Indians storylines to watch as Spring Training 2.0 starts

(92.3 The Fan) The last time the Indians played a game was in early March in Goodyear, after which the coronavirus pandemic shut down the MLB season

The hiatus put the questions the Indians were looking to address before Opening Day on hold. Now as players prepare to report to spring training 2.0 in their home cities on Wednesday, those topics will come back into focus.

Let's take a look at some of the storylines to follow as the Indians get back to work this week.

Injuries No Longer An Issue
Key members of the Indians suffered injuries during spring training. Mike Clevinger underwent knee surgery in February. The extra time to heal has ensured that Clevinger will be in the starting rotation to begin the season in late July.

The Indians will still rely on Shane Bieber and Clevinger more than ever once the season begins.

The delay also allowed Carlos Carrasco to rest, who was dealing with elbow inflammation after only making one start this spring. Carrasco battled chronic myeloid leukemia last season. He's hoping to re-join the starting rotation after making 11 relief appearances last September.

Outfielder Oscar Mercado also will be immediately available, after he suffered a sprained left wrist in March. Newly acquired reliever  Emmanuel Clase had a back injury, but was suspended 80 games on May 1st. Clase was expected to have a major role at the back end of the Indians' bullpen this season.

Additionally, outfielder Tyler Naquin is still recovering from ACL surgery, but has made progress and could make himself a part of the Indians’ crowded outfield now that the season won't start until late July.

Roster Battles

Assuming they’re healthy, Shane Bieber, Mike Clevinger and Carlos Carrasco are locks for the starting rotation. That means there are two spots remaining for Adam Plutko, Zach Plesac and Aaron Civale.

Plutko is out of minor-league options, which means the Indians would have to keep him on the roster or move on from him completely. Both Plesac and Civale showed plenty of promise as rookies last season.

The biggest question mark on the team is in the outfield. Who will start next to Oscar Mercado?

Franmil Reyes was an early favorite in right field. He shed weight in the offseason, kept his power and looked poised to hit 40 or more home runs. Will Reyes stay in shape during the stoppage or will the “sweet things” he gave up in the offseason get the best of him? If Reyes stays in shape, he could start in right field.

Jordan Luplow appears to be the favorite to start in left field. Delino DeShields Jr. has the versatility the Indians look for in a fourth outfielder. In that scenario, Domingo Santana would probably be the everyday designated hitter.

Will Jake Bauers be able to do enough to earn a roster spot? Could Bradley Zimmer, Greg Allen or Daniel Johnson sneak their way onto the 26-man roster? Plenty of questions remain, even with the starting outfield potentially set.

As for a utility position, Mike Freeman and Christian Arroyo are battling for what could be the final roster spot.

Freeman posted a .277/.362/.390 slash line in 75 games for the Tribe last season. He can play second base, third base and shortstop. The Indians acquired Arroyo from the Rays last season. He’s primarily a second and third baseman, but isn’t as versatile as Freeman.

The Indians roster includes 40 players that will train at Progressive Field and 15 players that will train at an alternate site in Lake County. See the names of Indians' player pool here.
Francisco Lindor's Future

Francisco Lindor has been mentioned in trade rumors all offseason. The Indians’ star shortstop will be a free agent after the 2021 season, but is under team control for this short season and one more more. He was projected to make $16 million in 2020, before the season got cut short. Even with pro-rated salaries, he's still one of the best values in baseball.

Lindor understands his value and doubled down on his willingness to stay in Cleveland long-term at TribeFest back in February.

“I would love to be in Cleveland. I love Cleveland. This is a home,” he said. “This is a great city. There are great fans and we've got a good team and a great group of guys. The front office is good. The coaching staff is good. Everybody, the clubbies, everybody that's involved with the Indians' organization — it's great and I love it here. This is where I came up and I'm extremely comfortable here.”

Lindor has batted .279 (.855 OPS) over the past three years and is averaging 34 home runs, 85 RBI and 21 stolen bases. He’s one of the best players in baseball. He insisted that the Indians and every other team in baseball can afford a player of his caliber.

“Our payroll last year was ($120 million). There’s money,” Lindor said. “Is it what the Indians are trying to do? Who knows? It’s different. But there’s money out there. There are no teams out there with $10 million payrolls. There’s money.”

Lindor wants to be paid, but he also wants to win. He doesn’t want his next contract to get in the way of winning a World Series — whether that’s in Cleveland or somewhere else.

“I’m not money-driven. I’m championship-driven,” Lindor said. “That’s what I want. I want to win. Wherever I go, I want to win. I want to bring a championship to the city of Cleveland. This is what I want to do. That’s my mission.”

New Additions

The Indians acquired right-hander Emmanuel Clase and outfielder Delino DeShields Jr. in the Corey Kluber deal this off-season. They also traded for catcher Sandy León and signed second baseman César Hernández.

Most of the lineup is already set, assuming everyone stays healthy during spring training this month. The entire infield is back, with the exception of Jason Kipnis. Hernández will replace him at second base.