For each of the past two seasons, one question has seemed to hover around the Cleveland Indians in the month of July: will they be buyers or sellers at the trade deadline?
The Indians are certainly in the playoff picture. At 50-38, they are currently in position for the second Wild Card spot, and are 5.5 games back of the Minnesota Twins in the American League Central.
While most fringe playoff teams tend to be buyers, the Indians are in a wholly different scenario because of their financial situation. Paul and Larry Dolan have repeatedly stated that they do not anticipate an increase in the team’s payroll, and Cleveland must prepare to throw everything they can at shortstop Francisco Lindor before he hits the open market after the 2021 season.
The Indians would like to acquire young and controllable assets in exchange for some of their star players rather than let them enter free agency and potentially walk away empty-handed. Simultaneously, this is a team that has made the playoffs in three consecutive seasons, and the front office has been hesitant to blow things up.
What will Cleveland do with the trade deadline less than three weeks away?
The Indians might possess some of the most sought-after players in the trade market leading up to the July 31 deadline.
Plenty of teams need more starting pitching, and the Indians possess two legitimate options–Trevor Bauer and Corey Kluber–that could instantly help any team that acquires them.
Kluber is more of a risk. He has a fracture in his right ulna bone, and is not expected back until sometime in August. Still, he is one of the most dominant pitchers of this era, and (if healthy) might be galvanized by heading to a star-studded team like the Yankees or Red Sox.
Bauer has not been quite as effective as he was last year, when he posted a 2.21 ERA and led the AL in FIP. Still, Bauer’s 10.2 K/9 and arsenal of pitches should be intriguing to teams looking to buy. He also has one more year of arbitration before hitting the open market as a free agent.
In the bullpen, Brad Hand has been one of the best closers in baseball. The left-hander has converted 23 of 24 save opportunities and boasts a 2.17 ERA with a 1.92 FIP and 13.3 K/9.
Closers are always at a premium at the trade deadline, and Hand’s team-friendly contract (two more years at $17 million combined, with a club option in the second year) should make him one of the most desirable pitchers on the market.
For good measure, the Indians could entertain offers on first baseman Carlos Santana, who made the All-Star team as a starter and has a club option in 2021.
Needless to say, the Indians will absolutely be able to throw their weight around if they decide to be sellers at the deadline.
Are they that far from contention?
The heading is not meant to be deceiving. While the Dolan family has said that they will be sellers if they do not feel like they can win the division as of July 31, it is important to reiterate that they are only 5.5 games back, and the Twins have had just about everything go right in the first half.
Meanwhile, Kluber has been injured for nearly the entire year. The same can be said for Mike Clevinger. And who is to say Jose Ramirez cannot return to superstar form in the second half? Not a whole lot has gone right for the Indians–Lindor was also injured early in the year–and yet they are still within earshot of the Twins.
Perhaps the more appropriate question would be whether or not this team can win a championship. At this juncture, the answer to that question is no. But if they become buyers instead of sellers, it is certainly possible.
The most obvious need for Cleveland is in the outfield. There is no reason for Leonys Martin to be anything close to a starting centerfielder in the MLB, and the Jake Bauers experiment simply has not panned out like the Indians had hoped. Oscar Mercado has shwon some promise, and Jordan Luplow has good slugging potential. But Cleveland needs more reliable production in the outfield.
Luckily, there are some outfielders that would instantly make Cleveland’s lineup that much more potent. Although the Indians would have to give up assets, they do have one of the better farm systems in the league, and would more than likely be able to swing a deal.
Should they decide to pursue the likes of David Peralta, Nicholas Castellanos or even Trey Mancini, the Indians should be able to supply any potential trade partner with a suitable return.
The Indians have the pitching required to make a deep run. If they can require a big bat at the deadline, they could jump right back into contention.