Aside from a potential Francisco Lindor trade, this is the second biggest area that the Indians will need to address before the offseason concludes. For the first time since 2012, the Indians had a different starting second baseman in 2020. At the conclusion of 2019, Jason Kipnis elected free agency, which left Cleveland with a hole at second.
To address that hole, the team signed free agent Cesar Hernandez. However, Hernandez is now a free agent himself since he signed a one-year deal, which was later adjusted to pay him $6.25 million.
With that said, here are some internal and external options for the Indians at second base.
Internal Options for the Cleveland Indians
1. Yu Chang: Starting Second Baseman
Right now, the Indians have Yu Chang slated as the team’s Opening Day second baseman. Chang was the team’s 11th best prospect heading into 2019, according to MLB.com. One of the qualities that scouts like about him is his raw power. He simply has enough power to hit the ball to all parts of the field, but they do worry about his strikeout rate.
Given that there was no minor league season last year, you have to go back to 2019 to see how Chang performed in Triple-A Columbus. Over 68 games or 253 at-bats, he slashed .253/.322/.427 with 64 hits, 15 doubles, one triple, nine home runs, 39 RBI, 26 walks, and 67 strikeouts. He represents a potential option for the Indians heading into 2021.
2. Jose Ramirez Position Change
Another internal option for Cleveland would be to shift current third baseman Jose Ramirez to second base. If you recall, Ramirez split time between second and third base back in 2018. That season, he started 137 games at the hot corner (third base) and 16 games at second. Therefore, he does have experience playing both positions if needed.
If the Indians went down this route, then they would need to address their hole at third base. However, their number one overall prospect Nolan Jones would likely get the job if it came down to that. Jones was slated to get called up to the major league team last season, but that didn’t happen due to the unique circumstances of the 60-game campaign. Rather, the 22-year-old could get his shot heading into 2021.
For Cleveland, this might be the best internal route to go. Scouts gave Jones a grade of 60 in the power category. In addition, they ultimately believe that he could put up 30 home runs a season with his strength and patience at the plate. For an Indians team that is starved for offense, having Jones in the lineup would be a luxury.
Free Agent Options for the Cleveland Indians
3. Reunion with Cesar Hernandez
If neither of those internal options fills the Cleveland Indians’ appetite, then they would turn to the free-agent market. Of course, a reunion with the aforementioned Cesar Hernandez makes a lot of sense. Hernandez concluded the regular season batting .283/.355/.408. In that span, the 30-year-old led the American League with 20 doubles and recorded 20 RBI along with 24 walks.
Although his power wasn’t significant (three home runs), his defense was legitimate. Overall, Hernandez had a .981 Fielding Percentage with a Range Factor Per 9 Innings (RF9) of 3.68. In fact, his defense was so valuable he ended up winning his first career Gold Glove Award. If Cleveland can find a deal that works for both sides, then a reunion seems likely.
4. Inking Kolten Wong to a Deal
Another intriguing name to watch in free agency is former St. Louis Cardinals second baseman Kolten Wong. The two-time Gold Glove winner had a $12.5 million team option that was declined by St. Louis. Given the fact that Wong has played in the majors for eight seasons and is considered a veteran in many regards, the Indians would likely be very interested in his services.
Over the last two years, Wong has improved significantly from a defensive perspective. In addition, he finished in the Top 20 in National League Most Valuable Player Award voting in 2019. He wouldn’t give the Indians a power bat, but rather an on-base player, as illustrated by his .350 on-base percentage this year.
Trade Options at Second Base
If the internal or free-agent options don’t suit what Cleveland needs at second base, then they would turn their attention to the trade market. Although, of the three options, this one seems the least likely because the Indians would have to give up assets in return.
With that being said, there is the option that the team nets a second baseman in a deal involving All-Star shortstop Francisco Lindor. As mentioned previously, a Lindor trade seems very likely this offseason, and the Indians would probably focus on trying to get back an option at second base in any return package.
If that doesn’t happen, then the Indians would need to evaluate other second base trade options. Unfortunately, there is no one particular name that stands out at that position as being a potential trade candidate. One possible candidate could be Starlin Castro of the Washington Nationals if the Nationals were to sign free-agent second baseman DJ LeMahieu. However, the Nationals might want to keep Castro as a bench option.
Furthermore, another potential is Brandon Lowe of the Tampa Bay Rays. Although, that seems unlikely given that Lowe is 26-years-old and under control through 2024 for the small-market, budget-conscious Rays. The Indians and Rays have made trades in the past, though — most recently, the Yandy Diaz/Carlos Santana/Jake Bauers trade that also included the Seattle Mariners.
Before the offseason is over, the Cleveland Indians will have a new starting second baseman. Whether that comes internally, from the free-agent market, or via trade remains to be seen. All of the names mentioned above are possibilities and likely individuals that the Indians front office members have discussed.
The key is going to be trying to find a second baseman that comes on affordable terms for the team, someone that provides very good defense, and above-average offensive numbers. The good news is that each of the players mentioned brings those qualities to the plate in some regard. Now it’s just a waiting game to see who that individual ends up being.
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