In this, the Yan, Yonder, Yandyiest offseason in team history, the Indians’ front office has barely had time to yawn.
You’ve heard of proactive? This is pro-hyper.
In the span of two weeks, the payroll-slashing Indians have made three trades — four players for five — and saved about $21 million from their 2019 payroll. Only three position players from their starting lineup in any of the three games against Houston in the ALDS are still on the roster: Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez and Jason Kipnis.
Those three could become The Cleveland Two, because you can put an asterisk by Kipnis’ name. His $14.6 million salary for next year marks him as an asterisk worth asking another team to take. Maybe if the Indians shopped him as “Yancy Kipnis” they could continue to cash in on their “All Y’s Must Go” winter clearance sale.
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“We had a couple of goals going into the offseason,” said Indians President of Baseball Operations Chris Antonetti. “First and foremost, making sure we have a team that is capable of winning the AL Central in 2019, but also to position the organization for success beyond that. There are a couple of ways to do that. One is to infuse young controllable talent into the organization. The second element is to manage our finances. These trades advance both of those goals.”
Those trades subtracted Yan Gomes, Yonder Alonso, Yandy Diaz and Edwin Encarnacion, plus their combined salaries, from the ledger book of Indians bean counters. The return has been Carlos Santana and four players who spent some, most or all of 2018 in the minor leagues. Listed in descending order of the likelihood they will impact the Indians’ major league roster in 2019: Jake Bauers, Jefry Rodriguez, Daniel Johnson and Alex Call.
The biggest takeaway from the Indians’ two-week trade-a-palooza is they have seemingly increased the chances of keeping intact the fleet of luxury pitchers in their starting rotation.
The hot stove league drumbeat had been growing louder that the Indians were listening to offers for Corey Kluber and/or Trevor Bauer, the Lennon and McCartney of their rotation.
But now, having shaved about $21 million from their 2019 payroll, might the Indians quietly shift gears and decide to double down on their killer rotation, and swing for the fences one more time in 2019?
If Antonetti was playing his cards any closer to his vest, he’d be standing in front of them. On whether, with the money saved by their rash of recent trades, the Indians now have the wherewithal and inclination to continue to employ both Kluber and Bauer next year, Antonetti went full infomercial: “It’s still relatively early in the offseason … we’ll have to see what kind of opportunities present themselves.”
That may be, but say this for Club Wahoo: They aren’t afraid to change gears, and, if the climate is right, to vigorously pursue that which facilitates their ability to continue to win games on a budget, no matter how frenzied the shopping gets. It seems unlikely, for example, that the early part of this offseason would unfold with the Indians playing the part of a punk band in a symphony hall.
But when the spirit moves him, Antonetti is nothing if not bold. Remember, in 2011, he traded the Indians’ two top pitching prospects, Drew Pomeranz and Alex White — first round-picks in consecutive years — to Colorado for Ubaldo Jimenez.
This year, while many other teams seem to be quietly tip-toeing into the offseason, the Indians came charging into it like a rhinoceros wearing snow shoes in a library.
Three major trades in two weeks is an air horn every other team in the majors can hear, from an Indians front office either cautious, confident or crazy enough (pick one) in its ability to orchestrate a roster reconfiguration on the fly — no rebuild necessary — that it has no qualms about gifting their starting first baseman to a division rival.
That’s what the Indians did in their salary-dump trade of Alonso, and the $9 million (minimum) to $17 million (if his 2020 club option is exercised) remaining on his contract, to the White Sox. That’s not to be confused with the salary dump of Gomes’ $7 million 2019 salary in the trade with Washington.
“We could go to spring training with the team we have now and feel like we would be competitive,” said Antonetti. “But there’s still a lot of offseason left and we’ll be aggressive in trying to find ways to improve, on the position player side, or pitching.”
For now, it seems more likely that the Indians will keep Kluber and Bauer than it did a week ago. So that speculative hurricane has been downgraded to a tropical storm, which improves the Indians’ forecast for 2019 considerably.
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