According to Bruce Levine of CBS Sports Chicago, the Cubs and Indians have “had trade talk conversations,” and right-hander Danny Salazar’s name has come up. The Indians are reportedly asking for left-handed hitting in exchange. Levine adds that there is “nothing close at this time.”
That the Indians are willing to entertain trade scenarios involving Salazar is a bit unexpected, but makes some sense considering the depth of the team’s rotation and the 2017 emergence of Mike Clevinger as a solid starter. With Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Josh Tomlin and Trevor Bauer also in the fold, the Indians are one of very few MLB teams who have an abundance of viable major league starters.
Perhaps the bigger surprise is that the Indians are asking for lefty hitters in exchange. Based on a quick glance at the Tribe’s roster, one might guess that the Tribe would want players who hit from the right side of the plate. Their projected Opening Day lineup for 2018 (via Roster Resource) includes six players capable of hitting left-handed (switch-hitters Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez among them), while their righty options beyond Edwin Encarnacion haven’t proven themselves to be above-average hitters. If the Indians are indeed looking for a left-handed hitter, perhaps it’s an indication that trade talks for Jason Kipnis are in the more advanced stages, though that’s purely my own speculation.
It’s unclear whether the talks for Salazar came before or after the recent signing of Drew Smyly, who carries both similar upside and similar injury risk. If they came (or continued) after the Smyly signing, one might wonder whether the Cubs intend to use one of Salazar or Smyly as a bullpen arm; four rotation spots would already seem to be filled by Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, Jose Quintana and the newly-signed Tyler Chatwood. Of course, Chicago might simply be taking a page out of the 2017 Dodgers’ book; L.A. patched together a rotation of oft-injured, high-upside starters who bounced between the rotation and the DL over the course of the season.
As for Salazar, he carries tremendous upside. The right-handed fireballer has been known to hit the high nineties on the radar gun, even touching 100 on some occasions throughout his career. He mixes in a split change which ESPN’s Mark Simon once rated as the best pitch in MLB. Salazar also routinely carries one of the best strikeout rates in baseball, and though his career 3.82 ERA doesn’t jump off the page, his 3.42 career xFIP suggests he’s been quite a bit better than that number would indicate.
Consistency and health are what hold Salazar back the most. Although he’s shown flashes of utter dominance (his first five starts back from the DL this past season come to mind), he’s never proven he can sustain his success over extended stretched of the season. As for his health, the righty has only topped 140 innings once during his major league career. He’s been through Tommy John surgery in the past, and has experienced a variety of elbow and shoulder issues in recent years.
That being said, his upside is tremendous, and if Salazar is truly available, I’d expect the Indians will field a lot of calls on him. In particular, it seems likely that the clubs interested in Matt Harvey would want to reach out to Cleveland’s front office.