- There haven’t yet been any contract talks between Cesar Hernandez and the Indians, but the second baseman “would be looking to be part of the team for the coming years,” as he told Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Hernandez was non-tendered by the Phillies last winter and signed a one-year, $6.25MM deal with the Tribe, delivering a .266/.337/.383 slash line over 210 plate appearances in 2020. While this offensive production is slightly below average (95 wRC+), his bat in combination with his strong second base defense has made for a solid 1.0 fWAR contribution over his 46 games in a Cleveland uniform. There are some other interesting middle infield options in the free market, plus this player pool is likely to grow once teams make their own non-tender decisions. Hernandez is the type of decent but unspectacular player who could potentially be squeezed into a one-year contract this winter if teams tighten their budgets in the wake of this pandemic season, so the Indians (certainly a team looking to limit its payroll) could have room to re-sign Hernandez if the price is right.
Leone was an offseason minor league signing for the Indians, with whom he cracked the roster but had a rough time over 9 2/3 innings before they designated him. The 28-year-old did rack up 16 strikeouts in that span, but he also gave up nine earned runs on 14 hits and five walks. This will go down as the second straight difficult campaign for Leone, who struggled to a 5.53 ERA/5.45 FIP over 40 2/3 innings as a Cardinal in 2019.
Not too long ago, Leone was an eminently valuable member of Toronto’s bullpen, as he logged a 2.56 ERA/2.94 FIP with 10.36 K/9 and 2.94 BB/9 in 70 1/3 innings in 2017. The Blue Jays traded Leone to the Cardinals in a deal for outfielder Randal Grichuk during the ensuing winter, but Leone hasn’t really been the same since he battled right biceps problems in his first season in St. Louis.
2:36PM: Jefry Rodriguez has been placed on the 45-day injured list with a right shoulder strain, which opens a 40-man spot for Nelson. Rodriguez was on Cleveland’s 60-man player pool but his season will end without any big league action. The 27-year-old Rodriguez posted a 5.20 ERA over 98 2/3 innings for the Nationals and Indians in 2018-19.
2:10PM: The Indians have selected the contract of left-hander Kyle Nelson from their alternate training site, the club announced. Right-hander Adam Cimber was optioned to the alternate training site in a corresponding move, and another move will need to be made to create space for Nelson on the 40-man roster.
A 15th-round pick for Cleveland in the 2017 draft, the 24-year-old Nelson is on track to make his MLB debut after posting some very impressive numbers in the Tribe’s farm system. Nelson has a 2.07 ERA, 5.68 K/BB rate, and 13.0 K/9 over 122 career minor league innings, working as a reliever for 95 of his 96 games. Known for his outstanding slider, Nelson will add some left-handed depth to a Cleveland bullpen that has only two southpaws in its ranks — closer Brad Hand and veteran Oliver Perez.
Cimber pitched on both Monday and Tuesday, allowing three runs over a combined two-thirds of an inning of work. His demotion could simply to be to give him a bit of a breather and to allow the Tribe to get a fresher arm into the mix, as Cimber had been pitching quite well prior to those last two outings. The righty had a 1.80 ERA over his first 10 innings of the 2020 season, albeit with only five strikeouts, which represents a concerning lack of missed bats even though Cimber is a grounder specialist.
Indians third baseman Jose Ramirez exited their win over the Royals on Monday with left thumb discomfort, Mandy Bell of MLB.com relays. The Indians replaced Ramirez, who Bell notes has been dealing with the issue for weeks, with Mike Freeman. Whether Ramirez will miss any more time remains to be seen, but the Indians can only hope he won’t, as he has played an important role in their 26-15 start. The 27-year-old Ramirez has followed up a so-so 2019 (by his standards) with a .248/.350/.478 start and nine home runs in 183 plate appearances this season.
The Indians announced Friday that outfielder Domingo Santana has been assigned outright to their alternate training site after he went unclaimed on waivers. Because Santana was outrighted to the alternate site, he remains in Cleveland’s player pool and is eligible to rejoin the club later this season if they wish to again add him to the 40-man roster. The club also released infielder/outfielder Jake Elmore, who’d been in the 60-player pool.
Cleveland bought low on Santana this winter, signing him to a one-year, $1.5MM contract with a 2021 club option after he was non-tendered by the Mariners. The hope was surely that he could rebound closer to the .278/.371/.505, 30-homer form he showed with Milwaukee in 2017, but Santana struggled through one of the worst showings of his career with his new club. Appearing in 24 games and taking 84 plate appearances, the 28-year-old hit just .157/.298/.286 with a pair of homers and three doubles.
Santana did manage a hearty 15.5 percent walk rate, but he also struck out in 30 percent of his plate appearances. Meanwhile, his average exit velocity was down 3.5 mph from its 2019 levels, per Statcast, and his hard-hit rate fell by seven percent. He might return later this month, but suffice it to say, his $5MM club option won’t be picked up.
The 32-year-old Elmore signed a minor league deal with the Indians back in early July and spent Summer Camp with the team, but he has not been called up from their alternate site to this point. Elmore has appeared in 217 games at the big league level and logged 527 plate appearances.
Though he’s just a .215/.292/.275 hitter in that time, Elmore has demonstrated as much versatility as anyone in baseball. In 2013, the Astros used him at every position on the diamond — including catcher and pitcher. Elmore has at least 106 innings at all four infield spots, 234 innings in the outfield (including 14 in center) and has also caught 4 1/3 innings and pitched two frames (one run allowed) in the Majors.
The Padres were the most active buyer at the 2020 trade deadline — arguably of any trade deadline in recent history — reshaping their roster with additions of Mike Clevinger, Austin Nola, Trevor Rosenthal, Mitch Moreland and Jason Castro, among others. The dizzying sequence of additions hearkened back to the days when Matt Kemp labeled A.J. Preller a “rock star” GM during Preller’s frenetic first offseason on the job, but the biggest trades swung by the Padres over the weekend didn’t necessarily come together in straightforward fashion.
Preller, in fact, was informed Sunday evening that his Padres were “out” of the Clevinger bidding, USA Today’s Bob Nightengale reports (via Twitter). The Indians told the Padres that they were sitting on a better offer and likely to proceed in another direction. That call prompted the club to reconvene and alter its package, ultimately adding infield prospect Owen Miller and catcher Austin Hedges early Monday morning. Those pieces put San Diego’s offer over the top, it seems, as word of Clevinger’s trade to the Friars was out several hours before the 4pm ET deadline.
Hedges and Miller, the final two pieces of the Padres’ six-player package, added quite a bit more near-term value to the arrangement. Hedges is considered one of the best defensive catchers (if not the best) in the game and is controlled through the 2022 season. The 23-year-old Miller has yet to make his big league debut, but he slashed .290/.355/.430 in a full season at the Double-A level last year while playing three infield positions. He’s in Cleveland’s player pool now and could conceivably be an option this month. If not, he’ll certainly be in consideration for a call to the big leagues come 2021. With Cesar Hernandez playing on a one-year deal, it’s possible that Miller could be in the mix for regular playing time next season.
But the Clevinger blockbuster wasn’t the only Friars swap that required some persistent iterations. Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto told reporters after trading Nola, Austin Adams and Dan Altavilla to the Padres that he didn’t expect to trade Nola this summer (as opposed to Taijuan Walker, whom the M’s fully anticipated moving).
“They had called repeatedly on Austin Nola and we had repeatedly rebuffed that interest until the return just became too big for us to pass up in our minds,” Dipoto said Monday (link via MLB.com’s Greg Johns).
The key element of the trade for the Mariners was getting both infielder Ty France and outfield prospect Taylor Trammell in the deal. Dipoto didn’t hide his affinity for either player, revealing that he’s contacted the Padres on France repeatedly over the past couple seasons and been similarly drawn to Trammell dating all the way back to the 2016 draft. “As many phone calls as A.J. made to me this last week about Austin Nola, I have made as many to him over the last couple of years regarding Ty France,” said Dipoto.
With Nola and Castro now on hand, the Padres have completely remade their catching tandem midseason, but changes could yet be coming. The Athletic’s Dennis Lin reports (subscription required) that the club is contemplating a September promotion for 21-year-old Luis Campusano — a top-ranked catching prospect who was an in-demand piece himself at this year’s deadline. Per Lin, both the Indians and Rangers asked the Padres about Campusano in trade negotiations, but the Friars clearly weren’t inclined to include him in a deal. Cleveland initially sought Campusano and Luis Patino as centerpieces in the Clevinger deal, while the Rangers were interested in that pair as well as shortstop CJ Abrams when discussing Lance Lynn and Joey Gallo with the Padres.
The 21-year-old Campusano has yet to play above Class-A Advanced, but he tore through the pitcher-friendly California League last year, slashing .325/.396/.509 (148 wRC+). If the Padres do bring him up, they could rotate him, Nola and Castro through the catcher slot while maximizing Nola’s versatility with reps at any of first base, second base, third base or the outfield corners.
Suffice it to say, we could’ve seen any number of permutations of the Padres’ deluge of deals this past week. Such is the nature of a win-now team with a deep farm system. The club’s minor league system undoubtedly took a hit with this wave of trades, but San Diego also managed to hang onto the majority of its top-ranked prospects while clearly placing themselves in a better competitive position both now and into at least the 2022 season, after which Clevinger is scheduled to become a free agent.
Before the Diamondbacks traded Starling Marte to the Marlins yesterday, “the Indians made a run at” acquiring the outfielder, The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal reports (subscription required). Marte would’ve been a enormous boost to Cleveland’s long-struggling outfield, and it is interesting to wonder what it would have cost the Tribe to land Marte. Looking at what the D’Backs accepted from Miami, the Indians would have had to surrender a pitcher with some proven MLB-level ability (like Caleb Smith), another big-league ready young arm (like Humberto Mejia), and a lottery ticket of a long-term pitching prospect like Julio Frias.
Beyond the prospect cost, it’s fair to assume that Marte’s financial cost was also a factor for Cleveland — Marte has $1.71MM remaining this year, and a $12.5MM club option for the 2021 season. Giving up a big prospect package and then declining Marte’s option wouldn’t have made much sense, and it isn’t yet clear what kind of payroll capacity the Tribe will have going into next season.
Some more Tribe notes…
- Also from Rosenthal, he shares some details on the talks between Indians and White Sox about a possible Mike Clevinger trade. The idea of a Clevinger trade to an AL Central rival seemed surprising at the time, and one Chicago official feels “the Indians used the Sox as a stalking horse, never intending to trade him within the division.” The White Sox also denied that right-hander Michael Kopech was offered to Tribe as part of the Clevinger negotiations.
- Clevinger wound up being traded to the Padres as part of a major deadline-day swap that saw the Indians acquire six players. It was a trade born from a lot of “familiarity” between the two organizations, as president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti told MLB.com’s Mandy Bell and other reporters. “We’ve spent a lot of time on their system….We have asked about all of these players in the past. Every one of them,” Antonetti said. “I would comfortably say, at this point, we’ve had hundreds of iterations of deals with the Padres.” Cleveland and San Diego have combined for five trades since July 2018.
- In other Clevinger news, Terry Pluto of the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports that the right-hander turned down an extension offer from the Indians in the spring of 2019. Terms and contract length weren’t revealed, though the deal would have almost assuredly gone beyond the four years of control the Tribe already held over Clevinger. The righty was coming off an impressive 2018 season and heading into his age-28 campaign, so purely speculatively, I wonder if the Tribe’s offer was at least somewhat similar to the five-year, $38.5MM extension (with two club option years) reached with Corey Kluber prior to the 2015 season. Kluber had a similar amount of service time and was coming off a better platform of a Cy Young Award-winning season, though he was also a year older than Clevinger would have been at the time of his hypothetical early-2019 extension.
With the deadline in the rearview mirror, we’ll look back at each AL Central team’s trade activity over the past month.
Chicago White Sox
- Acquired cash considerations from Giants for OF Luis Basabe
- Acquired OF Jarrod Dyson from Pirates for international bonus pool space
- Acquired cash considerations from Marlins for RHP James Hoyt
- Acquired OF Josh Naylor, RHP Cal Quantrill, C Austin Hedges, INF Gabriel Arias, LHP Joey Cantillo, and INF Owen Miller from Padres for RHP Mike Clevinger and OF Greg Allen
Kansas City Royals
- Acquired INF Lucius Fox from Rays for OF Brett Phillips
- Acquired OF Edward Olivares and a player to be named later from Padres for RHP Trevor Rosenthal
Plesac began the season brilliantly, but he hasn’t appeared in the majors since Aug. 8, after which the Indians optioned him to their alternate training site because he violated coronavirus protocols while on the road. The 25-year-old’s actions temporarily cost the Indians a hurler who performed respectably as a rookie in 2019 and then opened the current campaign with a sterling 1.29 ERA/2.37 FIP with 10.29 K/9 against 0.86 BB/9 across three starts and 21 innings.
Of course, Plesac’s largely back in the Indians’ rotation because they dealt righty Mike Clevinger – who violated COVID-19 protocols alongside Plesac – to the Padres in a blockbuster on Monday. Even without Clevinger in the fray, the Indians boast a formidable rotation, one that also includes Shane Bieber, Aaron Civale, Carlos Carrasco and Triston McKenzie. That quintet should help the 21-13 AL Central leaders remain in contention over the final month of the regular season.
The Indians announced that they’ve designated outfielder Domingo Santana for assignment. The move makes room for newly acquired outfielder Josh Naylor, catcher Austin Hedges and right-hander Cal Quantrill, whom the Indians got from the Padres on Monday.
The 28-year-old Santana joined the Indians last winter for $1.5MM off back-to-back lackluster seasons with the Brewers and Mariners, but his attempt at a rebound hasn’t worked in 2020. Before the Indians booted him from their roster, Santana batted .157/.298/.286 with a pair of home runs in 84 plate appearances. His contract includes a $5MM option for 2021, but considering his production so far, the Indians surely would’ve bought him out for $250K had they kept him in the fold.