Outside of Jon Morosi attaching every team possible to the Corey Kluber sweepstakes, the Indians offseason which began with a flurry of salary moving trades as well as the additions of Jake Bauers and Chih-Wei Hu has been unseasonably quiet as of late. While Bauers and Santana hide a bit of the offensive punch lost from Edwin Encarnacion, Yan Gomes, and Michael Brantley’s departure; the Indians have decided to replace this exiting offense on the cheap. When the Indians had Yandy Diaz among others with Encarnacion, Gomes, Brantley, Lindor, Ramirez, the flexible DH spot as tool for matchup optimization was perhaps less enticing. Alas, this Indians offense is not your 2018 Indians offense at the moment.
When shopping in the low-mid tier free agent section you are often faced with selecting from the deployable but imperfect; that is players who need to be utilized in optimally in order to aid a baseball team in winning. Positively for the Indians; this is easier to do with an especially flexible roster which features players like Jose Ramirez, Jake Bauers, and someday perhaps; Yu Chang. Ramirez in particular is valuable because he allows you to hide Kipnis’ offensive liabilities against LHP.
With this in mind, acquiring players with both platoon advantages and some form of positional versatility to fill the designated hitter role has a certain value to the Indians roster.
Two of particular interest to this author, at this singular moment are Mike Moustakas and Evan Gattis. Since Moustakas evolved offensively around 2015, he has run a wRC+ of 117 against RHP; the fat (important) side of the platoon. Gattis on the other hand has made his killing, well killing LHP, to the tune of a career 115 wRC+, as well as competence against RHP.
Perhaps as appealing as the depth of offense Moustakas and Gattis would add to the Indians roster is that the bring with them my current overused word; positional versatility. Moustakas, while not an impact defender at third base, can still handle the position at average to above; and Gattis, while more designated hitter than catcher, can still occasionally squat back behind the plate to grab plate appearances which when paired with the Indians relying on the Roberto Perez and Eric Haase combination makes a whole lot of sense.
At the top, adding these two would allows the Indians to project the designated hitter spot at at 115 wRC+ which while not elite is exactly what the Indians received from Edwin Encarnacion in 2018. Further, it would allow the Indians to play the battering ram of Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez, Carlos Santana, Jake Bauers, Mike Moustakas, and Jason Kipnis all against right handed pitching which is formidable. Against LHP the Indians could deploy Gattis, Perez(Haase), Luplow, Lindor, Ramirez, Santana, and perhaps Yu Chang1.
Finally, affordability, designated hitter is a position without extensive costs; be it Nelson Cruz an elite hitter receiving just 1 year and $14 million guaranteed plus an option or C.J. Cron and Justin Bours types being treated as expendable; the position is a low cost area to buy cheap offense which the Indians need; badly.
Moustakas, now thirty, while not cheap is like many mid-tier undervalued as compared to his abilities from a cost per win stand point. After an offseason in which Moustakas entered expecting a multi-year commitment exceeding $12 million in AAV he was stuck on an island; settling for 1 year worth $6.5 million with a player option year which he turned down. Moustakas will likely cost around $10 million but for his offensive value and versatility; the Indians would be wise to try something innovative.
Discussing the payroll is never a delightful matter and writing about it is worse; tossing aside this area and confined to the approach the Indian appear to be taking the front office has to be creative. Creativity means flexible fits and imperfect solutions. Spending on a third baseman and immobile former starting catcher is certainly unexciting but for this situation it may be an appropriate solution.
- More on my affection for this versatile prospect at another time [↩]