The Indians’ offseason has largely been dominated by the specter of cutting payroll (such as the Corey Kluber trade to the Rangers or the persistent trade rumors around Francisco Lindor) rather than major acquisitions, the team’s signing of Cesar Hernandez notwithstanding. However, it seems as though the Tribe at least considered a significant addition, as Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports that “the Indians were in on” Starling Marte before the Pirates dealt the center fielder to the Diamondbacks earlier this week.
The nature of the Tribe’s offer to Pittsburgh isn’t known, though we can at least make a speculative comparison to what the Pirates received from the D’Backs — $250K in international bonus pool money, and two interesting but non-elite prospects (shortstop Liover Peguero and right-hander Brennan Malone) who are each at least two or three years away from reaching the majors. Since the Bucs sent just $1.5MM in cash to Arizona as part of the deal, the D’Backs also took on almost all of the financial obligations for Marte, who is owed $11.5MM in 2020 and is controllable via a $12.5MM club option ($1MM buyout) for the 2021 season.
It could be that the Pirates simply preferred Peguero and Malone to whatever prospects were floated by the Tribe, and that money wasn’t a primary difference between Cleveland’s offer and Arizona’s offer. Still, assuming the finances would’ve broken down in a similar fashion, adding $10MM for Marte’s salary would’ve elevated the Indians’ 2020 payroll to a little beyond $106.5MM, as per Roster Resource. That still represents a notable step down from the $150MM+ payrolls the Indians had at the end of the 2017 and 2018 seasons, or even the $129.3MM year-end payroll from 2019. Since Marte’s 2021 option is likely to be exercised, Cleveland could have still found payroll room considering that Carlos Santana and Brad Hand could both come off the books via club options of their own, Hernandez is a free agent, plus who knows what other payroll space could be carved out by future trades (such as a Lindor deal).
As Hoynes notes, the Tribe’s interest in Marte indicates that the team could still be willing to spend to upgrade its 26-man roster, whether such a move happens in the offseason or perhaps closer to the trade deadline. Marte would have been a clear boost to Cleveland’s shaky outfield picture right now, though the Indians have enough outfielders in the mix that they might prefer to see which (if any) of those players steps up to become a reliable regular performer before looking at bringing any new players onto the roster. Oscar Mercado currently looks like the only Tribe outfielder slated for true everyday duty, as Jake Bauers, Delino DeShields, Greg Allen, Jordan Luplow, Bradley Zimmer and (when he isn’t at DH) Franmil Reyes are all vying for regular playing time.