Next Steps: Complete Offseason Guide, Predictions for the Cleveland Indians
The Cleveland Indians' early exit from the playoffs shouldn't cloud a terrific first season under new manager Terry Francona. The Tribe went from a fourth-place, 94-loss team in 2012 to 92 wins and a wild-card berth this year. That's quite a feat.
They also showed the necessary tenaciousness down the stretch by winning 19 of their final 25 games to make up a 4.5-game deficit in the wild-card standings and leapfrog four teams in the final month. They're clearly a team on the rise, although it wouldn't hurt if general manager Chris Antonetti had another strong offseason.
The additions of established veterans Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher last winter put a dent in the team's payroll, but it's hard to imagine the Indians playing in October without them. Under-the-radar acquisitions, such as Yan Gomes and Scott Kazmir, also made this team much better.
Despite the Indians' successful season and a solid core of young talent, I wouldn't expect this winter to be any less eventful.
Here's everything you'll need to know before Antonetti and the front office get started.
Assuming Ubaldo Jimenez voids his $8 million club option for 2014, the Indians have approximately $47 million committed to six players in 2014, a likely $30 million due to eight arbitration-eligible players who will likely be tendered contracts and roughly $5 million that will go to players expected to make the roster but not yet eligible for arbitration.
Without making a single move, the team already appears to have surpassed the 2013 Opening Day payroll of $80,605,733, according to Baseball Prospectus. With home attendance not exactly booming—the Indians were 28th in baseball with an average of 19,661 per game—it's hard to think that the Tribe will go on a spending spree once again. They could look to free up some salary early on.
Of the two pitchers expected to command close to $10 million in arbitration, Justin Masterson (pictured) has the most value, but his importance as the ace of the team becomes even greater with Jimenez's likely departure. Chris Perez is more likely to go, although he wouldn't command much in return and could even be non-tendered just to clear the salary.
When Ubaldo Jimenez was traded from the Colorado Rockies to the Indians in 2011, a clause in his contract was activated that allows him to void his $8 million club option in 2014. Considering he could easily double that annual salary with the season he just had (3.30 ERA, 182.2 IP, 163 H, 80 BB, 194 K), it's a near lock that he'll exercise that right and sign a big-money deal elsewhere this winter.
Along with Jimenez, fellow starter Scott Kazmir should land a multi-year deal after a strong comeback season (4.04 ERA, 158 IP, 162 H, 47 BB, 162 K), while Joe Smith (2.29 ERA, 63 IP, 54 H, 23 BB, 54 K, 25 holds) could be one of the most highly coveted setup men on the free-agent market. And unless Perez is traded, it's hard to see the Tribe bringing him back at his projected salary.
Meanwhile, veterans Kelly Shoppach and Rich Hill likely won't be back, and while designated hitter Jason Giambi would like to return, according to Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the soon-to-be 43-year-old had a mediocre .653 OPS in 71 games.
Holes to Fill
Despite the potential loss of Jimenez and Kazmir, the Indians still have the makings of a pretty strong rotation. Following Justin Masterson would likely be Corey Kluber, Zach McAllister and Danny Salazar (pictured), each of whom pitched well in the majors this season.
They'll still need to bring in at least one starting pitcher, though. The caliber of that pitcher could be determined by how much the Indians believe in the aforementioned trio, along with how highly they still think of inconsistent prospect Trevor Bauer, who had a 4.15 ERA in 22 Triple-A starts with 73 walks in 121.1 innings.
The lineup could use another bat, although the way they utilize Carlos Santana and Nick Swisher in multiple positions, as well as at the designated hitter spot, could make it difficult to add another full-time player. Bringing in another versatile role player who can play first base and the outfield might be more realistic.
Potential Free-Agent Targets
Re-signing Jimenez would be huge, although it would likely take a major boost in payroll to get it done. The Indians are likely to shop for help on the next couple of tiers on the free-agent market. Here's a look at some projected free-agent targets who could help fill the Tribe's needs.
Eric Chavez, 3B/1B: A more versatile and much more productive option than Giambi, the 35-year-old Chavez has an .829 OPS and 25 homers over the past two seasons. But he still can't avoid the disabled list, which is why a move to the American League in a part-time role would be ideal. He'd serve as insurance for Lonnie Chisenhall, as well as a part-time first baseman and designated hitter.
Raul Ibanez, DH: Even at age 41, Ibanez (pictured) won't come cheap after he posted a .793 OPS with 29 homers in 2013. He could also find an opportunity for more playing time than the potential 300-350 at-bats the Tribe can likely give him. But if it's not significantly more, he could opt to sign with an up-and-coming Cleveland team.
Scott Kazmir, SP: A two-time All-Star by the time he reached his 25th birthday, Kazmir was out of the majors by 2011 and struggled in an Independent League last season. So his comeback season of 2013 probably won't quite put him in position to break the bank. He'd like to stay in Cleveland, according to Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, and could fit into their budget at about two years and $15 million.
Jason Vargas, SP: A slightly more expensive option than Kazmir because of his longer track record of consistency (63 percent quality start rate in 120 starts between 2010-2013), Vargas could still prove to be strong value at three years and $24-30 million. He'd also give the rotation a much-needed lefty.
Making a trade this winter would probably have much more to do with cutting payroll than bringing in talent. Closer Chris Perez (pictured) is set to make around $10 million in his last year of arbitration. While non-tendering him is an option, it's likely that the Tribe could find a taker if they shopped him. For a proven closer, a one-year, $10 million deal might be preferred over signing a free agent to a multi-year deal.
The Tribe could also try to unload Asdrubal Cabrera and the $10 million salary he's due in 2014. Unfortunately, his value has dropped significantly since his breakout season of 2011 (.792 OPS, 25 HR, 92 RBI, 17 SB). Still, the shortstop market is thin and one that hit 14 homers and 35 doubles should generate some interest.
Trading one or both could be the key to re-signing Jimenez, although they'd have to find a one-year stopgap to play shortstop, as top prospect Francisco Lindor likely needs one more year in the minors.
There is enough bullpen depth to make up for the loss of Perez, with Cody Allen, Vinnie Pestano and Bryan Shaw the leading candidates to take his closer's role.