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Tribe Inbox: Who will be Lindor's DP partner?

Beat reporter Mandy Bell fields fans' questions
@MandyBell02
November 29, 2019

CLEVELAND -- The non-tender deadline is on Monday and the Winter Meetings begin just seven days later. Could it almost be time for the Indians’ quiet offseason to experience an uptick in excitement, even if it’s minuscule? Their biggest need still lies in the infield. The Tribe needs a second

CLEVELAND -- The non-tender deadline is on Monday and the Winter Meetings begin just seven days later. Could it almost be time for the Indians’ quiet offseason to experience an uptick in excitement, even if it’s minuscule?

Their biggest need still lies in the infield. The Tribe needs a second or third baseman to replace Jason Kipnis. They could choose to acquire a cheap player to patch the roster hole, stick to their in-house candidates, take advantage of the Orioles’ recent move or decide to sign a veteran third baseman.

Let’s look at a few ways the Tribe could go.

When Yolmer Sánchez was placed on outright waivers earlier this week, he seemed like he could be someone the Indians would be interested in. But then came Jonathan Villar. The Orioles did the same with their second baseman on Wednesday, likely to avoid spending the $10.4 million that MLB Trade Rumors projected he’d make in arbitration this upcoming year. In 2019, the 28-year-old hit .274 with 24 homers, 73 RBIs, 40 stolen bases and a .792 OPS. Sánchez may have had a Gold Glove-worthy defensive season this year, but his offense doesn’t compare to Villar’s potential.

Sure, Starlin Castro could also be in the mix, but it’s hard to imagine Villar not being at the top of the Tribe’s wish list at this point in time. The switch-hitter will likely clear waivers, get non-tendered by Baltimore on Monday and become a free agent by Tuesday. In this case, he’ll probably sign for less than what MLB Trade Rumors originally projected for 2020, making him a little more attractive for a club like the Indians. Either way, Kipnis’ $16.5 million contract would be traded for something less next season with the potential of getting a player who posted the second-best WAR among American League second basemen (4.0) in 2019. Of these options, Villar seems like he could have the biggest impact.

The Tribe could opt to find that veteran stopgap third baseman to fill the vacancy until top prospect Nolan Jones is ready to roll on an everyday basis in 2021. And, if that’s what they choose, both Mike Moustakas and Asdrúbal Cabrera would fit that description well, but Moustakas may just be out of reach financially for the Indians. The 31-year-old opted out of his $11 million mutual option with Milwaukee for 2020 and will likely be looking for a multiyear deal. Will he fit in the Tribe’s financial plan? Maybe not. If they are going to find that veteran presence, Cabrera may be the one willing to take that one-year (more affordable) deal to keep the hot corner occupied until Jones is called upon. The 34-year-old slashed .260/.342/.441 between the Rangers and Nationals in 2019 with 18 homers and 91 RBIs. He’s definitely not out of the question.

Let’s throw this under the, “If all else fails” column. The Indians were a decent 93-win team in 2019 even with all the injuries to their starting rotation. But no matter who is on the rubber, the team can’t win unless the offense is able to put up some runs. The Tribe’s offense ranked in the bottom half of Major League Baseball in homers (16th), RBIs (17th), batting average of balls in play (25th), wRC+ (17th) and offensive WAR (17th). It desperately needs a facelift for next year to be able to come back stronger. That will require getting offensive help. Whether it’s someone like Villar and his 24 homers or Cabrera and his 91 RBIs or someone else they are able to find, the Indians need a bat. Having Franmil Reyes for an entire year should be an improvement, but another bat will definitely not hurt.

If they don’t end up bringing any infielders in, Mike Freeman can be trusted to be an everyday third baseman. It’d likely come down to him and Yu Chang, but neither of those two would be expected to be the offensive difference-maker for 2020. But, if all else fails, Freeman can assuredly bridge the gap to get to Jones in '21.

With Tyler Naquin on the injured list until at least April, it’s likely Jordan Luplow will get that chance. Like you said, the only guarantee right now is that Oscar Mercado will start in center field. Outside of that, the Tribe has some decisions to make. The team seems set on experimenting with Reyes in right, but even that leaves just Luplow, Jake Bauers and Greg Allen in left. Manager Terry Francona seemed clear that Bradley Zimmer will need to start in Triple-A next year after missing 2019 with shoulder and oblique injuries, and Naquin still needs to recover from right knee ACL surgery.

Based on last season, Luplow may be the best choice of those three remaining options. He has a lot to prove after slashing .320/.439/742 against lefties and .216/.274/.299 against righties this past season. But he’s confident he can be more than just a platoon player.

I like the holiday spirit here.

It just doesn’t get better than stuffing yourself with … well, stuffing on Thanksgiving. It’s the absolute best side dish without question. I tweeted out my overall power rankings of the traditional meal on Thursday (with a little Pennsylvania Dutch touch in there with the baked corn). Just keep the cranberries away from me and life is great.

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