The final week of Indians baseball this season resembled something more of a tail spin with both engines ablaze than it did an aggressive strafing of the opposition. After walloping the White Sox 11-0, the Tribe themselves proceeded to be on the receiving end of the whoopin stick allowing 42 runs in the final five games of the season and losing them all.
Despite closing 2019 out in an embarrassing manner, there is a lot to look forward to for the 2020 season. This isn’t an effort to build the hype in some camouflaged “there’s always next year” perception. Rather, it is an honest review of what the future truly holds for this young Cleveland Indians team.
#1 – Money Off the Books
Jason Kipnis has been one of the most beloved members of the Indians over the last nine seasons. He exited the 2019 campaign prematurely due to a broken hand and that was likely the last we will see of him in a Cleveland uniform. Set to make $16.5 million in 2020, the front office will most definitely exercise his $2 million buyout, freeing up some significant room for the team.
While I would like Yasiel Puig to remain, he is a free agent currently pulling down $9.5 million, so we will likely witness his departure creating even more cap room. The biggest question mark in all this is Corey Kluber. Will the team bring him back, perhaps out of the bullpen? Will they bring him back at all? He’ll be 34 next year and is currently carrying a salary of $17.5 million. That would be a serious chunk of change opening up if the Indians choose not to pay him.
What’s that? We need him as a starter you say? That brings me to my next point.
#2 – Starting Rotation
If you would have told me in June that the Tribe would still have a fighting chance after losing Carrasco as a starter to leukemia, losing Kluber from a broken arm and trading Trevor Bauer away, I would have said you were off your rocker.
Nevertheless, it happened.
While I have not shed any tears on Bauer’s leaving (good riddance, actually), Carrasco and Kluber missing time did sting. Still, credit the scouts and the front office for the talent that lies in our farm system. First up, Shane “Not Justin” Bieber. There is your next #1 man in the rotation, bar none. Bieber has impressed thoughout his efforts this season and is solid in his role.
Next is Mike Clevinger, and well, we’ve all seen his handy work before and it can be impressive if nothing else. Sure, he bottomed out in the final game of the season, but when he’s on, his pitches break all over the strike zone sending batters back to the dugout in a state of bewilderment.
Then, there is Adam Plutko. He’s the one starting rotation factor I am not so certain about. With a 5.08 ERA this year and the inability to keep his pitch count respectable by the fifth inning, who knows what this righty will do in a year.
Lastly, there is Zach Plesac. I have a ton of faith in his future. Not only does he outshine Plutko, but he is just a great option to have as second or third in the rotation. He finishes the 2019 outing with a 3.81 ERA and with another year under his belt, fans can expect to see that drop.
Hey, what about Cookie? I am leaving 2019 under the impression Carlos Carrasco will be a member of the bullpen for 2020. That can certainly change, but for now that is very viable option, because oh that bullpen.
#3 – The Bullpen
I should be careful of what I say since I do believe in jinxes, but seriously, this bullpen can only get better next year, right? Can anyone count how many times they gave the game away this season? Does anyone really want to?
Ever since closer Brad Hand had his streak end that fateful June night against the Royals, he was never the same. He looked awfully shaky in the All-Star Game and floundered the rest of the year after that. His performances didn’t exactly instill confidence in fans.
The rest of the crew proved to be regular choke artists as well, but let’s not dwell on the negative here. All that aforementioned money that is going to leave the Indians’ payroll in 2020 should (at least a good portion of it) be redirected to upgrading the bullpen. It is not like this team is in a financial pinch here. While there may be some doubt cast upon who is ready, if anyone, to answer the call from Columbus, there are better relievers out there on the free agent market this winter.
#4 – Goodbye, Injury Bug
This isn’t as guaranteed as the money coming off the books. However, the chances of the Cleveland roster being decimated by injuries and a life-threatening illness two years in a row is about as likely as me growing gills and becoming Walleye Man, Cleveland’s next great hero.
Let’s review the team’s list of major ailments in 2019:
- Lindor – calf strain
- Kluber – broken arm
- Carrasco – leukemia
- Ramirez – broken hand
- Kipnis – broken hand
- Kluber – abdominal strain
- Naquin – torn ACL
That sounds more like a cruel hack of an MLB video game than it does real life, but as the saying goes, truth is stranger than fiction…and apparently more painful, too. The probability of something remotely close to that list happening again has to be lower than a lightning strike or hitting the Power Ball. With all that being said, look for a healthier squad on the field in 2020.
#5 – Young Bats & Gloves
Franmil Reyes. Yu Chang. Jordan Luplow. Oscar Mercado. That is a lot of potential talent and for a very low price. Reyes, brought in from the Bauer trade, will get a pay raise in 2020 but it will still be under the $1 million mark.
Chang did not have an impressive batting average to finish the season, but to be fair, he had less than 100 plate appearances. That bat will come around and he has already flashed moments of some savvy defensive play.
Jordan Luplow ended his run this year with 15 homers and a batting average that rested just above .275. While that in and of itself may not earn many ooh’s and ah’s, keep in mind he had about half the at-bats as Lindor.
Not bad for a part-time player, eh?
As for Mercado, this man could very well be your 2019 American League Rookie of the Year. With 15 home runs, 15 stolen bases and a batting average that ended near .270, Mercado is on the fast path to be the most beloved Indian after Lindor. What adds to Mercado’s overall impact is his play on the defensive side of things. He may not have that Howitzer arm that his outfield counterpart does (Puig), but the amount of ground Mercado can over out there in center field brings back memories of Kenny Lofton.