It’s never too early to worry about next year. That goes for the Indians, who uncharacteristically will have more good things than bad things to worry about.
By that I mean the Tribe’s biggest concerns will center on keeping talented players and assimilating new ones into the mix than trying to fill huge holes in the lineup, the rotation and the bullpen.
• Is Mark Reynolds on the road to pricing himself out of the Indians’ market?
Just what General Manager Chris Antonetti needed: a one-year signee on the verge of free agency who might be in the early stages of a career season.
Not only is Reynolds among the American League’s top two or three home run hitters, he has significantly lowered his ratio of strikeouts to at-bats. If this keeps up, he will hit his way to a seven-year, $125 million deal.
That’s a little more upmarket than the Indians (and most teams) can afford, but what can they do about it? If Reynolds actually gets to free agency with power numbers big enough to collateralize a loan for one of Donald Trump’s high rises, the Tribe is done.
Antonetti’s only chance to keep Reynolds is to sign him now and take the risk that his early season fireworks are the real deal. Reynolds’ agent undoubtedly prefers to wait until the bidders start lining up in October, but maybe Reynolds is the kind of guy who would rather opt for security than fret about what might happen if his numbers sag or he gets hurt.
• It’s time to sign Jason Kipnis and Michael Brantley to multiyear contracts, if they are willing.
Why now? It’s worth the gamble that these guys are players who can be significant contributors on a contending team. Of course, you can never accurately assess when or if an injury will cost a player an entire season.
Brantley will be eligible for arbitration after the season, which works against (but does not kill) the chance to lock him up for three years or maybe longer. Kipnis can’t use arbitration as leverage yet, but he’ll be there after next season.
When former Tribe GM John Hart initiated the idea of buying players out of their arbitration years and even their first free-agent season, players usually were willing to take guaranteed but not enormous salaries rather than go year by year. That was then; agents have made it a tougher sell now.
• It’s too early to know whether Scott Kazmir will become a solid member of the rotation, but Antonetti might have to make up his mind soon.
Kazmir has two things going for him: He’s only 29, and he’s a left-hander who can deliver 93 mph fastballs.
Not only can he walk at the end of the season, he will be a hot commodity if he goes on to resemble the Scott Kazmir of five years ago. Chances are, he will not be a guy who commands a mega-sized contract, but one or more teams might be willing to give him upwards of $35 million spread over, say, four years.
Will one of those teams be the Indians? If Antonetti has access to the team fortune teller, it might be time to take a meeting.
• I’ve written this before and nothing has changed to make me alter my opinion.
The trade for Ubaldo Jimenez was a lose, lose proposition from Day One. Only if Jimenez helped lead the Tribe to a World Series would the deal be worth the cost. That isn’t likely to happen, though at the moment, things are looking up.
Why such a harsh judgment?
Antonetti was going to have Jimenez for 2½ seasons. If Jimenez returned to being the pitcher who delivered a no-hitter and routinely blew away hitters with 97-mph fastballs, the Indians wouldn’t be able to afford him. If he continued to struggle as he did in 2011, Antonetti wouldn’t want him.
We have come to the final season in Jimenez’s contract. He has a mutual option for 2014, but it’s unlikely that both parties will agree to exercise it.
The only way the Tribe might keep Jimenez beyond this year is if he is neither great nor horrible. If he is somewhere in the middle, Antonetti might want him back, and Jimenez might stay, knowing that the big money is beyond his reach.
So far, Jimenez has pitched well enough to merit consideration for an extension, but there is no need to rush to judgment, inasmuch as two starters — Carlos Carrasco and Trevor Bauer — are waiting for their chances in Columbus. Which brings up the next potential dilemma.
• At some point in the season, the Tribe is likely to need Carrasco in the rotation.
His eight-game suspension stands in the way of any sort of urgent call-up. That is, if a starter were to get hurt and the club had to have a starter in two or three days, Carrasco would be out of luck.
Even if Carrasco were to replace a slumping starter, whose skid lasted several weeks, there would have to be a plan in place to allow Carrasco to take up a roster spot (he has to be on team to serve the suspension) but not pitch. Is such a plan in place?
Incidentally, Carrasco was about 120 days short (about two-thirds of a season) of arbitration eligibility at the end of spring training. The longer he is in Triple-A, the less chance he can use arbitration as leverage next year.
There will be many more player personnel decisions to make when the season is over. Some of the answers will become clear as the schedule unfolds, some will become more difficult.
Before Antonetti is faced with making thumbs up or down judgments about next season, the July 31 trading deadline will be upon us. If the Indians are still in the race, will they have the resources to be buyers, and how will that impact the decisions that must be made about 2014?
The likely topics: Chris Perez, Carlos Santana, Yan Gomes and the monkey wrench otherwise known as arbitration. More about these on future Sundays.
Sheldon Ocker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Indians blog at http://www.ohio.com/indians. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SheldonOckerABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.