By now you know the drill. The Cleveland Indians have holes to fill, with no money to spend. The only way they can make significant upgrades is through trading one of their star pitchers, something which has been teased ever since the season came to an end.
While the most likely candidate to be dealt from Cleveland’s rotation seems to shift daily within the rumor mill, a new bit of information surfaced today regarding any potential deal.
Per Buster Olney of ESPN, the Indians may be letting any interested teams know that, if they want a starting pitcher, they need to be willing to take on the contract of struggling second baseman Jason Kipnis, as well.
To be blunt, it’s a savvy move from the Indians. Trading a starter has already been deemed the best route to take when it comes to adding talent to areas of need. On top of this, moving Kipnis’ salary could open up room for the team to work with in free agency.
That is, if this is actually Cleveland’s goal in the first place.
While the team claimed it still plans to contend in 2019, this latest bit of news sends some confusing messages about what the objective really is. Is the focus really on making as many improvements as possible while the window of contention remains open? Or are the Indians just looking to shed salary?
I certainly understand Cleveland’s desire to move Kipnis. He’s coming off two disappointing seasons, during which he either fought through injuries or struggled mightily at the plate. He’s also owed $14.5 million next year, with a $16.5 million option in 2020, a high price when considering the aforementioned issues.
In part, I also get why the Tribe would want any team gunning for a starter to take Kipnis as part of the deal. It’s a way to see just how desperate clubs are to net one of the team’s All-Star pitchers.
On the surface, the Indians could just be adding Kipnis to any deal in order to help them take on salary they’d be getting back in a trade. This would make sense, and also indicate the team is indeed targeting players who can help win now.
However, I can’t help but shake a thought I had upon seeing this rumor.
If you’re the GM of a team, and you’re targeting a Cleveland starting pitcher, wouldn’t being told you also have to take on the pricey contract of an aging and struggling player make you feel less inclined to offer a massive package in return?
Make no mistake, Kipnis’ appeal isn’t incredibly high right now. While the past two years in no way indicate he’s washed up, his struggles were apparent enough for the Indians to consider forcing him upon any team inquiring about a starting pitcher.
As a result, it’s not a leap to wonder if adding Kipnis to any deal might weaken the returns Cleveland ends up getting. Frankly, this approach seems to imply shedding Kipnis’ contract is slightly more important to the Indians than acquiring win-now players when trading a starting pitcher.
So, you have to ask once again – are the Indians trying to deal a starter in order to plug holes and continue contending, or are they just trying to clear salary?
They’ve already indicated this may be a goal with last weekend’s trade of Yan Gomes to the Washington Nationals. One would think the All-Star catcher would’ve netted at least one piece which could help Cleveland now. Instead, the deal seemed centered around Daniel Johnson, an intriguing outfield prospect who likely won’t be ready to play in the majors next season.
My initial reaction to the Gomes deal was to assume the Indians were just freeing up some money to play with this winter. You could argue they’re trying to do the same in offloading Kipnis’ contract.
Still, I’m unable to shake the fear of this team just doing what it can to remove some financial burden, leaning on its current core to clinch a division win in the awful AL Central and eventually roll the dice come postseason.
It’s all speculation for now, though things could heat up soon. Olney noted that teams who were bidding for free agent pitcher Patrick Corbin are sure to shift their focus to Cleveland’s rotation now that he’s signed with Washington.
Once things do start to heat up, we’ll get a better idea of just what exactly the Indians’ plans are moving forward. Right now, they appear to be a mystery.