After losing a 3-1 lead in the 2016 World Series and having one of the most dominant pitching staffs to go along with youthful talent, even the most skeptic of Indians fans wouldn’t think the Tribe would struggle to get back The Fall Classic like they have the past two seasons.
To make matters worse, the Indians now seem to be heading in the wrong direction while the rest of the American League Central is slowly becoming better.
The Indians have traded away All-Star catcher Yan Gomes, a home run threat in Edwin Encarnacion, Yonder Alonso, Yandy Diaz and potential second base successor in Erik Gonzalez. Meanwhile, they also lost two-time All-Star Michael Brantley to a potential rival in the Houston Astros and below-average third baseman turned above-average outfielder Lonnie Chisenhall to the Pittsburgh Pirates.
It seems evident that the team wants to cut payroll and potentially begin a rebuild, but the problem is neither point has been confirmed by the Indians. This makes not re-signing Brantley to the two-year, $32 million seem unreasonable for someone who has been a cornerstone in Cleveland for the past eight seasons. Not to mention, the Indians did not re-sign Carlos Santana only to sign Alonso to a two-year, $16 million deal, trade him to the White Sox after one season and re-acquire Santana on a more expensive contract.
On top of this mundane offseason by the Indians, rivals in the AL Central seem to be getting better, albeit some more slowly than others, while the Indians are treading backwards.
The White Sox will still be bad team, but they gained a 20+ home run guy in Alonso to go along with a decent core of Jose Abreu, Yolmer Sanchez, Tim Anderson and Yoan Moncada. Not to mention, five of the White Sox’s top prospects are all ranked in the top 50 prospects in baseball. With proper grooming of their roster, their future is bright.
As with the Minnesota Twins, the Indians closest rival to the AL Central crown, they have finished second in the division three out of the last four seasons and made a surprising push for the Wild Card in 2017. Even though team stalwarts Joe Mauer and Brian Dozier are no longer there, the Twins have their own young core consisting of Miguel Sano, Eddie Rosario, Byron Buxton and Max Kepler. The team also brought in veteran power threats in Jonathan Schoop, C.J. Cron and Nelson Cruz to bolster their lineup. If everyone has at least a decent and healthy season, the Twins will once again be inching at the Indians to claim the division’s top spot.
All together, the Twins, White Sox, Tigers and Royals have seven top prospects in the top 40 and 13 prospects in the top 100. The top prospect of these rivals sits at number three in OF Eloy Jimenez (CHW) while the Indians top prospect, RHP Triston McKenzie, sits at number 41, 26 spots above the only other top ranked Indians prospect, 3B Nolan Jones.
Luckily for the Indians, rumors of the White Sox signing 3B/SS Manny Machado was just that, for it would have brought a top player to a rival team. Unluckily, what the eventual Machado signing (10 years, $300 million) did do was set the market price for a top 3B/SS.
In case you forgot, the Indians have one of those in Francisco Lindor and he is eligible for free agency in 2022 and for a team whose biggest signing in recent memory is Encarnacion’s three-year, $60 million deal, $300 million for one player is a lot of money for Cleveland’s small-market standard.
No one wants to be pessimistic about their team’s future, but compared to those in the rest of the division, it certainly isn’t the brightest and that should put some concern in the hearts of Indians fans. Enjoy these next couple of seasons, because eventually our willful winners will be lovable losers once again, looking for the next rebuild.