With the conclusion of the World Series, contract options picked up or declined and qualifying offers extended the offseason is in official full swing.
For the Indians, they’ve had about six weeks to evaluate how their 2014 season, with the goal of Unfinished Business, became one of Royal Disappointment. The Tribe has quietly already been busy. Two weeks ago the Indians exercised Mike Aviles’ option for 2015 and last week Terry Francona’s contract was extended two more years. The Tribe’s skipper is now signed through 2018, with options for 2019 and 2020.
Francona’s contract extension may just be a continued commitment to the work he, General Manager Chris Antonetti and Team President Mark Shapiro set out to do two years ago, or it could be a message to players—both internal and external—that one of Major League Baseball’s most player friendly manager is dedicated to Cleveland for the foreseeable future. If a player signs via free agency or is dealt to Cleveland, they can rest assure that Francona will be their manager. Francona’s original commitment to Cleveland was enough to convince Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn to sign with the Tribe.
However, Paul Hoynes of Cleveland.com doesn’t think it is likely the Indians pursue top free agent hitters like Nelson Cruz, Victor Martinez, Pablo Sandoval or Russell Martin. Instead, he projects the Indians could pursue a right-handed power bat more like Michael Morse or Ryan Ludwick. Each could play a corner outfield position and Morse could help at first base. While they would both provide some power to an offense that could use a little thunder, the Indians would have manipulate both payroll and roster spots to sign either. With Michael Brantley in left field, and it highly unlikely that a team would trade for Bourn, the Tribe would have to trade David Murphy to create outfield space for either. Murphy has just one year remaining on his contract and makes $6 million. Freeing up his payroll and roster spot could be enough to bring a hitter like Morse or Ludwick to Cleveland.
Aviles’ contract renewal means he will probably start the season as a backup to Jose Ramirez at shortstop and Jason Kipnis at second base. Kipnis struggled in 2014 after signing a six-year, $50 million contract extension. It would be a surprise to see Aviles take much playing time from Kipnis, but a veteran presence could help guide Kipnis back to his memorable June 2013. Aviles will provide insurance to Ramirez, who provided a spark to the Indians in August and September, playing outstanding defense and using his speed and fundamentals to try and breathe new life into the offense. Aviles’ 2015 contract also means Francisco Lindor will probably open the season at Triple-A Columbus. Aviles, Ramirez and Yan Gomes were the Indians only positive defenders in 2014, so keeping Aviles in the fold for one more season makes sense.
So, as the Indians moves begin to take place and their future roster begins to take shape, don’t be surprised to see and hear many more rumors over the next few weeks. The Indians are believed to be in pursuit of a veteran, starting pitcher to bring stability to their fleet of young pitchers, and offensive and defensive improvement around the diamond. In addition to Murphy, don’t be surprised to hear Lonnie Chisenhall and Trevor Bauer’s names speculated in trade talks.
Tis’ the season for rumors and speculation.
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