit his weight since his rookie year, and Leonys Martin, who was the starting center fielder for one week in July before he nearly died, are the next closest things to known commodities.

    The starting rotation is the one thing that still looks the same, and likely guarantees another division title against a mixed bag of rebuilding teams that all failed to post a winning record last year. After surviving two rounds of trade rumors, it seems Corey Kluber is likely to stay and anchor a rotation that also includes Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer, Mike Clevinger and Shane Bieber. After surgeons rooted around in Danny Salazar's shoulder last summer to see what they could find, he's likely to return sometime in the first half, but any future is probably in the bullpen. All of these pitchers are under team control through at least the 2020 season, after which Bauer and Salazar could reach free agency.

    The back of the bullpen is as much of a mystery as the outfield at this point, with Brad Hand as the only late-inning guy under contract. Andrew Miller left via free agency without any negotiations. However, the lack of rumors surrounding Cody Allen lead me to believe there's at least a 50% chance he remains with the club. He sabotaged his free agency with the worst season of his career, but much of that was identified as mechanical issues (front shoulder flying open). Still, it placed him well outside the group of Kimbrel, Miller, Robertson, Britton and Ottavino the big spenders have been jockeying for. Unless one of those teams comes up with nothing from that group and overreacts, it seems doubtful Allen's market will ever rise above what Cleveland would be comfortable spending to keep him. Adam Cimber, Tyler Olson, Dan Otero and a healthy Nick Goody are expected to help the front of the pen, and there's mutual interest in the return of Oliver Perez, giving them three lefties. Goody has the stuff to earn a larger role, whereas Otero, in the last year of his contract, has to be on shaky ground.

    Although there are a lot of questions to be answered in Cleveland between now and April, I expect the team to remain relatively quiet until late January. They've freed up some spending money, but still aren't going to jump into negotiations with the top tier free agents or get in a bidding war with more aggressive large market teams. They'll wait for the market to start crumbling on some of the second tier players. Their problem is that the second tier outfielders just aren't that enticing. However, I think their advantage here is the positional flexibility already on their roster, plus an uncompetitive division. While Kipnis isn't an ideal outfielder, it's something he can handle, and they could give him a 2-month trial in left field while seeing if this is going to be one of the years when he actually hits. Then they can reassess the situation before the trade deadline. Moving Kipnis and Ramirez around the diamond allows the Indians to take advantage of an undervalued free agent in either the outfield or infield. Just as an example, they could sign Mike Moustakas to play 3B, shift Ramirez to 2B and Kipnis to LF without much impact to team defense.

    I could prattle on awhile, but I'll come back later to take a closer look at the current outfield situation, the trades that went down, and NRIs who might be a factor.

    #1 Ford Frick's Asterisk, Jan 5, 2019
    Last edited: Jan 5, 2019
  2. Ford Frick's Asterisk

    Ford Frick's Asterisk Member SoSH Member

    Trades and payroll...

    The only real plan the Indians have yet to reveal this winter is clearing payroll by letting their free agents walk without a serious offer (Michael Brantley, Andrew Miller, Cody Allen, Lonnie Chisenhall), and a series of trades:

    • Nov. 30: Traded Yan Gomes to Nationals for Daniel Johnson, Jefry Rodriguez and Andruw Monasterio.
    Impact on 2019 payroll: -$7M

    This registers as a slightly defensible salary dump. Rodriguez has a 95-mph fastball he hasn't been able to get past major league bats yet. He figures to ride the Columbus/Cleveland shuttle a few times this year as a swing-man, but his versatility is better than his talent. Johnson is a toolsy AA outfielder, who will probably never reach base enough to be more than a 4th outfielder. Monasterio is 21-yo low-level infielder, who in a few years could be 24.

    • Dec. 13: Traded Edwin Encarnacion and a competitive balance pick to the Mariners, and Yandy Diaz and Cole Sulser to the Rays. Received Carlos Santana and $6M from the Mariners and Jake Bauers from the Rays.
    Impact on 2019 payroll: -$4.67M
    ... assuming they buyout Santana's option for 2021 now rather than Encarnacion's option for 2020, this commits the Indians to an additional $16.33M beyond 2019.
    This is the one thing Cleveland has done this off-season that I'm excited about. They managed to save money while replacing Encarnacion's bat with a very similar one in Santana, except Santana is still a useful 1B rather than simply a DH. Bauers, a top 50 prospect a year ago, will report to spring training with the opportunity to earn full-time at-bats, splitting 1B/DH duties with Santana. Yandy Diaz is a physical specimen who can get on base, but he's a liability anywhere on the field, and at age 27 it's questionable whether he's ever going to buy into the launch angle revolution to make use of his physical strength.

    • Dec. 15: Traded Yonder Alonso to the White Sox for Alex Call.
    Impact on 2019 payroll: -$8M

    This was a pure salary dump with a show of confidence in newly acquired Jake Bauers. It clears the way for Bauers to start and shows his future is most likely at 1B/DH rather than the outfield. No one in Cleveland is going to miss Alonso, who was unpopular with the fans from the day he signed as Santana's replacement. Call is a right fielder at AA whose only plus seems to be that everyone thinks he's gritty. He won't have a major league career to speak of.

    The Indians also made one noteworthy trade based strictly on talent and need:
    • Nov. 14: Traded Erik Gonzalez, Dante Mendoza and Tahnaj Thomas to the Pirates for Jordan Luplow and Max Moroff.
    The Indians traded their utility man here for a guy who will have an opportunity to win a spot in Cleveland's outfield in 2019. Gonzalez might be able to hold down a starting infield job, but he was blocked in Cleveland and lacks the plate discipline to be more than a placeholder. Luplow, 25, will need his power to translate to the majors to make it as a corner outfielder, but aside from switch-hitter Greg Allen, he's the only right-handed outfield bat on Cleveland's 40-man roster, so he's a good fit. He should platoon or ride the shuttle in 2019. Moroff is the leading utility infield candidate on the 40-man roster, but that's a minor role in Cleveland and he'll never be more than that.

    ...We're left guessing what the team is willing to spend in 2019, but it's been reported they went "overbudget" in 2018 with a payroll around $143M. The current roster projects to about $121M (with today's re-signing of Oliver Perez), but the team's championship window will probably expire after 2020, so if they aren't willing to spend now when will they? They've lost Brantley and Chisenhall in the outfield, and Miller and Allen from the bullpen, and have yet to sign any replacement to a major league contract.

    I'll try to look at the outfield situation yet this weekend.

  3. jon abbey

    jon abbey Shanghai Warrior Dope SoSH Member

    Awesome stuff, man, thanks.

    I have a question: Oliver Perez was so effective last year and somehow even better against righties, so with all the bullpen issues CLE had, why did he only face an average of around two batters per game?
  4. Ford Frick's Asterisk

    Ford Frick's Asterisk Member SoSH Member

    I really don't know, but I could see that role changing in 2019. In 4 of his first 8 appearances with Cleveland last year he went 1+ innings, but that may have simply been because they had few arms who could even get outs at that point. He only recorded 3+ outs in 25% of his games after that. Tyler Olson had been their LOOGY, but due to injury and ineffectiveness, he only made 20 appearances after Perez was acquired, and half those were after the roster expanded in September. If Olson can be an effective part of the pen again, it would make sense that Perez would be used based more on the situation than the matchup.

    Perez is a lot of fun to watch... like late career Luis Tiant or a more likable Pascual Perez... he seems to make up his pitches and deliveries as he goes along and clearly has a blast doing it. Since his delivery and release point is constantly changing, I would think that would lend to him being more than just a LOOGY. Of course, it could also mean that him finally discovering his control at age 36 isn't a repeatable skill.

  5. Ford Frick's Asterisk

    Ford Frick's Asterisk Member SoSH Member

    Cleveland's Outfield or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Derek Dietrich

    When your surest thing in the outfield is a guy who's less than six months removed from a close call with death, you might have some problems. We're three weeks away from position players reporting to spring training, and yet the only thing we know about the Indians outfield is that Leonys Martin will open the year as the starting center fielder... I think. Martin played six games for the team before a life-threatening bacterial infection ended his season. After that it gets complicated. The next best options in the outfield are also center fielders, light-hitting but speedy Greg Allen and injured former top prospect Bradley Zimmer. Here's a look at what they need to sort through in-house:

    40 Man Roster
    Leonys Martin
    Greg Allen
    Bradley Zimmer
    Tyler Naquin
    Jordan Luplow
    Oscar Mercado

    Jason Kipnis

    Non-Roster Spring Training Invitees
    Brandon Barnes
    Trayce Thompson
    Mike Papi
    Daniel Johnson

    We can dismiss the group of non-roster players right off the bat. Barnes is a "break in case of emergency" candidate. Thompson had a nice rookie month in 2015, but has hit .179/.249/.346 in 416 MLB at-bats since. Papi is organizational filler and Johnson is more than a year away.

    Mercado is an interesting candidate, not likely to help in the first half, but an under-the-radar trade acquisition last summer. He's a base-stealing threat and good defender, who has looked better as he's climbed the minors. Whether his bat can make one more step will determine whether he's ultimately a starter or fourth outfielder. It's a high floor, with a ceiling that reminds me of Coco Crisp (another minor league outfielder the Tribe acquired from St. Louis 16 years earlier). However, it's going to take me at least a year to stop calling him Orlando.

    Zimmer is the wildcard. He has 5-tool potential, but lost a crucial year in 2018 where he should have been establishing himself as a major leaguer. He struggled in Cleveland and demoted to AAA, where he soon aggravated a shoulder injury that likely originated with a collision with the wall in Yankee Stadium. The 8-12 month recovery time from labrum surgery means they weren't counting on Zimmer in the spring, but he's checking off the boxes for an early return and believes he'll get into spring training games. Zimmer is a potential gold glove in center but could fit in right field alongside Martin, perhaps as self-preservation.

    Naquin and Luplow would be a worst-case scenario platoon for right field, with Kipnis available for such a need in left if they find an infielder they prefer instead. I can't even guess what the outfield would look like if the season started today, because they simply can't enter the season with the current situation.

    Free Agent Outfielders
    Marwin Gonzalez
    Denard Span
    Curtis Granderson
    Derek Dietrick
    Adam Jones

    Gonzalez's agent certainly hit the publicity trail hard in November and has gone quiet since, but I assume he's waiting to sell himself as the best position player available after Machado and Harper sign, and won't drop down into Cleveland's market. Span and Granderson fit the mold of what Cleveland likes to sign to 1-year deals as the 4th outfielder (see Austin Jackson and Rajai Davis), but Greg Allen already fills that role for less.

    I haven't seen any recent rumors linking Dietrich to Cleveland, but it almost makes too much sense to not happen. He's the youngest (29) free agent outfielder available, a Cleveland native, and offers the positional flexibility the team covets. The Indians are no strangers to platooning in the outfield, and Dietrich can face right-handed pitching (career .258/.343/.432), filling Lonnie Chisenhall's vacated role, while Luplow (or Mercado) faces lefties. Dietrich isn't a good defender but has a season's worth of experience at each of LF, 2B and 3B, which would also make valuable on a team that has no established utility infielder. Since Jose Ramirez can play any of 3B, 2B and SS, their biggest need for depth on the infield is 3B. Dietrich's grandfather Steve Demeter even had 5 hitless at-bats for the 1960 Indians.

    I've never been an Adam Jones fan, but his recent willingness shift right field should make him more valuable than he was last season. There have been no reported negotiations between Jones and the Tribe, but like Dietrich, they were connected in trade talks last July. At that time I was dead set against a Jones acquisition, but given the current lack of alternatives, I'd now consider him a step up from the alternatives.

    Barring any additions through trade, I'd be satisfied with an outfield of Dietrich/Luplow-Martin-Jones with Greg Allen coming off the bench and Zimmer soon challenging the weakest link. Presuming they have around $20M available to spend, I'd think Dietrich and Jones should require little more than half that, possibly without being contractually obligated beyond 2019. That would also leave them with enough payroll space to comfortably add another bullpen arm or two and an experienced utility man.

  6. Ford Frick's Asterisk

    Ford Frick's Asterisk Member SoSH Member

    A couple things I missed or should clear up...

    Somehow I completely overlooked one trade:
    Jan. 6: Indians trade Sam Haggerty and Walker Lockett to the Mets for Kevin Plawecki
    Impact on 2019 payroll: +1.137M

    This is a nice addition to a team that lacks a catcher with the ability to reach base. True, Plawecki hasn't shown much aptitude for that through his first 700 MLB at-bats himself, but at least it's something he theoretically might accomplish yet. He's hit .296/.364/.451 over his minor league career, and he wouldn't be the first catcher to still be developing his offense at age 28. Roberto Perez will likely start the year getting the majority of the playing time based on his comfort with the pitching staff and defense, but he's never really hit at any level beyond rookie ball. Lockett was 7th or 8th on Cleveland's starting depth chart and had been in the organization less than 2 months. Haggerty is organizational filler.

    The payroll numbers I used were from b-ref since I was already looking up numbers there, but those are the highest reported. Other sites are projecting between $115.7M-$119M for the current roster. Management has stated that they can't match the $135M range they opened at last season. In short, I'm going to be disappointed with the starting outfield that opens the year, as even my idea of Adam Jones is probably a pipe dream. They're also going to take the slow hand approach again this year... rest easy that they'll win the AL Central based simply on having perhaps the four best starters in the division, and see what their priority acquisitions will be in July. Still, there's no justification for not adding someone like Dietrich plus a couple veterans to lengthen the pen or bench for a total of $6M-$7M.

    I never bought into the idea of trading Corey Kluber or Trevor Bauer this winter. It may have created more balance, but it's hard to believe a rookie outfielder would offset the drop off from Kluber/Bauer to Adam Plutko. It also would be a PR disaster for a team that struggles for attendance even when they're winning division titles. I am completely convinced though that this will be the final season in Cleveland for one of the two. If Shane Bieber continues developing in Cleveland and top prospect Triston McKenzie continues his development to where he's a viable major league option late this summer, someone will be departing in exchange for a major league ready outfielder. There's also the chance Danny Salazar (shoulder surgery) can return to the rotation by this summer, although I suspect any future of his is in the bullpen.

  7. Gdiguy

    Gdiguy Well-Known Member Silver Supporter SoSH Member

    Good luck with Plawecki - I always had hopes for him and he seems like a nice guy, but every time D'Arnaud would go down he'd get a chance to start and potentially win the position, and he'd promptly hit an empty .210.
  8. Ford Frick's Asterisk

    Ford Frick's Asterisk Member SoSH Member

    An empty .210 will certainly be a step up from Roberto Perez's offense, although it's a little disconcerting that Plawecki shows up 4th on Perez's similarity scores (Sandy Leon comes in a close 5th).

  9. Ford Frick's Asterisk

    Ford Frick's Asterisk Member SoSH Member

    I'd still like to see the Indians pick up another veteran righty for the bullpen, but they have enough quantity that I don't see them adding multiple MLB contracts.

    Brad Hand
    Oliver Perez
    Nick Goody
    Adam Cimber
    Neil Ramirez
    Tyler Olson
    Dan Otero

    That gives them enough warm bodies but involves a lot of praying someone will step up in the setup roles. I think a healthy Goody could do that, as he's looked great for a couple months at a time in the past. He missed the majority of 2018 due to arthroscopic elbow surgery but should be good to go out of the gate for 2019.

    If Olson can also maintain his health and effectiveness he reclaims the situational lefty role, and Oliver Perez will likely see extended usage where he faces more right-handed hitters. Cimber will probably never be more than a Steve Reed type situational righty, but pitching coach Carl Willis is going to have to rediscover the Cimber from San Diego, who struck out 26.6% of the batters he faced, instead of the guy in Cleveland who only struck out 7.6%.

    Neil Ramirez was impressive for stretches, but his home run rate also made him unusable for stretches. Considering that's been a career-long problem, I don't see him ever being a reliable setup man. Likewise, Otero's inability to keep the ball in the park nearly got him released in August when his 2019 contract was probably the biggest factor in keeping him over Zach McAllister.

    There are two non-roster invitees who could be in the mix for the opening day roster: Justin Grimm and James Hoyt. Personally, I don't see it with Grimm, who walks too many and has little success since his career year in 2015. Hoyt's stuff and story is at least interesting. He's an undrafted indy ball graduate, who made 65 appearances for the Astros over 2016-17 with mixed results. Cleveland acquired him for a minor league arm last summer when their bullpen was in shambles, but Hoyt himself only lasted 2 weeks in AAA before a knee injury ended his season. He gets a lot of swing-and-misses with his slider, which is his primary pitch, and then he'll use a mid-90s fastball as a secondary pitch. He might not open the season in Cleveland, but I'll be surprised if he isn't on the Columbus-Cleveland shuttle a few times this year. Brooks Pounders would be the one other guy with an outside shot.

    Similar to the Red Sox, the Indians are probably doing due diligence on the list of remaining relievers who can be plucked from the bargain bin, but with Hand, Perez and Olson already in-house, they can probably disregard the lefties. The resulting list would look something like:

    Nick Vincent
    Sergio Romo
    Tyler Clippard
    Tony Barnette
    Adam Warren
    John Axford
    Bud Norris
    Ryan Madson
    Alex Wilson
    Brad Boxberger

    If Barnette's shoulder is healthy, I think he's the most interesting name on the list, but considering the relief hungry Rangers didn't retain him, I have my doubts about that. Warren and Clippard seem the safest choices, although Clippard's home run rate seems a bit too familiar for Cleveland's bullpen. Been there, done that with Axford... no thanks.

  10. DeadlySplitter

    DeadlySplitter Member SoSH Member

  11. DeadlySplitter

    DeadlySplitter Member SoSH Member

  12. Ford Frick's Asterisk

    Ford Frick's Asterisk Member SoSH Member

    The Indians have continued to add candidates without adding any guaranteed contracts. At this point, it looks like Oliver Perez might be the biggest free agent signing of the offseason.

    That's not to say they haven't added anyone else of significance. Alex Wilson, who signed last week for the opportunity to earn $1.25M-$2M, seems like a roster lock. He could very well be their top right-handed reliever. Less than a week earlier, Cleveland had traded a 27-year-old AA reliever for Marlins reliever Nick Wittgren. This throws another fungible arm into the mix for the 6th/7th innings. Wittgren is the definition of mediocre (aside from his mustache, which is fabulous) but had a half-season of success last year. Aside from Brad Hand, Oliver Perez and Dan Otero, no one is a certainty in the pen, and Otero only holds that status because of his contract and service time. Neil Ramirez and Tyler Olson should be the most worried.

    Francisco Lindor is likely to miss a week or two to open the season, placing a bit more emphasis on the seeming afterthought of a utility infielder. The addition of Ryan Flaherty at least gives the team an experienced option. Prospect Yu Chang is the only candidate for the job who can play shortstop, but that's not necessary since Jose Ramirez is 2nd on the depth chart at short. Cleveland no doubt hopes Chang will seize the opportunity and get some regular playing time in April to preview his abilities. However, Max Moroff remains the top candidate to collect dust on the bench most of the summer if Flaherty looks finished.

    Cleveland did add a veteran left-handed bat to the outfield mix, but it wasn't my prediction of Derek Dietrich. Matt Joyce will have a chance to win a platoon job. Honestly, I don't see the point. He can't help out on the infield like Dietrich could and seems like a worse bet to beat out Tyler Naquin for the same outfield role.

    It seems they're also cornering the market on AAAA catchers. Yesterday they signed Tim Federowicz to a minor league deal, exactly one week after signing Dioner Navarro, who put up a .299 OBP for the Long Island Ducks last year. I assume the plan is to boost Roberto Perez's confidence by surrounding him with guys who are even worse. It's hard to imagine either of these two beat out Perez or Plawecki for a MLB job, and since Eric Haase will be the starter in AAA, at least one of them won't survive spring training.


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