Early on in the 2018-2019 offseason, I wrote that the outfield was the Indians’ biggest area of need. That was hardly a unique opinion; many around the industry have surmised the same, and it’s fair to wonder whether the Tribe can confidently go toe to toe with some notable AL rivals if their outfield picture as currently constructed doesn’t change.
Since the time of the aforementioned post, the club has watched free agent Michael Brantley sign with the Astros, while fellow outfielder Rajai Davis inked a minor-league pact with the Mets. Cleveland did pad its outfield prospect depth a bit with the acquisition of Daniel Johnson (as a component of the Yan Gomes trade with the Nationals), though he hasn’t played above Double-A and realistically only projects as a fourth outfield type. And while some might consider newcomer Jake Bauers as someone who improves the outlook there, defensive concerns there make it much more likely he’ll fulfill a first base/DH role.
All this is to say that it seems quite likely that the Indians will bring at least one more notable player into the fold. The possibility they’ll stand pat and fill all three roles internally can’t be entirely eliminated, of course, but such an approach would be irresponsible from a club trying to capitalize on a weakening window of contention. A mix-and-match crew of fourth outfielder types won’t help the club make a serious postseason run, after all. The picture is even more bleak when looking beyond the near-term, as the club’s best bet for league-average production, Leonys Martin, is set to depart in free agency next winter.
There are still some notable outfielders available on the free agent market. Keep in mind that any speculation about whether or not the Indians will sign a full-time outfielder must be met with the caveat that the club already went through an arduous effort to trim payroll this offseason, signifying some not-insignificant financial constraints in putting together the roster for 2019. That said, there are some interesting potential fits even in the wake of Andrew McCutchen and Brantley coming off the board.
The top free agent outfielder, Bryce Harper, is light years past being a realistic target for the small-market Indians. Beyond him, the next-best free agent outfielder available is A.J. Pollock. Any realistic pursuit of Pollock would probably involve some additional payroll maneuvering, but the Indians have shown a willingness to pony up, relatively speaking, for talented hitters in recent years (most notably Edwin Encarnacion). If Pollock’s contract ask comes down to four or even three years, he’d be an excellent fit for the Tribe. Marwin Gonzalez is the most talented alternative, and while he’d be paid at least in part for his defensive versatility, his projected contract could be palatable for the Tribe.
Looking at the lower tiers of the free agent market, the Indians could take a chance on the moderate upside of Nick Markakis or Adam Jones. Such a move could provide clubhouse intangibles in addition to a stable fixture at an outfield corner. On the whole, though, it would commit a disproportionate amount of the club’s available finances in order to make a marginal upgrade. Worth mentioning: with some bullpen issues to address, the payroll consequences of the options in free agency shouldn’t be overlooked.
The Indians have a much wider (and more efficient) array of options on the trade market. With excessive rotation depth and some interesting prospects on the farm, the Tribe has the unique ability to appeal to rebuilding clubs and fellow contenders alike. There’s certainly been no shortage of rumors involving the Indians and rival clubs with outfield depth.
The most serious rumblings to date have been centered around Dodgers prospect Alex Verdugo. The price would be a steep one, as the structures discussed would involve the Tribe sending two-time Cy Young Award-Winner Corey Kluber to Los Angeles for Verdugo and (presumably) other pieces. The Indians have also been connected to Reds prospects Nick Senzel and Taylor Trammel, though Cincinnati’s recent acquisition of Alex Wood might reduce their need for rotation pieces at this juncture.
The Phillies and Brewers are the only other teams who’ve been definitively connected to the Indians in trade rumors, though that doesn’t necessarily mean that other talks haven’t taken place. Speculatively speaking, rebuilding clubs like the Rangers (with whom the Indians recently discussed a trade involving Joey Gallo) could be interested in some of the Tribe’s high-ceiling talent in the lower minors.
The recap above being fairly comprehensive, we’ll turn the discussion over to the readers at this point. How do you think the Indians will address their outfield need? (poll link for app users)