CLEVELAND, Ohio — As manager Terry Francona said at the winter meetings in December, the Indians still have work to do before opening the regular season.
In the outfield they’ve lost Michael Brantley, Brandon Guyer, Rajai Davis and Melky Cabrera to free agency. Guyer and Cabrera are still unsigned.
At catcher, the Indians traded starter Yan Gomes to Washington for three young players who aren’t expect to impact the big-league club in 2019.
If the Indians traded a starting pitcher such as Corey Kluber or Trevor Bauer, the return would help them fill the outfield and catching holes. But following the trades of Gomes, Edwin Encarnacion, Yandy Diaz and Yonder Alonso they have conceivably saved enough money where they could keep the rotation intact.
If that is the path they take, the only way to improve the roster would be through free agency or secondary trades.
As the first week of January draws to a close, the Indians really don’t have a proven everyday outfielder or catcher. Seven outfielders, including spring training invitees Brandon Barnes and Trayce Thompson, are headed for spring training. That does not include swingmen Jake Bauers or Jason Kipnis, who are expected to spend most of their time in the infield.
Roberto Perez figures to replace Gomes behind the plate with rookie Eric Haase behind him. Perez basically shared the job with Gomes since 2014, but in doing so he’s never played more than 73 games in a season.
Outfielders on the 40-man roster include Greg Allen, Jordan Luplow, Leonys Martin, Oscar Mercado, Tyler Naquin and Bradley Zimmer, who won’t be ready for opening day as he recovers from shoulder surgery.
There are still several free agent outfielders available, but the Indians can’t afford to play at the top of the list where Marwin Gonzalez, A.J. Pollock and Nick Markakis reside. But perhaps Robbie Grossman, Avisail Garcia, Hunter Pence (on a minor-league deal) or Derek Dietrich make sense.
Catching wise Yasmani Grandal is out of the Indians’ price range. But there could be a place for A.J. Ellis, Drew Butera or Caleb Joseph.
Baseball is slogging its way through another slow free-agent winter. The Indians have always been patient in these situations and it could work to their advantage.