Impact bat high on Indians' offseason wish list
CLEVELAND -- After watching the rival Royals capture this year's World Series, the Indians hope to position themselves for a similar run next year. Cleveland had high hopes this past season, but fell short of expectations and finished in third place in the American League Central.
"We're not far away," Indians All-Star second baseman Jason Kipnis said at the end of the season. "We've definitely got a good foundation here. We've definitely got good players, and now, we could be just one piece away, one bat away, one pitcher away. And I think it'll be important for us to go out and get it."
That search begins now with the official start to Major League Baseball's offseason.
Upgrading the lineup is Cleveland's top priority, but the Tribe will be looking at a variety of ways -- mostly via the trade route -- in order to improve its roster.
"We'll definitely look to try to improve offensively," said Chris Antonetti, Indians vice president of baseball operations. "We'll look to try to improve our pitching staff, too, but I think we have more work to do on our position-player side maybe than we do on the pitching side. It's easy to sit here in the offseason and make up a wish list of things we'd like to have. It's much more difficult to go out and do that."
Here is a glance at how the Indians shape up as the Hot Stove season begins:
Free agents/options: The Indians' only Major League free agents this offseason are utility man Mike Aviles, starter Gavin Floyd and reliever Ryan Webb. Veteran utility man Ryan Raburn became a free agent on Wednesday as Cleveland payed his $100,000 buyout.
Needs: The Indians had the arms (3.68 team ERA ranked second in the AL) and defense (18 Defensive Runs Saved ranked third in the AL) working for them in 2015, but the offense lacked pop (.401 slugging percentage ranked 11th). Trying to find middle-of-the-order power should be at the top of Cleveland's to-do list this winter. The corner-infield spots, or the outfield, could be targeted for that kind of upgrade. Beyond that, the Tribe will look to pad its depth for the back of the rotation and middle relief (left-handed, especially).
Potential targets: Don't expect the Indians to be in on big-ticket, free-agent sluggers like Yoenis Cespedes or Justin Upton. Given its financial limitations, it's more likely that Cleveland explores alternatives via the trade market. For example, Miami outfielder Marcell Ozuna's name has been linked to the Tribe over the past year. Cleveland might look to upgrade in center or right field, allowing Michael Brantley (a part-time center fielder) to remain in left.
Trade assets: The Indians will surely be asked about the availability of their starting pitchers, and Cleveland will probably need to be open-minded if it's going to reel in a major impact bat. That said, the Tribe's depth behind its top four starters is thin, so the team would need to know it had replacements targeted before dealing from the team's strength. The Indians also have a wealth of outfield prospects, and some pitching prospects, to dangle in trade talks. Among the team's Major League hitters, Cleveland's Carlos Santana looks like a potential trade chip as well.
Financial situation: The Indians have roughly $41 million committed to seven contracts for 2016 and could wind up paying between $13-15 million through its seven arbitration cases. Including Raburn's potential salary (or buyout), cash sent to Atlanta for Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn (traded in August) and salaries for pre-arbitration players, the Indians look to be around $74-75 million before any offseason additions. That likely would give the Tribe roughly $10-15 million to use this winter if the team is planning on staying in the $85-90 million range for its payroll.