After the 2014 campaign ended with an 85-77 record, the Cleveland Indians have a lot to be optimistic about, despite ultimately failing to reach the playoffs.
The 2014 season saw breakout performances from pitcher Corey Kluber and left fielder Michael Brantley, who are candidates for the American League Cy Young award and AL Most Valuable Player award, respectively. Catcher Yan Gomes also performed well this past year, and was awarded with a Silver Slugger award last week.
Kluber, Brantley and Gomes form a formidable young core of players the team can rely on going forward. But, with the Tribe’s 2014 season ending in disappointment, it still remains clear the team needs to take measures to improve.
Many experts have expressed that more offensive production will be needed from the Tribe if the team hopes to make the postseason in 2015. What can fans expect out of the Indians over the offseason?
Two factors will shape the Indians’ approach to the offseason. The first is Cleveland’s monetary limitations. As much as signing top-free agents like Nelson Cruz or Victor Martinez would benefit the team, the Indians’ front office simply does not have the money to do so.
Secondly, the Tribe returns almost everyone from the 2014 team that went 85-77. This is good news because it means the team will still have its stars, like Brantley and Kluber.
But, it also means the team is stuck with underperforming, overpaid players that weighed down the team in 2014 –– like Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn and Jason Kipnis.
The only positions on the team not occupied by a player who is playing well, or a player signed to a large contract, are third base and right field. As a result, the team has even less roster flexibility than it does financial flexibility.
Should the Indians front office desire to tweak the team’s roster, a trade would be the primary option.
The Indians could try to trade right fielder David Murphy or cut reserve outfielder Ryan Raburn in order to give a roster spot to another outfielder with more upside. Tyler Holt or Carlos Moncrief are internal options, who are both prospects poised to become full-time major-leaguers.
If any trade is made, it would be wise of the Indians to look for prospects outside of their system. Scott Van Slyke, a young outfielder on the Los Angeles Dodgers, is a player who some have suggested could be a trade target for the Tribe.
Yet, as much as the fan base might wish for a trade, the likelihood of a deal getting done that significantly impacts the team’s starting lineup remains small.
The only new face Tribe fans everywhere are guaranteed to see in 2015 is Francisco Lindor, the Indians’ top prospect and former eighth overall pick in the amateur draft. Lindor has experienced every minor league level and should be called up to the big league club by June of the coming season.
The excitement Lindor’s debut will generate might factor into the front office’s apparent plan not to force any bold moves during the offseason.
As always, the Indians are likely to make small, risk-free signings and count on the options they already have on the team. Expect the Indians to sign one or two starting pitchers who recently haven’t had much success, but may be due for a bounce-back-year, much like the signings of Scott Kazmir in 2012 and Aaron Harang in 2013.
The team will likely acquire a middle of the pack reliever at some point this offseason to add to the depth of the bullpen.
The general school of thought from the Cleveland front office appears to be that the core of Kluber, Brantley and Gomes will continue to lead the team while underperformers such as Swisher, Bourn and Kipnis will produce at a higher level in 2015 than in 2014.
If that’s not the case, we could see 2014 all over again.