Cleveland Indians: An Early Free-Agency and Offseason Primer
The Indians have managed to keep themselves in the playoff discussion this season, but it's never too early to begin thinking about the offseason and where the team can improve upon what has been a somewhat disappointing season.
The team we see already has needs in the starting rotation and the bench.
The bench is likely to be filled with an influx of young talent, as the Indians boast a number of young outfield and middle-infield prospects looking to make a permanent jump to the next level. The rotation, however, needs a considerable amount of work.
In addition to these needs, the club will have to deal with said influx of young talent, as well as the departure of at least one player who is currently under contract.
So, over the course of this article, I'll detail all of these areas of concern, including projected departures, incoming prospects, areas of need and a couple of possible targets for the team to pursue this offseason.
Let's get started.
The Indians brought in Mike Aviles prior to the 2013 season, and he's underperformed ever since. In nearly two full seasons of play, Aviles has averaged a .252/.280/.358 slash line with season averages of seven home runs, 39 RBI, 44 runs scored and 10 stolen bases.
Aviles' contract is up at the end of the 2014 season, and with a bevy of middle-infield prospects—including top prospect Francisco Lindor—graduating out of the farm system in the very near future, it's unlikely that his contract will be renewed, as roster spots will be few and far between.
Taking a shot in the dark here, but the Indians would be wise to look into dealing Carlos Santana.
Santana has been a steady offensive producer for the Indians since his full-season debut back in 2011, but he's starting to run out of positions on the field.
The Indians have a steady backstop in Yan Gomes, whose defensive contributions outpace Santana's by leaps and bounds. And his two other positions—third base and first base—are solidly occupied by Lonnie Chisenhall and Nick Swisher, respectively.
Santana has filled in admirably at all three positions when called upon, but he's not particularly strong at any one position.
Because of this, as well as his being under contract through 2016—with a $12.5 million club option for 2017—the 28-year-old could be a prime target for teams looking to upgrade their offense.
It would be difficult for the Indians to give up a rather crucial piece of their offense over the past four seasons. But it makes sense if they're looking to get back another top-tier pitcher to help Corey Kluber atop the Tribe's rotation.
It's somewhat surprising that Francisco Lindor hasn't already made an appearance on the Indians' big league roster. The 20-year-old has proven ready for a promotion, excelling at both the Double-A and Triple-A levels this season.
Lindor is a stud in every sense of the word. The young shortstop is the best defensive player in his prospect class, and he boasts above-average hit-and-run tools to boot.
His power is questionable, but his 10 home runs this season suggest he may be tapping into some of the raw power his wiry 5'11", 175-pound frame suggests.
He may debut with the team as soon as this season, but Lindor is undoubtedly the team's first choice to start at shortstop next season.
The lone return piece from the Justin Masterson trade, James Ramsey, figures to see some time with the Indians' big league team sometime early next season.
With Ryan Raburn out of the way, Ramsey, who has thoroughly dominated opposing pitchers at Triple-A Columbus, figures to be the next in line for a promotion.
Ramsey could see some time with the big league club as soon as September, but he's a near shoe-in for the fourth outfield spot—assuming Tyler Naquin is dealt in the offseason.
Ramsey has one plus tool: speed. Outside of that speed—which plays well both in the field and on the base paths—the 24-year-old boasts average to above-average tools across the board.
Ramsey displays fringy plate discipline—he's struck out at a 24.3 percent clip in the minors—but he does draw a respectable number of walks, logging a 12.3 percent walk rate in his minor league career.
He's unlikely to turn into anything more than a fourth outfielder—possibly a starting center fielder on an average team—but that makes him the most likely candidate to stay put in Cleveland, should the team choose to deal some prospects in the offseason.
Areas of Need
When describing the Indians rotation, two words come readily to mind: "dumpster" and "fire."
The club failed to address the losses of two key pieces to last year's success—Scott Kazmir and Ubaldo Jimenez—and it shows in their standing among other American League starting rotations. Through 131 games played, the Indians rank ninth in WHIP and slugging percentage, 10th in OBP, 11th in ERA and 13th in innings pitched—among other key areas.
The team also managed to further weaken its rotation by dealing Justin Masterson for pennies on the dollar.
The Indians do have a few pieces in place, however, and will likely roll with some combination of Corey Kluber, Zach McAllister, Danny Salazar, Trevor Bauer, Josh Tomlin and T.J. House. This may not be enough, though, and the club will almost certainly look for additional help in the offseason.
Justin Masterson ran out his usefulness with the Indians prior to the 2014 trade deadline. The 29-year-old struggled to a 5.51 ERA in his time with the Indians, and he has since managed to post even worse numbers with the St. Louis Cardinals, allowing fewer than four earned runs in just one of his five starts.
Masterson's value has never been lower, and that could result in him seeking a one-year-deal in an attempt to retool his trade value.
If he's willing to come back to Cleveland for the right price, Justin Masterson could be a legitimate buy-low candidate.
The Indians could deal with a little extra power in their lineup, and Mike Morse is a solid candidate to provide that. The 32-year-old has bounced back nicely from a disappointing 2013 campaign, posting a .280/.337/.479 batting line with 16 home runs and 58 RBI over 127 games played.
Morse coming to Cleveland would be contingent upon Carlos Santana being traded in the offseason. But if the Indians hope to compete again next season, their rotation will need a serious upgrade on the front end—Corey Kluber isn't enough to guide them to a title.
If Santana—or some other member of the Indians' starting lineup—isn't traded this offseason, then Morse becomes a pipe dream, as there will be no opening for him.