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Can Tribe bats pitch in with enough offense?

@MandyBell02
February 6, 2020

CLEVELAND -- Year after year, there’s rarely a question about whether the Indians’ starting rotation will be strong enough to help lead the team to success. And once again, the focus will fall on the offense. Even after trading Corey Kluber to the Rangers, the Tribe has the potential to

CLEVELAND -- Year after year, there’s rarely a question about whether the Indians’ starting rotation will be strong enough to help lead the team to success. And once again, the focus will fall on the offense.

Even after trading Corey Kluber to the Rangers, the Tribe has the potential to boast one of the best starting staffs in the Majors. But did the club do enough with the financial flexibility it created to make sure the offense puts enough runs on the board to support the rock-solid rotation?

According to Cot’s Contracts, the Indians’ approximate $119 million Opening Day payroll in 2019 is estimated to drop to $90 million in '20. The team moved Kluber, declined to pick up second baseman Jason Kipnis’ option, non-tendered backup catcher Kevin Plawecki and lost guys like Tyler Clippard and Yasiel Puig to free agency. The Indians replaced Kipnis and Plawecki with César Hernández and Sandy León, respectively, and picked up outfielder Delino DeShields and reliever Emmanuel Clase in exchange for Kluber.

While the front office sits back and evaluates its offseason in comparison to the White Sox and Twins' aggressive winters, does it believe it has done enough to remain in contention?

“We do,” Indians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti said. “We know our division continues to improve. The Twins are the defending champs and we know we need to knock them off to get back to where we want to be. And the White Sox have improved a lot over the course of the last few months. But we do feel really good about the group of guys we have that we brought back from last year and the guys that we’ve added to that mix.”

Despite the trade rumors, shortstop Francisco Lindor is still a member of a the Tribe, and the club is hoping for a better offensive start to the year for José Ramírez than his .198 average and .586 OPS through his first 66 games in 2019. Combine that with a solid sophomore campaign from Oscar Mercado, the potential power Franmil Reyes could bring -- considering he hit 37 homers between the Padres and Indians last year -- and another steady offensive year for Carlos Santana and Cleveland is at least in a decent spot to remain in contention. However, another impact bat in the middle of the order would be a tremendous difference to the lineup.

Yasiel Puig is still sitting on the free-agent market, but the Indians have shown no indication of having interest in a reunion with the outfielder in 2020 after he finished the last two months of the season with the Tribe in '19. Another option still available would be Domingo Santana, who posted a .770 OPS with 20 doubles, one triple, 21 homers and 69 RBIs in 121 games for the Mariners last year. But similar to Reyes, Santana's defense would need some work, as he ranked second-to-last in Outfield Outs Above Average (-13) of 92 qualified outfielders in '19, according to Statcast. While they haven’t announced any last-minute signings just yet, Indians manager Terry Francona said another addition isn’t completely off the table.

“I don’t know,” Francona said. “I can’t sit here and tell you that it would shock me if we invited somebody to camp or even if we signed somebody. But I’m guessing we’re pretty close to who we’re gonna be.”

What the Indians can do will largely depend on the number they’re targeting for their Opening Day payroll. Though Antonetti said there hasn’t been any specific mandate handed down from ownership, it’s clear that a significant trimming was ordered. And because of that, it’s left plenty to wonder if the Tribe has enough to outscore opponents and remain in contention in the American League Central.

“I do think with the organization, you lose a little bit of wiggle room, but I’m not sure we had a ton to begin with,” Francona said of the budget cuts. “And I don’t think anybody is complaining about that. We just need to make good decisions. There are some teams where if they make a poor decision, they can make it go away. We’re not in that boat.

“I’m actually OK with that. We’re not going to be the type of team that just throws the bats and balls out there and wins, and I’m OK with that, too. We’re going to have to go out and play the right way, and getting to that point, I really enjoy it, because it’s not easy. You go through Spring Training and you come out in the season and you try to find your footing, but when you do, it really gets fun.”

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