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Indians offseason FAQ: Who's in, out for 2020

Kluber's return is settled, but other decisions are less clear
@MandyBell02
October 3, 2019

CLEVELAND -- The offseason has come early for the Indians. Now, it’s time to leave 2019 in the rearview mirror. With postseason moves on the horizon, here’s everything you need to know in order to begin preparing for 2020. Which Indians are free agents? Tyler Clippard, Ryan Flaherty, Dioner Navarro,

CLEVELAND -- The offseason has come early for the Indians. Now, it’s time to leave 2019 in the rearview mirror. With postseason moves on the horizon, here’s everything you need to know in order to begin preparing for 2020.

Which Indians are free agents?

Tyler Clippard, Ryan Flaherty, Dioner Navarro, Yasiel Puig and Adam Rosales.

When is the deadline for qualifying offers?

The deadline to receive qualifying offers is five days after the World Series ends. However, none of the Tribe’s free agents will receive one.

Which players have options?

Options for reliever Dan Otero ($1.5 million) and second baseman Jason Kipnis ($16.5 million) are not expected to be picked up by the Tribe. However, the Indians announced on Wednesday that they do intend to exercise their option for Corey Kluber ($17.5 million).

Because lefty Oliver Pérez made more than 60 appearances for Cleveland this season, the club automatically picks up his $3 million vesting option.

Who is a non-tender candidate? When is that deadline?

Cleveland has seven players eligible for arbitration this offseason: Francisco Lindor, Danny Salazar, Kevin Plawecki, Nick Goody, Cody Anderson, Mike Clevinger and Tyler Naquin. There’s no doubt that the club will tender Lindor’s and Clevinger’s contracts. The biggest question is what will the Tribe do with Salazar?

Last November, the Indians decided to tender Salazar’s contract, signing the 29-year-old to a $4.5 million deal for 2019 with expectations that he’d be healthy enough to contribute this past season. But that contribution lasted just one outing.

After another injury-plagued year that went from rehab of Salazar’s surgically repaired shoulder to a strained groin in his season debut at the beginning of August, it wouldn’t be too surprising if the Indians decided to non-tender him this time around.

Another candidate, although a less likely one, would be Naquin, who will be working his way back from mid-September ACL surgery. The expected timeframe for his return is seven-to-nine months (April-June 2020), though that could shift as his rehab process continues. His injury may give the Indians a reason to debate non-tendering his contract, but it seems more likely that he’ll stick around.

These decisions will need to be made by Dec. 2.

Who needs to be added to the Indians’ 40-man roster to avoid the Rule 5 Draft?

The Indians have a handful of Minor Leaguers who will be eligible for the Rule 5 Draft this season. The two headliners who will need to be moved to the 40-man will be pitcher Triston McKenzie and outfielder Daniel Johnson, both Top 30 prospects for Cleveland, per MLB Pipeline.

McKenzie entered the year as the team’s No. 1 overall prospect, but dropped to No. 2 after a full year on the injured list. The 22-year-old strained his upper back in Spring Training and then suffered another setback with a pectoral strain that never allowed him to leave Arizona. However, the Indians still feel positively about his future.

“As he’s finishing up his rehab, he will basically have a normal offseason and come into Spring Training unrestricted,” Indians general manager Mike Chernoff said. “This is a big offseason for him and then a big Spring Training next year to see the steps that he can take without having pitched a whole lot this year.”

Johnson was promoted to Triple-A on May 25 and he hit .306 with an .867 OPS in 84 games with Columbus. The 24-year-old was traded to the Indians from the Nationals along with Jefry Rodriguez in exchange for Yan Gomes and the Tribe seems excited for the outfielder’s future.

What kind of help will the Indians look for this offseason?

The biggest priority is finding a third or second baseman. Because José Ramírez informed the Indians that he’d be OK with playing either second or third next year before he left for the offseason, the team now has some flexibility in its strategy. Finding an infielder with a solid bat would be an enormous pickup for the Tribe.

The Indians could also take a look at bolstering their relief corps, though all but Otero and Clippard are expected to return next season. A likely addition of No. 21 prospect James Karinchak will bring some velocity to the mix and he could be the missing arm they need, especially as he gains more experience.

Which free agents could Cleveland target?

The Indians and Kipnis have both said that they will keep conversations open to bring the second baseman back if they can settle on a salary number. However, it seems more likely that they will explore other options. Interesting and potentially affordable free agents at second base could include Brock Holt, Brian Dozier and Jonathan Schoop. Although Howie Kendrick had a solid year, hitting .344 with a .966 OPS in 121 games, he’ll be turning 37 in 2020.

As far as third baseman on the market, don’t get too excited about the possibility of acquiring the Nationals’ Anthony Rendon, who’s expected to test out free agency despite a seven-year contract offer worth over $210 million. Other options include Mike Moustakas, Asdrúbal Cabrera, Todd Frazier or Pablo Sandoval.

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