Cleveland’s starting lineup in Game 3 of the ALDS against Houston featured intimidating names beyond the usual suspects of Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez. Some of which were Michael Brantley hitting second, Edwin Encarnacion hitting fourth, Josh Donaldson hitting fifth, and Yan Gomes hitting eighth. It was a lineup that had a chance of posting runs for the incredible pitching staff that the Indians lay claim to, and while it failed to produce a championship, few could say the Indians didn’t attempt to maximize the teams fullest potential.
Now, with only a month before the first pitch of the regular season, the sentiment could just be the exact opposite. Brantley, Encarnacion, Donaldson, and Gomes are all gone. Whether they were traded or found new homes in free agency, Cleveland decided to go in a different direction…a less expensive direction.
The Indians traded Gomes to the Washington Nationals for two kids that aren’t projected to break camp with the big league team. They’ll end up saving about $7million because of the trade but at what cost? Gomes had himself an all star season in 2018 and was tied for 6th among catchers in WAR. His replacement is his former backup, Roberto Perez. Perez will make roughly $2.5million this year and is coming off an abysmal offensive season where he hit .168 with an OPS of .519.
Once the final out of Game 3 was recorded, Josh Donaldson became a free agent. His arrival in Cleveland had pushed some of the incumbent players off there natural positions, but his possible contributions to the lineup were worth any possible defensive shortcomings. Jose Ramirez moved from third to second and Jason Kipnis moved from second to center. Apparently, Cleveland didn’t feel that was a winning strategy for the 2019 season. Donaldson walked for a one year contract with the Atlanta Braves worth $23million. His projected replacement is a young first baseman/outfielder named Jake Bauers. Bauers is a 23yr old left handed bat that hit .201 in 323 at bats with Tampa Bay last year. He’s hardly the name and presence of Donaldson but he’ll only be paid $575,000 compared to Donaldson’s $23million.
Bauers came from Tampa to Cleveland in a trade that sent Encarnacion to Seattle. While Bauers will most likely be Donaldson’s replacement in the lineup, Encarnacion’s will be the other player acquired in the trade–Carlos Santana. Santana’s and Encarnacion’s contract and offensive projections are similar for the 2019 season. It’s the only instance this offseason Cleveland didn’t find a cheaper alternative, and at this point, that might just deserve a slow clap from the audience.
Donaldson wasn’t the only perennial all star to leave in free agency. Michael Brantley found a new home with the team that bounced Cleveland from the 2018 playoffs. Brantley signed a 2yr $32million deal that made one of the best lineups in baseball better. Cleveland’s outfield was already going to look different with Kipnis back at second but the total salary of the projected starters will be roughly 1/4 of one year of Brantley’s contract. Greg Allen, Leonys Martin, and Tyler Naquin will man the posts and try to replace the production of one Cleveland’s most consistent bats in Brantley.
If my math is right, Cleveland will be saving about $40million because of the trades and letting their free agents walk. The replacements are younger and cheaper. Is cheaper better, though? This is a bold strategy for an organization that seems to have a closing window.
Last year Cleveland took first in a weak division with 92 wins. It’s hard to imagine this team being better than last years and the Twins and White Sox are better. Indians fans are already tortured by the memory of the famed 90’s teams that failed to maximize their talent, and unfortunately, it looks like this team may be sentencing itself to the same fate.
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