ABOUT THE FUTURE
1. I’m not going to spend a lot of time digging into all the facts about the Tribe’s winter budget. That can lead to being swamped by numbers and missing the big point in the process.
2. The Indians have cut about $14 million from their 2019 payroll, especially by shipping out Edwin Encarnacion (Seattle), Yan Gomes (Washington) and Yonder Alonso (White Sox) in trades. You can even find up to $21 million in savings as the Tribe has allowed players such as Michael Brantley (Houston), Andrew Miller (St. Louis) and Lonnie Chisenhall (Pittsburgh) to sign elsewhere via free agency.
3. But the Indians are not going to take $14 million or $21 million or whatever big number you want to use and add it back into the payroll. Fans don’t want to hear how the Tribe has run up significant deficits in the last two seasons. I outlined that a few weeks ago.
4. You can argue they should continue to spend big with a middle-of-the-pack payroll while the attendance still remains in the bottom third of baseball. I’ll simply tell you the painful truth: It’s not going to happen this winter.
5. I’ve been told that by people who know. It’s what I heard not long after the playoffs ended abruptly with a sweep by Houston – and nothing has changed.
6. The more interesting question is, given payroll restraints, how does the team improve? Carlos Santana has offered to play left field, at least part time. Even if Santana does play the outfield, it’s still a sorry situation compared to most teams.
7. Right field would be a platoon of Jordan Luplow and Tyler Naquin. Center field has Greg Allen and Leonys Martin. Left field would be Santana and….well… newly acquired Jake Bauers can play left.
8. A big setback was when Bradley Zimmer suffered a major shoulder injury last season and had surgery. It’s not clear if Zimmer will be ready for opening day. He is recovering, but his surgery was serious. Zimmer was an excellent prospect in center before he was hurt.
9. It’s obvious the Indians need a real big league outfielder. They are not going to sign a free agent who fits that job description. That’s why the trade rumors involving starters Corey Kluber and Trevor Bauer will continue.
10. Right now, the Indians supposedly are less inclined to deal one of their starters. Perhaps that is the message they are sending other teams. But the Indians know the lineup has to be improved. They know a deal for Kluber or Bauer could be a season-changing move for the team that acquires of a pitcher of their magnitude.
11. The Indians want a lot for either starter. They want someone who can help now – and top prospects. Kluber is signed for three years. Bauer is under club control for two more years. Both are “bargains” by the inflated price of prime starting pitching.
12. The front office of Chris Antonetti and Mike Chernoff has made bold moves before. They also make surprise moves. Did anyone see a deal that led to Encarnacion leaving and Santana returning? It was no secret the Indians were marketing Encarnacion and his $25 million salary. But Santana’s return was a surprise.
13. The Indians will probably wait as free agent pitchers Dallas Keuchel, Gio Gonzalez and Derek Holland eventually sign with teams. Those who fail to add a prominent starter in free agency will then be in the market for a trade. That’s why I don’t believe the Indians will enter spring training without having made one more big move.
ABOUT SHANE BIEBER & MIKE CLEVINGER
1. The Indians are able to trade a starter because they have young starting pitching on the roster. It starts with Mike Clevinger, who has a 25-14 record and a 3.06 ERA over the last two seasons. Clevinger has been terrific the last two years. He’s 28, and he’s still a year away from arbitration.
2. The Indians have Clevinger under control for four more seasons. He would seem to be an excellent candidate to sign a contract extension. The Indians don’t work on those deals until spring training.
3. Clevinger is represented by the same agency (ACES) as Carlos Carrasco, who recently signed a 2-year extension. Carrasco (17-10, 3.38 ERA) is under team control through 2022 and the Tribe has a $14 million option on him for 2023. So the Indians have a good relationship with the agency. Clevinger should be open to a deal.
4. The Indians will have either Bauer or Kluber (if there is a trade) along with Carrasco and Clevinger at the top of the rotation. The Indians believe Shane Bieber is ready to make a major impact.
5. The 23-year-old Bieber bolted to the majors despite only 50 minor league starts – eight in Class AAA. He was 11-5 with a 4.55 ERA. He had 118 strikeouts in 115 innings. He walked only 23 in 20 starts.
6. Bieber has a Kluber-like work ethic and focus. That’s one of the reasons the Tribe is so excited about seeing him for a full year in the rotation. He needs to develop a changeup, which will help him against lefties (batted .316 vs. Bieber).
7. So the rotation right now has Kluber/Bauer/Carrasco/Clevinger/Bieber. It remains one of the best in baseball.
8. The Indians also have Cody Anderson fully healthy after Tommy John elbow surgery. Anderson was 7-3 with a 3.05 ERA on 2015. Then he developed arm problems. The Tribe will train Anderson as a starter in Goodyear, but he could end up being an important part of the bullpen.
9. The Tribe also has 27-year-old Adam Plutko, who was 4-5 with a 5.28 ERA as a spot starter in 2018. He was up and down, but showed some promise. Top prospect Triston McKenzie was 7-4 with a 2.68 ERA at Class AA Akron in 2018. He’ll open the season at Class AAA, but he could advance quickly – much like Bieber did in 2018. McKenzie is only 21 years old.
10. I spent time going through the rotation to highlight the depth – and why I think trading a starter is a real possibility. The rotation is why the Indians probably will be in the 2019 playoffs. Few teams have this kind of starting pitching.
11. You don’t see Danny Salazar mentioned because he’s still coming back slowly from shoulder surgery. I see no reason to even write his name in pencil until he begins pitching in games. He has had so many stalled comebacks in the last few years.