In an offseason full of free agency departures and roster realignment, perhaps the trade of Yan Gomes left Tribe fans the most flummoxed. By all accounts, Gomes was a great clubhouse guy, appeared to work well with the pitching staff, played solid defense and was coming off his best offensive season since 2014. The reality was that his $7 million-dollar salary was a luxury that the Tribe could not afford and at nearly 32 years of age and coming off his best offensive season in four years the time was right to sell high on our beloved backstop. As such, Gomes was shipped to Washington in exchange for Jefry Rodriguez, Daniel Johnson and a player to be named later – who later became Andruw Monasterio. We sit at just over 15% of the way through 2019 but coming off Rodriguez’s second start of the season, the timing seems right to get an early assessment on how things are shaping up.
Jefry Rodriguez – RHP
Rodriguez is the only member of the three with a major league track record, having pitched 52 innings over 14 games for the Washington Nationals in 2018. He boasts a fastball that touches the high 90’s while sitting at 96 and also has a plus curveball. The biggest knock on Rodriguez coming into 2019 was his control. Many had him tabbed for a bullpen role, but thankfully the Tribe stretched him out. With Mike Clevinger on the 60-day IL, Cody Anderson still working back from injury and Triston McKenzie and Adam Plutko currently on the minor league IL, Rodriguez has been called upon twice to act as the de facto 5th starter for the big league club. He has performed admirably in his two starts, spanning 12 and 2/3 innings with a 2.13 ERA and 3.69 FIP. The downside is he has done this on the back of a .179 BABIP and 81.5% strand rate which are not sustainable. He has induced a lot of ground balls which could be sustainable. Currently, he sits fifth in GB% among starters with a minimum of ten innings pitched. The GREAT news is that he’s throwing strikes and not issuing walks. His 2018 BB/9 was 6.40. Thus far in 2019, he has a solid 1.42 BB/9 – throwing 65% of his pitches for strikes. It appears that he’s upped his fastball usage to keep the walk rate down throwing his fastball 72% of the time. The drawback to this is he is pitching to a lot of contact (96.5% in zone) and not a lot of strikeouts (4.26 K/9). He should go to the curveball more as his confidence improves which will help him to get more swing and miss in his game. Despite the velocity, he does not have a strong history of strikeouts, so he shouldn’t be expected to touch 10+ K/9 but he has been serviceable. If he continues to induce ground balls, keep the walks down and improve on missing bats, he could be an intriguing piece the rest of the way in ’19. His lack of an effective third pitch could limit his role as a starter, but at 25 years of age, he is still developing and so far has had a strong showing for the Tribe.
Daniel Johnson – OF
Johnson is a 23-year-old outfield prospect whom Fangraphs ranked 21st in the Tribe system going into 2019. Tabbed to be a platoon outfielder by Fangraphs the left-handed hitter earned quite a bit of notoriety in his first spring training with the Tribe slashing .259/.375/.630 with five extra-base hits including two home runs in 27 plate appearances. His hot bat has carried over to AA where he is currently slashing .275/.378/.507 in Akron with three homers and five steals in 83 plate appearances – good for a 158 wRC+. He’s also upped his walk rate early in the season to 13.3% after posted a sub 6% walk rate at the same level in 2018. His bat has shown promise at all levels where he has hit at an above average clip. The knock on him has been his inability to hit lefties (.220/.312/.322 through 269 PA). He has not done much to dispel that theory in 27 plate appearances in 2019; but he does have more walks than strikeouts versus southpaws in the early going, which is an encouraging sign. Johnson also has the ability to play all three outfield spots but has played mainly in right field due to his 80-grade arm which led some scouts to suggest he convert to a pitcher. For now, his bat is looking pretty solid in Akron.
Andruw Monasterio – SS
The PTBNL, Monasterio is a glove-first middle infielder whom many expect to cap out as a utility player if he makes the majors. He has some speed and a serviceable arm but lacks power with the bat – having only cracked a .100 ISO in one pro season. At 21, there is still potential for him to develop pop, but he will likely be a contact-only hitter. Monasterio is getting his first taste of AA in 2019 posting a 125 wRC+ in 64 plate appearances. He is hitting .333, propped up by an unsustainable .432 BABIP, and has an OPS of .750. His arm, speed, and athleticism make him a potential utility man on the big league club.
One byproduct of trading Gomes is that it forced a need for a backup catcher on the Tribe roster – a need they filled by trading for Kevin Plawecki. Though adding Plawecki was not a direct result of trading Gomes, it is worth analyzing what he has brought to the Tribe thus far and how the catching position has shaken out for both squads.
The Nats added Gomes to improve the catching position after finishing 25th in WAR and 27th in wRC+ in 2018. Through 65 plate appearances, Gomes has posted an 89 wRC+ with a .254/.323/.390 slash leading Washington’s catchers to an 85 wRC+ in ’19 – good for 16th – a win for the Nationals.
Cleveland is currently right behind them at 18th with an 82 wRC+ after finishing with a 79 wRC+ in 2018. The Tribe is currently working a 66%/33% split between incumbent starter Roberto Perez and Plawecki. Perez currently sits in the 93rd percentile in hard hit balls. Unfortunately, it has yet to translate onto the stat sheet as he has posted a .207/.288/.345 slash with a 66 wRC+ in 66 plate appearances. Plawecki, on the other hand, is posting a robust .222/.364/.444 slash. His 116 wRC+ and .808 OPS both rank second on the Indians squad and he has walked as many times as he has struck out (18.5%). He also sports a 3.12 FIP for those of you keeping track. While Perez is known for his ability behind the plate, Plawecki has been tabbed an offense-first catcher. However, he has more than held his own in the early going in 2019 ranking 5th among all catchers in strike rate and posting above average marks on the defensive side of the ball. Plawecki’s $1.13mm has eaten away slightly at the $7mm saved by moving Gomes, but Plawecki also comes with three remaining years of arbitration and is three years younger than Gomes.
From a trade perspective, it appears that both the Nationals and Indians accomplished what they wanted at the major league level in the early going. The Nats improved their biggest weakness on the offensive side of the ball. The Tribe shed payroll while maintaining the status quo at the catcher position. But in the process, Cleveland has added three very intriguing prospects in Rodriguez, Johnson, and Monasterio who are performing well in the early going at their respective levels. They have also shed $6mm in 2019 payroll allowing them to add a younger cost-controlled catcher, without seeing much of a drop in production. The final verdict on this trade cannot be made now and may not even be clear at the end of 2019. But as it stands today, the Tribe must be happy at the early returns – both to the present and future value of their roster.