WFNY Email Debate: Indians Shopping in Fantasyland

We know that Chris Antonetti has come out and said that Cleveland is pretty much out of the market for any more free agents, having spent what little money they have on the Michael Brantley option and signing free agent Elevation Revelation connoisseur Yonder Alonso. That doesn’t mean we can’t speculate what can happen in the trade market. Gage Will and I partook in another classic Gage and Gerbs mess around, hat tip to those New Girl fans that got this, to see what could be had if the Tribe front office decided to go off to “Fantasyland” til March and make some moves.

Gerbs: Gage, you tweeted out the other day your “fantasy wishlist” which only contained three names, in this order: Christian Yelich, Josh Donaldson, Manny Machado.

The Indians have been tied to two of those, Yelich and Machado. Why don’t you explain to me why you have those players on your list and why in that order?

Gage: Insert obvious disclaimer that we are residing in Fantasyland and these rankings are purely from a subjective standpoint. Starting with Yelich, the argument is clear: consistent and controlled. You can take Yelich’s 4 WAR projection to the bank and cash it before spring training. He will make a hair over $43 million over the next four years, a window that coincides with team control of Jose Ramirez, Francisco Lindor, Corey Kluber, and Carlos Carrasco.

The Donaldson and Machado discussion is maybe somewhat foolish, given the Indians historical aversion to rental players (with the exception of Jay Bruce). But over here in “Fantasyland”, realism is for the birds. You can’t really go wrong with either choice. I opted to rank Donaldson slightly higher based solely on a more consistent plate presence. Donaldson has eclipsed 140 wRC+ in each of his previous three seasons while Machado has yet to do it. Machado’s defense closes the gap but Donaldson is more than serviceable in that regard, as well.  If we were discussing merits beyond 2018, Machado is the easy choice, but as a 2018 rental, I’m picking Donaldson and not looking back.

Gerbs: While your reasoning is solid, and understanding that either would be a rental, my favorite “Fantasyland” third baseman would be Machado. A lower K rate and that slick nightly-highlight defense would give the Indians three Gold Glove finalist infielders. I am not bothered by the offensive downturn in 2017, as the team around Machado was falling apart and teams could pitch to him more easily.

Now granted, even though we are operating in “Fantasyland”, we want to maintain a smidge of realism. How far would you go to acquire one of these players? We would both agree Yelich would cost more to acquire due to the length of his contract and the relative value of the deal. What would be your prospect offer to Miami for the services of their cost-controlled-and-still-young outfielder? A trade for Yelich would almost certainly contain one of Francisco Mejia or Triston McKenzie plus others. Would you give up Mejia or McKenzie to trade for Donaldson or Machado?

Gage: The price for Yelich is a sticky subject. I would certainly offer up one of Francisco Mejia or Triston McKenzie. Constructing a package around Mejia would be optimal, given the difficulty of finding cheap starting pitching. A package consisting of Mejia, Yu-Cheng Chang or Bobby Bradley, and a fun starting pitching prospect probably isn’t enough but at least gets the conversation started. This would obviously decimate an already mediocre farm system, which may be acceptable given current roster construction. 

Moving onto Machado and Donaldson, I think the price varies for each. A deal with Baltimore for Machado is probably centered around a “ready” starting pitcher like Mike Clevinger. I think that the price for a year rental of Machado is overstated in the media, especially given that very few teams are buyers and have a hole to fill at the hot corner. This theory would obviously impact the Donaldson market which, knowing Mark Shapiro, would fetch a varied return. The Blue Jays demands would be much different.  They would probably ask for a Mejia or McKenzie in exchange for a one-year rental, which doesn’t really fly with me.

Gerbs: If the cost for Yelich is only Mejia, Chang and a pitching prospect (say Brady Aiken or even Shane Beiber) I would do that deal. Chang is a great prospect, not on the level of Lindor or Ramirez in the middle infield, but to keep a championship-caliber window open, and that’s what acquiring a player like Yelich would do, I say do it.

As for Machado/Donaldson, I agree that a starting pitcher would be required by Baltimore, a team so low on starting pitching they have been petitioning the league to allow them to use a pitching machine every fifth day instead of former Indian Ubaldo Jimenez. I differ in that I would offer Danny Salazar instead of Mike Clevinger. Two reasons: 1) I love the way Clevinger has progressed and even though ZiPS has him projected at 1 WAR, that is based mostly off of a low innings count and 2) Salazar cannot stay healthy and seems ticketed for the bullpen. Though I would love using Salazar as a Chris Devenski type weapon out of the bullpen, that’s not as valuable as a 200 plus pitcher like Clevinger could/should be.
I want to stay in fantasyland as much as the next guy, but before we come rushing back to reality and the cold chilling realization that Michael Brantley’s option really was picked up, who would or could you see Cleveland making a late January run at in the free agency pool? Only three of the top 10 FanGraphs free agents have signed (RIP Carlos Santana). Do they make a run at JD Martinez or Lorenzo Cain to shore up the outfield? Jake Arrieta or Yu Darvish if they trade Salazar for Machado (secretly this would be amazing)? Do they bring in the best first basemen in baseball *tongue firmly in cheek* Eric Hosmer? Give me your three most likely free agent signings, and again remember sports fans, we are still firmly in “Fantasyland”.

Gage: Lorenzo Cain. Lorenzo Cain. And Lorenzo Cain. The Indians have a plethora of outfielders that have question marks surrounding them. Michael Brantley just had surgery — will he be healthy? Bradley Zimmer is in Year 2 — can he make the necessary adjustments to be a productive MLB hitter? Lonnie Chisenhall is the epitome of boom or bust and has some clouds around him on the injury front, like Brandon Guyer. Signing Cain, who could be had for a deal in the range of three years and $45 million, would provide some stability in the muddied waters of the Indians outfield.

Hosmer isn’t happening and Indians fans should be thankful. He may be a good to great hitter but will prove to be a dicey investment at best, given that it would be a lengthy commitment. Should Antonetti and Chernoff strike out on Cain, Mike Moustakas might provide something on the value front. There is very little buzz surrounding him on the market and he has the ability to play 3B, though not exceptionally well. The caveat with Moustakas is that he is yet another lefty and that would cloud things up with Kipnis and Alonso, who also might benefit from a platoon partner. Ultimately, it’s likely Cain or bust from a fit perspective.
Upon our return from “Fantasyland”, we get slapped with that cold dose of reality and come to understand that, saddeningly, none of these moves are likely. This team, while doing the bare minimum in the offseason, still has the makings of a 90+ win season in 2018. It’s incredibly hard to add wins to a team with the bones and surplus value at key positions the Indians have without shutting future windows and mortgaging a weak farm system. We will just have to enjoy another season of Lindor hightlights, JRam GOAT moments, Kluber sliders, Carrasco consistency and Bauer outages as we roll into 2018.