Even in the event that the the Cleveland Indians make the playoffs, it has still been quite clear that this team needs help from the front office if they are finally to get over the hump dividing “decent” from “a serious contender”. For a long time, the city of Cleveland has called for the Indians front office to spend more money, and here is the perfect time to do it. Coming off the franchise’s first sequence of back-to-back winning seasons since 2000-01, it is essential that the front office do whatever it can to improve the team this off season.
Luckily for both the Indians’ brass and manager Terry Francona, the Indians have the luxury of not having to worry about any departing free agents (aside from Jason Giambi, who might as well just join the coaching staff), something that altered the makeup of the team from 2013 to 2014. So with a solid crop of free agents to pick from and a few trade-able pieces on the roster, the Indians could be poised for a productive offseason.
Here are the three things that the Indians MUST get accomplished this winter:
1. Sign Either Victor Martinez or Nelson Cruz…or at least someone who can hit.
LeBron James might not be the only making a return to the shores of Lake Erie this year. That’s right, the same Victor Martinez that the Indians traded away for prospects some five years ago could be coming back to Cleveland.
Aside from Martinez expressing interest in coming back, it may very well be a long shot to land maybe the most complete hitter of the 2014 season, but the Indians still must make a legitimate effort to sign Victor, knowing fully well that they will have to dig a little deeper into the wallets.
Victor would completely change the makeup of this lineup as one of the most feared hitters in the American League. He would make a living at the DH spot right out of the gates, moving Carlos Santana to first base full time and Nick Swisher back to right field to split time with David Murphy.
Nelson Cruz and his power bat would also fit nicely into the Indians’ lineup, but like Martinez, he comes with a high price tag, especially since he is the only MLB player to hit 40 home runs this year. Still, he would be well worth the front office’s time to at least make an offer.
Again, the Indians are a small-market team that has never really been able to nail a successful big-time signing. This fact alone will probably lead to the Tribe pursuing more money-reasonable options like Aramis Ramirez or possibly Mike Morse. Either way, the Indians will have to do something to improve the offense this winter, and making the biggest splash may not be the Indians’ course of action.
2. Sign a Veteran Arm
The Indians usually accomplish this task once every offseason anyway, but there is no reason they should stop that trend now.
Sure, the Tribe’s starting rotation has been stellar since the All Star Break. The staff culminated with a 2.41 ERA in the month of August and carried the team for the last two months of the season. This is most definitely a positive heading into the offseason, but the rotation of Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Danny Salazar, Trevor Bauer and TJ House simply has too many question marks surrounding it to be considered set in stone for next year’s starting rotation.
Kluber has clearly emerged as the team’s ace for years to come, but after him is where it gets sketchy.
Everyone, including yours truly, seemed to have given up on Carlos Carrasco for the last time this spring after he blew yet another chance to become a part of the Indians’ rotation for good. As the story goes, he got yet another chance to prove himself as a starter and has taken off from there. But, can we expect the same Carrasco at the beginning of next season? I am not willing to take that risk. After all, his career has been anything but predictable.
As for the remaining pieces to the rotation, they each arise skepticism in their own ways. Danny Salazar was supposed to be one of the features of this rotation, but has experienced more of an “up and down” year than anything. Relative to the rest of the young starters on this Indians team, I am a bit more confident that Salazar can put together a complete MLB season, but there is still room for doubt.
Trevor Bauer definitely has the stuff to compete on the MLB stage, but he is still growing as a starter, and we are likely to see some evidence of that at the outset of his first full year in the Bigs.
Finally, TJ House has quietly made a name for himself on the Tribe’s roster. Pitching to the tune of a 3.43 ERA will do that for a guy. House might be the biggest question mark heading into the 2015 MLB season just because his pitching style is so much different than anyone else on this staff. He doesn’t have the stuff that the rest of the staff has, so it might just be a matter of time before MLB hitters start to figure him out.
What all of this youth and unpredictability tells the front office, is that they need to find at least one veteran arm, and a solid one at that. Sure, you have Zach McCallister as a solid bounce-back candidate for next season, but some outside reinforcements sure would not hurt.
One name that immediately comes to mind is Chris Young, the tall, seasoned veteran who just finished up an impressive year with Seattle. The right-hander pitched to a 3.65 ERA while racking up 12 wins on the season, so whichever team decides to sign him would be getting that veteran presence along with some talent. While signing Young would give the Tribe a surplus at the starting pitching position, Terry Francona’s message still holds true: “whenever you think you have enough pitching, go out and get some more.”
3. Trade Mike Aviles and Ryan Raburn
Packaging and shipping out two key members of 2013’s Goon Squad could be tough for some fans to digest, but it is a necessary move to be made.
Raburn’s situation right now is one that is practically screaming “trade me.” The outfielder is coming off of an awful season in which he batted somewhere around .200 for the duration of the year and only managed four longballs. With just a year left on his contract, Raburn won’t be good for much here in Cleveland. With David Murphy occupying the starting right field position for now, and Tyler Holt making his case for the first guy off the bench, it would be tough to find playing time for Raburn. Add in the possibility of Nick Swisher returning to the outfield and Raburn is completely out of the picture.
Becuase he has just one year left on his deal and because of the rough 2014 campaign he experienced, Raburn himself might not carry much of a trade value, but partnered with someone like Mike Aviles, you might be able to get something out of that.
As for Aviles, he has been a great part of this team and it would be tough to see him go, but it is a move that would benefit the Indians in the end. With top prospect Francisco Lindor coming up from Columbus at the outset of next season and Jose Ramirez already making a name for himself as an MLB infielder, the Indians have the capability to replace Aviles with cheaper and younger options with considerably higher ceilings. Considering the state of this Indians defense (worst in the MLB in 2014), it will definitely be a risk to put two guys who currently aren’t old enough to drink in the line of fire like that, but when one of them is Francisco Lindor, the defense should do just fine.
By Jay Cannon