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.