Former Friends of the Feather Find New Homes and New Hopes
Bob Toth | On 30, Mar 2019
Quite a few familiar names and a few others not as well known have left the Indians organization since the final pitch of the American League Division Series sweep suffered by Cleveland at the hands of the Houston Astros.
In one busy offseason, the Indians saw new holes pop up all around the roster. Two corner outfielders, three more bench outfielders, the team’s starting designated hitter, first baseman, and catcher, as well as the two most important arms in the bullpen, all either left and signed elsewhere or were traded away, while the Tribe front office’s biggest guaranteed deal went to 37-year-old reliever Oliver Perez, who signed a one-year, $2.5 million deal in January with a vesting option for 2020.
Beware – some of the pictures you are about to see may be hard on the eyes.
The biggest lost for the Indians may be outfielder Michael Brantley, who was one of the longest tenured players on the team. He signed with the Houston Astros on a two-year, $32 million deal. He will receive $15 million for each of the next two seasons with a $2 million signing bonus. He joins the club that knocked the Indians out of the playoffs a year ago and is a favorite once again to take home the American League West.
Brantley did not get as big of a contract as many figured that he would, but he still cashed in off of a solid bounce-back season from injuries over the previous two years. The 31-year-old had a steady spring, working in 17 games while hitting .279 with a double and six runs batted in.
He impressed his new club some in Thursday’s season opener, hitting a solo home run and adding a single in a two-hit performance (equaling his former club’s entire hit total in their own opener).
Yan Gomes put together a nice spring with the Washington Nationals after being dealt to the nation’s capital at the end of November for pitcher Jefry Rodriguez and a pair of minor league prospects. After working with two-time Cy Young winner Corey Kluber and a pair of pitchers who have received Cy votes in recent years in Carlos Carrasco and Trevor Bauer, Gomes now gets to work with three-time Cy winner (and six-time top five finisher since 2013) Max Scherzer and the rest of the Nationals staff, including Stephen Strasburg, free agent addition Patrick Corbin (who finished fifth in the National League Cy Young voting last year), Anibal Sanchez, and Jeremy Hellickson.
The 31-year-old hit .375 with a .405 OBP and .700 slugging in 16 spring games with a double, four homers, and eight RBI. He went 1-for-3 with a single and two strikeouts in his regular season Nationals debut on Thursday.
Cleveland lost a pair of arms from the back end of the bullpen, fully erasing the most effective parts of the staff from the team’s wild run to the final game of the 2016 postseason just a few years ago. After seeing Bryan Shaw leave via free agency last offseason, the Indians lost both Cody Allen and Andrew Miller after their contracts expired.
Allen signed on with the Los Angeles Angels in mid-January on a one-year deal worth $8.5 million after a down season on the mound for Cleveland in 2018. A member of the Indians organization since he was drafted by the club in 2011, the 30-year-old Allen will look to rebuild his worth while closing for an Angels club that has failed to live up to expectations consistently over the last few years.
Allen posted a 7.20 ERA and a 1.80 WHIP in nine spring games, allowing eight runs on 12 hits (two home runs) with six walks and 12 strikeouts in ten innings of work.
Miller, the 34-year-old southpaw who was instrumental to the Tribe’s success in 2016 after being acquired for four prospects at that season’s deadline, lost much of his 2018 to injury. He got the better deal of the two free agent relievers, heading to St. Louis on a two-year deal worth $25 million with a vesting/club option for a third year and a full no-trade clause. He will hope to anchor a bullpen full of young arms and older, underwhelming ones on manager Mike Shildt’s staff.
The 33-year-old had a rough showing in the Grapefruit League, allowing seven runs on five hits with five walks, three hit batters, and eight strikeouts (11.81 ERA and a 1.88 WHIP) in seven outings.
Sticking with the National League Central, the Pittsburgh Pirates picked up three different position players from the Tribe in the offseason. Utility man Erik Gonzalez, who was acquired with minor league pitchers Dante Mendoza and Tahnaj Thomas for outfielder Jordan Luplow and utility guy Max Moroff in mid-November, was named the Pirates starting shortstop as he finally gets an opportunity to play every day.
He won the job despite a so-so spring. He hit .200 with a .308 OBP, getting nine hits (two doubles, one homer) and seven walks in 18 games of action. He went 1-for-4 in his Pirates debut on Thursday with a single.
The Pirates also signed former Indians right fielder Lonnie Chisenhall at the end of November to a one-year, $2.75 million deal. He was expected to provide the loaded Pirates outfield with some depth while Gregory Polanco was dealing with his shoulder issue, but instead, Pittsburgh is getting a taste of life with Chisenhall. The 30-year-old was hit by a pitch in Monday’s spring training game and fractured his right index finger. He will open the 2019 season on the 10-day injured list.
Veteran Melky Cabrera, who spent two stints with Cleveland last season, signed with Pittsburgh in February on a minor league contract and made the club as a reserve outfielder, essentially taking Chisenhall’s spot in the outfield.
Starting his 15th MLB season, he went 0-for-4 on Thursday with a strikeout in his season debut after a good spring overall, when he hit .288 with a .315 OBP with three doubles, one homer, and five RBI in 19 games.
Edwin Encarnacion, 36, was moved as part of the deal that brought Carlos Santana back to Cleveland. While there has been a steady decline in his triple slash stats over the last few years, Encarnacion was still good for 32 homers and 107 RBI last season, which were once again among the league leaders in the American League.
He hit .121 in the spring in 12 games with a double and just one RBI, but through his first three regular season games, he has already homered, drawn four walks, and been hit by two pitches.
Yandy Diaz went to Tampa as part of the three-team trade that moved Encarnacion to Seattle and Santana and first baseman/left fielder Jake Bauers to Cleveland. Joined by pitching prospect Cole Sulser in the deal, Diaz won a spot on manager Kevin Cash’s club. The 27-year-old Cuban hit .286 with a .407 OBP in the spring with two doubles, two homers, and nine RBI while drawing ten walks against eight strikeouts. He went 1-for-3 in his Rays regular season debut Thursday with a double and a walk as the team’s starting third baseman and laced a sickening 17 degree launch angle home run to dead center in Friday’s game for just his second career home run.
Sulser worked eight scoreless appearances in the spring for the Rays, striking out ten and issuing no walks in eight and one-third innings of three-hit ball. The 29-year-old is not on the Rays’ 40-man roster, but could factor in their extensive pitching mix this season.
Josh Donaldson’s time at third base for Cleveland was short and came at the cost of young pitching prospect Julian Merryweather. He appeared in 16 games for the Indians in September of 2018, hitting .280 with three doubles, three homers, and seven RBI before a 1-for-11 showing in the playoffs.
Donaldson signed a one-year deal in the offseason with the Atlanta Braves, uniting him with his favorite club as a kid. The $23 million deal will allow the 33-year-old to play with a young and upcoming team with playoff aspirations in 2019. He had a tough spring, hitting .130 in nine games with a double, a homer, and four runs batted in. He went 0-for-3 with a strikeout, a walk, and a run scored in his Braves debut on Thursday.
Yonder Alonso was another cash casualty of the Indians this winter, traded to the Chicago White Sox for outfielder Alex Call. Alonso may have made his way to the Windy City as part of the recruiting pitch for free agent Manny Machado, who elected to sign in San Diego instead. Alonso is expected to aid a heavily Cuban clubhouse in Chicago.
Coming off of a career-high 83 RBI season with the Indians in 2018, he put up strong numbers in the spring, hitting three doubles, five homers, and driving in 14 in 22 games. He was hitless with a walk and a strikeout in his first Sox game.
Things did not turn out as well for a pair of outfielders from last year’s squad. Brandon Guyer, 33, signed with the White Sox in the middle of February, but after eleven spring games, he was released. He re-signed with the organization and is expected to report to Triple-A. Rajai Davis, who signed a minor league deal with the New York Mets in December, was not one of the 25-men to make the Mets at the end of spring training. The 38-year-old, who worked in 101 games and stole 21 bases last year with the Indians, was re-assigned to minor league camp. He had a good spring despite being a roster cut, hitting .323 with four doubles, a homer, and six RBI.
Adam Rosales returned to the Majors with the Indians in September, appearing in 13 games while hitting .211. A free agent after the season, he signed with the Minnesota Twins, but after hitting .278 with three doubles, four homers, and nine RBI in 16 spring games, he was released on March 22.
After spending his first 13 professional seasons in the Indians organization, Josh Tomlin’s title as longest tenured Tribesman came to a close after a disappointing 2018 campaign. Injuries and a horrifying home run rate led him to make just nine starts and 23 relief appearances as he posted his worst ERA (6.14) since his 6.36 mark in 2012, his season that was cut short due to Tommy John surgery. Once a steady innings eater with impeccable control, Tomlin was hit all over the yard.
He landed in Milwaukee on a minor league deal and was invited to spring training, but he was cut late in camp. He had enough time to sign on to the same pact with Atlanta a day later and made their pitching staff, one decimated by injuries. He had a good overall showing during the spring in six appearances, working 18 innings and allowing eight runs (4.00 ERA) on 15 hits with three walks (1.00 WHIP) and 12 strikeouts. How long the 34-year-old sticks in Atlanta as a long man in the bullpen remains to be seen, but the first time that he takes the mound for the Braves will mark his tenth different season of big league action and his first outside of an Indians uniform.
It was an interesting week for Kyle Dowdy, who was acquired by the Indians with Leonys Martin for Willi Castro last trade deadline. The 26-year-old right-hander, who pitched for Double-A Akron and Triple-A Columbus, was a Rule 5 pick by the New York Mets in December. He worked in six spring games, posting a 5.56 ERA and a 1.94 WHIP as control problems and a high hit rate plagued him in Florida. He was placed on waivers and claimed by the Texas Rangers, who have stashed him in their mess of a bullpen.
The Rangers now will have to fulfill the Rule 5 expectations for the season in order to keep Dowdy. If not, they can place him on waivers as the Mets did, and if he goes unclaimed, he would be offered back to the Indians, who could take him back for $50,000, work out a trade, or allow the Rangers to send him to the minors.
Dowdy appeared in Thursday’s game in relief, allowing three runs on four hits with two walks and a strikeout in two innings.
There were a handful of veteran minor league free agents brought in by the Indians in the offseason that have moved on to new homes in the Majors.
Outfielder Matt Joyce, after being informed that he would not be on the Indians’ 25-man roster, opted out of his contract and signed with the San Francisco Giants. He was swapped to Atlanta days later and placed on the 25-man roster on Thursday before homering in his first and only at bat of the day. Reliever Alex Wilson was cut by the Indians after allowing three runs on six hits with three walks and nine strikeouts in nine and one-third innings of nine games (2.89 ERA, 0.96 WHIP) and he got a Major League deal with Milwaukee. Reliever Justin Grimm signed a minor league deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Ryan Flaherty, a 32-year-old utility man, opted out but remains a free agent.
Photo: Joel Auerbach/Getty Images