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
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.
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 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.
: 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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
- 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. [↩]
- Only below in 2015 [↩]
- 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. [↩]