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Cleveland Indians: Solving center field, Part II

The Indians have a well-stocked farm system. This could be leveraged to make center field a position of strength in 2017.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

As the Winter Meetings approach, less than a month away now, and the Hot Stove continues to smolder, we push forward in in our quest to discover ways to fix the hole in the Cleveland Indians’ outfield. In the previous installment we looked at the opportunity presented by inaction. It was not a favorite choice, but it’s definitely a route. But actual moves could be made to boost the Cleveland outfield, and involve players not currently in a Tribe uniform but whom we are very acquainted with. The Indians might not have money, but they do have a well bolstered farm system. Perhaps it’s time for another harvest.

Whenever talk of the minor leagues comes up, particularly the outfield, talk begins with Bradley Zimmer of the Columbus Clippers. Long one of the jewels of the farm system and part of a family that is rife with as-yet unfound hype, Zimmer is much talked about and little seen in Cleveland. But that’s not to say he’s fallen by the wayside in Cleveland’s plans in favor of others. Prospects take a while, and the longer they're around the less fascination there is with them. People get bored and move on. He is still the second ranked player in their system according to Baseball America’s recent updated rankings, and for good reason. He's a very useful type of talent.

Zimmer is somewhat unique among prospects because he is of the type that does many things well, but nothing great. Francisco LIndor had an incredible glove. The Rangers’ Joey Gallo has absurd power. Prospects in general get noticed and fallen in love with for a specific attribute. Zimmer’s specific attribute just happens to be that he’s good at baseballing. He took a step back this past year as noted by our own Matt Lyons while Francisco Mejia exploded on the scene, hence the number 2 ranking. But he’s got the talent, and I for one am not going to let some struggles after advancing to a higher level be any sort of referendum on Zimmer, despite the sky-high strikeout rate. Good players adjust, and if he’s going to be good he will adjust. He’s supposed to be the defensive one anyway. The Indians spent several first round picks on the outfield in the last six or so years, from Tyler Naquin to Zimmer to Clint Frazier. Naquin was always the least regarded, Frazier was the bat and Zimmer the all-around stud. Perhaps the hope, or at least a plan, was to have ZImmer in center with his range, Naquin in right with his arm and Zimmer and his bat in left. But that’s neither here nor there now. He is the big name in the minors, though there's some other choice.

One other real name to consider on the farm aside from Zimmer is Greg Allen. Allen ascended to the Akron Rubberducks in 2015 and won the MiLB Gold Glove in center field. So he’s got the defensive chops, but he certainly needs some seasoning. It is quite odd that all those picks on outfielders hasn’t led to a larger range of choices, but again, the Miller/Frazier trade needed doing. Assuming Allen isn’t a choice (which is all but assured) and it does fall to Zimmer, that still allows for a role for Naquin in one of the corners. Left field needs a player with Brantley likely needing time off, and Lonnie Chisenhall is serviceable at best, but a more known quantity. Naquin still has the stink of potential to him, and has the tools to play either corner. Calling up Zimmer doesn’t wash the team’s hands of Naquin, it just makes the team more athletic. That’s nothing but a positive.

Harvesting the farm doesn’t mean just calling up players to the bigs. As mentioned in the previous part, the Indians are in a win now mode. That’s why they dumped their most advanced and best minor league bat for a relief pitcher and tried to work a short-term catcher rental. The have a well-stocked farm system and could go out and grab an excellent outfielder from a number of different clubs. One name that speaks volumes to me is Adam Eaton. It’ll never happen, but it’d be neat.

The biggest block in a deal like this is it’s so hard as the Indians to fathom trading a prince’s ransom to a division rival and seeing them flourish and beat the hell out of you in a couple years. While it’s not a logical thought process, it would be an emotional kick in the pants, and the front office is full of people. Eaton is awesome though. He plays so hard, he’s so good defensively, and he’s just so fun to watch, I’d love it. But he’s signed cheaply for several more years, and would cost a considerable number of top prospects. Add to that the White Sox brass refusing to rebuild because Jerry Reinsdorf is hard-headed and old, it’d be a tough go to pry one of their best players away.

But someone could be had. The Rays need more good players and Kevin Keirmaier might be the best center fielder in the game. Plus he’s a slightly above average hitter. Less expensive than Eaton, younger, and he could likely have that Lindor effect on the outfield. If it’s possible, the Indians should be willing to dump their top four or five prospects, if necessary. Kiermeier could be a real target though, even if the Rays fleece the Indians for prospects. They have to read the tea leaves and see that the Red Sox are resurgent, the Yankees are on the way back and will likely win 90 games, and the Blue Jays are getting desperate. Dumping Kiermeier could get them the talent they need for an adjusted win target. Defense fades with age so it would be smart too for the Rays to look to the future while the Indians benefit from his current talent level. I like the sound of that.

Other targets could include Marcel Ozuna, who I have wanted for several years now and could still likely be had from the Marlins. He wasn’t super great defensively in 2016, but he was a positive influence with the glove in 2016, by some metrics at least and can hit alright. He’s better than either of the 2016 Tribe choices and would help the lineup more than Rajai Davis. The real issue is, most of the great defensive center fielders are just too young and valuable to get, or else I just don’t trust them. Randal Grichuk from the Cardinals could be an option, if St. Louis is eyeing a restock and consolidation year. Jacoby Ellsbury could be had even if his bat has faded. The issue with him is he gets hurt like clockwork, and makes a lot of money. But there's still opportunity that should be broached. There’s choices out there of varying cost, if the Indians want to spend it.

The key here is to not leverage the farm too much that there’s nothing there in five years. If getting a great center fielder to help win now costs Zimmer, Mejia and some pitchers, that is something to consider. It would hurt, but not gut the farm. The Indians have a strong recent track f finding diamonds in the rough though, good evidence of strong scouting and projecting. It’s what’s led to Corey Kluber, Michael Brantley, Jose Ramirez,  Yan Gomes and even Jason Kipnis in the second round of the draft. That’s something that you can sort of plan for. There are bad teams out there with talent under contract. It’s prospect-cheaper to get in the winter than at the Trade Deadline, and the Indians have a shot now, not in a few years, to make some real history and get a trophy. The farm could make it happen.