There is no shortage of posts detailing just how dire the Cleveland Indians outfield situation is. Ideally, fixing that situation would require a minimal prospect or even a decent free agent option. However, what if the Tribe could land a power-hitting outfielder for only one of their star outfield prospects? That is exactly what our friends at Purple Row suggested in a post yesterday when examining trade options for outfielder Carlos Gonzalez.
In the post on Purple Row, here is what Matt Gross had to say regarding the Indians as potential trade partners with the Colorado Rockies and what they could offer in return for Gonzalez:
Then on the prospect side of things, they have pieces worth looking into. They have not one, but two, top 50 outfielders in Bradley Zimmer and Clint Frazier -- both of whom are not expected to arrive at the big league level until 2017, which is a time frame better suited for the Rockies than the Indians. In addition to this, they have two interesting arms. One (Rob Kaminsky) has a high floor (well, as high as you can have for a guy who just finished High-A), and the other (Brady Aiken) has a high ceiling. To top it all off, Cleveland also has a pick in the second Competitive Balance round of next year's draft (usually ends up somewhere around No. 75 overall). That pick is tradable and could help strike a deal if Cleveland's willing to kick it in as sort of a cherry on top to balance out a return.
The thinking is solid, of course. The Indians have an obvious gaping hole in the outfield, which is only going to get worse if Michael Brantley suffers even the smallest of setbacks in his recovery from shoulder surgery. Additionally, the Indians have future talent in the form of Zimmer and Frazier, while the Rockies can supply an instant fix to the outfield with Gonzalez. Essentially, the Indians are going to have to swap and unknown future talent for a mostly-known current talent. Is it worth it?
For starters, let’s examine Gonzalez and the potential issues with acquiring him. He plays in Colorado for one, which is notoriously hitter friendly and skews batting numbers to a major degree. In the last four years, Gonzalez has played 230 games away from Coors Field, which can be seen in the table below:
In those games, he has 921 total plate appearances and combines for a well below average .242/.300/.449 slash, with 45 home runs. This inability to hit away from his home field is especially reflected in his season total for wRC+, which was only 114 in 2015; despite slugging .540 with a .325 on-base percentage. All hitters have a slight boost hitting at home compared to on the road, but across the board Gonzalez goes from an All-Star to a replacement-level outfielder in recent years when not at Coors Field.
The other big issue, especially for a team like Cleveland, is Gonzalez’s contract. Gross suggests that the Rockies would be able to eat some of it, which is the right mindset. Depending on just how much the Rockies would be willing to eat, it could make or break this deal. As it is Gonzalez is owed $17 million in 2016 and $20 million in 2017. If the Rockies ate the majority of (heck, even all?) of the $17 million in 2016 just to land a big prospect, the question for the Indians becomes is it worth paying $20 million for CarGo in 2017? If the answer is yes, we need to decide what the Indians could realistically part with for Gonzalez.
Right off the bat, I am saying no on Bradley Zimmer. Granted, Zimmer is a risk just as much (if not more) than Gonzalez, but Zimmer will also not eat up one-fourth of the Indians payroll for an entire offseason. Zimmer is just too close of a can’t-miss prospect for the Indians to give away for a 30-year-old outfielder who a) could be declining, and b) may not hit at all when taken out of Coors Field for a season. So that brings us to Clint Frazier.
As I said in my own post about trading with the Boston Red Sox, Frazier is an ideal candidate for the Indians to sell now if they can get Major League talent. I love Frazier and his potential as much as anyone, but the general consensus on Frazier’s ability to be a future star is much more mixed than Zimmer’s. If the Rockies are willing to eat a huge chunk of Gonzalez’s contract--say, enough to still allow the Indians to sign another player this offseason--I see no reason Mike Chernoff and Chris Antonetti should not at least consider going all-in in 2016 then trying to flip Gonzalez again in 2017 if it does not work out. The Indians current window to win could be closing faster than any of us would like, and Gonzalez could help keep that breeze of hope flowing by propping open the window.
A 1-to-1 swap could make sense if the Indians can talk the Rockies down based on Gonzalez’s numbers away from Coors. While that may sound lopsided for the Indians, trading a prospect for an established outfielder, I would not be comfortable with the Indians giving up much more than that. They have a huge hole in the outfield, but emptying the farm for a complete mystery that costs $20 million or more may not be the way to do it. Although I would also not be against including a smaller pitching prospect, or even Rob Kaminsky if the Rockies add another small piece to the deal.
What do you think? Should the Indians take a shot at Carlos Gonzalez?