The Cleveland Indians head into the offseason after a disappointing loss in the ALDS to the New York Yankees. The Indians offense which was ranked 3rd in the American League in runs scored faltered after taking a 2-0 series lead over the Yankees. The Indians team which won an American League best 102 games including a record setting 22 game winning streak could not make a return trip to the World Series in a season when they were heavily favored to do so. There is much uncertainty surrounding the Indians heading into the offseason as they have quite a few key free agents and other questions regarding the roster that will need to be answered.
The Indians team payroll for 2017 ended up at $139,165,884 which ranked 18th in MLB. Paul Dolan stepped up to the plate in 2017 signing slugger Edwin Encarnacion to a $20 million dollar a year contract. He also approved adding payroll at the trade deadline and waiver deadline acquiring two key pieces in outfielder Jay Bruce and reliever Joe Smith. The front office did everything they needed to do to help this team go all in for a World Series championship. Unfortunately it did not play out as anticipated. Is Paul Dolan committed to continuing to add payroll? The Indians have five key free agents that will be looking for pay increases in their new contracts as well as a few eligible for arbitration who could be let go. Let’s take a look at the contract status for each player heading into 2018 courtesy of Cleveland.com.
- ARB – Eligible for arbitration if a contract agreement is not reached.
- FA – Free agent.
- X – Under contract with a club option.
- TC – Under team control; not eligible for free agency or arbitration.
|Edwin Encarnacion, DH||$18.7M||$21.7M||$20.0M (x)||FA|
|Jason Kipnis, 2B||$13.7M||$14.7M||$16.5M (x)||FA|
|Michael Brantley, LF||$12.0M (x)||FA|
|Yan Gomes, C||$6.0M||$7.1M||$9.0M (x)||$11.0M (x)|
|Jose Ramirez, 3B||$2.8M||$4.2M||$6.7M||$9.4M|
|Brandon Guyer, LF||$2.8M||$3.0M (x)||FA|
|Roberto Perez, C||$1.6M||$2.6M||$3.6M||$5.5M (x)|
|Jay Bruce, RF||FA|
|Austin Jackson, CF||FA|
|Carlos Santana, 1B||FA|
|Lonnie Chisenhall, RF||ARB||FA|
|Abraham Almonte, CF||ARB||ARB||ARB||FA|
|Tyler Naquin, CF||TC||ARB||ARB||ARB|
|Francisco Lindor, SS||TC||ARB||ARB||ARB|
|Erik Gonzalez, 3B||TC||TC||ARB||ARB|
|Giovanny Urshela, 3B||TC||TC||ARB||ARB|
|Yandy Diaz, 3B||TC||TC||ARB||ARB|
|Bradley Zimmer, OF||TC||TC||ARB||ARB|
|Greg Allen, OF||TC||TC||TC||TC|
|Francisco Mejia, C||TC||TC||TC||TC|
|Corey Kluber||$10.7M||$13.2M||$15.0M (x)||$15.5M (x)|
|Carlos Carrasco||$8.0M||$9.0M (x)||$9.5M (x)||FA|
|Boone Logan||$7.0M (x)||FA|
|Josh Tomlin||$3.0M (x)||FA|
The Indians have five veteran players heading into free agency.
-Jay Bruce (OF)
Bruce was acquired from the Reds on August 9th in exchange for minor league reliever Ryder Ryan. In 43 games with the Indians Bruce hit .248 with 7 homeruns and 26 RBI’s while providing nice protection in the five spot behind cleanup hitter Edwin Encarnacion. Overall Bruce slugged 36 homers while driving in 101 runs. The Indians would love to have Bruce and the feeling is mutual but he is in line for a big contract on the open market.
-Carlos Santana (1B)
Santana is coming off of another solid season hitting .259 with 23 homers and 79 RBI’s. He also played very solid defense at first base as he received the bulk of the playing time. It sounds as though he would like to return and the Indians are surely fond of him. The sentiment is that the Indians will be able to sign either Santana or Bruce but not both. After making $12 mil in 2017 Santana like Bruce will also be seeking a big payday.
-Austin Jackson (OF)
Austin Jackson is another player the Indians would love to resign. In 280 at bats Jackson hit .318 with 7 homers and 35 RBI’s. Jackson is a solid defensive outfielder who filled in nicely against left handed starters. After playing on a 1 year – $1.5 million dollar contract it’s likely Jackson will seek more money and an everyday opportunity elsewhere.
-Bryan Shaw (RP)
Bryan Shaw was once again a workhorse for manager Tito Francona out of the bullpen appearing in 79 games going 4-6 with a 3.52 ERA. Although he did blow some games over the last few years, Shaw has been one of the rocks in the bullpen for the past five seasons. If Francona has it his way Shaw will be back.
-Joe Smith (RP)
Joe Smith was acquired at the July 31st trade deadline from Toronto for minor league starter Thomas Pannone and infielder Samad Taylor. In 21 appearances with the Indians Smith posted a 3.44 ERA and gave Francona another quality arm to use late in games. Smith was excited to come back to the Indians this season. He made $3 million this past season and shouldn’t demand much more than that to return.
One of the biggest offseason decisions will be what to do with Michael Brantley. After missing just about all of 2016 with a shoulder injury Brantley returned healthy in 2017 making the all-star team after a solid first half. On August 9th he suffered an ankle injury and did not return until the final weekend of the season. He made the postseason roster but was unable to contribute going 1 for 11 in the ALDS. Brantley has a $12 team option for 2018 with a $1 million dollar buyout. Given his recent injury history the Indians might be better off allocating that money elsewhere and letting Brantley walk.
-Josh Tomlin (SP)
After a slow start to 2017 Tomlin finished strong posting a 10-9 record with a 4.98 ERA. He has been a dependable starting pitcher for the Indians for the past three seasons. Given his production and bargain $3 million dollar option for 2018 it’s a good bet that Tomlin will return.
-Boone Logan (RP)
Logan’s season was cut short when he was placed on the disabled list on July 21st after suffering from a strained left lat muscle. He made only 38 appearances posting a 4.71 ERA. Logan has a $7 million dollar option for 2018. With Andrew Miller under contract and the emergence of Tyler Olson the Indians would be better off applying the $7 million elsewhere.
In addition to free agents and team options the Indians have seven players eligible for arbitration. Cody Allen, Lonnie Chisenhall, Trevor Bauer, Danny Salazar, Zach McAllister, Dan Otero and Abraham Almonte. It’s possible that all seven will return. McAllister, Otero and Almonte would be the most likely of the group to be let go.
There is also the case of Jason Kipnis who started the season at second base and was moved to centerfield after returning from injury. His lackluster season (.232 avg) and high salary (owed $28 million the next two seasons) will make him very difficult to trade.
The front office has many decisions to make and some of these decisions will depend on what other moves are made either via trade or free agency. There are also young players like Bradley Zimmer and Yandy Diaz who look ready to be everyday major league players. No matter which direction they decide to go with their current free agents the front office appears committed going forward and fielding a championship caliber team with many core players locked up for the next three to four seasons. Expect another postseason run in 2018.