The Cleveland Indians have some huge holes to fill in their outfield this offseason. How will they address those holes and who will fill them?
One glaring need for the Cleveland Indians this winter is addressing the holes in the outfield.
There is no question that the Indians need to make major improvements to their outfield, and with the almost certain loss of Michael Brantley and probable loss of Lonnie Chisenhall, Cleveland’s outfield situation is looking dire.
At present the Cleveland squad would head into next year with Greg Allen, Jason Kipnis, Bradley Zimmer (if healthy), Tyler Naquin (if healthy) and Leonys Martin patrolling the grass. Not exactly a murderers row.
The Tribe outfielders ranked 17th in the Majors last season with 5.6 fWAR and 21st with a 94 wRC+. If you are not familiar with wRC+ (Weighted Runs Created Plus) it is an advancement of Bill James’ Runs Created.
wRC+ evaluates every possible outcome for a hitter and then factors in things like park factor and run scoring environment, giving us a number that compares to the league average. A wRC+ of 100 is league average and anything above or below is a percentage of league average. In this case, the Indians’ 94 wRC+ is six percent worse than league average.
One particularly poor area for the Cleveland outfielders is their wRAA or Weighted Runs Above Average. This is similar to wRC+ but shows us a number in terms of runs rather than percentages. The Tribe ranked 20th in MLB with -7.4 wRAA. Incidentally the top four teams in this category were the Red Sox, Dodgers, Brewers and Yankees.
Coming off a payroll of $123.6 million ($142.8 million when you include incentives, bonuses, etc) according to spotrac.com, the Tribe doesn’t have much room to make a big splash in free agency. Most of the players they sign will be depth pieces, but that doesn’t mean that there are no diamonds in the rough that can help the team in 2019.
Rajai Davis, Austin Jackson and Melky Cabrera have all contributed to the success of the last few seasons. So let’s first look at some free agents that might be affordable and could help the team down the line.
Craig Gentry is a versatile outfielder that can play all three positions. He appeared in 68 games last season for the Orioles hitting .269/.321/.346 with 12 stolen bases in 15 attempts. He’s a light hitter but is solid defensively at all three positions and has very good baserunning ability.
Carlos Gomez is looking to bounce back after a terrible 2018 campaign that saw his power (.128 ISO) drop to its lowest since 2010. He’s just one season removed from a 107 wRC+ so a bounce back isn’t out of the question.
His OBP was 90 points above his batting average and he’s lead the league in HBP the last two seasons, and we all know how much the Indians love guys that get on base. He has experience at all three outfield positions as well, and versatility will be a key for this team.
Matt Joyce could be a cheap comeback option for the Tribe. He’s another guy coming off a down year (0.2 fWAR) but he’s been very productive throughout his career. Even with last season’s woes he still walked a very nice 14.2 percent of the time, ranking 4th among all AL outfielders with at least 200 PA.
Nearly all of his experience has been at the corner spots. One downside to Joyce is that the Indians already have a wealth of left-handed hitters in the outfield and may want to seek a right-handed platoon option.
Gregor Blanco is another versatile outfielder that has the upside of a career 10.8 percent walk rate. He’s another bounce back player which, if you haven’t noticed, is kind of a theme here. Like Joyce, Blanco bats from the left side.
Matt Holliday is an unlikely candidate but one worthy of note. The Tribe does have a track record for signing former stars at the end of their career (see Jason Giambi). The 38-year-old Holliday appeared in just 25 games for the Rockies last year but hit a healthy .283/.415/.434 in 65 PA. He doesn’t have the versatility of the other candidates but if he can keep up those numbers he would be a very welcome addition to Progressive Field. It’s fun to dream anyway.
The Indians are not going to make a big splash in free agency, they just don’t have the money this season to pull off a big signing. They will make depth moves, sign fringe players to minor league deals and look for the big comeback, and that’s ok. If you hit on a longshot, it’s a home run.
Cleveland does have the assets to make a trade, but I don’t see that at a smart option at this point. With a lot of their young stars likely to move in 2-3 seasons, the Indians are going to need those assets to rebuild their roster.
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