Inbox: After Hernández, who's in Tribe's sights?

Beat reporter Mandy Bell answers fans' questions

January 3rd, 2020

CLEVELAND -- Now that we’ve officially reached the new year, it feels like the 2020 baseball season is finally within reach. But with a little more than a month until pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training in Goodyear, Ariz., it seems like the number of questions surrounding the Tribe is only increasing.

Let’s try to come up with a few answers in this week’s Inbox:

Now that the Indians have lifted a weight off their shoulders with expected to start at second base, they could have some wiggle room to explore other free agents. Hernández signed for $6.25 million on Sunday, which keeps the club just under $100 million for its projected Opening Day payroll. That would leave one to believe there’s enough room to spend a little extra money to bolster the lineup. Hours after the Corey Kluber trade, Indians manager Terry Francona hinted that he wouldn’t be surprised if another outfielder was added to the mix prior to Spring Training. If the Indians could get Yasiel Puig’s asking price down to the $6-8 million range, a reunion wouldn’t be farfetched.

As much as he’d seem like a perfect fit in Cleveland, don’t hold your breath that gets traded to an American League Central opponent. The last time the Indians and Royals made an MLB-player-for-MLB-player trade was Aug. 30, 1997, when Kansas City traded Bip Roberts to Cleveland for Roland de la Maza. They say nothing is impossible, but finding a way to get Merrifield to Cleveland seems daunting to say the least.

For sure. Indians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti, general manager Mike Chernoff and Francona have all said that is experiencing a normal offseason and will come into camp ready to start.

“He sent me some video a couple weeks ago of him throwing,” Francona said. “He’s excited, and I think he feels good about where he’s at. He wants to start. In fairness to him, we always check in with him and [see] how he’s doing, but I think he’s [champing] at the bit to go back to being a starter. What he did last year was important, not only to the team but to himself to show he could pitch. But I think he knows he’s a starter.”

seems like a perfect fit. The Indians' bullpen proved to be one of the best last year while averaging the slowest fastball velocity (90.8 mph) in the Majors. Now, and Clase, two hard-throwing righties, will definitely bring up that average in 2020 and could really help an already solid bullpen be better.

is still a little bit of a question mark at this point. Antonetti said he expects the newly acquired outfielder to play an equal role as current center fielder . Will this still be the case come spring? Maybe not. DeShields is known for his speed and defense, but he likely won’t be the answer the club is looking for offensively. The Indians need hitters, and if they can find a way to get better bats into the lineup on a regular basis, DeShields may be a fourth or fifth outfielder (now that there’s a 26-man roster next year). If Cleveland doesn’t make any more additions in the outfield this offseason, DeShields could be a regular in 2020. The club will have to put together its giant puzzle this spring to determine if it’s worth shifting Mercado to either of the corners to put DeShields in center.

Assuming he does not sustain any injuries from now until his report date, the Indians expect to be unrestricted at the start of camp. Last offseason, he was the club’s top overall prospect per MLB Pipeline, but he fell to No. 2 -- behind third baseman Nolan Jones -- after missing the entire year with upper back and pectoral strains.

was on a lot of people’s minds when the Indians originally threw out the idea of moving José Ramírez to second base to replace Jason Kipnis. It seemed like finding a temporary third baseman to bridge the gap to when the club’s top prospect was Major League ready was going to be the next stepping stone. But when asked about how Jones’ future was playing into the club's offseason decisions, Antonetti said, “At some point he could, but for our offseason planning, that’s not a primary consideration.” This likely means he’ll play more of a factor in 2021 and beyond.

With the 26-man roster, teams cannot keep more than 13 pitchers (until September when that changes to 14). So that extra spot is essentially designated for a position player. Antonetti was asked at the Winter Meetings if he could see that 26th spot being taken by a third catcher. He responded, “Yeah. I mean, I could see scenarios in which we did that. We have not yet worked through that roster composition. I think a lot of it will depend upon what the rest of our roster looks like and what makes sense to do with that one spot. Like we were talking about that one day, we know it has to be a position player because of the limitations on pitchers.”