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Indians successfully threaded the needle with Trevor Bauer trade

What the Indians did on July 30, 2019 was a masterclass in trading and roster building

Colorado Rockies v Cincinnati Reds Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Leading up to the trade deadline, all the talk about the Indians was their need to “thread the needle” with regards to a potential Trevor Bauer deal. In other words, trade away one of their best pitchers without looking like total sellers, while also securing talent for the future.

Easy, right?

As the dust settles on Trade Deadline Eve, it certainly looks like the Indians nailed it.

In return for — at most — one and a half years of Trevor Bauer (half if we’re being realistic with his 2020 arbitration value), the Indians pulled in outfield stud, Yasiel Puig, their designated hitter for the next five years, Franmil Reyes, and a trio of high-upside lottery tickets/reclamation projects in starting pitcher Logan Allen, reliever Scott Moss, and 19-year-old Victor Nova.

In terms of the narrative of “threading the needle”, one doesn’t need to look past the two biggest names of the deal in Puig and Reyes.

Yasiel Puig is, well, Yasiel Puig. There are few like him, he has a rocket for an arm and a firecracker for a personality. He’ll fight at the drop of a hat to defend his teammates, and he may or may not follow his scouting reports. But he sure can beat the shit out of baseballs, and for the next two-plus months, he’ll be doing it all for the Indians.

Puig isn’t having his best season with the Reds prior to the trade, slashing just .255/.305/.480 with 22 home runs and a career-low walk rate of 5.8%. Slotting him immediately in a corner outfield spot, though, and his 98 wRC+ on the season has him as the Tribe’s second-best non-platooned outfielder. Jordan Luplow and Tyler Naquin are a great duo together, but there’s been a noticeable gap besides them and rookie sensation Oscar Mercado. Greg Allen has shown flashes of something finally, but even he doesn’t exactly inspire confidence for a deep playoff run. That’s where Puig and his now-Indians leading 22 home runs comes into play.

While his overall season numbers aren’t great, you can find some hope in Puig’s bat this season pretty easily. Most notably, he’s been on a tear since early June — coincidentally, right when the Indians themselves heated up. Since June 4, my new friend Puig has slashed .311/.363/.610 with 12 of his 22 home runs for a 146 wRC+. His hard-hit rate has dipped around 4% from last season, which is a concern, but it’s nothing that he can’t make up for by settling in and getting amped up to be in another playoff race. Puig is an emotional dude, who’s to say he wasn’t mentally letting off the gas a bit while the Reds circled the drain?

Acquiring Puig is great for this season — baggage and dingers and all — and it helps soften the blow of losing a talented pitcher like Bauer for the current run to October. But where the real value of this trade comes is Franmil Reyes.

The Indians haven’t been shy about their strategy of building to stay competitive for multiple seasons instead of sinking everything into one shot on a good year. Win your division for a decade and you’ll probably get hot at the right time a couple years. It’s unconventional (for now) and comes with a lot of risks, but if you can keep acquiring players like Oscar Mercado for seemingly nothing and Franmil Reyes as the second piece of a big deal, it’s probably going to work.

Reyes is a 24-year-old outfielder who was signed by the Padres as an international free agent in 2011. He displayed a powerful bat right away and was hitting double-digit home runs consistently by the time he reached A-ball, culminating in an impressive rookie campaign in 2018 (.280/.340/.498, 16 HR, 8.4 BB%, 28.1 SO%, 129 wRC+), and worthy follow-up this season (.253/.312/.535, 27 HR, 8.3 BB%, 26.6 SO%, 116 wRC+).

His surface numbers may be down overall, but Reyes’ power has jumped without sacrificing his approach at the plate — in fact, he’s striking out less and walking more than he did in his rookie season. If anything, he’s been snake-bitten by bad luck with a .265 BABIP.

Everything about his game screams positive regression (yes, even with a 116 wRC+), as pointed out by T.J. Zuppe on Twitter moments after the trade happened.

Reyes’ hard-hit rate is in the top 7% of baseball this season, while his expected wOBA (how well he should be hitting given his quality of contact), is in the top 10%.

Best of all, in terms of keeping the window open and the central theme of “threading the needle”, Reyes is under team control through 2021. He becomes eligible for arbitration in 2022, and won’t be a free agent until 2025. That’s plenty of time to either keep him on board through arbitration, or lock him up long-term if the stardom starts to show.

I don’t typically try to be the “eff the haters!” guy, especially when defending men in suits, but the Indians front office entered this final stretch of the trade deadline facing a sea of bad narratives, none more asinine than the idea that they would trade away Bauer as a salary dump in the midst of a playoff run. Unlike most teams in baseball, they didn’t have an obvious direction to go in — buy or sell — they needed to do a bit of both. They needed to take from a position of strength and prop their team up for a playoff run; bolster their offense to face quality pitching in August, September, and beyond — all without sacrificing another facet of the game.

They needed to thread the needle. And they did it.