5 potential free-agent targets for Cleveland

January 19th, 2021

CLEVELAND -- The Tribe saved over $30 million on its 2021 payroll by shipping Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco to the Mets, and the front office has indicated that the next step is to reinvest some of those savings back into next season’s roster. What could that mean?

Let’s take a look at five potential free-agent targets for the Indians:

If Hernandez were to sign a similar deal to last offseason (one year, $6.25 million), there’s no reason to believe the Indians couldn’t afford him now. However, if the team is going to spend any money this offseason with an extremely tight budget, would a second baseman be the best option?

Hernandez won over the Tribe and its fans last year. He expressed interest in being re-signed by Cleveland, and the club expressed the same. But now that the Indians traded for two middle infielders in Amed Rosario and Andrés Giménez, is Hernandez necessary? Rosario and Giménez are both young, and the Indians are more familiar with Hernandez, but the extra money should be used to address the team’s needs in the outfield.

Rosario could be the Indians’ perfect match. The Tribe has seen plenty of him over his six years with the Twins, and the team would likely welcome the idea of having his bat in the lineup as opposed to finding a way to pitch around him. In 45 games at Progressive Field, Rosario has hit .353 with a 1.031 OPS (his highest OPS in road ballparks he visited at least seven times). Rosario’s 11 homers, 12 doubles and three triples in Cleveland are the most he’s had in any road ballpark, while his 25 RBIs trail only his 26 at Comerica Park in Detroit.

Rosario slashed .277/.310/.478 over six seasons with Minnesota while posting an OPS+ of over 100 in five of those six. Although the Indians have Jordan Luplow, Bradley Zimmer, Josh Naylor, Jake Bauers and eventually Nolan Jones to choose from in left field, Rosario would be the best fit the team could find.

Bradley may be a slightly more expensive option than Rosario (he made $11 million in 2020), but he would bring a tremendous glove to the Tribe. The team has a center fielder in Oscar Mercado already, but there would be no problem moving him to left field to make room for Bradley.

The Tribe needs a boost to its lineup, especially within its outfield crew, and Bradley has the capability of producing a 20-homer season. In his eight-year career, he’s posted an OPS+ over 100 just three times, but he’s coming off an impressive 2020 campaign in which he hit .283 with an .814 OPS, seven homers and 22 RBIs in 55 games.

If the Indians are looking for power, they could certainly find it in Pederson, who launched 36 homers in 2019. Pederson crushes right-handed pitching, as he’s hit 121 homers with an .849 OPS in 682 games against righties. However, against southpaws, he’s hit a mere .191 with nine homers and a .576 OPS in 269 games. With the way Luplow slugs against lefties, the two could be a perfect platoon pairing.

The Tribe could likely sign Pillar at a cheaper rate than the others listed here. He’s 32 years old with a career slash line of .262/.299/.408 (89 OPS+) in eight seasons, but he’d be an improvement from what the club saw last season. He posted career bests with a .288 average and a .798 OPS in last year's shortened season and could be a lower-risk type of addition to the roster. Someone like Jurickson Profar could fall into this same category.

Now, let’s address the hot topics

Questions about these free agents have popped up (and will continue to) over the offseason, so let’s take a look at the chances that the Indians could sign either of these two familiar faces:

If the Indians wanted to ease the pain that fans felt from the Lindor/Carrasco trade, a Brantley signing would do it. But don’t hold your breath. Nothing is impossible, but it still seems unlikely that the Tribe would be able to get Brantley at an affordable price. He may be entering his age 34 season, but he still hit .309 with an .867 OPS over the past two years with Houston. He made $32 million in those two seasons (too high for the Tribe), so the Indians would need to find a way to get his 2021 salary closer to the $10 million mark for this to be closer to a discussion.

We said nothing is impossible, but this seems as close to impossible as it can get. The Indians had the chance to bring Puig back after he finished out the 2019 season in Cleveland, and they chose not to do so. He was one of the team’s most consistent bats in his two-month stint with the Tribe, but the club also ran into some problems with him (like when he didn’t run out a ground ball). The Indians and Puig had their ups and downs, but it seems like seeing him in a Cleveland uniform was a one-time thing.