The Indians had a 94.6% chance of making the playoffs prior to the season, according to FanGraphs. The Twins looked like an 85-win team, the Indians projected at 97, and the other 60% of the division is rebuilding. The Twins, however, have flipped the script with a 32-16 start through Tuesday’s games. They hold a 6.5 game lead over Cleveland. But a Wild Card spot is a viable option for the Indians as well, and they still hold a 54.3% shot at the postseason.
The Indians have averaged just 3.96 runs per game, 12th in the AL and nestled between non-contenders. After the club designated Carlos Gonzalez for assignment today, Zack Meisel of The Athletic wrote, “The state of the Indians’ lineup suggests a player can be hitting cleanup one day and be unemployed the next.” Indeed, CarGo had started eight of the Indians’ last ten games, typically as the left fielder.
Gonzalez will be replaced internally for the foreseeable future, with 24-year-old rookie Oscar Mercado in line for an extended look. The speedy Mercado, a Cardinals second round draft pick out of high school as a shortstop in 2013, was quietly acquired at last year’s trade deadline. Mercado returned to the edge of the prospect radar after 2017, a season in which he blossomed playing center field every day and had his best offensive year. Even at that point, though, he profiled as an extra outfielder in the Majors. Mercado’s bat wasn’t terribly impressive at Triple-A in 2018, but he tweaked his swing in the offseason, raked in spring training, and hammered the ball in 30 games at Triple-A. He’s interesting enough to merit regular playing time for the next couple of months, and his right-handed bat could be just what the Indians need in left field. The Indians have veteran center fielder Leonys Martin likely to be pushed by former first rounder Bradley Zimmer in the near future, while Jordan Luplow has settled in as the team’s right fielder and has the minor league track record to stick.
We’ll know much more about this arrangement by mid-July, and it’s possible Mercado and/or Luplow won’t continue hitting at the Major League level. While the Indians have some other paths to improving their offense, this post will explore corner outfield trade targets they may consider if internal options struggle.
Current Left Fielders
- Domingo Santana, Mariners (controllable through 2021) – Santana has dropped off after a fast start, and the Mariners look less like a contender. Still, he was a nice find for the club and I don’t think they’ll be eager to move him.
- Alex Gordon, Royals (2019) – Given Gordon’s offensive renaissance, he would be a nifty veteran rental for Cleveland. However, he has 10-and-5 rights and made it clear he doesn’t want to leave Kansas City. Plus, Gordon is earning $20MM this year and would get a $4MM assignment bonus upon a trade.
- Clint Frazier, Yankees (2023) – Frazier, the Indians’ first-round pick in 2013, was a key piece along with Justus Sheffield in Cleveland’s 2016 deadline deal for Andrew Miller. Frazier has filled in admirably for the Yankees this year after their litany of injuries, but the club may not have much playing time for him once Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton return. He could become trade bait for New York, and it would be fascinating if he were to return to the organization that drafted him. Still, the Yankees may be reluctant to help a possible playoff opponent, and they can always send Frazier to Triple-A if they truly cannot find at-bats for him.
- Adam Duvall, Braves (2021) – The Braves acquired Duvall from the Reds last summer and despite tendering him a contract in the offseason, did not put him on the Opening Day roster. Duvall showed the ability to serve as a low on-base, high power left fielder with the Reds from 2016-17, and it wouldn’t take much for the Indians to add him. The 30-year-old has mashed 15 home runs in 188 Triple-A plate appearances so far this year.
- Yasmany Tomas, Diamondbacks (2020) – The Diamondbacks signed Tomas out of Cuba in December 2014 to a six-year, $68.5MM deal. Though he smacked 31 home runs in his sophomore season, the D’Backs were never able to find a good home for him defensively. Tomas hasn’t seen Major League time since 2017, but he’s hit 14 home runs in 178 plate appearances at Triple-A this year. Jake Bauers has served as the Indians’ primary DH of late, but he could slide into left field if the team were to acquire a player like Tomas. The Diamondbacks would have to pick up the vast majority of Tomas’ contract to move him.
Current Right Fielders
- Yasiel Puig, Reds (2019) – Puig would be an excellent rental for the Indians, except for the fact that he hasn’t hit at all this year. He’s also earning $9.7MM. If Puig does return to form as an above average bat over the next few months, I could see him on the Indians’ radar.
- Nicholas Castellanos, Tigers (2019) – Castellanos has been about league average with the bat this year after a superb 130 wRC+ season in 2018. Like Puig, he’s headed for free agency after the season and is earning about $10MM. Castellanos isn’t much of a defender, but assuming the Tigers don’t have any hang-ups about trading a rental within the division, he’s a great fit for Cleveland.
- Adam Eaton, Nationals (2021) – Eaton is less than ideal as a left-handed hitter, but despite his slow start he could be a useful addition for the Indians.
- Mitch Haniger, Mariners (2022) – Haniger would be a major prize for a team like the Indians, and he bats right-handed to boot, but Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto would seek a king’s ransom if he even considers a trade. Seattle won’t be in any rush to move Haniger.
- Trey Mancini, Orioles (2022) – Mancini is one of very few bright spots on the Orioles this year, and trading the 27-year-old might not sit well with some fans, but it could be an avenue for Orioles executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias to bolster his prospect stash. Like Haniger, he’d be an attractive, controllable fit for the Indians.
- Jorge Soler, Royals (2021) – Soler has never managed to play a full season in the Majors, but he’s been healthy and has hit for power this year. I’m guessing the Royals are not eager to deal him currently.
- Tyler O’Neill, Cardinals (2024) – O’Neill is currently playing at Triple-A, though he’s been out since Saturday with an undisclosed injury. The 23-year-old has massive power from the right side and plus defense in the corners, though he’s struck out a ton in his 181 big league plate appearances. The Cardinals have already relegated a starting-caliber player to the bench in Harrison Bader, so O’Neill has an even tougher path to playing time. Longer-term, Marcell Ozuna is slated for free agency after the season and Jose Martinez could land elsewhere, so O’Neill may yet be part of the Cardinals’ future. He’s still a player about which the Indians could inquire.
It’s also worth considering that several teams that are contending now may not be contending in a few months. The Rangers, Diamondbacks, Pirates, Padres, and Athletics have some interesting corner outfield bats that might become considerations for the Indians. I also entertained the possibility of including the Cubs’ Ian Happ on this list, though the 24-year-old has struggled in 42 Triple-A games.