- Assuming the Indians are no longer cutting costs, the Athletic’s Zack Meisel (subscription required) estimates that the Tribe could have roughly $17MM to spend this winter. The current payroll sits at $102MM, as Meisel calculates based on current salaries, some minimum contracts, and MLBTR’s projected salaries for Cleveland’s arbitration-eligible players (with a few non-tender candidates not counted). That leaves the Tribe short of their $119.5MM Opening Day payroll from 2019, giving the club some extra cash to pursue needed help in the infield and outfield. Meisel also guesses the Indians could look into some future payroll certainty by discussing extensions with Mike Clevinger and/or Shane Bieber.
- Bradley Zimmer of the Indians was politely asked by management to pursue at-bats in winter ball this offseason, but, after grinding through a five-and-a-half month rehab process tied to shoulder surgery, the outfielder wasn’t exactly thrilled at the idea. While the club was concerned that Zimmer, 26, had missed about a season-and-a-half due to various injuries, Zimmer felt an offseason spent at home would serve him better in preparation for 2020. This organization-player dialectic is profiled in a piece from Paul Hoynes of Cleveland.com, who concludes that Zimmer will open next season in the minors in search of those lost at-bats (link). It’s an interesting look at the ways in which clubs and players often have to work together to manage and alter expectations due to injury, with the management of mental health and personal/family considerations also playing a factor. Then again, is it possible Zimmer is simply banking on forcing his way into the Cleveland lineup with a hot spring? Though it seems a lifetime ago that Zimmer burst onto the scene with a 1.6 fWAR output in just 332 plate appearances back in 2017, it stands to reason that a strong showing in March might spur the club to shuffle him into the deck above in-house options like Greg Allen or Jake Bauers.
The Indians have released catcher Dioner Navarro, Baseball America’s Kegan Lowe reports. Navarro signed a minor league deal with the Tribe last winter, and hit .211/.339/.274 over 115 plate appearances (in 29 games) for Triple-A Columbus.
It marked a return to affiliated baseball for Navarro, who sat out the 2017 season entirely due to family health reasons and whose 2018 action was limited to 20 games with the Long Island Ducks of the independent Atlantic League and 22 games in the Venezuelan Winter League. He’ll turn 36 in February, and seems to be in line for another minors contract this offseason in another veteran depth role.
Navarro hit .250/.309/.370 over 3351 Major League plate appearances for seven different teams from 2004-16. The bulk (458) of his 1009 games came with the Rays, a stint that included an All-Star Game selection in 2008, though Navarro also saw regular or semi-regular duty as a member of the Dodgers, Cubs, and Blue Jays.
- Jose Ramirez is open to playing either second base or third base next season, though he has told Indians management that he doesn’t want to shift between the two positions, Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer writes. Ramirez played exclusively at third base in 2019 and spent most of his time at the hot corner in 2018, though he moved over to second base late in the year to accommodate the Tribe’s acquisition of Josh Donaldson. Ramirez also more or less split time between third (736 2/3 innings) and second (577 1/3 innings) in 2017 due to an injury to regular second baseman Jason Kipnis. Over the last three seasons in question, Ramirez has been an above-average defender at third base as per the UZR/150 and Defensive Runs Saved metrics, while UZR/150 has been a bit less impressed with his work as a second baseman, though the 27-year-old is still overall pretty solid at the keystone. “I think we’re comfortable that Jose can play both at a premium defensive quality,” manager Terry Francona said. “I agree with him, going back and forth is hard, especially at this point in his career.” Ramirez’s ability to handle either infield role gives Cleveland some flexibility in pursuing infield help this winter, assuming the team doesn’t rely on some combination of Yu Chang, Mike Freeman, Christian Arroyo, or Andrew Velazquez to handle the other position in 2020.
Indians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti announced at the beginning of today’s meeting with the media that the team intends to exercise its $17.5MM club option on right-hander Corey Kluber (Twitter link via Ryan Lewis of the Akron Beacon-Journal). The Indians are planning to decline their $16.5MM option on second baseman Jason Kipnis in favor of a $2.5MM buyout, however, and they’ll also decline righty Dan Otero’s $1.5MM option in favor of a $100K buyout.
Although the 2019 season was a disaster for Kluber, it was never plausible that the Indians would move on from the two-time AL Cy Young winner. Kluber’s 2019 season was truncated by a forearm fracture suffered when a comeback line-drive struck him back in May. He missed nearly three months of the season and, when he was nearing a return, sustained an oblique injury that ultimately ended his year.
Even when healthy, Kluber turned in an alarming 5.80 ERA in 35 2/3 innings. However, he was plagued by a lofty .370 average on balls in play and a low 63.8 percent strand rate (career 74.7 percent), both of which seemed due for regression. His average fastball velocity was down a bit from his 2018 totals, but a look at Kluber’s readings through the beginning of May in 2018 reveals a 91.7 mph average fastball that aligns with his 91.6 mph average in 2019. Put another way: there was minimal evidence to suggest that Kluber is suddenly on a decline of this magnitude just one year after his fourth Top 3 Cy Young finish in five seasons.
Perhaps if he’d been due to become a free agent after the 2020 season, the organization would’ve given slightly more consideration to moving on (doubtful), but Kluber’s contract contains an $18MM option for the 2021 season. The Indians have been working to pare back their payroll since the beginning of last offseason, but there’s no realistic scenario in which they shy away from a $16.5MM decision on Kluber — he’d have been owed a $1MM buyout regardless — that comes with a similarly priced option for an additional season.
In the case of Kipnis, the decision was similarly straightforward. Although he briefly ranked among the game’s best second baseman, the now-32-year-old Kipnis (33 on April 3) hasn’t had an above-average season at the plate since 2016. Over his past 1485 plate appearances, he’s managed just a .236/.305/.403 batting line (86 OPS+). Add in the fact that his season ended with a fractured hamate bone that required surgical repair, and Kipnis surely saw the writing on the wall.
Lewis tweets that the team is still open to a reunion with Kipnis at a lower price, but that will depend on the level of interest expressed by other teams. Given the number of second base alternatives both in free agency and on the trade market, it’s quite possible that Kipnis will eventually have to settle for a one-year deal, so perhaps a reunion shouldn’t be ruled out. Kipnis does have a bit of experience in the outfield, which could enhance his appeal to new clubs, but he’s graded out poorly in his limited work away from second base.
It’s similarly unsurprising to see the team move on from Otero, despite the affordable nature of his option. He’ll turn 35 this February and has seen a sharp decline of his own since a brilliant run in 2016-17. Otero gave the Indians 130 2/3 innings of 2.14 ERA ball with a 95-to-19 K/BB ratio and only eight homers allowed in that ’16-’17 peak, but he’s been rocked for a 5.09 ERA with 18 home runs in 88 1/3 innings since that time. Otero still possesses superlative control, as he’s averaged less than one walk per nine innings pitched over the past two seasons, but he’s also seen his sinker dip to an average if 89.5 mph.
As far as the coaching staff is concerned, manager Terry Francona announced that the team has dismissed bullpen coach Scott Atchison but will retain the rest of his staff for the 2020 season (Twitter link via Zack Meisel of The Athletic).
- With their season having ended earlier than expected, the Indians are now facing an important decision on star right-hander Corey Kluber, who has a $17.5MM club option (or a $1MM buyout) for 2020. As of Sunday, the club’s higher-ups and Kluber hadn’t discussed his future, he told Zack Meisel of The Athletic (subscription required). It’s hard to believe the Indians would buy Kluber out, though the two-time AL Cy Young winner is coming off an abbreviated season in which he struggled to a bloated 5.80 ERA (with a much better 4.06 FIP) in 35 2/3 innings. Kluber wasn’t able to make it back after suffering a right forearm fracture May 1, thereby ending a run of five straight seasons with 200-plus frames. Indians manager Terry Francona found a silver lining in Kluber’s truncated season and made it sound as if the longtime ace will stick with the club in 2020, saying: “Maybe it’s a blessing in disguise for next year. I mean, we leaned on him pretty heavy for six years.”
Carlos Carrasco’s health situation was one of MLB’s most-followed off-field storylines in 2019. Stunningly diagnosed with leukemia this summer, Carrasco made a heartwarming return to the mound September 1 in Tampa Bay and has made ten appearances out of Cleveland’s bullpen since. The 32 year-old father of five verbalized the ups-and-downs of the past five months in an emotional piece for the Players’ Tribune, emphasizing the importance of leaning on his wife Karelis, other family, and friends- inside and outside baseball- for support along the way. Encouragingly, the well-respected Carrasco says he’s “back to feeling 100%” and no doubt figures to be a foundational piece for both the Indians and the Cleveland community at large in the future. The moving and courageous piece, in which Carrasco discusses the gutwrenching decision he and Karelis confronted of whether to tell their children of his diagnosis, is worth a full read.
Sept. 24: Cleveland has officially reinstated Ramirez from the injured list, per a club announcement.
Sept. 23: The Indians are expected to activate infielder Jose Ramirez from the injured list on Tuesday, manager Terry Francona told reporters this weekend (link via Mandy Bell of MLB.com). He’s been out since Aug. 26 due to a fractured hamate hook in his right hand, but he’ll beat even the optimistic end of his initially projected recovery period (five to seven weeks).
A healthy Ramirez — or even a mostly healthy Ramirez — will be a notable jolt to an Indians lineup that has been utilizing Mike Freeman, Ryan Flaherty, Andrew Velazquez and Yu Chang in the infield with both Ramirez and Jason Kipnis sidelined. (Kipnis suffered a hamate fracture of his own last week and will undergo surgery tomorrow.) While Ramirez started the season in a dreadful slump, he heated up along with the weather and has turned in a sensational .313/.360/.643 with 16 home runs, 22 doubles and three triples in 253 plate appearances since seeing his OPS bottom out at .586 in mid-June. In fairness to Freeman, he’s certainly held his own at the dish (.269/.366/.391 in 192 plate appearances), but few can stack up against Ramirez when he’s at his best.
Ramirez has experience at second base, but Francona was clear about the fact that he’ll remain at third base once he returns. “When he comes back, we’ll have six games left,” Francona said. “We’re just going to leave him right at third. That’s a big ask. That’s another transition that we don’t need to do.”
With the Twins’ magic number down to three and six game remaining, the Indians are in a virtual Wild-Card-or-bust scenario. They’re two games behind the A’s for top Wild Card billing and currently in a tie (92-64) with the Rays for the second spot. The Indians will finish out the year with three games in Chicago against the White Sox and three in D.C. against the Nationals. The Rays, meanwhile, have one more game to host against the Red Sox, two to host against the Yankees and will finish the year with a three-game set in Toronto. Oakland has two road games against the Halos and four in Seattle. The Twins play three in Detroit followed by three in Kansas City.
Sept. 23: Kipnis will undergo surgery to repair the injury tomorrow, per Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
Sept. 17: An MRI performed on Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis revealed a fracture in the hook of the hamate bone in his right wrist, the team announced Tuesday. The team is currently scheduling a followup appointment for him, but surgery is expected to be required, which would sideline Kipnis for four to six weeks and ostensibly remove any chance of him appearing in a potential postseason series. Cleveland has recalled infielder Andrew Velazquez to add some infield depth in the wake of the injury.
The injury not only brings an end to Kipnis’ 2019 season but could very well bring an end to his career with the only organization he’s ever known. Cleveland’s second-round pick in the 2009 draft, Kipnis was a heralded top prospect who made an immediate impact upon debuting in 2011 and eventually signed a six-year, $52.5MM contract extension covering the 2014-19 seasons. That contract carries a $16.5MM option for the 2020 season, but the Indians are likely to opt instead for a $2.5MM buyout given Kipnis’ recent decline. It’s possible that he could be brought back at a more affordable rate, but both he and the organization will be able to explore alternative options once he reaches free agency.
Kipnis, a two-time AL All-Star, signed the contract early in the 2014 campaign. At the time, he was a 27-year-old coming off a superlative .284/.355/.452 (130 OPS+) showing. He’d swatted 17 home runs, swiped 30 bases and played generally solid defense at second base during his breakout 2013 campaign and looked every bit the part of a potential building block in Cleveland. Injuries, namely an oblique strain, may have hampered Kipnis in 2014, as he floundered through a lackluster season. But he bounced back with a second All-Star nod in 2015 and turned in another strong effort in 2016. Between those two seasons, Kipnis batted a combined .289/.357/.460 with 32 home runs and 27 steals.
Since that time, it’s been a steady downhill trajectory for Kipnis, though. This season’s .245/.304/.410 slash is well below league-average production (84 OPS+), and dating back to 2017 he’s managed only a .236/.305/.403 output. Along the way, he’s been slowed by shoulder, hamstring and calf injuries in addition to his current wrist issue. He’ll quite likely hit the open market on the heels of that unproductive trio of seasons as he heads into his age-33 campaign, making a one-year deal the likeliest outcome for him.
The Indians, meanwhile, will look to a combination of Velazquez, Ryan Flaherty and Mike Freeman to pick up the slack at second base. Velazquez, who has a career .260/.316/.415 batting line in 163 games of Triple-A experience, is in the lineup and getting the nod tonight. He only appeared in a dozen games with Cleveland’s Triple-A affiliate this season, spending the rest of the season in the Rays organization. Velazquez joined the Indians in an early July trade — he was injured at the time, hence the minimal time with Cleveland’s top affiliate — so he’d be postseason-eligible should the Indians secure a Wild Card spot and wish to carry him.
For those in need of further evidence that Indians infielder Jose Ramirez is composed of superlative DNA, consider that, according to today’s report from Mandy Bell of MLB.com, the injured star may be back in the lineup for tomorrow’s game against the Phillies (link). Before Saturday’s game, Ramirez took live batting practice, which could represent the final step in his recovery.
Just two days ago, MLBTR relayed that Ramirez–who fractured a hamate bone in late August–may have been ready to return for next week’s series against the White Sox. That the 27-year-old would make it back even sooner than that is a testament to both his toughness and some impressively resilient bones. Though he hasn’t played at the halcyon level we saw from him in 2018, Ramirez has still graded out as an above-average regular to this point in 2019, with a .254/.325/.463 slash line, 20 homers, and 24 steals through 126 games.
Team prez Chris Antonetti also gave an update to Bell on the progress of ailing starter Corey Kluber, who long-tossed from 120 feet on Friday. In short, the club isn’t ruling out Kluber’s return this year–even if their playoff rotation remains unsettled in a heated race for the AL Wild Card.
“Yes, [Kluber] could fit in,” Antonetti told Bell. “I think how far [the season] goes obviously has an impact on that…I’d love for him to be pitching Game 7 of the World Series. That’s a good outcome for us.”
Kluber, 33, fractured his forearm on May 1 and suffered a strained left oblique in his comeback bid on Aug. 18. The former Cy Young winner has pitched to a 5.80 ERA (4.06 FIP) through 35.2 innings this year, with 9.59 K/9 and 3.79 BB/9 marks.