The offseason for baseball is getting started and the rumors are already starting for the Cleveland Indians.
On Friday, the team did not issue qualifying offers to their key free agents: outfielder Michael Brantley and relief pitchers Cody Allen. The qualifying offer was worth $17.9 million on a one-year contract and if they had received that and then decided to sign with another team, Cleveland would’ve been able to receive compensation back.
Now those three players are free to talk and sign with other teams as the 5:00 p.m. deadline to extend qualifying offers have passed.
The most likely of those free agents to return would be Michael Brantley and Chris Antonetti, the team’s president of baseball operations stated that the team still has interest in re-signing the multi-time All-Star left fielder.
Brantley hit .309 with 17 home runs and 76 RBIs in 143 games last season for the Indians but he should have interest throughout baseball in free agency. Jon Heyman of FanCred Sports predicted that he’s looking at a contract around $42 million dollars over three years which should be a deal the Indians could offer.
Also on Friday, ESPN writer Buster Olney reported that the Indians are willing to listen to trade offers for some of their veteran players during this offseason as the team could be looking to shed some of their payroll.
As it stands currently, Cleveland has $94.1 million committed to their 2019 roster with an additional $30 million coming through arbitration.
The players Olney mentioned were the following
- Corey Kluber ($15.2 million)
- Carlos Carrasco ($9.75 million)
- Edwin Encarnacion ($21.6 million)
- Jason Kipnis ($14.6 million)
- Yan Gomes ($7.08 million)
- Roberto Perez ($2.62 million)
The players that are untouchable at the moment are second baseman Jose Ramirez (control through 2023) and shortstop Francisco Lindor (control through 2021).
With the Indians expecting to have a high payroll again, it should be no surprise that they may be trying to unload some of the bigger contracts.
However, I wouldn’t expect them to just sell these guys off for anything and it would take a serious offer for them to consider really trading a guy like Kluber or Carrasco because they’re on team friendly contracts and are also two of the top pitchers in baseball.
Encarnacion is heading into his final guaranteed year as he has a team option for the 2020 season. The Indians talked about a potential trade with the eventual World Series champion Boston Red Sox last offseason but Boston pulled back when Cleveland wanted outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. in return for the slugger.
The 35-year-old hit 32 home runs and drove in 107 runs for Cleveland last season and his power would help any lineup, I could see the Indians moving him for the right price this offseason to give them some financial flexibility.
I could also see them moving Jason Kipnis for the right price. The 31-year-old is also entering his final year of guaranteed money because he has a team option in 2020. Injuries and a dropping batting average have made him expendable although last season he did hit 18 home runs and drove in 75 runs in 147 games despite a .230 average.
If Brantley leaves, Kipnis could move to left field for the 2019 season but if a team does come calling, obviously Cleveland would listen for the right price. Kipnis has been one of the team leaders during the last five years but sometimes you have to shake things up.
I’ve seen some people take shots at the Dolans with this report about them wanting to shed salary.
Yes, there has been times in the past where the Dolans haven’t wanted to spend to win when at times it looks like you have to in baseball but this last five years of Indians baseball, they’ve gone above and beyond to try and end the World Series drought like making deals in August for Jay Bruce and Josh Donaldson. They may not have worked out in the Indians favor but ownership put the extra money out to go for it.
As for the trade talks, I’m sure they happen every offseason and teams are willing to listen for almost every player. Maybe the Indians need a roster shakeup or some re-tooling.
I think back to the Indians teams of the 1990s. After 1996, the team did some re-tooling with the departure of Albert Belle in free agency and making two trades, Jeff Kent and Julian Tavarez to San Francisco for Matt Williams and then Kenny Lofton to Atlanta for Marquis Grissom and David Justice. The 1997 Indians made it all the way to Game 7 of the World Series after those moves.
Cleveland can’t bring back the same roster if they want to compete with Boston along with Houston and New York. They need to shake it up a little bit, even if it means getting rid of some of the core that’s helped get them to this point in 2018.