- The Indians have signed second-round choice Yordys Valdes for $1MM, according to Callis. The slot value for his pick, No. 63, was $1,076,300. Valdes is a switch-hitting, contact-making high school shortstop from Florida. Third-rounder Joe Naranjo – the 101st pick – also signed, but he landed an above-slot deal worth $770K ($577K slot). The California-based high school first baseman boasts “one of the best prep bats” in his draft class, Callis relays.
Per a team release, the Indians have claimed righty Jordan Stephens off waivers from the White Sox. Stephens, 26, had a rough go at AAA-Charlotte this season, pitching to an 8.60 ERA/6.29 FIP while being torched for eight homers in 37 2/3 IP. He’ll reportedly be assigned to the club’s Double-A affiliate in Akron, OH.
Stephens has worked mostly as a starter to this point in his career, though FanGraphs’ Kiley McDaniel and Eric Longenhagen point to his “premium raw spin” on a 60-grade curveball as justification for a move to a bullpen, perhaps in a “multi-inning” relief role. Stephens’ fastball grades out as below big-league average, with most reports touting his solid command of a big-league-caliber cutter.
By latest count, Cleveland stands at a man over the maximum 40 on their extended roster, so a corresponding move would figure to come in short order. The club also must make room for righty Mike Clevinger, who’ll return from the 60-day IL to start Monday’s game at Texas.
Pounders, 28, had spent the entire season with AAA-Columbus, posting a solid 2.17 ERA with an 11.83 K/9 in 35 IP. Though unquestionably impressive in the new, juiced-up Triple-A landscape, Pounders’ line was suppressed by a .217 BABIP and obviously unsustainable 87.6% LOB. His FIP was a more pedestrian 3.67, and deeper peripheral marks were even less encouraged.
In 35 career MLB innings for the Royals, Angels, and Rockies, the hulking righty has pitched to an 8.92 ERA/6.39 FIP with a startling 3.05 HR/9 over that span. He did put together an impressive line last season, spinning 15 1/3 innings of 9.98 K/9/1.17 BB/9 ball for the Wild Card-winning Rockies. Pounders’ll look to stabilize what’s been one of MLB’s worst bullpens this season, with only Seth Lugo, Robert Gsellman, and the suddenly homer-prone Edwin Diaz offering anything in the way of dependability thus far.
The Indians have agreed to a $2.5MM bonus with first-round choice Daniel Espino, according to Paul Hoynes of the Plain Dealer (via Twitter). He was selected with the 24th overall pick, which came with a $2.83MM slot allocation.
Espino is a right-handed hurler who’ll launch his pro career after wrapping up his high school tenure in Georgia. He was selected just about where most pundits valued him. MLB.com and ESPN.com’s Keith Law both placed him in the 23rd slot, while Baseball America had him at #25.
Many see limitless upside in Espino’s powerful right arm, particularly since he shows promising secondary stuff. But there’s also quite a lot of risk in his profile: an exceptionally hard-throwing high-schooler who lacks a big frame or pristine mechanics. The Fangraphs prospect crew rated him 33rd overall, even while acknowledging the potentially massive value.
Indians righty Cody Anderson has undergone surgery to repair an injury to his flexor tendon, manager Terry Francona told reporters including MLB.com’s Mandy Bell (via Twitter). It is not yet clear how long he’ll be sidelined.
It’s the latest bad news for Anderson, who has managed only 69 2/3 MLB innings since a promising debut showing back in 2015. He took a long road back from Tommy John surgery and finally seemed to be back at health this year.
Though he was able to get back to professional pitching, sitting at 95 mph with his fastball, Anderson had struggled prior to the renewed arm problems. He was tagged for nine earned runs in 8 2/3 MLB innings. In 23 2/3 frames over six Triple-A starts, he carried a 4.56 ERA with 8.0 K/9 and 2.7 BB/9.
Anderson is earning $641,500 on an arbitration deal, so it’s not a huge financial loss for the club. But it is another dent in the club’s rotation depth, which has already been tested quite a bit to this stage of the season.
Fortunately, some of the team’s stars are beginning to filter back. Mike Clevinger returned sooner than anticipated from the IL. And Corey Kluber is making progress in his own rehab, as Bell also tweets, though he’s still limited to strengthening exercises and remains a long ways off from the majors.
- The Indians are facing an 11-game deficit in the AL Central, and MLB.com’s Jon Morosi suggests that the team won’t act as an aggressive buyer this summer unless it feels there’s a real chance at winning the division. That’s become increasingly clear in recent weeks. As the gap in the AL Central has grown, so too have rumors about the potential availability of coveted pitchers such as Trevor Bauer (controlled through 2020) and Brad Hand (signed through 2021). Morosi notes that Cleveland would be “poised” to listen to offers on that pair, as well as the resurgent Carlos Santana, barring a sudden climb back into the division race. Santana is hitting .286/.406/.530 with 14 homers and more walks (46) than strikeouts (45) through 281 plate appearances in his return to Cleveland. He’s earning $17MM in 2019 and$17.5MM in 2020, though the Mariners are on the hook for $5MM of the salary still owed to him. Santana’s contract also contains a $17.5MM club option, but that’ll be his age-35 campaign.
The Indians will activate starter Mike Clevinger to take the ball on Monday, MLB.com’s Mandy Bell was among those to cover on Twitter. Clevinger recently made a second rehab appearance as part of his recovery from an upper back/teres major strain.
While the club ended up going without the excellent righty for just over two months, that’s actually a relief. When it was determined that his injury was worse than originally believed, it seemed that he might need that much time just for rest and rehab.
Clevinger, 28, will make for a significant boost to a club that has dealt with a trio of blows to its exceptional starting staff. Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco remain sidelined, but the Cleveland organization can now slot in another co-ace alongside Trevor Bauer at the front of the rotation.
The Indians will hope that Clevinger can pick up where he left off. In his first dozen frames of the year, he allowed just a pair of hits while racking up a 22:4 K/BB ratio. It’ll take a big effort from Clevinger and the rest of the roster to track down the division-leading Twins, but that’s not out of the realm of possibility and the Indians remain in the thick of the Wild Card hunt.
The Red Sox and Indians entered the 2019 season as popular picks to earn playoff berths. Both teams have been powerhouses in recent years, including in 2018, when the Red Sox went 108-54 en route to a World Series title and the Indians took home their third consecutive AL Central crown. Two-plus months into the season, though, Boston and Cleveland have had to sail through rougher waters than expected. Both teams are just a tad over .500 (the Red Sox are 34-32, the Indians 33-32) and currently sitting outside the AL playoff picture.
Just about everything that could have gone right did for the Red Sox a year ago. Their position players paced the entire league in runs and led the AL in fWAR, and their pitchers were toward the top of the game in ERA and fWAR. None of that’s true this season, however. While Boston continues to enjoy a formidable offense, it’s not the juggernaut it was a season ago. Last year’s AL MVP, Mookie Betts, as well as J.D. Martinez, Andrew Benintendi, World Series MVP Steve Pearce and Jackie Bradley Jr. have all seen their numbers dip. Much-improved production from Rafael Devers and Christian Vazquez hasn’t been enough to offset the fallen output of that important group.
On the pitching side, ace Chris Sale has come back with a vengeance from a dreadful start, while David Price has also been outstanding. At the same time, though, late-2018 hero Nathan Eovaldi has barely pitched because of an elbow injury (and has struggled when he has taken the mound). Meanwhile, Eduardo Rodriguez’s run prevention has tailed off, though his peripherals are encouraging, Rick Porcello hasn’t been close to his best self and enemy offenses have roughed up Hector Velazquez. Those starters have handed off to a bullpen that has been somewhat shaky in adjusting to life without the departed Craig Kimbrel and Joe Kelly.
The Indians’ relief unit has taken enormous steps forward since 2018, on the other hand. It’s the rest of their roster that has gone backward. Top starters Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer, Carlos Carrasco and Mike Clevinger have either battled serious injuries/illnesses or drastically underachieved. Francisco Lindor is having another great year, but his pal Jose Ramirez has gone from an MVP-level player to someone who can barely lift his OPS over .600. Michael Brantley’s now in Houston, replaced by players who have been incapable of matching his 2018 production. Jason Kipnis has been horrific, and the Indians’ offseason decision to trade Yandy Diaz for Jake Bauers simply hasn’t worked out to this point.
The Indians’ mediocre play has left them a whopping 10 1/2 games behind the AL Central-leading Twins. As a result, the Tribe may have to consider making some difficult decisions this summer as the July 31 trade deadline draws nearer. For now, though, the Indians are very much in the wild-card hunt, behind the surprising Rangers by a game and a half. Boston’s even closer to Texas, which it trails by one and began a four-game series against Monday, but might have trouble overcoming the seven-game advantage the Rays and Yankees have built in the AL East. By the time the regular season wraps up, do you expect the Indians and Red Sox to be part of the league’s playoff field?
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The Indians didn’t leave themselves much margin for error heading into the 2019 campaign. Ownership mandated payroll cuts in the offseason while delivering a candid and ominous “enjoy him” message to fans in reference to franchise shortstop Francisco Lindor. Cleveland’s Opening Day lineup looked more like the type you’d expect to see in early Spring Training than that of a division favorite earnestly putting forth its best options. An injury to Lindor weakened the product, but the holes throughout an order that featured Tyler Naquin hitting third were glaring.
A questionable offense was a known trade-off, though, as the Indians were built on the foundation of perhaps the game’s best collection of starting pitchers. Two-time Cy Young winner Corey Kluber was again joined by co-aces Carlos Carrasco and Trevor Bauer, while younger righties Mike Clevinger and Shane Bieber rounded out a rotation that would make nearly any team envious.
Fast forward a bit more than 10 weeks, and only Bauer and Bieber are healthy — neither with the results one might’ve expected of them. Clevinger made two starts before going down to a teres major strain that still has him on the injured list (though he’s nearing a return). Kluber suffered a fractured arm when he was struck by a comebacker. Most concerning of all, Carrasco is on the injured list due to a blood condition that has rendered him lethargic and likely contributed to some disappointing on-field results of his own. Even the Indians’ top depth option, Jefry Rodriguez, landed on the IL last week.
The result is an Indians club that trails the surprising Twins by 10.5 games in the AL Central. At 33-32, the Indians are still within 1.5 games of the second AL Wild Card spot, but it’s a tight race. Both the Yankees and the Rays are at 40-24, jostling for the AL East division lead. They’re six games up on another surprising club, the Rangers, and one of New York or Tampa Bay appears quite likely to claim that top Wild Card position. The Red Sox, Indians, Athletics, White Sox and Angels are all within four games of Texas for that second spot. Each of the Rangers, Red Sox and Athletics rather handily tops Cleveland’s -6 run differential.
The Indians are clear Wild Card contenders with a (much) longer shot to fight back into the division race, but for a club that entered the year as a strong favorite in the AL Central, their outlook is unexpectedly bleak. And given the obvious payroll constraints they faced in the offseason, it’s worth questioning whether ownership will dub the 2019 campaign somewhat of a transitional year and look to further cut some costs.
The Indians have just $48.4MM committed to next year’s payroll (via Jason Martinez of Roster Resource). That seems plenty manageable, but the number won’t stay at that level. Kluber’s $17.5MM option seems likely to be exercised even with his injury and some unexpected struggles (5.80 ERA in 35 2/3 innings). Lindor and Bauer headline an expensive arbitration class. Lindor already received a $10.55MM salary in his first trip through the process, and while we can’t know precisely what he’ll earn, last year’s Kris Bryant and Mookie Betts cases provide somewhat of a range. Both players earned similar numbers to Lindor in their first arbitration campaigns; Bryant had an injury-hindered year in 2018 and was bumped up to $12.9MM while Betts won the AL MVP and vaulted to $20MM. Lindor will probably check in somewhere near the midpoint — perhaps closer to Betts given that he’s been quite productive since returning from the IL. Bauer, meanwhile, will get a raise on a $13MM salary and could approach the $20MM mark.
The aforementioned $48.4MM figure could balloon to the $100MM vicinity when accounting for the salaries of Lindor, Kluber and Bauer alone. Add Clevinger’s first arbitration salary, the need to supplement the roster in other areas (one of second/third base, the bullpen, the outfield) and several league-minimum players, and it’s easy to see the payroll approaching or even exceeding the current $124MM mark despite a drop in attendance from 2018. All of this is to say that the Indians enter the summer not as the clear-cut buyers that many anticipated but as a team that could plausibly walk the line between a sell-off and some measured upgrades to the roster.
Players like Bauer and Brad Hand will be highly attractive assets who could command sizable returns. Cleveland knows it won’t sign Bauer long-term. The right-hander has been open on multiple occasions about his plans to play out his career on a series of one-year contracts (thus maximizing his salary on a year-over-year basis while also incurring a good bit of risk).
Hand is controlled through 2021 ($7.6MM in 2020, $10MM club option in 2021), and every contender in the game would love the opportunity to add him to its bullpen. His value right now is arguably as high as it was when the Indians acquired him a year ago; Hand has career-bests in ERA (0.98), FIP (1.70), xFIP (2.82) and HR/9 (0.33) at the moment and is eminently affordable. ESPN’s Buster Olney wrote yesterday (subscription required) after chatting with executives around the league that other teams expect Cleveland to trade Hand with his value nearing its apex.
Moving Hand or Bauer wouldn’t do the Indians’ playoff chances any favors, but doing so could yield controllable, near-MLB-ready talent while simultaneously providing the front office with a substantial increase in payroll flexibility this winter — dollars that could be reallocated to putting forth a more complete roster. And selling either or both players wouldn’t totally eliminate the team from contention, given the rather mediocre nature of the AL Wild Card race at the moment and the rebuilding nature of the bottom of the AL Central. It’s even plausible that the Indians could trade one of those players and acquire a more affordable replacement.
For now, the focus will surely remain on narrowing the gap between them and the Twins, and it’s certainly worth highlighting that their upcoming schedule is weak. They’ll play a combined 12 games against the Royals, Tigers and Orioles between now and the All-Star break. That presents a nice opportunity to make up some ground, although the Twins also have seven games against the Royals, three against the Mariners and three against the White Sox in that same span. The Indians and Twins will meet for a three-game set in Cleveland to open the second half.
The Indians needn’t embark on a full-scale rebuild like the ones that are taking place in Kansas City and Detroit — though if they ever did go that route, the price on a player of Lindor’s caliber would be staggering — nor do they even need to throw in the towel for the 2019. But the way the season has played out thus far makes it increasingly plausible that they’ll listen to offers for Bauer or Hand — a scenario few expected back in March.
Both pitchers have been up-and-down of late, with Plutko set for his second stint with the big league club. He went 1-1 with a 6.35 ERA over two starts before being sent back down on May 25. He earned the win with six innings of one run ball against the Orioles in his first start of the season, but took the loss with 5 1/3 rough innings his next time out against Tampa Bay. Today he takes on the Yankees at home.
Edwards made just one appearances since his last recall on June 5th, retiring both Minnesota Twins that he faced. The 31-year-old has nine appearances in total for the Indians this year, tallying two wins in that time and a 2.25 ERA.
With so many injuries among the starting staff, not least of which being the latest news of Carlos Carrasco’s troubling blood condition, Plutko should have a real opportunity to contribute in what’s been one of the more disappointing seasons around baseball. The club recently added Mitch Talbot to the minor league ranks, but all-in-all the pitching options are thinning for Cleveland. Zach Plesac earned his first career win last night against the Yankees, and he’s made an early claim to one of the rotation spots behind Trevor Bauer and Shane Bieber, but injuries have cut the ranks and made a clear path for someone like Plutko to get some serious run this season for the Indians.