SAN DIEGO -- At the end of last season, José Ramírez informed the Indians he'd be willing to play second or third base in 2020. With the club's top prospect per MLB Pipeline -- third baseman Nolan Jones -- climbing his way through the Minor League system, it seemed reasonable to believe it was time for Ramírez to settle in at second to make way for Jones' inevitable debut. But the Indians may not be ready to make that transition.
Indians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti clarified at the Winter Meetings that they'd prefer to keep Ramírez at third base, if possible.
"We are profoundly appreciative of José's willingness to bounce back and forth," Antonetti said. "At the same time, we're also cognizant [that] he's established himself as one of the best third basemen in baseball. That's the default position. As we think about how we build our team, if the best way to do that is to shift him to second base, José has been open to doing that. But the most natural thing would be to leave him at third and maybe add at second."
The Tribe has the potential to be a successful team in 2020 with its plethora of elite starting pitchers. The club just needs some offensive help and to fill a few holes on defense. All eyes now peer over to second base, as Cleveland needs to find a replacement for Jason Kipnis. Now that finding a second baseman seems to be the priority over shopping for a third baseman, let's take a look at a few players who could be suiting up on Opening Day.
• Christian Arroyo -- It's way too early in the offseason for any concrete predictions, however Arroyo might be the favorite for the starting job if the club doesn't bring in outside candidates. The 24-year-old missed the majority of the 2019 season with the Rays due to right forearm tendinitis, and he never came off the 60-day injured list after getting traded to the Tribe in July. In 33 games with Triple-A Durham, Arroyo hit .314 with a .984 OPS. He's played second, third and shortstop in the Minors and Majors, and he's been best at second, posting his highest fielding percentage there at all levels.
• Yu Chang -- Chang is a little less proven on the right side of the infield than the left. The Indians used the 24-year-old at short and third in his handful of big league appearances this season, and he's had the least experience at second while playing in the Minor Leagues. His bat may have been a little overmatched while getting his first taste of the Majors last season, but he'll certainly be in the running to fill the vacancy.
• Andrew Velazquez -- Like Chang, Velazquez hasn't had much time to prove what he could do at the big league level. Between four Minor League teams in the Indians' and Rays' systems last year, he hit .300 with an .854 OPS, but went 1-for-12 with the Rays and 1-for-11 with the Indians.
• César Hernández -- If the Indians decide to explore free agency, Hernández might be the best option, but he is also the most expensive. This is where their payroll will come into play. The front office has said it hasn't been given any mandate on its current budget, and the team is currently projected to open the season with significantly less in payroll than last year. Does shedding the salaries of Kipnis, Corey Kluber and Danny Salazar give the Indians enough wiggle room to sign someone whom MLB Trade Rumors expected to make $11.8 million in arbitration before he was non-tendered by the Phillies? Maybe not. But if they have some money to spend, Hernández could be the best option.
• Scooter Gennett -- Gennett went from an All-Star in 2018 to getting released in '19. He had a rocky season split between the Reds and Giants, and the Indians would be taking a risk if they'd sign him, hoping the 29-year-old would be able to rediscover himself in '20. But if they'd be willing to take that risk, he'd certainly be a more affordable option.
• Jonathan Schoop -- Schoop is an average, veteran-like presence to add to the Tribe's roster. He hit .256 with a .777 OPS and 23 homers for the Twins in 2019, but if the club is looking for an improvement from Kipnis at second, Schoop may not be drastically different.
• Eric Sogard -- He may be turning 34 years old in 2020, but Sogard put up an impressive year last season, hitting .290 with an .810 OPS in 110 games between the Blue Jays and Rays.
As much as a player like Whit Merrifield would be a dream for the Indians to acquire, a deal with the divisional foes in Kansas City is extremely unlikely. If the Tribe doesn't move Francisco Lindor to get a quality second baseman as part of the large return, the team can easily dip into its starting pitching depth.
Between Carlos Carrasco, Shane Bieber, Mike Clevinger, Zach Plesac, Aaron Civale, Adam Plutko, Jefry Rodriguez, Logan Allen and Scott Moss, Cleveland could afford to lose another starter to address other areas of need. The team will need to target clubs that need starting pitching and try to find the best match for an infielder. But some of the top teams' best second baseman, like Gleyber Torres of the Yankees or the D-backs' Ketel Marte, wouldn't be the easiest to pry away.