After three weeks of reflection on the Cleveland Indians and their disappointing 2014 season, it’s time to move on. While the World Series enters Game 3 this evening, the Tribe is just about a week away from kicking off their offseason. And while the defense was horrendous, Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn underachieved for the second straight season and the acquisition of John Axford was a failure, the Indians still were just three games shy of a playoff birth.
And Kansas City is proving each night that if you get into the postseason, anything can happen. For the Indians, the 2015 roster is a little clearer than we’d like to admit. With long term contracts already given to Jason Kipnis, Michael Brantley and Yan Gomes, along with Bourn and Swisher and a squad full of youthful talent on the horizon, the Indians need to tinker to improve their roster but don’t need to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Francona’s 2015 squad will be led by Brantley, Gomes and a stable of young pitching that emerged in the final two months.
However, making the moves necessary to improve those three games and get back to the postseason will not be easy. With so many players established into roles, and a limited budget for the free agent market, General Manager Chris Antonetti will have to be creative in acquiring the final pieces to his playoff puzzle. He’ll need to succeed this winter, making up for his misfortunes of the last two winters.
The one aspect that Antonetti and the front office has always excelled at, is the trade market. The Tribe brass will probably test the trade winds again. With $10-12 million available in their payroll, and the need for a power bat and a veteran starting pitcher, they won’t be able to acquire those pieces and improve their defense with the available funds. Thus, the Indians will have to entertain moving a player or two from their roster in an attempt to improve.
Below are three players that might not be players the Indians must move, but players that have value and the potential to bring back a piece that will impact the Major League roster:
Lonnie Chisenhall: Chisenhall had his best season as a big leaguer, and his first where he wasn’t optioned back to Triple-A at some point. He put together a solid season, hit. .280 with 13 home runs. Finally, Chisenhall looks to be headed in the direction of the player the Indians think has 15-20 home run potential and a solid batting average. He’ll still just be 26-years old in 2015, so his development could continue at the big league level.
But inside the numbers of Chisenhall’s season shows some still glaring weaknesses. After hitting .332 in the first half of the season, Chisenhall managed to hit just .218 in the second half. He regressed in his ability to hit left-handed pitching and his defense remained a major eye sore. As the Indians make a conscious effort to improve their defense and support their young pitching staff, it may be Chisenhall that’s dealt to a team that isn’t necessarily looking to win immediately. Chisenhall could bring back a player to help the roster, or be part of a package in a bigger trade. If the Indians pick up Mike Aviles’ option for 2015, it could be the first sign that Chisenhall is on the trade block. The Indians could put together a strong left side of the infield with Aviles, Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor next season. Giovanny Urshela had a fine season at Double-A and Triple-A and is an outstanding defensive third baseman. He may be a year away, but could replace Aviles after his contract expires after the 2015 season. The Indians could certainly survive without Chisenhall.
Trevor Bauer: One lesson that has to be learned in 2014 is the mistake Antonetti and the front office made in standing pat with the starting rotation. When Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir left the Indians through free agency the Indians elected to replace their 350+ innings internally. When Danny Salazar and Carrasco struggled in April, the rotation suffered and the teams slid in the standings. This winter Antonetti has already stressed the need for a stable, reliable, veteran starting pitcher. A veteran like Kevin Millwood or Paul Byrd from seasons passed can work wonders for a young staff.
If a veteran starter is acquired, a rotation spot will have to be opened and that may be vacated by Bauer. After two seasons with the Indians, Bauer has had lukewarm success. Control issues and mechanics seem to plague the 23-year old. Many of those same issues seem to plague Salazar, but his control and mechanics seemed to improve throughout the year. Bauer continued to ride the roller coaster from one start to the next and there have been whispers that Bauer is not the most coachable pitcher for Mickey Callaway. Callaway and the Indians may elect to put their time into the coachable Salazar and move Bauer while he is still young and full of talent. It may not be an easy task, however, as his relationship with the Tribe is now the second organization that he has not worked well with. A veteran starter filling in Bauer’s spot, in the middle of the rotation, may serve as aid for Corey Kluber and Carrasco at the top and Salazar and T.J. House or Zach McAllister at the bottom.
Carlos Santana: It might be a stretch, but if the Indians want to make a splash this winter a deal involving Santana is possible. After being relieved of his catching duties and failing in his third base experiment, Santana is now slated to play first base and designated hitter with Swisher. With both of them filling the 1B/DH role, the flexibility the organization used to tout is now gone. With the immovable Swisher contract, if the Indians want to restore any flexibility it will be Santana that would have to be dealt. While the Santana has not turned out to be the player the Indians once thought he could be, he still has a very high trade value considering his power and ability to get on base.
Santana makes an economical $6 million in 2015, but his contract jumps quickly afterward. In 2016, he’ll make $8.25 million and has a team option for $12 million in 2017. At some point, hitting .230, drawing a ton of walks with 25 home runs isn’t going to be worth the value of his contract. The Indians could still bring back a package for Santana from a team looking at two to three years of production from the slugger.
It’s unlikely all three will be traded, but it might be just as unlikely that the Indians return Chisenhall, Bauer and Santana for 2015. Considering they each have value that can improve the Major League roster, it may be advantageous for all three not to return. Antonetti is left with the task of making the right deal and making up those three games.