The hot stove league has officially started in Major League Baseball with the GM Meetings this week, and the Winter Meetings taking place in a few weeks.
After the past few years when the 25 man roster was pretty much set in stone, the next few weeks could be filled with several moves for the Cleveland Indians.
It was not surprise that the Tribe offered free agent Carlos Santana the qualifying offer, nor was it a shock when he turned it down.
Many experts expect Santana to return to the Indians after seeing what offers are out there, but president Chris Antonetti and GM Mike Chernoff have plenty of questions to answer before the team reconvenes in Goodyear in February.
Santana is the key to Cleveland’s off-season in our opinion.
The team would probably be interested in a reunion with Jay Bruce if the market comes back down much like it did with Edwin Encarnacion a year ago. But they probably won’t go more than two or three years for the veteran outfielder.
And what to do with Jason Kipnis? If Santana returns, there doesn’t seem to be a fit for him, as Michael Brantley would play LF in that scenario. However, if Santana departs, Brantley would likely go to 1B, with Kipnis playing left field.
The Indians do have some trade assets, although we believe they aren’t interested in trading their top prospect C/3B Francisco Mejia, one of the top 10 prospects in all of the minor leagues, nor would they be anxious to move Triston McKenzie, one of the premier pitching prospects in baseball.
We would think the organization would want to keep Mejia and OF Greg Allen in AAA to start the season and get them more experience.
However, we could see players such as Erik Gonzalez, Yu-Cheng Chang, and Willi Castro, all shortstops by trade who would seem to be blocked here by the presence of Francisco Lindor.
We also don’t know how the organization feels about the future of 1B Bobby Bradley, whose power is unquestioned, but he has a lot of swing and miss in his style. Does the front office think he can be a viable big league hitter?
With reliever Bryan Shaw also likely to be elsewhere in ’18, who fills his role in the bullpen. It has been rumored that perhaps Danny Salazar moves to the bullpen with his electric stuff as a bridge between the starter and Andrew Miller and Cody Allen.
If not, no doubt the brass will be looking for another bullpen arm.
The rotation shouldn’t see changes, but if Salazar does go to the ‘pen, it wouldn’t be a shock to see the Tribe look for a starter on the free agent market, probably toward spring training when the prices come down.
The Indians have a strong core with Lindor, Jose Ramirez, Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer, Miller, and Allen. Unless he fails with the bat, Bradley Zimmer probably has a lock on centerfield.
The rest of the spots are fluid and the front office has some choices that are currently on the roster, young players on the uptick, and perhaps adding more pieces in deals.
There could be plenty of new faces in spring training for the Indians, and many of those spots hinge on Santana’s decision.