Chris Antonetti and Mark Shaprio enter one of the most important off seasons in Cleveland Indians history. They are quickly becoming the forgotten child in Cleveland sports. With Brian Hoyer leading the Browns on improbable comebacks, and the Cavs the favorite to win the NBA Championship, the Indians are being passed over by the fans. The Indians recorded their second lowest attendance figure since Jacobs/Progressive Field opened in 1994. With stadium renovations taking place as we speak, the Indians hope a fresher ballpark will help bring in more fans, but in reality the only thing that will truly bring the fans back is spending on free agents. Over the last 3 seasons, the Indians have operated in the $78-87 million payroll range. As it currently stands, if the Indians make no additions or subtractions to their current roster, they will enter 2015 with a $75.7 million payroll. What would it take for the fans to come back? Well, the Indians can start with the perfect off season.  Note: this is by no means a preview of what the Indians will do, but instead of what would happen if we lived in a perfect world.

1. Trade Nick Swisher
Nick Swisher has two years and $30 million left on his contract, so finding a trade partner might be tough (or even impossible). A trade with a NL team is unlikely due to the fact that Swisher is an extreme liability in the field. In just 97 games this season he committed 9 errors and had a defensive WAR of -1.2. A trade with an AL team is the only real option. However, to trade Swisher the Indians have to do two things. The first is that the Indians would have to eat a certain amount of his salary, let’s say half of it. Second, the Indians would have to throw in a prospect in the trade, such as Tyler Naquin or James Ramsey. Not a top prospect, but someone good enough for a team to accept. I note that Seattle, a team that was originally interested in Swisher when he was a free agent, has a hole at first base, and has the money to take on his contract. In this proposed trade, the Indians would probably take a minor league player. With the trade, and the Indians eating half of Swisher’s contract, their payroll would fall to $68.2 million.

2. Exercise the Mike Aviles buyout clause
Mike Aviles has been a valuable veteran presence for the Tribe over the past two years, but it has become clear that his best days are behind him. With Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez, and Jason Kipnis clogging up the middle infield, Aviles has become expendable. Aviles has a club option for 2015 for $3.5 million, but the Indians would be wise to use his $250,000 buyout clause. With Aviles gone, the payroll falls to $64.7 million.

3. Sign Victor Martinez
Victor has expressed the fact that he would love to finish his career in an Indians uniform. He has also said that he doesn’t want to play until he is 40 years old. Victor will be 36 at the start of the 2015 season. It is known that the Tigers will offer the world to Victor, but he has said that money will not influence his decision. The Indians could get lucky by successfully offering Victor a hometown discount with a 3-year contract somewhere around the $11-15 million range. With the signing the Indians 2015 payroll would be around $77.7 million.

4. Trade for Yasiel Puig or Josh Donaldson
Rumors are circulating that the Dodgers are ready to move on from the Puig-mania head case, and will entertain offers for him this off season. The Dodgers have a surplus of outfielders and are apparently tired of Puig. Acquiring Puig won’t break the bank, as he is owed just $30 million over the next 4 years. Sure, he can be infuriating at times, but after Terry Francona’s time dealing with Manny Ramirez, Puig should be a walk in the park. Of course, the Indians would have to pay a hefty fee, something like Danny Salazar, Clint Frazier (or Bradley Zimmer), and probably another minor league prospect. Trading for Puig would set the Indians up for a payroll of $83.4 million.

Rumors are also out there that the Athletics are going to be shopping third basemen Josh Donaldson this off season. Donaldson will be arbitration eligible for the first time this year. He has been an MVP-caliber player over the last two years and has a combined WAR of 15.4. I would expect him to earn about $6.5 million next year (very comparable to Giancarlo Stanton). Donaldson, along with his solid bat, is one of the best defensive third basemen in the league. In the trade the Indians would send over Danny Salazar, Lonnie Chisenhall, and James Ramsey. Trading for Donaldson would set the Indians payroll at around $83.4 million.

5. Trade Lonnie Chisenhall for pitching
The Indians have already expressed their desire to add pitching in the off season. A few years ago, it was Lonnie Chisenhall that the Indians refused to trade away in a Matt Garza deal. Now, the Indians know what they have in Chisenhall, but his value is currently at an all-time high. Another solid bullpen arm or a #4 or #5 starter is all one could probably get, but the Indians will need more arms for 2015. Trading away Chisenhall would help the Indians defensively, as Chisenhall committed 18 errors and had a defensive WAR of -1.5 in 2014. The Indians could then move either Francisco Lindor or Jose Ramirez to third while they wait for Giovanny Urshela to be ready for the big leagues.

6. Sign a starting pitcher and extend Corey Kluber
The following segment has been taken from one of my previous articles “Power Arms of the Future”; here is the link to the full article:

Brett Anderson:
Anderson currently has a $12 million option for 2015, but I expect the Rockies to use his $1.5 million buyout clause. Anderson is currently on the 60-day DL with a back injury, limiting him to just 43.1 innings in 2014. Assuming he is healthy by the 2015 season, Anderson could be obtained cheaply. He is very injury-prone and has only pitched one full season (2009), but he has a career ERA of 3.73.

Jason Hammel:
Hammel has spent time with both the Cubs and A’s this year, but has stumbled in his time in Oakland, posting a 4.76 ERA in 58.2 innings. His time with the Cubs was much better as he posted a 2.98 ERA in 108.2 innings. The Indians were attached to Hammel’s name this last off season, but he instead chose to sign with the Cubs on a 1-year, $6 million deal. His time with the A’s has hurt his stock, so he comes cheaply. However, his time in Chicago was probably an aberration, as he holds a career ERA of 4.63.

Francisco Liriano:
After a 2013, where he posted a 16-8 record with a 3.02 ERA, Liriano fell back to earth in 2014, posting a 6-10 record with an ERA of 3.45. He is currently making $6 million in 2014. He is a pitcher who could easily sign a long-term deal (for a decent amount of money) or he could take another 1-year deal to help his stock. I estimate a deal in the $8-$12 million range, something the Tribe could do on a 1-year deal, however, you don’t know if you are getting the good Liriano or the bad Liriano.

Ervin Santana:
Probably the most unlikely acquisition for the Tribe on this list, as Santana would probably be looking for another deal around the $14 million range, but Santana has now put up back-to-back good seasons together. However, Santana could jump at the first long-term contract he sees this off season, as he probably doesn’t want to wait as long for another contract. If the Indians offered a 3-year, $36 million dollar contract, he would at least have to consider it.

Edinson Volquez:
The ultimate boom-or-bust pitcher has enjoyed his best season since his 2008 breakout year. Volquez has posted a 12-7 record for the Pirates, with a 3.27 ERA in 2014. Volquez is only making $5 million this year so that figure may be raised a few million, but he should still be on the cheap side, and probably still a 1 year-deal kind of pitcher.

This would probably push the Indians payroll for 2015 to $90 million or above, but you can’t argue that these moves wouldn’t make the Indians instant contenders.  These moves are unlikely to happen, and are just a fantasy of mine, but then again, the Cavs had the perfect offseason, and look where they are!

— Chris Sladoje (@CST_Doje)

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