The past two offseasons have been relatively quiet for the Indians. The winter of 2013-2014 they signed David Murphy and John Axford, and last winter their only big moves involved a trade for Brandon Moss and the signing of Gavin Floyd. Perhaps I just got spoiled by the winter of 2012-2013, when they hired Terry Francona, signed Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn, traded Shin Soo Choo for Trevor Bauer, Bryan Shaw, Matt Albers, and Drew Stubbs, and traded Esmil Rogers for Yan Gomes and Mike Aviles. What should we expect for this offseason? If I had to bet, I’d anticipate a more quiet offseason with a low-price signing and/or a trade for a bat.
Let’s start with what we do know – the Indians definitely put in a bid for Korean slugger Byung-ho Park. Unfortunately they were outbid by the Minnesota Twins, whose $12.85 million bid gives them exclusive negotiating rights with the Nexen Heroes, Park’s team in Korea. It’s unclear what the Indians bid for Park; I joked at time that some gift cards they had lying around and a 12-pack of Pepsi was not a suitable bid. The bid was said to be “competitive,” so it probably involved actual money.
In Korea, Park plays first base. Even though the Indians used Carlos Santana at first base last season, it’s possible they planned to use either Park or Santana as a DH, or that his signing would’ve made Santana expendable. They still have Chris Johnson floating around as well, who will need a place to play in 2016. Maybe the Indians saw a good hitter that they could grab at a decent price (if they won the bidding) and figured they’d find a way to fit him in somewhere if they were lucky enough to get him. If nothing else, it shows that the Indians are definitely interested in adding offense this winter.
Michael Brantley’s shoulder surgery creates a conundrum as well – they think he’ll be out of commission for 5-6 months. That means he’ll be ready for baseball activity, at the earliest, in early April. If his recovery stretches into May, they’re going to have a rather large hole in the outfield for the first month or so of the season. The Indians are likely to be overly cautious with a player of Brantley’s caliber, so it’s probable that he’s going to miss at least some of the 2016 season.
After the Indians traded Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher last season, they went with Abraham Almonte and Lonnie Chisenhall in center and right, respectively, for the rest of the season. While their offense may not hold up that well over the long term, they played fantastic defense while they were out there. It’s not a terrible option, but it would be a place where the Indians could look to improve their offense. There have been theories for a while now that they could trade some of their pitching surplus for offense; would it be most prudent for them to seek an outfielder?
I really hate to see the Indians trade pitching. I know that they may have a surplus, but a surplus can turn to a shortage before you know it. An injury here, a slump there, and suddenly the Indians’ strength diminishes. To trade Trevor Bauer at this point would be selling low; you’re not likely to get the best return for him. You trade Carlos Carrasco or Danny Salazar, you now weaken a very potent 1-2-3 punch in the rotation. Cody Anderson or Josh Tomlin isn’t likely to bring as high of a return as Carrasco or Salazar, so would that even make it worthwhile? There are several NL West teams looking for pitching; specifically the Dodgers and the Diamondbacks. For the Indians to pry loose an elite outfielder, like a Yasiel Puig or a A.J. Pollock, they’re going to have to give up something big. Puig’s down season in 2015 may mean that they could grab him at a discount, although the Dodgers may be hesitant to sell low.
What about the free agent outfielder market? The elite free agents are Jason Heyward, Yoenis Cespedes, Justin Upton, and Alex Gordon…they will be far too rich for the Indians’ blood. With a rather large class of free agent outfielders this offseason, they may be able to grab a deal. Someone like Nori Aoki could be a fit on a short-term deal of 1-2 years. With so many free agent outfielders available, maybe the price could fall on someone like Dexter Fowler, Austin Jackson, or Denard Span. Korea’s Lotte Giants plan to post outfielder Ah-seop Son, so the Indians could attempt to bid on him as well.
Once we deal with the outfield, there are still questions about third base. Does Giovanny Urshela deserve a full-season shot at third base next year? While his defense was spectacular, he hit just .225/.279/.330 in 2015 in the majors, which included a .179/.250/.262 line in August and a .220/.289/.366 line in September/October. Urshela saw a steady decline in his offense over the summer, but is only 24 and deserves another shot. Just how much patience should the Indians have with him next season?
Overall I’d expect a relatively quiet offseason for the Indians this winter. I do think they’ll find a way to add a bat, whether it’s via trade or a bargain free agent signing. They’re not going to make a splash on the free agent market, although after the Swisher and Bourn debacle I’m not sure I want them to. Speaking of Swisher and Bourn, the Braves are already looking for someone to take the pair off of their hands. If nothing else, the Indians won’t have to worry about those two taking up a spot on the roster anymore.