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Offseason checklist: Indians' needs and moves

@MandyBell02
December 29, 2019

CLEVELAND -- The Indians posted a better record in an injury-plagued 2019 than they did while winning the American League Central in ‘18, but they still came up just short of securing an AL Wild Card spot in the last week of the season. • Indians' FAQ for the offseason

CLEVELAND -- The Indians posted a better record in an injury-plagued 2019 than they did while winning the American League Central in ‘18, but they still came up just short of securing an AL Wild Card spot in the last week of the season.

Indians' FAQ for the offseason

So what can the Tribe do to get back on top of its division after falling short of the AL Central title for the first time in four years? What are the Indians' biggest needs entering 2020, and what moves have they made to address them? MLB.com is keeping track here. As the offseason continues, be sure to check back for updates.

Biggest needs

Second or third baseman
This was the Indians’ No. 1 priority heading into the offseason. They did not exercise second baseman Jason Kipnis' option for the 2020 season, so they needed to find a replacement. The Tribe preferred to leave José Ramírez at third base rather than moving him across the diamond, so the team added free agent César Hernández on a one-year, $6.25 million contract to handle second-base duties in 2020. The team will have Yu Chang, Christian Arroyo and Mike Freeman, who was outrighted to Triple-A Columbus with a non-roster invite to Spring Training, to choose from as their utility guy. Andrew Velazquez could also back up Hernández at second.

Left or right fielder
It’s hard to imagine the Indians need more outfielders when they already have nine on their 40-man roster, however they really could use one with a big bat. The Tribe picked up Delino DeShields from the Rangers in the Corey Kluber trade, but he’s likely not the answer they are looking for offensively. The team is hoping that Franmil Reyes, acquired in the Trevor Bauer trade at the end of July, can transition into a decent right fielder after spending the majority of his time with the Tribe as a designated hitter. But if the 6-foot-5, 275-pound 24-year-old doesn’t prove he can be swift when it comes to his defense, Cleveland is left with Jordan Luplow, Greg Allen, Jake Bauers, DeShields (assuming he doesn’t take over for Oscar Mercado in center) or maybe Bradley Zimmer to man the corners until Tyler Naquin recovers from ACL surgery. Another in-house option could be bringing up outfielder Daniel Johnson, who split 2019 between Double-A Akron and Triple-A Columbus.

Reliever
This is not nearly as urgent now that the Tribe has Emmanuel Clase and his triple-digit cutter in its ‘pen as a result of the Kluber trade. With Clase and hard-throwing James Karinchak ready to make an impact for the Indians, Cleveland's already solid bullpen may have just gotten better. The Tribe is returning the bulk of its bullpen from last year, including Brad Hand, Nick Wittgren, Adam Cimber and Oliver Pérez. Still, it wouldn’t be too surprising if Cleveland adds another arm to make up for the losses of Nick Goody, Dan Otero, Tyler Olson and Tyler Clippard.

Moves made

Dec. 29: Indians ink César Hernández to one-year deal
The Tribe found its second baseman. The 29-year-old, who was non-tendered by the Phillies on Dec. 2, hit .279 with a .741 OPS, 14 homers, 31 doubles and 71 RBIs in 161 games in 2019. Assuming Francisco Lindor remains with the Indians through the offseason, the Tribe's Opening Day lineup will likely consist of Carlos Santana at first, Hernández at second, Lindor at shortstop and Ramírez at third. A source told MLB.com's Jon Paul Morosi that Hernández's deal is worth $6.25 million.

Dec. 15: Corey Kluber traded to Rangers for Emmanuel Clase and Delino DeShields
The Indians parted ways with their two-time American League Cy Young Award winner after his nine seasons in Cleveland. In exchange, Texas shipped 21-year-old righty reliever Clase and 27-year-old outfielder DeShields to the Tribe. To clear space on the 40-man roster, the Indians designated utility man Mike Freeman for assignment.

Dec. 2: Leon joins Cleveland; Plawecki non-tendered
The Tribe acquired Sandy Leon from Boston in exchange for Minor League right-hander Adenys Bautista. The Red Sox were able to work out a deal with the Indians, who can conceivably employ León as the backup to Gold Glove Award winner Roberto Pérez. To make room for Leon on the 40-man roster, Cleveland designated right-hander James Hoyt for assignment.

Nov. 20: Tribe designates Nick Goody for assignment
In order to protect Daniel Johnson, Scott Moss and Triston McKenzie from the Rule 5 Draft, the Indians had to clear a spot on the 40-man roster, which prompted Goody’s release.

Nov. 4: Danny Salazar, A.J. Cole, Tyler Olson and Cody Anderson elect free agency
The Indians cleared their injured list, adding Corey Kluber, Naquin and Christian Arroyo to the 40-man roster. That left Salazar, Cole, Olson and Anderson to be outrighted to Triple-A. All four refused the Minor League assignment and elected free agency.

Oct. 31: Indians pick up Kluber's option; decline the options of Kipnis and Dan Otero
As expected, the Tribe officially picked up the two-time American League Cy Young Award winner's $17.5 million option. At the conclusion of the regular season, Indians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti told reporters that the team would be making these moves after the World Series. Kluber’s 2019 season was cut short due to a fractured right forearm on May 1 and an oblique strain during a rehab start in August.

Kipnis’ final season with the Tribe ended abruptly with a fractured hamate bone in September. While both the club and the second baseman have noted they’d be open to talking about a smaller contract, it seems likely that Cleveland will explore new options. As Kipnis’ nine-year career with the Indians comes to an end, Otero also wraps up his time in Cleveland after four seasons.

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