At last count, the Indians had 63 players in their major league spring training camp. Here are the 10 most important. This list takes into account not just the player’s short-term (this year) importance, but also his long-term importance to the organization.
- JOSE RAMIREZ: Long after the rest of your favorite Indians — Corey Kluber, Francisco Lindor, Trevor Bauer, Asher Wojciechowski — are gone, the American League’s best all-around third baseman will still be plying his trade in Cleveland, thanks to that five-year, $26 million contract Ramirez signed on March 25, 2017.
The contract includes two club options for a combined $24 million, meaning the maximum value of the contract is seven years, $50 million. That’s three years and $250 million less than the Padres will pay Manny Machado. Not to mention that, unlike Machado, hustling IS Ramirez’s cup of tea. If you look up the phrase “club friendly” in the dictionary, you’ll find a picture of Ramirez’s contract.
- FRANCISCO LINDOR: Only one Indians player has finished in the top three in the MVP voting the last two years. It’s not Lindor, but Lindor’s smile and charisma are consistently best in show, and his 7.9 WAR last year was the highest by an Indians shortstop in the last 70 years, and the third-highest by any shortstop in franchise history. The only shortstop in Indians history with a better WAR than Lindor’s is in the Hall of Fame: Lou Boudreau (10.4 in 1948 and 8.0 in 1944).
The Indians have Lindor under contract through the 2021 season, although he may be traded before then. But as long as he’s here, he’s the Indians’ Derek Jeter, the face of the franchise and an All-Star probably for as long as he plays.
- COREY KLUBER: It’s been a long time since the Indians had a pitcher this great, who carries himself more professionally than Kluber, who has won two Cy Youngs in the last five years and finished third in two other years. However, like Lindor, Kluber can become a free agent after the 2021 season. There’s no way the Indians can afford to lose them both in the same offseason, so a trade of one, if not both, seems like a “when” not “if,” a “sooner rather than later” proposition.
- CARLOS SANTANA: In Yan Gomes, Edwin Encarnacion, Yonder Alonso and Michael Brantley, the Indians have lost 88 home runs and 314 RBIs from their lineup last year. Santana is a switch hitter, so all he has to do is produce 44 homers and 157 RBIs from each side of the plate and we’ll call it even.
- CARLOS CARRASCO: Over the last four years, all Carrasco has done is go 60-36, a .625 winning percentage, with a 3.40 ERA, while averaging almost 11 strikeouts per nine innings. And he’s only the Indians’ No. 3 starter. He’s also under contract for five more years. Prediction: He’s the Indians’ opening day starter in 2020.
- TREVOR BAUER: Mr. You Hardly Know He’s Even Around is back for another year of frivolity, hostility and general, all-around Trevocity. He may win the Cy Young Award this year. He WILL leave the Indians as a free agent after next season. You get the feeling the front office would applaud both.
- MIKE CLEVINGER: Hands please, how many think Clevinger looks like Bauer acts, and vice versa? With the long hair, the colorful cleats, the lanky, let’s-fire-it-up-there-and-see-what-happens physique and persona, Clevinger is just clever enough to be a very underrated winner. The last two years he has a winning percentage of .641 (25-14) with a 3.05 ERA, and opposing batters have hit a paltry .218 against him.
- BRADLEY ZIMMER: It’s easy to forget about Zimmer, because he hasn’t tried to run through a wall in eight or nine months. It’s also easy to forget that when healthy he has more tools than any other candidate in the Indians’ major league-worst outfield inventory. Zimmer’s arm, speed and defense are all weapons. The former No. 1 pick is 26 years old. It’s time for a healthy, breakout year, because if not, he will be nearing the outskirts of Naquinville.
- SHANE BIEBER: As a rookie for a division winner, he was 11-5 and had a better strikeouts-to-walk ratio (5.3) than Bauer and Clevinger. If you throw in his 13 minor league starts before being called up by the Indians, in 32 starts overall Bieber was 17-6 with a 3.28 ERA.
- BRAD HAND: He’s almost the last man standing from the Indians’ bullpen last year. He’s important this year because, well, SOMEBODY has to be the closer, and in 28 appearances with the Indians last year he had a 2.28 ERA and averaged 13.3 strikeouts per nine innings. In 69 appearances overall between Cleveland and San Diego, opposing batters only hit .198 against him, left-handed hitters just .155. He’s signed for two more years, plus a club option for 2021.
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