The Cleveland Indians are prepping for the offseason far earlier than anyone anticipated, so it’s time to look forward and figure out how this team can improve this offseason. Running it back with the same roster is both ill-advised and, thanks to many departing free agents, not very feasible.
There is one route the Tribe can consider when trying to fill various holes on the roster, but it’s one the team is likely extremely hesitant to take. However, unless the front office is OK with bragging about nothing but division titles, it’s time to get desperate.
This means Cleveland must consider trading one of its starting pitchers.
While I understand the hesitation with subtracting from such a dominant rotation, the simple fact is there aren’t a ton of other viable options for the Indians to add talent this winter.
Andrew Miller, Cody Allen, Michael Brantley, Lonnie Chisenhall and Josh Donaldson are all hitting the open market this offseason. Regardless of your opinion on these players, it doesn’t change the fact these departures leave tons of holes for Cleveland to address.
Outside of Brad Hand, the bullpen is a graveyard. The outfield is one giant question mark, with no sure thing in sight.
While so many salaries coming off the books helps, Cleveland is still a small-market team which typically spends as such in the offseason. I wouldn’t expect things to be different this winter.
So, if Cleveland wants to make a serious upgrade, it must consider dealing from a position of strength. In this case, that’s the rotation.
As far as who’s most likely to be offered in trade talks, we can cross some names off the list.
I doubt the team would move Mike Clevinger. The long-haired hurler just notched 200 innings pitched for the first time in his career, finishing the season with 207 strikeouts and a 5.2 WAR. That he’s just appearing to enter his prime likely makes him someone the team wants to retain.
Rookie Shane Bieber is also unlikely to be moved, as it’s difficult to imagine him netting a haul of players ready to contribute right now.
The team had a chance to trade Danny Salazar last winter, but made it blatantly obvious it expected a king’s ransom in return. Cleveland ended up retaining him, and injuries kept him off the mound all year.
This leaves us with three remaining candidates – Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco and Trevor Bauer.
Even though Kluber has the most hardware – winning two Cy Young Awards since 2014 – he also might be the most difficult for Cleveland to deal.
He’s owed over $46 million over the next three years, though the final two include club options. At the same time, it’s a price tag which looks far more unappealing when you consider his most recent postseason performances. Teams may understandably be worried his poor showing in this year’s ALDS is an indication the 32-year-old might be hitting a decline.
Carrasco is owed less over the next two years ($18.5 million), with club options in both seasons. This might make him more appealing, as would his being a model of consistency and maintaining an ERA of no higher than 3.63 since 2015.
Just like Kluber, though, the fact Carrasco is now in his 30’s might make clubs a little hesitant to part with quality players in any deal.
This leaves Bauer, a pitcher who would generate the most interest, but who would also be the one Cleveland would be most apprehensive to move.
The 27-year-old just wrapped up the best season of his career, practically cutting his ERA in half year-over-year and notching his highest ever WAR (5.8). Toss in the fact he has two more years of team control, and you can see why his appeal is much grander than anyone else’s.
It would be extremely difficult for the Indians to part with Bauer, or any of their starters. However, drastic changes need to be made to the roster, and this might be the best way to do so.
There are still unknowns in all of this. What teams will be interested? What kind of players could the Indians net in return? The answers to these questions will eventually surface this winter.
However, it starts with the Indians making it known they’re ready to talk about dealing from their rotation.
This window of contention has, at most, two years left before closing. If Cleveland once again chooses to get miserly with its starting pitchers, it could risk wasting a great opportunity with nothing but AL Central division champion banners to show for it.