The dreaded upcoming winter for Cleveland Indians fans looms closer and closer. Perhaps it’s a bit premature to throw negative adjectives around it. However, one appropriate adjective to describe what the 2021 Indians will look like in comparison to the 2020 squad is “different”. Well, at least according to Senior Vice President of Public Affairs Bob DiBiasio.
Why Will It Be Different?
The bulk of the turnover with this team will likely reside with the infield. Of course, shortstop Francisco Lindor is at the forefront of this conversation, but let’s start elsewhere. Take a look at Carlos Santana. The switch-hitting first baseman had a career year in 2019 after spending a year away with the Philadelphia Phillies. Those who watched the Tribe in 2020 know that this past campaign was nothing close to what 2019 was for Carlos.
It certainly didn’t aid the offensive woes this team faced, and now the front office has a decision to make. He has a $17.5 million team option for 2021. This is all too familiar to a situation they faced after the 2018 season with Michael Brantley. The roster was starting to go through changes, and the Indians had a $17.9 million team option with Brantley. As we know, the Indians didn’t pick it up, and Brantley now plays in Houston. I would expect similar results with Santana given the size of the option.
To his right is Cesar Hernandez, who the Indians signed to a one-year deal last winter. Chris Antonetti and friends banked on him being an upgrade over Jason Kipnis last year, and it worked. The problem, however, is that it might have worked too well. His previous deal was worth just over $6 million, and I would expect a similar yearly figure again for Hernandez.
The Indians feel they have younger infield depth that will allow for some shuffling. Third baseman Nolan Jones is their top prospect and is likely to hit the majors in 2021. They will look to make him an everyday player at some point which will slide Jose Ramirez to second. While Hernandez was good in 2020, signing him to a new deal just to sit on the bench as a utility player doesn’t fit the typical gameplan of the front office.
Jose Ramirez is secured until a team option arrives in 2022. So, we’ll move right past him.
That brings us to Lindor. The Indians have a weirdly unique strategy that allows them to rebuild and compete at the same time. They dealt Trevor Bauer, Corey Kluber, and Mike Clevinger all within 12 months of each other. That’s crippling for most organizations and a series of moves that would lead you to believe the Indians were waving the white flag for a few seasons. That’s not the case. Instead, they insist on getting returns that consist of both prospects and MLB-ready talent. Recent moves with the Padres, for example, speak largely to that.
Reading through social media and Indians-fan sites, the overwhelming thought is that Frankie is dealt this offseason. The return, of course, remains the big question. There are a million and one articles out there dedicated to sifting through trade options. That’s not the focus here.
The important thing to note here is that his trade (if it happens) is one that the Indians’ front office can’t screw up. Despite some struggles in 2020, he is still a generational talent. There are plenty of organizations that will be willing to pay him a pretty penny. If it isn’t going to be Cleveland, they better make sure to get a king’s ransom in return.
Out of Hand
It felt like his collapse against the Yankees in Game 2 all but sealed the fate of Brad Hand’s career in Cleveland. He has a $10 million team option for 2021, and the assumption is that the Indians will decline. He was tremendous throughout last season, finishing the year as the AL leader in saves. Just as smartphones have an app for everything, the Indians have a prospect behind everyone. Baseball fans saw Hand’s replacement in the form of James Karinchak.
Karinchak likes to rack up those strikeout numbers. He was hit around a bit in the postseason, but the Indians still feel good about what they have. He’s a fan favorite too, as his charisma on the mound draws comparisons to Charlie Sheen’s Rick Vaughn character in Major League.
The outfield, which is far and away, the least consistent aspect of this team in recent years, will see its annual turnover as well. They have tried and failed with names like Domingo Santana, Carlos Gonzalez, Rajai Davis, etc. Nothing has presented itself as a long-term solution. But, there is some hope.
Oscar Mercado was horrendous this past season, no doubt about it. Whatever his issue was, he’ll need to fix it in a hurry to earn a roster spot next Opening Day. Franmil Reyes started slow but showed he can be a menace at the plate when he’s on a roll, a rare positive sign for the outfield. Delino DeShields and Tyler Naquin both face arbitration, meh. Josh Naylor didn’t quite have the impact in the regular season that Indians fans wanted but boy was he on fire against the Yankees. He needs to do more of that in 2021. Maybe Daniel Johnson takes a step forward this winter as well. There are more question marks than answers with the outfield, and that’s troubling. It’s been an area that’s lacked consistency in Cleveland for years, and I’m not sure that changes going into next season.
Once again, the Indians will likely be heavily reliant upon starting pitching for another campaign. That’s not a bad thing, as Cleveland has plenty of it with guys like Shane Bieber, Carlos Carrasco, Zach Plesac, Aaron Civale, and Triston McKenzie.
You need to score to win, though, as the Tribe found out against New York. With the kind of change this team is facing in the colder months, an offensive jump just seems improbable.
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