Outfield gaps top Tribe's to-do list at Meetings
Brantley's injury further complicates club's offseason plans
CLEVELAND -- The Indians' work behind the scenes has yet to yield any major moves this offseason. Cleveland has been exploring all avenues via trade in order to upgrade its offense, while also addressing its holes in the outfield, in the weeks leading up to the Winter Meetings.
To date, little in the way of transactions has transpired for the Tribe, which likely needs to wait for the free-agent market to settle before potentially pulling a major trigger. When the Winter Meetings begin in Nashville, Tenn., on Monday, plenty of dominos should begin to fall, bringing a little more clarity for Cleveland as it attempts to solidify its roster.
"I don't expect the roster that we sit [with] here today," Indians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti said earlier this winter, "to be the roster that we have when we show up in Goodyear [Arizona] for Spring Training. We will continue to look at a number of options to try to improve our team."
MLB.com and MLB Network will have wall-to-wall coverage of the 2015 Winter Meetings from the Opryland Hotel in Nashville, with the Network launching 35 hours of live Winter Meetings coverage on Sunday at 8 p.m. ET. Fans can also catch live streaming of all news conferences and manager availability on MLB.com, as well as the announcement of the Hall of Fame Pre-Integration Era Committee inductees on Monday at 11 a.m. ET and the Rule 5 Draft on Dec. 10 at 10 a.m. ET.
During the four-day Winter Meetings, Antonetti, general manager Mike Chernoff and manager Terry Francona will have the chance to continue dialogue on a number of fronts. First and foremost on Cleveland's to-do list is solving its outfield situation. Left fielder Michael Brantley could be out for all of April following right-shoulder surgery, creating a huge hole in the field and in the lineup.
Beyond Brantley, the Indians' current outfield consists of center fielder Abraham Almonte, right fielder Lonnie Chisenhall and Collin Cowgill, who was acquired from the Angels on Wednesday in exchange for cash considerations. The Tribe also has utility men Jerry Sands, Michael Martinez and Zach Walters (recovering from shoulder surgery), along with outfield prospects Tyler Naquin and James Ramsey. So far, Shane Robinson and Michael Choice are the only outfielders in the fold as non-roster invitees.
The outfield is not the only issue, though. The Indians entered the winter with the hope of possibly adding an impact bat to the heart of the order. In order to accomplish that goal, Cleveland will need to look to trades, considering the cost of free-agent sluggers and the lack of financial wiggle room for the club.
The Indians have a pair of free agents in Ryan Raburn and Mike Aviles, who can both play the outfield. Other second-tier options could command multiyear contracts. Outfielder Chris Young, for example, reportedly signed a two-year, $13 million deal with the Red Sox.
"We certainly have a very good understanding, or a developing understanding, of the outfielder corner market," Antonetti said, "both on the trade and free-agent front. And I expect that we'll continue to explore options to help us get better."
Cleveland's only Major League moves so far have been adding reliever Kirby Yates to the bullpen mix via a trade with the Rays, and reeling in Cowgill. The Indians also added Robinson, reliever Joba Chamberlain and catcher Anthony Recker to the Spring Training fold on Minor League contracts.
The Indians will likely stick to the $85 million-$90 million payroll they have operated under over the past few seasons, meaning the club has roughly $15 million to play with this winter. Under the circumstances, Cleveland will need to keep an open mind when it comes to entertaining trade offers.
Plenty of teams have come calling about the Tribe's talented starting pitchers. That rotation core -- led by Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Danny Salazar and Trevor Bauer -- is what gives the Indians hope that they can contend in 2016. It goes without saying that Cleveland would need to be blown away in order to trade from such an important part to its roster.
"We are in no hurry to be moving from our strength and moving away from that," Chernoff said at the GM Meetings last month. "But, we're a small-market team. We have to be creative and opportunistic. So we listen on anything and consider what the alternatives are."