Nov 1, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Indians first baseman Mike Napoli hits a single against the Chicago Cubs in the fourth inning in game six of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
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The Cleveland Indians are not expected to be major players in free agency, but here are five players the team could target to bolster the roster in 2017.
The Cleveland Indians have never been major players in free agency due to limitations set forth by a smaller than average budget. With their storybook run to the World Series this past season, the Dolans’ wallet could open up more than we have seen before.
While the chances of the Indians making a run after big free agent names such as Edwin Encarnacion, Yoenis Cespedes or Josh Turner are slim to none, there are a few players that the Tribe could afford that would help them return to the World Series in 2017.
The Indians do not have a lot of holes to fill. Their starting rotation is set for the foreseeable future and has depth in AAA that is unmatched. The core of the bullpen is going to remain in place, but the Tribe will likely add a piece to help stabilize the middle innings.
Judging by the output of the Tribe’s catchers offensively last season, one might think that the Indians could be looking for an upgrade. However, judging by a relatively weak class of catchers and the fact that Yan Gomes is still viewed as the franchise catcher, do not look for any signings at the position.
First base is the biggest hole right now. Since the Indians did not offer free agent Mike Napoli a $17.2 million qualifying offer, the slugger became a free agent. While Carlos Santana – whom the Indians exercised a $12 million option on – is capable of playing the position, look for the Indians to look for another veteran to man the spot.
The only other position of question on the infield is third base, but expect Jose Ramirez to remain in that role after his breakout 2016 campaign.
The outfield is where the most likely moves will be made. The Indians also declined to extend a qualifying offer to Rajai Davis, and Tyler Naquin seemed shaky at best in the second half of last season. Do not expect star prospect Bradley Zimmer to debut until later in the season.
It seems that Abraham Almonte, Brandon Guyer and Lonnie Chisenhall will be here to stay, but none of them are everyday starters. As long as Michael Brantley is fully recovered, he is the starting left fielder, although he will need somebody to take some innings from him as he gets back up to speed. The Indians will have to find at least one outfielder to step into a starting role.
Jul 29, 2016; Detroit, MI, USA; Houston Astros left fielder Colby Rasmus (28) hits a two RBI single in the eighth inning against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
Colby Rasmus – OF
After a season plagued by injuries, former Houston Astros outfielder Colby Rasmus will likely be look to sign a short-term contract in order to prove that he can still play before signing a long-term deal.
He had a dismal 2016, turning in a .206/.286/.355 slash line across 107 games played. He was productive, however, slugging 15 home runs and knocking in 54 runs. He also has plus defense as a center fielder.
Center field is arguably the biggest position to fill in the outfield. Naquin seems to be more of a fourth outfielder, as many predicted, and Zimmer is just not ready yet. Rasmus will be able to step into the role.
While the injuries are certainly alarming, the Indians have a good history of maximizing low-risk players (see Mike Napoli, Rajai Davis and Bryan Shaw). If they can do that with Rasmus, they could have another middle-of-the-order bat, which could help replace Napoli if he does not get re-signed by the Indians.
Sep 9, 2016; Detroit, MI, USA; Baltimore Orioles designated hitter Pedro Alvarez (24) hits a double in the fifth inning against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
Pedro Alvarez – 1B/DH
Pedro Alvarez was available for the Indians to sign last season, and some even thought they would sign the veteran designated hitter. However, the Tribe elected to sign Napoli.
Due to his limitations on defense, Alvarez would be limited to a DH role, however he could play some first base.
Alvarez would be another guy that could hit in the middle of the lineup. He hit 22 home runs in 109 games last season. His .249 batting average was actually higher than his career batting average of.238.
Alvarez is going to come at a lower price than that of Napoli. While Napoli out-produced Alvarez by a large margin, Alvarez is much younger and has a higher likelihood of repeating his 2016 season than Napoli.
His $5.75 million contract last year is probably close to what he can expect this year. However, since the free agent market has the likes of Encarnacion, Carlos Beltran and Napoli, the Indians could secure Alvarez for an even lower price since the top spender will go after the other players.
Sep 18, 2016; New York City, NY, USA; New York Mets relief pitcher Jerry Blevins (39) pitches during the ninth inning against the Minnesota Twins at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports
Jerry Blevins – RP
The way Terry Francona used Andrew Miller last season was unlike anything baseball has seen before. Even though he is a setup man or even a closer by trade, it was not unusual to see Miller pitch in the sixth and throw 40 pitches.
Because of this, the Indians might want to pursue another left-handed reliever to put in the bullpen with Miller. It would be good to have a pitcher that can be used in match-up situations so that Miller can be saved for longer appearances later in games.
Jerry Blevins, formerly of the New York Mets, had an excellent 2016 season, posting a 4-2 record with a 2.79 ERA. He would be a great addition to an already strong bullpen. Blevins also averaged 11.1 strikeouts per nine innings, compared to just 3.2 walks.
Blevins made $4 million last season, which is about on par with where he should have been. Since he had a solid 2016 season, he could come for a little bit higher of a price, but not much. He is also a guy who the Indians could sign for longer than a year.
Blevins is from Arcadia, Ohio, which is a small town south of Toledo, Ohio. He would probably be open to the idea of being closer to home.
The 31-year-old center fielder would be the starting center fielder if signed. He is an above-average contact hitter with a .287 career batting average. While he is not a power hitter and does not produce much at the plate, he is a strong defender and would be great to split time with Naquin in center field.
Jay played in just 90 games last season because he missed two months with a fractured forearm.
Jay would come at a surprisingly low price. Since he has not played in 100 games since 2014 and is not a big offensive producer, the Indians could probably sign him for around $5 million.
Jay also would fit nicely into the Indians clubhouse. His positive outlook and desire to play the game as well as he can would resonate well in an Indians clubhouse that thrives off of positive players.
Aug 27, 2016; Arlington, TX, USA; Texas Rangers first baseman Mitch Moreland (18) is greeted by catcher Robinson Chirinos (61) after scoring a double by shortstop Elvis Andrus (not pictured) in the third inning against the Cleveland Indians at Globe Life Park in Arlington. Mandatory Credit: Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports
Mitch Moreland – 1B
Mitch Moreland is another guy that would fit right in with the Indians.
Moreland would slide into the everyday first baseman role, allowing Santana to stay at DH. Moreland is also an above-average defender, winning his first Gold Glove this past season.
Offensively, he has been a picture of consistency throughout his career. He is good for 22-25 home runs and 60-70 RBI, which would complement Santana and Brantley in the middle of the order.
The most alarming part of Moreland is his strikeout to walk ratio. In 2016, Moreland struck out 118 times compared to just 35 walks. His low walk rate limited him to a .298 OBP.
Moreland made $5.7 million last season. He will likely get a pay raise this year, but nothing that would be out of the Indians pay range. He is another guy that the Indians could lock up beyond the 2017 season, seeing as their depth at first base is limited, even down into the farm system.