Cleveland Indians' Trade Deadline Strategy Blueprint
The Cleveland Indians have some work to do at the upcoming July 31 trade deadline. The team currently sits at 45-46, 7.5 games back of the division-leading Detroit Tigers and 3.5 games back of the Seattle Mariners for the second wild-card spot.
The Indians need help in a couple of different areas, including the starting rotation and the bench. Aside from those two areas, the team has a collection of players who are simply underperforming. For a team with limited funds, and limited willingness to give up top prospects, it can be difficult to bring in the pieces necessary to put themselves over the top.
In any event, the team needs to do something, and that's what I'm here to help sort out. Over the next few slides, I'll break down the club's biggest areas of need, their moveable pieces, some possible targets and even propose a few deals the Indians could look at to bolster their roster.
Let's get started.
Areas of Need
The Indians starting rotation is a train wreck. The group owns a horrendous combined stat line, including a 4.54 ERA, a 1.41 WHIP and season averages of 8.6 K/9, 3.0 BB/9 and 2.85 K/BB.
Aside from the presence of Carlos Carrasco, the Indians came into the season with a starting rotation that looked to be one of the strongest parts of the team. In the season prior, four of the rotation's five members posted ERAs below 4.00, and Trevor Bauer showed some promise during his time spent in spring training.
Unfortunately, the rotation they had on paper is not the one that showed up once the season started. To make matters worse, the club just recently lost Justin Masterson to the 15-day disabled list due to nagging knee injuries.
The Indians bench isn't as bad as their starting rotation, but it's pretty close. The team currently utilizes just two bench players. Why two, you ask? Who knows. In a league where you have to utilize a designated hitter, it would make sense to have more than two available bench bats, but that's what they're working with.
In any event, the two players not currently receiving every-day reps are Chris Dickerson and Mike Aviles.
Dickerson is a 32-year-old journeyman who's played just 143 games over the past four seasons—including his two games played this season. Aviles, whose performance was a nice surprise for the Indians last season, has been solidly disappointing in 2014, managing just a .266/.285/.354 slash line with 11 extra-base-hits, 23 RBI, 23 runs scored and eight stolen bases.
When Michael Bourn returns, Ryan Raburn will be bumped back to the bench, but the move will do little to strengthen the unit. The 33-year-old is slashing .204/.250/.272 with six extra-base-hits, 17 RBI, 12 runs scored, and a 39:10 K/BB ratio.
A Space for Francisco Lindor
This isn't really a necessity, but it should probably be viewed as one.
The Indians' top prospect, Francisco Lindor, is tearing up Double-A Akron and is threatening to take the next step in his career. The only thing hindering his arrival is the blundering road block that is Asdrubal Cabrera.
Once viewed as one of the top shortstops in the game, Cabrera has fallen off the proverbial cliff, and his production level is, once again, hurting the Indians offense.
To be fair, Cabrera hasn't been as bad as he was in his abysmal 2013 campaign. However, he's clearly not the same player he was when he logged back-to-back All-Star Game appearances in 2011 and 2012.
Cabrera's uptick in production this season helps his trade stock a little bit, and the Indians may be able to flip him with a prospect or two in order to land the starting pitcher they covet. Maybe David Price is in their future?
Discussed a little bit in the previous slide, Asdrubal Cabrera is arguably the most movable piece the Indians have. There are several teams who will be looking to upgrade their shortstop situation, including, but not limited to, the Cincinnati Reds, Detroit Tigers, Oakland Athletics and maybe even the Miami Marlins if they're truly committed to staying in the hunt.
In addition to the group of teams in need of shortstop help, moving Cabrera is even easier when you consider the fact that the team's top prospect, Francisco Lindor, is knocking on the door.
Cabrera isn't going to fetch the price that he would have had the Indians made the right choice and shipped him off last season, but he's still a serviceable option at the plate and could provide a number of teams with an offensive upgrade at a relatively thin position.
Countless Middle Infield Prospects
The Indians have more middle-infield prospects than they know what to do with. Lindor is the only "untouchable" prospect in the group, leaving the team with four middle infielders situated within the team's top 21 prospects, according to Baseball America.
The club will likely look to hold on to guys like Dorssys Paulino, Ronny Rodriguez and Erik Gonzalez any way that it can, but those happen to be the three that will bring the most back in a trade package.
Mid-level guys like Jose Ramirez and Joe Wendle will certainly be up for grabs, but they won't be enough to pry away the pieces the Indians need from a would-be-seller.
Tyler Naquin is one of the most intriguing prospects in the Indians' farm system. The 23-year-old has been beating up on Double-A pitching all season long, working to a .313/.371/.424 slash line, with 21 extra-base-hits—four home runs—30 RBI, 54 runs scored, 14 stolen bases and a 71:29 K/BB ratio.
Naquin is an outstanding athlete and has the ability to hit for average and some power, while providing adequate defense in center field.
Naquin has the frame to add some power as he continues to mature, but his absolute ceiling will be that of a 15-home run hitter. His game is predicated on his ability to get on base and use his speed, but if his power develops, Naquin could be a starting center fielder for a contending team.
We'll start with the most unlikely trade target of the group, David Price. The Indians need help in the rotation, desperately. What bigger way is there to fix the rotation than to add Price?
Despite what his 3.42 ERA might tell you, the 28-year-old is having one of the best seasons of his career. Over 19 starts, Price's stat line includes a 1.09 WHIP and season averages of 10.2 K/9, 1.3 BB/9, 7.95 K/BB and 8.5 H/9.
Price made the All-Star team for the fourth time this season and has been one of the American League's best pitchers through the first half of the year. Price is an unlikely target for the most obvious of reasons—he's expensive.
The seven-year-veteran is under club control next year, but his salary is sure to take a substantial hike through arbitration. After that, the Indians would have to shift their focus toward signing Price to a massive multiyear deal.
Maybe, just maybe, the money could be there though if they decide to let the struggling Justin Masterson walk in free agency, though.
The Indians lack of bench depth is deplorable. One way they could look to address that is through the addition of Kansas Royals outfielder Norichika Aoki.
The Royals are one team that is in grave need of a right fielder—Michael Cuddyer or Josh Willingham, maybe—and Aoki, or even Jarrod Dyson could become expendable.
Aoki looks to be the most likely trade candidate. Dyson is a home-grown talent and is outproducing Aoki by a slight margin. A contending, savvy team like Kansas City isn't likely to give up a player like Dyson, but Aoki could be a nice consolation prize.
Though he's currently on the 15-day disabled list, Aoki is on a rehab assignment and should be expected back in the very near future.
Aoki isn't lighting the world on fire, but neither are any of the Indians' bench options. Aoki would be a great fourth outfielder for the Tribe.
With names like Price, Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee floating around the rumor mill, A.J. Burnett isn't the sexiest option on the open market. However, when you're unwilling to give up top prospects, this is the kind of pitcher you're relegated to chasing.
That sounds like a knock on Burnett, but it's not. The 37-year-old is having a decent season, but he's not in the same class as the three names mentioned above.
In any event, the 16-year veteran would surely be an upgrade for the Indians. Over 19 starts, Burnett boasts a 3.92 ERA and a 1.34 WHIP, with season averages of 7.4 K/9, 3.8 BB/9 and 1.92 K/BB.
Through his 19 starts, Burnett carries a 1.1 WAR, per Baseball-Reference, higher than every Indians starter not named Corey Kluber.
Another option for the bench is Arizona Diamondbacks outfielder Gerardo Parra. Parra, like Aoki, hasn't been spectacular, but he's been serviceable and would be more than enough for the Indians in a fourth-outfielder role.
Through 90 games played, the 27-year-old carries a .252/.302/.352 batting line, 23 extra-base hits—five home runs—25 RBI, 45 runs scored, five stolen bases and a 64:23 K/BB ratio.
Parra is a two-time Gold Glove Award winner and would provide the Indians with a decent bat, as well as a top-flight defensive replacement capable of playing all three outfield positions.
Even better, Parra is under club control through the 2015 season. When he finally does hit the free-agent market in the 2015-16 offseason, Parra will be just 29 and easily re-signed to play right field after David Murphy's contract runs out.
Wouldn't it be ironic if the pitcher that netted one of the more lopsided trade packages in recent memory returned to the club who traded him? Wouldn't it be even more ironic if he then helped that team make back-to-back playoff appearances for the first time since he carried the starting rotation 15 years prior?
Well, the Indians could theoretically do all of that by grabbing Bartolo Colon from the floundering New York Mets.
The 41-year-old continues to defy age, pitching to a 3.99 ERA in his 17th season of play. In addition to his improving ERA—2.74 ERA over his last 10 starts—Colon boasts season averages of 6.6 K/9, 1.3 BB/9 and 5.24 K/BB with a 1.18 WHIP through 121.2 innings pitched.
Colon has been better of late, and his 3.99 ERA should be looked at more as the result of some early-season struggles, as opposed to an overall indictment of his abilities.
Indians Get: David Price
Rays Get: Danny Salazar, Clint Frazier and Dace Kime
Indians Get: Norichika Aoki
Royals Get: Luigi Rodriguez and Scott Barnes
Indians Get: Bartolo Colon and Gonzalez Germen
Mets Get: Asdrubal Cabrera
Indians Get: Gerardo Parra
Diamondbacks Get: Carlos Moncrief and Austin Adams
Indians Get: A.J. Burnett
Phillies Get: Dace Kime and Shawn Morimando