CLEVELAND -- The official start to the 2021-22 offseason is upon us. Cleveland has a handful of decisions to make before it takes on a critical winter in order to get the roster back into playoff contention.
Let’s break down some of the pressing questions:
Which players are free agents?
Are any of them likely to receive qualifying offers?
Which players have options and when does it need to be decided upon?
The team had until five days after the conclusion of the World Series to determine whether it would be picking up or declining these options. On Friday, Ramírez's was exercised while Pérez's was was not.
The club will now determine whether it will look to trade Ramírez or attempt to extend him. But it seems more favorable that he will be in the starting lineup in 2022.
As for Pérez, the club would likely still want to sign him to a smaller deal if he doesn’t end up finding a job elsewhere. He had a breakout year in 2019 -- his first year as the starting catcher -- and gave Cleveland every reason to invest in him. But since then, he’s struggled to remain healthy and his offensive numbers have taken a tremendous hit. While the club values his defense and his ability to lead a rotation (especially a young one), it will likely need a smaller contract to be able to keep him on the roster.
Who might be a non-tender candidate? When does the team need to make those decisions?
The tender deadline is Dec. 2 and the most probable candidate for Cleveland to be non-tendered is reliever Nick Wittgren. The righty had been excellent for the club in 2019 and ’20, so much so that he was in the running to serve as the team’s closer this past season. However, he experienced his first rough year in the big leagues, owning a 5.05 ERA with nine losses in 60 appearances. After making $2 million in 2021, Cleveland may not want to increase his contract heading into next season.
Who is eligible for arbitration?
Who could fall into the Super Two category?
Cleveland has four players who could potentially qualify as a Super Two player, meaning they’d earn an extra year of arbitration based on their service time. Those players include starter Cal Quantrill and outfielders Josh Naylor, Harold Ramirez and Bradley Zimmer. If they’d qualify as Super Two players, the trio of outfielders are more likely to be non-tender candidates.
Who needs to be added to the 40-man roster this winter to avoid the Rule 5 Draft?
Cleveland has a handful of top prospects that will be eligible for the Rule 5 Draft this winter. The most crucial players to protect include outfielder George Valera (Cleveland’s No. 2 overall prospect, according to MLB Pipeline), infielder/outfielder Richie Palacios (No. 14) and infielders Brayan Rocchio (No. 7) and Tyler Freeman (No. 1). With as tight of a roster crunch the club will have this winter, it may be difficult to protect every single top prospect, considering they still have players like Aaron Bracho (No. 15), Jose Tena (No. 12) and Jhonkensy Noel (No. 25) – all of whom will be eligible for the Rule 5 Draft, which is set to take place on Dec. 8. All players who will be protected will need to be added to the 40-man roster before the Nov. 19 deadline.
How will Cleveland work through its crunch for roster spots?
This will be a giant jigsaw puzzle for the front office to piece together over the next two weeks. The 40-man roster is already full before Naylor or reliever Nick Sandlin come off the 60-day injured list. Add those two with the handful of prospects the team will likely want to protect and roster spots will quickly be hard to come by. Outside of Wittgren, Pérez and possibly Zimmer or Ramirez, the team may need to part ways with hurlers like Cam Hill, Kyle Nelson or Carlos Vargas to clear more space on the 40-man.
What kind of help does the team need and will it be active in free agency?
Once again, this answer is an outfield bat. Nothing has changed for Cleveland over the last few winters, desperately needing an impact bat that can roam either corner of the outfield. The club at least has a guarantee in center field after acquiring Myles Straw at the Trade Deadline, but it needs to find more of an offensive answer in the two remaining outfield spots. The front office has indicated that it expects to spend more this winter than it has over the last two offseasons, however there’s been no clarification of how much more it’s willing to spend. That will determine how much (if at all) the team can be active in free agency.
Who could Cleveland be willing to trade?
The team is always willing to listen to offers about any of its players, however there are some who could be more likely to be moved than others. The club’s depth is, once again, its starting pitching. If it would want to acquire a decent bat, starter Zach Plesac could be one to move in order to get some Major League-ready talent back. Cleveland already has Bieber, Aaron Civale, Triston McKenzie and Quantrill locked down in its rotation, so losing one of its arms – assuming the team doesn’t get bit by the injury bug again in 2022 – shouldn’t be too detrimental.
Ramírez would be the other player who would require a team to give up a good bit of talent to acquire him. While that option will be on the table for Cleveland, it seems like all signs are pointing toward the club attempting to work out a possible extension with its All-Star third baseman.
What are the remaining key dates for the offseason?
All players on the 60-day injured list must be added to the Major League roster five days after the conclusion of the World Series.
The annual GM Meetings will be held in Carlsbad, Calif. from Nov. 8-11.
The current Collective Bargaining Agreement is set to expire on Dec. 1.
The Winter Meetings are scheduled to be held in Orlando from Dec. 6-9 with the Rule 5 Draft taking place on Dec. 8.