The Major League Baseball trade deadline is quickly approaching with front offices shifting their focus from the Rule IV player draft to talent acquisition. The deadline is Tuesday July 31st at 4:00 PM eastern. In this vein, before a collection of trade target pieces flood your timeline and you follow Jon Heyman again for a three day period, WFNY invested significant time in evaluating the Indians current top 20 assets.
Michael Bode, Jim Pete, and myself have assigned our current rankings of the Indians as trade assets. Think of this as a snapshot of valuation rather than a long term reference as this list will be updated with some frequency at WFNY. Before you scroll down the rankings, before you scream in the comments, before you spill coffee on your keyboard, this is not purely a ranking of who the best player is.
Rather, this approach considers that contracts, age, and player profile matters. For instance, you will note that Edwin Encarnacion does not appear on this list until eleven despite the fact that he is a top 8 player on the team. This is because Encarnacion’s contract cost is significant and every team in baseball decided not to sign Encarnacion at the price the Indians paid. Therefore, with minimal surplus value Encarnacion who is a really good player, if dealt would require the Indians to eat money to get a significant return.1
Whereas, a player like Jose Ramirez who is 24 years old, extremely productive, his contract alters his value. The Indians control Ramirez at a below market rate for up to seven years. Lindor, a slightly better on field performer is controlled for only four years with potentially pricey arbitration costs. Therefore, Lindor and Ramirez trade values are actually be incredibly close.
The ranking below weighs past productivity, projections, contract costs, and age. Due to consensus regarding the top 5 players they appear without a writeup.
1. Francisco Lindor
2. Jose Ramirez
3. Carlos Carrasco
4. Corey Kluber
5. Andrew Miller
6. Bradley Zimmer (via Pete)
This, to me, was the biggest surprise, and I’m not really sure why. While Bode and Hattery had him ranked 7th, I had him ranked 10th, so it’s not like we all didn’t think he had immense value. I just didn’t visualize him right behind the Big 5 of Lindor, JRam, Carrasco, Kluber and Miller. But the skill-set and value is certainly there.
What is that skill-set?
He has home run power. Over the past two season in the minors, he’s hit 31 homers, and has followed that up this year with nine homers combined in Triple A and the big leagues, in 244 plate appearances. He has speed. He’s stole 16 bases overall this year, and has only been caught four times, and is seven-of-eight in the big leagues. While he’s walking less, he’s also striking out less, which is a big deal, as he struck out 37% of the time in Triple A in 2016.
Perhaps his best defensive attribute, when it’s all said and done, is his baserunning and his natural defensive ability in center. He can easily get to first and third, and watching him score from first on a double is truly something to see. He runs great routes in the outfield as well, and makes difficult catches look easy. He still struggles out there, but overall, you can tell he just gets it, and that the sky is the limit for this kid. He’s no Lindor, but you’re talking about a toolsy, defensively solid centerfielder, with cost-control for the next five years.
You don’t get much more valuable to other clubs than that, and Zimmer should see a bump in the coming year, if not weeks and months.
7. Jason Kipnis (via Pete)
The next three years of Jason Kipnis’s career is going to be an interesting one, based on his contract. While it’s fairly cost effective, there’s a big jump coming after 2017, going from $9.1 million, to $13.6 million. Kipnis is also moving from his age 30, to his age 31 year, and while this isn’t yet in the land of worry, regarding any sort of diminishing ability, with Kipnis, it’s a tricky subject.
Okay, so, he’s ranked seventh on our list, so obviously, Bode, Hattery and I aren’t too concerned here. Healthy Kipnis just produces, and that production has varied over the years offensively. He used to spread the wealth to all sides of the field (early power days). He used to not hit for power, but for average (lead-off days). He used to be a pull-hitter (post lead-off days). In other words, he morphs into what the Indians need.
You take into account 3 1/2 years of control, and a lock for 4-5 WAR if healthy, and a pretty good defender at second, you have a guy massively valuable in an up-the-middle defender. I also think there’s play there down the road at other positions, as his range diminishes, and I do think that other positions involves both the infield and outfield, dependent on need.
With only three years though, and pricey ones at that (one is a club option though), this could rapidly change in the near future.
8. Cody Allen (via Bode)
Should the Indians have two relief pitchers in their Top 8 of trade value? Isn’t Andrew Miller only up here because he is ridiculous? Well, yeah Miller is. Allen is not far behind. Since 2013, he is a Top 12 reliever in all of MLB (2.45 ERA, 2.76 FIP, 6.7 fWAR, 304.1 IP) with no signs of slowing down at 28 years of age.
One reason he might deserve to be lower though is that his contract only runs through 2018. The Indians front office would have to bank on other MLB front offices trying to desperately copy the Indians acquiring Andrew Miller for their 2016 World Series run to up his value, which it might have. Also, with several contending teams (*cough* Washington Nationals *cough*) having bullpen issues, there would be pressure and competition to take what would likely be the best available arm. Of course, the Indians are competing themselves, so any team making an attempt at breaking up the most dominant 1-2 relief punch in baseball would be hung up on quickly.
9. Francisco Mejia (via Hattery)
The Indians best prospect since that other franchise Francisco. Mejia has a plus hit tool which plays up when adjusted for the catching position. At 21 years old, two and a half years younger than the average AA player, Mejia has destroyed including a monster 90 point ISO increase over 2016. With an arm that you can hang the laundry on and receiving skills on the up swing Mejia will soon be among the top 10 prospects in baseball.
The Brewers failed Lucroy trade, which is the Indians greatest blessing further demonstrates his value. Mejia was the centerpiece in return for the best position player on the market at the time with 1 1/2 years of control. Indeed, the Brewers preferred Mejia to Zimmer and others. With another year under his belt and dominance of another league, Mejia’s value has only increased from an already impressive level.
10. Trevor Bauer (via Bode)
How is Bauer possibly a Top 10 trade value player for the Indians? Well, truth be told, I would have him higher. Bauer is a 26 year old starting pitcher with a proven track record of being an innings eater over what will soon be four years of MLB work. His 4.49 ERA with 4.11 FIP from 2014 to 2017 shows him to be an average starter. His work with Jaeger Sports, Driveline Baseball, and DST Performance have given him the added edge of having what MLB executives should consider an extremely durable arm. There is great value in knowing you have an average starter on the mound every fifth game through the year 2020.
In addition, there is a possibility for more. Many pitchers do not hit their stride until their late 20s, and while MLB FIP has been steadily rising over the last four years, Bauer’s has remained static, which means he is pitching better even if his numbers are similar. There would be concerns about his stubbornness, independent thought, and perhaps even his twitter persona (which he has largely abandoned). Then again, have you seen the starting pitchers that the Minnesota Twins and Baltimore Orioles have been trotting out these last few games?
11. Edwin Encarnacion (via Pete)
The Indians aren’t trading away their biggest free-agent signing in perhaps the history of the club, as long as they’re contending, and there’s no reason to think they won’t be contending for the length of his contract.
But, there is a massive amount of value there, even though EE just signed a huge deal in his age 34 year. He lives in the land of 4-5 WAR, and is the absolute prototypical power-hitting corner infielder, or DH, if you’d prefer (I do).
Obviously, there are diminishing skills, and while it’s not incrementally large, you can see the K% creeping up, and the average dropping a bit, but perhaps this is just the new hitter he’s becoming. And that power isn’t going anywhere. If the Indians need to make a move, Encarnacion would be an enticing candidate to every team in the American League.
I’m not sure how long EE stays close to the top ten though, especially if we see any sort of sustained reduction in production.
12. Triston McKenzie (via Hattery)
McKenzie is the Indians biggest pitching prospect since Danny Salazar, perhaps since Adam Miller, well not a pretty list. While a lofty comparison, the only starter who has moved as quickly in the Indians lower levels with the same prospect pedigree is C.C. Sabathia who made his big league debut at 21. McKenzie is 19 years old, 2+ years young for his level and carving up A+ hitters with excellent feel for a plus breaking ball and a fastball that runs into the mid-90’s.
McKenzie might be a little bit higher on this list if not for his current physical construct. McKenzie is six foot five and weighs less than 180 pounds, a string bean who needs to add muscle as he develops. Further, prep arms like McKenzie are just higher risk prospects than a Mejia who is cruising through AA. In the next twelve months McKenzie will reach AA at 20 years old and climb into the top twenty on multiple national top 100 prospects lists. A superb asset.
13. Michael Brantley (via Bode)
Michael Brantley coming onto the 2017 Indians and putting up a .296/.360/.432 slash line would have seemed like an absurd wish just three months ago after he missed the entire 2016 season (save 11 games) after undergoing surgeries on his shoulder and biceps. Those numbers are not what he was in the 2014 and 2015 seasons, but they represent a good hitter who can help a championship contending lineup. Brantley has never been a good defender, which is why he is in left field- he hasn’t seen a real drop off there.
The 30 year old would be higher if he had a contract that extended past the 2018 season. As it is, there is just another year and a half of Brantley before he hits MLB free agency. Is he willing (or able) to move to first base? Will he be worth a qualifying offer (QO) tag? Would a team want to trade for him now so that they can place the QO on him after next season? There are a bunch of questions surrounding anyone who might want to trade for Brantley, but his stick outweighs them.
14. Yan Gomes (via Bode)
Yan Gomes value begins with his contract. He is a cost-controlled player at a premium position through the year 2021. That last year, his contract is only $11 million, which should be even a smaller dent in the payroll percentage than it would be today if revenues continue to escalate across MLB.
The downside is that he will also be a 33 year old catcher (or possibly designated-hitter) in 2021, whose framing skills have deteriorated over the past few seasons even as his pop time and arm strength have remained.
The key to his value will be tied to his health and his bat as his 77 OPS+ for 2017 is not good, but his .269/.356/.429 slash in 38 games since April 17 show he still possesses the capability of providing offensive impact.
15. Danny Salazar (via Hattery)
For Bode, Pete, and myself Salazar was the toughest to value due to his recent injury. Salazar has spent the past 9 months with arm issues becoming increasingly concerning. For a past Tommy-John recipient consistent arm soreness and discomfort resulting in time on the disabled list is concerning. The performance itself in 2017 certainly was disappointing resulting in demotion to the bullpen before soreness shit him down. This is the case for ranking him low in the Indians top 20.
On the other hand, Salazar is under cost-controlled ownership of the Indians through 2020 and has averaged 3 WAR the past two season at ages 25 and 26. Further, Salazar’s floor appears to be that of a dominant reliever with a dynamite fastball and elite changeup creating the profile of a top 10-15 reliever in baseball. Due to the cost control, past success, and a plus reliever floor, Salazar remains a solid asset with injury risks clouding the picture a bit.
16. Mike Clevinger (via Bode)
The Indians mini-Bauer has less MLB experience despite being the same 26 years of age. The upside is that he is cost-controlled through the year 2022. The downside is that he doesn’t have nearly the track record to trust. His development was temporarily derailed by Tommy-John surgery in 2014 too, so his arm durability won’t have quite the same marks either (not that many or any match Bauer there).
Clevinger has a bunch going for him though. After a disastrous first three starts in 2016, he has shown himself to be an average to maybe even slightly above average starting pitcher as his 3.89 ERA and 4.08 FIP in 2017 can state. He has had some issues with walks and home runs at times, but if he didn’t have some issues he would be much higher on this list (if not considered untouchable). Despite those issues, his 1.162 WHIP is almost as good as Kluber and Carrasco. A team willing to bet on him could get a return of a No. 2 starter (his upside).
17. Carlos Santana (via Pete)
Based on the parameters of this piece, we probably shouldn’t even rate Carlos Santana, since he doesn’t have a chance in hell of being traded. He’s in the last year of his deal, and the Indians are going to be competing for the World Series this year. You don’t trade an anchor of the franchise over the past seven seasons.
But the value is clear. Santana does all of the things that good hitters do. He walks a ton, and limits his K’s, hits for power, does whatever the team asks of him, and has been a fantastic teammate. His career ISO sits at almost .200, and he does wonderful things from both sides of the plate. But the Indians would have to get really froggy to deal Santana at any point over the next seven weeks.
Still, with less than a year remaining on the deal, Santana likely should be gone from this list soon, and will be completely off of it in September, after the Indians keep him through the non-waiver, and waiver trade deadline dates.
18. Lonnie Chisenhall (via Hattery)
Lonnie Chisenhall does not make any sense. Seriously, no sense. This is because despite the fact that Chisenhall has been a useful contributor to competitive Indians teams of the past four years, each season has been completely different in terms of core competencies. 2014 was the year where he showed an above average hit tool and played third based. 2015 he became a plus defender in right field. 2016 he was an alright defender with platoon value. In 2017, Chisenhall is hitting dingers at an unmatched pace for his career. In this sense, Chisenhall is tough to value because not tool outside solid outfield defense is particularly stable.
As a platoon bat with a rising arbitration figure, a year and a half of control left Chisenhall does not have immense value but likely compares to that of the Brandon Guyer trade in 2016. Chisenhall could be flipped for a lotto ticket farm hand or as a complimentary piece in a larger deal. For the Indians 18th best trade asset, that is pretty nice.
19. Bobby Bradley (via Pete)
Bradley provides the Indians with a commodity that is both rare in the system, but also becoming a rarity amongst all professional baseball, and that’s raw corner infield power. He has 75 total minor league home runs, with 60 doubles and 10 triples, and those extra base hits represent 44% of his total hits. Make no mistake about it, this kid is a game changer.
The just-turned-21-year old is rated as a top four prospect in the Indians’ system by most publications, and according to milb.com, is the second best first base prospect in all of baseball. When you consider that he’s almost 3 1/2 years below league average age, you see the incredible upside he provides at the upper levels. What’s most interesting about Bradley is his substantial improvement at the plate in each year. He’s cut his K% from 32% in Low A, to 25% in Double A, while maintaining a 10% walk rate. He’s maintained a .200 ISO throughout his career, and his numbers are starting to look big league projectable.
No, Bradley isn’t the centerpiece of a major deal, but his a big piece that could ultimately pry away a really nice player from another team, and at Double A, not as far from the big leagues as some people think.
20. Nick Goody (via Hattery)
Nick Goody is perhaps the oddest inclusion on this list and one for which I expect to take significant flak. Goody has been outstanding for the Indians with a 1.29 ERA and 3.88 FIP. With two solid pitches and multiple years of cheap control left for the Indians Goody has significant cost reducing value. Yet, this is more an indication of the dearth of assets as the list progresses further and further. There is an argument for Roberto Perez’ cheap contract, Bryan Shaw, Josh Tomlin’s contract, or perhaps Yandy Diaz.
- Of course the Indians are not dealing Encarnacion when they are title chasing, just a hypothetical. [↩]