Look at any tweet the Cleveland Indians’ team handle published this offseason, and you’ll find the replies are loaded with at least one of the following two demands.
“Extend Francisco Lindor.”
“Re-sign Yasiel Puig.”
These are admittedly far more polite translations, but you get the point. Fans spent the winter voicing their frustration about the Tribe’s inactivity when it came to retaining one fan favorite and reuniting with another.
To date, no significant progress has been made regarding Lindor’s contract, though the team sparked slight optimism last week when insisting extension conversations were occurring.
When it comes to Puig, I, too, was one of those initially pushing the Indians to consider bringing him back to Cleveland. As time went on, it became clear the team wasn’t interested, instead continuously hinting the offensive power its outfield needed had been in the clubhouse the whole time in the form of Franmil Reyes.
Though the Indians received backlash for ignoring outside options to instead depend on Reyes, it’s starting to feel like they may be the ones who get the last laugh.
Outside of begging ownership to spend during a contending year, the calls for a Puig signing were made under a two-part assumption.
1) Cleveland was missing a right field power bat and 2) Reyes shouldn’t be viewed as a viable option for that role.
I argued the latter point, as well, especially since it was mildly concerning to label someone who logged a Defensive Runs Saved of -11 last season as “an outfield solution.”
Despite this, the Indians remained undaunted. They continued to bet on Reyes and the offseason work he put in to improve his agility. Cleveland even doubled down by shoring up their outfield with a weaker defensive option in Domingo Santana.
In the meantime, Puig remains without a team, as the demands of Cleveland supporters appear to have officially fallen on deaf ears.
If there are still a lot of fans holding this against the Tribe, they should know their argument is in danger of running out of ammo. While the player they covet continues to be ignored by the entire league, Reyes started making an impact for the Indians from the moment he arrived at spring training.
In two exhibition games so far, Reyes has gone 3-for-6, with a home run, two doubles and three RBIs. Obviously the sample size is small, and that these stats are occurring during spring ball adds a “grain of salt” factor. Still, it’s encouraging to see Reyes hitting consistently right out of the gate, and also easing his own concerns about winter weight loss potentially sapping some of his power.
More importantly, all of Reyes’ spring innings have occurred as an outfielder. His fielding percentage is 1.000 after two games, with both of his stints in right ending error-free.
Yes, it’s extremely early. At the same time, with all eyes on his defense this spring, we’ve yet to receive even the slightest indication he’s still struggling in the outfield.
Puig would offer Cleveland more defensively, there’s no denying that. Likewise, nobody should expect Reyes to become an elite outfielder overnight.
The thing is, he doesn’t need to be one. Reyes simply holding his own and not becoming a defensive liability – while also offering 35-40 home runs at the plate – would be more than enough for the Indians to declare a victory here.
One would think getting this kind of production without forking over the eight figures Puig was seeking is something else the organization considers a win.
No, I'm not here to make you feel better about a billionaire saving a buck or two. However, for a team trying to find whatever money it can to pay a certain shortstop market value, Reyes succeeding while making less than $600K and being under team control through 2024 definitely helps the cause.
Again, no conclusive statements can be made in the opening week of spring training. That said, as teams are getting in their first live action of 2020, Puig is still trying to find one to call his own. It feels safe to say his availability is a result of more than just stinginess from Cleveland ownership.
Meanwhile, Reyes is already flexing his power for Cleveland, and his defense has yet to raise any alarms.
The Tribe took it in the teeth from fans for passing on Puig and selling the idea that putting Reyes in right field was a viable solution. While it’s still early, said idea may not be as crazy as it was once thought to be.