One way to enjoy the offseason of a favorite sport team is by playing a game of Choose Your Own Adventure. In those popular children’s books, the story evolves until a decision is required. Rather than the normal path of an author choosing the direction of the narrative, the reader is given options with their decision able to alter the story and character arcs. Similarly, fans can can map out potential paths through free agency and trades within the financial and logistical parameters of their franchise and league in an attempt to optimize the construction of the following season’s roster.
For the Cleveland Indians, there are few players departing from a 93-win team. Jason Kipnis, Yasiel Puig, Tyler Clippard, Dan Otero, and Danny Salazar are the most notable names who are entering free agency. Given the out-sized contracts compared to the value provided on the field as a whole from that group, the Tribe also should be able to add significant pieces to the 2020 roster, while remaining on the same $128 million payroll budget from 2019.
One of the most prominent places to spend such money is in the bullpen; the potential loss of Tyler Clippard needs to be replaced but also the relief corps on the whole needs to be improved with the three-batter minimum rule coming into effect for the 2020 season– good-bye LOOGY & ROOGY pitchers.1 WFNY is here to give you the available free agent options to fill that void as your own optimal offseason plan is filled out for the Tribe.
Note: fWAR shown in below lists is for the 2019 season and age is for what they will be in the 2020 season.
To no surprise, Petit and Doolittle saw their options picked up. A mild surprise was Diekman had his declined, which will make the hard-throwing southpaw one of the more intriguing bullpen arms available on the market– even if his results have consistently under-performed his peripherals; perhaps the former sinker-baller finally abandoning the two-seam fastball that has given him issues could be part of the answer.2
There are other ‘names’ on the list such as Adam Warren, but it will be difficult for teams to assess whether or not velocity dips– such as Warren, who lost two miles per hour on his fastball– did so because of a recoverable injury or simple age degradation.
There are no true free agent relief pitchers such as Craig Kimbrel last offseason who will definitely command a long-term high-dollar contract. There might be some relievers who fill these types of contracts from some desperate teams, but it is difficult to guess which this year.
Expect Smith, Harris, and Romo to be highly pursued on the free-agent market as the most reliable bullpen arms available. It is possible a team gets over-zealous and pays an exorbitant amount for any of them. The more reasonable outcome will be Smith obtaining a three-year deal around $10 million per season with Harris and Romo finding one-or-two year deals for similar average annual value– due to their age.3
The other pitchers on this list are each interesting and should bolster any relief corps. The most tantalizing among them being Chris Martin who– despite his age– seems to have just started to begin fully tapping into his 6-foot-8 foot frame. The velocity on his fastball rose to 96 miles per hour in 2019 and his changeup added much more movement; as his swing-and-miss rate and strikeout rate also rose.
Betances under-going Tommy-John surgery in September rules out his 2020 season. If he is willing to sign a small two-year deal as he undergoes rehabilitation though, then he could be an intriguing outside-the-box signing for the 2021 season signed this offseason.
The rest of the group are a mix of has-beens and never-was… the best player development programs though are able to find intriguing arsenals among such players and utilize them in specific ways to garner value. The 2019 Indians were fantastic at doing so with their mix-and-match bullpen arms.
Finding the players from this list to sign as fliers and have them contribute in positive ways in 2020 will be essential in ensuring the ballclub can continue to rely on their relief pitchers moving forward. One possible example of such a player is David Hernandez, who had an awful 2019 season. However, his velocity remained stable at 94 miles per hour on his fastball. If the Tribe can figure out why he was hit harder, while losing some of the control he had for years prior, then it is possible Hernandez could be one of those under-valued pitchers on the market.4