Everywhere Francisco Lindor went, he couldn’t seem to keep his eyes open.
In early November, Lindor and the Indians were coming off their improbable ride to the World Series, which ended with an extra-innings loss to the Chicago Cubs in Game 7. Physically, it pushed their offseason back a month compared to most expectations when the postseason began. Emotionally, it was a draining mix of celebrations in Boston and Toronto and heartbreak in Cleveland.
For a week after Game 7, the Indians’ 23-year-old, always-smiling shortstop took on more of a zombie form.
“I was falling asleep everywhere I went for the first week,” Lindor said on Friday. “For the first week, I was falling asleep everywhere I went. At the mall, I'd sit down and just be mentally exhausted. On the couch, there was no one keeping me up. I didn't watch TV for the first week. That probably helped me sleep a lot.”
When Lindor was asked if he’d been able to completely get over the loss, he said, “I’ll let you know.”
Lindor, as well as many other Indians players who attended TribeFest this weekend, said they have’t gone back to watch Game 7. That includes Cody Allen, who said in the clubhouse after Game 7 that he wanted to go right to Arizona for spring training and get started again.
He looked then like he’d run through a wall to start the 2017 season the next night. Though, after getting about as close to winning it all without actually doing so, the time away might have offered some positives.
“It was good to get home, flush everything, take some time, decompress and move past 2016,” Allen said. “I think that was probably key for a lot of guys, just move past 2016 and just focus on what’s ahead of us. I think some time at home to decompress, it was good to do that. But after a couple weeks at home, the holidays come around, the itch, regardless with how you finish up, it’s like, ‘All right, it’s time to get going.’ That clock inside you is saying it’s time to get back to Arizona.”
Indians manager Terry Francona hasn’t spent too much time dwelling on Game 7, either. And he didn’t see a need to go back and rewatch it.
“No, I never—I was there,” Francona said. “I enjoyed it. I like the journey. I think the journey is fun and then I’m ready to move on pretty quick. Win, lose or draw, I’m ready to do the next thing.”
That next thing will be pitchers and catchers reporting on Feb. 12. The full squad reports on Feb. 16. Like every spring, it’ll be begin with a larger team meeting, led by Francona, to lay out what the Indians want to be about and how they’d like to do things. Francona isn’t always a huge speak-in-front-of-the-team manager, but he sees value in this larger message at the beginning of a lengthy spring camp and season.
This year, the Indians enter as the clear favorites in the American League Central and, to a certain extent, to return to the World Series. Part of this spring is turning the page and finding the balance between learning from experiences and not dwelling on any one thing for too long.
“We try to draw from everything, good or bad,” Francona said. “But once you draw from that, it’s time to move on. Even though you have a lot of the same names back and faces, it’s a different team. It’ll be another personality, their own, the 2017 team. That’s something we’ll talk about in the first meeting. We don’t want to be that team that come July is still talking about last year, because this year’s not so good.”
With Michael Brantley and the Indians, a wait-and-see approach will be the only real option as he progresses his way through spring training, regardless of how positive the reports are pertaining to his rehab.
Brantley’s 2016 season was more of a nightmare, laced with setbacks and near returns, only to have him on the bench for all but 11 regular season games. Now with a surgery to repair a torn labrum in November of 2015 and another to correct biceps tendinitis in August behind him, the latest attempt to build up enough strength in his surgically-repaired shoulder is on-going.
Brantley said on Friday that he’s currently hitting off a tee three times a day, about 40-50 swings in succession. So far, so good. Though he and the club have been in this spot before.
“I'm happy with where I'm at,” Brantley said. “I still understand that there's hurdles in the process to go and I look forward to tackling them. It's one step at a time. I'm not looking too far ahead. I want to make sure I stay on course and do everything I can the right way to get back as soon as possible.”
Like last year, a definite timetable hasn’t been put into place. The belief is that Brantley will be in line with other hitters at the beginning of camp, but nothing has been “set in stone.” Position players have to report to camp by Feb. 16.
“That all depends on where I'm at in the progression,” Brantley said. “Spring training is still a couple weeks away for us to even report, so I've got to make sure the next week goes well, the week after that, and then we'll make a decision from there. So, I can't say anything for another at least a couple weeks, so I know where I'm at hitting wise, progression wise, and in how I'm feeling.”
Brantley flew past his hitting progression milestones last spring. He, the club and the medical staff were positive about his eventual return to the lineup on multiple occasions. Despite the positivity, Brantley’s shoulder wouldn’t cooperate for long.
Indians manager Terry Francona said on Friday that it “confounded” the club.
“It’s been well documented that when he got into games, that’s when he ran into trouble, but I think he feels he’s making great progress,” Francona said. “You just gotta let it play itself out. There’s a program in place, he follows it to a T, and hopefully as he gets into games, we won’t run into that last hurdle. … I don’t know what else we could have done differently. Our medical people spent so much time trying to think, ‘What is the right thing with Michael?’”
Brantley’s return to the lineup would be a boon for the Indians, particularly compared with the addition of slugger Edwin Encarnacion. The Indians were second in the American League with 777 runs scored in 2016 and now have the potential to add Encarnacion, one of the top hitters in the game and Brantley, one of the better left fielders in baseball when healthy, to the middle of the lineup.
The Indians’ addition of Encarnacion was a costly, aggressive move to add some muscle to the middle of the lineup. That could only be half of the equation. The other half, though, is all up to Brantley’s health.
Despite last year’s frustrations, he wouldn’t change anything.
“Of course I've thought about it, but absolutely not,” Brantley said. “I did everything in my power to get back. Strengthening wise, medical wise, anything I could do. It just didn't work out. It's something that I learned from and I'll only get better for it, and it'll only make me hungrier to get back out there. I cant wait to do it.”
Brantley and his injured shoulder are on the offensive again.To read more or comment...
The Cleveland Indians have a special, potentially star-studded, announcement coming tomorrow.
The Indians will live stream the announcement at 10:15 on Friday on Indians.com.To read more or comment...
The Indians’ work with their arbitration-eligible players is nearly complete. On Friday, the club reached agreements on contracts for the 2017 season with five players, leaving only one without a deal.
Four pitchers reached deals for 2017 on Friday, including Danny Salazar ($3.4 million), Cody Allen ($7.35 million), Bryan Shaw ($4.6 million) and Zach McAllister ($1.825). Those salary figures were first reported by Jon Heyman of Today’s Knuckleball and FanRag Sports. Per MLB.com, Lonnie Chisenhall also came to an agreement at $4.3 million.
Those five join Trevor Bauer ($3.55 million) and Dan Otero ($1.055 million), who avoided arbitration by reaching an agreement on Thursday.
With Salazar and Bauer under contract for 2017, it solidifies the starting rotation’s price tag, along with Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco and Josh Tomlin. Together, those five will make a base salary of $23.65 million, per Baseball Prospectus, which includes a payout of Kluber’s signing bonus. That is less than what former Indians pitcher CC Sabathia, now 36, will make in 2017 after his $25 million option vested.
Salazar made his first All-Star team in 2016 before losing most of September and October to a strained forearm. He finished the season 11-6 with a 3.87 ERA and 161 strikeouts in only 137 1/3 innings pitched.
Allen turned in another solid season as manager Terry Francona’s closer, saving 32 games and posting a 1.000 WHIP and 87 strikeouts in 68 innings pitched. He followed that by throwing 13 2/3 scoreless innings in the postseason.
Shaw appeared in at least 70 games for the fourth consecutive season in 2016. He finished with a 3.24 ERA, 1.260 WHIP and 69 strikeouts. McAllister had an up-and-down year as a middle reliever to the tune of a 3.44 ERA and 1.452 WHIP.
It leaves Brandon Guyer as the lone arbitration-eligible player yet to reach a deal. Teams still have a couple of weeks to reach an agreement prior to a player’s arbitration hearing. Those hearings are scheduled to take place between Jan. 30 and Feb. 17. Friday was the deadline to exchange salary figures. MLBTradeRumors.com has projected Guyer to make $2 million in arbitration.
Those agreements, along with Guyer’s projected salary, previous commitments and the fallout of Chris Johnson’s contract, push the Indians’ likely Opening Day payroll to $115-120 million, easily the highest total in franchise history.
The Indians have agreed to one-year contracts with Trevor Bauer and Dan Otero for the 2017 season, thus avoiding arbitration.
Bauer will be paid $3.55 million this season and Dan Otero will make $1.055 million, as first reported by Jon Heyman of Today’s Knuckleball and FanRag Sports.
Bauer, who turns 26 on Jan. 17, opened 2016 in the bullpen but after Cody Anderson struggled and Carlos Carrasco went on the disabled list, he found his way back into the starting rotation. He finished the year 12-8 with a 4.26 ERA and 168 strikeouts in 190 innings pitched. Per FanGraphs, he had a FIP of 3.99.
That all was prior to the Indians’ run through the postseason that put additional weight on the shoulders of Bauer, Corey Kluber and Josh Tomlin, as well as the bullpen. The defining image of Bauer’s 2016 season, though, will forever be that of his right pinkie, lacerated the night before the American League Championship Series against the Toronto Blue Jays, dripping blood on the mound of Game 3. It forced Bauer out of the game—and led to a sarcastic acknowledgement of the Toronto crowd, cheering his exit—but resulted in a 4-2 Indians win that put them up 3-0 in the series.
Otero was acquired from the Philadelphia Phillies for cash considerations and turned in a strong season as a middle reliever, posting a 1.53 ERA, 0.906 WHIP and 2.33 FIP. He also struck out 57 batters in 70 2/3 innings pitched, becoming another reliable arm in the Indians’ bullpen.
Bauer and Otero were two of eight arbitration-eligible players on the Indians’ roster. That list includes Cody Allen, Danny Salazar, Bryan Shaw, Lonnie Chisenhall, Brandon Guyer and Zach McAllister. The deadline to exchange salary figures is Friday. After Friday, teams can still reach agreements prior to each player’s arbitration date.
New guy in town
The Indians announced on Thursday that Edwin Encarnacion, who recently signed the largest free-agent contract in franchise history, will attend the Indians’ fifth-annual Tribe Fest on Jan. 28.
Tribe Fest will be held at the Intercontinental Hotel near the Cleveland Clinic campus. The Indians all announced that tickets to the afternoon session have sold out. A limited number of tickets to the morning session—9 a.m. to 2 p.m.—remain.
Along with Encarnacion, Kluber, Francisco Lindor, Allen, Carrasco, Carlos Santana, Tomlin, Andrew Miller, Jose Ramirez, Roberto Perez, Bauer, Tyler Naquin, McAllister and Abraham Almonte are scheduled to make an appearance. The list of alumni scheduled to attend includes Mike Hargrove, Ellis Burks, Mike Jackson, Chad Ogea and Jaret Wright.
Tickets are available at indians.com/TribeFest.
The Indians’ signing of Edwin Encarnacion to a three-year, $60 million deal that includes a club option for a fourth year filled the club’s biggest need on the roster, gave the lineup a significant upgrade and sent a shockwave through a fan base that had been waiting for that kind of a free-agent haul for quite some time.
The deal will send the Indians’ payroll soaring far higher than would have been expected even 12 months ago, with Encanracion’s deal combined with the $9 million a year that Andrew Miller will make as the other major acquisition since July. Carlos Santana’s $12 million club option for the 2017 season was also picked up.
With financial support from ownership, the Indians were able to put all of their chips into one pot and add one of the best bats in the game, one that also stands as a near-perfect fit in the lineup. That level of a signing, though, does have secondary consequences for a team in the market like that of Cleveland.
Namely, it means the Indians might not have as many options in terms of depth or security in the outfield they might have otherwise had. Heading into 2017 the Indians do have Michael Brantley, Tyler Naquin, Lonnie Chisenhall, Brandon Guyer and Abraham Almonte in the outfield, along with Jose Ramirez, though he’s currently better suited at third base. The Indians think that group, along with some potential non-roster invites, can handle the load.
“We believe so. We have a good group of guys,” said Indians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti when asked if they can handle the outfield internally. “We think we can put the pieces together in the outfield. It may take some time as we progress through spring training to see how that all aligns. If we feel like we need an external acquisition, we’ll certainly explore those. Most likely it will be a trade at this point than any meaningful free agent.”
The Indians could have been bigger players in the free-agent outfield market to add some depth, possibly to bring back Rajai Davis, who has since agreed to a one-year, $6 million deal with Oakland. Encarnacion’s signing likely negated many outside, more expensive options.
“Yeah, I think it’s hard not being able to bring Raj back,” said Indians general manager Mike Chernoff. “Obviously with a commitment like this, we couldn’t bring either [Mike Napoli] or Raj back at the dollars they would have cost. Raj gave us a huge amount last year, too. You could see him potentially being a fit again with the role he had last year. I think we have a lot of internal pieces that can fill some of those spots.”
A lot of how well the Indians can handle the outfield rests with Brantley’s health in his rehab from surgery to correct biceps tendinitis that came about from an initial surgery to repair a torn labrum in his shoulder. Brantley recently began to take dry swings and is expected to be ready for spring training. But after last year’s frustrating season laced with set-backs, the Indians have to hold their breath until it’s proven that Brantley’s shoulder can survive extended periods of play at game speed.
For the second straight offseason, the biggest question mark heading into spring camp is Brantley’s health. This time, a wait-and-see approach is really the lone option.
“We’re working through his tolerance and we’ve been through it before, right?” Antonetti said. “He’s progressed through some things really quickly and other things really slowly. Really difficult to have specific dates and times. … If you think back to the points of time that Michael felt symptoms again, that was more towards the end stages of his return to hit progression, where he was feeling great all along the way, and it wasn’t until he got to game activity that it started to bother him. I don’t think we’re going to have a great feel for it until after he passes that last hurdle.”
The Indians could give Yandy Diaz an extended look this spring. Diaz, the No. 10 prospect in the system according to MLB.com, came up as a third baseman but played some outfield last season and has done so in winter ball as well. He was nearly called up in August, when the Indians needed to find an outfielder for the playoff roster with Almonte being ineligible due to his suspension. Instead, the club chose to acquire Coco Crisp.
“Yandy was one of the considerations when we were looking at ways to potentially add to our team,” Antonetti said. “When you do that, you look at internal and external alternatives. Yandy, based upon the year that he had and the way he went about things, he was as strong consideration for us in the second half.”
The Indians also have No. 1 prospect Bradley Zimmer set to roam the outfield in Triple-A Columbus. Zimmer figures to be a mainstay in Cleveland once he makes his big-league debut, though the Indians won’t rush him to the majors barring some severe circumstances. Naquin is one example of a prospect taking advantage of a situation. With Francisco Lindor, though, the club waited past their need on the roster to ensure he was capable of making the jump.
“It’s really hard to put any sort of timetable on players,” Antonetti said. “There needs to be an opportunity, and there needs to be a player prepared to succeed with the opportunity that he’s given. I think we saw a great example of that last year. No one was writing Tyler Naquin’s name to be a regular outfielder for us, but there was an opportunity and he took advantage of it. There may be an opportunity for Bradley at some point, the question is he the best option for us and does he take advantage of it?”
When the smoke cleared from Game 7 of the World Series and work for the offseason began, the Indians didn’t think Edwin Encarnacion coming to Cleveland was a real possibility.
But, with financial support from ownership that combined with a saturated market for first baseman, Encarnacion began to tread in Indians’ airspace as a potential target. His signing, which adds one of baseball’s best hitters into the middle of the lineup, quickly became a new possibility and then, on Dec. 22, a reality, when he and the Indians agreed to a three-year, $60 million deal that includes a club option for the 2020 season.
Once it became apparent Encarnacion might be an option, Indians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti went to owner Paul Dolan to discuss the heavy financial burden it would be to bring him in. Ownership supported the aggressive, costly move as the right fit to the roster, and on Thursday Encarnacion was officially introduced as the newest and most expensive player to ever don an Indians uniform.
“Quite frankly, at the start of the offseason, we didn’t think that this would be possible because of the economic commitment that it would take to sign Edwin, but they made a leap of faith,” Antonetti said of the Dolans. “They made a leap of faith in our team, in the belief that we’re a good team that has a chance to compete for a postseason and, hopefully, a World Series.”
Finishing the deal took some time management skills by Antonetti, as well as some split focus between the final details of the agreement and a play of The Little Mermaid with his daughters. Major free-agent contracts don’t always come to fruition at the most convenient times. Somewhere between “Under the Sea” and “Part of Your World,” Antonetti closed the biggest deal in franchise history.
“There was a lot of text messaging and then I stepped out for two calls during the performance,” Antonetti said of his conversations with Encarnacion’s agent, Paul Kinzer, who was in-between rides at Six Flags at the time. “Thankfully I’ve seen it before, so I know what happens. But it was actually a great performance. They did a phenomenal job. It gave me a little more leeway with my daughters because they were so locked in, less attentive to the fact that I was texting during the performance.”
All of that work will put Encarnacion, who turns 34 on Saturday, in the middle of the Indians’ lineup for at least the next three seasons as he takes Mike Napoli’s spot on the roster. Napoli was universally praised for his production in the regular season and his presence in the Indians’ clubhouse. Encarnacion has been one of the best sluggers in baseball and one of the most productive hitters in the game over the past five seasons. As his price tag dropped due to a saturated market and the draft-pick compensation tied to his name, the Indians jumped at the chance to upgrade the heart of their order.
“The most difficult part about that process for us, honestly, was knowing that signing Edwin would mean that we couldn't bring Mike Napoli back,” Antonetti said. “That was the most difficult part of that process, because we all know what he meant to our team both on the field and in the clubhouse.”
It was a costly deal by Cleveland's standards financially, and it will also strip the Indians of their first-round pick in the upcoming amateur draft, as the Toronto Blue Jays had extended Encarnacion a qualifying offer. The trade for Andrew Miller last July signaled the Indians were serious about this competitive window. The signing of Encarnacion put all of their proverbial chips in the middle of the table.
“Ownership has always stepped up in situations when it seems like the right investment to make,” Indians general manager Mike Chernoff said. “At the trade deadline, we didn't expect to be able to acquire Andrew Miller, and we were able to do that. We've always had faith that ownership would be willing to support us in the right moment. This is one of those moments.”
The speedy outfielder who provided Indians fans with one of the most electric moments in franchise history won’t return to Cleveland in 2017.
Rajai Davis, who drilled a game-tying home run in the eighth inning of Game 7 of the World Series, agreed to a one-year deal with the Oakland Athletics on Tuesday night. The A’s official Twitter account has acknowledged the agreement. Per Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports, the deal is worth a base salary of $6 million.
Davis, 36, gave the Indians a high return on investment in his one-year deal for 2016, in which he hit .249 and led the American League with 43 stolen bases. Hitting in the lead-off spot against left-handed pitchers, Davis gave the Indians a speed element that largely hadn’t been present in recent years.
With Michael Brantley’s health still one of the leading questions heading into spring training, the Indians could be in the market to add some depth in the outfield. The signing of slugger Edwin Encarnacion to a three-year, $65 million deal—including the buyout for the club option in 2020—might have priced the Indians out of being able to bring Davis back on another one-year deal.
Last Christmas, Indians fans received the practical gifts—the baseball equivalent of some nice socks, a pair of needed dress slacks—in the form of Mike Napoli and Rajai Davis, both of whom were reasonably priced free agents who filled two needs on the roster on one-year, lower-risk deals.
As they often had done, the Indians shied away from the big-name free agents and looked for bargains to fill out the roster.
This year, the Indians gave their fans that new Lexus with the big red bow.
Primed with a legitimate opportunity to bring Cleveland its first World Series since 1948, the Indians’ front office has been flexing its muscles since last July, when they acquired one of the best relief pitchers in baseball and a couple of outfielders en route to a run to Game 7.
And on Thursday, the Indians gave their fans a Christmas present substantial to the point that many fans wouldn’t have dared to even realistically expect it in the first place, signing slugger Edwin Encarnacion to a reported three-year, $60 million deal that includes a club option and $5 million buyout for the 2020 season.
Napoli gave the Indians a solid return on investment in his one year in Cleveland, though by the numbers Encarnacion stands as a significant upgrade as one of the top hitters in the game in the last five seasons.
Since 2012, Encarnacion is second in baseball in both home runs (193) and RBI (550). His wRC+ of 146, in that time, ranks him seventh in the game, per FanGraphs. He had a wRC+ of 134 in 2016, which would have been the best mark in the Indians’ lineup. He’s hit at least 34 home runs and driven in at least 98 RBI in each of the past five seasons, and has ranked no lower than 18th in WRC+ in any year since 2012.
Napoli belted 34 home runs for the Indians in 2016, though it was only the second time in his career he eclipsed the 30-home run plateau. His absence made designated hitter/first base the Indians’ biggest need, and they found a sizable—and costly—upgrade.
The Indians being able to attach a club option does help with the deal’s value, though $20 million a year and the loss of their first-round pick in the 2017 draft in June will be felt by a club with a smaller market like Cleveland. But few hitters have been as productive as Encarnacion, and it’s clear the Indians were the recipients of a solid value compared to what a hitter of that quality normally fetches on the open market.
Though, giving that kind of money to a slugger entering his age-34 season will always come with some inherent risks. The Indians’ competitive window in the next 2-4 years, the addition of minority owner, Encarnacion’s perfect fit on the roster and his lowered price tag combined with some added revenue from the World Series run were just enough for the club to outweigh those risks and pull the trigger. There could be some positive signs in that Encarnacion’s batted ball statistics have remained solid. Per FanGraphs, Encarnacion had his second-best line-drive percentage in the past 10 years at 20.4 percent in 2016. And his hard-hit percentage of 37.6 was the second-best mark in his career.
Encarnacion takes Napoli’s place on the roster, though it remains to be seen how he and Carlos Santana will split time at first base and at designated hitter. Last year, Encarnacion split time at first base but as he turns 34, could be headed toward a closer split as an everyday DH. In his career, per FanGraphs, Encarnacion has been either average or below-average at first base, with a career UZR/150 of of -6 and -17 defensive runs saved. Santana has been in that same ballpark, earning -8 DRS and a career UZR/150 of -0.4, just under league average. Santana has also shown an openness to playing in the field more often or, at least, whenever needed.