After shipping SS Francisco Lindor and SP Carlos Carrasco to the New York Mets earlier this month and allowing RP Brad Hand and 1B Carlos Santana to exit via free agency, the Tribe front office and ownership needed a win. The signing of Cesar Hernandez to a one-year $5 million deal (with a $6 million club option in 2022) followed by the signing of outfielder Eddie Rosario to a one-year $8 million contract provided that much-needed win. These signings, while not sexy, give Tribe fans hope that the team will try to compete for the American League Central crown this season. Although Tribe president Chris Antonetti said the same at the end of the 2020 season, those words seemed hollow after watching the exits of a number of key contributors without the Tribe making any key signings of its own.
The addition of the power-hitting left fielder adds some needed pop to a line-up that appeared lacking in home run potential. After becoming a regular for the Minnesota Twins in 2015, Rosario has socked 119 home runs with 388 RBI. He carries a .277 batting average with an OPS of .788. Fangraphs projects Rosario to hit 26 home runs along with 79 RBI, while baseball-reference.com predicts 28 home runs with 90 RBIs for the 2021 season. With those numbers, and until RF Franmil Reyes proves otherwise, the 29-year-old lefthander will likely be the best outfield bat the team has had since the departure of LF Michael Brantley after the 2018 season.
Defensively, Rosario was a key contributor to an excellent Minnesota outfield defense through the 2018 season. Unfortunately, 2019 saw a dramatic drop. A stark example of this is seen when viewing Statcast’s Outs Above Average statistic, where he ranked last among qualified left fielders in 2019 with -18 outs below average.¹ However, his defense appeared to improve during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. For the Tribe, its hope will rest on 2019 being a blip for an otherwise excellent corner defender.
Rosario figures to slot anywhere from third to fifth in the Tribe’s lineup, providing the type of flexibility that manager Terry Francona has prized since his arrival in Cleveland. Because of his effectiveness against both righties and lefties (.277 average against each), Rosario will be penciled in as the everyday left fielder for a team that has been desperate for some stability in the outfield. This is excellent news considering the team has had to juggle multiple outfielders with constant platooning.
Tribe fans were used to booing Eddie Rosario as he feasted on Cleveland pitching at Progressive Field. In 177 career plate appearances in Cleveland, he hit 11 home runs, good for an astounding 1.031 OPS. Those 11 home runs represent the most home runs for Rosario in any ballpark with the obvious exception of Target Field. One hopes that he can carry those numbers across the entirety of an 81-game home schedule.
The signing of Eddie Rosario, along with the earlier re-signing of Cesar Hernandez, could prove vital as the Indians strive to reach the postseason again. If the Tribe reaches the playoffs this season, a lot of credit must go to a front office working with an approximately $50 million payroll.
¹https://www.twinkietown.com/2020/8/26/21401833/mlb-minnesota-twins-eddie-rosario-defense-free-swinger-rosies-return-to-form, accessed on 1/30/21.