As we see plenty of moves and signings throughout the rest of the MLB, the Cleveland Indians have essentially stood pat. While they’ve been waiting, their free agents have been busy fielding offers or signing with new teams. While offseason plans aren’t all completed during winter meetings, memories of Cleveland’s recent October flop have created a heightened sense of urgency within the fan-base.
However, the team remains patient, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. For now.
The Indians can afford to keep quietly monitoring the market, but their slow-play strategy for the offseason will need to pick up the pace very soon.
We always knew the team wasn’t going to be big players when it came to marquee names like Giancarlo Stanton or even international sensation Shohei Otani. That they stayed on the sideline while these moves went down comes as no shock.
Likewise, Cleveland’s initial stance of letting free agents like Carlos Santana and Jay Bruce field offers to get an idea of their worth around the league wasn’t too alarming at first.
This, of course, was before last week.
The Indians spent the bulk of winter meetings watching their free agents find greener pastures. Santana, Bryan Shaw and Joe Smith all found new homes, while the Tribe focused more on extending minor league offers to players like Melvin Upton Jr.
Again, we still haven’t reached a point where we need to hit the panic button. That said, eventually Cleveland is going to have to get going here.
Last year, the Tribe’s hurry-up-and-wait strategy paid off, as a quiet market for Edwin Encarnacion resulted in the slugger falling right into the team’s lap. Still, the hope is Cleveland isn’t using this as proof staying in neutral is a winning offseason strategy. As mentioned, there’s a little more urgency to make some moves this time around.
Where the 2016 season ended with an overachieving Indians team falling just short of stunning the favored Chicago Cubs in the World Series, this past October was a monumental choke. Cleveland was a trendy pick to finish the job this time around, and instead blew a 2-0 lead in the first round of the playoffs.
Now, key members of the team are departing while the front office stands pat. While the playing the waiting game, other American League clubs are stocking up, posing even more of a threat in the upcoming season.
We’ve quickly learned the Indians won’t be making any sort of splash via free agency, as this is typically not the routine. In order to make notable improvements, Cleveland will have to consider trading a big name or two from its own clubhouse.
The popular belief is the Tribe will deal from a position of strength – starting pitching.
The current free agent market for this position is shallow. Meanwhile, the Indians have plenty of starting pitchers, to the point where they could part with one in order to bolster their offense. At the moment, Danny Salazar seems to be a popular name in the rumor mill.
Of course, Cleveland has teased trading a starter before, and things rarely get farther than that.
I’m not encouraging the team to make a deal for the sake of saying they did. At the same time, we’ve reached the point where this is the only route the team can take when it comes to making an impact moves. As a result, not only does Cleveland need to listen to all offers, it needs to be proactive in making some as well.
Per manager Terry Francona, if you want one of the Indians’ starters, you need to make an offer that “knocks our doors off.” While that’s a smart approach, this doesn’t mean Cleveland should just wait by the phone. It wouldn’t hurt to dangle someone like Salazar to see what type of returns the team could potentially get. If the impression is it’ll take a lopsided offer to get one of the Indians’ pitchers, teams may not even bother reaching out.
The bottom line is the Indians are currently not as good as they were at season’s end. They aren’t going to be players in free agency. They also can’t head into Spring Training having only made a handful of minor league signings.
Last year, a patient approach to the offseason resulted in a big win. This year, it’s pushing the Indians further behind their competition. Sooner or later, a splash needs to be made. Otherwise, the window of contention might start shutting at a quicker rate than anticipated.