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Rival Recap: The Cleveland off season

A final look around the division to see what’s changed.

Chicago Cubs v Cleveland Indians Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

With the start of the season delayed, I’ve had a bit more time than anticipated to run a circuit of the AL Central and cover each of the other four teams’ major transactions of the offseason. Nevertheless, we’ve arrived at the end, and today we’ll be wrapping up this series with a look at Cleveland’s winter.

Notable Departures

Outside of the Mookie Betts saga, a good chunk of this off season’s trade rumors were devoted to the big players on the Cleveland roster. It was the end of the franchise’s most successful decade since the 90’s — which was their best stretch as a major-league club.

The team won 92 games in 2013, but were bounced in one night thanks to the new Wild Card setup. Three years later, they would take a 3-1 lead over the Chicago Cubs in the 2016 World Series...we all know how that went.

After two consecutive ALDS losses in the years following, Cleveland won 93 games but missed the postseason last year, thanks both to the Bomba Squad decisively winning the Central, and the A’s and Rays having excellent second-place seasons.

As a result, some speculated whether or not the team might try a Yankees-style retooling, or even pull an early trigger on a full rebuild. There isn’t much optimism among Clevelanders that the stringent Dolans will pony up the cash required to extend Francisco Lindor; as a result, some thought that cutting ties with the stars early might give the squad a jump-start on re-entering contention.

However, Lindor stayed with the team, and it was former Cy Young winner Corey Kluber who wound up packing his bags. While Kluber is 34, and while a freak arm fracture derailed his 2019 season, the return for Klubot from the Texas Rangers was...less than well-received. More on that later.

In the way of good, old-fashioned departures, both Jason Kipnis and Dan Otero had club options declined. Otero had been with the team since their pennant-winning season, but his ERA had been steadily climbing over the next three years.

Kipnis had been in the organization since he was drafted in the second round of 2009. He made two All-Star Games with the team. His bat, while never amazing, was on a steady decline and he was cut after putting up an 82 wRC+ last season. The Cubs scooped him up on a minor-league deal.

Yasiel Puig, who came over mid-season in the Trevor Bauer trade, became a free agent and is notably still on the market. Reliever Tyler Clippard hit free agency and wound up here in Minnesota. Pitchers Cody Anderson, Tyler Olson, and A.J. Cole all elected free agency facing a minor-league demotion. Catcher Kevin Plawecki was non=-tendered.

After being outrighted off the 40-man, starter Danny Salazar also hit the market. It was a rather sudden fall from grace for Salazar; an All-Star in 2016, Salazar underwent shoulder surgery two years ago and wound up struggling to fight his way back. He’s still only 30, and would be an interesting exploration for a few teams.

The Big Additions

Two free agent acquisitions will slot their way into the starting nine.

Cesar Hernandez, the former second sacker in Philly, was inked to a one-year agreement in late December. He was a fairly consistent player last decade, and a career-high .129 ISO last year — paired with a career-low 15.0 K% - may have Cleveland expecting some positive changes in the season ahead.

Additionally, outfielder Domingo Santana is coming along on a cheap one-year deal with a club option. Santana really shouldn’t be anywhere near the field, but he’s still looking for a breakout season offensively.

The only other major-league contract was dished out to James Hoyt, a 33-year-old reliever who was non-tendered by the team and re-signed for cheap two days later. Minor-league deals included Cameron Rupp (another former Phillie), Cardinal reliever Dominic Leone, and long-time A’s minor-league catcher Beau Taylor.

Then there was the Kluber return. The Texas Rangers sent back Delino DeShields and Emmanuel Clase - or, in other words, a bench outfielder and relief prospect in exchange for a multi-time Cy Young winner. You can see why some people might have been upset. DeShields might not even be a regular, and Clase, while a solid prospect, is a young reliever, with a whole host of potential volatility and unpredictability ahead of him.

So, should we be worried?

As was the story last season, Cleveland didn’t do too much over the winter.

Last year, the question was whether or not the team had sat on their hands too much - were they undervaluing the rest of a weak division, and leaving themselves to be overtaken? The results, obviously, were mixed; the team was still plenty good enough for 93 wins, but not good enough to make the playoffs.

So why not stand pat again and hope for some better results this time around?

Well, the difference is, the landscape of the division is changing. The Twins have arrived and don’t seem to be going anywhere. The White Sox made some statement moves and have every expectation of opening a large window soon. The Royals and Tigers will still be punching bags for the foreseeable future, but the top three spots in the Central have become a lot murkier.

But...Cleveland has a bit of a chip on their shoulder after this winter. With the Kluber and Lindor rumors swirling, and the White Sox garnering most of the attention, Francona’s team has been left out of the contention conversation a little bit. True, their most reputable pitcher is gone, but for every inning he would have thrown, a guy like Aaron Civale is getting a look. Carlos Santana, Jose Ramirez, and Franmil Reyes are still smack-dab in the center of that batting order.

Plus, three well-built teams in an otherwise weak fraternity might cause a bit of a bumper-cars effect, where Chicago, Cleveland, and Minnesota jostle their way to the finish line, with a few games shuffled throughout the season proving the difference.

So...does this club have another run left in them?


Should we be worried about Cleveland?

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