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Inbox: What's OF look like without Rajai?

Beat reporter Jordan Bastian answers questions from Indians fans
January 4, 2017

Regardless of Rajai Davis' value as a hitter and fielder, he obviously played a huge role in the Indians' run with his baserunning and stealing. Without Davis, what are the Indians' options? -- Austin M.Davis played a key role for the Indians last season, especially with the running game. There

Regardless of Rajai Davis' value as a hitter and fielder, he obviously played a huge role in the Indians' run with his baserunning and stealing. Without Davis, what are the Indians' options?
-- Austin M.

Davis played a key role for the Indians last season, especially with the running game. There is the obvious: Davis led the American League with 43 steals and a 10.0 BsR (min. 450 plate appearances). The veteran also helped youngsters like Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez embrace aggressiveness on the basepaths, too. And, of course, Davis' game-tying homer in Game 7 of the World Series was one of the moments of the year in baseball.
The Indians had interest in re-signing Davis, but the 36-year-old outfielder opted to take a one-year, $6 million deal with the A's. Adding slugger Edwin Encarnacion to the fold was a heavy investment for the Indians (three years, $60 million guaranteed), making the budget tight for other signings. Cleveland may still be looking at external upgrades, but the outfield could be solved internally.

Cleveland has a sound platoon situation for right field with Lonnie Chisenhall (.784 OPS vs. RHP in 2016) and Brandon Guyer (1.021 OPS vs. LHP in '16). Tyler Naquin was used mostly as a platoon option in center last year, and he could conceivably share time with switch-hitting Abraham Almonte next season. For left, the Indians are hoping that Michael Brantley will be ready to go after an injury-marred '16.
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Beyond that group, Cleveland has third baseman Ramirez, who can slide into left field if needed. The Indians will also be taking a close look at prospect Yandy Diaz during Spring Training. He can play third base and corner outfield, too. The Tribe will also head into '17 knowing that its top prospect, outfielder Bradley Zimmer, may be knocking on the big leagues' door at some point this summer.

In late December, Jonah Keri of CBS Sports was interviewed on a Toronto radio station and described Brantley's injury as "horrific" and said he did not think the outfielder would be "a significant contributor" in 2017, citing sources. There has been nothing else yet to support that claim. This is the middle of the offseason, so everything right now should be treated as speculation.
It will be easier to gauge Brantley's progress from the biceps tenodesis surgery he had on his right arm in August when reporters can monitor his daily activity in the spring. All that is known now is that Brantley resumed light non-contact swinging while back home over the holidays and the left fielder will continue his rehab in Cleveland in the weeks leading up to Spring Training.
To this point, Indians team president Chris Antonetti has said that Brantley is in the plans as Cleveland's left fielder for Opening Day after being limited to just 11 games last season. Perhaps the more important question is not whether Brantley will be in the lineup, but how effective he will be after coming back. The right shoulder, which is the source of the original injury and surgery in November 2015, is critical for a left-handed batter's swing.

There is no denying that Mike Napoli made an impact behind the scenes. He led by example and was a great resource for some of the Tribe's younger players. That said, some of the Tribe's core players are entering their prime years and have grown into clubhouse leaders. It might be time to start realizing that players such as Jason Kipnis, Corey Kluber, Cody Allen and Brantley, among others, have become veteran voices in the room. As a group, they have now been through a deep postseason run together, too. This is not to say that Napoli's presence won't be missed, but the leadership structure seems to be in good shape.

At a quick glance, yes, Naquin's .775 OPS against lefty pitching is solid. What you have to keep in mind is that sample includes only 40 plate appearances. One of the reason's the rookie outfielder performed so well offensively was that manager Terry Francona picked his spots and limited Naquin's exposure to lefties. It was also Naquin's first time in the Majors, so protecting him some made sense as he learned the league. If the roster remains as is for Opening Day, I'd expect Naquin to have split duties at the start of the year. But he could certainly grow into a larger role as the season progresses.

The Indians signed Yan Gomes through 2019 and included team options that could keep him around through '21. That investment, which includes a $4.5 million salary for '17, means that Gomes will be the starting catcher in all likelihood. If he gets off to a slow start and the offensive struggles of last season persist, then Roberto Perez could find himself earning more at-bats. One thing is certain -- even with last year's hitting woes for both catchers, Cleveland boasts one of the top defensive duos in the game.

If by "fine" you mean that Carlos Santana survived without making a World Series-altering mistake, then yes, he looked fine out there. You should know, though, that Francona nearly swallowed his gum when Kristopher Bryant sent a liner to Santana in left field in the first inning of Game 3 at Wrigley Field. The manager hoisted his arms in the air in celebration when Santana made the catch. Putting him in the outfield was a two-game strategy to maximize offense without the designated hitter available. It was not a trial run for the Indians' 2017 outfield. Expect Santana to stick to playing first and DHing, splitting those duties with Encarnacion.

Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and listen to his podcast.