All 30 big league clubs are waiting to see whether a 2020 season will be played at all, but assuming a season is able to take place in some capacity, the prolonged delay will impact some clubs more than others. We’ve already examined the potential effects for the Yankees, Angels, Phillies, Athletics and Twins. Today, we’ll turn to Minnesota’s likeliest challenger in the AL Central, the Indians.
For every roster, the hiatus most obviously affects injured players. The delay gives currently them more time to recover, and Cleveland has a few who fit that bill. That’s most notable for a pair of right-handed starters.
Veteran Carlos Carrasco had been nagged by inflammation in his throwing elbow during Spring Training. While Carrasco fortunately avoided structural damage, president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti had cast doubt on his chances of being ready for a March 26 Opening Day. Cleveland hadn’t provided a firm timetable for his projected return, but the issue seemed relatively minor. Presumably, the 33-year-old would now have a much better chance at being in the season-opening rotation if baseball resumes.
That’s also true of staff ace Mike Clevinger. The hard-throwing righty underwent knee surgery in mid-February, which was expected to sideline him for six to eight weeks. Nothing has trickled out on the status of his recovery since, but we’re in the middle of that timetable now. Assuming Clevinger’s progressing as had been expected, he seems likely to be ready to ramp back up if the season gets going.
It’s even possible we see hard-throwing righty Emmanuel Clase in the season-opening bullpen. That wasn’t true prior to the shutdown when Clase went down for eight to twelve weeks at the end of February with a strain in his back. Owner of a 100 MPH cutter, Clase was the primary return from the Rangers in the Corey Kluber deal (along with getting Kluber’s $17.5MM salary off the books). If healthy, he’ll likely be an integral part of Terry Francona’s relief unit.
That’s a trio of potential impact arms who could see a greater portion of the season for Cleveland than had been initially anticipated. And simply by introducing more randomness, a shortened season probably increases their odds of upsetting the reigning division champs in Minneapolis. Yet the threat of a cancelled season looms as large for the Indians as any team in MLB.
Enter Francisco Lindor. The face of the franchise is two years from free agency. If it never becomes possible for MLB to return in 2020, Lindor will pick up another year of service time by virtue of having logged a full year in 2019. Extension talks, which have never seemed all that likely to come to fruition, were tabled even before the MLB moratorium. A cancelled season would be one fewer year for Cleveland fans to ’enjoy’ the presence of one of the game’s most talented, charismatic players. Regardless of whether a season is played, Lindor’s name would surely be bandied around in trade rumors next offseason unless an extension is reached. Cleveland fans won’t want to hear it, but there’s now seemingly a possibility he’s played his final home game there.
Fortunately, much of the roster is under team control for 2021. If the 2020 season is ultimately cancelled, the Cleveland front office could bring back the entire starting rotation and eight members of the starting lineup, as projected by Roster Resource. (Only second baseman César Hernández, an offseason signee, isn’t controlled beyond this season). Yet Lindor’s status already looms large for the franchise; if the season were wiped away, it’d only become more pressing.