The Cleveland Indians opted not to extend qualifying offers to any of the club’s pending free agents this offseason ahead of the deadline on Friday.
The Tribe’s long list of departing free agents including three names that merited some discussion, but instead, the Cleveland front office elected not to offer the one-year, $17.9 million tender offer to any of its veterans, including Cody Allen, Michael Brantley, and Andrew Miller. The significant financial commitment to any of the trio could have severely limited the Indians in the offseason, as funds appear tight and would have only become tighter if the contracts were accepted. By electing not to offer them the qualifying offer, the team forgoes an opportunity to receive draft pick compensation if they were to sign with other teams.
The qualifying offer would have proven to be risky business for both Allen and Miller, relievers coming off of notably bad seasons in the final years of their respective contracts with the Indians. The price tag alone is lofty for reliever, regardless of his success rate on the field over the course of his career.
Allen, who will turn 30 on November 20, struggled with his command nearly all season long in his seventh campaign with the Tribe. A durable arm that averaged more than 70 games a season since 2013 and entered the season with a career 2.67 ERA in 386 outings from 2012 to 2017, Allen found himself lost on the mound as his numbers skyrocketed across the stat sheet. His 4.70 ERA marked just the second time in his career that he posted an ERA above 2.99 (the other was in his 27-game debut season in 2012). His WHIP did the same, plumping up his 1.16 career mark he entered the year with a couple more notches with a 1.36 WHIP in 2018. His strikeouts were down (a full-season career low of 80), his walks were up (a high of 33), and eleven balls flew out of the yard. His five blown saves were also the most that he had surrendered in a single season, and his six losses were just one off of his career-worst mark of a year ago.
A 30-save season, his third straight, and continued strong numbers in 2017 earned him a salary jump from $7.35 million to $10.575 million through arbitration last winter.
Allen joined the Indians organization in 2011, when the club drafted him for a second straight season. After being taken in the 16th round of the 2010 draft, he was picked again by the Indians in the 23rd round the next year. Cleveland was unwilling to gamble on Allen possibly agreeing to a raise of more than $7 million for the 2019 campaign, especially given his position and production. Knuckle-curve command was lacking for long stretches of the season, which drastically limited his pitching arsenal.
Miller’s situation varied from Allen’s in 2018 in that injuries seemed to be the determining factor in his altered results on the mound. The 33-year-old southpaw is a two-time American League All-Star (2016, 2017) and has 13 years under his belt already at the Major League level, but he was limited to his fewest appearances on the mound since 2013, when he wrapped up his final full season in Boston. His 4.24 ERA was his worst since his final year as a part-time starter in 2011. His strikeout rate was his worst since 2012 and his walk rate was its worst since 2013.
Despite the down numbers, Miller remains one of the best bullpen arms on the market and a top threat from the left side. While his recent results may not guarantee him the long years or big dollars that he appeared destined to receive after coming to Cleveland in the middle of a four-year, $36 million contract, he has still been good for the sixth-best strikeout rate among all MLB relievers over the course of the last three seasons, with one of the lower walk rates to boot. He has been a champion of stranding base runners and posting a miniscule ERA in that stretch.
Committing to Miller for one year what they have paid for some mixed results over the last two combined was again a costly venture to consider, especially on a market that contains some established options in the likes of Brad Brach, Zach Britton, Jeurys Familia, Kelvin Herrera, Greg Holland, Joe Kelly, Craig Kimbrel, Bud Norris, Adam Ottavino,
AJ Ramos, David Robertson, Sergio Romo, and Joakim Soria, among others.
As for Brantley, he enters the free agent market as one of the top outfielders available behind Bryce Harper. The ten-year man and the unanticipated key piece of the CC Sabathia trade in 2008, Brantley has served a regular role in the Tribe outfield since 2010 and has three times landed on the AL’s All-Star team midseason. While he appeared to be emerging in 2014 as one of the top offensive weapons in the game when he finished third in the AL MVP voting after posting a .327/.385/.506 slash with 200 hits, 45 doubles, 20 homers, 23 stolen bases, and 97 RBI, those career bests have not been matched since. A shoulder injury in September of 2015 ended his season prematurely and he was limited to just eleven games in 2016 with lingering injury problems. An ankle injury allowed him to find the field in just 90 games in 2017, despite an All-Star first half. He came back in the final days of the regular season and was thrust into extended action in the postseason when Edwin Encarnacion was injured in the first game of the American League Division Series, but he was not able to kick off the rust in time, going 1-for-11 with four strikeouts in the New York Yankees’ comeback victory.
Despite consecutive seasons decimated by injury, the Indians made the decision to pick up his team option for 2018 in a heavily questioned move, but the money was well spent. This season, Brantley stayed healthy and showed that he is still capable of contributing in big ways to the offense. His 176 hits and 17 homers were both the second-best marks of his career and he finished fifth in the AL with a .309 average at the plate and fourth with 121 singles.
Brantley’s 3.5 WAR for 2018 is matched only by Harper on the list of available outfielders in this offseason’s free agent class. Fellow 32-year-old Andrew McCutchen slotted in at 2.6, while Atlanta’s resurgent 35-year-old Nick Markakis also finished at a 2.6 WAR. Arizona’s A.J. Pollock, a year younger than Brantley, had a 2.5 WAR in 2018. The list of productive outfielders in the marketplace drops sharply from there, with just four others posting WARs above 1.0 (Jose Bautista, Carlos Gonzalez, Marwin Gonzalez, and Denard Span).
A total of seven players were extended qualifying offers by their respective clubs. Starting pitchers Patrick Corbin (Arizona), Dallas Keuchel (Houston), and Hyun-Jin Ryu (LA Dodgers), reliever Kimbrel (Boston), catcher Yasmani Grandal (LA Dodgers), and outfielders Pollock (Arizona) and Harper (Washington) each have to decide to take a one-year deal at the $17.9 million rate or test out the free agent waters.
Those players have ten days to decide to accept the one-year tender or become free agents.
The rest of the Indians’ free agent class for the offseason – Melky Cabrera, Lonnie Chisenhall, Rajai Davis, Oliver Perez, Adam Rosales, and Josh Tomlin – were not worthy of such consideration. Josh Donaldson was not eligible after being acquired in season via trade.
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