CLEVELAND, Ohio – The Major League Baseball trade deadline of August 31 is fast approaching, and it’s still unclear whether the Cleveland Indians will be looking to take a step. But what options are there if they do?
The club’s greatest need is obvious: a consistent major league bat in the outfield that can provide some depth for an offense that has underperformed in the first 30 games of the season. However, finding a match is not as easy as you might think. There are factors beyond the club’s financial constraints to consider, including the chemistry of the squad and the future of stars such as Francisco Lindor, Carlos Santana and Mike Clevinger.
Cleveland has organizational depth at a position every other contending team covets – starting to pitch. The current situation with Clevinger and Zach Plesac could motivate the Indian front office to be more active in trying to find a partner and move one or both of the besieged righties before Monday. Will they be able to recoup value in exchange for either of the starters, both of whom have several years of team control remaining?
Indian President of Baseball Operations Chris Antonetti said he was unsure of what to expect before this year’s trade deadline due to the unique circumstances surrounding the 2020 season, but found that there had already been a lot of activity between the teams, and a lot of dialogue.
“It’s hard to predict where this will lead, like in any year,” said Antonetti. “There is a dialogue between the teams. However, it would be impossible for me to handicap the likelihood of something being done or not.
Below are five options that would meet Cleveland’s need for an impact bat, along with why they would be suitable and the hurdles that would need to be overcome to make a deal a reality.
JD Martinez, Red Sox DH
Why Martinez would suit: The Indians initially sued Martinez in 2017, when Detroit sent him to Arizona on the trade deadline. Signed to a five-year free agent contract with the Red Sox ahead of the 2018 season, Martinez hit .317 with 79 homers and 235 RBIs for Boston in the past two seasons. It probably wouldn’t cost the Indians too much in terms of future prospects to keep him away from the Red Sox rebuilding.
Obstacles: Martinez was expected to earn over $ 23 million this season and is still expected to owe just over $ 4 million for the remainder of this season. His contract includes player options for $ 19.35 million for each of the next two seasons. The danger for Cleveland would be that if they did acquire Martinez, they would be at the mercy of all that money if he didn’t pull out, which he almost certainly wouldn’t. Cleveland would need some cash from Boston for the deal to work.
Jorge Soler, Royals OF / DH
Why Soler would suit: Last year’s American League leader in the circuits has more RBIs right now than any current Indian player (19) and an OPS + of 129. He owes around $ 1.3 million of his prorated salary of $ 7.3 million for the last month of 2020 and is eligible for arbitration at 29 next season before becoming a free agent in 2022.
Obstacles: Soler is a below-par defenseman, having played in just seven games as an outfielder this season with a career ultimate zonal score of -11.3 according to Fangraphs.com. The Indians already have a high-strike, low-field right-handed power hitter under their control in Franmil Reyes. The Royals would likely need a high profile perspective for Soler’s services, and it’s the kind of move that can come back and burn Indians for years beyond 2020.
Shin-Soo Choo, Rangers OF / DH
Why would Choo be suitable: A year-end free agent, Choo hit a career-high 24 home runs last season while posting his best OPS score (.826) since 2015. He played seven seasons with the Indians from 2006 to 2012 , posting a .853 OPS in 685 games. Cleveland made a successful December trade with Texas sending Corey Kluber to Lone Star State, so both franchises know what coins might be on the table. The Indians might be able to get Choo for a lot less in terms of lower level pitching prospects.
Obstacles: Choo turned 38 in July and is just 0.211 with three homers and 10 RBIs in 21 games for Texas. He owes around $ 3.8 million of his 2022 pro rata salary and is limited in what he can do on the defensive.
Whit Merrifield, Royals OF / 2B
Why Merrifield would be suitable: A versatile defenseman who has led baseball in aggregate for the past two seasons, Merrifield is playing on a hugely favorable contract for the club that earns him $ 6.75 million this year and is packed with incentives with a base salary of just $ 2. million dollars next year. Her club option might even be a steal at $ 6.5 million in 2023 as it only includes a $ 750,000 buyout. As the Indians are well aware, you can register Merrifield for about two hits a night, and his slugging percentage has increased in each of the past three seasons.
Obstacles: Merrifield, like Soler, plays for a rival AL Central, and the Indians have traditionally avoided making deals within the division. The asking price would be high based on Merrifield’s contract and Kansas City’s need to start pitching and helping the pens.
Clint Frazier, Yankees DE
Why Frazier would suit: The Indians drafted No. 5 Frazier overall in 2013 and he was the centerpiece of the July 2016 trade that brought Andrew Miller from the Yankees. Blocked in both corners of the New York outfield by Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge, Frazier has shown he can produce good power numbers when given the opportunity. The Yankees are looking for a starting pitcher in the major leagues, and the Indians have a surplus.
Obstacles: Frazier missed much of the 2019 season with concussion symptoms, but appears to have recovered before the 2020 campaign.
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