Inbox: Why pay up for Alonso at first?

Beat reporter Jordan Bastian answers fans' questions

December 21st, 2017

When Matt Adams agreed to sign with Washington for $4 million guaranteed, I took it to mean the Tribe might not be signing a first baseman anytime soon. So, I was stunned to learn had been added at twice the annual money. Help me comprehend the rationale behind choosing to pay twice as much for Alonso.

-- Mark L., Sandusky, Ohio

The Indians had interest in Adams, but it's safe to assume he was viewed as more of a strict platoon bat than Alonso. This is not to say that Alonso will always play against lefty pitchers -- his splits certainly indicate that some platooning would be advantageous for the Tribe -- but he has a better and longer track record.

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If you look at their careers, Alonso has posted a 113 Weighted Runs Created Plus against right-handers, compared to an 84 wRC+ against lefties. With wRC+, league average is 100. Adams has a 123 career wRC+ against right-handers and a 58 mark against left-handers. Last season, it was even more drastic for Adams (126 vs. righties and 46 vs. lefties). Alonso had a 141 mark against righties and 80 vs. lefties in 2017.

Adams' deal with the Nationals is reported to be worth $4 million plus $500,000 in incentives. The 29-year-old first baseman was non-tendered by the Braves earlier this winter and was previously eligible for arbitration. His pact with Washington is right around what he probably would have earned through the arbitration process. Alonso, who will turn 31 in April, hit the open market as a free agent.

Alonso is coming off a career year, producing his .266/.365/.501 slash line with a .366 wOBA, 132 wRC+ and 2.4 WAR (per FanGraphs) in 521 plate appearances with the A's and Mariners. Adams hit .274/.319/.522 last season with a .346 wOBA, 112 wRC+ and 1.6 WAR in 367 plate appearances with the Cardinals and Braves. Alonso also boasted a better walk rate than Adams (13.1 percent, compared to 6.3 percent).

With Alonso, I think Indians manager Terry Francona can try to pick his spots to use him against left-handers. Francona has done that successfully with in recent years, for example. When Alonso sits, maybe would slide to first base, creating some flexibility at designated hitter. Maybe both catchers could be in the lineup on those days, or perhaps it could open up more at-bats for or switch-hitting prospect .

Granted, we have been treated to great Indians regular-season and playoff baseball the last few years. However, I'm concerned with the upcoming convergence of free agents and players finishing out their last years of arbitration. Given the history of spending, could we consider 2018 our last year in our proverbial "window" due to the amount of free agents we have coming up?

-- Levi M., Charlotte, N.C.

As long as the Indians have the core of their talented pitching staff in place, they will have a shot at contending. Looking at the rotation, ace is signed through 2019 with two additional team options, is signed through '18 with options for '19 and '20, both and are under control through '20, and Mike Clevinger is not eligible for free agency until '22. That's a good foundation for Cleveland on the mound. It also helps that the young duo of (under control through '21) and (signed through '21 with two team options) are locked in for the next several seasons.

Saying all that, closer and relief ace can become free agents next winter. If the Indians are unable to retain or replace them, that's a huge hole to fill at the back of the bullpen. When you factor that into the equation, yes, this coming season seems critical for Cleveland to capitalize on its current window.

Normally when you give a player an extension, it is a year before free agency. Do you see the Tribe giving either Miller or Allen extensions this winter? I don't like their chances of re-signing either if they hit the open market.

-- @BrianLavrich

Never say never, but it seems highly unlikely that the Indians would be able to sign Allen or Miller to an extension before they hit free agency. Allen is in his final year of arbitration, so I'd imagine that Cleveland's front office will at least broach the topic during those negotiations. But, have you seen what relievers have been getting on the open market this offseason? , who was a setup man in front of Allen and Miller last year, received a three-year, $27 million contract with the Rockies. That's the same average annual salary as Miller will earn in '18. Allen and Miller could have their sights on big paydays next offseason.

Any update on where the Indians are with ? Thanks

-- @brp8677

The deal with Alonso likely ends any pursuit of Bruce, who was a nice pickup for the Indians down the stretch last season. For starters, Cleveland's finances are tighter this winter compared to a year ago. Beyond that, remember that Bruce was acquired in August when both and Chisenhall were out with injuries. Chisenhall is recovered and Brantley, while still rehabbing from right ankle surgery, will try to be ready for Opening Day. As of right now, there has been little dialogue between Bruce and the Tribe about a reunion.

Any word on logistics for the San Juan series in April? Is that still a go? Are there any contingency plans? And in any event, are the teams going to do any type of fundraising or relief program for victims of the storm?

-- @berkeyeric

Per the Indians, MLB had a group that toured the site recently, and while aspects of Hiram Bithorn Stadium remain damaged, the April 17-18 series appears good to go as planned right now. and Lindor took part in a charity event at the stadium earlier this month, and more than 20,000 fans attended. That event (put on by 's foundation) raised more than $200,000 for hurricane relief. As for any relief funds or assistance stemming from the April trip, the Indians are still working through that possibility with MLB.

Does LHP have a shot at the bullpen this year in the big leagues?

-- @Cats_at_bat

It's hard to envision Merritt in a bullpen role, but I would not go as far as saying it is entirely out of the question. What is more likely is that the lefty heads to camp with Cleveland as an insurance arm for the rotation. If there is an injury or some other unforeseen setback, Merritt can serve as depth. The Indians' rotation is six deep right now, though, so one of Salazar, Clevinger or Tomlin could wind up in the Opening Day 'pen, too. If there is no room in the inn, Merritt (out of Minor League options) would be a candidate to be traded.