CLEVELAND -- The Indians have some difficult roster decisions looming, but there is some comfort in the foundation that remains in place. While the club has some key players poised to hit free agency, the bulk of the American League Central champion's roster will stay intact for next year.The Tribe
CLEVELAND -- The Indians have some difficult roster decisions looming, but there is some comfort in the foundation that remains in place. While the club has some key players poised to hit free agency, the bulk of the American League Central champion's roster will stay intact for next year.
The Tribe has the ability to retain its entire starting rotation and most of its bullpen. The bigger questions involve the position-player side of the equation. Carlos Santana and Jay Bruce will be eligible for free agency this offseason, and Michael Brantley (out four to five months after right ankle surgery on Wednesday) could join them if the Indians do not pick up his $12 million team option. Still, the front office has confidence that the team is positioned for a strong offseason and division title defense in 2018.
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"If you look across the board at our team performance," said Chris Antonetti, the Indians' president of baseball operations, "we performed pretty well throughout the course of the year. We had the best run differential in baseball. If you look at our offense, our defense, our starting pitching, our relief pitching, it was all pretty good. That's a good foundation going into the offseason. But, that doesn't mean we're not going to look to get better."
Here is a breakdown of the Indians' offseason outlook:
1. First base: The most obvious solution here would be to re-sign Santana, who has been in the Indians' organization since 2008 and wants to stay. Santana looks like a strong candidate to receive a one-year qualifying offer ($17.4 million), but his camp may want to explore multiyear scenarios. The Indians may also explore whether Brantley (team option or $1 million buyout) is open to moving to first from left field. Outfielder Lonnie Chisenhall (eligible for arbitration) would present another internal option for first base. Yonder Alonso, Mitch Moreland, Mike Napoli and Eric Hosmer are expected to be among the first basemen on the free-agent market this winter.
2. Right field: Bruce made a strong impact in Cleveland after being acquired from the Mets in August, but expect the veteran to make the most of his free-agent opportunity this winter. Internally, the Indians could go with a platoon of Chisenhall and Brandon Guyer in right, which was the Opening Day plan this past season before injuries complicated matters. Or, the Indians could push to re-sign Bruce, especially if it begins to look like Santana may go elsewhere. Bruce presents the most logical fit on the open market.
1. Bullpen depth: Setup men Bryan Shaw and Joe Smith will both be eligible for free agency this offseason, and it seems improbable that both would be back with Cleveland next year. Smith may be the more affordable option if the Indians want to keep one in the fold. The Tribe will also likely decline the $7 million team option for lefty Boone Logan, whose season ended in July due to a torn left lat muscle. Fortunately for the Indians, left-hander Tyler Olson emerged as a reliable fit for that role. The Indians will still likely seek some relief depth this winter.
2. Back of rotation: The $3 million team option to keep Josh Tomlin for 2018 looks like a bargain, so that will likely be picked up by the Indians. Behind Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco and Trevor Bauer, Cleveland's other rotation options include Mike Clevinger, Danny Salazar and Ryan Merritt. Cody Anderson will be returning from Tommy John surgery. While the Indians could benefit from a depth arm or two, there's little room in the starting staff.
Where does Jason Kipnis fit? The answer to this question might have a ripple effect on the Indians' entire offseason. Down the stretch and in the playoffs, Kipnis handled center field, but that spot is expected to be filled by Bradley Zimmer come Opening Day. If the Indians think Kipnis should slide to left field, that could impact the decision on Brantley's future. The alternative is to go back to Kipnis playing second, where he's spent most of his career. That would, in turn, push Jose Ramirez back to third base, following his stint as the Tribe's second baseman in the second half. If Ramirez goes back to the hot corner, the Indians will again be dealing with uncertainty surrounding Yandy Diaz's place on the diamond.
Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.