- Heyman reported in April that the Indians would look to extend first baseman/designated hitter Carlos Santana, but discussions between the two sides still haven’t taken place. They might not occur, either, as Heyman relays that Santana is likely to hit free agency at season’s end. At .219/.321/.390 in 215 PAs, the 31-year-old hasn’t carried his typically above-average production into this season so far, but he continues to exhibit quality plate discipline with 27 walks against 31 strikeouts. Santana’s walk rate has dropped in each season since 2014, however, and is now at a career-low 12.6 percent.
- As expected, the Indians have demoted righty Danny Salazar to the bullpen, the Associated Press was among those to report. Salazar will serve as a relief option for the Tribe beginning Wednesday, but he could start again as early as next week, according to Terry Francona. The manager indicated that Cleveland is placing Salazar in the bullpen to help him regain his confidence. Home runs and walks have been the key contributors to Salazar’s 5.50 ERA, up nearly two full runs from the combined 3.72 mark he put up in 484 1/3 innings from 2013-16. On the positive side, the hard-throwing 27-year-old is second to Chris Sale among starters in K/9 (12.45) and ranks behind only Sale and Max Scherzer in swinging-strike rate (15.4 percent).
- The Indians’ rotation could be in for a bit of a shakeup: Ace Corey Kluber, on the DL since May 3 with a strained lower back, will rejoin the team Thursday, relays the Associated Press. To make room for Kluber, righty Danny Salazar might head to the bullpen, reports Paul Hoynes of cleveland.com. While all 95 of Salazar’s career appearances have come as a starter, the flamethrower hasn’t helped the Tribe in that capacity this season. Salazar has failed to complete six innings in five straight starts, including a 5 1/3-frame loss to the Royals on Saturday, and has pitched to a 5.50 ERA in 52 1/3 innings. While the 27-year-old has missed bats at a superstar-caliber level (12.55 K/9, 15.8 percent swinging-strike rate), he has offset that with a lofty walk rate (4.82 per nine) and a sky-high home run-to-fly ball ratio (22.9 percent).
The Indians have signed outfielder David Lough to a minor-league deal, per a club announcement. He’ll report to Triple-A Columbus.
Lough, 31, joined the Tigers on a minors deal over the winter but failed to crack the Opening Day roster. He had struggled to a .169/.210/.203 batting line over 63 Triple-A plate appearances, leading to his release.
While he has never been an impactful hitter, the southpaw-swinging Lough has shown more in the past. In over two thousand trips to the plate at the highest level of the minors, he has slashed .287/.338/.427 with 34 home runs.
Seeing action over each of the past five MLB campaigns, Lough hasn’t quite produced enough with the bat to hold down a steady job. All told, he owns a .254/.300/.371 batting line with 13 long balls through 820 big league plate appearances. But he has typically graded out as a plus defender in the corners and has also seen fairly frequent action in center, making him a flexible option.
For the Indians, Lough represents a depth piece as the club continues to develop its outfield mix. Lonnie Chisenhall and Michael Brantley are both hitting well, but the rest of the group is in some flux. Top prospect Bradley Zimmer has shown talent through six games, but he’s also striking out at a prodigious (42.1%) rate. Daniel Robertson is currently up with three other outfielders — Abraham Almonte, Brandon Guyer, and Austin Jackson — shelved on the 10-day DL.
- Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports that right-hander Carlos Frias has accepted an outright assignment to Triple-A Columbus after clearing waivers (Twitter link). The Indians designated the longtime Dodgers reliever for assignment over the weekend. Frias, 27, has a 4.50 ERA with 5.9 K/9, 2.7 BB/9 and a 53.7 percent ground-ball rate in 114 Major League innings spread across parts of three seasons. He’s struggled in Triple-A this year, however, surrendering 17 earned runs on 20 hits and nine walks with eight strikeouts in 17 innings.
- Indians right-hander Carlos Frias cleared waivers and was outrighted to Triple-A, per an announcement from the club. Frias, whom Cleveland designated for assignment Tuesday, has worked exclusively at the Triple-A level this year and posted a 9.00 ERA, 4.24 K/9 and 4.76 BB/9 in 17 innings.
- The Indians will send righty Corey Kluber out for a 35-pitch sim game tomorrow, per Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer (via Twitter). Cleveland’s staff ace will test out his balky lower back and hopefully begin moving back toward the majors. Kluber currently owns an uncharacteristic 5.06 ERA through six outings, though he still carries 9.9 K/9 against 3.1 BB/9.
The Rays have acquired infielder/outfielder Michael Martinez from the Indians in exchange for cash or a player to be named later and placed fellow infielder Brad Miller on the 10-day disabled list due to a left abdominal strain. In order to clear a spot on the 40-man roster for Martinez, Tampa Bay transferred Xavier Cedeno to the 60-day disabled list.
Martinez, 34, was designated for assignment by the Indians recently after collecting four hits and a pair of walks in 15 plate appearances this season. The versatile veteran can play all over the infield and outfield, though he batted just .238/.267/.307 last season and is a lifetime .200/.246/.270 hitter in the Majors (592 plate appearances). Miller has been the team’s primary second baseman this season, but Martinez can now step in and share time at that position with rookie Daniel Robertson.
- The Indians have some added clarity on the timeline for injured outfielder Abraham Almonte, as MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian reports. The team anticipates that he’ll be down for three to five weeks with what has been diagnosed as a sprained right biceps tendon. While the team is down a few outfielders, that has opened the door to top prospect Bradley Zimmer. Though Zimmer went down on strikeouts three times in his debut yesterday, he has already slashed a double today for his first MLB hit and seems to have an opportunity to lay claim to a regular job.
Cleveland also announced a few other corresponding moves. Righty Shawn Armstrong was recalled, as well, creating a need for two active roster spots. Those were cleared by placing outfielder Abraham Almonte on the 10-day DL and optioning utilityman Yandy Diaz.
[Related: Updated Cleveland Indians depth chart]
Zimmer, now 24, has been seen as a key future piece for the Indians ever since he was taken with the 21st overall pick of the draft back in 2014. (He spoke with MLBTR’s Steve Adams earlier that year.) He has been a consensus top-100 prospect entering each of the past two seasons, though he fell in some rankings due to a so-so 2016 campaign. In advance of the current campaign, MLB.com slotted Zimmer 22nd, Fangraphs had him at #45, Baseball America ranked him 62nd (now up to 54th in their updated list), and Baseball Prospectus had him at 80th. ESPN.com’s Keith Law dropped Zimmer out of his own top-100.
The reasons for concern were rather clear. While Zimmer has the tools — raw power, good speed, and a quality glove that plays up the middle — he hadn’t yet put it all together. In 557 plate appearances in the upper minors last season, he slashed .250/.365/.425 with 15 home runs and 38 steals. But the bulk of the damage came at Double-A; over his 150 trips to the plate at the highest level of the minors, Zimmer went down on strikes 37.3% of the time. The left-handed hitter also turned in a rough overall .179/.343/.250 batting line against left-handed pitching.
As MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian wrote this spring, Zimmer has worked hard to upgrade his swing mechanics. And that seems to be paying dividends. He hit well in the Arizona Fall League and has been clicking thus far at Triple-A, with a .294/.371/.532 slash. The swing-and-miss will likely always be a part of his game — Zimmer currently carries a 29.9% strikeout rate on the year — but he’s showing an ability to make more and better contact thus far. He has also reversed his results against southpaws — albeit in quite a small sample. Coupled with a typically selective approach, and some untapped power potential, there’s reason to hope that Zimmer could blossom into a high-end major league piece.
The move comes with potential contract implications. Zimmer will have the opportunity to accumulate as many as 138 days of MLB service this year, so long as he can hold onto an active roster spot the rest of the way. If he can stick in the majors from here on out, then, he’d have a solid chance of qualifying for an addition year of arbitration after the conclusion of the 2019 season. The cutoff for Super Two status has ranged between 2.122 and 2.146 years of service over the past eight years, landing at 2.131 last season. Regardless, the Indians will control him through at least 2023.
That all depends upon Cleveland’s intentions — as well as Zimmer’s performance. While this could constitute only a brief preview, the fact that the Indians moved him onto the 40-man roster suggests the team intends to rely on him for more than a temporary patch. So long as Zimmer is up for any extended period, it seems likely he’ll see fairly regular action — meaning he could have a chance to play himself into a permanent role for the defending American League champs.
To add Zimmer meant clearing space on the roster, so the Indians elected to bump Frias, who was acquired over the winter. The 27-year-old had struggled through 17 frames at Triple-A this year, allowing 17 earned runs while recording just eight strikeouts to go with nine walks. Over three years of action with the Dodgers at the major league level, splitting his time between starting and relieving, he has worked to a 4.50 ERA in 114 frames.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.