Indians offseason FAQ: Who's in, out for 2020

November 1st, 2019

CLEVELAND -- The 2019 season is behind us and 2020 is fast approaching.

After spending last offseason discussing the concerns of the Indians’ outfield, all eyes are now on the Tribe’s infield in its quest to replace .

While Cleveland's priorities may be different this time around, a trade rumor may be the one constant over the past 365 days. But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves.

Here’s a breakdown of everything you need to know this winter:

1. Which Indians are free agents?
There are five: , , , and .

2. When is the deadline for qualifying offers?
The deadline to receive qualifying offers is five days after the World Series ends. However, none of the Tribe’s free agents will receive one.

3. Which players have options?
The options for reliever ($1.5 million) and second baseman Kipnis ($16.5 million) were not picked up by the Tribe. However, the Indians announced on Friday that they will exercise their option on Kluber ($17.5 million).

Because lefty made more than 60 appearances for Cleveland this season, the club automatically picks up his $3 million vesting option.

4. Who is a non-tender candidate? When is that deadline?
Cleveland has nine players eligible for arbitration this offseason: , , , , , , , Nick Wittgren and A.J. Cole. There’s no doubt that the club will tender a contract to Lindor and Clevinger, and it’s assumed that most of the others will return in 2020 as well. Then, there’s Salazar.

Last November, the Indians decided to tender a contract to Salazar, signing the 29-year-old to a $4.5 million deal for 2019 with expectations that he’d be healthy enough to contribute this past season. But that contribution lasted just one outing.

After another injury-plagued year that went from rehab of Salazar’s surgically repaired shoulder to a strained groin in his season debut at the beginning of August, the Indians will likely decide to non-tender him this time around.

Another candidate, although a less likely one, would be Naquin, who will be working his way back from mid-September ACL surgery. The expected timeframe for his return is seven to nine months (April-June 2020), though that could shift as his rehab process continues. His injury may give the Indians a reason to debate non-tendering his contract, but he's expected to stick around.

These decisions will need to be made by Dec. 2.

5. Who needs to be added to the Indians’ 40-man roster to avoid the Rule 5 Draft?
The Indians have a handful of Minor Leaguers who will be eligible for the Rule 5 Draft this season. The two headliners who will need to be moved to the 40-man will be pitcher Triston McKenzie and outfielder Daniel Johnson, both Top 30 prospects for Cleveland, per MLB Pipeline.

McKenzie entered the year as the team’s No. 1 overall prospect, but dropped to No. 2 after a full year on the injured list. The 22-year-old strained his upper back in Spring Training and then suffered another setback with a pectoral strain that never allowed him to leave Arizona. However, the Indians still feel positively about his future.

“As he’s finishing up his rehab, he will basically have a normal offseason and come into Spring Training unrestricted,” Indians general manager Mike Chernoff said. “This is a big offseason for him and then a big Spring Training next year to see the steps that he can take without having pitched a whole lot this year.”

Johnson was promoted to Triple-A on May 25 and he hit .306 with an .867 OPS in 84 games with Columbus. The 24-year-old was acquired by the Indians from the Nationals along with Jefry Rodriguez in exchange for Gomes, and the Tribe seems excited for the outfielder’s future.

6. What kind of help will the Indians look for this offseason?
The biggest priority is finding a third or second baseman. Because José Ramírez informed the Indians that he’d be OK with playing either second or third next year before he left for the offseason, the team now has some flexibility in its strategy.

Beyond the infield, the Tribe could then attempt to bolster its outfield or take a quick look at their relief corps. But the club is likely to add the organization's No. 21 prospect (per MLB Pipeline) James Karinchak, who will bring some velocity to the mix.

7. Which free agents could Cleveland target?
Interesting and potentially affordable free agents at second base could include , and . Although had a solid year, hitting .344 with a .966 OPS in 121 games. He was the National League Championship Series MVP, but his age will be something to consider, as he’ll be turning 37 in 2020.

Now, don’t get too excited about the big names on the third-base market. Guys like will be far out of the Indians' price range and won’t be too far behind. Other options include , , or .