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MLB trade rumors: Indians are better off keeping Tyler Naquin

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They can win a World Series without him, but he’s not a valuable trade chip.

MLB: Minnesota Twins at Cleveland Indians Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Late last night, the Detroit Tigers officially made themselves sellers at the deadline by dealing J.D. Martinez to the Arizona Diamondbacks for prospects Dawel Lugo, Sergio Alcantara, and Jose King.

The supposed headliner of that deal, utility infielder Dawel Lugo, was not even enough to crack the top 10 Tigers prospects, according to MLB Pipeline. He sits at No. 11, while Alcantara is No. 18 and King didn’t even make the top-30 list. That’s all the Tigers got in return for a corner outfielder who has the 8th best wRC+ in the majors since 2014.

Alright, so the Tigers turned one of the best-hitting outfielders into a pile of dust just to get something in return for him before he walked. What does that have to do with Tyler Naquin, who I stuck in the title of this very article? The two are not that similar, but the Martinez return should give us some clue of what to expect from Naquin. And it’s not pretty.

Should the Cleveland Indians choose to dangle him as a trade chip between now and July 31, it’s not just as a rental — Naquin shed his rookie status last season and will be under team control until at least 2022. But he’s also not the hitter Martinez is and he probably never will be.

So here’s the the thing: I don’t think he’s worth enough to dangle in front of other teams.

The issues with Naquin are easy to recite at this point. He can’t hit fastballs, and he can’t hit balls up in the zone. His heatmap from last year is a wonderful tribute to weirdness of baseball, and it hasn’t changed much in a very small sample size this season. On a less dramatic level, he can’t lefties, either. So whatever imaginary team would acquire him would be dealing for a platoon bat. You don’t need me to tell you that a platoon bat is not going to net your favorite team a whole lot in return.

I posted these stats when previously begging for the end of Bradley Zimmer’s platooning, but it’s worth re-posting here. Naquin’s year-by-year numbers against lefties in the minor leagues:

  • 2016 (AAA): 2-for-15
  • 2015 (AAA): 47 AB, .213/.269/.425
  • 2015 (AA): 37 AB, .324/.366/.405
  • 2014 (AA): 104 AB, .250/.319/.269
  • 2013 (AA): 31 AB, .226/.250/.355
  • 2012 (A-): 35 AB, .314/.455/.343

Despite being under control for another four full seasons, there just isn’t enough value in dealing Naquin right now. Other teams can see these issues, and they are clearly not giving up much for outfielders without these same issues. So why would they even consider dealing a No. 3 starting pitcher, a star second baseman, or anything with Naquin as a headliner? A lot of trade proposals have been floated around for the Indians, most of them involving Naquin. He’s normally either a center piece or a throw-in as an attempt to smooth out the value of both sides of the trade, but both feel wrong.

Even without looking at outside influences, Naquin still has value to give the Indians. This year, next year, and maybe beyond. A platoon outfield bat is not the worst thing in the world to have, especially if they can be as effective as Naquin was in his rookie campaign.

Lonnie Chisenhall is finally coming into his own this season, but he’ll gone after 2018. If Naquin is still around and Greg Allen or someone else hasn’t leapfrogged him yet, he could easily slot into a similar role that Chis has occupied for the last two seasons. Until then, he can serve as a fourth outfielder, hopping between the minors and majors as needed. It gets lost in all the Rookie of the Year contention talk, but that’s exactly what Naquin was projected as late in his career as a prospect: A serviceable fourth outfielder who can hit well against right-handed pitchers.

One of the silliest ideas floating around the Indians-o-sphere of the internet is the idea that they should deal him so he can succeed elsewhere. I’m sure that individual members of the front office care individually about players, but the moment a front office deals a player simply so they can flourish elsewhere is the day we should be calling for their heads. If that’s your basis for a proposing a Tyler Naquin trade, you should probably stop. Maybe a change of scenery really would do Tyler Naquin some good. I don’t know, maybe the shadows in Progressive Field make him ansy against fastballs or something else stupid I just made up. But if it doesn’t help the Indians, don’t trade him.

If the Tigers can’t get more than a fledgling utility infield prospect for J.D. Martinez, the Indians probably can’t expect much more for Naquin, four years of control or no. And if he’s just a throw-in at the end of a trade, the Indians are better off keeping him.