It’s safe to say the Cleveland Indians are going to be a team to watch as the MLB trade deadline looms. This is due mostly to the Tribe having all the makings of a textbook buyer.
The team sits atop the AL Central, but hardly in convincing fashion thanks to an uneven first half of the season. Outside help could certainly make a difference, especially when it comes to starting pitching. Cleveland also holds the kind of prospects sellers will be gunning for in trade attempts, with up-and-comers like Francisco Mejia and Triston McKenzie likely being popular requests from anyone the Tribe talks to (I’ve already made my thoughts known on the former).
All of this has led to the assumption the Indians will indeed be making a move or two leading up to the July 31 deadline. Just how big a splash they make remains to be seen. However, the size of their move is also extremely dependent on what they get from a player already on their roster.
Simply put, whether or not Cleveland decides to make a huge trade for a starting pitcher will depend on the second-half performance of Danny Salazar.
It certainly feels as though we’re years removed from Salazar’s first ever All-Star bid, despite the fact it occurred last season. This is due mostly to how life has been for the Dominican hurler since the halfway point of 2016.
Injuries and inconsistency on the mound derailed the second half of last year’s campaign for Salazar, as the 2.22 ERA he boasted at the break surged to 3.87 by season’s end. These issues carried over to the current year, as his ability to rack up strikeouts was matched by his getting tagged for home runs left and right. A shoulder injury – one he says he’s been fighting through all season – placed him on the DL, though he’s currently on the verge of rejoining the team.
Cleveland is likely hoping it can get a good look at him very soon, as how he performs will greatly impact trade deadline plans.
When Salazar is on, he’s one of the Indians’ best pitchers. Many saw a three-headed monster of him, Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco as one of the reasons to be bullish on Cleveland’s chances to get back to the World Series.
The problem is how difficult it’s been to get Salazar on his game. Based on everything we’ve heard, the issue appears to be between the ears. Both Salazar and his coaches have admitted a lack of confidence has become one of the key reasons for his 2017 struggles.
Should he return to the rotation physically recovered and self-assured, the Indians may not feel the need to go after a marquee (and pricey) arm like Sonny Gray or Chris Archer. It would also be a huge boost to a rotation which has seen uneven performances from anyone not named Kluber this year. Top it off with the fact Salazar’s return to form would also ensure the team doesn’t have to part with some of its top prospects and you can see why Cleveland is anxious to get him back on the mound.
That said, his rehab starts have been just as inconsistent as his overall first half performance was before being shelved.
His most recent showing in Low-A Mahoning Valley was impressive, with seven K’s and only two hits allowed in five scoreless innings. The two Triple-A starts before this – where he allowed six runs in five combined innings – weren’t quite as assuring.
As you can see, the Indians need to get Salazar back up to the big leagues quickly to find out just what they can expect from him moving forward.
If he can get back to his All-Star form, Cleveland would essentially be getting a significant upgrade to its rotation without spending a dime. If, however, he still can’t provide the consistency the team badly needs from him, it’ll be time to start assembling trade proposals for some of the big-name targets on the market.
As you can see, while there are many factors which will go into how active the Indians will be at the deadline, you could argue none may be more important than the performance of Salazar.
Casey Drottar is an independent sports writer. Follow him on Twitter or Facebook
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