Cleveland Indians Could Regret Cautious Approach on Deadline Day
Written by Reid Smith on August 1, 2017
By: Ryan Landolph
For years, the Cleveland Indians approached the MLB Trade Deadline conservatively and with the intent to sell.
The team was usually struggling, evidenced by the decisions to trade players such as Cliff Lee and C.C. Sabathia. However, there were times when the front office refused to deal prospects or could not get ownership to commit to adding salary.
Last year was different, though, as the Indians were extremely aggressive at the trade deadline. On July 31, according to baseball-reference, the Tribe won to bring its record to 60-42, while maintaining a 4.5 game lead in the Central Division.
Earlier that same day, President Chris Antonetti and the front office acquired Andrew Miller, perhaps the best reliever in baseball, from the New York Yankees. All of baseball knows how that trade has worked out for Cleveland.
The team also had a deal agreed upon for catcher Jonathan Lucroy the night before. However, the Milwaukee Brewer exercised his no-trade clause, and he blocked the trade.
In both cases, the Indians were doing something uncommon for them. They surrendered top prospects Clint Frazier – who is now in the majors with the Yankees – and Justus Sheffield to acquire Miller. The team was ready to deal now-top-prospect Francisco Mejia, along with Yu-Cheng Chang and Greg Allen, to get Lucroy.
The team was “going for it.” And it certainly helped, as Miller helped guide the Indians to the team’s first World Series appearance since 1997.
Ultimately, the Tribe fell short. Then, the team struggled out of the gate to open 2017, and many issues started to become apparent.
Jason Kipnis missed the beginning part of the season with injury and currently sits on the disabled list. Lonnie Chisenhall, in the midst of a breakout season, hit the DL before the All-Star break. Carlos Santana and Francisco Lindor are having down seasons compared to years past. Even Edwin Encarnacion found himself in a rut at the beginning of the campaign.
The pitching staff has been hit hard, too. Carlos Carrasco was not stretched out to begin the year. Corey Kluber, Danny Salazar and now, Josh Tomlin, have spent time on the DL. Trevor Bauer has an ERA above 5.50. Miller, Cody Allen and Bryan Shaw went through short rough patches. And just recently, Boone Logan was placed on the 60-day disabled list with a left lat injury.
Still, the Indians are in first place with a record of 57-47. But once again, they found themselves in a position to help improve their team immensely at the deadline.
Instead, they failed to make a splash. Even worse, nearly every other playoff team got better.
The Yankees traded for third basemen Todd Frazier and relievers Tommy Kahnle and David Robertson from the Chicago White Sox. Jaime Garcia was dealt from the Minnesota Twins to New York in another deal. Also, the Yanks pulled off a major deal on deadline day to acquire pitcher Sonny Gray from the Oakland Athletics. The Indians reportedly had interest in Gray.
The Houston Astros, which hold the best record in the American League at 69-36, struck out on some major targets. However, the ‘Stros have looked like the team to beat in the AL so far and still acquired lefty Francisco Liriano from the Toronto Blue Jays to help the bullpen.
The Kansas City Royals traded for a trio of pitchers – starter Trevor Cahill and relievers Brandon Maurer and Ryan Buchter – from the San Diego Padres. The team also acquired outfielder Melky Cabrera from the White Sox prior to deadline day.
The Chicago Cubs landed Jose Quintana earlier in the season in a trade with the White Sox. The Cubbies also made a big move the night before the deadline, trading for reliever Justin Wilson and catcher Alex Avila from the Detroit Tigers. The Indians reportedly contacted Detroit about Wilson.
The Washington Nationals bolstered the bullpen in two separate trades. Recently, the team traded for relievers Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson from the A’s. On Monday, the Nats acquired reliver Brandon Kintzler from the Twins.
The Los Angeles Dodgers made the biggest splashes. They acquired two lefty relievers – Tony Watson and Tony Cingrani – from the Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds respectively. Then, to beat the buzzer on the deadline, they traded for Texas Rangers ace Yu Darvish. The Indians reportedly discussed Darvish with the Rangers earlier on Monday.
What is the common theme? There were a lot of players that the Indians had interest in that they did not get. Certainly, it is unrealistic to expect the team to trade all its prospects for vets at the deadline. However, the fact that they missed on ALL these players is concerning.
Also, only one move made on deadline day involved a top three prospect by any team.
Willie Calhoun, the top prospect the Dodgers traded (Darvish), was the team’s fourth-best prospect, according to MLB Pipeline. Tyler Watson, the top prospect the Nationals traded (Kintzler), was the team’s seventeenth-best prospect, according to MLB Pipeline. The Red Sox did not have to trade Rafael Devers, Jay Groome or Michael Chavis, the team’s top three prospects, for Reed. The Yankees were able to keep Gleyber Torres, Clint Frazier and Chance Adams while trading for Gray. The Astros traded veterans Nori Aoki and Teoscar Hernandez for Liriano. The Royals acquired multiple pieces at their price prior to deadline day.
Jeimer Candelario, the top prospect the Cubs traded (Wilson/Avila), was the only prospect ranked in the top three for a team that was traded, according to MLB Pipline. Even so, the Cubs dealt top prospect Eloy Jimenez to acquire Quintana earlier this year, while other young prospects are already up and contributing for the big-league team.
The Indians would not have had to sacrifice players like catcher Francisco Mejia or pitcher Tristan McKenzie to acquire any of the players dealt today.
Instead, in on nearly every player moved, the Tribe ended up with just reliever Joe Smith, acquired from Toronto. It comes at a position of need, but it was by no means enough.
A utility infielder, like Nunez or former Indian Asdrubal Cabrera, would have been a fantastic addition. Both Erik Gonzalez and Gio Urshella have struggled in utility roles and cannot be counted on to play significant roles down the stretch due to inexperience.
The inconsistency of the Tribe’s starters, which was believed to be the team’s strong suit coming into this year, also was not addressed. Tomlin, as previously mentioned, is on the DL. Bauer, and now Mike Clevinger, have been up-and-down. Salazar is fresh off the disabled list, making just two starts since being activated. Gray and Darvish would have cost a top-tier prospect but would have made tremendous impacts for the Tribe. A Kluber-Carrasco-Gray/Darvish 1-2-3 punch would have been lethal.
A left-handed reliever would have been nice for the Indians to acquire as well. With Logan down, Miller is the only lefty expected to be on Cleveland’s postseason roster. Dominant reliver Zach Britton of the Baltimore Orioles was on the trading block but ultimately was not moved. The Indians, who failed to pony up for any player actually dealt, also did not have an offer good enough to acquire Britton, whom the team reportedly was pushing for early in the day.
Yes, the Indians are still a very good team. Yes, the playoffs are all but a certainty. Yes, Cleveland has an improved team, on paper, compared to the one that made the World Series last year.
But a lot of other teams the Indians will be competing with in October got much better today.
Trading for Smith was not a bad move for the Indians – it was actually a quite solid one. But even making a trade to not only improve, but keep a competitor from improving, would have been nice to see on deadline day.
There is still a lot of baseball to play, but the conservative approach made by the Indians could come back to haunt them this postseason.