While the primary focus going into the off-season is always on MLB free agents, like Yasiel Puig for the Indians in 2019, minor league free agency is one of few concessions given to those who haven’t yet broken into the big leagues. Once a player is added to the 40 man roster, the years of team control are then determined by the player’s remaining option years. Prior to that, teams can automatically resign any minor leaguer under team control for seven seasons.
In general, it takes less than seven years for those who will ever get to the big leagues to reach the big leagues and most who have no shot are out of the organization by this point. There are always some who slip through the cracks though, so let’s look at the nine Indians who could leave the franchise this off-season if they are not added to the 40 man roster soon.
Most Likely to Be Protected
The Indians prime focus on the 40 man likely won’t be on these free agents as they have quite a few players who need to be protected from the rule five draft, including Scott Moss, Daniel Johnson and Triston McKenzie. With few expected to leave the 40 man through free agency (Puig and Jason Kipnis are likely), they already have their work cut out for them to find the spots for these top prospects.
That being said, there is one player who sticks out of the group as being worthy, Yapson Gomez. Gomez came over from the Cubs through waivers last December and pitched well in relief for the Hillcats this year before a brief stint in Akron. Through his seven seasons, Gomez has a 2.54 ERA, although just a 7.5 K/9 that was slightly better at 9.4 in Lynchburg.
An issue with Gomez is that his first season with the Cubs was at 19, not 17, so not only has he been around a long time for a guy in high A, he is really old for a guy in high A. It is certainly possible his success was more due to his experience and age rather than his potential ability. If the Indians had one open spot on the 40 man for a lefty reliever and it was between Ben Krauth (eligible for rule 5) and Gomez, they would probably be best served to stick with Krauth.
Wilson Garcia just wrapped up his ninth season in the minors after he was also taken off waivers last off-season by the Indians. Garcia was traded from Philadelphia to Baltimore mid-season last year before being released and taken by the Indians. In Akron, he showed a ton of power in his injury laden season with 23 doubles and 10 home runs.
Prior to the trade for Franmil Reyes, there was an argument that the Indians needed Garcia for 1B/DH depth going into 2020, but now he should be expendable with Bobby Bradley, Reyes, Jake Bauers and Carlos Santana all under control next season. Miguel Jerez and Mitch Reeves have also played well at first below him, so the Indians should be covered as far as minor league depth is concerned as well.
This group of two pitchers has been with the Indians forever, so there may be some more emotion involved in their parting than the two newer additions listed above. First, Rob Kaminsky came over in the Brandon Moss deal from St. Louis in 2015 back when he was thought of as a first round draft pick (2013) out of a strong farm system.
Injuries cost him essentially all of 2017 and when he came back, he was a reliever instead of a starter. Last fall, he went to the Arizona Fall League where he was extremely dominant in that role and he repeated that effort in Akron this year. However, upon his promotion to Columbus, he struggled with control and home runs. His overall numbers against hitters of both hands were still effective, so I don’t think his career is over, but he may have run out of chances in Cleveland.
Shao-Ching Chiang could have left the Indians last year, but was brought back on a one year deal. Like Kaminsky, he was great in Akron last year, but had issues with command and the long ball with the different ball in AAA. He is a ground ball specialist who has remained at starter, but has been passed repeatedly on the depth chart by the likes of Zach Plesac and Shane Bieber, who have already had great success in the big leagues. With Eli Morgan, Triston McKenzie, Scott Moss and Sam Hentges set to hit AAA next year, he’s likely to fall even further to the point where the Indians may not even need him as innings eater.
Likely to Leave
The Indians brought back three of the remaining minor league free agents as free agents last year to help fill out minor league depth, but as mentioned, that shouldn’t be necessary in the future. Michael Peoples pitched extremely well as a starter this year in AAA, but he is also 27. He fixed the command issues that hurt him over the last few years, but likely doesn’t strike out enough hitters to even get consideration for the big leagues.
Anderson Polanco has been with the team since 2011 and has had moments of brilliance marred by many injuries over the years. He had a terrible season in Lynchburg at the age of 26 (he turned 27 right after the season ended) and was blown up during his brief time in Akron. He ended the year on the IL and it’s hard to imagine any team picking him up for another season.
The third of the group of 2018 free agents was Nellie Rodriguez. After a pair of lackluster seasons in Columbus, Rodriguez was allowed to test the market last year and didn’t rejoin Cleveland until spring training started. Once back, he was essentially a place holder in Akron where he had an absolutely dreadful season. It may have been fun to see what he could have done to the new AAA ball, but without it in Akron he slugged just .375 (he slugged .475 there as a 22 year old and in now 25). It is highly unlikely the Indians bring him back, more so if they retain Garcia.
Jorma Rodriguez is a scrappy utility man who, unfortunately, lost most of 2019 to injury. It took him five seasons to reach full season baseball and you have to admire his drive, but there is simply no reason to return him next year. With so many incredible young middle infielders coming up, the idea of a minor league utility man may be dying.
Finally, I never really understood the signing of left handed reliever Hector Hernandez, who just finished his ninth MiLB season. He started with St. Louis in 2009, went to the Diamondbacks for awhile, then spent 2017 and 2018 in independent ball. He pitched fine for the Indians this year, starting in Arizona and working his way all the way up to AAA where he had his best numbers, but he’s already 28. If the Indians weren’t willing to try out some of their top relief prospects in September, there’s little reason to believe they’ll clear someone off the 40 man to make room for a journeyman like Hernandez.