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Who might not be back with the Indians: While We’re Waiting

Carlos Santana Home Run
The Associated Press

I’m not ready to talk about it. I’m not ready to talk about 2017 and how wonderful the entire season was; until it wasn’t. I’m not ready to dissect why the Cleveland Indians are always the drunk uncle at the wedding reception, who never has a graceful exit- instead being drug off the dance floor as half the people around are full-on embarrassed about how the night ended. If you need to read about the 2017 ALDS in order to help cope, then WFNY has you covered by Craig Lyndall, TD Dery, and Corey Barnes. Just don’t ask me to do it yet because I cannot find words to explain how the Indians became the first ever team in MLB history to lose three straight “move-on” games in consecutive seasons. But hey, I’m not breaking down and writing historical fiction blending the constructs first utilized by Ray Bradbury, so progress?

In order to not look backwards, here is an early peek ahead at the list of players the Indians must make decisions upon in the offseason. The somewhat silver lining is the Tribe has a few extra weeks now to discuss possible new contracts or extensions with players that are no longer consumed by October baseball.

Unrestricted Free Agent

Carlos Santana

It is not hyperbole to call Carlos Santana the most important Indians free agent since Jim Thome walked to the Philadelphia Phillies after pronouncing things about needing to tear the jersey off of his back. Most other prominent players between 2001 and this offseason- such as Bartolo Colon, CC Sabathia, Victor Martinez, and Cliff Lee- have been traded ahead of reaching the open market. The combination of the Tribe’s contention bid alongside the existence of the Qualifying Offer have allowed the team to make this gambit with the ever-valuable Santana.1

Santana adding gold glove quality first base play to his .259/.365/.477 slash the past two seasons with over 60 extra base hits in each, while also being a consistent 3.0 to 4.0 bWAR player over the past seven seasons2 means if the team needs to focus on any singular player this offseason, the player should be Santana. Other teams know his value as well though, so he will not be an inexpensive retention.

Bryan Shaw

The most difficult player to retain this offseason might be Bryan Shaw even though many Indian fans were waiting for the Vinnie Pestano fall-off, which never happened. His value will be higher on teams who would utilize his large-innings relief arm in the higher leverage positions as the setup or closer. There is likely to be a big market who sees his consistent 75 innings per season and that 2017 was arguably a career-year for the reliever and decides to give him big money. Remember, even the Tribe gave Boone Logan seven million dollars to be their LOOGY. The trick for the Tribe will be to replace his innings with someone manager Terry Francona can trust so that Andrew Miller and Cody Allen do not need to add more to their load in 2018.3

Jay Bruce

Jay Bruce was fantastic in his limited stint for the Indians. He provided power, decent defense, and the always-praised veteran presence in the clubhouse- all while Lonnie Chisenhall and Michael Brantley were down with injuries making the outfield addition even more necessary. Unless he really loved the Francona clubhouse though, expect his stay with the Tribe to be complete. He’ll garner attention on the free agent market, and the Indians have bigger needs for their limited budget than supplementing an outfield with a bunch of young players coming up through the system. Such is life with a small market club.

Joe Smith

: Most reunions wind up being disappointing affairs where more time is spent lamenting lost memories than creating new ones. The case of Joe Smith demonstrated it need not be the case as his small sample size with the Tribe was fantastic. If the Indians do lose Shaw on the free agent market, then solidifying Smith at a lower cost could help mitigate the loss.

Austin Jackson

Not all players fall off when their age turns to 30. A-Jax had his best season since 2012 as the Indians used him in a limited capacity to take full advantage of his baseball skills without taxing his recovering knee. There a bunch of questions Jackson will have to answer this offseason for teams as they will ponder if they can rely on him for a more full slate (only 85 games played for the Tribe), but no team will question his actual ability as he slashed .318/.387/.482 and gave the Indians their defensive highlight of the year.

Craig Breslow He only pitched four innings for the Indians after coming over late in the year, but they were a productive few. If the Indians bring back Boone Logan, then there is likely no room for Breslow. If not, then he could be a cheap LOOGY.

Club Options

Michael Brantley

Yes, WFNY will have much more on this decision in the coming weeks. Halfway through the year, it appeared as if it would be obvious the Tribe would opt-in on the $12 million option for Brantley’s 2018 season. Another injury rehabilitation that took far longer than initial projections have led the Tribe into an interesting corner. Putting the money towards Brantley means taking it away from retaining more important players such as Santana- and maybe even Shaw and A-Jax- while not knowing what the now post-30 year old Brantley will be able to provide. The Tribe hung onto Grady Sizemore and kept giving him more money despite indicators suggesting it would be best to move on. Will history repeat itself?

Boone Logan

The Tribe has a six million dollar decision to make with Logan. Do they opt-in on the seven million dollar option for 2018 or buy him out for a million? If Logan can make a recovery from his lat injury (suffered July 19), then the decision will be simple. He is one of the better left-on-left situational relievers in baseball. However, it is unknown where he is in his rehab or if the Tribe will know how healthy he can be (and definitely will not know his effectiveness) before they need to make the decision.

Josh Tomlin

The Little Cowboy has one more year with the Indians as his option is for a paltry three million dollars. He would net a bunch in a trade or be an incredibly valuable fifth or sixth rotational piece, so I wouldn’t be surprised if Chris Antonetti and Terry Francona mentioned they are opting in at his exit interview.

Others?

It is possible for the Indians decline to offer arbitration to any number of players. Such an occurrence is unlikely even in the case the team needs to save money due to arbitration clamping down the overall value of players- trades are a more prudent cost-saving measure for these individuals. The only player who might be an exception to this rule is Lonnie Chisenhall, who will have a decent sized arbitration contract earned through years of production, but also a player who has not been able to stay healthy or consistent throughout those years. His batting profile was near All-Star level production when healthy with indicators it was not just luck though- so it would be surprising to see even Chisenhall not be offered.

Overall, the Indians have a bunch of decisions to make on a bunch of players. Many of these decisions are going to be tough and all of them combined are going to decide if the Tribe has another shot to finish off a championship season in 2018. The moves the front office has made the last couple of seasons have been exquisite in supplementing the roster. The key now will be moving the team forward integrating the developing players with needed veteran retentions and additions. Should be a fun ride.

  1. Important to note the rules have changed on the Qualifying Offer that have reduced the penalties of signing such players, but we will dissect such details later in the offseason. []
  2. Only below in 2015 []
  3. Shaw is important and valuable to the Indians, but it would be surprising to see them tab the Qualifying Offer on a reliever, which is expected to be above $18 million. []

  • Chris

    Trades… Salazar? Kipnis?
    Coaches… Callaway, Alomar, Mills?

  • Bulldogs_3

    I agree – Wonder what coaches would be back… It would be a huge blow to loose Callaway/Alomar.

    At this point in his career, I don’t see Millsie going anywhere without Tito.

  • mgbode

    Mills is probably too old (60 yo) for another team to bother stealing.
    Alomar’s name always seems to pop up but never go anywhere.

    I’m terrified this is the year someone steals Mickey.

  • MartyDaVille

    Maybe I’ll care next April, but right now I can’t give one thought to the Indians.

    My Cleveland sports cynicism is back with a vengeance. There are forces far greater than any front office or any star athlete that are controlling events. And they’ve already given us our one championship for this lifetime.

    So I’m taking that one great cosmic fluke in 2016 and putting it away for safekeeping. I’ll pull it out every once in a while and enjoy it immensely, knowing that I’ll never see another one. We’re not going to win any more championships, at least not for another 50 years or so.

    Even when we’re good – even very, very good – we manage to stink it up. It is not going to happen for us. We just have a hard time taking the hint.

  • Chris
  • JNeids
  • Steve

    Give Francona a cushy front office job where there are less strains on his health, but he can still stick around and play cards or pop-a-shot. Make Callaway the manager.

  • Steve

    I’ve become so emotionally attached to Santana that I’ll be fine with clearly overpaying him.

    I’m content not spending much on the bullpen. Guys like Shawn Armstrong and Cody Anderson could become useful replacements. We could pull more Goodys, Oteros, and Olsons off the scrap heap. Or how much of that is a Callaway/Niebla thing that might be going away soon?

    Pick up all the options, find whatever cheap RHB to take the Davis/Jackson role. Get Kipnis out of CF, tell Francona he lost the privilege to keep an Aviles/Martinez/Urshela on the roster and dust yourself off and pluck up the courage to roll the dice again in the next crapshoot that is called October.

  • mgbode

    Ah, the Eric Wedge in Toronto role.

  • mgbode

    Picking up the Brantley option & over-paying Santana might not be possible though.

  • Steve

    Absolutely. Keep Francona around the players in a leadership role. Keep Callaway (and Niebla as pitching coach) around to work their magic. Hire someone to help out with the in-game management, and keep the train rolling.

  • Steve

    Right. I’m back of the enveloping almost $110M to bring back 22 guys, every spot filled except Santana, Brantley, and Jackson’s. We were at $125M last year. Is that our limit, or can we keep spending as we bring in postseason revenue?

    I’m not expecting Santana to return. But I would be on board with trading Kipnis to go Diaz/Mejia at 3B to make room to give him about $20M per.

  • mgbode

    I didn’t go there above, but I would be fine with opting-out on Brantley and trading Kipnis if it means signing Santana for Edwin money.

    One worry with the early exit is if our payroll is dependent upon past revenue or projected future revenue. As in, did our WS run give us that boost for 2017, which might mean that our ALDS exit could hurt us for 2018, relatively.

  • Steve

    I just can’t imagine that this org would be foolish enough to spend $20M on EE to have to cut payroll if they didn’t make it as deep the next year. By the same token, Santana dollars may have to be saved to get Lindor locked up after last year’s failed negotations.

  • mgbode

    I sort of suspect the org doesn’t expect to keep Lindor long-term. I’m not going to worry about such things though, that’s “the next” window.

  • Judith Shingleton Smith

    I think Jackson could have played more if he wasn’t platooned so much. His stats against rights and Lefty’s were not that much different.

  • Judith Shingleton Smith

    Jackson could have played more if he wasn’t platooned so much. His stats against righties and lefties were not that much different.

  • Bulldogs_3

    Yep. Gotta win now – Frankie isn’t the whole team by any means. But he’s only going to get better, and we can’t expect the pitching success to last much longer than Frankie’s current deal. Pay what you can to win. now.

  • mgbode

    No doubt, next year’s column will include:
    Andrew Miller
    Cody Allen
    Lonnie Chisenhall
    Josh Tomlin

  • CBiscuit

    It must’ve been tough to pen this one Bode espec after the kick in the junk the Indians gave us. Hard to imagine getting this fired up about them again…although maybe who knows, we’ll all get caught up next year if they catch fire again. With that said, looks like they might have blown their prime “window” and won’t be able to retain some big core pieces like Santana and Bruce.

  • mgbode

    You know it man, which is why it took me a week to do it and it’s about next year, not this past one. We’ll see what they do, but they should be able to control the division for one more year.

  • woofersus

    And with the additional ticket sales this season and pre-emptive season ticket sales for next, it’s not like they took a step backwards in terms of revenue because of the earlier exit. They may not be in quite as good a position as if they had made another deep run, but I don’t see a payroll cut happening next year. I don’t know if they’re at/near the limit, though. We may not be able to go beyond the 125-130M range.

  • woofersus

    I’m torn on Brantley, but I will say that part of building a team with a limited budget is taking calculated risks on value, and you have to evaluate those risks on the margin rather than the whole of the cost. If you decline his option, what are the chances we spend $6-8M on somebody who is either just as much a crapshoot or generally has a lower ceiling on the payoff? How many magic $5M bargains can we bank on getting when it feels like just yesterday when we went like 6 straight seasons without a single one of those guys turning into anything more than replacement level. So in my mind we’re looking at an increase in ceiling for the difference of $3-6M. Still not a no-brainer and it will depend on the market, but most guys around that age who are available for cheaper than $11M have some concerns and/or just a low talent level. I predict they pick up the option.

    Kipnis, on the other hand, is without a home unless the team moves J-Ram back to 3rd or Zimmer has serious questions about his recovery. Do you keep a guy like him around just for insurance? Seems way too expensive for that. Gregg Allen is only inching closer to being ready and Zimmer’s defense has him fairly entrenched at CF unless his bat has a serious stench about it next spring. Plus, he’s yet another left handed bat in the outfield where we already have a pretty significant platoon disparity – especially if Jackson leaves. I think they’ll try to move him.

    I wouldn’t spend much money on Breslow at his age after one little resurgent spurt, and I kind of lean toward using the Boone Logan money to keep Shaw and/or Joe Smith around, being as we have Andrew Miller still on the team. Also, Tyler Olsen’s career has found its path as a LOOGY and he’ll continue to be cheap.

    Keeping Santana would be fabulous and worth a fair amount of money, but I have a little trouble with Bruce unless they’re declining Brantley. Three starters with significant deficits against LHP with Naquin waiting in the wings and only Guyer as a platoon option makes me nervous. If, God forbid, they keep both of those guys and not Santana, you have to figure Brantley to 1B and then the whole lineup starts to look super vulnerable against lefties. So I think it’s Brantley OR Bruce and try to either keep Jackson or look for another half-a-player to join Guyer.

  • CBiscuit

    Sorry, buddy. That was a rough one this year. Hopefully netter days ahead and a Tribe banner before we die at least:)

  • mgbode

    All good. Every pinch of misery adds to the jubilation when that banner finally flies.

  • mgbode

    That is why my thought on Brantley is you only opt-out if you agree to an extension w/ Santana first. You are allocating that option money towards Santana (plus $8m- which we should have given our current budget & arbitration estimations).

  • jpftribe

    This. Gotta move Kipnis and decline the Brantley option.

  • jpftribe

    Even if you can’t resign Santana, you can allocate those Kipnis dollars towards half of a replacement 1B or 3B that can hit. Add Brantley money and you have the whole package, plus some.

    Bradley is a wild card next year. Mejia and Haase, combined with Gomes and Berto contracts makes for some interesting trade possibilities as well. Especially if Callaway takes a managerial job.

  • mgbode

    We don’t HAVE to move Kipnis, but we can if it opens up other opportunities. Should be an interesting offseason.