At this point in the offseason, if you can even really call it that anymore now that pitchers and catchers have reported, the winners and losers from the last several months of moves are pretty apparent. Some teams have put themselves in positions to win next year to varying degrees, while plenty of other teams have gone the other way. With that being said, the more interesting case to study is those of the teams in the middle: not substantially better, but not substantially worse either. We’ll call these the “middling” teams.
In that regard, no team has done a better job of having a mediocre offseason than the Cleveland Indians. It really doesn’t seem like there is much of a plan in Cleveland these days other than collecting mediocre parts. With one of the top five rotations in baseball, and yes I am comfortable making that judgement, the team is somewhat wasting that premier talent by not pushing all in on the other side of the ball.
Just look at the list of the additions they have made this offseason.
Who are the new Indians?
OF Rajai Davis
1B/DH Mike Napoli
IF Juan Uribe
RHP Craig Stammen
RHP Tommy Hunter
LHP Ross Detwiler
LHP Joe Thatcher
LHP Tom Gorzelanny
RHP Joba Chamberlain
What’s pretty apparent from basically all of these moves is that the Indians are collecting what would (and probably should) be considered mediocre parts. All of these guys are coming off down years, and a lot of them accepted minor-league deals just for a shot at playing in the big leagues next year. While this type of signing is fine in a nutshell, it seems like a rather questionable string of moves for a team with serious playoff aspirations in 2016, especially in a weak American League and, more specifically, an up-in-the-air American League Central.
With a fantastic pitching staff led by the likes of Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, and Danny Salazar, and an offense led by the likes of Jason Kipnis, Francisco Lindor and other young talent, the Indians seem very questionable in their decision to make no big moves this offseason.
I know what the retort will be to that insinuation: the Indians are a small-market team and must do every little thing they can to get by. That includes making only small moves, and hardly making the sort of big move that other playoff contenders like the Chicago White Sox and Detroit Tigers have done. However, that argument misses some of the point.
Yes, the Indians don’t have the kind of spending power of teams like the Yankees, Dodgers, or even the Tigers in their division. With that being said, the Indians did afford plenty of spending this offseason so far. The Indians have signed three positional players to big-league contracts — Napoli, Davis, and Uribe — for a total of just over $16 million next year. That is no small amount of money to be spent on three players who can only really be judged as being average at best.
With Michael Brantley set to miss the first portion of the year, and perhaps all the way into June, the Indians will be operating with an opening-day outfield of Abraham Almonte, Lonnie Chisenhall, and Davis. Not exactly the most inspiring bunch. Rather than make a move on one of the big free-agent outfielders, even Dexter Fowler would have been good at this point, the Indians instead signed Davis and called it quits on improving their outfield. At this point, the Indians may even add another mediocre player in Austin Jackson, but that remains to be seen.
For a team with such a fantastic starting pitching staff, and really a decent enough bullpen, the Indians have not really done enough to prove to anyone they are serious about competing in the American League Central. Their pitching staff will likely allow them to hang on in that race, but with so many question marks, it is hard to see the Indians winning a substantial number of games above .500. Whatever the Indians’ offseason strategy actually was, at this point, it seems to be just collecting mediocre parts.