CLEVELAND — What questions emerged from Wednesday’s non-tender deadline? Let’s take a look in this week’s Indians Inbox: **Of the recent non-tendered outfielders — David Dahl, Adam Duvall, Eddie Rosario, Kyle Schwarber, etc — which (if any) do you see the Indians making a run at as far as roster
CLEVELAND — What questions emerged from Wednesday’s non-tender deadline? Let’s take a look in this week’s Indians Inbox:
Of the recent non-tendered outfielders — David Dahl, Adam Duvall, Eddie Rosario, Kyle Schwarber, etc — which (if any) do you see the Indians making a run at as far as roster fit is concerned?
— Kyler L.
This is difficult to answer when we haven’t really been given an answer as to what the Tribe hopes to spend for the 2021 season. All we know at this point is that the payroll will be tight. That would most likely make Schwarber or Rosario out of reach for the Indians.
The signing that seems most attainable is Dahl. He’s struggled with injuries over the past few years with right shoulder surgery ending his 2020 season early, but he could be an intriguing addition for Cleveland. He had an All-Star season in ’19, hitting .302 with an .877 OPS in 100 games, and he has the best chance to be signed for a smaller contract that’s in the Indians’ ideal spending window.
What is a non-tender?
Any player on the 40-man roster who has fewer than six years of Major League service time must be offered a contract for the upcoming season by a specific date each offseason. When a club non-tenders a player, it is declining to give him a contract for the upcoming season. These moves are often for players who are arbitration-eligible, and the club projects the player to make a figure more than it’s willing to spend. However, like the Indians did on Wednesday night, sometimes players who are pre-arbitration-eligible (like Jefry Rodriguez) can be non-tendered to free up a spot on the 40-man roster.
If the season started today, would it be Josh Naylor in left field, Oscar Mercado in center and TBD in right?
This is tough to determine before watching how the first-base race plays out in Spring Training. The Tribe will have Naylor, Jake Bauers, Bobby Bradley and any other offseason acquisitions (should there be some) in the running to man first. That will play a role in how the outfield shakes out. The best prediction for an Opening Day outfield lineup would be Mercado in center, Daniel Johnson in right and Jordan Luplow in left. But Bradley Zimmer, Bauers or Naylor (whoever doesn’t win the first-base job) or even an offseason acquisition could change that.
Does James Karinchak need to command the strike zone better to be a viable closer candidate? And will Mercado have a bounceback year?
— Dave P.
There’s no hiding Karinchak’s 5.3 walks-per-nine-innings ratio from 2020, but there’s also no ignoring his 17.7 strikeouts-per-nine-innings ratio. The 25-year-old can lose that fastball command from time to time, but he’s shown enough growth to be a strong candidate to take over the closing role. With a year of Major League experience under his belt, Karinchak is expected to continue mastering his command and come back better in ’21. It would be shocking if he isn’t in consideration.
As for Mercado, Indians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti seems confident that he will be able to bounce back next season.
“We’ve all seen what he’s capable of doing and the performance he’s had at the Major League level,” Antonetti said on Wednesday, “so we know it’s in there and we continue to partner with Oscar to try to get him back on that path of being a really good Major League player.”
Now that the Indians have non-tendered Rodriguez, does Triston McKenzie have a lock on the fifth spot in the rotation? Who else may be in the running?
— Ryan M., Austin, Texas
I think McKenzie earned that right on his own. It seemed as though that No. 5 starting spot was McKenzie’s to lose whether Rodriguez was non-tendered or not. But it is likely that the team will still bring Rodriguez back on a Minor League deal, meaning he’ll still be competing for a spot in Spring Training.
Is there a chance that the Indians start Nolan Jones at third base and José Ramírez at second, and if they trade Francisco Lindor, bring in Tyler Freeman at shortstop?
— Kevin G., Canton, Ohio
The Indians have been set on leaving Ramírez at third, which is why Jones has been testing his abilities in the outfield. Freeman may need some more time in the Minors before he’s called up, since the pandemic eliminated his 2020 season, but he may be an option later in the year. So there’s a chance that all three could be on the roster at some point in ’21, but it’s unlikely that those will be their positions.
I’ve read many times that Ramírez is not moving from third base. Can Jones play second? If so, could a possible Opening Day infield be Bradley, Jones, Yu Chang and Ramírez?
— James G., Omaha, Neb.
Jones has been moving over to first base and spending time in the outfield. Second base won’t be his home. Either Chang or Ernie Clement are options on the team’s 40-man roster, but the Indians could also find their starting second baseman through a free-agent signing or trade this offseason.
What is the status of the team name change?
— Jim P., Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio
Here’s the update Antonetti gave on Wednesday: “We continue to work through that process, as we shared. We wanted to make sure we were thoughtful in connecting with all the different stakeholders, and we’ve been engaged in those conversations over the course of the last several months. I have personally participated in some of those and have been enlightened by some of those. We’ll continue that process, and once we’re at a point where we have more information we’ll certainly do that.”