With a demoralizing loss to the Astros yesterday, the Indians were swept out of the ALDS. Though they have a very solid roster, they seem to be trending in the wrong direction. They lost in the World Series in 2016, last season they went out of the ALDS in five games, and now they’ve been swept out in the first round. This could be a pivotal offseason for the Indians and their future World Series hopes.
What They Have for 2019
Cleveland could go into this offseason, do almost nothing and still be a contender to win the AL Central next season. They still have a ton of talent on their payroll and will look to build around it this offseason.
Lindor and Ramirez
The two biggest centerpieces on this Indians team stand side by side in the field. Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez are the heart and soul of Cleveland’s offense and defense, putting together MVP seasons year in and year out.
Lindor hit .277/.352/.519 this season with 38 homers, 92 RBI and 25 stolen bases. He put up a wOBA of .368, wRC+ of 130 and a 7.6 WAR according to Fangraphs. That’s just half the story though. He also played like a Gold Glover at shortstop, again. He finished the year with a Def of 21.1, 14 DRS and a 13.4 UZR/150.
Ramirez didn’t let Franky steal the show though. He led the team 39 home runs, drove in 105 runs and stole 34 bases while slashing .270/.387/.552. According to Fangraphs, along with his .393 wOBA and 147 wRC+, he posted a WAR of 8.1. His defense wasn’t as good as Lindor’s, but it was still respectable. He had three DRS at third, a UZR/150 of 4.0 and a Def of 4.6.
Having these guys on the payroll for 2019 is huge for the Indians. They already have two of the best players in the game to build their offense around and they’re both very solid on the left side of the infield.
Another big piece that Cleveland has coming back next season is Cy Young candidate Corey Kluber. Every playoff hopeful team needs an ace and the Indians have theirs.
In 2018, Kluber had yet another amazing campaign on the mound. He posted a 20-7 record with an ERA of 2.89, while striking out 222 batters in 215 innings, over 33 starts. Kluber led the league in fewest walks per nine, complete games, shutouts and innings pitched. He also put up a FIP of 3.12 and a WHIP of 0.991. Unfortunately, he struggled in his only postseason start against the Astros, but that’s no reason to be concerned about what he’ll be able to do next season.
A Designated Hitter
A big part of every American League team’s lineup is the designated hitter. Most potent AL offenses have a good one and the Indians are no different. Edwin Encarnacion will be back in 2019 to play his age 36 season in Cleveland.
Encarnacion may be getting up there in age, but his production hasn’t slowed down. This season he hit 32 homers, led the team with 107 RBI, put up an OPS of .810 and a wRC+ of 115. He didn’t hit for the best average at .246, but he did his job. The Indians will look forward to him doing the same in 2019.
As much talent as Cleveland has already locked up for 2019, they also have a lot of good players set to become free agents. These are the guys they need to look to resign for next season. If they can’t they’ll have a tough time finding replacements.
Cody Allen has been the Indians closer for the past five seasons. Over that span, he has amassed 147 saves for the Tribe. In 2018, he wasn’t his best, posting a 4-6 record and 4.70 ERA, but he still saved 27 games.
It seems as though good closers are coming at a premium now, so it will be important for the Indians to really go after resigning Allen. He will likely come with a big price tag though, because after Kimbrell, he’s the best closer on the market. However, the Indians should have some advantage in returning him, being the team that drafted him. Even if they don’t, it’s important that they take their best shot at bringing him back
Carlos Carrasco backed up his impressive 2017 season with an almost equally as good 2018. He went 17-10 with a 3.38 ERA, 2.94 FIP, 1.125 WHIP and 231 strikeouts over 192 innings this year. Carrasco was the Indians second or third best starter this season, alongside Bauer. There will be some other decent starters in free agency, but Carrasco should be the guy that Mike Chernoff targets for the rotation. The Indians have a club option on him for the next two seasons that they’ll need to pick up in order to keep him.
Although he didn’t have his best season and lost a good part of it to injuries, Andrew Miller is still a highly valued reliever. He only threw 34 innings this season, striking out 45 and putting up a 4.24 ERA, but despite that, Miller will draw a lot of interest this offseason. He was unbelievable in the 2016 playoffs, taking home the ALCS MVP award, and then backed it up with an amazing 2017.
The Indians are going to go after Miller hard, and they should. He’s meant a lot to this team and to the team’s bullpen. If he leaves this offseason, the back end of the pen will have to look a lot different in 2019.
Even if the Indians can resign the three agents named above, they are going to have some holes to fill. They won’t have a lot of work to do, but a few solid moves could benefit them greatly next year.
The first step here is to re-sign Miller and Allen. If they don’t do that, there’s going to be a lot more issues with the pen. However, even if they do get those guys back, they’re still two guys away from a really good relief core. Fortunately, they do have Brad Hand under contract until 2021, but he won’t be enough, even alongside Miller and Allen.
If they choose to go after a couple relievers, free agency is probably the way to go. The first guy the Tribe could look at is Oliver Perez. He will be 38 next season, but he pitched well for them this year, and since he finished the season with them, they’ll have the first opportunity to talk to him. Another older reliever they might be able to get for a decent price on a one year deal is Tony Sipp, who posted a 1.86 ERA for the Astros this year.
Should the Indians get really serious about their bullpen, which they should, there are plenty of younger, more expensive options as well. Adam Ottavino had a 2.43 ERA in Colorado this year over 77 innings, Jesse Chavez had a 2.55 ERA in 95 innings for Chicago and both Zach Britton and Craig Kimbrell will be available via free agency.
The bullpen is the Indians biggest hole to fill going into 2019. That’s a big positive for them though, because relief pitchers are generally the most accessible players via trade and this year’s free agent class is loaded with good ones.
A smaller problem for Cleveland is their lack of a good centerfielder. This won’t be a huge focus point for them, but with the risk of losing Michael Brantley and Lonnie Chisenhall to free agency and a lack of experience at the position, they should be at least looking into acquiring an outfielder. It seems likely that Chisenhall will return on a club-friendly deal and they will get the first shot at Brantley, but even so, centerfield will be the weakest spot on the diamond for the Indians.
Other than Bryce Harper, who Cleveland probably won’t be in on, the free agent market for center fielders is a little thin. Andrew McCutchen and AJ Pollock are both available though and would make good fits for Cleveland. Both guys will be 32 next season, Pollock hit 21 homers this season to McCuthen’s 20 and they had nearly the same average, at .257 for Pollock and .255 for McCutchen. If they are unable to afford either of these guys though, they may be able to find a trade, but it’s unclear who would be on the block at this point.
Indians fans shouldn’t be worried just yet. It might seem like their championship window is closing, but they have at least a couple more seasons with it wide open. They should resign Allen, Carrasco and Miller this offseason and they will likely grab at least one more reliever as well. What they will do about the centerfield situation depends on how much they have left to spend and whether or not Brantley and Chisenhall return.
No matter what though, they will still be heavy favorites to win the AL Central next season, unless the White Sox get ahead of schedule like the Braves did this season. The Indians will be back in 2019 and if they address their weaknesses from this year, they will again have a serious shot at the World Series.
Featured Image by Thomas Shea of USA Today – Sports
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