The draft is over, the Cleveland Indians are winning, and the trade deadline is approaching fast. There should be no real debate anymore about if the Indians are sellers or buyers -- they are buyers. What they buy, and how much they spend, are the real questions at this point. At one time the answer was obvious -- they need an outfielder. But it is not so cut and dry anymore.
Tell any Indians fan heading into the season that their outfield, sans Michael Brantley, would be perfectly fine half-way through June and they may think you missed a medication. Maybe calling the Indians offense "perfectly fine" is a bit of a stretch, but it is way better off than just about anyone could have hoped for with more than a third of the season complete.
The biggest thing is that the Indians have options to improve the team entering trade negotiations, they are no longer gunning for an outfielder and only an outfielder. Sure, you could rephrase that as "the Indians have several holes on the roster," but I am going with my interpretation. They have options. Options.
The All-Star case for Jose Ramirez
If you vote for Jose now, that'll be the end of it. I will not look for you, I will not pursue you. But if you don't, I will look for you, I will find you, and I will kindly ask you to reconsider.
First and foremost, they still could choose to go after a big-name outfielder. However, if the front office was ever entertaining the idea of doing something desperate like dealing Clint Frazier and/or Bradley Zimmer, that thought should be fleeting at this point. The current outfield consisting of Jose Ramirez, Rajai Davis, Lonnie Chisenhall, and Tyler Naquin has been one of the better ones in the American League. They rank fifth in the American League in overall FanGraphs WAR at 4.5, and seventh in combined wOBA at .327.
Jose Ramirez is the leader of the outfield bunch right now, which should be obvious considering he has been one of the best all-around players on the Tribe this season. His 1.6 fWAR has him right behind Francsico Lindor for the team lead, and his .353 wOBA would be 30th among all starting outfielders in Major League Baseball. I will admit that I fell into the "Lonnie Chisenhall can't hit lefties" camp prior to the season, but that has been far from the case in 2016. He started the season platooning with the right-handed Marlon Byrd, and now he appears to be platooning with Michael Martinez, but whenever he has a chance against left-handed pitchers has shined. So far this season he is 6-for-18 against southpaws, with a triple and three doubles.
It is worth noting that the overall numbers do include Marlon Byrd, who received a 162 game suspension following a positive PED test and will no longer with the team. However, they also do not include a healthy Michael Brantley or a returning Abraham Almonte. You could even say, at some point, the Indians outfield could be crowded with too many potential starters. Maybe not every day, star players, but players who can hold down the position night after night and not force their front office to deal away a top prospect to replace them.
It also does not help that the outfield trade market just is not all that appealing. Once you get past the players who the Indians obviously cannot afford (in trade or in contract), such as Jay Bruce and Ryan Braun, you are left potentially buying low on Colby Rasmus if the Houston Astros experience another plunge by July 31. The best fit could be someone like Josh Reddick although he is rapidly driving up his trade value with one of the best offensive seasons of his career to this point.
Instead, the Indians should focus on two other key areas: bullpen and third base, with the former being more important than the latter.
If we want to buy into bullpen roles, the Indians need a "setup" reliever. Whether or not Bryan Shaw should keep being that setup man you can argue about until you're blue in the face, but it's hard to argue that some kind of improvement would not greatly benefit the Tribe.
One reliever the Indians should take a close look at is Blaine Boyer. I am not going in any kind of order with these suggestions, but if this was a list of the low-risk, medium-rewardiest pitchers out there, Boyer would still be going first. He is not a reliever that strikes out a lot of batters, but he does not walk many either. The 34-year-old reliever has appeared in 24 games for the lowly Milwaukee Brewers and allowed at least one run in four of those appearances, only one of which resulted in a game loss. Acquiring Boyer would not quite be a replacement for Shaw as a setup man, but he would be a cheap addition to the bullpen who is an instant upgrade over some of the lower-end arms.
The Indians could also look to of familiar face to help fill out their bullpen. Jeanmar Gomez was a starter on the Tribe for three seasons. He was never a great starter -- he never had an ERA below 4.68 in any season with the Tribe -- but he has found new live as a reliever with the Philadelphia Phillies this season. He is currently carrying a career-high strikeout rate (18.9%) and one of his best walk rates (5.7%) in 31.0 relief appearances this season. The issue with Gomez is that he is will be entering Arbitration 1 next year, meaning the Phillies have him under control for a few more years -- if they feel he could be part of their rebuild, he may not be available.
Third base is another area of need, but one that should be at the lower end of the trade deadline need totem pole. Sure, Juan Uribe has been a mess this season, but the Indians are unlikely to outright cut him while still owing $4 million this season and Jose Ramirez is an easy candidate to replace him. When Brantley comes back (assuming he is fully healthy), Ramirez should shift to third base as the everyday starter, or at the very least, be a very frequent backup for Uribe.
Should the Indians choose to look for an outside boost at third base (say, because Brantley doesn't return very healthy sooner rather than later). Unfortunately, there are just not many third base options out there. David Freese is someone I advocated for the Indians to sign prior to the season, and he has been phenomenal for the Pittsburgh Pirates thus far, slashing .290/372/.438 with five home runs. Unless the Pirates go on the slump to end all slumps between now and the trade deadline, they will probably see themselves in the running for a Wild Card spot, at the very least, so a deal for Freese is unlikely.
Martin Prado is another option, as he is playing well for the Miami Marlins to this point, and they are a team that enjoys a good sale at the deadline, no matter how they are doing in the standings. He is in the midst of the final year of a four-year, $40 million deal he signed with the Arizona Diamondbacks prior to the 2013 season.
No matter what the Indians are planning in "trade season," as long as it does not involve gutting the farm system to get an extra win or two they will come away just fine.