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Inbox: Will Tribe's staff stay intact in '19?

Beat reporter Mandy Bell answers questions from fans
January 4, 2019

Finding the perfect match when discussing trade options isn't always as easy as it may seem. Obviously, the two starters that have been discussed in trade rumors all offseason have been Corey Kluber and Trevor Bauer. When debating whether to trade their top-notch talent, the Indians have a specific return

Finding the perfect match when discussing trade options isn't always as easy as it may seem. Obviously, the two starters that have been discussed in trade rumors all offseason have been Corey Kluber and Trevor Bauer. When debating whether to trade their top-notch talent, the Indians have a specific return in mind to satisfy the loss of either arm, and they clearly haven't found the right fit up to this point.
The calendars may have flipped over to 2019, but there's still plenty of offseason remaining. Cleveland's front office is constantly weighing every option it has, and will continue to do so. The original goal of moving Kluber or Bauer was mostly about clearing space on the '19 payroll, but after trimming about $18 to $21 million by dealing Yan Gomes, Edwin Encarnacion and Yonder Alonso, the chances that the rotation stays intact are much greater. However, it's clear that there are holes to be filled on the roster and that's not lost on the team.
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"We lost Edwin, we lost Yonder, but we got Jake Bauers back and we got [Carlos] Santana back. And we're not done. We know that," Indians manager Terry Francona said on a conference call Thursday afternoon. "We've got some work to do before Spring Training, but the guys are busy and I'm pretty certain that we're gonna break camp with 25 guys. We do it every year and we'll figure out a way to do it again this year and we'll feel good about ourselves."

As the Winter Meetings wrapped up in December, president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti mentioned multiple times that the roster would most likely not remain the same by the time Spring Training rolls around (granted, it was said prior to the Alonso trade). The Indians need a solid outfielder, some relievers, maybe an additional catching option and/or another big bat in the lineup. Trading an ace like Kluber could address a lot of those problems in just one transaction, so it's unlikely for that option to be completely eliminated, but the focus could be moved to finding different ways to bolster the roster while keeping the rotation as is for next season.
Whether the Indians decide to make a splash in the free-agent market or find other trades to help address their areas of need remains to be seen. But it would be surprising if the team does not make at least some move prior to Spring Training.

If he is traded at all, I see the Dodgers as the more likely landing place for Kluber of these scenarios. In a perfect world for the Indians, Bellinger would be a very solid pickup for an outfield which needs a quality everyday player. But, I think the young star is untouchable in trade talks.
A more likely possibility, if a trade would happen at all, could be sending a package of talent that's highlighted by LA's No. 1 overall prospect per MLB Pipeline, OF Alex Verdugo, to Cleveland. The Dodgers have reportedly been willing to discuss moving the 22-year-old outfielder, who checks a lot of the Indians' boxes. He is Major League ready, cost-controlled and hit .329 with 10 homers and 44 RBIs in 91 games at Triple-A Oklahoma City in 2018.

I wouldn't say that the chances are high at this point, but nothing is off the table by any means. The top outfielders remaining in the free-agent market are Bryce Harper and A.J. Pollock. There's no chance of Harper joining the Tribe, and very little chance for Pollock. There are names like Nick Markakis, Adam Jones and Marwin Gonzalez available, but it will come down to how much the team will be willing to spend, while factoring in the age of the player.
After the top two outfielders left on the market, everyone else seems to be on an almost-equal playing field. Because of this, I would not completely rule out bringing back Cabrera. It's been said over and over how much the team could use a solid starter beyond the dirt, and having a familiar face both on the field and in the clubhouse during a year where there has been a lot of turnover may not be the worst thing for the Tribe.

Bradley Zimmer will not be an option until at least mid-season, after having surgery on his right shoulder last July. Francona said at the Winter Meetings that they know Zimmer will not be the centerfielder at the beginning of the season, but "that doesn't mean he won't be at some point." If all goes well with his recovery, the team could definitely be counting on him to make an impact in the second half.
As of now, Leonys Martin and Tyler Naquin could be the starters in center and left, respectively. That being said, the team would most definitely be counting on them. This is another tricky situation, given that both are also bouncing back from their own ailments.
Martin was cleared at the end of November to resume baseball activities after being diagnosed with a life-threatening bacterial infection last August that sidelined him after just six games with the Indians. He was traded from the Tigers at the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline. Naquin is recovering from right hip surgery that he had in August, but Francona has said that the outfielder "feels really good" and is "in a really good place" entering the season.

As of now, it appears as though Kipnis would be penciled in as the starter at second. This doesn't mean he won't get some time in the outfield, but after the three-team deal that sent Yandy Diaz to Tampa Bay, Jose Ramirez will most likely need to head back to third, leaving the hole at second for Kipnis to fill.

  1. SS - Lindor
  2. 2B - Kipnis
  3. 3B - Ramirez
  4. DH - Santana
  5. 1B - Bauers
  6. CF - Martin
  7. RF - Naquin
  8. LF - Jordan Luplow
  9. C - Roberto Perez

For now, the Indians are focused on the "huge if." On Thursday, Francona said that Danny Salazar will not be ready to join the club at the end of Spring Training, having had arthroscopic right shoulder surgery in July.
"He's gonna still be kind of in that rehab mode," Francona said. "But then, we'll see. As he gets going, we've seen guys come quick. But everybody's on their own program. To kind of force it with somebody doesn't make a lot of sense."
Once Salazar makes a full recovery, it would make sense to see him ease his way back into the swing of things out of the bullpen. Plus, if the rotation ends up staying intact, there wouldn't be as much of a need for him to rush back into starting. However, it will all depend on the state of the team at the time he is cleared to play.

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