This time two years ago, the outlook on Cleveland sports looked so promising. The Indians opened up the World Series at home on the same night as the Cavs hoisted the championship banner at Quicken Loans Arena. However, with consecutive first-round exits that both featured losing 3 straight games, that time has aged poorly, like Charlie Sheen at the end of “Two and a Half Men."
There's good and bad news. First, the bad news (always pick the bad first): they have a two-year window to contend. Trevor Bauer has two years left on his deal, which pretty much sets the timer for the team's best chance to contend. Yes, Francisco Lindor is locked up through 2021, but did you pay attention to the Washington Nationals and Baltimore Orioles this year?
Each had a generational superstar with Bryce Harper and Manny Machado on the last year of his contract. Neither team had a great shot to retain him at season's end. And each team held out until the last possible moment, determined to make one last run with their franchise cornerstone. And what happened? A complete disaster. Baltimore had one of the worst seasons in the history of baseball and traded Machado for half of what they could have gotten a year ago. Washington stubbornly held onto Harper, despite hovering around .500 all season, and didn't come close to repeating as NL East champions.
If the Indians aren't the front-runners in the AL Central come December 2020, trading Lindor will be priority #1 to ensure the franchise's long-term success.
The good news: the AL Central is the worst organization in Major League Baseball in YEARS. The Tigers and Royals are currently in the beginning stages of a long, painful rebuild.
Think 2002 Cleveland Indians. That team would not make the postseason again until 2007. The Twins are kind of in-between but lack significant impact players to close the gap.
The White Sox are interesting. My bet is when these Indians run is over, the White Sox will be next to reign on top of the central for years to come. They have the best farm system in baseball and their players are just scratching the surface of what they can do at the professional level. But, conveniently for the Indians, they are 2, 3 years away from making any real noise.
Here's the situation: the Indians had a club-record payroll of $142 million last year, which was 14th in baseball. Even with inflation, they will not spend much more than that figure going forward under any circumstance. They're tapped out.
Michael Brantley's $12 million salary comes off the books, as does Andrew Miller's $9 million, but they will need to replace that production. Brantley was their most consistent player last season and Miller has been their most reliable reliever for 3 straight years. They will most likely have around $10 million, after arbitration raises for players such as Bauer and Lindor, of available money to spend.
Translation: get ready for some low key signings.
Here are some things to consider. Does trading one of your starting pitchers make sense? It could, under the right circumstance.
They have 5 solid starters with the emergence of rookie right-hander Shane Bieber last season. Mike Clevinger capped off a rotation that set an MLB record with 4 hurlers toss over 200 strikeouts. This is the strength of the team. It's risky.
Do you trade off a piece from the strongest point of your team? Can you endure a potential injury to a player such as Corey Kluber or Carlos Carassco? However, if you can get a name such as Paul Goldschmidt (33 home runs and a 5.4 WAR last season, both of which would have ranked 3rd on the Indians), who is rumored to be available in trade talks with the Diamondbacks, you have to consider it.
A player I really like is AJ Pollock. He had a solid year last year, posting a 2.5 WAR, but hasn't really been the same player since missing the 2014 season due to injury. He could sure up the centerfield position.
Obviously, they will get bullpen guys, but I doubt you will have ever heard of them.
Whatever they do, they have to do with a sense of urgency, because the clock is ticking and the zeros just keep getting added to Lindor's contract.