CLEVELAND, Ohio — Not only do the Indians have 12 big-league free agents, but they have 13 free agents who hit the open market last week from their Class AAA Columbus affiliate. Three of them have ties to the Indians’ memorable run to Game 7 of the World Series in 2016.
Mike Napoli, Ryan Merritt and Michael Martinez were among the players who declared themselves free agents last week from the Columbus Clippers.
During the 2016 season, Napoli hit .239 and set career highs with 34 homers and 101 RBI to help drive the Indians to the first of three straight AL Central titles. Napoli hit just .173 (9-for-52) with one homer and three RBI in the postseason, but the Indians still managed to reach Game 7 of the World Series against the Cubs before losing in extra innings.
Napoli, after spending the 2017 season with Texas, was invited to spring training by the Indians this year. He agreed to open the season at Columbus, but injured his right knee chasing a foul ball at first base. Napoli, 37, needed surgery and did not play for the rest of the season.
Merritt pitched in four games for the Indians during the 2016 season, going 1-0 with a 1.64 ERA. He struck out six and didn’t walk a batter in 11 innings. But it was his performance in Game 5 of the ALCS against Toronto that endeared him to Indians’ fans.
The Indians had a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series, but their rotation was a mess. Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco were injured. Trevor Bauer, the little finger on his right hand gashed by a freak drone accident, didn’t get out of the first inning in Game 3 because his finger wouldn’t stop bleeding.
After the Blue Jays beat ace Corey Kluber in Game 4 to prevent a Tribe sweep, manager Terry Francona had no choice but to start Merritt. Since the end of that season, Merritt had been limited to throwing bullpen sessions and simulated games at the team’s spring training site in Goodyear, Ariz. to stay sharp. When Toronto’s Jose Bautista heard that the Indians were starting a rookie in Game 5, he told reporters, “He must be shaking in his boots.”
Merritt, with just one big-league start to his credit, pitched 4 1/3 scoreless innings before the bullpen took over in a 3-0 victory as the Indians advanced to the World Series.
This year Merritt, 26, came to spring training with knee and shoulder problems and never caught up. He was out of options and spent a good deal of the year on the disabled list. The left-hander went 3-3 with a 3.79 ERA in 15 games, including 13 starts, for Columbus. He struck out 52 and walked two in 71 1/3 innings.
Martinez, who missed this year with a torn Achilles tendon, spent parts of three years (2015-2017) in the big leagues with the Indians. Like Merritt, the switch-hitting Martinez, 36, earned a spot in Indians’ postseason history by making the last out of the World Series in the 10th inning of Game 7 in the a 8-7 loss to the the Cubs at Progressive Field.
Other players who filed for free agency included 2B Ordomar Valdez, RHP Mitch Talbot, INF Drew Maggi, OF Todd Hankins, 3B Joe Sever, RHP Josh Martin, RHP Myles Jaye, C Rob Brantley, LHP Adam Wilk and RHP Stephen Fife. Here’s a look at their numbers:
*Talbot, who pitched for the Tribe from 2010 through 2011, went 4-5 with a 2.52 ERA at Columbus.
*Maggi, suspended for the first 50 games of the season for a PED violation, hit .272 (63-for-232) while playing mostly second base at Columbus.
*Hankins, a 15th round pick in 2011, hit .273 (44-for-161) with one homer and nine RBI at Columbus.
*Martin, a 10th round pick in 2012, was 4-0 with a 2.91 ERA in 19 games.
*Sever, a 21st round pick in 2012, spent most of the year at Class AA Akron where he hit .262 (111-for-424) with seven homers and 57 RBI.
*Wilk went 6-9 with a 3.66 ERA in 27 starts at Columbus.
*Jaye went 2-5 with a 9.62 ERA in nine games, including five starts, at Columbus. He made five appearances with Detroit in 2017.
*Brantly appeared in just 15 games for Columbus, hitting .171 (7-for-41) with one homer and two RBI. He played in the big leagues with Miami and the White Sox.
*Fife went 5-7 with a 6.80 ERA in 20 games, including 17 starts, at Columbus. He appeared in parts of the 2012, 2013 and 2014 seasons.
*Valdez did not play this year.