For a team that has claimed three consecutive AL Central titles and is poised to extend that streak by at least one or two division crowns over the next couple years, the Cleveland Indians’ offseason is shaping up to be a strange one for a World Series contender.
First, there have been the persistent rumors that the Indians are shopping three of their Cy Young-caliber pitchers, with the hope of netting a return that consists of big league contributors, ideally to fill one of the gaping sinkholes in the outfield or the bullpen.
Now the Indians have traded Yan Gomes to the Washington Nationals. What is the Tribe getting in return, you ask? Rookie right-hander Jefry Rodriguez, minor league outfielder Daniel Johnson, and a player to be named later. Rodriguez was a starting pitcher who pitched well enough to finish the season in the Nationals’ bullpen — recording an ERA of 5.71 and an even worse 5.97 FIP, if you didn’t pick up on the sarcasm — and Johnson is considered by some to be a fourth outfielder at the big league level.
I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to being a little nauseous.
You’ll remember that Gomes was an All-Star last season and one of the best catchers in the American League, finally starting to fulfill the promise he showed in 2013 and 2014 after three miserable seasons at the plate. He is set to collect a $7 million paycheck next season, which would make him the sixth-highest paid player on the Indians’ current roster composition.
And the depth behind Gomes is shallow at best. The Indians sent top catching prospect Francisco Mejia packing to San Diego last season. That leaves Roberto Perez and his -0.5 WAR from last season and prospect Eric Haase, who has potential as a power-hitting catcher.
So why trade Gomes?
It seems a safe assumption that Johnson, who saw his first Double-A action last season for Washington, is not a candidate to make the Indians’ Opening Day roster, regardless of his potential. And Rodriguez sounds like a fringe candidate for the Cleveland bullpen.
So Gomes’ trade would amount to a salary dump for the cash-strapped Tribe. But isn’t that the baseball equivalent of robbing Peter to pay Paul? Yes, the Indians have freed up $7 million dollar — and the $1 million Gomes would be owed next season if the front office were to turn down his $9 million club option — to spend elsewhere, but they risk creating a hole at another position. If you’re confident that Perez and Haase can replace his production from last season, both at the plate and behind it, boy I’d like to know what’s in your Kool-Aid.
And this comes on the heels of the perplexing news that the Indians have avoided arbitration with Danny Salazar — remember him? — to the tune of $4.5 million. That is more than half of Gomes’ salary for next season for an injury-prone pitcher who hasn’t been able to stay on the mound the last three years and didn’t see the field at all last season.
My brain is just having trouble reconciling the Indians’ #NotARebuild narrative with their plans to put some of their top players not named Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez on the trading block. I knew the Indians would have to get creative this offseason to improve the roster while managing a payroll that has ballooned to franchise-record levels. But I think I’m going to have to stock up on Pepto Bismol and ritualistically chant, “Trust the process,” to stomach it.