OPINION: Brandon’s World – Where do Indians go from here?

Brandon Lewis Columnist

If there was a word to describe the 2020 Cleveland Indians, the word would be inconstancy.

The team started off hot, winning five of their first seven games. In their next nine games, their record was 5-4. Following a two-game sweep by the Chicago Cubs, a series in which the Indians were outscored 14-3, the team won 16 out of their next 20 games. Included in those 20 games is a six-game win streak, a four-game win streak and a three-game win streak.

Then… the bottom fell out. The team lost eight straight games to drop their record to 26-23, leaving their playoff hopes grim with only 11 games left in the season. However, the Indians turned their season around, winning nine out of their last 11 games to finish the season 35-25, good enough for the No. 4 seed in the American League, a game behind their division rival, the Minnesota Twins.

The Tribe would match up against the Yankees in the Wild Card round, and they would lose both games, ending their season. In the first game of the two-game set, soon to be Al Cy Young Award winner Shane Beiber got bombed for the first time in 2020, giving up nine hits and seven earned runs in 4.2 innings of work. Beiber finished the regular season with a 8-1 record and a 1.63 Earned Run Average (ERA). 

In Game 2, after only scoring three runs in Game 1, the Indians’ bats woke up, scoring nine runs, but they gave up 10, including two by closer Brad Hand in the ninth. It was Hand’s first blown save of the season after going a perfect 16-for-16 in save opportunities in the regular season (the 16 saves led the majors).

Going into the postseason, the Indians’ pitching staff was the sixth best pitching staff in all of the majors and had the second best ERA while the team had the seventh worst batting average. The postseason completely flipped the script.


The Indians started the 2020 season with eight outfielders: Oscar Mercado, Franmill Reyes, Domingo Santana, Tyler Naquin, Jordan Luplow, Bradley Zimmer, Greg Allen and Daniel Johnson. They ended the season with seven: Reyes, Naquin, Luplow, Mercado, Zimmer, Josh Naylor and Delino DeShields.


The Indians starting rotation in the 2020 season began with Beiber, Mike Clevinger, Carlos Carrasco, Aaron Civale and Zach Plesac. Their starting rotation to end the season was Beiber, Plesac, Triston McKenzie, Carrasco and Civale. 

While the names are mostly the same besides McKenzie, the order is out of whack besides Beiber at the top.


Jose Ramirez led the team in batting average in the regular season, hitting .292. Out of the everyday players, Roberto Perez hit the worst. His average in the regular season was .165. 

In the postseason, Naylor led the team in batting average, hitting .714 (five-for-seven), followed by Ramirez, who hit .429. Star shortstop Francisco Lindor hit .125 in the playoffs compared to .258 in the regular season.


So now the question is: What do the Indians do to improve their inconstant ball club? 

The Indians have five free agents this offseason: Second baseman Cesar Hernandez (unrestricted), Perez ($5 million club option), Hand ($10 million club option), first baseman Carlos Santana ($17.5 million club option) and catcher Sandy Leon (unrestricted).

Let’s get the easy one out of the way: Leon won’t be back. The Indians have a catcher in Austin Hedges who they really like. He was acquired in the Clevinger trade.

Speaking of Hedges, do the Indians like him SO MUCH that they are willing to part from Perez? I don’t think so. Even though they are similar in their play style (great defensively, terrible at the plate), Perez might be the best defensive catcher in the majors, and he seems to always get timely hits when it counts.

Hand and Santana are interesting cases. While Hand did lock down all of his saves in the regular season, a lot of them were dicey, and some believe he is losing his velocity. For Santana, after a career year in 2019, he barely hit .200 in 2020. Santana is both a fan-favorite and a team-favorite, but the $17.5 million option is too much. I suspect Hand does get dealt, and Santana will not be on the team unless he comes back on a significant discount.

Hernandez signed a one-year prove-it deal with the Tribe after spending the first seven years of his career with the Phillies. The Tribe would love to see Hernandez back, but he will probably receive more money and a long-term contract from a big market.

The Indians, along with everyone else in MLB, suffered huge financial losses this season due to COVID-19 that will affect the team going forward. President of Baseball Operations Chris Antonetti and General Manager Mike Chernoff know they must bolster the offense in the offseason and improve the outfield and the bullpen. 

If Santana and Hands’ options are not picked up, the team only has one option: Trade All-Star shortstop Francisco Lindor.

Lindor projects to make north of $20 million in 2021, and the Indians have no plans to re-sign the star once he hits the free agent market at the end of the 2021 campaign. As great as Lindor has been for the Indians since 2014, he struggled in 2020, only hitting .258 in the regular season and .125 in the postseason. He didn’t play like a $400 million player, which he is expected to receive when he hits the open market, a number the Indians simply cannot afford because of the unfairness of baseballs’ market. 

Trading Lindor for a major-league ready player and a few prospects will set the Indians up for the future. They can sign a stop-gap shortstop, a la another Hernandez, for a season while waiting for the top two prospects in the organization, third baseman Nolan Jones and shortstop Tyler Freeman, along with shortstop Gabriel Arias and infielder Owen Miller, to develop.

Moving on from Santana will allow the Tribe to move Naylor from left field to first base, a position he played in San Diego. The team can then sign free agent outfielders. The list available will include former Indians Michael Brantley and Jay Bruce, Starling Marte and Adam Eaton just to name a few.

The Indians will need to add insurance in the back of the pen. Carrasco could move from the starting rotation to the closers’ rule, opening up a spot for Cal Quantrill. Emmanuel Clase, the flame-throwing right-hander the Indians received in the Corey Kluber trade, will be back after his suspension, but the Indians still need another veteran arm in the pen. Some names that will be available to the team include Shane Green and Alex Colome. 

With the Indians starting rotation, the World Series window is still open, and hopefully manager Terry Francona returns, but regardless how the offseason shapes out for the Indians, the team will look a lot different when they take the field in 2021, and hopefully the 2021 version of the Tribe will be less inconsistent than the one in 2020. 

Brandon Lewis is a columnist. Email him at [email protected].  


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