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Would Indians bring back Puig on a new deal?

Beat reporter Mandy Bell answers questions from fans
@MandyBell02
October 7, 2019

CLEVELAND -- One week of the offseason down, 18 to go. The Indians may still be in the early stages of planning for their winter, but the questions are already starting to build. Let’s take a look at a few in this week’s Inbox:

CLEVELAND -- One week of the offseason down, 18 to go.

The Indians may still be in the early stages of planning for their winter, but the questions are already starting to build. Let’s take a look at a few in this week’s Inbox:

Indians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti said, “We wouldn’t close the doors on anything.”

However, bringing back Yasiel Puig seems extremely unlikely. The Indians were rather blunt when he was acquired at the Trade Deadline that they viewed the outfielder as a rental. The 28-year-old was traded to Cleveland to bring some much-needed right-handed pop to the middle of the order. Although he hit just two homers in his 49 games with the Tribe, he became a big part of the club’s success through August and was one of the reasons they had a chance to secure an American League Wild Card spot in September.

In 182 at-bats, Puig hit .297 with an .800 OPS, 15 doubles and 23 RBIs. He meshed well within the Indians’ clubhouse and both the front office and manager Terry Francona described him as “enjoyable” to have on the team. But with talent comes cost, and the right fielder seems set to make seven digits in 2020. Here’s where it starts to not make as much sense to bring him back.

With the Indians’ focus turning toward finding an infielder and maybe an outfielder and reliever, that money that they’d need to sign Puig could be more valuable elsewhere. The Tribe has been clear that they want to at least give Franmil Reyes a chance to earn the starting role in right field next year. If that fails, they have outfield prospect Daniel Johnson, who just wrapped up an impressive year split between Double-A and Triple-A, and they’re expecting a healthy Tyler Naquin (ACL tear in right knee) to be ready between April and June.

With so many right-field options, it doesn’t seem likely that a team working with a tight budget would end up spending their money to bring Puig back to Cleveland. However, they aren’t ready to rule anything out just yet.

At this point, it seems safe to say Jason Kipnis has played his final game in an Indians uniform.

Assuming Carlos Carrasco is able to have a normal, healthy offseason, the top four will be -- in no particular order -- Shane Bieber, Mike Clevinger, Carrasco and Corey Kluber After testing their pitching depth this year, the Indians learned they have solid options in Zach Plesac, Aaron Civale, Jefry Rodriguez and Adam Plutko. As of now, Plesac seems like the number five starter, but Spring Training could change that.

On Opening Day? Reyes in right field, Oscar Mercado in center and Jordan Luplow in left.

Will this be consistent all year? Maybe not. Reyes will have a chance to earn that right-field spot. Like stated above, Johnson and Naquin could end up in right if Reyes’ defense doesn’t show signs of improvement. Mercado seems like a lock in center, and Luplow is hoping to break out beyond a platoon role. But if Luplow is back to demolishing just lefties, Allen could end up splitting time with him in left.

The issue with Bradley Zimmer is he missed a full year of game activity while recovering from shoulder surgery and two oblique strains. The Indians suggested that he play over the winter, but he insisted that he needed to go home and have a normal offseason. Francona said that could lead to him starting the season in Triple-A to get the at-bats they need to see him have before rejoining the Major League team.

If Reyes does earn the right-field job, it will likely come down to Jake Bauers and Bobby Bradley fighting for that DH/back-up first baseman role.

There’s no doubt the Indians are excited for the future of their No. 1 overall prospect, according to MLB Pipeline. Nolan Jones split his last season between Class A Lynchburg and Double-A Akron, hitting a combined .272 with an .851 OPS, 22 doubles, three triples, 15 homers and 63 RBIs. The only hesitation in saying that it would have a direct impact on José Ramírez’s position is that Jones hasn’t yet reached Triple-A.

It may be easier for the Indians to determine how much Jones’ future will influence how the infield will shake out after they get an idea of who they could acquire in a trade or as a free agent, along with how the 21-year-old fares in the Arizona Fall League this offseason.

Mike Freeman has earned the utility role. If the Indians are unable to pick up an infielder over the offseason, he’s in the running to earn the starting job at second base. But he’s certainly earned the utility role.

Under contract: Brad Hand and Óliver Pérez

Arbitration-eligible: Nick Goody, Nick Wittgren and A.J. Cole

Pre-arbitration: Adam Cimber, James Hoyt, James Karinchak, Phil Maton, Tyler Olson and Hunter Wood

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