On Friday, the Indians dealt an organizational mainstay for prospects. Trading Yan Gomes, despite his status as a major 2019 regression candidate, is a hit to your projected roster for next season. As a bona fide championship contender based on division and a deep stable of starting pitchers, that’s a tough pill to swallow for an already distressed fanbase. You can reason that Gomes’ value will only diminish, which is fair, but sending him off for a duo that may or may not help you win next season leaves more questions than answers.
Beyond simple market limitations, there are a few major sources of the predicament that put the Indians in this position. According to Baseball Reference, the mid-market Cleveland Indians figure to have a 2019 payroll in the range of $125 million as everything currently stands. While they will assuredly add a few million here or there to that figure, it can be used as a starting point. As of now, three players stick out among that figure and account for $44.35 million of it, or north of 35 percent of the share. These players may be helpful in various capacities, but I will dub them distressed assets solely based on potential trade value. In all three cases, the Indians would be hard-pressed to trade them for anything of tangible value.
Before drawing conclusions about his inclusion on this list, it must be made clear that signing Encarnacion was the right play. The signing was reasonable from a dollar and surplus value standpoint. Deeming Encarnacion a distressed asset is in no way a categorical denunciation of the acquisition, only an update on the current standing of the asset in question. The contract stipulates paying him $21.67 million for his 2019 services, but there’s a pesky little $5 million buyout clause for 2020. This means that the seemingly inevitable decision to decline his team option for the following year will hike his 2019 price tag up to $26.67 million.
Edwin Encarnacion can still contribute to your team’s 2019 success, but not nearly enough to warrant twenty percent of your team’s payroll. Other teams would be on the same page. Paying that kind of money to a 36-year-old who was only fifteen percent better than the average hitter in 2018 is crippling to an organization’s payroll situation. The surplus value well attached to Edwin’s contract ran dry after the 2016 season, an unfortunate turn for an organization that rarely allocates those kinds of resources to a free agent.
Kipnis is another case where the contract made sense at the time but was derailed somewhere along the way. At his peak, a premier second baseman capable of astounding with his ability to find gaps and providing plus defense. That peak is long gone.
A lot of the value brought forth by Kipnis was based on his bat and its relation to fellow second basemen around the league. Of course, the 2013 and 2015 versions of Jason Kipnis were well worth the money. Injury plagued 2014 and 2017 campaigns diminished the outlook of a 2018 season that would prove to be pivotal from an outlook standpoint. An unexpectedly underwhelming beginning of the season dug too deep of a hole for him to claw out into any kind of surplus value. Like Encarnacion, Kipnis has a hefty buyout attached to a team option for 2020. His baseline salary of $14.67 million escalates to $17.17 million when considering that the Indians will likely decline a pricey team option next fall.
Additionally, current roster construct has forced him out of the infield to make room for younger players with more favorable projections. This has shoved him into a corner outfield spot, most likely, which renders most of the value previously provided by his bat a virtual moot point. To coerce another major league baseball team to trade for him, the Indians would likely have to eat a chunk of his salary or diminish the value of a more favorable asset by packaging them together. Another tough pill to swallow.
Though significantly less pricey than the other two, Alonso and his bill for $8 million still represents a distressed asset. An underwhelming 2018 proved that it is exceedingly difficult for a leopard to change its spots. Buoyed by a career year in 2017, the Indians signed on for two years of his services. The only problem was he turned out to be overwhelmingly average, which would be somewhat acceptable at any position except for first base.
The fly ball revolution displayed in his 2017 outbreak died out upon arrival in Cleveland. Five percent of his fly balls turned into hapless ground balls. Seven percent of his middling contact turned into weak contact. Four percent of his walks disappeared, while the strikeout percentage stayed course. These three components mix together to construct a devastating cocktail for a player whose value hinges on long balls and free passes. When looked at as a scratch-off purchased last winter, Alonso is a two-dollar winner on a ten-dollar ticket. Sure, you could play that two dollars again and you may win five, but the damage has already been done to your initial ten-dollar investment.
None of the three previously mentioned assets were wrong plays in theory. They all could be reasoned fairly easily at the time of investment. Whether or not they were the correct plays is not in question, though. At this moment, the trio is a significant drag on a reportedly constrained payroll.