Indians reach deals with all arb-eligibles
CLEVELAND -- For the first time in three years, the Indians will not have to worry about attending an arbitration hearing.
The club has confirmed that it has signed all five of its arbitration-eligible players for the 2020 season, including All-Star shortstop Francisco Lindor and right-hander Mike Clevinger. According to MLB Network insider Jon Heyman, Lindor will make $17.5 million, plus award incentives for 2020 and Clevinger will earn $4.1 million, as first reported by Ryan Lewis of the Akron Beacon Journal.
MLB.com also confirmed that the club inked outfielder Tyler Naquin ($1.45 million), outfielder Delino DeShields ($1.875 million) and reliever Nick Wittgren ($1.125) to one-year deals.
Clevinger was the last of the five to settle, signing just prior to 5 p.m. ET. The righty was a top extension candidate heading into the offseason after posting impressive numbers in his first two full seasons as an everyday starter the last two years. Despite his upper back strain that sidelined him for over two months after his second start of 2019, the 28-year-old went 13-4 with a 2.71 ERA and 169 strikeouts in 126 innings (21 starts). He recorded a 2.49 FIP and a 1.056 WHIP while averaging 12.1 strikeouts per nine innings.
According to Cot’s Contracts, Clevinger was projected to make $4.25 million in arbitration. He clocked in just below that estimation at $4.1 million in his first year of eligibility. The deal may end up being a steal for the Tribe, as Clevinger looks to become the club’s ace in 2020 after Corey Kluber and Trevor Bauer -- who took the Indians to an arbitration hearing the last two offseasons -- were traded during the past year.
Indians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti said on Wednesday that he expected to be able to sign the majority of their arbitration-eligible players before Friday’s deadline to exchange figures and he was able to follow through.
Lindor successfully avoided a hearing for the second straight year, while bringing in the second-highest contract by a second-time arbitration-eligible player, trailing Red Sox outfielder Mookie Betts’ $20-million deal last year. Even after missing the first 19 games of the 2019 season due to an ankle injury, Lindor was able to post a .284 average with an .854 OPS, 32 homers, 74 RBIs, 40 doubles and 22 stolen bases in 143 games.
While Lindor began the year on the injured list, another arbitration-eligible teammate was forced to end his 2019 season on the IL. Despite Naquin needing surgery to repair his right ACL in September after tearing the ligament while crashing into the outfield wall on Aug. 30, the Indians decided to tender his contract in December. The outfielder is projected to return to Major League game activity between April and June. With a lot of question marks surrounding the corner outfield spots for the Tribe in ‘20, Naquin could play a vital role in the lineup, especially if the team does not sign another impact outfielder prior to Opening Day.
“[Naquin] is good,” Antonetti said at last month’s Winter Meetings. “I think he’s champing at the bit. It’s going to take some time for him to get back to playing, obviously. And he’s still relatively early in the rehab process, but he’s doing really well.”
Prior to his season-ending injury, Naquin hit .288 with a .792 OPS, 19 doubles, 10 homers and 34 RBIs. His 89 games in 2019 were the most he’s played since his rookie season in '16 (116 games) following two injury-plagued years in '17 and '18.
As the team waits for Naquin to finish his rehab, DeShields will be a contender to fill one of the outfield vacancies. The only guarantee is that Oscar Mercado will fill one of the three outfield positions. DeShields was acquired by the Indians in the trade that sent Kluber to the Rangers on Dec. 15 and hit .249 with a .672 OPS, four homers and 32 RBIs in 118 games for Texas last season. While his bat may not end up being the difference-maker the Tribe is looking for, his speed and above-average defense may be enough to keep him in the lineup on a regular basis.
All of the Tribe’s five arbitration-eligible players this offseason have a chance of playing a key role in 2020. Wittgren became one of the unsung heroes out of the Tribe’s bullpen last year after beginning the year in Triple-A. He pitched to a 2.81 ERA in 55 appearances with 60 strikeouts in 57 2/3 innings. The 28-year-old was traded from Miami last offseason and quickly garnered enough trust from his manager after joining the big league club to primarily be used as an eighth-inning man and an emergency closer when Brad Hand wasn’t available.
Wittgren’s role could become even more important this season with Major League Baseball’s new three-batter minimum rule that requires pitchers to face at least three batters or pitch to the conclusion of the inning. Last year, right-handed hitters recorded a .203 batting average with a .617 OPS, five homers and seven doubles against Wittgren, while lefties hit .241 with a .770 OPS, five homers and four doubles.