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The Indians are this year's Mets, for better and for worse

The Indians have excellent young pitchers and a sleepy offseason. We've seen this before.

David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Last year at this time, we were complaining about the Mets. That is, a noisy subset of baseball fans and writers who could spot the unique chance the Mets had and were about to blow. The Mets went through a dimensional portal of celestial fire to build their young pitching staff, yet their offseason consisted of signing Michael Cuddyer. Their window was open, and they shut it because there was a draft. It was infuriating to Internet GMs everywhere.

Those Mets won the pennant. They became a cautionary tale to Internet GMs instead of the other way around. Be careful about pointing out what teams might do wrong next year because it's a great way to ignore with they might do right. At the same time, come on, do something more than sign Michael Cuddyer, Mets.

It's time to talk about this year's Indians, then. They aren't quite having an offseason filled with dad magic like the Mets last year, but it's been a sleepy offseason, filled with a couple of minor sensible deals, a lot of rumors, and very little action. The rumors mostly had to do with them trading one of their cheap, cost-controlled pitchers for a cheap, cost-controlled position player, which would be like selling a can opener for a can of soup. Nothing came of those rumors, mercifully.

Still, they went into the offseason with obvious needs. Here they are, roughly in order:

  1. Corner outfielders
  2. Third baseman
  3. First baseman
  4. Relievers

And what they've done to fill them:

  1. Rajai Davis and chill
  2. Nope
  3. Mike Napoli
  4. Joe Thatcher and Dan Otero

Davis made sense for a team on a budget, a perfectly overlooked outfielder at the bottom of a crowded market. Napoli is a fine bounce-back candidate, an outstanding low-risk signing. They were a great start to the offseason.

This can't be the offseason, though, right?

Start with the reason why we should care: The Indians have Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, and Danny Salazar, who are all excellent now, and Trevor Bauer, who is still laden with potential. Part of their value has to do with their below-market salaries, sure, but we have no idea if any of them are actually going to help a team win in 2018 or beyond. For next year, though, we have a pretty good idea. Saying, "We'll get around to building a lineup around these fine young pitchers later" seems like an easy way to waste those pitchers.

Then look at the lineup, which has scattered talent. Francisco Lindor is one of the game's brightest young stars, and Jason Kipnis might be the most underrated second baseman in baseball. Napoli, Yan Gomes, and Carlos Santana all carry some risk with them, but they could also combine for 90 homers. Michael Brantley will hopefully be back in mid-April after fears that he was going to be out for most of the first half.

That's the start of an if-everything-goes-right powerhouse. The only problem with those is that everything never goes right, at least not at the same time. And if the Indians really do hang back and call it an offseason, they're taking a huge risk -- not just the kind of risk that has to do with scoring more runs than they otherwise might, but the kind that has to do with wasting a unique collection of young pitchers.


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Just like the Mets last year. Man, it was awful how they wasted their chance last year all the way to the World Series. But where the analogy breaks down, at least for the moment, is that the Mets did shake off the cobwebs and make a move more substantial than Cuddyer. They clearly needed another outfielder, and they rightly and aggressively chased the market.

The Indians have that chance right now. They're currently planning to start both Giovanny Urshela and Lonnie Chisenhall, with some Jose Ramirez mixed in somewhere. Just as every skinny pitcher with a changeup made him the next Pedro Martinez, we get to describe every infielder-outfielder as the next Ben Zobrist, but Chisenhall's defense allows him to have chance to help a team unconventionally at more than one position. That doesn't mean he should be an unquestioned starter in right field, though. And Urshela is still young and intriguing, but he also has a career .303 on-base percentage in 2,561 minor league plate appearances. Starting them both -- combined with the risks of Gomes, Santana, and Napoli -- seems like something that could be avoided.

One more corner outfielder, then. That would go a long way toward bridging the risks of the lineup and the rewards of the rotation. The Indians do have young outfielders who are a year or two away (Clint Frazier and Bradley Zimmer, most notably), but they also have a clear need in a market that's still saturated with exactly the kinds of players they need. There are still free agents, like Justin Upton and Yoenis Cespedes. There are still intriguing trade options, like Carlos Gonzalez and Marcell Ozuna. If the Indians are an outfielder away from a satisfying offseason, they sure picked the right offseason to be in that position.

Except they can't afford Cespedes, who is still asking for $150 million (and might get it). And the Marlins wouldn't bother dealing Ozuna to them without one of those young pitchers coming back, most likely. Upton is also too expensive, and even in a saturated market, it's possible that the other teams are asking too much in potential trades. Don't mistake the Indians' inaction for disinterest. They might be trying quite hard for that last piece.

If there were ever a time to break the budget, though, or to take a wild stab at a risky trade, this is it. It might be time to explore a deal with Upton that would be almost impossible for him to not opt out of. Or it might be time to plug their noses and trade legitimately exciting prospects for two expensive years of a fragile, erratic Gonzalez. Or it might make sense to take a chance on Jay Bruce or absorb the overpriced, sensible competence of a Nick Markakis. Maybe it would be the right time to set the farm completely on fire for Josh Reddick, Ender Inciarte, or Yasiel Puig. MAYBE RYAN BRAUN WOULD BE A GOOD F

Sorry. Got carried away. But this is the time for the Indians to get creative. They can wait until the middle of the year, just like the 2015 Mets did, but they have a better opportunity to juggle chainsaws right now, in January, with more than a couple available outfielders to help them out.

If they don't, they might miss out on winning the offseason and have to settle for a pennant in October, just like the Mets. That would sure be a shame.

Of course, it's also possible that the Mets were a total anomaly, and that we shouldn't assume every pitching-deep team with a sleepy offseason is going to the World Series. The Indians have one of the clearest remaining needs of any team with postseason aspirations, and they happen to have several options. Grabbing Cuddyer and running for Opening Day worked for the Mets, but the Indians shouldn't have to take that chance.