Wednesday evening, as we were waiting for the St. Louis weather to stop terrorizing Indians’ starting pitching for the second day in a row, Jerry Crasnick dropped this nugget on his timeline:
The #Indians have been scouting the #Orioles relievers. Neil Ramirez and Oliver Perez have done a nice job since joining the Cleveland pen, but Zach Britton, Brad Brach or Darren O'Day would constitute a significant upgrade for the Tribe. Baltimore in sell mode, obviously.— Jerry Crasnick (@jcrasnick) June 26, 2018
This is the kind of news most Tribe fans have been wanting to hear from a source as reputable as Crasnick. It was verification that the team was not sitting idly by, content that it has a 97.9 percent chance of making the playoffs despite a bullpen ranked 28th in fWAR (-0.3), FIP (4.56), and ERA (5.20).
Crasnick’s tweet (which was really non-news, because of course the Indians are seeking bullpen help) was so relieving because twice now trade season has been kick-started without the Indians being involved. Both deals, of course, involved relievers; first it was the Mariners nabbing Alex Colome from the Rays on May 25, and then it was the Nationals getting Kelvin Herrera from the Royals on June 19.
I’m not here to say that the Indians should have gotten Colome or Herrera, as there are a number of factors—not least the Royals potentially not wanting to strengthen a division rival—that may have stood in the way of such a deal. Rather, my issue is that the Indians let the market be set for them rather than being proactive and setting the market, which is what their terrible, no-good, very bad bullpen practically demanded.
To acquire the service of Colome, as well as veteran outfielder Denard Span, the Mariners parted ways with two minor league starters, Andrew Moore and Tommy Romero. To acquire the service of Herrera, the Nationals parted ways with outfielder Blake Perkins, third baseman Kelvin Gutierrez, and right-handed pitcher Yohanse Morel.
If this is the going price for top-end relief help, well we can’t be too mad about it. Per MLB.com rankings, Moore and Romero are not top-100 prospects nor did they enter the Rays’ top 30 after the trade; FanGraphs’ top 131 likewise omits the duo. None of the trio of players from the Nats made MLB’s top 100 or FanGraphs’ 131, but Gutierrez and Perkins slotted in as numbers eight and 15 in the Royals top 30 (per MLB), respectively.
For context, the Royals farm system has zero players in MLB’s top 100 and just one player in FanGraphs’ 131 (Seuly Matias); the Indians have three on MLB’s list (Francisco Mejia, 11; Triston McKenzie, 21; Shane Bieber, 97) and 5 on FanGraphs’ list (Mejia, 19; McKenzie, 48; Bieber, 64; Yu Chang, 72; Bobby Bradley, 101). As we’ve seen in guys like Corey Kluber or Jose Ramirez, those top 100 lists are not the end-all and be-all of prospect evaluation, but they certainly help give perspective. And from the Indians’ perspective, it certainly seems like a deal could have been done.
Likewise, by striking early, the Nats and M’s may have gotten one over on the rest of baseball. Per Ken Rosenthal:
This market — long on supply, but not high-end supply — will be tricky for sellers to navigate. And the perception among many in the industry that the Kansas City Royals did not get enough for Herrera will give buyers pause if sellers start making ridiculous asks.
Which, most likely, already is happening.
Of course, we don’t know that the Indians weren’t involved in trade talks. We don’t know that Kansas City or Tampa weren’t making ridiculous asks (Bieber or Mejia) in exchange for their relievers. Because the Indians are clearly desperate (I mean, they re-signed Mark Rzepczynski for crying out loud), as a negotiating tactic teams would be wise to ask a much higher price of the Tribe for relief help.
But I’m not mad about what I don’t know, I’m mad about what I do know (which is my right as an American). I know that the Indians possess plenty of talent equivalent or better than what was traded for Colome and Herrera but do not have bullpen arms (active at the moment) equivalent to Colome or Herrera.
Now we know the Indians are talking specifically to Baltimore and I’m hopeful something can be done to strengthen the bullpen. But this is the same Orioles franchise that held on to its best reliever last year (Britton) despite serious offers and having no realistic chance at the playoffs. So, despite my hope, I’m not highly optimistic. As Rosenthal added, “relievers of varying competence will linger...[but] teams that get too cute might get stuck.”
There’s still time, and there’s no shortage of options apart from what Baltimore has in stock. To wit, San Diego’s Kirby Yates or Adam Cimber, Cincinnati’s Raisel Iglesias or Amir Garrett, Toronto’s Ryan Tepera, Texas’ Keone Kela, or Miami’s Kyle Barraclough or Drew Steckenrider are all guys worth asking about.
But the Indians have a glaring hole and have been slow to adequately address the problem. I’m not sure if they’re being too cute, but I’m also not sure what they are doing. Crasnick’s news is a welcome development, but until it’s something more substantial it’s a reprieve, not a solution.