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Spinning a Yan with Perez and Haase if Gomes is a goner: While We’re Waiting

The MLB Winter Meetings are still a month away, so baseball trading season is not quite heating up though you never know what might fallout of the GM Meetings that begin on November 13 in Orlando Florida. However, the Indians cannot wait until other teams are looking at making trades before they plot out a course for the 2018 season. WFNY’s Mike Hattery already laid out a great valuation guide for Jason Kipnis given that he is of an unknown position for the upcoming season.

Another potential long-term Tribe candidate to be traded is Yan Gomes. We know you don’t run on Yan, but his bat has never regained the famed Silver Slugger status he demonstrated in 2014. Heck, last year’s .232/.309/.399 (83 OPS+, 87 wRC+) was a huge step up from what he had given in two injury-plagued seasons prior.

Is now the time to trade Gomes? What kind of value do might he have? Who would fill the gap in his absence? The WFNY Mikes attempt to answer these questions.

Hattery: Gomes, like Kipnis, is on the tail end of a classic small market arbitration for option years extension. Only Gomes commitment is far smaller than that of Kipnis and his 2017, far more encouraging.1 Still catchers come with immense injury risk, Gomes specifically with multiple major injuries to his name. Gomes showed life, and a quality of plate discipline never before seen from him with a previously unmatched walk rate.

I think these questions are pretty simple for the Indians. While Gomes is beloved in Cleveland, his deal is enough and the Indians catching chart deep enough that this would be an opportunity to move money. In terms of value, that is more complex. Gomes likely provides some surplus value and is noted for his capacity to handle a pitching staff but the catching market is simply difficult to prognosticate and may be too crowded to trade Gomes.

But the question remains, where will he rank on the Indians depth chart at the end of 2018?

Bode: That is a great question. Unfortunately, it is one that I am not quite as well equipped to answer as yourself. Here is what I know about our options.

The Indians called up Francisco Mejia in September and also have Eric Haase, who you happened to write the book on– or at least a detailed article during your residency at Fangraphs.

Mejia is thought to be a MLB-ready bat whom the Indians would like to remain at catcher for the lineup advantage, but the Tribe also are giving him some innings at third base to mitigate the risk of his defense staying behind his bat. Haase had a big jump forward with his bat as he joined the Elevation Revelation, but I don’t know much about his defense. Both appear to be ready for some trial runs at MLB but are blocked by the catching tandem there now.

Where do you think Mejia ends up in 2018 and should he or Haase be the other side of the catching tandem should the Indians trade Gomes? What else should we know about these prospects?

Hattery: I suppose I am perhaps highest on Eric Haase of anyone around, quite possibly because I find his preparation and interest in learning analytic side of the game particularly interesting. I had the chance to talk to Haase a couple of times, and players engaged with the progressive side of the game compel me.

On a more serious note I know that the organization thinks positively of his defensive skills. The arm skills are rock solid and Clay Davenport’s minor league defense metrics like him. No one thinks he is an exceptional receiver but certainly solid-average maybe more. The Indians have shown a proclivity be it Tony Wolters in his time here, or Roberto Perez to develop good framers. However, that will require some sample to evaluate at the big league level. Haase has some of the best raw power in the organization with power to all fields.

I think at the big league level he could easily post a couple of 20 home run seasons while running a fairly low batting average and average plate discipline. That paired with average to above defense is a starting caliber catcher, and certainly a good complement to Roberto Perez.

Bode: Great stuff. But, if Haase is the Perez-complement, then where does that leave Mejia, who is our top prospect and Baseball Prospectus’ No. 3 player in all of baseball?

Hattery: The Mejia case is interesting and I think in many ways highlights the almost uncomfortable depth the Indians have. Many in the organization believed his bat was big league ready by June of last season and outside of his refusal to take walks with more frequency has potentially elite offensive skills. His barrel control and contact skills are insane, and in remind me in many ways of Jose Ramirez.

Mejia getting reps at third base is also interesting. It could indicate a couple of things: Kipnis is gone, they truly do not trust Mejia behind the plate, they are down on Diaz, or some combination of the three. Mejia has an elite arm behind the plate but his receiving abilities remain a work in process as well as his control of the game. My actual hypothesis is that the Indians are trying Francisco Mejia at third to attempt to create one of the most versatile teams in Major League Baseball with the capability to move players all over the diamond to create matchup or platoon advantage. Further, the Indians have enough catching depth that protecting Mejia’s body by having him play third relatively frequently and catching less than 80 times makes sense.

Or, perhaps none of this is true.

Mejia and Haase are both MLB-ready in some sense, with Mejia’s glove needing a bit more work. Of course, working with Roberto Perez on defense every day certainly would not hurt. These guys are ready to force the issue, and the Indians have another uncomfortable question on their hands.

The question I have for you is, how comfortable are we leaning on Roberto Perez as the top end of a catcher time share?

Bode: Behind the plate, I do not think most people realize that the 28 year old Perez is the best defensive catcher on the Indians and one of the very best in all of MLB. StatCorner framing ratings have Perez as the fourth best catcher in baseball behind only Tyler Flores, Yasmani Grandal, and Austin Hedges. Yes, that would make Perez the best catcher in the American League at framing pitches. Baseball Prospectus catcher valuations add in blocking and throwing, which Perez rates well on too though Martin Maldonado and Caleb Joseph inch ahead of him (so Perez is sixth overall).

Perez is an elite defensive catcher in all phases of the position. Perez at the plate is where questions begin to arise.

Perez has been mentored and spends his offseasons training with Yadier Molina. Molina himself struggled as a defense-only catcher for the first portions of his career with a patient approach at the plate, which allowed him to hover just below league average. Of course, in his age 28 season, Molina broke out and became one of the great MLB hitting catchers (his seventh MLB season).2

Such a leap is always possible with Perez, and we have seen the stretches of excellence from him. However, no one should set it as an expectation. Perez has the early portions of the Molina career at the plate down as he has a patient approach, but has hovered below MLB average at the plate. He has struggled to find a consistent approach to guide him through a season as he has relied on a double-digit walk-rate coupled with some power. Perez has a .146 ISO for his career, but he is above .160 each season other than his disastrous injury-plagued 2016. Current STEAMER projections have him at .226/.317/.380 (86 wRC+) for 2018, which would be in line with his history.

No one is going to complain about the end results of a slightly below average hitting catcher with elite defensive skills. Perez suffers from a consistency issue though. He will go through prolonged slumps that make fans question the legitimacy of his batting ability at the MLB level. He hit .143/.223/.202 from Opening Day through June 17 (26 games), and he has suffered through similar periods throughout his seasons. There is a possibility that more regular rotations behind the plate and continued maturity in his career can mitigate these issues, but the Tribe might just have to live with this flaw. The good news is that he also goes through periods of extreme production to even out his overall line, and those have included the postseasons.

Overall, Perez won’t likely crack the Molina/Posey line of MVP candidate quality catchers, but the Indians should have no issue leaning on him for 100 games behind the plate with Mejia and/or Haase there to relieve him.

  1. $13 million guaranteed through 2019. []
  2. Hat-tip to Kevin Dean who has tracked some of the parallels in these careers. []

  • Chris

    He was within 0.76 home runs on the year (that would be difficult to get) to matching his HR/AB rate from 2014. His doubles weren’t too far off either. Strikeouts (and I assume whiff rates) were killer though.

    He may not return to 2014 form offensively, but I have no issues holding on to him. No rush to sell, but I suppose listening to offers won’t hurt anybody. If need be, Perez will fill-in great.

  • Harv

    If they want to move Gomes this might be the precise time given that his value may never be higher and the opportunity for the team to devote some of that salary obligation for other (Carlos) purposes. Part-time duty helped keep him healthy last year, and maybe accounted for his quicker bat and better discipline.

    Regarding his replacement, I get the added value a hitter like Mejia can give you at catcher, but the dude looks both small and slight and you’re asking for injuries, in addition to the inevitable wear-and-tear effect on his offense. If his hitting is potentially elite I like him at third, where he can quickly thrive without the additional burdens of the hardest defensive position, handling a staff with limited English, etc. How’s this for an offensive infield: Mejia, Lindor, Ramirez, Encarnacion/Santana/Brantley/Whomever. That’s more intimidating than the mid-’90s crew.

  • jpftribe

    2018 without Shaw, Kipnis and Gomes? Never gonna happen. Tito would go into complete meltdown.

  • mgbode

    He has Brantley, and I would be surprised to see us trade Kipnis.

  • Chris

    You weren’t a fan of just-playing-until-social-security-kicks-in Eddie Murray?

  • mgbode

    Kevin was kind enough to send me the Yadier-Roberto parallel thread from the summer. Here it is if you are interested.

  • Chris

    So is he implying that Perez is going to follow the trajectory of a future HOFer and one of MLB’s statistical outliers? I’ll say that’s improbable.

  • mgbode

    He was more stating how the patient approach at the plate matures well over time and using the biggest extreme example to nail home the point. As noted, we cannot expect it from Roberto, but he certainly has shown glimpses of good runs at the plate.

  • Steve

    I think we need to greatly slow down on Haase. Sure, analytics and flyballs are good. But he didn’t hit until he was older for his level, and repeating it. He’s got a Steamer projection of a 70 wRC+. He shouldn’t be seen as more than a third catcher, who can work in an emergency, for the time being.

    I wonder what the trade values are on Perez, Gomes, Mejia. We should obviously look to be moving one, but its also likely Mejia has far higher trade value than Gomes. Moving Gomes might not yield more than a marginal prospect, a guy who doesn’t help now, when we need it most. Mejia on the other hand …

  • mgbode

    OK, OK, I hear you. But, what if instead, we speed it up with Haase?

    1 Haase has never been “older for his level” at any point of his MiLB career according to b-ref. He was “at level per age” in AA last year.

    2 Org is said to really like his defense and mental preparation behind the plate too.

    3 Projection models are going to have a tough time right now. We are at an inflection point given the change in the baseballs (especially at MLB level) and the parallel rise in the Elevation Revelation. The complete change in dynamics over the past two years makes it difficult for historical-bearing projections to be accurate.

    Sure, he’s still a prospect until proven otherwise. He could flounder. But, there are decent odds he can be a good backup. Plus, 70 wRC+ w/ good defense isn’t much lower than what we’ve had the last three years anyway.

  • tsm

    As a fan of Diaz, in the event Mejia can successfully handle the hot corner, then can Yandy play the OF? If not, then one of them should be part of a trade along with Gomes for a stud rh hitting OF.

  • jpftribe

    Move Mejia and keep Gomes? I think you’ve been watching too many Browns games.

  • mgbode

    Yandy in LF is fine with me.

  • Steve

    Old for a prospect. Guys who are going to make the majors move more quickly than the rest of the guys. Guys who don’t progress drag up the median age for each league, but are no longer useful comparisons for future major leaguers. 24 year olds still in AA are not great bets to be major league contributors.

    Do we have evidence that projection models are having any tougher a time than before? But, even so, Haase is sitting on a great year after elevating the ball, and he’s still projected to be a pretty crappy hitter.

    And we weren’t happy with what we got the last three years, and tried to trade for a better player, so why should we be ok with it because it’s Haase now?

  • Steve

    Moving a future talented piece to win right now seems to be the opposite of what the Browns are doing. Mejia might get you a guy like Ozuna. Gomes … will not. I want to max out our talent on paper over the next three years. Mejia, while a very talented player, doesn’t seem like a significant upgrade over Perez/Gomes. He can bring back a player who will be a significant upgrade over our current LF/1B, depending on where you put Brantley. And then toss in that Perez and Gomes are signed for a few years. Brantley and Chisenhall are free agents after this year.

  • mgbode

    You are complaining about a 24yo who had a cup of coffee in AAA last year. I mean, he’s not a superstar who is in MLB at 22yo, no. But, “old for a prospect” ???

    Someone needs to tell Aaron Judge.

    (no, Haase is not Judge, it is just that coming into 2017, he was a 25yo, “prospect” and no one thought he was too old to be one)

  • mgbode

    Last 3 catching prospect call ups by Indians

    Roberto Perez 25 years old
    Yan Gomes – cup of coffee at 24, 88 games at 25
    Carlos Santana – cup of coffee at 24, full season at 25

    Eric Haase – 2018 will be his age 25 season

  • Steve

    Santana and Gomes both were done with AA by age 23, a full year ahead of Haase. Santana had his service time gamed, and was behind on his development having not started as a catcher. Perez battled Bell’s Palsy.

    Judge was done with AA in the middle of his age 23 season.

    He’s a clear step behind the guys who are currently 1-1.5 WAR players for us at the position. Sure, he’s probably going to make the majors at some point. Especially at a position that is generally thin across the league. But a useful contributor rather than a “whatever” guy on the bench?

  • mgbode

    OK. So, we have debunked your initial claim that he was “old for his level” and now have debunked your follow-up claim that he is “old for a prospect.”

    He is projecting as a backup catcher in MLB w/ some small potential for more, so the rest will just depend on the definition of “useful contributor.”

  • Steve

    Nothing has been debunked. Clarification has been needed, that’s it.

    But he’s a year behind the guy who was a marginal prospect and is currently a below average starter. He’s on the same pace as the guy whose career was almost completely derailed by a very serious condition.

    If he is projected as a future bench guy, then I’m in agreement. But I responded to “I think at the big league level he could easily post a couple of 20 home run seasons while running a fairly low batting average and average plate discipline. That paired with average to above defense is a starting caliber catcher”

    It seems that we are in agreement the claim that he could “easily” post numbers of a “starting caliber catcher” is debunked.

  • Bulldogs_3

    I think everyone can agree: the backups to Gomes are more than adequate. So, you trade him. What do you get in return?