Now that the Cleveland Indians have been officially eliminated from post-season play, it is time to look ahead to the Hot Stove League.
The Tribe will likely start with a roster that has either the Cy Young Award winner or runner-up in Corey Kluber, and a hitter who will be in the top five in the American League’s MVP voting in Michael Brantley. So, that’s a good start.
However, their is no question the club needs at least one legitimate bat going into next season.
The AL league average for OPS in 707, and the Indians had only four players who exceeded that mark: Brantley, Carlos Santana, Yan Gomes, and Lonnie Chisenhall. You probably need to get two more guys who are better than league average.
Yes, we believe Jason Kipnis’ struggles this year are an aberration based on his past, so that would be one such bat, but can we really be confident that anyone on the current roster can step up?
We like Jose Ramirez and what we has shown since getting regular playing time, but he needs to get on base more (.291 OBP) and drive the ball a little more (.332 slugging) to be a bonafide offensive threat.
And you cannot depend on older players like Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn, and David Murphy to bounce back either.
A lot of people we respect love the future of the Cleveland pitching staff, and although it is very promising, outside of Kluber’s two major league seasons, there isn’t another starter who has a proven big league track record.
GM Chris Antonetti needs to get another established hurler to put in the middle of the rotation and make guys like T. J. House, who performed better than expected into a nice option if someone falters or has an arm problem.
We feel the bullpen will take care of itself. Yes, there is a lot of wear on some of the arms, but the organization seems to have some depth in this area at the minor league level.
Also, you can find relievers that other teams discarded and resurrect their careers like the Tribe did this season with Scott Atchison.
How can the Indians do this? Well, it could start with spending more cash.
While the ownership gets credit for spending on Swisher and Bourn before the 2013 season, there isn’t really evidence of that.
The Cleveland payroll was at $78.4 million in 2012, according to thebaseballcube.com. After adding the two high paid free agents, the payroll for 2013 was $82.5 million.
The fans were led to believe the Indians were able to spend more because of the selling of Sportstime Ohio and the new network television contract.
The payroll for 2014 was slightly less than ’13 ($82.1 million) and that’s with the Swisher and Bourn contracts escalating. Keep in mind, the team dealt two of the four highest paid players (Justin Masterson and Asdrubal Cabrera) in late July too, although it has been reported Cleveland paid off Cabrera’s deal to get a better player (Zach Walters?) in return.
Meanwhile, small markets like Kansas City ($91 million) and Minnesota ($85 million), both division rivals, outspent the Tribe.
We have said this before and we will reiterate, we understand that the northeast Ohio market probably can’t support a $100-$110 million payroll for the Indians, but there is no reason the Tribe payroll can’t be around $90-$95 million.
That would allow them to add another solid major league player or two, and maybe more if they can find a taker for a declining player like Bourn, if the Indians would pay part of his remaining salary.
So, it terms of the comment that the ownership spent on Swisher and Bourn, quite frankly, the facts don’t really support that.
This group of Indians has a solid core of younger players, it was the second youngest team in baseball after the all-star break. Guys like Brantley, Gomes, Santana, Chisenhall, and Kluber give Antonetti a good foundation, but you cannot stand pat like they did at the trading deadline.
The Indians can’t depend on their usual strategy of wishing and hoping.
Here’s hoping they will be bold this winter and not their usual modus operandi of being cautious.