The Indians remain in a highly competitive stance coming out of the 2018 season, particularly in an exceedingly weak overall American League Central division. After three-straight divisional titles, the organization still has one of the game’s best — and most affordable — core talent groups.
Still, there are plenty of needs on the roster and seemingly less resources to utilize to fulfill them. The club has in recent years both committed salary and dealt well-regarded prospects to supplement its fantastic bunch of stars.
Given this state of affairs, ESPN.com’s Buster Olney reports (Twitter link), the Indians “will listen to trade offers” involving key veteran players. He specifically cites top hurlers Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco, along with pricey veterans such as Edwin Encarnacion, Yan Gomes, and Jason Kipnis, as theoretical trade chips.
Importantly, and unsurprisingly, the club’s two still-youthful, amply controllable stars — Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor — will remain off limits. There’s certainly little reason for the Indians even to contemplate moves involving those players, whose contract rights are among the most valuable in the entire sport.
The most interesting element of this report, undoubtedly, is the possibility of the Indians offering up some of their top-flight pitching talent. Kluber and Carrasco are both excellent pitchers, but they are also signed to highly appealing contracts. The former, a perennial Cy Young contender, can be controlled through 2021 for as little as $30.5MM (though his 2020 and 2021 options can rise in value based upon his Cy placement). The latter, who’s also a top-10 starter over the past three seasons, will pitch for just $9.75MM next and little more in 2020 (his option, too, can be boosted based on the voting).
There’s no specific mention of righty Trevor Bauer, who emerged to take a place alongside his more-accomplished rotation mates. He’s just as plausible a candidate to be moved from an outside perspective, though, given that he’s down to two more years of arbitration control. Bauer is the most youthful of the three, but doesn’t figure to be an extension candidate given his stated preference never to agree to a multi-year deal. Still, he’s projected to earn a bargain $11.6MM for 2019 with one more arb year to go thereafter.
Any of these three pitchers would be hotly pursued this winter, because there just aren’t many alternatives. As our recent Market Snapshot series discussed, the trade market doesn’t seem to offer much in the way of high-end pitching– at least at affordable rates of pay. Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, and Madison Bumgarner do not appear particularly likely even to be discussed in trades. Zack Greinke is still good, but his remaining obligation of $95.5MM is more than it cost the Dodgers to retain Clayton Kershaw earlier today. Meanwhile, the free agent market has a few talented hurlers on offer, but that’ll entail long-term commitments and much greater financial risk.
For some organizations, the possibility of landing one of the Indians pitchers would be a dream scenario. Of course, there’s little question that the Cleveland organization will demand a princely sum. Given its near-term ambitions, far-away prospects likely won’t headline a deal. Instead, the Indians are sure to demand high-quality players that can step right into the lineup while also providing greater long-term value than the starters who’d be dealt. While the Indians may be willing to stake a bet on their ability to find good innings from within, at least sufficient to come out ahead of the divisional opponents, it’s hard to look past the fact that the American League features a few teams that have aggregated an awful lot of talent. Rolling the dice on other hurlers (Mike Clevinger, Shane Bieber, Adam Plutko, Danny Salazar) could be a viable strategy, but only if the Indians can secure young players they truly believe in with a swap.
As for the other players on the Indians roster that could be moved, it seems reasonable to suppose that cost-savings would be a leading motivator. Encarnacion can still swing the bat, but he wouldn’t command his remaining obligation ($25MM, including a 2021 option buyout) on the open market. Gomes rebounded with the bat in 2018, but is earning a relatively hefty $7MM, plus $2MM in buyouts on a pair of options ($9MM and $11MM, respectively) that seem unlikely to be exercised. (Fellow backstop Roberto Perez also receives mention from Olney, though he’s much cheaper and his control runs further into the future. He also struggled notably in 2018.) No doubt the club would like to find a taker for some of the $17MM still owed Kipnis ($2.5MM of which is in a buyout), but other organizations would only stake so much on a rebound. First baseman Yonder Alonso ($8MM salary plus $1MM buyout on 2020 option) would also seem a hypothetical possibility.
All things considered, there are quite a few fascinating possibilities to consider. Elite young position-player talent and/or cost savings seem clearly to be in mind here for the Indians. It may require a bit of a tightrope walk to pull things off, but the market situation seems generally favorable to the attempt.