Indians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti joined ESPN’s Buster Olney on his podcast on Tuesday (audio link) and discussed a number of topics, including the recent suspension of Marlon Byrd, the breakout of super utilityman Jose Ramirez, Michael Brantley’s shoulder rehab, the upcoming amateur draft and the club’s financial flexibility as the trade deadline approaches. “I don’t expect that we’ll be limited,” said Antonetti. “In fact, the years in which we’ve been in contention, ownership’s always been great about providing us the resources that we would need to improve the team. I think that we’ll still always have to be cognizant of contracts that we take on, but if there’s the right player out there on the right deal, and the talent return is the right value for us, then I’m confident we’ll be able to improve the team.” Many expect Cleveland to be on the hunt for outfield help with Byrd and Abraham Almonte suspended due to failed PED tests and Brantley’s return still undetermined.
- Indians righty Danny Salazar will miss his next start due to shoulder fatigue, the club announced. It seems that the hope is it won’t be much more than that, as he’d likely be placed on the DL to free a roster spot otherwise. Salazar’s status remains worth watching, however. The 26-year-old has been outstanding in his first 11 starts. Cleveland will go to Cody Anderson for the spot start. While he’s struggled at times this year in the majors, Anderson has dominated in three Triple-A starts and is as good an insurance policy as you’ll find around the game.
Indians left fielder Michael Brantley has been sidelined since May 10 due to inflammation in his surgically repaired shoulder, and Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports reports that there is now serious concern within the organization that Brantley will miss “a significant amount of time” due to the injury (links to Twitter).
Meanwhile, Indians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti downplayed the significance of Brantley’s injury to FOX’s Ken Rosenthal (links to Rosenthal on Twitter): “Nothing really new. We are focused on working with Michael to help him get to the point where he’s not only healthy, but strong enough to make a meaningful impact on the balance of our season. We don’t have a clear timetable for that yet but are encouraged by [the] progress he continues to make.” As Rosenthal points out, though, it’s not in the Indians’ best interest to not acknowledge any kind of serious problem, as they may very well need to address their outfield on the summer trade market.
Brantley initially injured his shoulder in the final days of the 2015 season while laying out in an attempt at a diving catch in left field against the Twins, and while he didn’t immediately undergo surgery, it was determined in early November that surgical repair was the best option for him. The team announced on Nov. 9 that Brantley had undergone surgery to repair a small tear in his labrum, and his initial timeline to be ready for a rehab assignment was five to six months. However, Brantley was back in the Majors in about five and a half months, as Cleveland activated him from the disabled list on April 25. That aggressive timeline will now look questionable to some in retrospect, as Brantley batted just .231/.279/.282 in 43 plate appearances before landing back on the disabled list. Brantley was said to be battling fatigue in the shoulder prior to going back on the DL, and he said following his second placement on the disabled list that he did not question the earlier-than-expected date of his return because he had felt that he was indeed ready to go.
A prolonged absence for Brantley is the last thing the Indians need at this juncture. Cleveland lost center fielder Abraham Almonte to an 80-game PED suspension prior to Opening Day, and they’ve now lost Marlon Byrd, who had been enjoying a productive season, to a 162-game ban for a PED offense of his own (the second of his career). The team’s outfield mix currently includes Rajai Davis, Tyler Naquin and converted infielders Lonnie Chisenhall and Jose Ramirez.
An extended stay on the disabled list for Brantley would only serve to further enhance the club’s need to add outfield help from outside the organization, though the Indians are known to be rather constricted in terms of payroll; the club opened the season with a payroll of about $96MM (when including salaries for sunk costs Michael Bourn, Nick Swisher and Chris Johnson), and the typically tight-budgeted team seems unlikely to be equipped to add a significant financial investment to the ledger. Of course, the Indians could always agree to pay a steeper price in terms of prospects in order to convince a trade partner to include significant financial relief in a trade for an outfield bat.
Beyond the financial component, however, it’s also simply unlikely that any realistic acquisition target for Cleveland would be able to replicate the production of a healthy Brantley. The 29-year-old broke out as one of baseball’s best hitters in 2014 and enjoyed an outstanding repeat season in 2015. Overall, he batted .319/.382/.494 with 35 homers and 38 steals (in 40 tries) from 2014-15 while drawing more walks (112) than strikeouts (107).
Brantley is earning $7.375MM in 2016, the third season of a three-year, $25MM contract signed prior to that 2014 breakout. He’s guaranteed $8.375MM next season, and Cleveland possesses an $11MM club option for the 2018 season that comes with a $1MM buyout.
- The Indians need to trade for an outfield bat in the wake of Marlon Byrd’s 162-game suspension, opines Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Suspensions for Byrd and Abraham Almonte, combined with the shoulder woes of Michael Brantley, has left Cleveland with an outfield mix of Rajai Davis, Tyler Naquin, Lonnie Chisenhall and Jose Ramirez. As Hoynes writes, the Indians “have pretty much said” that top prospects Bradley Zimmer and Clint Frazier won’t play in the Majors this season, so neither Double-A outfielder seems like an immediate option. President of baseball operations Chris Antonetti said to Hoynes that the club will “take some time to determine” if a trade is necessary, and he also explained that the club “spent a lot of time working through” Byrd’s first positive test before electing to sign him. Byrd, of course, went three years between suspensions and passed numerous drug tests along the way.
Indians outfielder Marlon Byrd was officially slapped with a 162-game suspension after testing positive for a performance enhancing substance, as Vince Grzegorek of Cleveland Scene first reported on Twitter. Byrd had previously been hit with a 50-game ban, meaning he was a second-time offender for purposes of the league’s more punitive current PED regime.
Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports noted via Twitter that Byrd chose not to appeal. The veteran has released a statement disclaiming fault, as has his attorney, both via Rosenthal (here and here). They suggest that a tainted supplement is to blame for the growth hormone secretagogue Ipamorelin that was found in Byrd’s system. Given his age and history, it’s fair to wonder whether this is the end of the line for the veteran, who has seen action in fifteen major league seasons.
Cleveland added the 38-year-old on a minor league deal to shore up an outfield that had several question marks — due, in part, to the PED suspension of presumptive center fielder Abraham Almonte. His own 80-game ban will finish up early next month.
Byrd had performed as hoped, posting a .270/.326/.452 slash with five home runs over 129 plate appearances. As usual, he’s done most of his damage against left-handed pitching. With his glovework in the corner outfield rating as at least average by measure of both UZR and DRS, and solid baserunning valuations added in, he’s been a sturdy contributor at the bargain rate of a $1MM annual salary.
Unfortunately for Cleveland, that wasn’t meant to last. With Almonte and Michael Brantley still out of action, the Indians are left with an outfield of Jose Ramirez, Rajai Davis, and Lonnie Chisenhall. All three have been rather productive this year, though it may be a lot to ask of that trio to make up an everyday unit.
The club has Michael Martinez on hand as a utility option, and seems likely to bring back Tyler Naquin to add another corner option. Naquin, 25, showed well earlier in the year, and both Joey Butler and Collin Cowgill provide depth on the 40-man roster.
Looking forward, the intriguing question is whether the loss of Byrd will add any motivation for a more dramatic move. Highly-rated prospects Bradley Zimmer and Clint Frazier are both raking at the Double-A level; while it’s unclear whether either would be considered in the near term, they could factor in down the line. Otherwise, it’s fair to wonder whether Cleveland will entertain an outside addition. The club can take its time assessing its needs and canvassing the market, but a significant strike can’t be ruled out with the division up for grabs.
- There was good news also for the Indians, who expect to start righty Carlos Carrasco on Thursday, as Ryan Lewis of the Akron Beacon Journal tweets. It seems that Carrasco will be limited to around eighty pitches in his first outing back, but will obviously be expected to ramp up from there. The 29-year-old allowed just six earned runs in his first 22 frames on the year before suffering a hamstring injury.
- While the Indians could well be deadline buyers as they make a push for the division title, Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer figures top prospects Clint Frazier, Bradley Zimmer and Bobby Bradley are untouchable in trade talks.
- Terry Pluto of the Cleveland Plain Dealer notes that since the start of the 2013 season, Justin Upton and Marlon Byrd have posted more similar counting stats than one might think. Upton is the better player overall (as seen through an fWAR comparison) and is a decade younger, though Pluto’s point is that the Indians are getting a bargain after signing Byrd to a minor league deal worth a $1MM guarantee plus incentives. The veteran is outperforming Upton, who has been a sub-replacement player in his first two months with the Tigers.
- Indians right-hander Carlos Carrasco, out since late April with a hamstring injury, is close to rejoining the club. He could make one more rehab start or get back on a big league mound even earlier than that, general manager Mike Chernoff told MLB Network Radio on Sunday (Twitter link). Prior to his injury, Carrasco pitched to an outstanding 2.45 ERA in 22 innings while putting up strong strikeout and walk ratios (8.18 and 2.05, respectively, per nine innings).
- While the Indians have one of the majors’ lowest payrolls, salary has never been a deciding factor for them around the trade deadline, Chernoff said (Twitter link). “It’s almost always about players and the return you have to give up,” he stated.
Yankees outfielder Carlos Beltran can block trades to 15 clubs under the terms of his limited no-trade clause, according to ESPN.com’s Buster Olney, who explores the possibility of a deal involving the veteran. Among the teams to which Beltran could be dealt without consent are the Indians, Nationals, Royals, Cardinals, Rays, Tigers, and Dodgers, per the report.
Of course, it’s far from clear whether New York will end up entertaining such a move. The club has moved back to within striking distance in the AL East already, and there’s plenty of time left before the deadline.
Parting with Beltran wouldn’t necessarily mean abandoning hope for the present season, Olney suggests. Shipping him out would free up opportunities for highly-regarded young players such as Aaron Hicks and Aaron Judge. They could be expected to provide value now while helping prepare for bigger roles in 2017 and beyond.
It’s fair to wonder just how much trade value Beltran would carry. On the one hand, he recently turned 39 and is a subpar outfielder (especially if one credits Defensive Runs Saved). On the other, he’s a highly respected veteran who is currently running out a productive .274/.299/.522 batting line, largely matching his overall production levels from last season (about 20% above league average).
Salary will certainly play a role, too, as Beltran is owed a healthy $15MM this season before reaching free agency at year’s end. Whether or not the market is receptive to that overall package remains to be seen, but presumably the Yankees won’t make a move unless they receive some kind of interesting return (barring a full-blown collapse in the next two months). That’s especially true given the uncertainty of Hicks and Judge as well as the fact that aging sluggers Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez come with their own blend of health, age, and performance questions.
Here are today’s minor moves from around baseball:
- The Rays have promoted right-hander Tyler Sturdevant from Triple-A Durham and demoted righty Steve Geltz, reports Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times (on Twitter). Sturdevant, who served a 50-game PED suspension last year, is now in position to make his big league debut after accumulating outstanding numbers over 318 1/3 frames in the minors (2.74 ERA, 9.8 K/9, 2.8 BB/9). Geltz gave up two earned runs in an inning of work Sunday and ran his ERA up to 6.06 in 16 1/3 innings with Tampa Bay this season.
- The Tigers have recalled right-hander Buck Farmer from Triple-A Toledo and optioned righty Drew VerHagen, per Jason Beck of MLB.com (Twitter link). Farmer has already accrued 8 1/3 impressive innings for the Tigers this season and logged a 2.16 ERA, 10.8 K/9 and 3.24 BB/9. VerHagen threw an inning for the club Sunday and allowed two earned runs, giving him a 7.11 ERA in 19 frames this year.
- The Angels have selected the contract of left-hander Lucas Luetge, who will fill Tim Lincecum’s roster spot, tweets Alden Gonzalez of MLB.com. Luetge, whom the Halos signed in November, owns a 4.35 ERA, 7.5 K/9 and 4.8 BB/9 in 89 major league innings.
- The Indians have recalled right-hander Austin Adams from Triple-A Columbus and sent southpaw Kyle Crockett down, according to Ryan Lewis of the Akron Beacon Journal (Twitter link). Adams was lights-out over 16 1/3 frames with the Clippers prior to today, putting up a 1.10 ERA, 9.92 K/9 and 2.76 BB/9. He hasn’t been nearly that effective at the big league level, though, with a 4.69 ERA, 6.02 K/9 and 3.12 B/9 in 40 1/3 innings. The demotion of Crockett, who has given up a whopping six earned runs on seven hits in just 3 2/3 innings this season, will leave the Indians’ bullpen without a left-handed option.