Offseason In Review: Cleveland Indians

After making the playoffs in 2013 following the additions of Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher, the Indians had a quiet offseason.

Major League Signings

Notable Minor League Signings

Trades and Claims

Notable Losses

Extensions

Needs Addressed

The Indians made an upside play to address their bullpen by signing John Axford to a one-year deal. Axford was often erratic as the Brewers' closer, but has great stuff and pitched well down the stretch for the Cardinals. If he performs with the Indians, they have the ability to take him to arbitration for two more seasons. The addition of Axford will help compensate for the losses of Chris Perez (who the Indians released after he lost his closer job down the stretch and wound up in trouble for receiving a package of marijuana at his home) and Joe Smith. Josh Outman, acquired in a deal with the Rockies, will also likely play a role in the Indians' revamped bullpen, perhaps along with Axford, Cody Allen, Bryan Shaw, Marc Rzepczynski and Vinnie Pestano. (Also this offseason, the Indians defeated Pestano and Josh Tomlin in their first arbitration cases since 1991.)

Taking Stubbs' place in right field will be David Murphy, who the Indians signed to a two-year deal. Murphy hit just .220/.282/.374 with the Rangers last season, but that was with a BABIP 75 points below his career rate, so he's a good bet to bounce back and provide a bit of offense, along with above-average defense, this season. If he does, Murphy, Bourn, Michael Brantley and Ryan Raburn could provide the Indians with an above-average outfield.

Questions Remaining

The Indians have taken a hit with the departures of Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir this offseason, and will depend on a trio of younger arms in Corey Kluber, Zach McAllister and Danny Salazar. They'll also have Justin Masterson in his last season remaining before free agency. Those four players are all clearly worthy of rotation spots and should be fine, and Salazar, in particular, should help soften the blow of losing Jimenez and Kazmir. But the Indians are still without a fifth starter — Josh Tomlin, Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer and Aaron Harang are competing for the job. Shaun Marcum may eventually be a factor, but he's still recovering from issues related to thoracic outlet syndrome.

There's also the matter of what they'll do with Masterson. Masterson should be able to command a hefty multiyear deal next offseason, but he has reportedly told the Indians he would be willing to take a three-year contract to stay in Cleveland. That seems extremely generous of him, but the two sides have not yet stuck a deal. (The Indians have also reportedly discussed an extension with star second baseman Jason Kipnis.)

Finally, the Indians are trying to figure out where they'll play Carlos Santana, who spent the offseason working out at third base. Yan Gomes figures to take most of the playing time at catcher, Santana's usual position. One possibility might be to have him platoon with Lonnie Chisenhall, a left-handed hitter, at third. Santana, a switch-hitter, could then spot Gomes at catcher or DH on days when Chisenhall is at the hot corner. Chisenhall struggled in the big leagues in 2013 but is still just 25 and has hit well at the Triple-A level. Much hinges, however, on how well Santana takes to the position.

Deal of Note

USATSI_7336812Brantley's four-year, $25MM extension, which contains an $11MM club option or a $1MM buyout for 2018, buys out one and perhaps two years of free agent eligibility. Brantley had filed for $3.8MM in his first season of arbitration, with the Indians offering $2.7MM. That's a fairly large difference, but the midpoint of $3.25MM would have positioned Brantley to make perhaps $13MM-$16MM in his three arbitration seasons. That means the Indians are effectively paying about $10MM for 2017, which is Brantley's age-30 season, plus the possibility of retaining him in 2018. Brantley is approximately an average player — he's never had a star-caliber season and doesn't have much power, but he hits for good averages and is competent in center or in a corner. The deal will be fine if he maintains his current level of performance, and very good if he takes a step forward as he heads into his late twenties.

Overview

The Indians' surprising 2012-13 shopping spree lingered this winter. A year ago, the Indians spent heavily on Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher, improved by 24 games, and received … what? Attendance was actually lower in 2013 (1.57MM) than it had been in 2012 (1.60MM), and tiny home crowds, frequently in the 10K-13K range, watched the Indians down the stretch as they battled for, and won, a playoff spot. Then their season ended unceremoniously as they lost to the Rays in the AL Wild Card game.

The Indians responded with an offseason in which they didn't seem to make much of an effort to re-sign Jimenez, perhaps content to collect a compensation pick and move forward. They also lost Kazmir, who emerged from baseball oblivion to play a key role on the 2013 team.

This isn't to say the Indians will be helpless in 2014. Bourn and Swisher are still on the payroll, and they actually weren't crucial to the Indians' playoff run last year — Kipnis, Gomes, Santana and Raburn were the Indians' four best position players by fWAR. If Bourn and Swisher can contribute more in 2014, they can offset potential regression by Gomes and Raburn and help the Indians compensate for the losses of Jimenez and Kazmir. A full season from the very promising Salazar could also help the Indians significantly. It wouldn't be at all surprising to see them make another playoff run.

After their splashy 2012-13 offseason, though, the Indians haven't followed up, despite the lucrative TV deal to which they agreed prior to the 2013 season. The Indians could have shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera (who will make $10MM in 2014) and perhaps Masterson ($9.76MM) come off the books after the season. If they do, and the Indians' attendance woes continue, it will be interesting to see how the team responds. If Masterson is in fact willing to take a three-year deal rather than a contract more along the lines of the $105MM extension Homer Bailey recently signed with the Reds, then signing him would seem to be a fairly easy decision, and a potential signal that the Indians are still willing to bid on top talent.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


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20 Comments on "Offseason In Review: Cleveland Indians"


Sufferfortribe
1 year 5 months ago

C’mon, Dolan. Open the wallet and sign Masterson now!

Bill Smith
1 year 5 months ago

Wow, hadn’t really realized until reading this just how much Cleveland lost in the offseason.

Tko11
Tko11
1 year 5 months ago

Yeah I don’t see how they win 92 games again. The Rangers will win the West and the other wild card will also come from there with the Tigers winning the Central again. Just my prediction of course.

Bill Smith
1 year 5 months ago

Definitely hoping my Tigers win the division, as I think the WC will come out of the east. The Indians are doing a lot right though, and have a very nice core of young talent coming up together, so I think they will be the class of the division for the extended near-future.

Vandals Took The Handles
1 year 5 months ago

I like the Angels in the West. Rangers might get a WC.

Indians padded their 92 wins against bad teams in 2013.

Against teams with winning records, the Indians were 16 games under .500.

Indians were 30-8 vs. the White Sox and Twins last year. While I don’t think those 2 teams turn it around in a year, they are going to be quite a bit more competitive.

When one looks at the signings and notable losses at the top of the article, a lot of good teams are going to have a rash of injuries for the Indians to be a real contender in 2014.

sunshipballoons
1 year 5 months ago

People seem to be missing a key point on Santana — he’s the Indians second best hitter, so he’s going to play every day.

And, if he does play 3B, who is going to DH? Jason Giambi? Please. Raburn? Please again. And he’s more of a 3B than Santana. Aviles? He’d play 3B over Santana, I hope.

The reality is that Chisenhall is their best bet to play DH if Santana is playing 3B. In which case Chisenhall would just play 3B.

And, unless they make a trade, that’s what’s going to happen: Santana at DH and Chisenhall at 3B.

The only scenario I see Santana playing any regular 3B is if the Indians go nuts and decide to keep Lindor to start the season. Maybe then Cabrera plays DH until he’s traded and Santana plays 3B while they wait for the trade. And, even then, it’s hard not to wonder if Cabrera should play 3B (a position he played in the minors almost as much as Santana did).

Sufferfortribe
1 year 5 months ago

Lindor’s already been sent to minor league camp to await his minor league destination. Probably starting at AA Akron. Santana’s going to do a little more catching now in the spring—Lonnie’s been doing just fine at 3B and with the bat. Only thing to really watch is if Bourn comes back quick from hammy strain, or not.

sunshipballoons
1 year 5 months ago

Thanks, didn’t know about Lindor. I guess somebody like Frenchy could also somehow find a way into the lineup and play DH (or move another OF to DH), so maybe that’s how Santana ends up at 3B.

Fernando
1 year 5 months ago

I’d take Raburn at DH over Chisenhall any day of the week.

A lineup with Murphy in RF, Raburn at DH, and Santana at 3B is better than Raburn/Murphy in RF, Santana at DH, and Chisenhall at 3B.

Unless Chisenhall takes a step forward. But so far he has been less-than-impressive at the plate.

sunshipballoons
1 year 5 months ago

Yeah, but why wouldn’t you play Raburn at 3B and Santana at DH in that scenario?

Fernando
1 year 5 months ago

Because it’s about keeping Santana happy. He doesn’t want to DH. He’s our best player. If we DH him exclusively he will ask to be traded.

I also have no idea how good Raburn is at 3B, but I think most of his infield innings came at 2B. Would have to check.

sunshipballoons
1 year 5 months ago

If that’s Santana’s attitude, I guess that makes sense. Although, it’s hard not to think that most teams would want him as a DH, or maybe 1B.

Fernando
1 year 5 months ago

I think most teams would want him as a catcher. The Indians just happen to have Gomes, who is very, very good at catcher.

Santana’s bat plays very good at catcher. Offense wise, there are few that come close to him in terms of production. That is where he has the most value.

gson
1 year 5 months ago

..

Anthony
1 year 5 months ago

Would someone from Cleveland comment on the attendance decline? When they built the Jake it was sold it for many years in a row, wasn’t it? Do cities simply tire of winning? And then they don’t want to endure the trough of losing? And when they win again who cares?

Vandals Took The Handles
1 year 5 months ago

Here are a few things to start…..

1. Ownership and management made a classic statement a few years ago that in the current baseball climate, the Indians could only compete once every 5 years. They have also “blamed” the fans not showing up for not spending money, as opposed to say – looking at the poor production out of their farm system.

2. There does not appear to be a commitment on their part to win. The moves made this past offseason instead of building on 2013’s success simply validate to the fans the lack of commitment to winning.

3. In 2013 the Indians went with a flexible walk-up pricing scheme in which sections of affordable seats were not sold at the ticket windows on gameday, forcing people to buy much more expensive seats. Word got out around town and people were afraid to go down to the park and buy walk up tickets – stories of people expecting to pay $40 to see the game and having to pay over $200. The Indians brag about having brought in more revenue in 2013 even though they drew less people than 2012.

4. The fans do not trust the ownership or the front office. The first 3 items are only a partial list of reasons why.

Vandals Took The Handles
1 year 5 months ago

One other thing,

In almost every big series in 2013 against the better teams – the Tigers, Red Sox and Yankees – while the fans got psyched up for them, the Indians were simply did not show up to play.

Under the entire Shapiro era the Indians have constantly showed up small in big games. They have not convinced the fans that they are anything other than a team whose #1 function is to make money every year, and that making the playoffs once every 5 or so years is good enough.

Sufferfortribe
1 year 5 months ago

Spot on, Ben. Since Shapiro took the reins, it’s not been a consistent effort anywhere in the organization. And the money they have spent has not really proven to be a good investment. But signing Brantley long-term is a good start. Need to lock up Masterson and Kipnis next. Also like some of the kids coming up. Let’s hope they turn out better than some of our past prospects. GO TRIBE!!

Anthony
1 year 5 months ago

Ben & Suffer for Tribe,
Thanks for your input.
I have gone to a few Giants games and to keep the sell outs rolling they offer pricing based on probability of selling out – in other words, if they’re playing the Astros, the prices are super-cheap, but if they’re playing the Dodgers, prices are at their highest. It seems to work. I saw Colorado play last year at a reasonable price. (Perhaps this has become common practice among many MLB teams?).
Anyway, sorry to hear that the Indians Front Office is alienating their fans.

Jay Parker
1 year 5 months ago

It is ironic to me that if you told someone a year ago that the Indians would be worse off for letting Kazmir and Jimenez go for contracts over $12 mil a year you would be laughed at. Cleveland fans would have rejoiced knowing that Chris Perez was gone. The only noticeable loss would be Joe Smith. All in all the general perspective of the Indians going into this year is much better than it was going in last year despite these losses.

That said I see the team as a potential sleeper. Their biggest strength last year might have been the versatility of their bench and their ability to platoon and maximize lineups against pitchers. This may actually improve if Giambi is gone and Santana can serviceable play third.