Cleveland’s strange offseason sign for Twins to spend big
December 17, 2018
This MLB offseason has been rather strange for the defending American League Central Division Champions, Cleveland Indians. Still being considered by many baseball writers to be the best team in a Baseball’s weakest division, the Indians have gone off by trading away key veteran players to non-contending teams in 2019.
This list of players includes all-star catcher Yan Gomes to the Washington Nationals, designated hitter/first baseman Edwin Encarnacion to the Seattle Mariners and first baseman Yonder Alonso to the Chicago White Sox.
Now the trade the Indians made with Encarnacion to Seattle wasn’t a complete set back as they were able to acquire back veteran first baseman and fan favorite Carlos Santana from the Mariners (also acquiring young first baseman/outfielder Jake Bauers from the Tampa Bay Rays as part of the three team trade). Yet, the returning players in the trades involving Gomes and Alonso have not had much playing experience in the majors, which bes the question, why would Cleveland trade away quality veteran players for prospects with little to no experience in the Bigs at all? The simple answer to it is for the Indians to save money to spend money.
Right now, the Cleveland Indians sit at a payroll of approximately $94.3 million according to baseball-reference.com with their top three highest player being Carlos Santana ($20.33 million), starter Corey Kluber ($17 million) and second baseman Jason Kipnis ($14.67 million). The Indians do have money to spend on one or two top tier free agents who are asking to be in the $10 to $15 million a year range. This does limit them compared to the team they’ll be competing against the most in their division for the 2019 season, the Minnesota Twins.
The Twins find themselves in a new situation this offseason by having a large sum of money to spend in the free agent market. This does not disclose that owner Jim Pohlad, known for his limits on player spending, will not limit the amount of money he gives to general manager Thad Levine to use on top of the market free agents the Twins could use to compete against Cleveland.
Unlike the Indians, the Twins currently do not have a player on payroll earning more than $10 million in 2019 with the highest salary going to starter Jake Odorizzi at $9.4 million according to baseball-reference.com. The current 2019 payroll total for the Twins sits at $46.9 million, nearly half of what the Indians are currently spending. This being the case, the Twins are in a position where they can beat their division rivals before the season even begins by outspending them on players both teams need to fill voids their rosters have.
The biggest player needs both teams share right now are relief pitchers and a starting catcher. Both bullpens performed poorly in 2018, with the Twins finding themselves 22 out of 30 in the majors in bullpen earned run average sitting at 4.45, while the Indians were 25 out of 30 with a bullpen ERA of 4.60.
Cleveland has a slight advantage over the Twins bullpen right now in having a set closer for Opening Day in left hander Brad Hand. Problem for both teams though is that they only have one reliever each who posted a sub 3.00 era in 2018, Hand for the Indians, and lefty Taylor Rogers for the Twins.
The Twins can easily spend big money on top free agent relievers all thirty major league clubs would like to have such as Brad Boxberger, Kelvin Herrera, Greg Holland, Adam Ottavino, Zach Britton, Justin Wilson, former Indians Cody Allen and Andrew Miller, and, the best closer in the game today, Craig Kimbrel. Out of all these listed relievers, the only one that Cleveland cannot afford to add onto their 2019 payroll is Craig Kimbrel, as he is asking teams for a 6-year deal with a nine figure salary. If the Twins can come out to sign Kimbrel to the deal he is demanding at the bare minimum of 6-years, $100 million. They will still have more money than Cleveland to spend on free agent relievers to boost their bullpen to be stronger than it was in 2018.
In the catching department, the Twins currently hold an advantage over the Indians. The Twins will be auditioning three players to be the Opening Day catcher during spring training. Mitch Garver, who caught the most games for Minnesota last year at 102 and had a .268 batting average, 7 home runs, and 45 runs batted in, but only in 302 at bats. Jason Castro, last years Opening Day catcher for the Twins who only played in 19 games and posted a poor .143 batting average before missing the remainder of the season due to a leg injury. Finally, Willians Astudillo who broke onto the scene with electrifying energy for his first 29 MLB games hitting an outstanding .355 batting average.
Cleveland would not be in this situation to shop for a catcher if they had not traded away Yan Gomes to D.C. Currently, their backup catcher for the past four seasons, Roberto Perez is set to be their Opening Day catcher. Perez had a rather dismal 2018 season only hitting .168 in 62 games with the Tribe. Set to backup Perez is Eric Haase, a twenty six year old rookie who only spent nine games up in the big leagues with the Tribe for 2018.
The trade of Gomes to Washington has put the Indians in dire need of a new catcher. Trading away gomes did cut $7.05 million from their 2019 payroll, but the top two free agent catchers still available, Yasmani Grandal and Jonathan Lucroy, will likely be asking for a yearly salary in the $7 to $13 million range, which may be more than Cleveland is willing to spend on a new catcher.
There is an option in the trade market Cleveland can make a move for behind the plate, the Miami Marlins catcher, J.T. Realmuto. Realmuto is controllable on contract through arbitration for two more seasons, but owner Derek Jeter’s asking price for a trade involving Realmuto with any team is high, and may require the Indians to trade their top prospects they are not willing to part with.
Minnesota has had their name attached to rumors on acquiring Grandal, Lucroy, and Realmuto this offseason with no clear indication of adding one of these three catchers to the roster. Still, if the Twins do add one of these three catchers to the roster, they will likely have to consider moving either Garver or Castro to another team so they can have more playing time than they would in Minnesota for the 2019 season.
Both the Twins and Indians have a need to strengthen their catching and bullpens before 2019 Spring Training begins. The Twins have a lot more flexibility in spending than the Indians on these positions to add star studded names like Craig Kimbrel and J.T. Realmuto. If the Twins become more aggressive than the Indians are in adding players to these positions this offseason. Then the Twins can rival and perhaps even take down the Indians from winning their fourth straight AL Central division title.
Theodore Tollefson is a student at UW-River Falls.