The Indians enter the 2018 winter meetings with much work to be done and a label of traditional tranquility to shed.
Historically, the Indians have been one of the quieter teams during baseball’s annual winter assembly. As the Indians have methodically constructed their roster, carefully allocating their limited resources, they often have let the other 29 teams enjoy a bigger slice of the frenzy of the winter meetings, much of it resembling a blurred haze of discussions, news and rumors.
On Monday, the entire baseball world will converge on the Mandalay Bay resort and casino in Las Vegas for a few days, turning it into its own baseball-themed micro-city full of agents, executives and reporters buzzing between suites, the lobby and, this year especially, blackjack tables and poker rooms.
This time, the Indians not only stand as one of the most intriguing clubs at the winter meetings, but one that is looking — and needing — to make at least one (additional) major move this offseason.
Several key players leaving via free agency and expected raises to many more have left the Indians with a top-heavy roster, one that boasts an elite starting rotation and a couple of Most Valuable Player candidates but also one with holes in the outfield and the bullpen.
The Indians’ front office has already made one move (along with a series of smaller ones) that would have been their headliner in any other winter meetings setting, trading All-Star catcher Yan Gomes to the Washington Nationals. That deal netted outfielder Daniel Johnson, 23, pitcher Jefry Rodriguez, 25, along with a player to be named.
In all likelihood, that won’t be the end of the major moves made by the Indians this winter. That trade freed up $7 million and gave the Indians some controllable pieces, but their roster woes are far from addressed.
Carlos Carrasco was locked up to a contract extension on Thursday, keeping him with the Indians through at least 2022 and potentially 2023. It’ll put even more heat on rumors surrounding a potential trade involving ace Corey Kluber or Trevor Bauer.
The Indians need to address their outfield with Michael Brantley a free agent. As currently constructed, Leonys Martin, Greg Allen and Tyler Naquin make up some of their primary options. Bradley Zimmer is out for at least a significant portion of the season after undergoing shoulder surgery last July. Jordan Luplow was added to the mix in a trade with the Pittsburgh Pirates involving utility man Erik Gonzalez. Oscar Mercado was acquired from the St. Louis Cardinals last August. Trayce Thompson was offered a minor-league deal with an invitation to spring training. Jason Kipnis could be moved from second base to left field. The Indians have serviceable options, but replacing Brantley is a tall order. It is a dilemma that, as of now, for which the Indians don’t have the answer. Among any legitimate World Series contenders, the Indians’ outfield falls well short of ideal.
The bullpen, meanwhile, has to replace Andrew Miller and Cody Allen, whose absences would — barring a return as a free agent — leave moon-crater-sized holes in how the club can fill their quota of high-leverage innings in front of closer Brad Hand. One or more of the likes of Adam Cimber, Dan Otero, Tyler Olson and a few others could be needed to step into a much larger role.
The Indians have already dealt from a surplus (catcher) and are looking to do it again with their rotation. But it takes two to tango. The Indians will spend the winter meetings holed up in their suite, trying to find a suitor who not only is willing to pay the high price to acquire a Kluber or a Bauer, but one who also has the players they covet. Or they could end up moving somebody else on the roster, effectively trying to piece together a jigsaw puzzle any way they can.
They say what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. But the club the Indians currently have and the one they’ll bring to spring training likely won’t be the same. Their chips need to be pushed to the middle of the table.
If the Indians don’t find the trade for which they’re searching during the winter meetings — Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday make up the bulk of the itinerary before the Rule 5 Draft on Thursday — they would still have a couple of months before heading to Goodyear, Arizona, for spring training. It’ll be a gamble to trade away such a valuable piece of the vaunted starting rotation, but it’s just as risky to leave the roster needs unaddressed.
Las Vegas might be the perfect destination to mirror this Indians offseason.
Ryan Lewis can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Indians blog at www.ohio.com/indians. Follow him on Twitter at @ByRyanLewis.