ABOUT MICHAEL BRANTLEY & YANDY DIAZ
For a variety of reasons, the Indians are going to have a different looking team next season:
1. Michael Brantley is a free agent. The Indians have to decide if they want to extend him a qualifying offer of $18 million. If they do that, they’ll receive a draft pick as compensation if Brantley signs with another team.
2. The Indians also have to be prepared for Brantley to possibly accept the $18 million — a $6 million raise from his $12 million salary in 2018.
3. The 32-year-old Brantley batted .309 (.832 OPS) with 17 HR and 76 RBI. I’ve heard whispers of Brantley being in line for a 3-year deal in the $45 million range from some team. Given Brantley’s injury history (major ankle and shoulder surgeries), he should pursue a long-term deal. It’s doubtful it will come from the Tribe.
4. My best guess is the replacement for Brantley in left field will be…Jason Kipnis. Fans say, “Trade him.” The Indians will probably try to do just that. But Kipnis is due $14.7 million in 2019. He has a $2.5 million buyout In 2020.
5. In the last two years, Kipnis has batted .231 (.705 OPS), averaging 15 HR and 55 RBI. He was hurt in part of 2017. Healthy in 2018, he still batted .230, but showed some power with 18 HR and 75 RBI. He can probably do a decent job defensively in left field.
6. Kipnis to left field opens up third base for Yandy Diaz. Finally, the Indians seem prepared to give him a chance to be a regular. Kipnis to left, Diaz to third is not being discussed publicly by the Tribe. But I do know it’s under serious consideration.
7. Since the 2017 All-Star break, Diaz is batting .312 (62-for-201) with 1 HR, 15 RBI and a .797 OPS. He is respectable at third base. The 27-year-old Diaz is a career .319 hitter (.848 OPS) in Class AAA. Just play him.
8. Assuming my theory is correct, that means Jose Ramirez plays second base. Francisco Lindor stays at shortstop. Yonder Alonso is at first base.
9. Some fans want the Tribe to re-sign Josh Donaldson. His calf injuries are scary. The Indians saw Lonnie Chisenhall deal with that for the last two years. It makes more sense (and saves a lot of money) to put Diaz at third and leave him alone.
10. He became the forgotten man because of his life-threatening bacterial infection in early August, but Leonys Martin could be a factor in center field. As of now, he is considered healthy. The 30-year-old wants to keep playing. He is an excellent center fielder. He is mostly a platoon player, batting .279 vs. righties as opposed to .176 vs. lefties.
11. Martin made $1.75 million. He is eligible for arbitration. I hope the Indians can work a reasonable 1-year deal. If healthy, he can platoon with Greg Allen in center field. Allen is a switch hitter. He batted .257 (.554 OPS) with 2 HR and 20 RBI last season. After the All-Star break, the rookie batted .310 (.784 OPS).
12. What about Bradley Zimmer? He was the opening day center fielder in 2018. He had major shoulder surgery on July 22. He was projected to be out 8 to 12 months. He is making progress, but shoulder injuries are tricky and scary. Remember what Brantley endured in 2016 and 2017. Hard to put him in the picture right now.
13. Outfield free agents: Brantley, Chisenhall, Rajai Davis and Melky Cabrera. Brandon Guyer has a $3 million club option. I doubt the Indians will keep Guyer, after he batted .206 (.671 OPS) with 7 HR and 27 RBI.
14. Who plays right field? At the moment, the best bet is Tyler Naquin. He has recovered well from his hip surgery on July 26. He batted .264 (.651 OPS) with 3 HR and 23 RBI in 174 at bats. Naquin had hip problems earlier in his career. The surgery should fix that. He was playing games against young prospects in Goodyear as the playoffs ended. His prognosis is good.
15. An outfield prospect is Oscar Mercado, acquired from St. Louis at the end of July. He batted .278 (.738 OPS) with 8 HR, 47 RBI and 37 stolen bases in Class AAA last season. He’s 23 and could be a factor later in the 2019 season.
16. I doubt the Indians will open the season with a starting outfield of Kipnis (LF), Martin/Allen (CF) and Naquin (RF). They will add some players. The outfield screams for help via a trade. The Indians are not going to spend much money on free agents, it’s futile to discuss that possibility.
17. But I do expect Kipnis to be in the outfield, Ramirez at second and Diaz at third.
ABOUT TERRY FRANCONA
I received this email from a guy named Terry…no, not me!
“Terry, Do you think Terry Francona should stay? He lost the last 3 (playoff) games in last 3 years. Great pitching, bad managing. Tribe needs young aggressive manager like (Alex) Cora.
“I’d hire Omar Vizquel! Would not be boring and be a good in-game manager. Francona over the hill…out of shape…no energy!!”
Where to begin?
1. Maybe Omar Vizquel will be a good manager. Or maybe not. He was a great shortstop and received my Hall of Fame vote. He is one of my all-time favorite Indians. After he retired, he was a first base coach from 2013-17 for the Tigers.
2. Last season, he managed at Class A Winston-Salem and was the Carolina League Manager of the Year as his team had an 85-54 record. His roster was loaded with top prospects, but he did the job well.
3. He is on the road to becoming a big league manager. He did interview for the Angels job, but reportedly was told he is no longer a candidate.
4. I’ve received a few emails from frustrated fans wanting to replace Francona. Fire the guy who has had six consecutive winning seasons…four playoff berths…one World Series…IN CLEVELAND?
5. In Francona’s six seasons, the Indians have a .542 winning percentage…best in the American League over that span.
6. The previous four seasons (2009-12) before Francona arrived, the Tribe’s average record was 70-92. As Tribe President Chris Antonetti said at the postseason press conference, the team has to take the long view – and not just react to playing poorly against Houston.
7. Francona has delivered winning, contending baseball with a team that has not been higher than 16th out of 30 teams in payroll — and that was this year. Most years, the Tribe was in the bottom 30 percent in payroll.
8. One of the reasons the Indians are contenders in a small market is their stability in the front office and with the manager. It’s a competitive advantage, assuming the key people continue working well together.
9. Some fans have wondered about Francona’s stance of no changes to the coaching staff. That has some fans angry. Ike emailed: “My friend, summa cum laude from CWRU, watched almost all the games and he agrees with me that the hitting coach job should go to someone else.”
10. The Indians changed bullpen and pitching coaches last season. The pitching coach move was forced on them when Mickey Callaway was hired to manage the Mets. Carl Willis is a solid pitching coach, but I thought Callaway was fabulous — and missed.
11. Callaway is still the Mets manager. The team is coming off a dismal season and is looking to hire a new general manager. After that happens, then Callaway’s future will be discussed.
12. Scott Atchison replaced Jason Bere as bullpen coach. I don’t know how much (if any) of the bullpen’s struggles had to do with the change of coaches.
13. Some fans fans want to change hitting coaches. Batting .144 in the 3-game sweep by Houston has fans angry. In the regular season, the Indians ranked No. 3 in runs scored. They were ahead of Houston. They only trailed Boston and New York.
14. In 2017, the Indians were No. 6 in runs scored. In 2016, they were No. 2. So they have ranked high in the last three seasons. Francona said changing hitting coaches would be “reactionary.”
15. My guess is most coaching staffs should probably make a change nearly every year, partly because good people become available when they are fired elsewhere. But the core people with the Indians deserve to stay in place.