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5 key questions facing Tribe ahead of 2021

@MandyBell02
October 8, 2020

CLEVELAND -- Francisco Lindor has heard his name pop up in countless trade rumors over the years, yet nothing has ever come to fruition. But with one just year left until he hits free agency, could this be the offseason when a deal gets done? The Indians have plenty of

CLEVELAND -- Francisco Lindor has heard his name pop up in countless trade rumors over the years, yet nothing has ever come to fruition. But with one just year left until he hits free agency, could this be the offseason when a deal gets done?

The Indians have plenty of things to iron out this winter, including what to do with their All-Star shortstop. Here are five questions facing the Tribe this offseason:

1. What will their payroll look like?
Before the Indians can make a blueprint for the winter, the club will need to determine what its payroll will look like for 2021. Though the Tribe probably has a good idea of where it stands heading into next year, Indians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti said they haven’t been given a specific number for payroll at this point.

Antonetti on Indians' payroll

Before the shortened season caused player salaries to be adjusted, the Indians’ payroll would have come out to just over $100 million, after sitting north of $140 million as recently as 2018. Because of the financial losses from this year, the Tribe may need to target a payroll even lower than that mark. That will determine how the front office can prepare for options, trades or free agency.

2. Will they trade Lindor?
When Lindor addressed the media last week, the shortstop admitted that the idea of possibly having played his final game with Cleveland had crossed his mind. He’s entering his final year of arbitration after settling on a $17.5 million deal (before it was adjusted) in 2020. Not only could his hefty one-year deal next season not make sense for the Tribe’s budget, but it’s becoming clearer that locking up Lindor long-term is out of the question.

If that’s the case, it’s likely the team will attempt to trade him this offseason to try to get some talent in return, rather than just having Lindor play out his time in Cleveland before walking into free agency next winter.

3. Whose options will they pick up?
There are three big ones the Indians will have to consider in the coming weeks: Brad Hand ($10 million), Carlos Santana ($17.5 million) and Roberto Pérez ($5.5 million).

The most likely option to be exercised would be Pérez. He’s been rock-solid for the Tribe behind the plate and compared to the other two options on the table, Pérez’s being the least amount of money certainly helps his odds.

That leaves Hand and Santana. With Nick Wittgren, James Karinchak and Emmanuel Clase now set to join the club in 2021, the Indians could feel more comfortable in their bullpen depth to move someone like Karinchak into the closer’s role to replace Hand.

Santana is coming off a difficult year, hitting .199 with a .699 OPS (91 OPS+), eight homers and 30 RBIs in 60 regular-season games. His $17.5 million option seems unlikely at this point for the Tribe, who has in-house options in Josh Naylor, Jake Bauers or Bobby Bradley at first base.

4. Will Cesar Hernandez be back at second?
The Indians couldn’t have been more pleased in the production they received from Hernandez, who was signed as a free agent last winter. Hernandez had one of the most consistent bats for the Tribe in 2020, hitting .283 with a .763 OPS and an American-League leading 20 doubles.

Hernandez will enter free agency this offseason, but has already expressed his desire to remain in Cleveland. If the Indians would be able to find the funds to bring him back, the interest in keeping the second baseman is mutual.

“Conceptually, yeah, there would be no reason why we wouldn't,” Antonetti said. “Again, how we manage our roster construction and what that looks like, it's hard to predict. But he was awesome.”

5. How can they improve the outfield?
The Indians outfielders collectively posted the worst slugging percentage in the Majors (.300) and second-worst average (.194), OPS (.571) and wRC+ (53).

After his stellar rookie season, Oscar Mercado struggled through his sophomore campaign, but Antonetti said the center fielder entered the offseason with a strong plan to come back better in 2021.

The Indians still have Daniel Johnson, who only played in five big league games, to try in the outfield again next season, and the club feels confident in the developmental growth of Bauers, who didn’t get an opportunity this year. But the team will need more than its internal options. If a Lindor trade would happen or if the club finds some wiggle room in the payroll, the Indians will need to make addressing the outfield their first priority.

Mandy Bell covers the Indians for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter at @MandyBell02.