CLEVELAND -- The Indians caught the baseball world by surprise last winter with the blockbuster signing of free-agent slugger Edwin Encarnacion. As the free-agency period opens this offseason, Cleveland is facing the possibility of losing some key players, but will continue to look for external additions to strengthen a team that remains built to contend.
"Ownership has continued to give us resources beyond what we could have expected," said Chris Antonetti, the Indians' president of baseball operations, "to try to continue to have a winning and championship-caliber team. When we go into the offseason, I know we have a lot of decisions to make and things we need to work through, but we have a roster that's still really talented and we'll find ways to complement it effectively."
Free agents: LHP Craig Breslow, OF Jay Bruce, 1B Carlos Santana, RHP Bryan Shaw, RHP Joe Smith
Arbitration-eligible: RHP Cody Allen, OF Abraham Almonte, RHP Trevor Bauer, OF Lonnie Chisenhall, RHP Zach McAllister, RHP Dan Otero, RHP Danny Salazar
Biggest potential free-agent loss
Losing Santana would be a big blow to the heart of the Tribe's lineup and create some uncertainty about first base, but they extended a qualifying offer to him Mondnay. Encarnacion could play first, but Cleveland prefers him as the designated hitter. Chisenhall has limited experience at the position. Over the past seven years, Santana has averaged 24 homers, 32 doubles, 81 RBIs and 98 walks in 154 games with an .808 OPS, and he was a Gold Glove finalist for his defensive work this past season.
While most of the focus this winter will understandably be on Santana and Bruce, Shaw's work in the bullpen should not be overlooked. Indians manager Terry Francona joked that it might take two relievers to replace Shaw, if he signs elsewhere. Over the past five years, Shaw leads Major League relievers in games (378), pitches thrown (5,892) and innings (tied, 358 2/3), while posting a 3.11 ERA and 3.45 FIP. Shaw was not tendered a qualifying offer by Monday's deadline.
Potential free-agent targets
Last year, Encarnacion was an obvious fit for the Indians and the team made the signing happen with a three-year, $60 million contract (the largest deal in terms of money in franchise history). This winter, two of the best fits for Cleveland might just be Santana and Bruce. The decisions on those players will impact whether the Indians' main need is first base or corner outfield. Beyond that, shoring up the bullpen will be a priority, especially if both Shaw and Smith leave. The good news for the Tribe is that the bulk of its 102-win roster remains intact.
Wild card scenario
It has been well-documented that Jason Kipnis' place on the field (second base or outfield) will influence how Cleveland approaches its offsesaon maneuvering. Another scenario would be trying to see what offers might exist for Kipnis via trade. Granted, Kipnis' value is not at an all-time high, considering he is coming off an injury-marred campaign (.705 OPS in 90 games). But when healthy, Kipnis has been an above-average hitter and is a two-time All-Star. He is set to earn $13.7 million in 2018 and $14.7 million in '19, with a $16.5 million team option (or $2.5 million buyout) for '20.
Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.