Two Tribe players – one long tenured and the other much shorter – found new homes on Monday as a pair of free agent Clevelanders have signed new deals around Major League Baseball.
Outfielder Lonnie Chisenhall and third baseman Josh Donaldson have taken up new residences in the National League, as the duo both agreed to one-year deals that were announced on Monday in what has been a quiet and uneventful first month of free agency.
Donaldson’s exit was long assumed, even though he would have made for an intriguing but costly solution for the cash-strapped Indians at the hot corner. The former 2015 MVP and eighth-year big leaguer signed a one-year, $23 million tender with the Atlanta Braves, bringing the southerner home to play for the team that he rooted for as a kid.
“So grateful for the opportunity to be a part of an organization I grew up watching,” Donaldson shared via his Instagram account on Monday night. “Plus when the GM sends you a picture with your name and number you know he is excited too!”
Donaldson came over to Cleveland at the waiver deadline last August after missing much of his fourth season in a Toronto Blue Jays uniform. The three-time All-Star appeared in 16 games down the stretch for the Indians, essentially doing in-game rehab work in preparation for the playoffs, while putting up a .280/.400/.520 slash with three doubles, three homers, and seven RBI. He was limited to just one single and one walk in 12 plate appearances in the team’s first round exit against the Houston Astros in the American League Division Series.
He was the second big signing of the day for the Braves, who also brought back catcher Brian McCann, who spent his first nine seasons in Atlanta before time with the New York Yankees and Houston Astros. Donaldson is set to be introduced in a Tuesday morning news conference from SunTrust Park in Georgia, where he is reunited with former Toronto GM Alex Anthopoulos. He will turn 33 early next month.
The more notable departure for the Indians will be the 30-year-old Chisenhall, who has spent parts of the last eight seasons in a Cleveland uniform. He signed a one-year deal in Pittsburgh worth $2.75 million, with a reported $3 million in performance based bonuses tied to plate appearances.
The club’s first round draft pick in the 2008 draft with lofty expectations on him, Chisenhall reached the Majors in 2011 and was hoped to be the long term solution at third base, but later found a home in right field as a good defender on a different corner of the playing surface. Injuries and struggles at the plate have prevented him from becoming what the Tribe might have hoped from their former first selection, as only five times in his career has he played in more than half of the team’s games while showing occasional flashes of being a steady offensive threat in the lineup.
Last season was his shortest year in the big leagues to date, as he was limited to 29 games. In that small sample size, he hit .321 with a .394 on-base percentage (six doubles, one triple, one homer, and nine RBI), but he landed on the disabled list for the second time on the year on July 3 with a strained left calf that sidelined him through the remainder of the season.
Chisenhall appeared in 688 career games for the Indians, putting up a career .268/.320/.427 line at the plate with 64 home runs.
He joins a crowded mix in Pittsburgh, where Corey Dickerson, Starling Marte, and Gregory Polanco cover the outfield from left to right. Polanco is expected to start the season on the disabled list after undergoing shoulder surgery in September, which could allow Chisenhall to log regular at bats in right field before sliding into a reserve role for the club, essentially replacing Jordan Luplow, who was acquired by the Indians two weeks ago as part of a five-player swap.
Chisenhall will have at least one familiar face around him in the Pirates dugout, as he joins recently traded utility man Erik Gonzalez on the Pittsburgh roster. Pittsburgh had not formally announced the signing at the time of this story and will need to make room on the 40-man roster for Chisenhall.
Chisenhall and Donaldson will likely not be the only free agents from last season’s Indians roster to move this offseason. Cody Allen, Michael Brantley, and Andrew Miller could all command dollar amounts that exceeds Cleveland’s financial situation and/or comfort zones. Other free agents from that team, including Melky Cabrera, Rajai Davis, Oliver Perez, and Josh Tomlin, may not return either due to age, effectiveness, or other opportunities.
Earlier this month, free agent and former Indians farmhand Ryan Merritt signed a minor league deal with an invite to spring training with the Tampa Bay Rays. He began the season on the team’s 40-man roster, but did not appear in a game with the club and declared free agency at the beginning of November. Reliever Evan Marshall, who made ten appearances for the Indians in 2018, signed at the end of October on a minor league pact with the Chicago White Sox.
In other farm related news, 24-year-old reliever Kieran Lovegrove signed with the San Francisco Giants on a minor league contract on November 22 after spending last season at three levels of the Indians organization (primarily Double-A Akron) while also being selected for the All-Star Futures Game in July.
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