After coming off of a 102 win season, The Cleveland Indians were expected to come out of the gate in 2018 with a bit of a chip on their shoulder after a first-round playoff loss to New York. Unfortunately, during one of the biggest weeks of player transactions, Cleveland had a rough week at the Winter Meetings in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.
Tuesday, Cleveland lost free agent setup man Bryan Shaw to the Rockies on a three-year deal. Next, on Wednesday, they lost free agent reliever Joe Smith to the Astros on a two-year deal. Then, on the same day, they traded bullpen arm, Shawn Armstrong to the Mariners for $500,000 in international bonus pool money. Finally, on Friday, we learned that longtime Indian and first baseman, Carlos Santana signed with the Philadelphia Phillies.
Within the last month, Cleveland also lost lefty reliever Kyle Crockett and Right-hander Dylan Baker to the Reds and Brewers (respectively).
Although Cleveland made some news on Friday morning as they signed Melvin Upton to a minor league deal, Cleveland has not signed any players to their major league roster this offseason.
One could suspect that the departure of arguably Cleveland’s best pitching coach in their 117-year history may have helped some pitchers and maybe some position players to move on more easily.
So, now what? Here are the situations that Cleveland faces.
As we know, Cleveland has a vacancy at first base, a small hole in its bullpen and a bunch of question marks with where position players will play.
Francisco Mejia, the tribes top prospect, recently changed his number to 17 which was Terry Francona’s number. One may argue by saying, “What’s the big deal with that?” It could very well be nothing, or could it foreshadow his presence on the big league roster in 2018. There was some talk about him moving to third base as Cleveland wanted Mejia to try third base during the Arizona Fall League. With Yan Gomes and Roberto Perez locked into the catching duties and with Giovanny Urshela and Yandy Diaz having a rough time adjusting to the big leagues at third base, could we see the young, switch-hitting prospect at the hot corner?
The infield really has only one certainty. Francisco Lindor will be the Indians shortstop. After that, does Jose Ramirez play second or third base? Where does Jason Kipnis play? Is Kipnis in the infield or the outfield? Who will play first base?
Edwin Encarnacion could play first, though, he is not really known for his glove. Lonnie Chisenhall has some experience at first base, but then who plays right field? There was some talk about Michael Brantley moving from left field to first base to ease Brantley’s potential injury risk, but just like Chisenhall’s case, who plays left field? Plus that still leaves Kipnis as a defensive question mark. Why move one player to first to reduce injury risk if both players are fighting injuries? Both Kipnis and Brantley played 90 games each in 2017.
Does Kipnis play left field and Brantley move to first? That doesn’t seem intelligent to move two players. It seems more logical to keep one player in his normal position (Brantley in left), after all, our OF options are good, but slim.
Maybe Cleveland tries Kipnis at first base? If you have Kipnis at first, and Mejia plays third. You would have an infield of Mejia, Lindor, Ramirez and Kipnis (third base to first base). That allows Brantley to stay in left, Bradley Zimmer to man center field and Chisenhall to stay in right field. This feels more natural. You could then keep Encarnacion as the DH, Brandon Guyer as the fourth outfielder and either Urshela, Diaz or Erik Gonzalez as the utility infielder. Tyler Naquin or Abraham Almonte could be options for the roster as well, though Cleveland only has one pure right-handed hitting outfielder in Guyer.
With all that being said, let’s look at the positives for Cleveland.
The Tigers and the White Sox are in a clear rebuilding phase. Kansas City might be losing many of their 2015 World Series core and looks to be rebuilding as well. Cleveland appears to be entering 2018 at the top of the division in a race with Minnesota. Though the White Sox appear to be the dark horse in the division this year, Cleveland appears to be the overwhelming favorite to win their third consecutive central division crown.
As per the Collective Bargaining Agreement, Santana signing with Philadelphia for an amount above $50 million after rejecting a qualifying offer allows Cleveland to receive a draft pick in the Competitive Balance Round A of the 2018 MLB Draft in June. This is the round between the first and second round.
Cleveland’s phenomenal rotation actually gets a boost (if that’s even possible) for 2018 as their depth becomes stronger. Cody Anderson will return to the mound as Tommy John surgery ended his 2017 campaign before it even started. This gives Cleveland eight legitimate starters in two time Cy Young winner, Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Danny Salazar, Trevor Bauer, Josh Tomlin, Mike Clevinger, Ryan Merritt and Anderson. All eight have major league experience.
Although the bullpen depth took a hit, the back end of the bullpen remains strong with Cody Allen and Andrew Miller returning. Dan Otero could probably move to a setup role along with Tyler Olson and Nick Goody. Being realistic, with Cleveland’s starting rotation as strong as it is, a deep bullpen isn’t really a necessity as much as it is a luxury.
Assuming everyone is healthy, and it appears only Guyer may not be ready for opening day, Cleveland still has a very good starting lineup. Lindor (SS), Brantley (LF), Ramirez (2B), Encarnacion (DH), Kipnis (1B), Mejia (3B), Chisenhall (RF), Gomes/Perez (C) and Zimmer (CF) could be your starting lineup. There are many good hitters and a good balance of left/right/switch and a good balance of speed/power/contact.