After a second straight season in which the Cleveland Indians failed to achieve their goal of making the playoffs, it is safe to say the Cleveland Indians need to significantly improve this offseason – and that was before it was announced that star outfielder Michael Brantley will miss at least the first month of the season in 2016.
It should be noted that there were plenty of bright spots for the Tribe in 2015, namely another season of stellar starting pitching from Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar. Rookie of the Year runner-up Francisco Lindor also burst onto the scene, and established himself as a potential All-Star caliber shortstop who will be in Cleveland for the foreseeable future. But what can the Indians do to build around a solid core to push the team into the playoffs.
Unfortunately, due to the Indians’ small payroll, fans shouldn’t hope that the team goes out and signs free agents like Jason Heyward, Yoenis Cespedes, or Justin Upton to a lucrative contract. Still, the Indians have still given signs that they will be very active and creative this offseason when it comes to improving the team. President of Baseball Operations Chris Antonetti has specifically expressed the team will seek out offensive help, saying, “Offensively, we’ll definitely look to try and improve. I think we have more work to do on our position player side than on our pitching side.”
Though Antonetti hasn’t addressed exactly which positions he will look to upgrade, on paper, outfield help looks like the biggest need for the team. As of today, Lonnie Chisenhall and Abraham Almonte are the only healthy full-time outfielders on the roster, and neither are considered above-average players. Also, the team’s bullpen lacks a strong left-handed presence, so it is safe to assume that the Indians will acquire a lefty bullpen arm this winter.
As previously mentioned, the Indians won’t be signing any of the high-end free agents to fill any of their needs. However, they do have between $15-25 million in salary space this offseason, so the team could go after some of the middle-tier free agents. To help solidify the outfield, the team very well could be in play for the likes of Gerardo Parra, Austin Jackson, or Denard Span. Also, veteran left-handed relievers Tony Sipp and Antonio Bastardo could be targets to improve the Indians’ bullpen through free agency.
Though the Indians could be active for some of those middle-tier free agents, they are likely to make the most significant addition through a trade this offseason. Many have speculated that the Indians could trade one of their best pitchers in Carrasco or Salazar and receive an impact outfield bat like Yasiel Puig, AJ Pollock, or Mookie Betts. A similar return could be had If the Indians offered up top prospects Bradley Zimmer and Clint Frazier.
However, if those kind of blockbuster deals couldn’t be made, the Indians could go after outfielders like Marcell Ozuna, Josh Reddick, or Ender Inciarte, whose asking price would be a little lower.
It remains to be seen just how big of a splash the Indians will make over the winter between trades and free agency, but with the need for improvement and current holes in the outfield, it is clear that fans should expect a busy offseason from the Cleveland Indians.