For the Indians to make a truly big splash financially, they require a perfect storm of circumstances.
It happened in 2013, when qualifying offers and the draft-pick compensation attached to them, a dwindling market and the club’s draft position cooked up the right situation for the Indians to sign Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn to contracts well below what they were projected to make at the beginning of that offseason. Multiple pieces to the free-agent puzzle fell in just the right places for the Indians to be in a rare position to enter that financial stratosphere.
It happened again at last year’s trade deadline, when the front office recognized they had a potentially special opportunity and sent two top prospects to the New York Yankees in a four-player package for Andrew Miller, thus taking on his $9 million salary through 2018. They were also willing to send four prospects to Milwaukee to acquire Jonathan Lucroy before he vetoed the deal.
That perfect storm could be forming again, and it’s possible that one of the game’s premiere power hitters is just beginning to enter the Indians’ airspace as an obtainable target.
Edwin Encarnacion, formerly of the Toronto Blue Jays, entered the offseason as one of two top-shelf sluggers available on the free-agent market. Yoenis Cespedes, the other, has since returned to the New York Mets on a four-year, $110 million deal.
Encarnacion, 33, belted 42 home runs and drove in 127 RBI last season with an .886 OPS. He’s hit at least 34 home runs and driven in at least 98 RBI in each of the past five seasons in Toronto, owning an OPS of .900 or greater in four of them.
And as it pertains to the Indians’ chances of signing him, Encarnacion’s number of possible landing spots is shrinking. Several teams once connected to Encarnacion have taken advantage of a saturated first-basemen market, instead choosing a cheaper option. The Blue Jays signed Kendrys Morales and Steve Pearce. The Boston Red Sox acquired Mitch Moreland. The Houston Astros added Carlos Beltran. The Yankees brought in Matt Holliday.
Power hitters such as Mark Trumbo and Mike Napoli are still available as free agents as well, creating a supply-and-demand issue for Encarnacion, who will be 34 during the 2017 season and could be nearing the point of exclusively acting as a team’s everyday designated hitter.
All of this is possibly dragging Encarnacion’s price tag far below what many expected it would be a month ago, when he turned down a four-year, $80 million offer from the Blue Jays to test the market. It backfired. Current reports indicate his price tag is likely dropping to around $60 million.
Meanwhile, the Indians have a clear need on the roster for a first baseman/designated hitter in the middle of their lineup due to the current loss of Napoli, who still remains a possible return candidate. Encarnacion certainly fits that description. They also have the right competitive window and some added financial opportunities that could make it all possible.
The Indians were successful in finding a minority owner and investor when they brought in Missouri-based entrepreneur John Sherman as vice chairman, which helped owner Paul Dolan with the club’s payroll. They also received some financial gains thanks to the run to the World Series, which included eight additional home games, and the playoff revenue that comes with it. It’s unclear exactly how much affect that could have on the club’s spending abilities, but per Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal, one rival executive believes that run generated $15-20 million. The front office can look to the fact that they reached Game 7 of the World Series with a roster that, for the most part, is under club control for the foreseeable future—in most cases through the 2018 season and in many cases through at least 2020. A long-term deal, while risky as always, fits that window as well.
The Indians all last year raved about Napoli, who had a strong season in the middle of the lineup and who reportedly has received one-year offers but is looking for a multi-year deal. Production-wise, Encarnacion would certainly make for an upgrade as one of the best power bats in the league and a near-perfect fit in the lineup. Add the potential return of a healthy Michael Brantley, and the Indians would have some added punch to the middle of the order that was absent during their postseason run.
The free-agent market. The dwindling landing spots. A lowered price tag. The Indians’ competitive window and a reason to be aggressive. A seamless fit on the roster. Some added financial help through a minority owner and postseason run. All of it was needed to even put the Indians in a position to make a serious run at Encarnacion, but the dominoes have fallen in order thus far.
Signing Encarnacion, who would most likely become the primary designated hitter while also sharing time with Carlos Santana at first base, would represent another aggressive, costly move to push the Indians clear out of their financial comfort zone. It doesn’t mean it can easily happen. But once again, due to a swirling set of circumstances, the Indians could be in a position to strike.
The Indians on Thursday addressed a need in the bullpen, selecting left-handed reliever Hoby Milner in the Rule 5 Draft.
Milner will have to remain on the active 25-man roster for the duration of the 2017 season. Otherwise, he has to be offered back to his former team, the Philadelphia Phillies.
Milner offers the Indians another left-handed option aside from Miller. Last season, he split his time between Double-A and Triple-A and finished with a 5-4 record, 2.49 ERA and 76 strikeouts in 65 innings pitched.
The Indians also had an additional spot available in the bullpen after Jeff Manship was not tendered a contract, the lone arbitration-eligible player to not receive an offer from the club.
The Indians on Friday claimed left-handed pitchers Edwin Escobar and Tim Cooney off of waivers and outrighted catcher Chris Gimenez from the 40-man roster.
Catcher Francisco Mejia, one of the Indians’ top prospects, was also added to the 40-man roster.
Escobar, 24, went 6-3 with a 4.55 ERA in 16 starts for Reno, the Triple-A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks, in 2016. He tossed 23 2/3 innings for the Diamondbacks primarily out of the bullpen, posting a 7.23 ERA.
Cooney, 25, missed the 2016 season after needing right shoulder surgery. In 2015, Cooney made his major-league debut with the St. Louis Cardinals, owning a 3.16 ERA in 31 1/3 innings pitched across six starts.
Gimenez was a likely roster casualty with Yan Gomes and Roberto Perez both healthy heading into 2017. Gimenez hit .216 with the Indians and most notably helped Trevor Bauer to simplify his pitch selection, which eventually led to his best stretch of the season.
Escobar and Cooney give the Indians some additional pitching depth on the 40-man roster, which with Mejia’s addition is again at 40.
Indians ace Corey Kluber fell short of winning his second American League Cy Young Award in three seasons, as he took third place behind Boston’s Rick Porcello and Detroit’s Justin Verlander.
The voting results were announced Wednesday night on MLB Network and BBWAA.com. Porcello received eight first-place votes and 137 points overall. Verlander garnered 14 first-place votes and 132 points, making it the second-closest race since 1970. It was also the first time in the AL that the pitcher who received the most first-place votes didn’t win.
Kluber took third, receiving three first-place votes and 98 points. He and Porcello were the lone pitchers to be named on every ballot. Andrew Miller also received one third-place vote.
Kluber this season went 18-9 with a 3.14 ERA and 227 strikeouts in 215 innings pitched. He also led the AL with a 3.26 FIP, per FanGraphs.
The Indians have already picked up manager Terry Francona’s options for the 2019 and 2020 seasons, ensuring he remains in Cleveland for the foreseeable future. On Tuesday night, he received some additional recognition for his work guiding the Indians in 2016.
Francona was named the 2016 American League Manager of the Year, as voted upon by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. It’s the second time in four years Francona has won the award, making him the eighth AL manager to win multiple times. He received 22 of the 30 first-place votes and was the lone manager to appear in the top-3 of every ballot.
Texas Rangers manager Jeff Banister and Baltimore Orioles manager Buck Showalter finished second and third, respectively. Boston Red Sox manager John Farrell also received first-place votes.
“The really good thing about winning this is it gives me an opportunity to brag about our players, our coaches and the organization,” Francona said Tuesday night. “My reward is watching our guys play the game and building the relationships with them and those types of things. I want our players to win the awards. So when something like this happens, I think the reason it happens is because coaches, players, front office, they do their job so well and I end up winning an award.”
In his four years in Cleveland, Francona has led the Indians to a 352-294 record, the best AL record in the span, as well as two trips to the postseason, one AL Central title and one AL pennant.
Francona also now has 12 consecutive winning seasons between Boston and Cleveland, the longest active streak in the major leagues, including two World Series titles in three trips. It’s the longest such streak since Joe Torre had 14 straight winning seasons between the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers.
The BBWAA Awards only take into consideration the regular season. Though, Francona received near universal praise for his management of the Indians’ pitching staff in the postseason. But the Indians are still in the wake of their Game 7 loss in the World Series to the Chicago Cubs.
Francona is also recovering from hip surgery that he underwent just a few days after Game 7. He felt a bit different following the World Series than he did after the Indians’ loss in the 2013 Wild Card Game.
“That’s the interesting thing about emotions,” Francona said. “That’s why you don’t plan them out ahead of time because you don’t ever quite know how you’re going to feel. I remember after the Wild Card Game in , I was devastated. And after this one, one, I knew I was getting my hip done. They put you under anesthetic, that’ll help you forget about stuff in a hurry. But I didn’t feel as bad—losing hurts. But I thought our guys really gave everything they had, and I meant that when I said it. And so, that helped me a lot.”
Indians outfielder Tyler Naquin finished third in American League Rookie of the Year voting, as announced Monday night on MLB Network and BBWAA.com.
Naquin hit .296 with a .372 on-base percentage, 14 home runs, 18 doubles, five triples and 43 RBI after earning a spot on the Indians’ Opening Day roster following Abraham Almontet’s suspension for performance-enhancing drugs.
Naquin parlayed that opportunity into a strong rookie season, highlighted by his inside-the-park walk-off home run against Toronto on Aug. 19.
Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Michael Fulmer took home the award, earning 26 of the 30 first-place votes. Fulmer went 11-7 with a 3.06 ERA and 132 strikeouts in 159 innings pitched.
New York Yankees catcher and designated hitter Gary Sanchez finished second after slugging 20 home runs with a 1.032 OPS in only 53 games.
In the nearly two-week period since the Indians walked off Progressive Field after Game 7 of the World Series, there’s been plenty of news around baseball as the league continues its march into the offseason and toward the Winter Meetings in December. There was also this thing called a presidential election, but the baseball news will the take precedence here.
Here’s a quick recap of what happened just after the World Series ended and some recent news, including rumors within the division.
The Indians picked up Carlos Santana’s 2017 club option valued at $12 million, keeping him in Cleveland for at least one more season. They also exercised manager Terry Francona’s club options for the 2019 and 2020 seasons.
As for their free agents, the Indians chose not to extend a qualifying offer to Mike Napoli. He, Rajai Davis and Coco Crisp—who had his $13 million club option declined, though that was a formality—are open to signing with any team. Indians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti has said that the club expressed interest in keeping Napoli and Davis in Cleveland.
On the mend
Pitcher Cody Anderson underwent an arthroscopic debridement of his right elbow last week after being diagnosed with an impingement in the back of the elbow joint. Dr. Keith Meister, out of Dallas, performed the surgery.
Anderson will being a throwing program in approximately eight weeks and is expected to be ready for the start of the 2017 regular season. Anderson was moved to the bullpen for the latter part of the year after struggling at the beginning of the season, though the club has maintained that he is viewed as a starting pitcher in the long-term view.
Francisco Lindor last week won his first Rawlings Gold Glove in his first first year of eligibly as the best defensive shortstop in the American League. He also took him the Platinum Glove, given to the best defensive player in each league regardless of position.
It’s well-known that Trevor Bauer has an analytical, numbers-based approach to many things, baseball being one of them.
Of course, direct math is also something he’s well-versed in as well. A younger fan, who was asking some questions about his drone, eventually asked if he could help out with her math homework. And, he did.
To read more or comment...
Francisco Lindor’s calling card as he ascended up the minor leagues was his terrific defense. Now, he has he some major-league hardware to show for it.
Lindor on Tuesday night was named the Gold Glove recipient among American League shortstops, beating out the Los Angeles Angels’ Andrelton Simmons and the Detroit Tigers’ Jose Iglesias, who were also finalists.
It’s Lindor’s first career Gold Glove in his first year of eligibility, as he fell just a few games shy of qualifying for the award in 2015. With it, he became the first Indians shortstop to win a Gold Glove since Omar Vizquel in 2001. He also became the youngest shortstop to win the award since Detroit’s Alan Trammell in 1980.
“It’s an honor, it’s a blessing, and I thank the people from Rawlings, and the coaching staff and teammates throughout the year that helped me,” Lindor said live on ESPN, the network that announced the winners. “It’s an honor, it’s a blessing just to be here, be nominated, and then now [to] win, it’s huge. Words can’t describe how great I [feel] right now. I can’t wait to show it off to my pops.”
Lindor finished the year with a .982 fielding percentage and committed 12 errors. Per FanGraphs, Lindor led AL shortstops in defensive rating (27.8) and Ultimate Zone Rating (20.8). Per ESPN’s statistics, he was best shortstop in baseball in turning balls hit up the middle into outs, with 13 above-average plays made. He was also second to Simmons in Defensive Runs Saved with 17.
It was a coming-out party of sorts for Lindor in 2016, as he earned his first All-Star selection, played well on the World Series stage and now has his first Gold Glove after leading full-time AL shortstops with 6.3 WAR. And, the best news for the Indians: it was his first full season in the big leagues, and he won’t turn 23 until Monday.
Indians starting pitcher Corey Kluber, outfielder Tyler Naquin and manager Terry Francona were all named award finalists by the BBWAA Monday night.
Kluber, who won the 2014 American League Cy Young Award, is a finalist to win his second, along with Detroit Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander and Boston Red Sox pitcher Rick Porcello. Kluber this season went 18-9 with a 3.14 ERA and 227 strikeouts in 215 innings pitched but missed his final start of the season with a mild quad strain.
Naquin earned a spot on the Indians’ Opening Day roster and went on to hit .296 with 14 home runs and 43 RBI en route to being named a finalist for the AL Rookie of the Year. Tigers pitcher Micheal Fulmer and New York Yankees slugger Gary Sanchez are also finalists.
Francona is expected to win AL Manager of the Year after guiding the Indians to a 94-67 record essentially without Michael Brantley and, in September, mostly without Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar. He’s joined by Texas manager Jeff Banister and Baltimore manager Buck Showalter.
The Indians on Monday opted not to extend a qualifying offer to Mike Napoli or any of their three free agents ahead of the 5 p.m. deadline to do so.
Napoli was the only genuine candidate to receive a qualifying offer by the Indians. Outfielders Rajai Davis and Coco Crisp also did not receive an offer.
Teams can extend their impending free agents a qualifying offer that represents a one-year contract and is valued by the average of the top 125 salaries in baseball from the previous season. This offseason, that number is $17.2 million. If players accept the qualifying offer, then they will make that amount for one season and are retained by their former team. If they decline the offer and sign elsewhere, their new team forfeits their first round pick—with the top 10 picks being protected in the first round—and their former team receives draft pick compensation.
Napoli had a terrific regular season for the Indians after signing a one-year, $7 million deal that turned out to be a bargain. He hit a career-high 34 home runs and led the club with 101 RBI while also garnering wide praise for his presence in the Indians’ clubhouse. Though, he disappeared in the postseason, hitting just .173 with one home run and three RBI through the Indians’ run to the World Series.
His defense during the season also wasn’t up to par with his previous performance at first base. He had -4 defensive runs saved, per FanGraphs, the first time since 2011 he had a negative value. His Ultimate Zone Rating also dove to -4.4 from 4.4 in 2015.
The Indians could have extended Napoli a qualifying offer and received compensation had another team signed him, but the possibility of him making $17.2 million for one year at age 35 might have been too big of a gamble. The qualifying-offer system each year has seemingly dragged down the value of a player or two who has trouble finding a new club while teams wish to keep their draft picks, bringing additional variables into the equation.
The Indians can still sign any of their free agents to new deals. They have already expressed interest in keeping Napoli and Davis in Cleveland and have had discussions with them.
“It’s important to recognize, and I’ve said it before, that we have a desire to have both guys back,” said Indians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti. “And I think they share that desire to return.”
Davis was on a one-year deal with a base salary of $5.25 million. At 35-years-old—he turned 36 during the World Series—he led the American League in the regular season with 43 stolen bases.
Crisp didn’t reach the applicable number of plate appearances or games played in 2016 and had his $13 million vesting option turned into a club option for the 2017 season, which was declined by the Indians.
All three players can now sign with any team free of any draft pick compensation considerations.
Indians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti and general manger Mike Chernoff held their end-of-the-season meeting with reporters on Friday.
In the wake of the excitement and disappointment of the Indians’ Game 7 loss to the Chicago Cubs in the World Series, the Indians now are set to head into the offseason.
Here are some takeaways from the meeting.
— Like everyone else, Antonetti and Chernoff went nuts when Rajai Davis hit his eighth-inning home run to tie it in Game 7.
“I almost fell out of the booth that we were in,” said Chernoff.
— On the pain of the loss, Antonetti said, “I mean, we are all hyper-competitive people. We all wanted to be hoisted that World Series trophy, so it hurt when we lost. It hurt on a personal level for us individually, it hurt when you look around the organization and Paul and Larry who care so much and are native Clevelanders and have been in Cleveland for their entire lives and care so much about winning. Tito and the players, the entirely of the organization, you can't help but feel that pain. But with the benefit of a couple days, you can begin to think about a great sense of pride and accomplishment in what our team was able to overcome. And all of the hard work from an inordinate number of people, from our scouts to our development staff to our front office to our trainers, our clubhouse guys. Every single person in the organization contributed to our success. We went to Game 7 of the World Series, that in and of itself is an accomplishment. No the ultimate one we're striving for, but still a great organizational accomplishment.”
— The Indians have expressed interest in bringing back both Mike Napoli and Rajai Davis, and have had discussions with both.
Antonetti: “Obviously, the offseason is just getting started for us, but we have a lot of decisions to make and I think both for Raj and Mike we expressed our desire to potentially to have them back and we recognize they both have alternatives, based on the years that they had but we're certainly open to exploring different ways where both of them could be back here.”
— The Indians are still working through decisions regarding the $17.2 million qualifying offer as it pertains to Napoli. They have until Monday to make those decisions. If the Indians extend Napoli a qualifying offer and he accepts, then he’ll be paid that amount on a one-year deal. If he declines and another team signs him, the Indians will receive draft pick compensation.
— The Indians on Friday exercised the club options in manager Terry Francona’s contract for the 2019 and 2020 seasons. Antonetti said Francona did a “masterful job” this season.
“I mean really throughout the regular season, the postseason, the way in which Tito is constantly thinking about how to place individual players in a place to be successful to most impact the team is extraordinary,” Antonetti said. “He's does that first and foremost by building really deep relationships with guys where they know he cares, he has their best interest in mind and is always going to find a way for them to be in their best versions of themselves. He talks about that all the time, he wants to be able to have a reason to brag about guys and he's constantly thinking about ways to do that. But I think just to focus on the job he's done in the postseason, I think is selling Tito short. He's done that from the day he got here. And as high as our expectations were for Tito when we hired him, he's gone beyond that, having a chance to work with him and work alongside him every day, it's really fortunate to have him."
— The Indians also promoted Carter Hawkins and Matt Forman to assistant general manager. Hawkins will continue to oversee player development. Forman will continue to oversee much of the club’s scouting and acquisition processes. Both will now also have a larger voice in other areas. Derek Falvey left to be the Minnesota Twins’ chief baseball officer.
— Michael Brantley is on schedule for his rehab. The expectation is that he’ll resume baseball activities at some point in December and be “fully ready” for spring training. The Indians are also planning on him being an everyday player while also trying to plan for contingencies. Brantley is still interested in being an outfielder instead of moving to first base.
— The Indians see Tyler Naquin as being able to play all three outfield spots. Roster composition could be the determining factor in where he sees the most time.
— The plan for Carlos Carrasco is that he should be able to start throwing in December and have a relatively normal offseason.
— Carrasco and Salazar could be two players asked to play in next spring’s World Baseball Classic, among others. The Indians haven’t gotten that far to have discussions or receive requests for them to participate.
Said Antonetti: I think generally we’re really supportive of the WBC and think it’s a great opportunity for players to represent their countries and we’re cognizant of the impact it’s had for Major League Baseball and growing the game, but on a player-specific level, we haven’t gotten to that point.”
— The Indians could have an interesting spring with Yan Gomes and Roberto Perez both healthy. With those two healthy, it’s viewed as one of the Indians’ strengths.
Antonetti: “I think we feel similarly this year as we did last year, which is, that’s a position of strength for us where we have two really good, high-quality, capable major league catchers. And Yan had some adversity this year, with a couple of injuries he really couldn’t control, but we still feel very confident with him and his ability to lead the pitching staff behind the plate. And then Roberto had some challenges of his own with his injury, us having to cut short that rehab, but he returned and came back and led a pitching staff all the way through game 7 of the World Series, which says a lot about him as a catcher and his leadership. So it’s a a position of strength for us moving forward.”
— Jose Ramirez isn’t necessarily locked into playing third base everyday. The club values his versatility and while the current construction would have him at third base, his ability to play multiple positions allows the Indians to look for different ways to improve the roster. As with anything, they’re leaving the door open to explore those options should they arise.
— After the Game 7 loss, Antonetti and Chernoff were walking around the clubhouse, talking and shaking hands with players. Here was their message, per Antonetti: “We all talked individually, but that was what I shared with them. 'Hold your heads high, we have a lot to be proud of.' Each guy had their own story and how they contributed. Corey Kluber and what we asked him to do and the workload that he bore, not only during the regular season, but during the postseason, that's extraordinary. Because the last game didn't end the way we all hoped, that doesn't take away from what he did. Those were the types of messages that I think I conveyed.”
Chernoff added, “We stand for a lot, we try to stand for a lot as an organization. We try not to back down from a challenge. We try to be resilient and persevere through adversity and we try to do it collectively. We saw a team that embodied that throughout the year, certainly through the postseason and especially in Game 7 of the World Series. So I think in a lot of ways it was something that hopefully our team, our organization and the fans can take pride in. As challenging and as tough as it is to lose that last game, I do think there's a lot to be proud of and that was the message we tried to give each of the players.”
— On if the revenue from a postseason run can help with future payroll and offseason plans, Antonetti said, “I think it helps. The Dolans have been very consistent in how they're operated the team and that any revenues that we're able to generate get invested back into the team. Advancing in the postseason certainly will help that. … I’m not sure how much impact the new minority owner will have. As Paul has said, that's not going to fundamentally change how we operate. But to the extend our revenues increase, whether it's through postseason ticket sales or increased ticket sales for next year, that will have a positive impact on it.”