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What’s Going On With the Cleveland Indians’ Outfield?

The six outfielders currently on the Cleveland Indians’ 40-man major league roster combined to hit 12 home runs for the Indians last season. That’s five fewer than Michael Brantley hit by himself. None of those five outfielders hit more than three home runs for the Indians last season.

All of which raises the question: what’s going on with the Indians’ outfield?

The six outfielders currently on the Indians’ 40-man roster had a combined 2018 salary of $3,956,000. That’s about $7.5 million less than the $11.5 million the Indians paid Brantley.

All of which repeats the question: what’s going on with the Indians’ outfield?

Brantley is a free agent and the Indians declined to make him a qualifying offer, which virtually guarantees he’ll be playing elsewhere in 2019.

With Brantley’s departure, we won’t say that the Indians’ outfield cupboard is bare. But we will say that there is plenty of room in the cupboard. Here, listed alphabetically, are the six outfielders currently on the Indians’ 40-man major league roster: Greg Allen, Jordan Luplow, Leonys Martin, Oscar Mercado, Tyler Naquin and Bradley Zimmer.

Mercado has never appeared in a major league game. Among the other five, only Martin has played a full season as an everyday outfielder. In 2018, Allen, Luplow, Naquin and Zimmer combined for 637 major- league at bats. That’s only 67 more than Brantley had by himself.

Fortunately for the Indians, Opening Day is still four months away. Unfortunately for the Indians, they have a lot of work to do to fortify an outfield that is shockingly thin, especially given the fact that Martin, Zimmer and Naquin all missed large chunks of the 2018 season due to illness and injuries.

Zimmer isn’t even expected to be ready to play by Opening Day in 2019. He had shoulder surgery in July that was expected to sideline him for eight to 12 months. Naquin missed the second half of the 2018 season due to hip and back problems.

Martin, meanwhile, almost died. The 30-year-old veteran was acquired by the Indians in a July 31st trade with Detroit. But he only played six games for Cleveland before contracting a serious life-threatening bacterial infection that ended his season.

The Indians did get some good news about Martin on Tuesday. The ballclub announced that Martin underwent some follow-up testing with doctors at the Cleveland Clinic, and was given full clearance to resume all activity. Martin will begin an unrestricted strength and conditioning program, and is expected to be ready for full baseball activity by the start of the 2019 season.

Whether Martin is on the Opening Day roster remains to be seen. Zimmer will not be, and Mercado’s next major league at bat will be his first. All of that points to outfield as the Indians’ No.1 roster priority as the winter meetings approach.

In addition to Brantley, four other Indians outfielders from 2018 are now free agents: Melky Cabrera, Lonnie Chisenhall, Rajai Davis and Brandon Guyer. The club declined the $3 million club option on Guyer’s contract, making him a free agent. Theoretically any one of those four players could be re-signed by the Indians at some point during the winter, if the ballclub is unable to upgrade its outfield inventory.

With the exception of Mercado, none of the Indians’ top minor league prospects are outfielders who are ready to make the jump to the majors. Mercado, who will turn 24 next month, was a second-round pick by the Cardinals in the 2013 draft. He was acquired by the Indians in a July 31 trade. In a combined 485 Triple-A at bats in the St. Louis and Cleveland organizations, the right-handed hitting Mercado had a slash line of .278/.349/.390. He hit eight home runs with 47 RBIs and 37 stolen bases.

So, the Indians do have some outfield options, but none of them are the kind of sluggers that scare opposing pitchers. That should scare Indians officials, who will clearly have to shop judiciously in hopes of acquiring an impact outfield bat through a trade or free agent signing.

The Indians are not expected to be players for the big-ticket free agent outfielders, but one candidate who seems like he could be a good fit, both artistically and economically, is 32-year-old veteran Andrew McCutchen.

A five-time All-Star and National League Most Valuable Player for the Pirates in 2013, McCutchen was traded to the Giants last winter. The Giants traded him to the Yankees in August. In a combined 569 at bats with San Francisco and New York McCutchen had a slash line of .255/.368/424, with 20 home runs and 65 RBIs.

Indians center fielder Bradley Zimmer, whose fearless play has led to some injuries, is one of six outfielders on Cleveland’s major league roster that could use an impact outfield bat. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

Indians officials would probably prefer a right-handed hitting outfielder, which McCutchen is, but they are not going to turn down calls from any teams shopping an outfielder.

 

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