Offense is Indians' prime target at Meetings
CLEVELAND -- Some big names are off the board, helping to set the market on both the free-agent and trade fronts as Major League Baseball's annual Winter Meetings approach. That gives a team like the Indians a better gauge onf realistic offseason targets.
When all 30 teams convene in Nashville, Tenn., beginning Monday, Cleveland will be looking to continue its search for outfield and offensive help. The Tribe completed a small trade with the Angels on Wednesday to acquire outfielder Collin Cowgill, but the Indians are hardly done searching for upgrades.
"We want to continue to improve," Chris Antonetti, the Indians' president of baseball operations, said following the deal with Los Angeles. "I think that will continue to be our goal between now and Spring Training. We think this is a step in that direction. We feel Collin really improves upon the alternatives we had prior to the deal."
MLB.com and MLB Network will have wall-to-wall coverage of the 2015 Winter Meetings from 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.
Here is a glance at the Tribe's situation heading into the Winter Meetings:
Outfield: Even with the acquisition of Cowgill, Cleveland's outfield could use a more impactful addition. The Indians could try to find an alternative for center field, where Abraham Almonte is currently the projected starter, or try to add a corner outfielder to help make up for the temporary loss of Michael Brantley after shoulder surgery. Center field would be the ideal spot to upgrade before Opening Day. Cowgill is a complementary piece to mainly help against left-handed pitching.
Offense: The Indians featured roughly a league-average offense overall last season, but the team ranked in the bottom third in the American League in isolated power (.144) and slugging percentage (.401). The Tribe could use an impact bat for the meat of the order and it's a safe bet the team is exhausting the trade market to hopefully find a solution. The outfield, corner infield spots or designated-hitter role are areas Cleveland can target for such an upgrade.
Pitching depth: Cleveland boasts one of the game's top rotations and fielded a bullpen that ranked near the top of the AL last year. What the Indians can always use is a little more depth. That could mean some Minor League contracts for relievers (Joba Chamberlain has already been signed via that route) or starters to lengthen out the staff in order to protect against potential injuries.
Who they can trade if necessary
Starting pitching: Carlos Carrasco, Danny Salazar and Trevor Bauer would likely be the top targets, given their age, potential and contractual situations. In light of the cost of starting pitching on the open market, Cleveland has been fielding calls on its arms. It could be the best way for the Tribe to acquire an impact bat, but the Indians would need to be blown away by a trade offer.
Lonnie Chisenhall: The former third baseman looked like a non-tender candidate in July, when he was back in Triple-A Columbus. After returning to the Majors, though, Chisenhall made a remarkable transition to right field and heated up at the plate. He'll be eligible for arbitration, but looks affordable now given his potential in the outfield. That said, Chisenhall could also be an attractive trade chip for other teams.
1B Chris Johnson: The cost of trading outfielders Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn to Atlanta in August was adding Johnson and his contract to the mix. He can provide a solid versus-lefties bat for first or DH, but is under contract for $7.5 million with another $9 million coming in 2017. For a team with limited financial wiggle room, trying to find a taker for Johnson would seem to make sense.
1B Carlos Santana: More teams would probably have interest in the switch-hitting Santana, who offers 20-plus home run potential and can draw 100-plus walks. Santana is owed $8.25 million in '16 with a $12 million team option for '17. That's an affordable deal given his skill set and the price of a similar player on the open market. Expect Cleveland to hold on to Santana this offseason.
Per MLBPipeline.com, the Indians' top 10 prospects are outfielders Bradley Zimmer and Clint Frazier, lefties Rob Kaminsky and Brady Aiken, outfielder Tyler Naquin, lefty Justus Sheffield, first baseman Bobby Bradley, righty Triston McKenzie, lefty Juan Hillman and infielder Erik Gonzalez. Given the depth in the outfield down on the farm, players such as Naquin or James Ramsey (No. 12) could be used as trade bait. Both are on the 40-man roster and closer to the Majors than Zimmer and Frazier.
Rule 5 Draft
The Indians currently are at capacity with their 40-man roster, so the team would need to vacate a spot in order to participate in the annual Rule 5 Draft, which is scheduled for Thursday morning on the final day of the Winter Meetings. Dating back to 2000, Cleveland's only Rule 5 selections have been Chris McGuiness (2012), Hector Ambriz (2009) and Travis Chapman (2002).
Big contracts they might unload
Cleveland already moved its two heaviest contracts when the club traded away Swisher and Bourn. There are no overly exorbitant deals on the Tribe's current roster. Johnson's contract, which includes a $10 million team option for 2018, is the only pact that really stands out. The Indians have done well in locking up their core group with affordable, long-term deals.
The Indians currently have $42 million committed to eight contracts for 2016 and could wind up paying between $14 million and $15 million for their six arbitration cases. Cleveland also has a $100,000 buyout of Ryan Raburn's contract, along with cash sent to the Braves as part of the Swisher/Bourn trade, on the books, too. If the Tribe plans on staying in the $85 million-$90 million range for its payroll as expected, the team looks to have roughly $15 million in wiggle room for the rest of this offseason.