If you don't follow me on Twitter (@chadyoung), you may not know just how happy I am about the Brandon Moss trade. Moss is a power bat the Indians have not had recently and immediately improves the lineup (assuming his hip is reasonably healthy). But the addition of another 1B/OF/DH does create a bit of a roster crunch, and something will need to happen to clear that up.
Moss becomes a factor at LF, RF, 1B and DH. Two of those spots have clear cut incumbents (Carlos Santana at 1B and Michael Brantley in LF are two of the best players on the team), but there were already at least three players (Ryan Raburn, David Murphy and Nick Swisher) competing for or perhaps sharing the other two spots. Other players, such as James Ramsey and Jesus Aguilar, could have been in the mix as well, though they were likely both ticketed for AAA.
So what might the Indians have in mind to clear up this logjam? I can see five scenarios:
1) Trade Nick Swisher
This is probably the Indians' preferred path forward, and they might be content to basically give Swish away just to get out of the $30 million they owe him. But Swisher is also still the most natural player at DH, has some marketing value to the team, and will be hardest to move. Something to keep in mind if you are looking at a trade of Brohio - his value on the open market is far, far less than Brandon Moss's. He is more expensive, less productive, older, and just as injured (maybe more injured). So your return is likely to be something much less than Joey Wendle. If the Indians are wiling to pay some of Swisher's salary, they could maybe upgrade the return to "potentially someday a useful piece," but anything more would be a huge win.
2) Trade David Murphy
Murphy is a bit more valuable than Swisher, because he is owed just $6 million for 2015 and can be released (at a cost of $500K) before 2016 (his option is for $7 million). He's coming off two bad years, and his defense suffered badly in 2014, as did his bat. Perhaps the most problematic issue is for Murphy is that he and Moss are both LH bats and are basically redundant... except that Moss is a much better hitter. Like Swisher, the return for Murphy would not be much.
3) DFA Ryan Raburn
Raburn's trade value is probably about zero, so if the team decides he is the odd man out, they would just cut him loose. This would make some sense, since he is the least valuable piece in the group. The problem here is that these are the career wRC+ vs. lefties for the four players mentioned so far:
- Swisher - 127
- Raburn - 114
- Moss - 101
- Murphy - 72
Murphy is the only one of them who almost HAS to be benched vs. lefties, but Raburn, particularly if Swisher is done, could be the best option to face lefties. And with the Tribe's struggles against lefties last year (and the role Raburn played in their strong performance vs. lefties in 2013), he may be more valuable to this team than his overall value suggests.
4) Trade Carlos Santana
Let me be clear: I hate this idea. But Santana has far more trade value than anyone else in this group, and moving him would clear up the logjam while potentially bringing back a great return. What would the Indians want/need? Assuming Moss plays 1B, Raburn and Murphy keep platooning in RF and Swisher is at DH, the front office would probably target a 3B, some pitching, or a talented prospects in exchange for Santana. I find this idea both unpleasant and improbable though. The Indians are clearly playing to win now, and it is extremely unlikely they would make a move with Santana that would make them better in the short term.
5) Keep'em all!
You can potentially imagine the Indians starting the year with the following position players:
Carlos Santana (1B), Jason Kipnis (2B), Jose Ramirez (SS), Lonnie Chisenhall (3B), Yan Gomes (C), Michael Brantley (LF), Michael Bourn (CF), Brandon Moss (RF) , Nick Swisher (DH), Mike Aviles (Util), Roberto Perez (backup C), David Murphy (B), and Ryan Raburn (B).
It would be an odd bench. Aviles can fill in at any infield position, Swisher or Moss can back up 1B, with Murphy as your top LH and Raburn as your top RH bat off the bench. Not exactly fear-inspiring bats though, nor are they particularly valuable backup defensive replacements. It would also mean only 7 relievers for Francona, which was not his preference this year.
I think a Murphy trade is the most likely scenario. The return will be limited, but the team can likely get someone to take him off their hands, sending back a spare part and not requiring much, if any, cash. Trading Swisher would be great, but it seems extremely unlikely - the Indians won't have much desire to pay Swisher to try to bounce back on another roster. If a Murphy trade cannot be worked out, Raburn being DFA'd is the next most likely scenario.