- Second baseman Jason Kipnis is back for the Indians, as Paul Hoynes of the Plain Dealer reported on Twitter. He had been slowed by a shoulder injury, but will now try to pick up where he left off in a solid 2016 season in which he hit a career-high 23 home runs. Yandy Diaz, who had filled in at third, is heading back to Tripe-A to clear room. He struggled to a .236/.295/.255 batting line in his first 61 MLB plate appearances.
4:57pm: Lindor says that he could imagine reaching a long-term deal at some point, but that the time wasn’t right to do so over the winter, MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian tweets. The talks that did occur are “in the past,” says Lindor.
9:18am: There were reports during Spring Training that the Indians had attempted to work out a multi-year extension with star shortstop Francisco Lindor, but details on the talks never surfaced. This morning, Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci reports that Lindor turned down an offer that would’ve paid him “around $100 million.” Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer adds that the Indians did indeed make a “substantial” offer to Lindor, though he wasn’t able to confirm the $100MM figure (Twitter links). Furthermore, Hoynes says that there are no active extension talks with Lindor or any other player at this time.
Lindor’s rejection of the reported $100MM figure — or anything even close to that figure, for that matter — means that the rising superstar turned down an extension that would’ve shattered the current record for a player in his service class. Lindor, 23, entered the year with just one year, 113 days of Major League service time. As MLBTR’s Extension Tracker shows, the previous record for an extension for any player in the one-plus years of service bracket is Andrelton Simmons’ seven-year, $58MM contract, signed with the Braves prior to the 2014 season.
It’s certainly possible that the $100MM figure wasn’t entirely guaranteed and is including the value of some option years, but it does seem all but certain that such an offer would’ve set a new record. Also of note is that the years of the extension offer aren’t included in the Verducci report; a $100MM offer over a term of eight years would be considerably different than $100MM over the next 10 seasons, for instance. The number of free-agent years involved in the deal as well as option years and no-trade provisions all come into play when negotiating extensions, meaning a rough value of the overall package doesn’t provide enough context to fully judge the offer.
And while it’s undoubtedly difficult for Indians fans to stomach the fact that Lindor wouldn’t take what would’ve been far and away the largest contract in franchise history, it’s also not entirely stunning to hear that he rebuffed the team. Lindor did, after all, receive a healthy $2.9MM bonus as the No. 8 overall pick in the 2011 draft, so he started his career in a considerably better place than most of his peers. Beyond that, as Verducci notes in the heart of his column, the free-agent market is moving forward and figures to do so substantially between now and the time that Lindor reaches free agency in the 2021-22 offseason.
The 2018-19 free agent class is stocked with premium talent and figures to be headlined by Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. The common consensus is that each of those players could command at least $300MM, and the possibility of a $400MM contract for either, given that their youth — each will be 26 when entering free agency — will lead to contract offers of extreme length. Lindor won’t be quite so young when he reaches the open market, but he’ll hit free agency at the age of 27 as he heads into his age-28 campaign. That’s still quite young for a player to reach the open market, and Lindor of course figures to do quite well for himself in arbitration over the five years between now and the open market, though he won’t qualify for that process until the completion of the 2018 season.
Notably, Verducci did speak to Lindor’s agent, David Meter, and while Meter understandably didn’t get into any specifics on what was or wasn’t offered, he didn’t take a firm stance against ever agreeing to a long-term deal. “It’s just one of those things we’ll look at on a year-by-year basis,” Meter tells Verducci. “I don’t think it’s very productive to draw a line in the sand.”
While that lends some mild optimism about the possibility of an extension further down the road, it also likely means that the Indians will be required to substantially increase their offer if they’re to have any chances of getting an agreement in place. By the time next offseason rolls around, Lindor will be just one year removed from arbitration eligibility. And though he’d already established himself as one of the game’s elite young talents with a .306/.356/.454 batting line through his first 1122 plate appearances (accompanied by premium baserunning and defense), there are still signs that the best is yet to come. Lindor has already homered four times in 2017 after hitting 15 all of last year, and he’s off to a .351/.415/.684 start to his season through 66 plate appearances. It’s unlikely that he sustains that pace, but any improvement in his production, paired with the increasing proximity to arbitration, will only serve to further escalate the price tag on a Lindor extension.
This is the latest entry in MLBTR’s Offseason In Review series. The full index of Offseason In Review posts can be found here.
After narrowly missing a World Series championship in one of the most entertaining Game 7s the sport has ever seen, the Indians entered the winter with a clear focus on returning to that stage.
Major League Signings
- Edwin Encarnacion, 1B/DH: Three years, $60MM (plus 2020 club option)
- Boone Logan, LHP: One year, $6.5MM (plus 2018 club option)
- Total spend: $66.5MM
Trades and Claims
- Acquired RHP Nick Goody from Yankees in exchange for PTBNL
- Acquired RHP Carlos Frias from Dodgers in exchange for cash
- Selected LHP Hoby Milner from Phillies in Rule 5 Draft (returned to Phillies)
- Claimed LHP Edwin Escobar off waivers from the D-backs (released to allow him to sign in Japan)
- Claimed 1B/3B/OF Richie Shaffer off waivers from the Reds (later outrighted to Triple-A)
- Claimed LHP Tim Cooney off waivers from the Cardinals (released, re-signed to minor league deal)
Notable Minor League Signings
- Austin Jackson, Michael Martinez, Erik Kratz, Chris Colabello, Steve Delabar, Kelvin De La Cruz, Adam Moore, Chris Narveson, Wily Mo Pena (since released), James Russell (since released)
- Brandon Guyer, OF: Two years, $5MM (plus 2019 club option)
- Roberto Perez, C: Four years, $9MM (plus 2021-22 club options)
- Jose Ramirez, 3B/2B/OF: Five years, $26MM (plus 2022-23 club options)
As one would expect of a team that took the Cubs to the limit in Game 7 of the World Series, the Indians entered the offseason with relatively few needs. The entire rotation was set to return, and the team also possessed some upper-level depth options in the minors. Replacing Mike Napoli at first base and finding a suitable left-handed relief option to join Andrew Miller in the bullpen were Cleveland’s top two priorities. President of baseball operations Chris Antonetti, GM Mike Chernoff and the rest of the Indians front office — minus now-former assistant GM Derek Falvey, who was hired away by the division-rival Twins as their new chief baseball officer — did so in a big way.
Cleveland waited out a surprisingly slow market for top slugger Edwin Encarnacion (more on that pursuit below) and, much as they did in acquiring Miller from the Yankees this past summer, surprised many by adding one of the marquee names on the market. The cost fell shy of expectations for Encarnacion but remains a relatively steep investment for the tight-budgeted Indians, who entered the 2017 season with a club-record $124MM payroll, thanks largely to Encarnacion. Though he’s off to a slow start, April has historically been Encarnacion’s worst month by a wide margin, and his bat should more than offset the loss of Napoli, who returned to Texas for a third stint with the Rangers.
It was a similar story with Logan, as the early market for left-handed relief pitching was extremely steep. After Brett Cecil landed four years and just over $30MM from the Cardinals and Mike Dunn scored $19MM over a three-year term with the Rockies, Logan and fellow southpaw Jerry Blevins looked to be in line for solid multi-year contracts. That never panned out, however, as each languished on the free agent market longer than expected. And while many believed the Indians to be tapped out after their signing of Encarnacion, ownership gave the green light to spend a bit more cash.
Logan was signed to a somewhat surprising one-year deal in February, further proving the point that it typically behooves players (especially relievers) to sign early in free agency. He can still take home a total of $12.5MM if the option is exercised, but waiting out the market and securing a quality ’pen piece on a one-year deal was a nice move by the Tribe’s front office.
With some uncertainty surrounding the health of Michael Brantley as well as the departure of Rajai Davis — who signed back with the Athletics — Cleveland added some notable names on minor league contracts. Both Austin Jackson and Michael Martinez made the club and are serving as reserve pieces early in the season, though one has to imagine that the recently demoted Tyler Naquin will eventually resurface and challenge for one of their roster spots.
Finally, as has long been a hallmark of the cost-efficient Indians, Cleveland pursued extensions with a number of its young players. While efforts to lock up burgeoning superstar Francisco Lindor fell short, the team was successful in hammering out three multi-year deals. Brandon Guyer’s $5MM extension gives the club a quality outfield platoon option at a very reasonable rate through at least the 2018 season and possibly through 2019.
The Perez extension, too, bolsters the Cleveland bench for the foreseeable future. While some may raise an eyebrow at extending a pre-arb catcher that batted .183/.285/.294 in the preceding season, Perez is regarded as a superlative defensive backstop. He also flashed some offensive ability in 2015 when he hit .220/.348/.402 with seven homers in just 220 plate appearances. The price for catcher defense has continually risen in recent years, and Perez can likely justify the deal with his glove alone even if the bat never comes around. If it does, though, Cleveland should have a nice bargain on its hands.
The big move for Cleveland, though, was agreeing to terms on a long-term pact with perhaps its top breakout star of the 2016 campaign. Ramirez, still just 24 years of age, went from light-hitting utility man to Cleveland’s everyday third baseman last year with an excellent .312/.363/.462 batting line to accompany his 11 homers and 22 steals. He can play virtually anywhere on the diamond, as evidenced by his shift to second base this season in the early absence of Jason Kipnis. Ramirez struck out in just 10 percent of his plate appearances last year and continues to suggest that his power is still developing; he’s already homered four times in 2017.
As mentioned above, when a team comes within inches of winning the World Series and retains the vast majority of that roster, there aren’t going to be many questions. In Cleveland, the biggest unknown surrounding the team is simply health.
No one knows what to expect out of Brantley after he missed nearly the entire 2016 season due to a shoulder injury that has now required two surgeries. But the Indians made it to Game 7 last season despite receiving zero production from Brantley, arguably their best all-around player, so anything he’s able to contribute in 2017 is just a bonus. To date, he’s batted .289/.373/.489 through 12 games, reminding everyone what an excellent player he was prior to his injury.
In the rotation, Cleveland will hope for better health from Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar, each of whom suffered late-season injuries that compromised the team’s postseason pitching depth. Both right-handers have front-of-the-rotation upside if they’re able to stay on the field. Combining them with Corey Kluber makes for a lethal 1-2-3 atop Cleveland’s starting five. Trevor Bauer remains somewhat enigmatic both on and off the field, but his talent is undeniable even if his results are inconsistent. Josh Tomlin finished poorly in 2016 and is off to a worse start in 2017, so if there’s one potential need, it’s at the back of the rotation.
With Cody Anderson lost to Tommy John surgery, the top depth options in Cleveland are Mike Clevinger and Ryan Merritt (who achieved folk hero status with a tremendous spot start in Toronto during last year’s ALCS). If Cleveland is going to go outside the organization anywhere on the summer trade market, my bet would be on an effort to shore up the fifth spot in the rotation. Of course, both Bauer and Tomlin have had plenty of productive stretches, and each could quickly turn his season around.
Deal of Note
Entering the winter, Encarnacion was arguably the top bat available in free agency, and the notion of him signing with the Indians would’ve been little more than a pipe dream. Deep-pocketed clubs like the Red Sox, Yankees, Blue Jays and Rangers were all connected to the slugger, and the Astros, who have become increasingly more aggressive with their spending, were also prominently linked to Encarnacion. When Encarnacion reportedly rejected a four-year, $80MM offer from the Blue Jays, the assumption was that he’d top that guarantee by a fairly wide margin.
Instead, Encarnacion surprisingly saw his market shrivel in a hurry. The Blue Jays, like many other teams and most pundits, assumed that Encarnacion was gone once he said no to that $80MM figure and pivoted to switch-hitting slugger Kendrys Morales on a three-year, $33MM deal. Boston, instead of spending big in an effort to replace David Ortiz, signed a quality defensive first baseman (Mitch Moreland) and moved Hanley Ramirez into primary DH duties. The Yankees made sense and were often linked to Encarnacion, but they went short-term in picking up Matt Holliday. Ditto for the Astros, who in addition to bringing Carlos Beltran back to Houston, traded for Brian McCann.
With most of the big-spending clubs suddenly lacking a place to put Encarnacion, it became wholly unclear as to where he’d end up. The Rangers were a common thought, but Texas was continually said to be averse (or fiscally unable) to adding another high-priced multi-year contract to its payroll. There was speculation about the Rockies, who had gone outside the box to sign Ian Desmond to a five-year, $70MM deal as their primary first baseman, but the oft-suggested trade of an outfielder (which would’ve moved Desmond to the outfield and freed up a space for Encarnacion) never materialized.
In the end, the bidding war for Encarnacion came down to the Indians and Athletics — as unlikely a pairing as we’ve ever seen for two teams duking it out for one of the game’s top free agents. Cleveland pushed its offer to three years, and Encarnacion cited a winning organization and closer proximity to his family in the Dominican Republic as reasons for choosing the reigning AL champs over Oakland. Encarnacion’s contract is the largest in Indians franchise history — a testament to the unexpected nature of the match between the two sides and to Cleveland ownership’s desire to return to the Fall Classic. If Cleveland does succeed in bringing home its first World Series title in nearly 80 years, the Dolan family won’t complain one bit about their investment in Encarnacion.
The Indians entered the offseason with very few holes on what was one of the most complete rosters in Major League Baseball, and they addressed their top needs with some of the biggest upgrades possible. It’s still feasible that the back of the rotation could use some augmenting some June or July, but despite the team’s 7-7 start, the Indians are the clear favorite in the American League Central division. It’ll be a surprise if they don’t return to the postseason. And if they can in fact return, this time with a healthy trio of Kluber, Carrasco and Salazar, they’ll enter October with a good chance of becoming the second AL Central team in the past five years to manage back-to-back World Series appearances.
Let’s open it up for everyone to weigh in (link to poll for Trade Rumors app users)…
Photos courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
- Francisco Lindor would be short-changing himself by signing an extension worth anything less than $100MM, Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Passan opines. Lindor is off to a huge start in 2017, and while he is five seasons away from free agency, the Indians shortstop is putting himself in line for a massive payday. Assuming Lindor keeps producing all season, Passan argues that Lindor could ask for something in the realm of Mike Trout’s six-year, $144MM deal from the Angels.
The Indians made the somewhat surprising decision to option outfielder Tyler Naquin to Triple-A Columbus yesterday in order to clear a spot on the roster for the return of outfielder Lonnie Chisenhall. While some may raise an eyebrow at demoting a player who finished third in AL Rookie of the Year voting after hitting .296/.372/.514, MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian writes that the Indians didn’t want Naquin to be playing sparingly in a bench role for now. “It was something that, when I say we stressed over it, I mean it was a lot,” manager Terry Francona tells Bastian. “…I don’t think coming off the bench necessarily suits Naquin right now. Nobody’s giving up on him being an everyday player.” For the time being, Cleveland will go with Michael Brantley, Chisenhall, Brandon Guyer, Austin Jackson and Abraham Almonte in its outfield mix. Interestingly, Chisenhall started in center field for Cleveland yesterday, so it seems he’ll be viewed as at least a temporary option there.
- Though many Tigers fans were upset with the team’s decision to demote ballyhooed relief prospect Joe Jimenez after one appearance in the Majors, Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press argues that the move represented a logical course of action for a club in need of temporarily lengthening its bullpen. Detroit would’ve been without a long reliever in the first game against the division-rival Indians and would have been exposed in the event of a short outing from starter Daniel Norris, Fenech writes. And the risk of further depleting the bullpen by having to turn to the likes of Francisco Rodriguez, Justin Wilson, Alex Wilson and Kyle Ryan in the first game of a series against their top competition in the AL Central wasn’t a scenario with which Detroit wanted to be faced. “If something happens tomorrow with Daniel Norris early in the game, we won’t make it nine innings unless Andrew Romine toes the rubber,” manager Brad Ausmus told reporters after the game. Jimenez figures to be back with the team in short order, according to Fenech, though he’ll need to spend at least 10 days in the minors. Fenech also adds that righty Anibal Sanchez “is not going anywhere” in the near future, as he’s the team’s most experienced piece of rotation depth and the club still believes he can get outs in the Majors, even if he won’t ever return to peak form.
Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis was hit by a pitch on his left hand during a rehab outing tonight, as Jordan Bastian of MLB.com tweets. He’s expected to sit out at least one contest, though at this point there’s no indication that he has suffered a significant injury. Cleveland is no doubt looking forward to the return of Kipnis, who is working back from a shoulder injury. As Bastian writes, the club’s bats have stalled in the early going.
- It appears the Indians will activate right fielder Lonnie Chisenhall before their home opener Tuesday, per Jordan Bastian of MLB.com. Chisenhall, who’s working back from a right shoulder injury, picked up four hits in a Triple-A game Saturday, prompting Indians manager Terry Francona to say, “When a guy gets four hits, it’s probably a pretty good indication that he’s feeling OK.” Activating Chisenhall could lead to a minor league demotion for fill-in Abraham Almonte, who has posted an unusual .250/.500/.250 batting line in 12 plate appearances this season.
Here are the day’s minor moves from around the league…
- The Indians announced that they’ve re-signed left-hander Tim Cooney to a minor league contract after releasing him at the end of camp. Cooney has been placed on the minor league disabled list due to a forearm strain. Cleveland claimed Cooney off waivers from the Cardinals this offseason after he missed the 2016 campaign due to shoulder surgery, and back in late February they announced that he’d miss 10 to 12 weeks with a flexor strain. That injury notwithstanding, it’s easy to see why the Indians have interest in keeping the southpaw on board; Cooney turned in six starts (31 1/3 innings) with a 3.16 ERA, 8.3 K/9, 2.9 BB/9 and a 37.9 percent ground-ball rate as a rookie in 2015. He also sports a career 3.35 ERA in 456 2/3 minor league innings, which includes a 3.21 ERA in nearly 250 innings of Triple-A work. Baseball America ranked him second among Cardinals prospects after the 2015 season, before injuries began to take their toll.
The Indians have been active in extension talks of late, reaching multi-year agreements with infielder Jose Ramirez (five years, $26MM) and catcher Roberto Perez (four years, $9MM) in addition to making an effort to hammer out a deal with star shortstop Francisco Lindor. They may not be done just yet, either, as Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports reports that the Indians will explore an extension with first baseman/designated hitter Carlos Santana in attempt to prevent him from reaching free agency following the 2017 season.
Santana, 31 this weekend, has long been one of the most productive and durable hitters in the Cleveland lineup. Dating back to the 2011 campaign, he’s been on the disabled list just once: an 11-day absence on the 7-day DL in 2014 due to concussion symptoms. Since Opening Day 2011, Santana has averaged 153 games and 654 plate appearances per season. In that time, his bat has been above the league average in each year, and his collective .247/.363/.443 batting line in that time has translated to a 121 OPS+ and a 124 wRC+ (meaning, essentially, that he’s been 21 percent to 24 percent better than the league-average hitter after accounting for league and park).
While Santana was a catcher for much of his early career and had a brief experiment as a third baseman in 2014, he’s largely limited to first base and designated hitter duties at this stage of his career. He played only those two positions during the regular season in 2015-16 (plus two left field appearances in the World Series), and it doesn’t seem especially likely that a team would feel comfortable playing him elsewhere with any sort of regularity.
It’s certainly possible to envision Santana preferring to remain with the only team he’s ever known and one that looks to be very well-positioned for the near future. However, a significant discount on an extension may not be likely with free agency just six months away. His initial contract — a five-year, $21MM extension — already looks to be a feather in Cleveland’s cap, after all, even with his 2017 option elevating his total earnings to $31.8MM over six years.
Then again, Santana will hit the open market heading into his age-32 season and with the memory of a free-agent market that was not kind to defensively limited sluggers fresh in his mind. From my vantage point, he’s a definite qualifying offer candidate at season’s end, which wouldn’t do any favors for his market. (Although Santana may not face the same hurdles as others have in recent years now that the new collective bargaining agreement has lowered the penalty for signing a player that rejected a QO.)
Cleveland entered the 2017 season with a club-record $128MM payroll, but the Indians only have about $77MM committed to the 2018 payroll. That sum could rise depending on the fate of outfielder Michael Brantley ($11MM club option), left-hander Boone Logan ($7MM club option) and Josh Tomlin ($3MM club option). There will also be arbitration raises on the horizon for Cody Allen, Danny Salazar, Trevor Bauer, Lonnie Chisenhall, Zach McAllister and Dan Otero, further complicating the financial outlook. That said, if ownership is comfortable with a payroll in this range once again in 2018, the Indians could probably fit a Santana extension into the payroll — especially were it to be backloaded in nature.