Reallocation of resources. Market limitations. A youth movement. Call it what you want, the Cleveland Indians sold an asset off prior to a season in which they hope to compete for a World Series. In a deal with the Washington Nationals, the Indians sent Yan Gomes to the nation’s capital in exchange for two prospects, outfielder Daniel Johnson, right-handed pitcher Jefry Rodriguez, and a player to be named later.
One cannot truly blame an Indians fan for feeling betrayed by this trade. A fan-favorite and multiple time all-star, Yan Gomes battled through two exceedingly difficult years to return to prominence over the last two. At 31 years old, he is owed $7 million in 2019 in addition to a pair of team options over the subsequent years for a total of $20 million. In order to become a tradeable asset following next year, Gomes would need to replicate his 2018 campaign, which seems improbable at face value, given seeming regressions behind the plate and a shaky health history.
If pressed on why the Indians traded Gomes, I would suggest that it has more to do with the value of Gomes as an asset than simply shedding salary, though I would not eliminate the latter as a factor altogether. The Indians simply viewed Gomes as an asset that is perhaps approaching a sharp decline in value and decided to exchange it for assets on the other side of the spectrum.
WFNY’s Mike Hattery and Jim Pete joined me on the EHC Podcast, discussing the trade:
Daniel Johnson, OF
The primary piece in the Cleveland Indians return for Yan Gomes is outfielder Daniel Johnson. Johnson is a speedster with a cannon arm to go with a swing that is perhaps a little too long. Sound familiar? The Indians seem to have a type when it comes to outfielders. Will Benson and Bradley Zimmer seem like similar prospect molds – athletes with instincts that can fly around the bases and in the outfield but may or may not develop the hit tool that is reliable enough to be an everyday player at the major league level.
Daniel Johnson: 80 arm, 70 run, 60 raw power, doesn't square balls up consistently, but the bat is better now than it was a year ago. Instincts in CF cause the speed to play down a bit. Generally considered a 4th OF, but has everyday physical tools.
— Eric Longenhagen (@longenhagen) November 30, 2018
A 70-grade arm and 70-grade wheels bolster his floor but hope for more is contingent upon his hit tool and power profile. There are redeeming qualities and reasons for optimism, however. A 22-year-old seeing a full season in AA indicates that the Nationals regarded him highly entering 2018. He held his own for the most part, despite middling hitting results and a concerning strikeout rate. The combination of a tough jump in level and an early injury – a broken hamate bone – made this past campaign a tough trek for the outfielder.
Interesting #statcast data from AFL.
Not noted is that Daniel Johnson (Nats OF), who had best exit velo, *also* had best tracked OF throw (100.9 MPH) and was one of the very few guys to hit the elite 30 ft/sec Sprint Speed mark. I'm watching him now.https://t.co/B3m4aOV9er
— Mike Petriello (@mike_petriello) November 21, 2018
His Statcast peripherals in the Arizona Fall League give hope for a resurgence in his prospect status, even though he struggled to find his swing overall. As an asset, he is not a tough sell when adding contact authority to the portfolio. The Nationals viewed him as expendable due to a plethora of options ahead of him in line, while the Indians outfield present and future outfield concerns are well-documented.
As a 25-year-old righty who has almost always been considered a fringe prospect as a starter, Jefry Rodriguez set out in 2018 to prove the Washington Nationals could rely on him. The numbers that resulted were cringe-worthy. His 52 innings at the big-league level revealed an inability to command anything, leading to a walk rate that would send scouts home in the first inning. This also destroyed his strikeout rate, as it is exceedingly difficult to strike anyone out if you cannot throw the ball over the plate. When he did find the zone, it was just as bad. Balls left the park at a Josh Tomlin-like clip of nearly two per nine innings. The Nationals abandoning the asset is not hard to explain away.
On the other side of the coin, the Indians interest in the asset is explainable, as well. Despite horrific 2018 results, there are some unlocks that leave room for optimism. He spent his first six professional seasons as a starting pitcher in the lowest depths of the minors. It wasn’t until 2018 that the Nationals moved him past the high-A level and decided to experiment with him as a reliever.
Command problems withstanding, Rodriguez’s fastball is 96-plus with a steady dose of arm-side action. To go along with the heat, a plus-curveball follows suit. The curve can be fast and tight with more horizontal movement than vertical, causing it to be confused with a slider quite often. The curve can also morph into one of the spike variety, which is a wonderful thing to have in the bag when a pitcher needs it. Finally, Indians fans might see something familiar with his sinker. Though it hasn’t shown a ton of practical success, when thrown selectively and correctly it can be reminiscent of Fausto Carmona/Roberto Hernandez. It tunnels like a fastball until it nears the zone, when the bottom falls out completely. For evidence, see the second pitch of the video in the tweet below.
Jefry Rodriguez spun a career-high 6 shutout innings in yesterday's 15-0 win over the Mets. pic.twitter.com/04TdI8vt0I
— Washington Nationals (@Nationals) August 27, 2018
It is somewhat surprising that the Nationals never toyed with him as a reliever prior to 2018. As command problems lingered throughout the years, perhaps a focus on his fastball, curve/slider, and sinker could unlock them at the big-league level. Moving him to a full-time bullpen arm could add a mile per hour or so to his already lethal fastball, allow him to play up the plus-plus curveball, and provide selective dosage with the potentially lethal sinker.
Rodriguez is exciting enough to offer hope as a 2019 bullpen candidate. The most likely avenue with him is billing him as a project that opens the season in Columbus, where experimentation can occur with his usage and command with hopes of finding a reliever who can help the Indians down the stretch in 2019.
Trading a piece that helps you win in 2019 is a tough sell to a fanbase expecting a fourth consecutive division title. The move for an outfielder who may not be a full-timer at the major league level until 2020 and a pitcher who is a project in his own right is reason for skepticism. The onus of handling a staff will be placed on Roberto Perez and Eric Haase, which could introduce an interesting catcher deployment ripe with innovative possibilities.