What to make of this 2016 Indians season? On one hand, it might have been the most fun you can have from mid-summer to the start of November, on the other, it was one of the most heartbreaking ends to a season one can have. On July 19th, just after the Warriors blew a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals to the Cavs, the Indians were on a modest three-game winning streak. Two weeks later, that wining streak had reached 14-games; the high point of the Indians regular season. The Indians never relinquished their first place lead the rest of the season. They sent three players to the All-Star game, they made some trades, didn’t make one big trade, and won the AL Central then Partied at Napoli’s.
In the playoffs, the Indians showed the world why they paid such a steep price for Andrew Miller, as the pitching propelled them past two offensive juggernauts in Boston and Toronto. The World Series was billed as the series to end all curses. Up 3-1, the Indians looked like the team that was going to end their curse. In a Shakespearean twist, it was the Indians who would take the baton from the Warriors, as the Cubs came back to win their first World Series since 1908. Bill Murray, John Cusack, Eddie Vedder, and Joe Buck all got to celebrate a title, while Cleveland was left to wonder what could have been.
Good news Tribe fans, next year might be even better. ESPN and Fox Sports are already claiming that the Tribe is likely to make it back the World Series. And Vegas has the Indians with the fifth highest odds to win the World Series in 2017. But before all that happens, some things need to be sorted out.
As it stands now, Mike Napoli and Rajai Davis are the only players set to hit free agency. While both players resurrected their careers this past season, the Indians would be wise to move on from them. Lets get into the Napoli discussion first. Nap was a force in the middle of the lineup for a majority of the season, posting career bests with 34 home runs and 101 RBI, but he’ll be 35 next season. Normally guys don’t put up those types of numbers this late in their careers, and it is extremely likely we see Napoli regress to his career norms (if we didn’t already see it in the playoffs). The Indians will discuss giving Napoli a qualifying offer, but that doesn’t seem likely given the QO will reach $17.2 million this offseason. The Indians ended up paying Nap $10 million this past season, if the Indians could bring him back for less than that, then I’d do it. But with Brantley coming back, he might have to settle for a part time spot (which might not be a bad thing), which could mean Brantley, Santana, and Napoli rotate through the DH spot.
With Rajai Davis, the Indians could decide to bring him back, solely because of the lack of outfielders. Odds are Bradley Zimmer takes the Lindor route to the Majors, i.e. the Indians wait till his service clock gets pushed back a year. Zimmer is the centerfielder of the future, and Davis could keep his spot warm for the first couple of months. Rajai will be 36 next year, and his legs aren’t getting any fresher, that being said he still led the league in stolen bases. I would only bring him back if it’s for less than the $5.25 million he made last season.
Other than those two guys, the rest of next season’s roster is basically set. The Indians will get Carlos Carrasco, Danny Salazar, and Michael Brantley back from injury, which is the most important additions the Indians will have. The majority of the Indians core is signed for the next couple of years. The Indians should focus their work on getting Francisco Lindor signed to a lifetime contract. Carlos Santana has already had his $12 million option picked up, and the Indians could work on giving him an extension.
As for free agency, I would expect much in terms of moves. First off, this is one of the weakest free agent classes in a long time. The Indians could look at bringing in another outfielder, and maybe taking a flier on a starting pitcher. It also wouldn’t shock me to see another reliever added to the mix. I’d love to see the Indians go after Josh Reddick, but the poor market might drive up his price.
The Indians payroll right now looks like it is going to sit around $100 million (that’s without any additions, and without Napoli or Davis in the fold). A few things to remember though, baseball’s revenue sharing means no team really loses money anymore, especially small market teams. The Indians brought on a minority owner to provide some more cash. And the Indians just played a full postseason, and reaped all the benefits that come with hosting an extra eight games. The Indians will certainly have some money to play with this offseason.
In the mean time, set your home page to MLB Trade Rumors and get ready for April 4th.
Photo via Flickr | Kevin Buckstiegel