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Assessing the buyer’s market for the Indians

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Big or small, the Indians will probably be buying something at the trade deadline

Kansas City Royals v Seattle Mariners Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images

A few weeks back, I wrote about when the Indians might know if they were sellers, concluding that it would be right around the end of the three-game set against the Minnesota Twins immediately following the All-Star break.

The point was that the team would know if they were buyers or sellers by that Monday, and that still could be the case. At the time, the Indians seemed like they were on a runaway train towards Sell City, but now sitting just six games out with two to play before the break, Chris Antonetti is still surveying land in Buyerstown.

Recently, Chris Davies explored some of the packages the team could receive as sellers, thanks to Effectively Wild’s promotion of BaseballTradeValues.com. (Friend of the blog Quincy Wheeler went through a few more.)

In the name of being fair and balanced, allow me to take up the mantle for some potential acquisitions out of the buyers’ market.

The rules here are simple: We’ll survey the teams who are 10+ games out of the Wild Card hunt. There is plenty of time for teams like the Mets (12 GB in the NL East, 6.5 in the Wild Card) and Giants (19, 6) to fully fall out of it. While they will more than likely sell if they can, maybe we will let them go for later.

Maybe.

AL Central

Kansas City Royals:

Let us start with the Royals because we should pragmatically start with the Indians’ own division, and because here lies the holy grail.

Our own Matt Lyons recently discussed Whit Merrifield, and I will publicly join him on the bandwagon for the Royals’ star.

If you do not already know Merrifield’s exploits on the field, check out Matt’s article. Aside from the player simply being good, there are other reasons he should be the team’s top target on the expected market.

Merrifield is 30 years old, will likely not be a part of the Royals’ next competition window, so it behooves them to trade him at peak value. Players almost never gain value after 30, though it is certainly possible. Reports have said that the Royals will need a king’s ransom to trade their best player, but I don’t fully buy it.

For the Indians, it almost makes too much sense. Merrifield plays second base and all three outfield positions, all at about league average. He would be able to fill all of the team’s weak spots on the field, while adding a competent bat.

He is also cheap, and controllable, signed through his age-33 season for just $14 million after 2019. If he remains a standout and the Indians’ window remains open, Merrifield can be retained for a $10.5 million club option in 2023.

Using BaseballTradeValues, a Shane Bieber (51.1 value)-for-Merrifield (52.3) swap works within their estimates. That probably does not jive with either team for one reason or another, but if the Royals fancied a prospect package of Triston McKenzie (22.7), Yu Chang (9.1) and George Valera (21.3), that would also work.

Still a lot to give up.

Moving on from Whit, another Royal worth exploring is Jorge Soler.

The right fielder has finally worked out his power swing, almost doubling his career-high homer total thus far, and rocking a 108 wRC+. He strikes out a ton, his walk rate is at a career-low 7.3%, and he plays a below average right. Soler is also fairly cheap, costing the rest of his $4.67 million for this year, and the full $4.67 million next year.

A Soler (5.6) for Bobby Bradley (6.6) deal seems like a living, pointing Spiderman meme from a hitter perspective, but it is the closest to even according to BTV. Perhaps a Soler-for-Chang deal could be balanced out with cash.

Detroit Tigers:

The Indians swung a deal with the Tigers last year at the deadline, and Detroit is ready to deal again.

Nick Castellanos remains rumored to be dealt, as he is set to hit free agency after the season after collecting $9.5 million. The outfielder had a career year last season, but is back near his previous career marks this year. The market seems pretty well set.

BTV has Castellanos (1.4) rated modestly, a fraction of the value of JaCoby Jones (21.3). Who knows why.

Jean Carlos Mejia (1.8) for Castellanos actually ranks in favor of the Tigers. Hard to see that doing it for Detroit, but there is no reason for them to keep Castellanos.

Shane Greene (9.6) is having a career year despite a decline in velocity across the board. His hard-hit rate is among the lowest of his career, and with one more year of arbitration, Detroit could sell high.

Greene could bolster the Indians bullpen, but may not be worth the price. BTV equates Chang as a worthy 1-for-1.

AL East

Baltimore Orioles

As Chris noted in his article, Eno Sarris proposed a Nick Sandlin-Eli Morgan package in a deal for reliever Mychal Givens, whereas BTV estimated Mejia-Morgan.

Givens is experiencing the worst results of his career, but not much has changed in his profile. He remains a steady bullpen option on the market, and is arbitration eligible for two more years.

Toronto Blue Jays

Mark Shapiro has mostly sold off anything of value that he can part with, but there are a few intriguing options.

Eric Sogard is having the best season of his career, but like many already mentioned here, not much has changed about his profile. The utilityman is striking out at a much lower rate, 14.2%, than he did last season, but it is still above his career average.

His hard-hit rate is a tick up from 2018, the two best years of his career in that regard. Pair that with a career-high 44% flyball rate, and it looks like the 33-year-old is on to something.

It is hard to imagine the Indians looking to make incremental upgrades upon Jason Kipnis at second, and this would be that, at best. The cost would be low, however, as Sogard makes the minimum before hitting free agency after the year.

If the Indians want to continue their parade of first baseman, Justin Smoak is probably available, but for the pro-rated portion of his $8 million salary. He striking out way less, walking more, has an uncharacteristically low BABIP, and is hitting the ball harder than ever, but is having a very Smoak-ian season in his results.

Both Sogard (1.1) and Smoak (1.1) are worth about one Quentin Holmes (1.3)/Jose Tena (1.3) according to BTV. For the latter, balancing cost and moving Jake Bauers into the outfield full time would be an issue. Perhaps upgrading to Ernie Clement (2.5) in exchange for some cash coverage would be sensible.

AL West

Seattle Mariners:

It has been almost a month since Jerry DiPoto made a player-for-player deal, so you know he’s getting that itch again. Luckily longtime Indians Twitter darling Domingo Santana is upping his trade value to new heights with new opportunity, and the deal-happy GM could see a window for one more ride this season.

Santana still fills a need for the Indians, despite being a trainwreck of a defender (-11 DRS in 761 innings in the outfield). Aside from the defense, the 26-year-old still has two more years of arbitration left after making less than $2 million in 2019.

This might actually be a case where DiPoto wants to wait to cash in. Yes, crazy, I know.

At the moment, BTV has Santana worth 6.1, or one Tyler Olson. I imagine that number has crept up, and it is hard to know how much. Eyeballing it, Santana may be worth something more in the range of Chang, to Luis Oviedo (9.8), to Bo Naylor (13.8). Reliever Roenis Elias (0.1) could be used to balance things in the name of bullpen depth.

NL East

Miami Marlins

Oof. Speaking of teams who have traded anything of value.

I’m sure The Captain would love to get anything of value for Sergio Romo, but it is hard to see any value there. The 36-year-old has not been very good in 31 appearances, and it appears there is more regression coming, according to his 4.53 FIP and 5.57(!) xFIP.

Not even going to bother equating a prospect with Romo, who currently carries a 2.2 value without this season factored in. Low-level prospect return and all of his pro-rated $2.5 million contract soaked up, or it’s a non-starter.

New York Mets

OK, let’s just get this out of the way. The Mets don’t have anything the Indians need. They are bad, most of their players are bad, and unless they want to part with Michael Conforto at reduced price, then no thanks.

Conforto is probably out of the team’s budget in arbitration the next two years, anyway.

NL West

San Francisco Giants

I am not going to let the Giants just hang out here, and as far as teams with players at the Indians’ positions of need, San Francisco may have the most.

Joe Panik is making $3.85 million this year, and enters his final year of arbitration in 2020. Again, this would require moving off of Jason Kipnis, but it comes with another year of control. Once a fine contact hitter, Panik is popping up a weird amount, and whiffing a lot more than normal.

Moving on.

Farhan Zaidi stands to return the most value from his bullpen, with Will Smith, Sam Dyson and Tony Watson.

Smith is the prize here, owed just the rest of his $4.225 million, and sporting a 1.96 FIP. Though his hard-hit rate (40.9%) is at a career-high, so is his K% (41.7). BTV has him at 9.2, so back in that Chang-Oviedo-Naylor range. That might be a lot for another lefty, and a rental at that, though Smith is as dangerous against righties.

Watson, another lefty, is back to inducing soft groundballs with above league-average results. His walk rate (2.9%) is a career low. He will cost the rest of his $3.5 million contract this year, with a mutual option at $2.5 million for 2020. At 35, he may simply take the money in an unpredictable market, but his results indicate a payday somewhere.

The southpaw’s BTV (7.6) equates just below Chang and Sam Hentges (8.1). Bradley could work too.

Dyson, from the right side, has a similar profile to Watson - softer contact, ground balls, limiting walks. However, he’ll make the rest of his $5 million, with his final year of arbitration upcoming. Without a fixed cost in 2020, and figuring in that the cost will be more than Watson, the return could be closer to Clement or Aaron Bracho (4.3).

Epilogue

Using BTV for prospects is nowhere near an exact science. Teams evaluate prospects a lot differently, so any of the above deals could represent a vast over-or-undersell to any team involved. These are more-or-less frameworks for mostly one-for-one deals.

The Indians’ financial interests will shape any deal made, as well. It is hard to be a buyer without spending money, and there is no tangible value for how much of a contract a team would eat in a deal. You know, other than dollars and cents.

Players with unreasonable salaries for the Indians’ current payroll were not included, but buying and selling concurrently remains an option. If the front office feels fine about their rotation, then they can open up salary by dealing Trevor Bauer for prospects, and then use prospects to buy someone like Merrifield.

Everything should be on the table at this point.