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Five questions facing Indians this offseason

@MandyBell02
November 1, 2019

CLEVELAND -- The Tribe had an underwhelming winter last year, floating Corey Kluber and Trevor Bauer out on the trade market but not pulling the trigger (until Bauer was dealt at this year's Trade Deadline). The club should be a little more active this offseason, seeking at least an infielder

CLEVELAND -- The Tribe had an underwhelming winter last year, floating Corey Kluber and Trevor Bauer out on the trade market but not pulling the trigger (until Bauer was dealt at this year's Trade Deadline).

The club should be a little more active this offseason, seeking at least an infielder to help patch some holes in the roster. After a year of extreme turnover in 2019, the Indians will at least return a lot of familiar faces in '20, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have plenty of room to improve.

Let’s take a look at five questions facing the Indians this offseason:

1. Who will play second base?
The Indians did not pick up Jason Kipnis’ $16.5 million option and by the way that Kipnis addressed the media after sustaining his season-ending hamate bone fracture, it didn’t sound like the second baseman was expecting the club to do so. So, who will take his place?

Let’s assume the team does not make any trades or free-agent signings to fill the hole. Staying completely in-house, the Tribe has two options: move José Ramírez to second or keep him at third.

If Ramírez transitions across the diamond, Yu Chang would likely take over the hot corner. Eventually, the club is hoping its No. 1 prospect (as ranked by MLB Pipeline) Nolan Jones, who just underwent surgery on his right thumb, will be able to make an impact for them at third. But he still needs time at Triple-A before that can happen.

If Ramírez remains at third, Mike Freeman will be an early favorite to become the everyday second baseman. Andrew Velazquez will also be in the mix and Mark Mathias, who spent the year in Triple-A, could get a few looks during Spring Training.

Should the Indians shop the free-agent market, some of their top options could include Howie Kendrick (who will be 36 in 2020), Brian Dozier (33), Brock Holt (32) and Jonathan Schoop (28). When looking at third-base free agents, Anthony Rendon will be the best on the market, but the Indians may need to use Kluber’s $17.5 million option to help make that deal happen. Other free-agent third basemen include Josh Donaldson, Mike Moustakas, familiar face Asdrúbal Cabrera and Todd Frazier.

2. Will they trade Corey Kluber?
If there’s anything the Indians have an abundance of, it’s starting pitching. Although the front office has said it’s impossible to ever feel like you have enough starting pitchers, the depth is obvious. When nearly the entire rotation fell apart this year, Cleveland was able to get quality outings from Jefry Rodriguez, Zach Plesac, Aaron Civale and Adam Plutko. The club also has hurlers like Logan Allen and Scott Moss waiting in its farm system.

When you add those names to Carlos Carrasco, Mike Clevinger and Shane Bieber, it makes it easier to envision a Kluber deal to address some needs. However, a fractured right forearm and an oblique strain certainly hurt Kluber's trade value at least some.

The team announced Friday it will pick up Kluber’s $17.5 million option and, despite his rough start to 2019 before sustaining season-ending injuries, he could be an easy contract to flip with two Cy Young Awards on his résumé. But the team will have to decide if it would prefer to keep all hands on deck with a star.

3. Who will start in right?
A more specific question that keeps popping up in this category: Will they re-sign Yasiel Puig? There are a few reasons that seems unlikely to happen. For starters, Indians manager Terry Francona has been clear since they acquired Franmil Reyes at the Trade Deadline that they see the 24-year-old as an outfielder.

He may have made only three appearances in right field for the Tribe this year, but the club is determined to work on improving Reyes’ defensive skills to make sure that a young power-hitter doesn’t get pigeonholed into becoming strictly a designated hitter.

With Reyes under control through the 2024 season and Daniel Johnson, Cleveland's No. 16-ranked prospect who hit .306 with an .867 OPS in Triple-A this season, sitting in the Minors, it doesn’t seem to make sense to spend a good chunk of change to bring back Puig. And let’s not forget that Tyler Naquin is expected back from ACL surgery on his right knee sometime between April and June.

4. Who will be in the starting rotation?
This may take some time in Spring Training to figure out, especially if Kluber is an Indian in 2020. With Kluber, Carrasco, Bieber, Clevinger, Plesac, Civale, Rodriguez and Plutko all potential options, the Tribe will have to make some decisions. Carrasco could be looked at as a reliever for next season rather than a starter, although it seems as if the team anticipates him returning in a starting role at this point.

Assuming Kluber is back with Cleveland, the starting rotation will likely be Kluber, Carrasco, Clevinger, Bieber and either Plesac or Civale. The latter two had impressive rookie campaigns, but no one is expecting them to remain just as perfect in their sophomore campaigns. Whoever the Tribe feels is most ready to break camp at the end of Spring Training with the big league club will be the fifth starter.

5. Where does the bullpen stand?
The Indians could certainly use a hard-thrower in the bullpen if Carrasco moves back into the rotation. But aside from Tyler Clippard and Dan Otero, the majority of the team’s relievers will return in 2020. The Tribe may need to re-evaluate closer Brad Hand to see how he bounces back from his arm fatigue in the second half of this season, but he, Nick Wittgren, Adam Cimber, Oliver Pérez, Nick Goody, Hunter Wood and certainly rookie James Karinchak will all be options next year.

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