To start this out, my dream of the Cleveland Indians making a surprise signing of outfielder JD Martinez is still technically a possibility. There remains a (significantly faint) chance this wish comes true and renders everything below this paragraph null and void.
Since that hasn’t happened yet, I’ll go ahead and say it – there are a lot of concerns when it comes to Cleveland’s outfield heading into the 2018 season.
This isn’t to say the team is doomed in any way. The Tribe’s infield is composed of four All-Stars, the pitching staff remains intact and the bullpen, while missing a couple key faces, still features Andrew Miller and Cody Allen. Cleveland remains the favorite to win the AL Central, and for good reason.
However, thanks to concerns about depth, injuries and inexperience, it’s tough to ignore the major question mark hovering over the outfield.
The biggest problem comes in the form of All-Star Michael Brantley.
Cleveland has been dealing with some significant fan backlash since picking up Brantley’s $12 million option this offseason. The concern doesn’t come from what he can offer when on the field, but more from how rarely he’s seen there.
Brantley spent all of 2016 recovering from shoulder surgery, and dealt with a shortened campaign last year due to a significant ankle sprain. As a result of the surgery needed to repair this injury, it remains unlikely he’ll be ready for Opening Day.
Replacing him – for now, at least – is Abraham Almonte, who’s been inconsistent during his time with the Tribe. Should Brantley suffer yet another injury setback this season, the criticism the team received from picking up his option will only get louder.
Center field remains intriguing, as Bradley Zimmer proved to be a huge boost during his rookie debut last year. His speed was an immediate game-changer defensively, though he still has some work to do at the plate.
However, Cleveland is a bit limited when it comes to depth behind Zimmer. Sure, a minor league contract offered to Melvin Upton Jr. could turn into the Tribe’s token savvy signing. If this doesn’t pan out, though, the Indians may have to rely on rookie Greg Allen (talented, but inexperienced) or Tyler Naquin (has yet to prove he can be consistently reliable).
In right, we’re likely to see another season of platooning Lonnie Chisenhall and Brandon Guyer. Just as with the situation is in left field, the success of this setup relies a lot on health.
Both Chisenhall and Guyer spent a good chunk of time on the DL last year. Should this occur again, the Indians might find themselves in a bind. As mentioned, depth is a concern across the board. The cupboard is already pretty barren at left and center, so the Tribe can ill-afford injury issues popping up in right.
To be fair, these problems were present as Cleveland entered Spring Training last year as well. Back then, Austin Jackson emerged as a viable option at center, while Brantley recovered quicker than expected. Right field remained a question mark all the way until August, when the Indians traded for Jay Bruce. It’d be understandable to see this as proof the team can navigate through similar problems this season.
Of course, this is under the assumption Brantley can once again be ready for Opening Day.
And that someone will surprise during Spring Training again.
And that the right field depth chart won’t be hampered by injuries.
As you can see, there are a lot of caveats here. How the Indians work through them will determine if the outfield becomes a bigger concern than we initially thought.
Again, though, if the team can just find a way to sign the most expensive free agent available and slot him in right field, the problems pretty much go away. Seems easy enough.