The baseball world is fixated on another tremendous World Series match up. The Houston Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers battling it out for a chance to make history, with an unbelievably exciting series through five games. Elsewhere in the baseball universe, a Cleveland Indians team is gathering the pieces of a shattered season in hopes of returning to the postseason for a third straight season. With pitching coach Mickey Callaway already heading out of town to become the manager of the New York Mets, the changes have already started. But what should come next for the Cleveland Indians? Let’s take a look at possible additions and departures that can bolster the Tribe for another run at a World Series victory in 2018.
The Indians will have to decide the future’s of several key pieces from 2017, including outfielders Jay Bruce and Michael Brantley. Bruce was a trade deadline addition acquired from the New York Mets meant to provide additional boom to a streaky Indians offense. The 30 year old hit seven homers in Cleveland over 43 games and was a notably positive voice in the clubhouse. Along with center fielder Austin Jackson who is an unrestricted free agent, Bruce should be priority number one during the off-season. Both Bruce and Jackson proved to be valuable pick ups in 2017 and should be considered key support pieces of the team. Keeping around low maintenance, producing veterans is a must if the team hopes to remain in contention.
Turning to the future of Michael Brantley, it would seem the outfielder’s stay in Cleveland will be left up to how much the Dolan’s are willing to spend. The Tribe has a $12M club option for Brantley to decide on this off-season, and while injuries ultimately tanked a second straight season for the long time Indian he was voted an All Star for the second time in his career. The ALDS exit at the hands of the New York Yankees demonstrated that the Indians needed another piece or two to keep pace, which leaves Brantley the odd man out if ownership has reached the end of its financial rope. If the money is decided to not be a problem keeping Brantley around should be a simple decision for Cleveland.
If the team decides to enhance the offense through free agency, the obvious choice is first baseman Eric Hosmer. Hosmer is only 28 years old and is coming off a huge season for the Kansas City Royals. The signing of Hosmer would void the potential loss of Carlos Santana, who is able to depart Cleveland during free agency. If Hosmer proves too expensive to acquire given the bevy of other moves that will be made, a player such as Seattle’s Yondor Alonso could be an interesting signing for Cleveland. Alonso hit 28 home runs in 2017 in a break out season and would be a much more cost efficient albeit unproven alternative to the blockbuster signing Hosmer would be. Swapping Alonso for Santana only makes the Tribe marginally better, but it would prevent the line up from getting worse heading into 2018.
The bullpen also will likely see some change this off-season. Relievers Bryan Shaw and Joe Smith are set to become unrestricted free agents and will be yet another decision based on how much the team becomes willing to spend. Shaw was typically solid for the Tribe but the team certainly could have used better performances from him at times. As the team tries to get back to the World Series, replacing Shaw with a different arm might be the right move. Adding another back end starter couldn’t hurt either, with the likes of Josh Tomlin and Danny Salazar being muddled in inconsistency.
Two names the Tribe should consider are starter Alex Cobb of the Tampa Bay Rays and reliever Craig Stammen of the San Diego Padres. Both are veteran pitchers becoming unrestricted free agents in their thirties and would likely relish the opportunity to pitch for a contender. Cobb comes with durability concerns but returned from Tommy John surgery to go 12-10 with a 3.66 ERA in 2017. The Boston native has actually only posted a losing record for a season once in his six year career, which came during 2016 where Cobb was limited to five starts due to injury.
Stammen, who was born in North Star, OH, and played his college ball at the University of Dayton, could slide right in to the role Shaw played previously. The 33 year old right-hander made 60 appearances in 2017 and finished the year with a 3.14 ERA despite pitching for the talent-needy Padres. Adding a guy like Stammen seems almost like a match made in heaven for the Cleveland Indians. Upgrading a key spot in your rotation with a veteran with area ties generally works out well for both sides.
Despite a massive disappointment to end 2017, the Indians should be right back in the thick of contention come October 2018. The team has the talent already to remain a force in baseball and with a few minor improvements and tweaks should be right back in World Series contention.