Just so everyone's caught up, ESPN's Buster Olney tweeted this on Friday:
"Faced with market constraints, the Indians will listen to trade offers for some of their veteran players this winter, according to sources. Kluber, Carrasco, Encarnacion, Gomes, etc. Lindor, Ramirez will definitely be held."
No, this does not mean Cleveland is entering a rebuild. In the previous Inbox, the concept of trading Corey Kluber was discussed. Flash back to last winter, and there were reports that the Indians were open to trade dialogue about Edwin Encarnacion, Jason Kipnis and others. Carlos Carrasco's name has been involved in trade rumors several times over the years.
If anything, Olney's report was confirmation -- via his sources -- of normal speculation. The Indians ran a franchise-record payroll in 2018 and project to do so again in '19. So, working logically through that reality, the team would need to be open to listening on offers for any veterans making substantial money, to see what avenues are available to free up salary space and address other areas of need.
What the Indians are trying to do is navigate through this transitional period in club history. There are veteran players hitting free agency (names like Michael Brantley, Cody Allen and Andrew Miller this offseason), young core players hitting arbitratrion (Francisco Lindor leading the way) and players coming off the books in upcoming seasons. Cleveland wants to find a way to sustain its current run of success amid the moving parts.
Kluber is signed through 2019 with two team options. Carrasco has a team option for '20. Yan Gomes is signed through '19 with two team options. Kipnis and Encarnacion have team options for '20. So, if Team X comes along with an intriguing trade offer that features controllable assets and helps the Major League team continue to contend for the World Series, of course the Indians will be open to listening.
Listening to offers does not always equal shopping players. That said, if the Indians want to add any impact players via free agency -- or acquire a player earning significant money -- the team will need to shed some salary already locked in. In that sense, it would stand to reason that Cleveland will be putting feelers out there on names like Encarnacion, Kipnis and Yonder Alonso.
Nothing the front office has said this offseason has indicated that reducing the payroll substantially is the end goal. Instead, it is a situation where the team would need to subtract in order to add. Last season, the payroll climbed to about $140 million.
Right now, if you factor in guaranteed and non-guaranted contracts in place, and then fold in projected arbitration salaries, pre-arb estimates and buyouts for '19 and '20 options, the payroll is already in the range of $135 million to $140 million. And that's before any additions. The expectation is that the Indians will be operating on a similar budget as last season.
With the Tribe not issuing a qualifying offer to any of their free agents, does that make it more likely that they are in the running for a big outfield bat? Or is it more likely they go after bullpen help?
-- Matt R.
As things stand, it's hard to see Cleveland being a major player in free agency unless the team is able to move money around in trades. That's just reality. During a conference call on Friday, president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti said the decision to not extend any qualifying offers was largely due to not wanting to risk locking in $17.9 million this early in the offseason. Cleveland has a long list of situations to sort out before it can commit that type of money to a player.
"That was a big part of it," Antonetti said. "Ultimately, the first week of the offseason, as we looked at our path ahead, it wasn't the best decision to potentially allocate [$17.9 million] right now."
That is the priority order I'd put them in, yes. Cleveland knew it was likely going to lose both Miller and Allen to free agency this offseason. Never say never, but giving large free-agent contracts to veteran relievers has not been part of of the Indians' modus operandi. The team acquired All-Star closer Brad Hand and controllable righty Adam Cimber in July to help account for the potential relief losses.
Brantley's production on the field and leadership in the clubhouse are highly valued by the Indians, whose outfield is unsettled at all three spots. So, if there's a way to retain Brantley, I think the club will attempt to do so. That could be difficult to do if Kipnis (set to earn $14.7 million) remains in the fold and stays in the outfield plans. Left field might make the most sense for Kipnis, if he is not going to head back to second base next year.
The Indians have engaged in extension talks with Lindor in the past, and the shortstop's camp -- at least in one instance -- declined a substantial offer. Lindor will be eligible for arbitration for the first time this offseason. During that process, it will be natural for Cleveland to once again gauge Lindor's interest in penning his name on a long-term pact.
It takes two to tango, but put yourself in Lindor's shoes. He could be a free agent in 2022, and there is no denying a lucractive, long-term contract would await him. I would imagine Lindor wants to see what Manny Machado gets in free agency this offseason. He surely wants to see how Cleveland's front office goes about trying to sustain the team's ability to contend for a World Series crown over the next several years.
I'd pencil Jose Ramirez's name in as the Tribe's Opening Day second baseman. Unless more at-bats open up at first base or designated hitter (Encarnacion and Alonso cover those spots), the best way to finally give Yandy Diaz his shot is at third base. Given what manager Terry Francona said at the season-end meeting with reporters, that feels like the plan.
"What Yandy showed in a small sample offensively," Francona said, "it's something that we need to think through, because I think we all feel like he's got a chance to be pretty special offensively. Where does that fit on a team? Is it first? Is it third? Is it sometimes DHing? We have that role pretty much filled, but we're going to have to think through that one."
Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.