Indians Offseason May Require Some Patience

Major League Baseball names, both big and small, have been flying off the free agent and trade shelves at pretty fast pace over the past couple of weeks. Boston’s spending spree to snatch two the winter’s biggest prizes in Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez really got the hot stove heated up.

It seems a lot of teams have been actively adding talent via trade or free agency. Then, there are the Indians. The Tribe has remained mostly quiet since the end of the World Series signaled the dawning of a new baseball offseason. Though some fans are beginning to wonder when Cleveland will join into the fun and make some sort of splash, it is not something the Tribe needs to do all that quickly.

During this holiday season of giving, it is natural that the Indians fanbase would like a new present in the starting lineup or pitching staff. However, the key word this season for both the organization and those that follow it closely will be patience.

To date, Cleveland’s biggest move this offseason has been granting a minor league contract to veteran starter Shaun Marcum. Marcum spent last season in the Tribe’s farm system working to recover from injuries that have plagued him the last couple years. Before aches and pains started to take their toll, Marcum was an excellent hurler. If he can rediscover his form that saw him win 13 games, with sub-4.00 ERA’s in both 2010 and 2011, the Indians have viable, experienced arm to put in the middle of a young rotation.

While Marcum could be a nice piece on a team with playoff aspirations, one would think the Indians have more and bigger moves in mind. The fact is, there is little the team can do beyond shoring up things in-house at the moment.

The next possible chips to fall or, at least, be discussed for the team could be contracts with Corey Kluber or Cody Allen. After that, it is well known that the Indians front office wants to add depth to a talented core of pitchers who are mostly unproven and untested in big situations.

Currently, the majority of the free agent market and trade winds have been dominated by the hitters. Along with Sandoval and Ramirez, other big moves have involved Gian-Carlo Satanton, Russell Martin, Victor Martinez, Michael Cuddyer, Adam LaRoche and Billy Butler. The only big free-agent signing, per CBS Sports top free agents list to move has been 38-year-old A.J. Burnett going back to Pittsburgh on a one-year deal. He is ranked 16th of 25 arms by CBS and the only arm on the free-agent list of pitchers to be scooped up.

The pitching market, simply, has not picked up yet and is not really surprising. With such big names as Max Scherzer, Jon Lester and James Shields still without teams, it could take a while for the arms race to really get into high gear. Those three chips will be the first to fall. All three will demand large deals that will need to be hammered out. Unlike a batter, who plays every day, it is much more difficult to gauge the value of a starting pitcher who takes the field every five.

Those three will eventually land somewhere, on lucrative contracts. However, until they have set the top of the market for pitchers, the middle and lower sects are not going to move all that fast.

That means a team like the Indians will have to wait. Cleveland is not in a position to go after one of the top three pitchers on the market, meaning the club will have to bide its time until the second and third tier pitchers are ready to engage in serious contract talks.

Cleveland does not need to enter the race for one of the big names. While it would be nice to add a Lester or Scherzer to reigning American League Cy Young Kluber, it would be unwise to spend that much money in this market. That is especially true, when Cleveland has a full rotation of young arms it likes in the form of Trevor Bauer, T.J. House, Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar. That group of four pitched splendidly over the final two months of 2014. The Indians really just need to add a starter or two to hedge against the potential flash-in-the-pan that can happen with a young player.

Likewise, the Indians are pretty set at the top of the bullpen. With a trusted closer in Allen and solid setup guys in Bryan Shaw and Scott Atchison, the Tribe does not need to make a splash. The team has a whole host of young bullpen arms that proved capable last year. Again, a proven veteran is all that is needed here to really shore things up and give depth in case of regression or injury.

The irony is Cleveland’s glaring weakness last season was the offense. It is the one area, oddly enough, where the Indians really can not do much to add. That is because the entire lineup and much of the bench is already locked into deals for next season.

The biggest disappointments on offense last year were Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn and Jason Kipnis. Kipnis is young and a rebound year is certainly possible. Swisher and Bourn, the Tribe’s free-agent splash of two years ago, had their 2014 campaigns marred by injuries.

After those three, the Tribe also has Carlos Santana, Yan Gomes, Michael Brantley and David Murphy already in tow. Mike Aviles and Ryan Raburn, key bench players, have guaranteed contracts for 2015.

The only unsettled positions appear to be shortstop and third base. Shortstop will soon be manned by young sensation Francisco Lindor. Until then, Jose Ramirez proved quite capable last season of keeping the spot warm and could be the team’s utility infielder of the future. At third base, Lonnie Chisenhall will be given every chance to succeed. The former first-round pick appeared to finally put it all together during a blistering first three months this past year. However, he fell back to Earth during the stretch run. The Tribe needs to see what it has in the kid, definitively, before deciding whether he will fulfill his promise or will need to be moved.

Cleveland is in no rush, nor should it be, to add a free agent bat to lineup that is pretty locked in – for better or worse. The only way the Indians will improve the everyday lineup would be via trade. That can happen, but would take some time. The biggest rumor has involved the Indians trading the struggling Swisher for another bad contract. It would not be a horrible move, as a changes of scenery can help players, but is not an easy deal to pull off.

Whatever the case, there is likely to be move movement for the Tribe on the player-addition front. It simply will not happen really fast as it has for other teams. The Indians are not in a position to add a big name player. It is a team with a fairly set roster – on that is already playoff worthy if firing on all cylinders.

This will be an offseason requiring patience for the Indians and their fans. This is not an offseason to have a quick trigger finger. A holiday free-agent gift may have to come in the new year.

Photo: Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. when you have one-third of your payroll locked into two players for the next two years, you pretty much have to hope that 1) they have bounceback years from their injuries. 2) the rest of the lineup can stay healthy and compensate. 3) both events occur, in which case the team is in great shape. If neither occurs and there is some fallback from the rest of the lineup, team is in deep trouble, even if the pitching holds up.

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