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Trading for an Ace: While We’re Waiting

The Cleveland Indians are in first place, by 2 1/2 games, with a 47-40 record. To many, they are spinning their wheels a bit toting an offense that has yet to click with runners in scoring position, and a rotation that has been erratic—at least once you get past Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco. With Danny Salazar pitching through pain all season, Trevor Bauer and Mike Clevinger still trying to find their way, and Josh Tomlin being, well, Josh Tomlin1, the rotation seems to need a facelift.

In July of 2017, the Cleveland Indians need to work on that rotation. With the trade deadline looming, there are a bunch of interesting candidates available to the Indians. As mentioned a couple of days ago via WFNY’s Mike Hattery, there are a slew of candidates available. In Mike’s piece, he listed many pitchers who are likely out of the market, and for a variety of reasons that are all true2. Who the Indians eventually focus their attention on is really up in the air. While there are clearly teams looking to sell, there are still a few with enough gas in their tank to not have decided yet.

But we know the Indians, right? We know that they’re cost conscious. We know that they’re tentative. We know that they rarely, if ever, make the biggest move of the trade deadline, right?

In July of 2016, the Cleveland Indians needed to improve their bullpen. It wasn’t that Cody Allen wasn’t one of the top 20 relievers in baseball, or that Bryan Shaw wasn’t mostly that shut-down set-up guy, but there was just something missing. It was sorta like when you went to Thanksgiving Dinner for that perfect pumpkin pie that Auntie Peggy always made, and Auntie Peggy didn’t have time to make it. Dinner is still pretty good, but damn, we really could have used that pie.

There was a lot of speculation about what the Indians could do, what they should do, and what they would do.

What the Indians could do was just about anything. Their system was loaded with top-end guys who were ready to play in less than a year. At the top of the list were the hot-hitting current stud of the system, Clint Frazier, and the right-there-with-him Bradley Zimmer. You had a flame-throwing lefty in Justus Sheffield who was tantalizing, but a couple years away, and the big league-ready Mike Clevinger. You could really put together any sort of deal you wanted, for any reliever out there.

What they should do was use that capital, and go out and get one of the best guys out there, and at the time, the two big guns were Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman. Chapman was coming of domestic battery charges, which coincided with gunfire while with the Marlins. And while the charges went away, Chapman’s character was anything but suspect. Miller, on the other hand, was the perfect candidate, solid in the locker room, cost controlled for 2 1/2 more years, but costly. There’s no way the Indians were going to get this guy, because the cost would be prohibitive3

What they could do would be to go out and pick up a middle-of-the-road guy, for not a lot of minor league currency. The Indians rarely made deadline deal splashes, with the only big deal in recent memory coming in July of 2011, when they traded Drew Pomeranz, Alex White, Joe Gardner and Matt McBride for Ubaldo Jimenez.

What they did was push all the chips in. To the surprise of many, the Indians used Clint Frazier, Justus Sheffield, Ben Heller and J.P. Feyereisen to bring in Andrew Miller, the best trade target available. The lefty Miller was shutdown—a lefty, and cost controlled, but the Indians had given up a lot. A move that many fretted at first4, turned into a gold mine, as Miller carried monumental weight throughout the end of the season, and into the playoffs. The term MVP gets thrown around a lot, without a lot of meaning, but a case could be made that the major reason the Indians made it to Game 7 of the 2017 World Series was because of this ‘bigger than life’ trade.

Today, the move seems sensible. “Of course the Indians should have made this deal,” many are saying in hindsight. But back in July, the move was sort of incredulous. When you tied it together with the potential Jonathan Lucroy deal, you could see that the Indians weren’t playing from the same deck of cards as they have in the past.

The goal was clear. To all you poker players out there, the Indians realized their hand was really good, and they were pushing their chips all in.

In January of 2017, the Cleveland Indians were looking to fill a gap that had been noticeable throughout the second half of the 2016 season, and for much of the playoffs. While Mike Napoli had had a signature season with the club that year, much of his effective hitting ended before the All-Star break. Sure, Napoli was a tour de force in the locker room. Sure, Napoli’s Party at Napoli’s campaign with Twitter’s @HipsterTito was one of the best stories in all of baseball in 2016. But, on the field, the Indians were looking to fill a power gap.

At the top of the free agent list were two players: The New York Mets’ Yoenis Cespedes and the Toronto Blue Jays’ Edwin Encarnacion. Both were considered game changers on the market, and both were immediately considered off limits to the Indians. Sure, there was early rumblings of Encarnacion signing with Cleveland, but those whispers quickly disappeared. Certainly, the Indians wouldn’t have the money to do anything with either player, including Encarnacion5.

Beyond those two, there was a potpourri of just plain weird power hitting candidates. There was Mark Trumbo, and Jose Bautista, and a Mike Napoli return, and a slew of other candidates that were just sort of…well…Meh.

Cespedes re-signed with the Mets early, to the tune of four-years and $110 million. That left Encarnacion at the top of the list. What was his perceived cost? MLB Trade Rumors had him heading to the Red Sox to the tune of four years, and $92 million. As the market began to settle, it became abundantly clear that $92 million was there, but hell, even $60 million would be too much for the Indians, right?

Signing a 34-year old to a deal in the $60 million range was still a painful memory, with Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn bringing back searing ice cream freeze to the brains of everyone. But c’mon, Encarnacion wasn’t Bourn or Swisher. But could the Indians, already at their perceived pay threshold, pay for Encarnacion?


How much? Three years, and $60 million, with a $20 million club option at the tail end of that. While to the folks that don’t pay attention, this is an immense deal6, for Encarnacion, it’s a steal. Not only did they get a three-year deal instead of four, but if they invoke that final option, the ultimate four-year, $80 million that it would cost them is a massive savings.

Either way, the Indians again, went all in.

This brings us back to 2017. With the Indians rotation struggling, and rumblings that the Tribe might be actively seeking a starter, what course will they take?

Well, they’re going to go for the home run, right?

  1. They need to sign a guy with multiple years, and while 1 1/2 years seems doable, I think they’re past history would suggest at least 2 1/2 years of control, for the cost. I know that Lucroy was an outlier, so an 18-month contract is still possible, but for this, let’s focus on the guys with more control.
  2. They need to sign a guy that has some sort of cost control in there. This has to be a player that is in arbitration, or has a deal in place.
  3. This has to be a player they sign, and they never again have to question. Think Andrew Miller and Edwin Encarnacion7.

So without knowing the availability of players, my focus here would be on the candidates that I think are sort of in play right now. I’m going to detail these guys in the coming two weeks, but if the Indians are going to hit a home run, you set your bar high.

Oh, and there really isn’t a player who’s off the table here. Nobody in the world wants to deal Francisco Mejia or Triston McKenzie, but as the Indians showcased last year, everyone is on the table, depending what is available. I’m not proposing it. I’m not calling for it. I’m just stating a fact. If the Indians can get a lock down ace, under control, they’ll deal anyone.

The first is Gerrit Cole, who the Pirates have under control for through the end of the 2019 season. For those counting at home, that would be 2 1/2 years. But Cole hasn’t been the stud that he was, and he’s still not there right now. But Cole can log innings, and if he clicks, the Indians have a third ace. But the questions make me think he wouldn’t be at the top of the list.

The second is Jose Quintana, who the White Sox have to a massive team friendly deal. He’s got another 1 1/2 years on his contract, but also has two club options. Overall, the Indians could have Quintana for 3 1/2 years, to the tune of $34 million. This match-up seems to be perfect, except for one thing: Quintana plays in the division. It’s not unheard of for inter-divisional trades, but one of this magnitude could potentially kill both clubs.

To me, both of these players don’t quite fit in the Andrew Miller or Edwin Encarnacion mold. If the Indians are going to deal one, or potentially both of their top prospects, they will want a player that they can count on in the playoffs.

Is that player even on the market?

Right now, I’d say no, but there are a couple of names that fit the “Andrew Miller” build. They would be home run trades, and while I don’t think either team are going to put them on the bill, both teams would likely listen.

The first home run would be Marcus Stroman, via the Toronto Blue Jays. Now, Stroman is under control until the end of 2020, and while I would think the Blue Jays wouldn’t deal their potential ace, if they are on the market, and can land a controllable stud or two in a deal, well, is anything off the table? He would be the perfect No. 3 starter, and with control to match their current rotation, he would be the perfect “window” dressing.

The second home run has been bantered about in Indians circles for years, and it would be a bit of a homecoming, and that’s Chris Archer. Archer has an insanely team-friendly deal that has 2 1/2 years left, to the tune of about $16.5 million. On top of that, the 28-year old also has two club options WORTH $20 MILLION TOTAL. First off, kudos to the Tampa Bay Rays for that fantastic contract. Second off, what a “holy grail” sort of trade would that be? Archer would immediately be a third ace, would immediately end all talk of another starter, and would immediately elevate the Indians as the prohibitive favorites in the American League8. Of course, why the hell would the Rays want to deal Archer with this sort of contract. The haul would be tremendous, and McKenzie and Mejia would be gone, as well as a few others. The good news here is that the Indians can compete with anyone, and other clubs, like the Yankees, are in the same division. If Archer is on the table, the Indians will likely be a first call for the Rays.

Deadline calls, so I’m going to end the discussion there, but don’t sell the Indians short. According to Bernie Pleskoff (take it for what it’s worth), the Indians aren’t looking for a rental:

If this is true, look for a major splash by your Cleveland Indians in the coming weeks.

I’ll be diving into each of these candidates, and a few more, in the coming days, so stay-tuned. WFNY is going to be bringing it during the deadline, and beyond.

I’m going to keep this one happy. While watching Spider-Man: Homecoming, I couldn’t help but be pleased with the impressive soundtrack, so you get two:

First off, one of my favorite Stones’ tunes, “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking:”

And the home run for me, The Ramones Blitzkrieg Bop…Hey Ho…Let’s Go Indians…in the second half…

  1. not a knock on Josh…Fantastic player who earns everything he gets. But do we really want to trust his arm again as the No. 3 starter? []
  2. read Mike’s piece, to find out who those candidates are, and who he eventually focuses on []
  3. I wrote a piece last July 14 on the potential for an Andrew Miller deal, with my suggested offering of Bradley Zimmer, Mike Clevinger and Francisco Mejia. Back then, Frazier was rated ahead of Zimmer, Justus Sheffield was rated ahead of Clevinger, and Mejia was sitting around that No. 5 slot, even though he was in the midst of his 50-game hit streak. The piece was widely derided as costing “too much.”I admitted as much in the piece, but realized the cost would be too high, especially for the Indians, who were cautionary traders under the regime of Mark Shapiro. []
  4. I sure as hell didn’t. []
  5. The EHC podcast, may, or may not have struggled with this idea, but you’ll have to go back and listen to find out. []
  6. It is, really. []
  7. Right now, “Joe Sorta Pays Attention” is still screaming, “But Jim, EE is a bust!!!” ‘Joe Sorta Pays Attention’ needs to shut the hell up []
  8. well…the Houston Astros []