Cleveland Indians: 2017 Season Review and Offseason Preview

CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 11: Corey Kluber
CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 11: Corey Kluber /
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NEW YORK, NY – OCTOBER 09: Carlos Santana #41 of the Cleveland Indians hits a two run home run scoring Jay Bruce #32 against Luis Severino #40 of the New York Yankees during the fourth inning in Game Four of the American League Divisional Series at Yankee Stadium on October 9, 2017 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY – OCTOBER 09: Carlos Santana #41 of the Cleveland Indians hits a two run home run scoring Jay Bruce #32 against Luis Severino #40 of the New York Yankees during the fourth inning in Game Four of the American League Divisional Series at Yankee Stadium on October 9, 2017 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images) /

Top Offseason Priorities

According to CBS Sports, on Opening Day last year, the Cleveland Indians ranked 17th with a payroll just short of $125 million. That money was spread around a bit, with nine players making at least five million, including four players making nine million or more. The two most expensive players were Edwin Encarnacion and Carlos Santana. They also had one of the best bargains in baseball, Jose Ramirez, who made $971,400 after signing a five-year extension just before the season started.

Now, this is how the lineup and rotation look for 2018 based on their current roster, with salaries from Cot’s Baseball Contracts at Baseball Prospectus:

  • C Roberto Perez, $1.5 million
  • 1B Edwin Encarnacion, $17 million
  • 2B Jason Kipnis, $13.5 million
  • SS Francisco Lindor, pre-arbitration
  • 3B Jose Ramirez, $2.428 million
  • LF Michael Brantley, $11 million
  • CF Bradley Zimmer, pre-arbitration
  • RF Lonnie Chisenhall, arbitration-eligible (projected: $5.8 million)
  • DH Yandy Diaz, pre-arbitration
  • C Yan Gomes, $5.95 million
  • OF Brandon Guyer, $2.75 million
  • OF Abraham Almonte, arbitration-eligible (projected: $1.1 million)
  • SP Corey Kluber, $10.5 million
  • SP Carlos Carrasco, $8 million
  • SP Trevor Bauer, arbitration-eligible (projected: $7.7 million)
  • SP Danny Salazar, arbitration-eligible (projected: $5.2 million)
  • SP Josh Tomlin, $3 million
  • RP Cody Allen, arbitration-eligible (projected: $10.8 million)
  • RP Andrew Miller, $9 million
  • RP Zach McAllister, arbitration-eligible (projected: $2.4 million)
  • RP Dan Otero, arbitration-eligible (projected: $1.4 million)

Cleveland Indians Free agents: RF Jay Bruce, CF Austin Jackson, 1B Carlos Santana, RP Bryan Shaw, RP Joe Smith, RP Craig Breslow

Shortly after the World Series concluded, Cleveland picked up their team options on outfielder Michael Brantley ($11 million) and starting pitcher Josh Tomlin ($3 million). Brantley has struggled to stay healthy for the last two seasons but has been productive when on the field. He’ll be 31 next year and was worth around 2 WAR while playing just 90 games last year. One WAR is worth roughly eight million on the free agent market, so Brantley is a worthy keeper at $11 million next year.

More from Call to the Pen

Josh Tomlin is coming off a year in which he had a 4.98 ERA, but he’s been a reliable rotation regular who can pitch 150-170 innings per year. That may not seem like much, but it’s not bad for $3 million. Trying to replace Tomlin with a free agent pick-up would be more expensive without any guarantee of improvement over what Tomlin can do.

With those decisions being made, Cleveland’s next priority is to decide which of their departing free agents they should attempt to re-sign. At the top of the list is Carlos Santana, who’s been with the team since 2010. He’s been an above-average hitter every year who can handle first base defensively (and is much better at the position than Encarnacion).

Santana has been a bargain for the team over the last few years, but free agency will increase his salary, likely into the $15-20 million per year range. The team signed Edwin Encarnacion to a three-year, $65 million deal last year and Encarnacion is three years older than Santana. At the very least, Santana will receive the $17.4 million qualifying offer. If he rejects it, Cleveland will receive a compensatory pick after the first round.

Jay Bruce, Austin Jackson, and Bryan Shaw were productive members of the 2017 team and are also free agents, so deciding whether to join the bidding on them is another priority. Bruce will be one of the most coveted free agent outfielders on the market after hitting 36 homers and driving in 101 runs this year. Jackson had his best hitting year since 2012 but is more of a part-time player than a full-time starter these days. Shaw has been a reliable member of the Cleveland bullpen for the last five years, which may have moved him out of Cleveland’s price range.

Another priority will be deciding where Jason Kipnis will play in the future. Until last September, Kipnis had played exclusively at second base during his seven-year career. When center fielder Bradley Zimmer went down with an injury last September, Kipnis ended up playing 11 games in center.

Next: MLB Free Agency 2017-18: Biggest Holes for Every Team

For the Cleveland Indians, Kipnis could be back at second base next year, with Jose Ramirez returning to third base, or he could take an outfield spot. His future may depend on whether Carlos Santana comes back. If Santana signs elsewhere, outfielder Lonnie Chisenhall could play some first base, which would open up an outfield spot for Kipnis. Another possibility would be a trade.

The Cleveland Indians have plenty of talent on the roster to be the favorites to win the AL Central next year, but they have some decisions to make with their departing free agents and their in-house options. Most of these moves will be on the offensive side because their starting rotation is expected to return fully intact. That rotation was one of the best in baseball last year and should be among the best again next year.