Inbox: Could Tribe still reunite with Puig?

Beat reporter Mandy Bell answers questions from Cleveland fans

January 24th, 2020

CLEVELAND – Another week has passed without the Indians making a last-minute signing in an attempt to bolster the roster right before Spring Training. Could a deal still be coming? What happens if the Tribe doesn’t make a big move? Let’s take a look in this week’s Inbox:

There have been no new developments on the Indians’ interest in , but as long as the outfielder remains on the free-agent market, it’s still a possibility that a reunion between the two could happen in 2020. Considering the Tribe’s payroll is slated to sit around $90 million, according to Cot’s Contracts, it’s reasonable to think Puig would be affordable.

As far as a Starling Marte trade goes, it all depends on what the Pirates would ask for him. Pittsburgh could be interested in the Indians’ rotation depth, especially after finishing 2019 with a collective 5.18 team ERA, but how comfortable would the Indians be if they had to tap into that depth after already trading away Corey Kluber? They have Mike Clevinger, Shane Bieber, Carlos Carrasco, Aaron Civale, Zach Plesac, Adam Plutko, Jefry Rodriguez, Logan Allen, Scott Moss and Triston McKenzie, which gives them some breathing room. But last year the club learned just how valuable that depth was after injuries began to pile up.

The Mets appear to be a favorite if a Marte deal were to happen, but the Indians have some pitching to participate in conversations if the Pirates would be willing to listen. Overall, it seems unlikely this deal would be done.

Like previously stated, there’s nothing new regarding Puig, but not signing the former Tribe member certainly could help Daniel Johnson’s chances of breaking camp with the club. The fewer candidates in the outfield, the better his odds are of being on the Opening Day roster.

With that being said, Johnson will still be competing with Jordan Luplow, Delino DeShields, Greg Allen, Jake Bauers, Bradley Zimmer and Franmil Reyes for a spot, assuming Tyler Naquin is still ruled out as he recovers from right ACL surgery in September. Oscar Mercado is the only guaranteed outfield starter next year.

Johnson impressed his new coaching staff in his first Spring Training with the Indians last year, and the 24-year-old will need to do the same this year in order to leave Goodyear, Ariz., with the Tribe. No matter what, Johnson will have his work cut out for him, needing to beat out a handful of guys to make the Major League roster, but his chances do increase if Puig -- or any other potential outfield addition -- isn’t one of them.

Reyes will first have to show that his defense has improved enough to be an everyday option in right field for the Indians. If he doesn’t, he’ll shift back into that DH slot. But if he does, it’ll come down to Jake Bauers and Bobby Bradley to earn the backup first base/DH job. Bauers has a little more versatility, having the ability to also move into the outfield when needed, but both will get plenty of looks during camp. Bradley was a little overmatched when he came up to the big leagues for 15 games in 2019, but he put together an impressive season in Triple-A Columbus, posting a .912 OPS with 33 homers, 74 RBIs and 23 doubles in 107 games.

Yes, both Emmanuel Clase and James Karinchak are favorites to break camp with the Tribe. The Indians need some velocity in the ‘pen, and also a few arms to replace Tyler Clippard, Nick Goody, Dan Otero and Tyler Olson. Whether Clase and Karinchak can put themselves in a position to be a setup man right away remains to be seen. The 24-year-old Karinchak posted a 1.69 ERA in five games for the Indians last year. Clase, 21, pitched to a 2.31 ERA in 21 appearances for the Rangers. It wouldn’t be surprising if manager Terry Francona eases them into their roles at first, considering both are still so young and inexperienced. But both have the potential -- and the stuff -- to make it into a setup or closer role in the future.

Rodriguez is healthy and will certainly be considered in the Tribe’s rotation. It’s more probable that guys like Plesac, Civale or Plutko would get the first crack at earning a spot in the starting five over Rodriguez, but nothing is off the table. Rodriguez, 26, made two relief appearances for the Indians in September after starting eight times. Because of his big arm, he may be a consideration for the bullpen as well. However, Rodriguez still has an option remaining, which makes him a candidate to spend some time in Triple-A while the Indians sort out their pitching puzzle.

MLB Pipeline has third baseman Nolan Jones ranked as the Tribe’s top prospect. The 21-year-old experienced a minor hiccup in October, when he had to receive surgery on his right thumb following an injury that occurred during the regular season in Double-A Akron and was later aggravated in the Arizona Fall League. He’s currently rehabbing and expected to be unrestricted at the start of Spring Training.

At the Winter Meetings, Indians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti clarified that Jones was not impacting any of their offseason plans -- specifically the decision of whether to move José Ramírez to second -- and it seems more likely that Jones will play more of a role on the big league club in 2021. However, Antonetti is optimistic about his development.

“He’s made a lot of progress,” Antonetti said. “I mean Nolan, at the time we drafted him, he was a shortstop. He’s a really big, physical guy, so he works really hard as a third baseman. And he’s developing really well. We think he has a chance to be good over there.”

As of last month, the Indians were optimistic about how quickly outfielder Naquin had been recovering after undergoing surgery to repair his torn ACL in September. But they are hesitant to put any expectations out there until he’s rehabbing with the rest of the team at Spring Training. Originally, his expected timeframe for return was between April and June. Maybe there’s a slight chance he could be ready a month sooner, however, the Indians will not rush him through his rehab process -- especially to play in cold weather -- unless he’s 100 percent ready.