CLEVELAND -- The Indians didn’t need to wait until Sunday’s deadline to handle their final roster moves before they enter the frenzy of the offseason. The Tribe had four club options on the table and announced its decisions on Friday afternoon.
The Indians exercised Roberto Pérez’s $5.5 million option for 2021 and declined the options of Carlos Santana, Brad Hand and Domingo Santana.
$10 million option, $1 million buyout
We had a preview of what the Indians would do with Hand’s option on Thursday, when he was placed on outright waivers, according to a source. If he had been claimed, the Indians would not have been required to pay his $1 million buyout. Because he was not claimed by another team, the Tribe decided to decline his option on Friday.
Declining Hand’s $10 million option is not a surprise. The Indians have indicated that the organization will have to endure payroll cuts to bounce back from the financial losses of the 2020 season. With two young relievers in James Karinchak and the hard-throwing Emmanuel Clase, the Indians would not have felt as much pressure to figure out a way to afford Hand’s $10 million salary.
Could the Tribe have exercised Hand’s option and tried to trade him over the offseason? Sure. But the problem is that no one really knows what this offseason will look like after this unprecedented year. Would teams want to pay $10 million for a reliever? We may have gotten an idea of that answer with Hand going unclaimed. Would teams want to trade what the Indians would be asking for in return? If the Indians’ No. 1 goal was to make sure they wouldn’t get stuck with his $10 million contract, then it may have been too big of a risk to try to make a trade over the offseason without the certainty that other teams would be willing to spend.
$17.5 million option, $500,000 buyout
Santana couldn’t have been more excited to get back to Cleveland in 2019 after spending a year in Philadelphia. His red-hot All-Star season was constantly credited to his comfort of being back home. But the Indians’ first baseman is coming off a rocky '20, and his hefty $17.5 million option is way out of the Tribe’s price range. This was anticipated to be declined.
However, that doesn’t mean Santana won’t stay in Cleveland. He will have to see what offers he’d get on the free-agent market, but his age (34, turning 35 just after Opening Day next year) combined with his .199/.349/.350 slash line from 2020 may not be the recipe to land a big contract. In that case, the Indians could still find a way to ink their beloved first baseman to a team-friendly deal to have him return in 2021.
“It will be important for us to get a little bit more clarity as the offseason goes on,” Indians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti said, “but we'll stay in touch, because as you know, Carlos is near and dear to our hearts and has been such a huge part of our team for the better part of the last decade at this point. He has fans throughout the organization -- on the coaching staff, in the clubhouse, in the front office -- everyone to a person loves Carlos and would love to have him continue to be part of the Indians family.”
$5.5 million, $450,000 buyout
Pérez's option was the likeliest to be picked up. He’s been rock solid for the Indians behind the plate, as he was nominated for his second consecutive Gold Glove Award since taking over the starting job in 2019. His offensive numbers were far from astounding this year, but his ability to lead a pitching staff (especially a young one) has been invaluable for the Tribe. And the pitching staff is only going to get younger, as 11 of the 20 hurlers on the 40-man roster are no older than 25. So, Pérez will continue to be a tremendous asset.
“We continue to believe Roberto is one of the best defensive catchers in baseball and a key leader on our team,” Antonetti said. “We're excited to have him back as a key component for us, and we've seen the difference he can make when he's behind the plate and leading a pitching staff. He's also been able to put together productive offensive seasons when he's been healthy, so we're hopeful that will be the case again next year."
The Indians still have backstop Austin Hedges, who was acquired in the trade that sent Mike Clevinger to the Padres at the Trade Deadline this year. He has a similar reputation to Pérez, being an above-average defensive catcher with a mediocre bat. He’d likely take over for Sandy León (now a free agent) as Pérez’s backup, assuming the Indians would be willing to pay his salary in arbitration (projected at $3 million by MLB Trade Rumors).
$5 million option, $250,000 buyout
No surprises here. Domingo Santana did not prove to bring the pop in the middle of the order the Tribe was looking for this year. He was outrighted to the Indians’ alternate training site in September and was not expected to have his $5 million option for 2021 picked up.