The Cleveland Indians are going to pay for not spending money in the offseason. After losing ace Corey Kluber to an arm fracture Wednesday, the preseason division favorites look vulnerable. They have no one to blame but themselves for that.
Cleveland entered the offseason with endless possibilities. While the club didn’t look as strong on paper as the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees or Houston Astros, it could have remedied that issue with an aggressive offseason approach.
The bullpen — which posted a poor 4.60 ERA in 2018 — was a major area of need. So was the outfield after Michael Brantley hit the market.
Cleveland responded to those concerns by ... trying to shed payroll. The team shipped out Yan Gomes after the catcher put up a resurgent season. Edwin Encarnacion and promising infielder Yandy Diaz were traded as well. The team even put Kluber and Trevor Bauer on the block, though no deals materialized for either player.
While Cleveland didn’t fully embrace their payroll-shedding plan, the team’s message was clear: We’re good enough.
A month into the 2019 season, that strategy looks foolish. Instead of spending money to plug its obvious holes, Cleveland opted for the cheapest possible solutions. Weak-hitting catcher Roberto Perez was tabbed to take over for Gomes, Hanley Ramirez and Carlos Gonzalez were brought in on minor-league deals and Oliver Perez and Tyler Clippard were tasked with fixing the bullpen.
As a result, Cleveland has one of the worst offenses in baseball. The team’s 70 wRC+ is tied for second-worst in the majors. Only the San Francisco Giants have been worse.
While Oliver Perez has struggled, the team’s bullpen has been a bright spot early. Cleveland will have to hope Nick Wittgren and Dan Otero can keep up their current performances, and that Tyler Clippard remains effective after a resurgent 2018.
The real strength of Cleveland — the reason the team was an obvious choice to win the division — was its rotation. While the team’s starters have been solid, they haven’t been dominant. Cleveland ranks 11th with a 3.75 ERA. It’s tough to expect that number to improve significantly after injuries to both Kluber and Mike Clevinger.
If there’s one positive, it’s that Clevinger and Kluber should return at some point this season. There’s still a chance for Cleveland to roll with its All-Star laden rotation in a few months.
But given all the other issues the team is facing, it might be too late once those pitchers come back. The Minnesota Twins’ aggressive approach to the offseason is paying dividends early. After the season’s first month, Minnesota carries a 2.5 game lead over Cleveland in the American League Central.
Thanks to Minnesota’s hot start, Cleveland will no longer coast to another division title. After looking like easy favorite following the conclusion of the 2018 season, Cleveland’s own hubris may wind up costing the team a spot in the playoffs.
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