Just a few days after Cleveland’s 2021 season came to an end, dozens of questions already began swirling about the 2022 club.
Although the team will have the next few months to address everything it needs to, the front office sat down with local media three days after season's end to discuss some of the most pressing topics.
There will be plenty of questions to answer this offseason, but let’s take a look at five of the most important ones:
Indians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti clarified that the team has not made any decisions on either option at this point, as it has until three days after the conclusion of the World Series to do so. But what’s the most likely outcome for these two veterans?
Ramírez’s option ($11 million) will absolutely be picked up -- it’s a matter of whether the team will hold on to him or be open to trading him. But with the new Guardians chapter for this organization beginning in 2022 on the heels of one of its most disappointing seasons in recent memory, it’d be shocking if the club decided to get rid of its fan-favorite All-Star third baseman. The best guess for right now is that Ramírez will be on the 2022 roster.
And then there’s Pérez. The backstop was outstanding in 2019 in his first season as the full-time starting catcher and brought Gold Glove hardware back to Cleveland. But since then, he’s struggled to remain healthy, and his offensive numbers continue to trend in the wrong direction. If the soon-to-be Guardians think Pérez has some trade value left, then maybe there’s a chance that they will pick up his $7 million option and then try to move him. However, that number is a little steep for the production that Pérez has had over two seasons, so the prediction is leaning more toward declining Pérez’s option than bringing him back.
2) Who will man the middle infield?
Amed Rosario was one of the few bright spots of the 2021 Indians roster, serving as a source of offensive consistency after moving to his primary position at shortstop and settling in at the second spot in the lineup. Because of Rosario’s solid production, Antonetti indicated that -- as of now -- the shortstop job could easily go back to him.
“Amed has certainly earned the right to be right there at the front of the line for our regular shortstop position,” Antonetti said. “We did communicate to him that if anything changes, we follow up with him over the course of the winter.”
Second base isn’t as clear cut. Cleveland got a look at Owen Miller, Yu Chang, Andrés Giménez and Ernie Clement at the position this season and will still have guys like Tyler Freeman, Bryan Rocchio and Gabriel Arias in the Minor Leagues. The club could also look to the free-agent market or a trade to fill the void. But more on that later.
3) Will Tito be back as manager?
When Terry Francona sat down on a Zoom call with media on Wednesday, he specified he wouldn’t be there unless he thought he had a realistic chance of returning in 2022. With everyone on board for Francona’s reunion, it seems as though this is one question that should be easy to answer. For now, the team is operating as if Francona will be back. If that changes, the club is prepared to react at that time.
4) Who will be the hitting coach?
Cleveland needs something different from what it’s gotten used to over the last few years. Whether the team’s struggles came directly from former hitting coach Ty Van Burkleo or not, change will be good for an offense that needs some help. Antonetti said that the club will be looking at both internal and external candidates to fill the role heading into next year.
5) Does the team have financial flexibility to add?
The payroll question comes up every offseason. And after two years of drastically slashing its expenses, Cleveland is optimistic that it’s in a spot to be able to add rather than subtract. This could mean conversations between Ramírez or Shane Bieber about contract extensions or targeting offensive help -- especially in the outfield.
“I think we’ll have resources to invest into the team,” Antonetti said. “How exactly we allocate that we’ll have to take some time to see exactly what opportunities might be there. But we’d expect to pursue both internal investments as well as external ones.”