In many ways the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little, yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But, the bitter truth we critics must face is that in the grand scheme of things… the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so.
After reading a lot of overheated puffery about the 2019 Cleveland Indians, you know what I’m craving? A little perspective. That’s it. I’d like some fresh, clear, well-seasoned perspective. Can you suggest a good wine to go with that? Perspective. Fresh out, I take it? Very well. Since you’re all out of perspective and no one else seems to have it in this bloody town, I’ll make you a deal; you read the article, I’ll provide the perspective. Which would go nicely with a bottle of Cheval Blanc 1947.1
The 2019 Cleveland Indians are a mediocre baseball team. The projection system from Spring Training demonstrated the expected talent level. Injuries to some of their best players– Francisco Lindor, Corey Kluber, Mike Clevinger– and sub-par play by a few of their other top previous performers– Jose Ramirez, Trevor Bauer, Carlos Carrasco– has exposed the tiny margins that ownership and the front office placed upon the team this previous offseason. In contrast, the Minnesota Twins embracing the advanced player development techniques and analytics, while supplementing the roster to spend as much as this year’s Tribe team, has made them one of the most fun teams in MLB.
However, it is folly to consider the players on the Tribe are disillusioned and playing poorly due to having their confidence shaken or broken by the offseason. These are professionals who have conquered obstacles far greater than not re-signing Michael Brantley even though the route taken to achieve this level varies. It can be surmised playing well and winning remains the objective with falling short being the result of an inadequate roster. Any hypothesis otherwise is ludicrous.
Furthermore, positions on the Indians selling star players team-controlled for multiple seasons is silly at best– and non-baseball fans trolling at worst. Major League Baseball in small markets can be competitive through identifying star players early in their development cycle and hanging onto them through their cost-controlled seasons. Giving away those seasons is how contention windows are closed without any guarantee they get re-opened in the near future.
The good news is this Indians team, despite the mediocre play to date, have some easy identifiable ways of improving in 2019. Competing for the division will be difficult, though not impossible as WFNY’s Mitchell Krall reminded everyone last week. Competing for an American League Wild Card spot is quite well in play.
Health will continue to be a major factor as the season progresses. Kluber and Clevinger coming back onto the rotation without further complications will increase the opportunities to win and will help ensure the surprisingly excellent bullpen does not get burnt out. Tyler Naquin could be at least another option to rotate in a desperate outfield. Bradley Zimmer’s return could see him live up to his prospect billing.
The Tribe though has shown they will not be much more than a mediocre ballclub without some help. The silver lining is the help the team needs to obtain does not have to be star players. Average production at some key positions will help the team an incredible amount. Some of those players might be within the system already— Oscar Mercado looks the part thus far and Bobby Bradley continues to live up to his Assassin nickname in Columbus– but the odds are the team will need to bring in a player through trade as well.
As a short-hand, here are the fWAR values the team has received from some under-performing spots.2
Therefore, the Indians trading for even a couple average MLB players at designated-hitter and an outfielder would boost the team considerably especially if Jose Ramirez also starts seeing better results at the plate.
Here are some players that might be available in June. As the Tribe should look to make at least one deal soon, only players in the last year of their deal on teams that are obviously out of postseason contention are considered.
Edwin Encarnacion, Seattle, designated-hitter: The parrot-wielding slugger just left Cleveland but could make a return trip as Carlos Santana did if the team is willing to do so. Money will be the main obstacle as the Mariners owe Encarnacion $20 million in 2019 with a $5 million buyout for 2021 for a team whose hot start has come crashing down. Offsetting $10 million and a mid-tier prospect is probably enough to re-aquire him.
Yasiel Puig, Cincinnati, outfielder: An expiring contract a shade under $10 million makes Puig an obvious candidate for the trade market. Despite his outsized-talent (and personality), the Cuban star has struggled with the Reds in 2019. Hitting .218/.260/.391 is worrisome, but it also makes the compensation for him lighter in what could be an incredible buy-low opportunity at a needed position.
Adam Eaton, Washington, outfielder: His contract can be treated similar to a $10 million expiring one due to the buyout option for 2020. The 30 year old has seen some fall off in results for 2019, but the near average production of .278/.345/.397 with above average results each of the previous five seasons hinting his best might be to come in 2019 would make him a worthy gamble.3
Other potential targets
I know this sounds insane. But well, the truth sounds insane sometimes, but that doesn’t mean it’s not. The truth. And the truth is some positions on the 2019 Indians have no talent at all. Look. This works. It’s crazy, but it works. We can be the greatest baseball team in the world. And these deals can lead us there. Whaddya say? You with me?4