The long (probably very long in 2020-2021) winter is upon us in Cleveland. Officially, anyway.

It might be an unpredicable offseason around baseball. The 2020/2021 offseason was probably a little more predictable in Cleveland before the pandemic, and it’s now a little less predictable, meaning there will probably be plenty of newsworthy items floating around in the coming months.

Pre-pandemic shortened season, the team’s salary was supposed to come in around $99 million. For 2021, they only have two guaranteed contracts (Jose Ramirez and Carlos Carrasco) and a projected $89 million payroll by Spotrac.

So what might the ramifications of the fan-less season combined with how things unfolded for the Tribe in the 2020 season look like? They’re probably going to be a little lower than that $89 million figure suggests.

Free Agents

For starters, they have three free agents that probably will not be back in 2021:

  • 2B Cesar Hernandez
  • LHP Oliver Perez
  • C Sandy Leon

The market may be weird this winter and Hernandez probably earned a two year deal, but he might get just one. But it’s unlikely he gets that one from Cleveland barring some major payroll clearing moves.

Cleveland owes Perez a major debt of gratitude for stabilizing the Titanic that was their bullpen in 2018. He was good in 2019 and triggered his 2020 options. He performed admirably in 2020 despite the three batter minimum rule, but the Tribe might go heavy on internal options for the future.

Bringing in Leon was a strange decision to begin with. He had a terrible 2019 and actually cost Cleveland more in 2020 than what the Red Sox paid Kevin Plawecki. Plawecki also had a good offensive (if fluky) season. Leon threw out two of 11 base stealers, had three catchers interference instances called against him and committed five errors in total to go with his 56 weighted runs created-plus (wRC+) mark. He shouldn’t be back.


C Roberto Perez: $5.5M club option ($450K buyout)

Barring a surprise, they should pick this up. He was still a Gold Glove finalist despite playing through a bad shoulder that brought his bat way down from 2019 levels. Given Austin Hedges’ presence, maybe there’s a chance Perez plays elsewhere in 2021. More on that below.

Prediction: Option picked up

1B Carlos Santana :$17.5M club option ($500K buyout)

Santana made his first All-Star team in 2019 and started it at home in Cleveland. He followed that up with a career worst season in 2020. That shouldn’t be how his career in Cleveland ends, but it might be. The market is probably not going to be a favorable one for a 35 year old first basemen coming off a career worst year, so maybe they bring him back on a more friendly deal. You’d have to assume based on past comments Santana would like to stay. But between Josh Naylor, Jake Bauers and Bobby Bradley, the waters at first base are muddier that that awkward season between late winter and ‘wish it were spring’ in Cleveland.

Prediction: Option declined

LHP Brad Hand: $10M club option ($1M buyout)

After a disastrous end of 2019, Hand did recover to post a 2.48 ERA in 2020, led the AL in saves (for what that’s worth – saves are becoming a little like pitcher wins), struck out 29 and walked just four. Still, his velocity dipped to 91.4, a second straight season of a decline there. There’s a thought that Cleveland can pick up the option and trade him. But what’s the market look like for a 30 year old reliever with a 91 mph fastball making $10 million in the context of 2021 payrolls? They could probably get a low level prospect for him in return. It would save them $1 million if they can do it. $10 million is the price of a high leverage reliever. Does Hand still have that type of stuff? It’s a big risk if they pick it up and find no market for him.

Prediction: Option declined

OF Domingo Santana: $5M club option ($250K buyout)

He posted a 64 wRC+ in 84 plate appearances. He went unclaimed when he was designated for assignment. It was a good signing at the time, but given the mess of options Cleveland still has to sort through in the outfield, doesn’t seem like paying Santana $5 million to be a part of it would be in the cards.

Prediction: Optioned declined


Thanks to MLB Trade Rumors for putting together the Arbitration Projection list every winter. Especially for 2021 when arbitration numbers are going to be strange to predict.

Matt Swartz put together three methods of arbitration model projections for this winter:

  • Figure 1: Applies model directly with actual statistics from this 60-game season
  • Figure 2: Extrapolates all counting stats to would-be 162-game totals.  One home run becomes 2.7 home runs.
  • Figure 3: For non-first-time eligibles, finds the raise they’d get in a 162 game season, then gives them 37% of that raise

C Austin Hedges: $3.0MM / $3.1MM / $3.0MM

It was ironic that Hedges ended up making the last out in that acid trip of a Wild Card Series G2 considering he was a forgotten man after the trade to Cleveland. If they pick up Perez’s option and tender a contract to Hedges near one of the three figures above, Perez and Hedges would earn about $8 million combined. For two glove first catchers, that seems like a lot considering the other payroll constraints the front office will be forced to work under. One of the two probably won’t be back in 2021. It almost feels like Hedges was insurance in case Perez’s shoulder kept him out again late in the season, and balanced some of the money owed to Mike Clevinger.

Prediction: Non-tendered

RHP Adam Cimber: $800K / $1.0MM / $800K

Cimber kept the ball on the ground 52% of the time and limited hitters to an average exit velocity of 85.8. In a vacuum those seem like advantageous numbers. He had mechanical issues and right handers bashed him (.369 weighted on-base average wOBA against) compared to lefties (.188 wOBA against). Still, along with Nick Wittrgren, he’s one of the more experienced relievers Cleveland has, especially if they decline Hand’s option. I admit, I have no idea where to fall on this one. The three batter minimum rule seems to limit his upside. But $1 million or so seems reasonable.

Prediction: Contract tendered

OF Delino DeShields Jr. : $2.0MM / $2.4MM / $2.1MM

He was 3-of-5 on steals and worth 0 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) after getting to eight and nine the last two seasons, respectively. He was a source of ire for Cleveland fans at levels unseen since Bryan Shaw’s tenure. Perhaps the after effects of COVID-19 (Cleveland’s lone case in 2020, so at least they got that right) were a problem. I’ve seen them make stranger decisions on contract tenders than this one, but they have so many outfield options to sort through, all of which probably provide the same, if not more, value than DeSheilds at this point.

Prediction: Non-tendered

SS Francisco Lindor: $17.5MM / $21.5MM / $19.0MM

Lindor had a very uninspiring 2020 season for the talent he has. Fans didn’t even get to be there in person for his potential last game in a Tribe uniform.

Prediction: Tendered, but traded (Listen to the last episode of Smoke Signals for our thoughts on this)

RHP Phil Maton: $700K / $1.0MM / $700K

Maton earned high leverage innings pretty early on and though the results were not great on the surface (4.57 ERA), underlying metrics suggest he was very good (2.81 xERA, .250 wOBA, 33 K%). He’ll pair nicely in 2021 with James Karinchak and Emmanuel Clase in the back of the pen.

Prediction: Contract tendered

OF Tyler Naquin: $1.8MM / $2.4MM / $1.8MM

The delayed season gave Naquin time to heal from his torn ACL to be ready to play the entire, abbreviated season. However, he missed time early with a toe fracture. Then he came back, had an .804 OPS in August at a .496 OPS the rest of the way. For a while it seemed like Naquin was going to save the abysmal outfield offense. But the lack of plate discipline and weird year caught up with him. I’m not sure there’s a major difference between $1.8 mil and $2.4, so even if his ARB cost is the lower figure, does it matter? Just like DeShields, Cleveland has so many options to sort through. Josh Naylor, Jake Bauers, Jordan Luplow, Oscar Mercado, Bradley Zimmer, Daniel Johnson, possibly Nolan Jones as well. If they want to cut costs, seems like they have the options to go cheaper, younger and with more upside.

Prediction: Non-tendered

RHP Nick Wittgren – $1.4MM / $2.2MM / $1.5MM

A 3.42 ERA and 1.01 WHIP is a nice season. Wittgren changed his pitch mix, improved his changeup and scaled his slider usage back (and got hit hard when he used it), maybe to be better against left handed hitters. Depending on how deep the front office is asked to cut payroll, Wittgren should be back. But I suppose there’s some chance if they are forced to make steeper cuts, he could be on the bubble.

Prediction: Contract Tendered

Other non-tender candidates

Spotract has OF Bradley Zimmer listed as ARB-1 eligible, but there are conflicted reports on this. I think regardless, Cleveland isn’t going to let a former first rounder walk off. Perhaps he’s a change of scenery trade piece or something, but hard to see him released or non-tendered, whatever the service time officially is.

40-man roster moves

With my predictions above (we’re still counting Lindor on the roster for now) the 40 man roster is at 27 after letting Hernandez, O. Perez, D. Santana, C. Santana, Hedges, DeShields, and Naquin walk.

The following players are among the noteable Rule 5 draft eligible for the first time in December 2020

  • 3B/OF Nolan Jones
  • RHP Carlos Vargas
  • RHP Eli Morgan
  • SS Gabriel Arias
  • OF Will Benson
  • INF Ernie Clement
  • LHP Ray Burgos
  • RHP Manuel Alvarez
  • 2B Jose Fermin

Currently, the team has 37 spots on the 40 man roster filled. They have five days to decide on the three player options they have. So they could be down to 34 if they decline all three.

Regardless, I expect Jones, Morgan, Arias, and Vargas to all be added to the 40 man roster before the Rule 5 draft this winter. Clement is probably on the bubble depending on space. They could release Mike Freeman and use Clement in his space, but they seem to like Freeman.

C Beau Taylor and Freeman could all be release candidates. They seem to like RHP Jean Carlos Mejia but if they were in a roster crunch, I could see him being designated for assignment off the 40 man roster to make room. But they shouldn’t get into that bind.

RHP Luis Oviedo and OF Ka’ai Tom are popular Rule-5 eligible names that might pop up. Both could very well be taken in this year’s Rule 5 draft. But neither were in Cleveland’s Alternate Training camp site all summer and are in Arizona at Fall Instructs. But I don’t expect either to be added to the 40 man roster. Oviedo has had issues with health, even though he flashes top of the rotation upside. With so many other OF options to sort though, it doesn’t seem like Tom has a spot on the 40 man even though he may be worthy.

Carlos Carrasco

I had this piece done before I realized I didn’t dive into Carrasco. Mostly because I don’t believe he will (or should) be traded. He’s due $12 million in 2021 and $26 million over the final two years of his deal that runs through 2023 (his age 36 season).

Carrasco has gone through a heart condition here, leukemia, some unfortunate, untimely, injuries and has signed two team friendly deals to be in Cleveland. He’s the longest tenured member of the team and is a pillar of the community, and in the locker room. A trade of Carrasco would be callous and I would expect e further damaging to an already singed relationship with the fan base. He’s just shy of 10&5 rights (10 years in the MLB, five years with the same club gives you a full no-trade clause by default).

I’d like to believe that trading Carrasco is only on the table if they are not able to cut payroll enough in other areas and it’s their last resort as a payroll mandate. It would be unpopular for the team and the fans. I’m sure there will be a market for him, although on the business end of things, his contract, age and health, are all risks. So it’s hard to predict how robust that market would be. But if ownership cannot draw a line and say no matter the payroll situation they’re going to operate under, Cookie stays, then things are very, very bleak.

You can find roster projection updates and all the info you need about Cleveland’s roster from the MLB down to Arizona Rookie League over at our Depth Charts & Rosters page that we’ll be overhauling and updating all winter.

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