clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Cleveland Indians trade deadline 2015: examining their overall options

The Indians have some strategic choices to make between now and the July trade deadline.

Bradley Zimmer's name will come up in a lot of trade talks over the next couple weeks.
Bradley Zimmer's name will come up in a lot of trade talks over the next couple weeks.
Elsa/Getty Images

Once again the Indians find themselves in a quandary as they approach the July trading deadline. They are still within striking distance of a Wild Card spot, but then again, so is most of the American League. They have the pitching staff (especially the rotation) to beat anyone in the American League, but the offense is a proverbial anchor. Should the Indians somehow get into the playoffs, the starting staff alone would make them competitive in any setting, but getting there without some major offensive upgrades is going to be very difficult to pull off.

Which brings me to the minor leagues. "Wait, what?" you might be thinking, "How does what's happening in the minors have anything to do with the decisions of the major-league club  over the next weeks?" My answer is: everything. The lifeblood of an organization is it's player development program, for it should provide the major-league club with a regular supply of young (inexpensive) players ready to take for older (expensive) players that either sign elsewhere or decline in value. Otherwise the big-league club heads into free agency to improve their club, and that, while it sometimes works, other times (Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher come to mind) it can fail spectacularly. Had Bourn and Swisher been producing at their pre-Cleveland values, then this article might have been simply about the top trade targets for the Indians, as the club would very much be in the playoff hunt. But because they haven't, the club has a very important decision to make before they start serious trade negotiations: are they going to be buyers or sellers?

If the Indians do nothing, or trade off some non-core players (David Murphy, Ryan Raburn) will they be a better or worse team the following year, assuming limited involvement in free agency? With the core players locked up through at least 2016, the Indians won't be tearing the roster apart, but at the same time, they'll need to fill in the gaps without spending a lot of money this offseason. Those gaps will need to be filled by the farm system, and to some extent, that's already started. Francisco Lindor, Giovanny Urshela, and Cody Anderson (all signed or drafted by the Indians) have already contributed at the major-league level, and Tyler Naquin, now at AAA, may do so before the season ends. Bradley Zimmer, who played his first game in Akron last night, is on track to make his MLB debut next year. Those five players, added to what's already in place, would make for a nice mixture in 2016 or 2017.

At this point the only thing I'm convinced the Indians won't do is to trade a core player, unless it's for another core player. There's no need to do so, as none of the core players are poised to leave via free agency until at least 2016 (Indians have a team option on Carlos Santana for 2017), and the top prospects in the system don't have anyone blocking them, at least in the long term. But I could see the team trading prospects for help now, I could see them trade off the Murphy/Raburn duo, and I could see them do nothing.

Trading for help now. This would mean the Indians go after a bat, and perhaps some bullpen help (especially with the Hagadone injury). Every team in baseball could use another middle-of-the-order bat, but the Indians perhaps have the greatest need of one. The Indians are 13th out of 15 AL clubs in home runs, and 12th in slugging percentage. They need power, specifically home run power. They'll have to pay a premium for it, as there won't be many power bats available. I'm going to assume that Bradley Zimmer is going to be mentioned in just about every trade conversation the Indians have between now and the deadline, but unless the Indians would get a player for multiple seasons, they aren't going to part with their top prospect,* especially one that could fill a major-league hole in a year or so.

Trading off some non-core players. In 2006, the Indians also had fantastic production from a platoon. They traded Ben Broussard and Eduardo Perez to Seattle in two different trades for Asdrubal Cabrera and Shin-Soo Choo. I wouldn't expect that kind of return from a David Murphy/Ryan Raburn trade, but given the dearth of bats available, they might be able to get a power arm for the bullpen or a younger position or starting pitcher prospect. Both Murphy and Raburn can be brought back on team options in 2016, but if I doubt they'll ever be as valuable as trip chips as they will be over the next couple weeks.

Doing Nothing. Keep the players you have, hope that the young prospects can contribute, and if they don't, then prepare for 2016. Continue to let Urshela, Lindor and Anderson develop at the major-league level, bring Tyler Naquin up in September, and perhaps take a look at a couple relief prospects (Shawn Armstrong? Giovanni Soto?). Try to see if you can offload Michael Bourn this offseason (Swisher at this point seems untradeable), and see what you can get for Lonnie Chisenhall if Urshela impresses down the stretch.

Of these three strategic options, I'm leaning towards them standing pat. They'll investigate potential offensive upgrades, but the price tag will be too high. What do you think the Indians will do between now and the trade deadline?

*Assuming of course that Francisco Lindor is no longer considered a prospect between now and the end of the season.