Cleveland Indians

The Indians Organization is Now Caught in Between

Whether one wants to engage the in a payroll versus revenue discussion or not, the Indians like many small market teams have determined that they will operate with a lower payroll during a contention window than mid/large market teams.

Nevertheless the Indians opened the 2018/2019 offseason well positioned with significant payroll coming off the books; major assets on cheap deals like Corey Kluber and Trevor Bauer; and what looked to be a still elite rotation plus two mid-20s superstars.

However, entering the offseason it was clear that creativity and a level of choice was required; the choice being would the Indians emphasize buttressing their near term World Series chances or potentially decrease 2019 playoff and World Series odds in favor of revamping their long-term position player core.

Of course, there was a third choice, one of passivity. Indeed, the offseason, no matter which way a fan leaned, was a signal of apathy. The offseason was a failure to make an active choice, resulting in a passive choice which was to run back a watered down version of the 2018 roster.

It would be unfair to suggest that the Indians early 2019 mediocrity was solely of their own doing. Jose Ramirez’s quarter season collapse, Corey Kluber’s decline as well as subsequent injury, Lindor’s early season injury and Clevinger’s injury are all massive hits that most teams could not survive.

Yet, the Indians shed nearly $15 million in salary, won a trade with the Washington Nationals involving Yan Gomes and then quietly turned off the lights with lotto ticket buys on Hanley Ramirez and Carlos Gonzalez. Unlike Mike Napoli or Austin Jackson, these lotto tickets as the odds would suggest, failed.

This reliance on low-upside, low-floor castoffs was the result of the Indians simply failing to make a choice. The Indians could have chosen to lever-up, and by lever-up this author means merely improving the marginal advantage by simply not cutting or salary, or dare I suggest a marginal increase.

Yet, money is not the only good, the Indians also spent the last two years whiffing on outfield deals like Corey Dickerson, Christian Yelich, Marcel Ozuna, and Tommy Pham.

This offseason, much emphasis was put on threading the needle, finding a way to protect short and long term interest. Unfortunately, the Indians decided to leave the thread and the needle in the sewing kit.

You see, mediocrity is often punishing for organizations. The Indians could have been aggressive in dealing Corey Kluber, even accepting seventy-five cents on the dollar, clearing salary for long term assets and relying on Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer, Mike Clevinger and Shane Bieber to keep them competitive while adding potentially one or two impact position player prospects to the organization to increase the long term viability.

The Indians could have cashed out Nolan Jones and Triston McKenzie for an outfielder. They even could have *gasp* compensated Nelson Cruz a limited amount to DH while dealing Encarnacion for Santana.

The Indians could have levered up for 2019, or they could have levered down, but they chose neither. Now, they are in a difficult spot.

Lindor is a year closer to free agency. Bauer and Kluber are likely too pricey for the Indians to keep both for 2020, and Kluber’s injury plus likely decline make moving him far more difficult. Of course, Bauer’s value has decreased significantly with less success, less control left, and a high 2020 arb salary coming. Two crashing assets.

Carrasco is not any younger, Hand is one of their best trade assets but also an essential piece to competing, and they have not had a position player force their way into the lineup since Jose Ramirez in 2016.

This is the new difficulty, the Indians are now in a spot where buying is incredibly risky, and the assets they would have sold for actual value in the offseason have radically decreased in value. If the Indians were to be out of it in July, what would they sell? Tyler Olson to a team in need of a lefty? Leonys Martin as a bench bat?

Would they reset the bullpen and deal Hand? Would they take the nuclear option with Lindor?

The reality is, in the offseason the Indians had choices, and now for the remainder of 2019, their choices are limited and seemingly difficult to swallow.

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