Indians super star shortstop Francisco Lindor has two more years of arbitration remaining before he will likely be gone and waiting in the wings to be the next big thing for the Tribe is minor league hitting sensation Bobby Bradley. MLB PHOTOS
The Cleveland Indians have dominated the American League Central Division for the past three seasons, advancing to the World Series 2016 and the American League Division Series in 2017 and 2018.
This city was buzzing with enthusiasm and title aspirations, after all the Cavaliers had watered the title draught in ’16, but that heartbreaking loss in game 7 of the 2016 World Series in which the Cubs erased a 3-1 deficit, despair began to seep back in again.
Well folks we have reached that fork in the road for the Indians.
Cleveland began this week 21-18, four games behind the Minnesota Twins in the Central, and that’s really the good news. The bad news is with ace pitcher Corey Kluber is likely out for the season with a broken arm, former Indian Michael Brantley is enjoying a breakout season in Houston and no player on the team is eclipsing .300 batting average, the future is bleak.
This is not unfamiliar to the small town Indians, which often wrestle with reducing the payroll instead of paying top dollar for talent while competing for championships.
Previously they caught lightening in a bottle by avoiding a high payroll with a core of young talented non-arbitration eligible players, a mix of moderate veterans as their calling card, coupled with a young gifted pitching staff anchoring the foundation of the team.
That formula begin eroding after back to back divisional playoff fizzles, then was crystalized at the start of this season when the Indians dabbled their front line pitcher Kluber in trade discussions prior to this season.
Moreover the team has indicated that it will not be able to afford to pay super star shortstop Francisco Lindor who is arbitration eligible in 2020 and 2021. Likewise stud pitcher Trevor Bauer will be up for his fourth arbitration in 2020.
Lindor, 25, is making $10,550,000 well below his market value and Bauer, 28, is raking in $13 million. Kluber is locked in for $35.5 million through 2021 and becomes and unrestricted free agent approaching age 36.
Hotshot third baseman Jose Ramirez, 26, is locked in for two more years to the tune of $24 million, but has regressed tremendously from his All Star campaign of year ago. He began the week hitting a paltry .207.
Down on the farm, the Indians have yet to crack the top 10, but that may change in the very near future, because the lower levels of the organization are overflowing with enticing young talent.
Half of the prospects played as teenagers last season, including 2018 first-round picks Bo Naylor and Ethan Hankins, plus short-season New York-Penn League batting champion Tyler Freeman.
The bulk of that group comes from the Indians' international program, which has focused on advanced bats since reorganizing under new director of Latin America scouting Koby Perez in 2016.
Those efforts have landed outfielder George Valera; shortstops Brayan Rocchio, Gabriel Rodriguez and Aaron Bracho; and several others in the last three years.
The system's top prospect (right-hander Triston McKenzie, 21 years old) and most dangerous slugger (first baseman Bobby Bradley, 22) have developed rapidly and will push for their first opportunities in Cleveland this summer. Most of the Indians' other potential impact talents are at least a couple of years away -- but could prove to be well worth the wait.
By the time they likely arrive, the big league roster could be depleted of its homegrown stars and in full fledge rebuilding mode.
The Indians will return home this weekend for a four game set against the hapless Baltimore Orioles, a team on trek to lose more than 100 games in consecutive seasons.
Few expect the Indians to fall that far, at least not yet, but if the team doesn’t contend in the playoffs this season (providing they get there) it may be time to push the reset button and beef up the farm system that has been raided by going for it all trades that netted a thrilling ride, but now world Series title.