There isn't much uncertainty surrounding the Cleveland Indians in spring training this year.
Most every position has all but been affirmed, the rotation is basically set and the bullpen has space for one or two other names at best. It makes for a boring spring, really. They're very good, best in the league even, but that means nothing matters until April. None of this means they can't get better.
Every team could improve. The Chicago Cubs would love to have Clayton Kershaw if the price was right. The Indians have a trophy in mind, and that means they're in Win Now mode, officially. I tried to identify a couple players around the league that might move the needle a bit more in the Indians' direction. To be clear, this is about going all-in, basically emptying the farm system for the near future. It's not super advisable if they want to be good in five or six years, but the time is now. It's not like they're sitting on Mike Trout 2.0 in Columbus.
Though they're moving into a new building, the Atlanta Braves are decidedly in a rebuilding phase. This means any established player with more than a few years of service time is being circled by vultures in some respect or another.
Teheran happens to have a very good contract with the Braves, being paid $6.3 million, $8 million, and $11 million the next three years. He's been worth 7.5 wins the last three years, which included a 1.1-win season in 2015 where he dealt with some minor injuries that sapped his effectiveness. Even with that dead year, he owns a combined 114 ERA+ over the last three years, with a 3.37 ERA and averaging over 200 innings.
He is a good pitcher, and the best part is that's something the Braves have a glut of in the farm system. Their rebuild has centered around gathering pitching assets, resulting in six of their top 10 Baseball America prospects being pitchers, including numbers 37, 48, 66, 67, 77, and 78 in the top 100. None of this means they are set, since nobody has enough pitching, but they could use position players that are close to the majors. Players like Bradley Zimmer, or Yandy Diaz, or even keep stockpiling pitchers and get Tristan McKenzie. It wouldn't be a cheap trade, but the Indians are ready to win now and have assets high in the minors and even in the majors if they wanted to throw a Ryan Merritt or Cody Anderson into the deal to eat some 2017 innings.
I am terrible at valuing players in terms of prospects or trades in general, but there is a deal here that could get done. It wouldn’t be pretty for the Tribe in a couple years, but it goes without saying that replacing Josh Tomlin with Teheran would be huge. It stinks a little of desperation, but is there anything worse than nearly reaching the pinnacle and never getting there?
Sometimes you have to sacrifice the future for the now.
While writing my series on the expected woes of the Indians outfield a week or so ago, this is the kind of player I pined for the Indians to pick up. It didn’t matter if it was internally through healing or from the outside, but it didn’t happen. At least, until Brantley comes back.
Calhoun is far from a sexy name, but he's basically the second best player on the Los Angeles Angels at this point. He is spectacularly unspectacular, but has hung in the 3.5 to 4 win area the last few years. He hits something like 20 home runs a year in an abjectly pitcher’s atmosphere, hits in the mid .280s, gets on base, and can occupy either corner spot. He’s the kind of player that makes the difference between a pretty good team that already has stars elsewhere, and a champion. He's also going to be in his age 30 season, meaning he wouldn't cost quite as much of the farm as Teheran.
The Angels are not in a position to contend this year unless a lot of things go right with their pitching staff, both in health and development along with other teams in their division not living up to promise, and they need to stop wasting their Trout Years. The Indians have pieces that could help them in a year-ish, including pitching, whether someone already on the major league team or a Kaminsky for depth. It would cost Zimmer or even Mejia, but those guys are the future. Calhoun will be on the downswing by the time they're good again, it would be a good move on both sides.
These are two guys who would be a big help to the Indians, might cost a bunch of prospects but not much money out of the salary budget. They could use the boost, especially with Calhoun. His addition would be such an upgrade from almost literally nothing (again, assuming Brantley stalls in his comeback) and could play every day. Teheran is less likely to move, but you at least need to check.
It is not a good idea to trade off your entire top prospect list. Compounding the problem is the Indians not having enough good players in the farm to even net anything more than a pretty good player. But these two would bring more than just a marginal return, whether boosting the moribund outfield or giving such absurd depth to the rotation the 14 game win streak from last June would seem like child’s play.
I realize I would be a terrible GM, but if Dave Dombrowski can do his thing in Boston and nuke the Boston Red Sox farm and be praised for his aggression, why not do a lesser version and actually win a title?