Another week into the cold, seemingly unending darkness of baseball’s offseason. Leaves are falling, clocks are changing, and the weather is getting colder. The Cavs haven’t been the unstoppable juggernaut that many expected them to be (at least, not yet). The Browns are…well, the Browns. Thursday’s win was great, but I’m still not quite convinced they’ve broken through to become Super Bowl contenders. Regardless, I have good news. There is light at the end of the tunnel. Pitchers and catchers report just 102 days from today (if you’re reading this on Sunday). Baseball is coming back.
Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you’ve see the reports that Tito Francona agreed to a contract extension through at least 2018, and it includes club options for 2019 and 2020. Your 9th grade child will be well-into college before Tito can leave for another job on his own accord. And more importantly, there doesn’t seem like there’s much chance for him to want to leave, now or down the road. In his own words:
“I really didn’t want to move on from here. ... You watch every manager in their first press conference, they say all these things — and they’re all true, they all feel them — but what’s really cool for me is, two years later, I’m getting to live them out. And I still feel the same way, two years [later], except maybe stronger, than the day I was hired. And for that, I’m very grateful.”
There’s not a whole lot I can add on Tito that wasn’t covered by Anthony Castrovice and/or Jordan Bastian (and if for some reason you haven’t read those two pieces yet, please remedy that by clicking the links), but I think it’s important to recognize just how much Francona means to this organization, both on and off the field. He’s a solid in-game tactician in the dugout. He’s great with the media and an effective communicator (something today’s manager has to be able to do). The players like him, which makes him an asset in the offseason when it comes to attracting free agents. He’s put together a fantastic staff, including both former (Brad Mills) and future (Sandy Alomar and Mike Sarbaugh) MLB managers, not to mention The Pitcher Whisperer. His Indians teams have won the 4th-most games in the AL since he took over as manager prior to the 2013 season. He’s on the same page as the two guys above him, GM Chris Antonetti and Team President Mark Shapiro. And most importantly, he genuinely wants to be here. He’s not using Cleveland as a stepping stone to a better-paying job somewhere else. He’s not going to leverage the Indians contract into a job with the Dodgers. Hell, if you believe the reports, he didn’t even know how much money he made in 2014! As the Cleveland fanbase know probably better than any other, continuity at the top of an organization makes for a much better chance at sustained success. One look at the history of the Cleveland Browns would seem to confirm that hypothesis. The Indians triumvirate at the top seems to be locked in for the long haul, and although there’s a very loud segment of the fanbase that would probably prefer otherwise, I think that’s a pretty good thing for the organization’s future success.
All that said, the best manager in the universe isn’t going to win without the players on the field. According to the BBWA, the Indians had one of the top-3 pitchers and one of the top-3 position players in the American League in 2014. That’s a really good start, as both of those guys are south of 30 and theoretically still on their way up. But what else can GM Chris Antonetti add to the roster this offseason to help Tito’s squad get over the hump and win the AL Central? With the help of the venerable founder of this fine site, the original DiaTribe himself, I sat down and tried to come up with some realistic moves that Antonetti could/should make this winter to help the Indians compete for the division next year. Please note that ‘realistic’ is a key word here. So no trading Josh Tomlin and Nick Swisher for Giancarlo Stanton. And also no “sign Victor,” as much as I want that to happen, because he just had too good of a season to wind up on the North Coast in 2015. So without further ado, here’s my attempt at playing armchair GM for the Indians this winter:
1As part of the annual offseason signings of 4-8th starters, offer former Rockies SP Brett Anderson an incentive-laden deal to compete for the 5th starter job out of spring training. I think that it’d probably take $2-4 million guaranteed, plus another $3-5 million in incentives to bring him into the fold on a one-year deal. It’d be a great option for both parties involved. Anderson would get a chance to pitch in The Jake, a ballpark that slightly favors pitchers over hitters that would feel like paradise compared to Coors Field. He’d have The Pitcher Whisperer as his pitching coach, keeping his mechanics in line and hopefully preventing further injury. And most importantly, he’d have a chance to rebuild his value on a one-year deal with a chance to get paid in 2016 and beyond. Anderson will be just 27 for all of the 2015 baseball season (2 years younger than when Scott Kazmir took his one-year deal in Cleveland) and has been really good when he has pitched in his career (112 career ERA+). But the last time he threw more than 45 innings was in 2011. Because he’s left-handed (another reason he’d fit in well in the Indians rotation) and has had success, he’s going to be a popular buy-low target throughout baseball. The Indians are bound to have competition for Anderson, but I think they can get a deal done.
Another arm I’d like to see them make a run at is former Blue Jay Brandon Morrow. Morrow is a little older than Anderson (turned 30 in July) and doesn’t have the same track record of success (99 career ERA+) and he’s right-handed, so he should come cheaper than Anderson. He’s combined to throw just 87 2/3 innings over the past two seasons, with an ERA north of 5 in both 2013 and 2014. But his FIP in 2014 was 3.73, and his raw stuff has always been above-average (765 K in 735 2/3 career IP). He’s another guy that I’d like to see Mickey Callaway have a shot with, as the upside is definitely there. There’s even the potential for him slotting into the back end of a bullpen, a la Wade Davis, although I’m not sure his arm could bounce back quickly enough to make multiple appearances in a single week.
2 2. Call the Dodgers and offer them Bryan Shaw for OF Scott Van Slyke. Original credit for this idea goes to Pauly C., which explains why it makes so much sense. The Dodgers bullpen struggled last year, and a setup guy like Shaw would fit in very nicely for them. Also, Shaw pitched . Meanwhile, Van Slyke is 28 and still doesn’t have a home in a crowded and expensive Dodgers outfield, especially if Matt Kemp is healthy. Van Slyke has played well in limited action for the Dodgers, putting up a .276/.36/.501 slash line with 18 HR in 151 games between 2013-14. He could at least be the right side of a RF platoon with lefty David Murphy, and could provide the Indians OF with a little more pop than they exhibited last year.
As for Shaw, he had an outstanding season as the Indians primary 8th inning guy last year, posting a 2.59 ERA (144 ERA+) in 76 1/3 innings of work. But he made a league-high 80 appearances last year, and his FIP was nearly a full run higher than his ERA (3.42). There’s a good chance for regression, and bullpen arms are notoriously fickle from year to year anyway (see Betancourt, Rafael). The Indians have a glut of power RH bullpen arms in the pipeline, guys like Austin Adams, C.C. Lee, Shawn Armstrong and Bryan Price. Not to mention Zach McAllister, a guy who really doesn’t have a spot left in the revamped Indians rotation, would slot very nicely into a back-end role. Losing Shaw would hurt the bullpen’s depth, but I’m confident they can find someone to plug in and replace him without too much overall degradation.
3Start Francisco Lindor at shortstop on opening day. Based on the Indians picking up Mike Aviles’ option for 2015, this is almost definitely not going to happen. But in this scenario, I’m playing GM for the day, so I get to do what I want. I’ve already gone to great lengths to cover how I think Lindor could help the 2015 Indians, both in the field and at the plate. I think he’s a better hitter and fielder than Jose Ramirez right now, and could be worth an extra win or two as the club’s everyday shortstop. With the Indians expecting to contend for the playoffs next year, that extra win could be the difference between playing baseball in October or ending the season after 162 games. Or the difference between a one-game Wild Card berth and setting up the rotation for the best-of-five ALDS.
Those are the first three moves I’d make this offseason if I were in charge. The Indians aren’t going to be major players in the free agent market this winter, and frankly they really don’t have to be. The roster is pretty well set for next season, particularly the starting rotation (which I’ll get deeper into in the coming weeks). The Indians will pick up a couple of arms for the rotation and a couple of arms for bullpen depth. They’ll kick the tires on a couple of corner OF free agents, but the overall core of the team is pretty well set. There’s still more to sort out, especially at the 3B position, where it’s unclear whether or not Lonnie Chisenhall is the long-term solution. But between the talented young players (Silver Sluggers Gomes and Brantley) and the expensive veterans that are locked into the lineup for better or worse (Swisher and Bourn), the lineup is pretty well set. So those are just a few of my (realistic) ideas for some ancillary moves that could help the ballclub heading into what should be an interesting 2015 season. What are some of yours?