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2016 MLB Trade Deadline Preview: Cleveland Indians

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A look at what the Indians will do at the trade deadline.

MLB: Cleveland Indians at Atlanta Braves Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

As we approach August 1, we will preview what each team is projected to do in advance of the non-waiver trade deadline. For a complete listing of our previews, click here.
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Cleveland Indians: 49-31, 1st in the AL Central

The Indians have been the talk of baseball since mid-June, and reached the peak of a 14-game winning streak after a thrilling 19-inning win in Toronto Friday. The Tribe have one of the best rotations in all of baseball, with all five starters boasting ERAs at or below the 3.50 mark and Danny Salazar leading the pack with a stellar 10-3 record and 2.22 ERA.

Cleveland has a wide lead (seven games) on the Royals as of this weekend, and appears, along with the Orioles and Rangers, as one of the strong favorites in the American League. Considering the White Sox’ hot start and the Royals being defending champions, it’s an impressive feat for a Cleveland team that made only tepid moves this winter (Mike Napoli, Rajai Davis, Juan Uribe and Joba Chamberlain being the most significant).

Despite the big lead, there have been some areas of weakness for the Tribe. The outfield lacks depth in the wake of Michael Brantley’s injury and steroid suspensions for Marlon Byrd and Abraham Almonte, though Tyler Naquin has been fantastic in his first major-league stint and Lonnie Chisenhall has stepped in nicely. Brantley is expected back sometime in the second half, meaning the Indians’ most significant addition could already be within their organization.

What moves have they made so far?

Cleveland has already made three trades this season, with one proving to have an impact at the big-league level. Two of the deals were minor, as the club shipped lefty Giovanni Soto to the Cubs and former prospects James Ramsey and Zach Walters to the Dodgers after designating them for assignment.

The team’s most important trade to this point has been the addition of catcher Chris Gimenez, who was acquired from the Rangers for cash in early May. Though Gimenez has hit just .200/.250/.300 in 28 games, he has helped stabilize the pitching staff and has been cited as a big factor in the improvements of starter Trevor Bauer.

Are they buyers or sellers?

The Indians are obvious buyers, though will differ from every most other deadline buyers due to the fact they won’t be looking for starting pitching. After floating controllable starters like Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar in trade talks over the last two years, Cleveland won’t discuss trades involving rotation pieces this year.

The most glaring area of need for the Indians is the outfield, despite the solid production from Naquin, Chisenhall, Davis and Jose Ramirez. The eventual addition of Brantley could turn out to be the team’s key outfield move, though they will almost certainly gauge the robust outfield market for potential additions. Prospects Clint Frazier and Bradley Zimmer also may be in the mix for promotions.

An outfield addition would force Ramirez back to third base, providing an upgrade over the struggling Juan Uribe. Of course, Cleveland could look to solve that problem by acquiring a third baseman and keeping the surging Ramirez in left field.

Cleveland has gotten almost zero production from behind the plate so far, as Yan Gomes is slashing .180/.214/.346 through 60 games. There will be some available offensive-minded catchers as well, so the club could make a move there. Bullpen help may also be in the cards, despite the group’s strong performance so far this year.

Who will they target?

If the Indians do decide to make an outfield move, there are plenty of options available. Jay Bruce of the Reds would make some sense, and has already expressed a willingness to waive his no-trade clause for a potential move to Cleveland (and other contenders). Josh Reddick (Athletics) and Nick Markakis (Braves) will also be available, though Cleveland may opt for a lesser move if and when Brantley comes back.

Cleveland has also been linked to Athletics third baseman Danny Valencia, who is arguably the top third baseman available this summer. Valencia is also drawing interest from the Royals, who will likely be a direct competitor for the Indians if they decide to pursue third base help. Trevor Plouffe (Twins) and Yangervis Solarte (Padres) could be fits as well.

Predictions

The Indians could really go two ways at the trade deadline, either by standing pat or making significant moves. Their entire strategy seems to rely on the status of Brantley, who would be a major addition at a critical time of the season.

Though Brantley publicly seems to be progressing well, there has been a cloud of doubt in baseball circles about the severity of his injury and his prognosis for returning this season. The recurring nature of his shoulder issues may force the Indians’ hand in making a deal, with options like Bruce and Reddick readily available on a strong market for outfielders.