The Cleveland Indians entered the 2016 offseason with two major holes to fill – first base and outfield. One of these spots was fixed in epic fashion, with the Tribe signing the best bat available in Edwin Encarnacion.
The other, however, was affected not by a player Cleveland acquired, but by one it let go.
Last night, former Indians center fielder Rajai Davis signed a one-year deal with the Oakland Athletics. It seemed as though Cleveland might try and retain the 36-year-old speedster, especially after he provided one of the best moments of the World Series with an epic, game-tying home run in Game 7. However, with no real traction in any negotiations, Davis was forced to look elsewhere.
The fact he’ll now be playing for the A’s indicates two things. The first is the Indians are essentially telling everyone no more spending should be expected after the bank was broken for Encarnacion. As a result, though, Davis’ departure basically states Cleveland will now be attempting to fix its outfield issues internally.
Such a concept will likely give fans a little concern, and there’s good reason for this.
Despite boasting a rock-solid infield and one of the best rotations in baseball, the Indians’ outfield was easily one of their areas of weakness last season. Obviously the injury issues with Michael Brantley didn’t help matters. That said, the platoon consisting of Lonnie Chisenhall, Abraham Almonte, Davis and rookie Tyler Naquin left a lot to be desired. Late season acquisitions Coco Crisp and Brandon Guyer helped a bit, but only the latter returns for 2017.
At the moment, the Tribe will now try to rely on more or less the same crew heading into next season.
Guyer is a reliable bat, but only against left-handed pitching. Almonte’s value to the team seems to fluctuate on a weekly basis. Chisenhall showed improvement at the plate, but still isn’t a standout right fielder. While Naquin provided more offensively than anyone could’ve predicted, his contributions severely declined in the postseason. Likewise, it’ll probably be a long time before fans forget his gaffe-filled performance in Game 6 of the World Series.
Obviously, this picture becomes less bleak if Brantley returns to form. Unfortunately, there seems to be very little clarity on whether or not Cleveland can hope for such a thing.
Per the team’s reports, the 2014 MVP candidate is expected to be 100% ready for Spring Training. Other rumors indicate Brantley’s injury was far more severe than initially stated, with some fearing he may never be the same.
If the latter is indeed the case, the Tribe’s attempt to fix the outfield with the assets it currently has becomes far more difficult.
There is, of course, the outside hope one of Cleveland’s prospects steps up in Spring Training. It might not seem like the best option, but it worked out OK last season when Naquin came out of nowhere.
In terms of potential players who could pull such a thing off this time around, there appear to be two popular candidates – Bradley Zimmer or Yandy Diaz.
Seen by many as one of the team’s best prospects, the thought is Zimmer will make his way up to the big leagues at some point in 2017. The consensus belief right now is this will occur later in the season. However, a solid performance in Arizona could definitely change the front office’s mind.
Diaz is a bit of a wild card. He’s not so much an outfielder by trade, but can play numerous positions and has spent some time in right, left and center. He’s also putting forth an impressive performance at the plate in the Venezuelan winter league. While the Indians would probably prefer a traditional outfielder, Diaz’s hitting could force them to add another name to the platoon.
As you can see, Cleveland certainly isn’t low on options. The task will be finding the right ones to ensure outfield isn’t a position of concern. Unless something changes in the near future, it sure looks like the Tribe won’t be looking for any outside help with this.