As we approach July 31, 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.
Cleveland Indians: 40-35, 1st in the AL Central
The defending American League champions are still in position to defend their title, as they lead in the AL Central after taking over the top spot Monday night. The Indians are still in contention despite seeing their starting rotation struggle after being one of the best in baseball at this time last year.
Though they only hold a half-game lead on the surprising Minnesota Twins, the Indians are expected to come away with the division title because they still have most of their players back from last year’s club, including their biggest trade deadline acquisition in reliever Andrew Miller. Plus, they signed slugger Edwin Encarnacion in the offseason to make up for the loses of Mike Napoli and Rajai Davis in free agency.
With that said, it’s all about starting pitching for the Tribe. Though they made it to the World Series last year on the arms of Corey Kluber, Josh Tomlin and Trevor Bauer after Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco suffered season-ending injuries, the Indians have only seen Kluber and Carrasco pitch effectively this year and they can’t bank on just having them, plus their Big Three in the bullpen (Miller, Cody Allen and Bryan Shaw) pitch every game in the postseason.
What moves have they made so far?
Cleveland’s biggest winter move came on Jan. 5, as it inked Encarnacion to a three-year, $60 million deal hoping that he can provide the big bat in its lineup just like he did with the Blue Jays. He has delivered for the most part, hitting 17 home runs with 40 RBI while slashing .261/.379/.486.
Since then, though, the Indians’ only other major signing was lefty reliever Boone Logan in February. They have also made four small trades. The first of those deals was sending Austin Adams to the Angels for cash in February. Then, they made two trades in May, the first one being a deal in which they sent Yoiber Marquita to the Yankees to complete a trade they made in December and they traded Michael Martinez to the Rays for cash. They also acquired Josh Wilson from the Rangers on June 1 for cash.
Are they buyers or sellers?
The Indians are buyers, but the question will be, “Will they spend as much as they did last year?”
When they acquired Miller, the Indians sent a package of prospects, headed by Clint Frazier and Justus Sheffield. They also traded J.P. Feyereisen and Ben Heller. The move turned out to be a great one, as Miller became a force for them down the stretch and in the postseason, where he allowed only three earned runs in 19 1⁄3 innings pitched (1.40 ERA) and had 30 strikeouts. He was named the ALCS MVP after the Tribe swept the Blue Jays.
Remember, the Indians also tried to add Jonathan Lucroy last year and they were going to send four more prospects to the Brewers before Lucroy vetoed the deal. The Indians do have some nice young talent, but are they willing to give up the farm for another great player? Or are they only going to give up one or two prospects for a solid player?
Who will they target?
The Miller deal shocked everyone in baseball last year, so the idea of another blockbuster trade by the Indians may not come as a surprise this time around. However, it won’t be shocking if they do not make a deal and instead just ride the horses they have.
If they are out to make a deal, the Tribe may want to consider the following starters: Jason Vargas, Johnny Cueto, Jose Quintana, Sonny Gray, Ervin Santana, Gerrit Cole, Edinson Volquez, Alex Cobb and Jaime Garcia.
Out of these starters, they ideally would want guys like Cole, Quintana, Gray, Santana, Volquez and Cobb because they are all under team control at least through 2018, giving them at least another year of championship contention. However, five of these six players will require them to give up a lot of prospects, which the Indians may not necessarily want to do again considering Gray and Cobb have had injury issues in the past and Quintana plays for the rival White Sox. Cole can be a nice fit, but he has drawn interest from the Astros and Yankees, both contenders in the AL. Santana can be a great get, but that would only happen if the Twins rapidly fell out of contention and were willing to deal with a division rival. Volquez might be a potential fit as well, but he is 34 years old and the Marlins may drive up the price for him come the deadline.
If they don’t want to give up the farm, the Indians could go for a guy who can be an innings eater and give them solid performances for the remainder of this season. Vargas, who has been superb with the Royals, is a free agent after this year and Cueto is expected to opt out of his six-year, $130 million deal that he signed with the Giants before the 2016 season.
The Indians do make a move, but they will only get a middle-of-the-rotation starter who can pitch a lot of innings and will not require a ton of prospects to give up. In doing so, they hope that either Tomlin or Bauer can turn their seasons around so they can be effective arms when it matters the most and they can keep their prospects.
Luckily for them, the Indians have a great security blanket in their bullpen, which is the best in baseball with a collective 2.53 ERA. They do have Kluber — a former AL Cy Young winner — and a quality pitcher in Carrasco who can be the designated pitchers to pitch on short rest if they get to the postseason. They also have a talented lineup with Encarnacion, star shortstop Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez, Jason Kipnis, Carlos Santana, Bradley Zimmer and Michael Brantley that can give them enough firepower offensively to go far.