Before I go any further, I understand the MLB season is just a little over a month old. I also know the Cleveland Indians have struggled out of the gate over the past couple years and still ended up in the postseason. I’m fully aware of both facts.
With that said, you wouldn’t be wrong in pointing out the fact the Indians are not a very good baseball team right now. A big reason for this is the inactivity we saw from them over the winter, a preseason concern which is now being thrust into the spotlight.
I’m not here to say the team should’ve broken the bank for someone like J.D. Martinez or match the $27 million contract the Colorado Rockies gave former Cleveland reliever Bryan Shaw. That said, there were holes to fill and, for the most part, the team didn’t make much of an attempt to do so.
A big reason why the Indians penny-pinched this winter was the amount of salary already dedicated to the long-tenured Michael Brantley and Jason Kipnis.
Cleveland picked up the former’s $12 million option, infamously noting this was money it wouldn’t be spending on other players. While Brantley has performed well to date, he’s yet to prove he can stay healthy for the entire season.
The more glaring decision appears to be the Indians deciding not to trade Kipnis.
The second baseman is owed $13.6 million this year, a number which will increase in each of the next two seasons. There appeared to be a market for Kipnis, and it seemed as though Cleveland was deep into trade talks at least once this offseason. However, no move was made, as the Tribe was holding out hope for a bounce-back season after Kipnis’ underwhelming and injury-filled 2017 campaign.
So far, this gamble is hardly paying off.
Kipnis’ offensive stats hurt to look at, as he’s currently boasting a .181 batting average and an OBP of just .256. Still inexplicably listed as the No.2 hitter in Cleveland’s lineup, he’s been alarmingly ineffective at the plate and is a significant liability on offense.
Knowing he’s owed almost $45 million over the next three seasons, you can’t help but wonder if moving Kipnis would’ve allowed the Indians to be more aggressive in the offseason. While we’ll never know the answer to this, we at the very least know where said money should’ve been spent.
When losing both Shaw and Joe Smith from the bullpen this offseason, Cleveland made a bold move in deciding to patch up these holes in-house as opposed to finding replacements. Just as we’re seeing with the decision to stay loyal to Kipnis, this move is backfiring in a bad way.
The Tribe is coming off a week in which it lost five games, and only one of which wasn’t the result of the bullpen blowing it. While the relievers are understandably hampered by the injury of bullpen ace Andrew Miller, there’s still nobody the team can see as reliable with the game on the line.
How bad is it? Coming into today, closer Cody Allen‘s ERA of 3.60 was best among all Indians relievers with at least eight appearances. No other member of the pen had an ERA lower than lower than 5.09.
An important caveat, obviously, is there’s still a lot of time left in the season, meaning these and any other issues the Indians are struggling with can be fixed either internally or via the trade market.
Still, it’s difficult to quell concerns. Cleveland’s window of contention won’t be open much longer, and the bullpen issues will get even worse next year with the likely departures of Miller and Allen. The hope was the Tribe would approach each offseason aiming to trying to strike while the iron is hot.
Instead, the Indians bet on the players they had on-hand to make up for the losses they were dealt over the winter. It was a risky move, one many fans and media members alike were concerned about.
While it’s still early, Cleveland’s gamble doesn’t look to be paying off anytime soon.