Tribe Happenings: Looking at the Indians true offseason needs
Some news, notes and thoughts from my Indians notebook…
Looking at roster decisions
With the World Series set to end on Tuesday or Wednesday night, the official start to the MLB offseason will get underway by the weekend. Teams have to make decisions on contract options for 2015 within three days of the conclusion of the World Series, and trades and other moves can begin to be announced (there is an unwritten moratorium in the league on “news” during the World Series so as to not upstage it).
With regard to player control, the Indians only have a few decisions on their roster to make in advance of the start of free agency in a few weeks:
1. Do they resign their only free agent Jason Giambi?
2. Do they pick up the club option on Mike Aviles?
3. Do they non-tender any of their arbitration eligibles Carlos Carrasco, Lonnie Chisenhall, Chris Gimenez, Marc Rzepczynski, Bryan Shaw and Josh Tomlin?
As you can see, these are rather easy decisions and some have already been made.
Giambi will become a free agent. He has not formally retired, but if he does he will probably take on a role within Player Development or Baseball Ops next season with the Indians. If he does decide to try and play one more year the expectation would be for him to be resigned by the Indians to a minor league deal with an invite to Major League spring training. But I think he’s done and he’s ready to move into a coaching or advisor role for next season.
As we already know, the Indians plan to pick up the $3.5 million club option for Aviles next season. Reports came out about that late last week and it should become official later this week. I will share my own thoughts on that decision more thoroughly further below.
Finally, as for the arbitration eligibles, everyone should be tendered a contract except Gimenez. Even Tomlin should be tendered as he should at worst be inexpensive starting pitching depth the Indians can stash at Triple-A Columbus (contrary to erroneous reports out there, he has options remaining. Two of them in fact). Gimenez, however, is out of options and really has no shot to make the opening day roster as a bench player. I could see him being non-tendered but being brought back on a minor league deal with an invite to Major League spring training as a depth catching option. The Indians lack a starting catcher option at Triple-A Columbus next year, so he woul fill that role well plus give them some big league catching depth.
It is an odd offseason because the Indians control pretty much their entire 40-man roster at the end of the season, and such power of player control helps them in their planning for next season. With a team they can realistically bring back 100% intact for next season, it means they don’t have to rush into a trade or free agent signing this offseason to fill a few holes on the roster. I would expect them to be active in the early going signing some of the better minor league free agents to non-guaranteed deals to add depth, and then wait and see how the trade and free agent market plays out over the next two months leading into the holidays before possibly making a strategic move or two during the Winter Meetings or shortly after them.
Looking at the payroll
I can’t tell you how many times I have seen fans suggest the Indians sign Victor Martinez this offseason. I’ve already debunked that from being a possibility a few weeks ago, but I will reiterate here that it is not happening. The biggest reason is the current payroll situation for 2015 and beyond, which can be viewed at the newly updated IBI payroll chart.
A quick glance and you might see only about $58M in payroll for 2015 and $63M in payroll for 2016 showing on the bottom line. But it is important to note that the $58M in 2015 is committed to just 10 players while there is already $52M committed in 2016 to just six players. When your payroll is expected to be in the $80-90M range, that does not leave much if any room for a big contract where a player is making $14-16M per season.
The six players listed above that are up for arbitration this offseason will cost the Indians somewhere between $10-12M, if not more. Also they will have another 10 or so minimum salary players on the roster which is another $5-6M that is unaccounted for, so their current payroll figure for committed money in 2015 is around $73-75M. It is conceivable that Martinez could fit into the budget if payroll was allowed to approach $90M in 2015, but it is the cost for 2016 and beyond which prevents the Indians from being able to sign him (or Nelson Cruz or any top free agent for that matter).
As noted, barring any trades, the Indians are already committed to $52M in payroll for 2016. When you factor in that Corey Kluber and Cody Allen (as well as Nick Hagadone and Zach McAllister) will be first time arbitration eligible after next season and that Carrasco, Chisenhall, Rzepczynski and Shaw will be second or third year arbitration eligible, they are all in for a pretty hefty pay raise if they continue to perform as they did in 2014 or close to it. It is so hard to project out arbitration numbers that far out, but if all of those players remain under team control the Indians could have somewhere between $80-85M or more committed in 2016 to the players currently on their roster. That means to sign a Martinez, Cruz or anyone of that ilk that payroll would have to eclipse $100M in 2016, which is very unlikely.
Other reasons exist as to why the Indians likely won’t be big players in free agency. They of course have never and will never be big players for the top free agents. The only two exceptions to this rule were Roberto Alomar who took less to come to Cleveland and play with his brother and Kenny Lofton who took less to come home to the comforts of Cleveland after a tough year emotionally in Atlanta in 1997. Outside of them, the Indians have always made a play in free agency for the short one to three year deals for the second tier or older free agents like Dennis Martinez, Orel Hershiser, Eddie Murray, Dwight Gooden, Jack McDowell, Paul Byrd, Juan Gonzalez, Ellis Burks and so on.
As we have seen with the Swisher and Bourn contracts, a couple mishaps in free agency can be crippling to a team’s financial flexibility. Perhaps the Indians have a plan to create some breathing room financially this offseason by trading one of Bourn or Swisher which would then make it a possibility that someone like Martinez is signed, but it appears doubtful as both players have struggled to live up to their dollar signs and would be hard to trade if they even wanted to trade them go begin with.
What it all adds up to this offseason and probably next offseason is the Indians doing some smaller free agent deals and looking to impact via the trade market. When you have roughly $10-12 million or so to spend this offseason and maybe half that next offseason, it will require them to rely on their money players to bounce back and supplement the roster with shrewd pickups.
Looking at the needs
Okay, now that we have gone over the few roster decisions the Indians have to make and their payroll situation, the big question this offseason is where will the Indians look to improve and how much can they afford to spend?
First off, one thing to note is that with so many players either out of options or set to make sizable money next season, there is not much wiggle room on the roster to simply demote players to Triple-A in order to make room for a free agent or trade pickup. Check out the first offseason organizational depth chart I posted earlier today to see what I mean.
As you can see, the Indians are pretty locked in with position players both as starters and bench players. The only area of roster flexibility is at third base and shortstop, though shortstop is going to be an internal solution next season with Jose Ramirez to start the season and then Francisco Lindor later in the year, and while Lonnie Chisenhall has options remaining and can be sent to the minors he will also cost a million or two in salary next season and had a solid bat which would make it difficult to place him in the minors.
What this means is if the Indians do end up adding a bat via free agency or trade, it means that in turn they likely will have to trade one of their guaranteed contracts or release someone like Ryan Raburn at the end of spring training and just eat his $2.5M cost for next season. A release of Raburn seems unlikely, so a trade would have to occur. If the Indians do target a right-handed bat for third base or right field to upgrade the defense and help balance the lineup, then it would seem that one of Chisenhall or David Murphy would have to go in a trade in order to make room for the newly acquired player on the 25-man roster.
Also, on the pitching front, the only “hole” on the opening day roster the Indians may look to fill is to add another right-handed late inning pen arm. Anyone who has watched the postseason this year knows how vital a dominant, shutdown bullpen is for a team, and that is an area the Indians could really use a boost next season. Sure, they have Cody Allen and Bryan Shaw in the late innings, but Shaw was overworked because he was the only true late inning right-handed arm for them to use in the sixth through seventh innings. Scott Atchison did an admirable job, but he can't be relied upon to repeat his 2014 showing next season. As we saw in 2013 when the Indians had all three of Shaw, Allen and Joe Smith available to pitch in the sixth through eighth innings, it shortens the game, helps preserves leads and ultimately lock down more wins.
So with all that said, here is what I view a realistic outlook of team needs that will be targetted this offseason:
1. Late inning right-handed pen arm
2. Right-handed or switch-hitting plus defender at third base or right field
3. Veteran starting pitching depth
For as much as everyone focuses on offense being a big need, it actually is not as pressing a need to me as improving the defense, bullpen and the starting pitching depth. As I wrote about two weeks ago, offense is down throughout the game. Knowing this, even with their struggles last season and how frustrating Indians hitters were, the Indians were a top 10 offense in all of baseball. Every fanbase wants offensive improvements, but we are seeing first hand this offseason how pitching, defense, baserunning and fundamentals are just as important. If the starting pitching that emerged the second half of the season continues into next season and they add a good late inning pen arm and improve the infield defense at third base, this team could see a substantial improvement in the win department even if they repeat in 2015 what they did collectively as an offense this past season.
I expect most of these moves to be addressed via trade, but there are a few free agents that might fit the team both from a financial and need aspect. At third base Chase Headley is someone they could pursue if he looks to sign a one year deal to re-stablish his market value. The same could happen in right field with Alex Rios who is expected to get a one year deal for $7-9 million this offseason. Relievers are costly in free agency, so I would expect the Indians to shore up that need via a trade, but I can see them taking a few fliers on a couple of relievers and starting pitchers on non-guaranteed deals to add depth much like Scott Atchison, Scott Kazmir, Shuan Marcum and others have in the past.
Looking at the Aviles decision
Finally, I wanted to get back to the decision to pick up the option for Mike Aviles.
Was it the best use of $3.5M? No. Could the Indians potentially – and potentially is the key word – fill his spot on the roster with a cheaper and/or better alternative in free agency or trade? Yes.
Even son, it was a move that makes more sense than people are willing to accept. With Jose Ramirez set to open the season as the starting shortstop, the Indians want a veteran on hand capable of playing shortstop if Ramirez were to get hurt or really struggle early next season. Francisco Lindor has no chance of getting to Cleveland before May, so they needed to protect themselves with a player they know and trust in the event Ramirez comes up lame in spring training or gets off to a very cold start.
Another key reason they kept Aviles is they know and trust him. They simply don’t know and trust the other alternatives out there that might cost a league minimum salary. For all the Nick Punto’s who sign a minor league contract and end up being a solid addition, there are a great many veterans signed to minor league deals who struggle and leave a club searching for other alternatives. So while Aviles is very much a “replaceable” player, his role is not as easy to replace given the hit-miss rate of non-guaranteed minor league contracts handed out to veterans. Look at the litany of minor league contracts the Indians have handed out to veteran infielders over the past 10 years and you will see what I mean.
This also doesn’t bring into play the team and makeup aspect with Aviles. He’s a big part of the clubhouse and overall team chemistry as a leader and a guy who knows and accepts his role. That’s a very under-rated aspect of building a team each season which is often overlooked when looking at the multitude of stats thrown at us about players every day.
Most importantly, keeping Aviles allows the Indians to choose when Lindor comes up and not rush him. They always planned to have Lindor open the season in Columbus and bring him up in May/June at the earliest (the same goes for Giovanny Urshela). Whenever Lindor arrives, assuming Ramirez is healthy and playing well, the Indians can reassess the roster at that time. If Lindor is starting and Ramirez moves to Aviles’ utility role, the Indians could then choose to trade Aviles.
In the end, I am not surprised that the Indians will pick up Aviles’ option for next season. I expected it all along. It doesn’t mean I agree with the decision. I actually would prefer they go with another option who is better defensively and not so impatient at the plate. By the same token, it also doesn’t mean I am making excuses for the organization either by explaining their rationale behind the decision.
This is a move that doesn’t affect much in the grand scheme of things. His $3.5M salary won’t prevent the Indians from being able to sign anybody this offseason. As I have always said, it is not the one year deals the Indians have problems with. They could sign any free agent to a minor league deal, even someone who wanted $20 million for one year. It is the length of the deal that prevents such a deal with big free agents, so it is that second, third, fourth or fifth year which ultimately affects the Indians ability to sign a player. It comes down to length of contract and not the money.
So I wouldn’t go overboard and claim the signing of Aviles damages anything the Indians plan to do this offseason. If anything, the Bourn and Swisher signings are the two things which truly limit what they can do this offseason. How they spend what little money they have and how they use any of their trade assets will be interesting to follow this offseason to see what they come up with for a final roster.
Infielder Justin Sellers has been traded to the Pirates for cash considerations. The deal is not yet official, but should be announced soon. … Grady Sizemore has resigned with the Phillies as he agreed to a $2 million extension for 2015. His agent may be the best in pro sports considering how he has consistently worked teams over for guaranteed deals now for the third time for a player who is well past his sell by date and barely played the last five years. … Yan Gomes and Michael Brantley have been named as finalists at their position for the AL Gold Glove awards. The winners will be announced on Tuesday night.
Follow Tony and the Indians Baseball Insider on Twitter @TonyIBI. Also, his new book the 2014 Cleveland Indians Baseball Insider which profiles the Indians' Top 100 Prospects and more is available for sale.
Exactly, the DBacks gave up not only Bauer, but two solid relievers for a prospect like Gregarious. And the Bauer now is more valuable then the Bauer when he was traded as he has shown ML ready ability.
The big problem is that for a decade the Tribe sucked at drafting and signing foreign players (ok, every team sucks at that crap-shoot, but they were even worse than most!). Hopefully they have figured this out, but we'll in the next few years see how the last three years of drafting actually work out...
Ramirez is 22 years old, controllable for 5 years, plays good to above average defense, will hit 250-260 and steal 40-50 bases. Look who the Tigers gave up for Price. Really? If you understand Moneyball, this is exactly the type of trade the A's would make. But to Seth's point, from a player projection point, what the difference between Lindor and Gonzalez? If the difference is extreme, you don't trade Lindor. But if its close, as an Indians fan who wants to win a World Series, I'm trading Lindor as part of a package for Donaldson or Frazier (two players who still have significant up side). I'm not giving him for Beltre.
However, that said, Beltre is the better fit although Tony, I disagree with the amount we would have to give up for him. He is slotted for 17M. I'm sure any Beltre deal would be slotted around how much salary the Indians would be willing to take on.
They need to find at bats for Aguilar. He could easily be the offensive addition we need and he's cheap. That could happen if Swisher could play LF after Bourn and/or Murphy have been moved.
Defensively, Chisenhall and Kipnis are the weak links, but it's arguable that Kipnis wasn't healthy and Chisenhall played better with consistant playing time. I don't see any changes early in the season at this point.
Trade for Donaldson (A's). Beltre (Rangers), or Frazier (Reds). We've got the pieces in Chisenhall and/or Ramirez/Gonzalez. Whatever the 3rd piece is, it will have to come from down below. Get it done!
Secondly, we have to salary dump Bourne somehow or someway. This way, we can move Kipnis to left and Ramirez (if he isn't traded, see above) to second. Both the outfield and infield defense improves 100%.
Now Bourn. We could trade Bourn, Joe Wendle and relief pitcher Austin to Rockies for Carlos Gonzalez and minor league pitcher. With that move, we now have a young 28 year old Gonzalez, who can hit 30 homers and is now our right fielder.
Now sign Álex Ríos, who is 23 years old and put in left field.
Outfield now: Rios - lf, Brantley - cf and Gonzalez - rf
Infield: Santana 1b, Kipnis - 2b, Ramirez - ss, Lonnie C - 3b and Gomes - c.
DH - Walters, who can be the next Aviles since plays multi-positions.
Lonnie C can play 1b and give Santana a break and Giovanny Urshela can play third.
Other bench players: Tyler Holt, back up in all outfield positions, Perez, back-up catcher,
Rayburn need to trade or DA after spring if not hitting.
Swisher having both knees operations is doubtful and should become a coach and let our insurance pay Swisher last two years on insurance policy by team.
McAllister found his place in the bull pen and I feel that starting pitching and the guys went thru a growing stage and will only get better.
I also don't see it happening because I believe Trevor Bauer could be had in a deal.
I also don't beleive it'll be as difficult to move
Bourn as some think. If they wanted to move him badly enough, it'll happen. I mean the team has already committed the money, they could easily eat money in a deal.
It all comes down to how badly the Indians WANT to move him.
I think that Antonetti needs to prove his worth this offseason, and he will do that if he is able to one thing: trade Bourn. It won't be easy, and may require that he sweeten the pot with a prospect or two, but that is key imo.
This is not something that I think is impossible, as most of us were pretty sure that we wouldn't get much for Choo (and the one year left on his contract), and CA pulled off a huge win for the Tribe.
If he can do that again it will give the org the flexibility to make a move and address the fact that they need a RH middle of the order bat. I love your past examples here, and obviously a Murray, Gonzalez or Burks type of acquisition added to what we already have would be a real difference maker. It would take the pressure off of Swisher, who could slide into the sixth or seventh spot in the order. Brantley could move to CF for now, or Ramsey could possibly slot in there. Murphy could stay as 4th OF, or be traded as well, but we really need to get more right-handed.
I also agree with your points about needing a late-inning RH pitcher. That is essential.
The Braves have too much money tied up in their outfield, so they're going to trade their best outfielder for a bum who makes $1M less and 2 C- prospects. OK.