Forget Adam Jones and the persistent rumors linking him to the Tribe. Let the Phillies or Giants fight for his below-average offense (96 wRC+) and defense (-15 DRS) and pay the remaining $6 million or so for the 0.05 fWAR he’s on pace to accumulate over the last 60 games of the season.
Cleveland needs outfield help, obviously, but Jones ain’t it. While many ideas have been floated out there — including guys like Andrew McCutchen or, ahem, someone from the flagging Nationals — few people are talking about the trading partner who makes the most sense: The St. Louis Cardinals.
Since May 5 the Cards have gone from borderline contender to verifiable punching bag, with their playoffs odds falling from 75 to 13%, the largest drop in baseball. The general manager called out a veteran outfielder on a podcast, the veteran closer bragged about bullying the rookie phenom, and the manager lost his job. Since Mike Matheny was let go, the Cards have been no better, just 4-5, and the front office is surely looking toward the future.
That future includes an outfield with Harrison Bader and Tyler O’Neill, and it is not far off, as both have spent time in St. Louis this year. But both of those young men find their paths blocked at the moment, and if the Cardinals want to know how useful they might be, well there’s no better time to figure out than now. Currently, St. Louis uses a combination of Bader, Dexter Fowler, Jose Martinez, Marcell Ozuna, and Tommy Pham in its outfield, any of whom would be a good fit in Cleveland.
Tommy Pham would be my first choice if I were part of the Tribe front office. He’s 30 years old, has a 106 wRC+ this year and a 126 career mark, plays slightly below average centerfield defense at worst (-6 DRS this year), and has three arbitration years remaining. He might cost Cleveland a mid-level prospect or two, but as an upgrade for this year and cover should Brantley leave, he’d be well worth the price.
Marcell Ozuna, of course, was a guy many fans wanted to see the front office grab this offseason, and he may be available again. His numbers are down this year, 85 wRC+ (109 career) and .110 ISO (.171 career), but inside still lurks the hitter who popped 60 home runs between 2016 and ‘17. Because he has just one arbitration year remaining and is making $9 million this year, you can also bet his cost would be less than Pham for a team seeking his services.
Jose Martinez, at first blush, looks like he lacks a fit for Cleveland, as he is primarily a first baseman and his outfield defense has been questionable when employed. However, considering that Cleveland has tried Carlos Santana and Jason Kipnis in the outfield in the playoffs in recent years, Martinez is a guy the Tribe could surely shoehorn into the lineup. With the number of chances in the outfield declining rapidly, a hitter that has never run a wRC+ lower than 125 can play. Plus, Martinez has a year of team control left before hitting arbitration.
Finally, Dexter Fowler is an interesting case. It really speaks to the level of awfulness in the Cleveland outfield that Fowler could be considered, but given the fact he’s endured racist abuse in St. Louis, his GM called him out, and he was barely speaking to Matheny before he was fired, it’s hard to believe Fowler would not be a rebound candidate in a new environment. However, any deal would have to involve the Cardinals eating a large chunk of the $43-plus million owed to Fowler and would likely not include much of a prospect going to St. Louis.
Even if Fowler is not so desirable, however, the Cardinals have three players that are objectively better at this stage in their career, cost less, and have more team control than anyone on the Indians’ roster or Adam Jones. Dealing with St. Louis seems like a no-brainer to me, and the Tribe doesn’t have a bad track record in such deals. After all, when Cleveland sent Jake Westbrook to the Cards in 2010 it managed to get Corey Kluber back in the three-team deal. Light up their phone lines, Mike Chernoff.