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: 37-33, 1st in the AL Central
Yes the Indians are leading the AL Central right now. Yes the Indians are expected to win the division for the third year in a row and 10th time overall in franchise history. Yes they are expected to contend for a World Series title.
However, as great as it is for them to be in this spot and have these expectations, the Indians know they have to buy some key pieces to add to their talented roster if they want to end baseball’s longest active World Series championship drought at 69 years.
When it is healthy, the Tribe’s rotation of two-time Cy Young winner Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer, Mike Clevinger and Carlos Carrasco (currently on DL) is one of the best in the majors. They have two of the best relievers in the game in Andrew Miller and closer Cody Allen. They have big bats in Jose Ramirez, Edwin Encarnacion, Francisco Lindor, Michael Brantley and Yonder Alonso.
But, Cleveland president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti said to Jordan Bastian of MLB.com that the club has been “aggressive in looking for ways to improve the team.”
What moves have they made so far?
The Indians have done some transactions, as they signed veteran outfielder Melky Cabrera to a minor-league deal, made four small trades and signed lefty Oliver Perez.
The Cabrera deal didn’t work out as planned, as the 33-year-old was designated for assignment on June 14 after he only slashed .207/.242/.293 in 66 plate appearances after he was called up from Triple-A Columbus in May. Instead of taking an assignment, the 14-year veteran elected for free agency on June 18.
As for the trades, they acquired second baseman Jon Berti (Blue Jays), pitcher Oliver Drake (Brewers) and pitcher Myles Jaye (Twins), but none of them have made any impact. They also traded away third baseman Gio Urshela to the Blue Jays for a player to be named later.
However, the Perez signing has worked out so far, as he has allowed only one earned run and four hits in seven innings pitched out of the bullpen.
Who could they acquire?
Antonetti said to Bastian that he wasn’t going to reveal exactly who he and Cleveland’s decision-makers are going to try to acquire, but relievers to fill the middle innings have to be at the top of the list.
After all, the Indians’ bullpen has gone from being the best in the majors over the last two seasons to being one of the worst in 2018. The Tribe’s bullpen ranks in the bottom three in the majors in ERA (28th at 5.48), OPS (28th at .793) and slugging percentage (30th at .472). A big part of their struggles is that they lost Bryan Shaw, one of their “Big Three” relievers along with Miller and Allen, to the Rockies and another quality reliever in Joe Smith to the Astros in free agency.
Because of their struggles, along with Miller being on the DL, the Indians desperately need at least one impactful arm, if not two. Antonetti said that he and the club are exploring both players under control and rentals, but are taking “a multi-year approach” no matter who they try to acquire.
The ideal relievers for them would be the Padres’ Brad Hand and the Reds’ Raisel Iglesias, as they are arms who are not only talented, but are also under team control through 2020 (Hand has a team option for 2021). However, trying to land either player will not be easy for the Tribe because both teams may not feel the urgency to make a deal unless they receive a package they can’t refuse. Also, the Indians may not have the resources to deal for either player unless they give up one of their top prospects in catcher Francisco Mejia, pitcher Triston McKenzie, first baseman Bobby Bradley or third baseman Nolan Jones.
The more realistic reliever options are either the Orioles’ Zach Britton, Brad Brach and/or Darren O’Day, the Blue Jays’ Tyler Clippard, or the Marlins’ Brad Ziegler. With the exception of O’Day, every one of these pitchers are free agents after the season. Britton is the most notable of the group, as the Indians once again have “heavy” interest in acquiring the All-Star closer after having interest in him last year, according to Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports. Though Britton had one bad outing on Friday night in which he allowed four earned runs in 1⁄3 of an inning, he has been lights out for the most part since being activated from the DL in June after having Achilles surgery in December. The Indians might be able to land a man who once recorded an AL record 60 consecutive saves and led the majors in saves in 2016 for cheap rather than giving up everything for a Hand or Iglesias.
Along with relievers, the Indians could look into an outfielder to get more production at the center or right field positions, as Antonetti acknowledged. However, this need is not as pressing as the bullpen problem they have.
The Indians will be able to land a reliever by the deadline and the reliever they will acquire will be Britton.
Though the Astros are also in the mix for him (and had a deal in place for him last year before it fell through because of medical questions involving the prospects in the trade), the Indians will be able to bring aboard Britton in the final hours of the deadline, give the bullpen a heck of a trio in him, Miller and Allen and build up chemistry in their bullpen as they head into the postseason.