State of the Cleveland Indians

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The Cleveland Indians are in an obvious state of rebuild. Following Thursday’s trade of All-Star shortstop Francisco Lindor and starting pitcher Carlos Carrasco, the rebuild is more advanced than it was just Wednesday.

As it stands right now, the Indians are projected to have the lowest payroll in all of baseball. Current projections have the team slated to have a $40 million payroll. Furthermore, Spotrac has the current payroll of the Indians sitting at $22.9 million. The only guaranteed money on the books right now is for third baseman Jose Ramirez ($9.4 million), catcher Roberto Perez ($5.5 million), and reliever Nick Wittgren ($2 million dollars).

Outside of those three players, the Indians payroll is merely based on projections. In addition, come 2022, there is $0 million committed as it stands right now. Whether the Indians plan on keeping the 2022 payroll amount at that value remains to be seen.

The bigger issue becomes replacements for the aforementioned Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco. Beyond that, another topic surrounds how competitive the Indians will be this coming season.

Cleveland Indians and the American League Central

After all, the team finished in a virtual tie with the Chicago White Sox with a 35-25 record. For comparison’s sake, the Minnesota Twins won the division with 36 wins or a .600 winning percentage. However, the White Sox are expected to be better this year. They are under the direction of new manager Tony La Russa, their young players have another year of major league experience under their belt, and they have already added Lance Lynn to the starting rotation. Collectively, the White Sox lineup finished the 2020 season with the second highest OPS (.779) in the American League.

Combine all of those things together and it would appear that the White Sox are in the middle of their window to win a World Series Championship. Furthermore, the Minnesota Twins cannot be ignored in this conversation. The Twins had the third-best ERA (3.58) in the American League last year. Minnesota’s lineup is also very strong, which adds to why they are a threat in the division.

Given those things alone, it will be challenging for the Cleveland Indians to compete for the division crown. Thus, it’s fair to say that the team has entered an official rebuild with an eye to the future. Therefore, the Indians will likely rely heavily on internal replacements for both Lindor and Carrasco. Here is a look at some of their options.

Starting Pitching Options for the Cleveland Indians

Something that has been a hallmark for the Cleveland Indians over the past few seasons has been their starting pitching. The team finished last year with the best ERA (3.29) in the American League. Additionally, Indians starters recorded 621 strikeouts over the 60-game slate, which led all of baseball.

If you recall, over the last 18 months the Indians have lost significant members of their starting rotation in Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer, Mike Clevinger, and now Carlos Carrasco. All four of those starters make an All-Star starting rotation when healthy and had their moments of success in Cleveland. Although, as is the case for any small market team, there is a limited window to win, and payroll concerns come along with that.

Therefore, the Indians will look to build the next great starting rotation organizationally. Shane Bieber, Aaron Civale, and Zach Plesac are already locks to be in the rotation this season. After that, pitchers such as Adam Plutko and Triston McKenzie are candidates to be starters. The Indians might even elect to use “The Opener” this season which is something that the Tampa Bay Rays originally developed.

However, there is a chance the team could look outside the organization as well for a free agent starting pitcher that could be cheap to sign. There’s still a lot of uncertainty about how much certain pitchers will command in free agency. Some potential replacements could be pitchers like Rick Porcello, Jose Quintana, or Julio Teheran. Each would likely be affordable enough for the Indians should they elect to invest money outside of the organization to address their rotation.

Shortstop Options for the Cleveland Indians

In Thursday’s trade with the New York Mets, the Indians received shortstop Amed Rosario as part of the return. Rosario turned 25 in November and has struggled with his glove since making his debut in 2017.

With that being said, he is an everyday major league player whom the Indians can immediately insert into the starting lineup. Furthermore, he comes with three more years of control beyond the coming season. Last year, over 147 plate appearances in 46 games, Rosario slashed .252/.272/.371 with 36 hits, four home runs, 15 RBI, and 34 strikeouts.

Besides Rosario, Yu Chang is the next option on the Indians depth chart. Chang played in 38 games at the major league level between 2019 and 2020. He also has the ability to play second and third base. The 25-year-old, originally from Taiwan, hit .182/.308/.182 over ten games last year.

Coming up in the minors, Chang demonstrated that he can be successful on both sides of the baseball. In 2017 with Double-A Akron, he hit 24 home runs but had a 26.4% strikeout rate that season. In addition, the Indians feel as though his glove could be well-suited for the shortstop position. He’s only played over a short sample of games with the big league club, but the belief is that over time his defense will continue to get better.

Outlook

Regardless of where the Cleveland Indians are in the standings, or who their replacements might be for Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco, Thursday marks another turn of the page in the textbook for the franchise. Both Lindor and Carrasco were valuable members of the organization and are very difficult to replace. Cleveland Indians President of Baseball Operations summarized it well in the tweet below from Mandy Bell, Indians beat writer for MLB.com, on Twitter.

For Antonetti and Cleveland Indians fans, Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco were special players. Now, only time will tell who the next players will be who could potentially live up to their level. Regardless, Indians fans and Chris Antonetti alike will have plenty of fond memories to carry forward regarding both players.

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Players mentioned: Francisco Lindor, Carlos Carrasco, Jose Ramirez, Roberto Perez, Nick Wittgren, Tony La Russa, Lance Lynn, Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer, Mike Clevinger, Shane Bieber, Aaron Civale, Zach Plesac, Adam Plutko, Triston McKenzie, Rick Porcello, Jose Quintana, Julio Teheran, Amed Rosario, Yu Chang