The Cleveland Indians ended their 2019 campaign with 93 wins and no playoff birth. Reminds me of the same disappointment I felt in 2005 when the team won 95 games and fell short of the postseason. Even though this was not the result the fans wanted, there are many positives for the 2020 season. With a few good offseason moves and, hopefully, less injuries the Indians could find themselves back into October baseball next year.
Assuming everyone enters the next season healthy, the starting rotation could look this:
This might not be the rotation Francona has to start the season, but I think right now those five give them the best chance to compete. Plesac and Civale are coming off an impressive rookie season where they were dominate during a playoff race. Bieber showed the league he was more than just a solid 3 or 4 rotation guy. He would be the ace on most ball clubs. If it wasn’t for an early season injury for Clevinger, we might be talking about his first Cy Young award right now.
Looking ahead, if Kluber gets back up to speed it’s looking like Adam Plutko is the odd man out. Plutko has solid stuff but has been inconsistent and tends to give up more home runs than the other guys. It is too early to rule Carlos Crassco out of the rotation for next season. If he can continue to win his battle over leukemia, he could possibly build back up the stamina during spring traing. Until then, he is at least a solid bullpen option.
Unfortunately, expect the Tribe to part ways with Danny Salazar. It would have been a great comeback story, but I think the time has come for both sides to move on.
Bold prediction: Indians sign some veteran starters to minor league deals. This would be insurance in case they have to deal with multiple injuries again. Plesac and Civale helped save the Tribe’s season after excessive injuries banged up the starting rotation. May not be as lucky next time, so they’ll be prepared. Jefry Rodriguez and Adam Plutko will face off for the long reliever spot in the bullpen.
Tribe’s relief squad for 2019 could be best described as a Cedar Point rollercoaster. When they were at their best they were on top of the league. On their worst days it seemed like they couldn’t do anything right. Closer Brad Hand had a remarkable 1st half and a forgetful 2nd half. The team went without him for the last few weeks of the season due to a tired arm. Honestly can’t remember the last closer to be that absent for the Tribe during a playoff run.
Fortunately, I think things will turn around for the better. Two names to watch out for next season: James Karinchak and Logan Allen. The two top reliever prospects on the team could make a serious impact in the late innings. Maybe something similar to what Cody Allen and Andrew Miller did from 2016 to 2018. Nick Wittgren, Hunter Wood, Nick Goody, Adam Cimber, Tyler Olsen, and Oliver Perez could all have an important role moving forward. There is that chance Carassco will be significant part of that group as well.
Bold prediction: Even after an overall successful season, Indians decide to move on from Brad Hand. They’ll trade him for another reliever and a prospect. Tyler Clippard and Dan Otero could be in spring training in February, but with younger, better arms available the front office may make the decision to move on from them. Hand traded or not, I expect the Indians to acquire a quality veteran arm for the pen.
Unless the front office has other plans, I expect most of the current infield to stay. Roberto Perez was one of the better power hitting catchers in the league and Kevin Plawecki fit in perfectly as his backup. First baseman Carlos Santana had an MVP caliber season. Even after battling injuries, both Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez had successful seasons.
Many Tribe fans won’t like hearing this but I believe Jason Kipnis time with the team has reached the end. I think they’ll decline his option and let him take his career somewhere else.
Rookies Yu Chang and Bobby Bradley could be key players off the bench in 2020. It’s not for sure they’ll have spot on the Opening Day roster, but both have had some quality playing time in the major league level this past season. That will help prepare them for the next step. Both prospects have potential to be quality hitters.
Another guy fans should look out for is Christian Arroyo. He was the other player that came with reliever Hunter Wood in that mid-season trade with Tampa Bay. Arroyo’s season was cut short due to injury but Chris Antonetti believes he has plenty to bring to Cleveland. The San Francisco Giants selected Arroyo with their 1st round pick in 2013. The Giants made the decision to move on from him due to his offensive struggles. Maybe he can bounce back with the Tribe and potentially be their new starting second basemen.
Bold prediction: I will warn fans, expect to hear Francisco Lindor trade talk in the offseason, but I don’t imagine any sort of serious deal going down. He is the leader in the locker room and the bat they need if they want any chance of winning a World Series next year. If they do trade him it won’t be until trade deadline in the final season of his contract. I know, I hate the thought too. Otherwise, teams will have to give up multiple present and future assets for the Indians to even consider such a deal.
But I do predict a trade. Next season could potentially be the last season to go all in for a while. So the Indians need to make a move. It will be Christmas in Cleveland when the news breaks out the Indians have made a trade with the Kansas City Royals for second basemen Whit Merrifield. The Royals need some youth and realistically Merrifield will be available. Tribe will be one of the few teams that will meet their price. This would be a game changer.
A quick summary of the Indians outfield for 2019. The good, the bad, the ugly:
Starting with the ugly
Tyler Naquin tears his ACL during a playoff run
Bradley Zimmer only saw playing time dring the last week of the season. They hoped he would return sooner but he kept having setbacks.
Leonys Martin’s return was so disappointing, he had to sign with a team in Japan after he was cut. Indians have officially lost that trade.
Former All-Star Carlos Gonzalez didn’t pan out at all. He was later cut and signed a minor league deal with the Cubs.
Jake Bauers hits for the cycle and then continued to struggle at the plate. He was sent down to AAA Columbus after the blockbuster trade deadline trade. Yandy Diaz didn’t have a much better season for Tampa Bay. That trade was a wash.
Indians added Yasiel Puig and Franmil Reyes at the trade deadline.
Jordan Luplow was superb against southpaws.
Oscar Mercado helped bring new life into the team.
In the end, Indians have a quality outfield going into next season. The only question remains is which players make the cut? One guy to watch out for is prospect Daniel Johnson whom they got in the Yan Gomes trade. He just had a stellar minor league season and many are sold on his potential. I don’t expect them to rush him, but he may pull a Mercado and find his way up sooner than later.
Bold prediction: Expect Luplow, Mercado, Naquin, and Reyes to be on the Opening Day roster. I will be shocked if Jake Bauers is still with the team when they report to spring training. I think they’ll trade him. I’m a fan of Greg Allen but I believe there is a short leash on him going into next season. If he doesn’t start producing at the plate then he will slowly put himself out of the team’s future plans. I see Bradley Zimmer starting off in AAA Columbus and eventually finding his way back to Cleveland. I don’t think they want to rush him and risk more injury.
My biggest prediction for outfield comes with a big signing. Normally when the Indians rent a player for the last few months of the season, they don’t bring him back. This time they do. With Jason Kipnis not returning, you loose a voice in the locker room. It’s important to keep your locker room up beat and focused. You need certain characters to keep a team going through a long season, and then some.
That being said, they do their locker room and lineup a big favor. Yasiel Puig signs a 2-year, 30 million deal with a team option to stay in Cleveland. He will do it to stay with a team he likes and a chance to win a championship. Indians go all in 2020.