If there was any doubt regarding the Cleveland Indians' intentions for the 2016 season, they have been thoroughly wiped out in the last 12 hours.
First, they agreed to a deal to bring in Jonathan Lucroy from the Milwaukee Brewers, then just hours later they agreed to a deal with the New York Yankees for relief pitcher Andrew Miller. The Indians had two big holes heading into the trade deadline, and they plugged them. As much faith as I have in Roberto Perez's future, he is just not there right now. Lucroy presents an immediate upgrade to the Indians catching core which is ranked dead last just about every statistical offensive category this season. Yan Gomes, Roberto Perez, and Chris Giminez are slashing a combined .167/.215/.286 with a 5.5 percent walk rate and a 24.8 percent strikeout rate. They have been worth just 30 wRC+ offensively, and -1.2 FanGraphs WAR overall. Even with Gomes and Perez playing effective defense, it cannot make up for the black hole they have been in the lineup. Lucroy brings one of the best catcher bats in the business to Cleveland. This season, among all catchers with at least 300 plate appearances, Lucroy is third in wRC+ (120), third in fWAR (2.8) and second in home runs (13). His defense and pitch framing may not be what they used to be, but his bat will be an unmistakable upgrade from day one. Lucroy's 2015 season was cut short by injury, but in 2014 he was a 6.1 fWAR catcher with 13 home runs and a .301/.373/.465 slash. ZiPS and Steamer both have him hitting well over the remainder of the season, as well. The best news of all, is that -- if the deal goes through -- the Indians are getting Lucroy for relatively cheap. Losing top-catching prospect Francisco Mejia hurts, but he was still several years away from contributing in the majors. Greg Allen is a potential star, but the Indians farm system is loaded with potential outfield stars, and shortstop Yu-Chang Cheng does not have much of a future as his position with Francisco Lindor alive and well.
The Tribe's bullpen fix, Andrew Miller, came at a much steeper price. The Indians lost top overall prospect Clint Frazier, one of their top pitching prospects, Justus Sheffield, and two potential superstar relievers, JP Feyereisen and Ben Heller. I am not a fan of losing just about any of those prospects, but the benefit to the Indians has the potential to be huge.
Miller has been one of the league's most valuable relievers over the last two seasons, behind only former teammates Aroldis Chapman and Dellin Betances. He has been worth 6.1 fWAR, with an outstanding 14.88 K/9 and a 1.86 ERA. The Indians needed stability in the back-end of their bullpen and they certainly got it with Miller. Whether he takes over Bryan Shaw's spot as the eighth-inning guy, or usurps Cody Allen as the closer, the Tribe bullpen is now solidified for a deep playoff run.
The important thing in all of this, especially considering the steep price in prospects, is that the Indians did not put themselves in a position to have to win the World Series in 2016. They want to win it and they should win it, but if they happen to lose in what is essentially a crapshoot of three series over the course of a month, they are still very set for 2017 and potentially even 2018.
Here's a look at what the roster could be right now, assuming the Lucroy trade goes through:
- 1B: Mike Napoli
- 2B: Jason Kipnis
- SS: Francisco Lindor
- 3B: Juan Uribe
- LF: Jose Ramirez
- CF: Tyler Naquin
- RF: Lonnie Chisenhall
- DH: Carlos Santana
- BN: Roberto Perez, Abraham Almonte, Rajai Davis, Erik Gonzalez
SP: Corey Kluber
- SP: Carlos Carrasco
- SP: Danny Salazar
- SP: Josh Tomlin
- SP: Trevor Bauer
- RP: Cody Allen
- RP: Bryan Shaw
- RP: Dan Otero
- RP: Andrew Miller
- RP: Kyle Crockett
- RP: Cody Anderson
- RP: Zach McAllister
That's a damn good 25-man roster. And that is before Michael Brantley returns from injury. The Indians were also careful not to trade too many prospects who could contribute in 2016 and 2017. Frazier is obviously one who could have, as well as Feyereisen and Heller. But the Indians managed to hold onto Yandy Diaz, who has been tearing up Triple-A and could land on the Indians later this year, as well as pitcher Mike Clevinger, who already debuted this season and could have a role in the bullpen down the stretch.
Beyond 2016, much of the Indians roster will remain intact. Both trade targets could still be with the Indians, as long as they pick up Lucroy's club option, and most of the core remains intact. The only key depatures after 2016 will be players who were signed to a one year deal, such as Mike Napoli and Rajai Davis. With Michael Brantley eventually returning to the outfield and Lucroy possibly taking over at first base when a healthy Yan Gomes plays in 2017, they may already be replaced, anyway.
The Indians made two smart trades, and it is hard to dislike them, even if you love the prospects leaving the organization. Be upset if the Indians don't win the World Series in 2016, but don't lose hope. This team built to win for years.