We came into this week’s MLB winter meetings anticipating major moves from the Cleveland Indians. However, as the days went by, it appeared none of the rumors we heard were going to come into fruition.
Assuming we were getting bored, the Indians decided to pull the trigger on a multi-level deal which sure seemed to catch many by surprise.
Gone is their marquee slugger, returning is a longtime fan favorite they lost in free agency last winter. Gone is a player Cleveland never seemed to value, traded in exchange for what appears to be the team’s third first baseman on the roster.
As you can see, even as the dust settles, there are far more questions than answers that come from the Indians’ first big move of the offseason.
In summary, Cleveland traded Edwin Encarnacion to the Seattle Mariners for Carlos Santana, who returns to the city where he spent the first seven years of his big league career. The Indians also looped in the Tampa Bay Rays, sending third baseman Yandy Diaz their way in exchange for first baseman Jake Bauers.
In the aftermath of the deal, I can’t help but come up with numerous questions.
For one, knowing Cleveland came into the offseason looking to shed some salary, does this deal get the job done?
Moving Encarnacion takes $20 million off payroll for the upcoming season, while also ensuring the Indians don’t have to pay the $5 million buyout they would’ve been billed when they most certainly chose against picking up his 2020 club option. Santana, meanwhile, carries with him a $17 million base salary next season, along with $17.5 million in 2020.
Per Paul Hoynes of Cleveland.com, the Indians estimate saving about $10 million in 2019, helped in part by the $6 million they received from Seattle to help pay for Santana’s contract.
Whether this is deemed as enough for them to feel comfortable, or if they’ll instead continue to pursue deals to keep cutting costs remains one of the biggest follow-up questions from this trade.
As is asking how this deal impacts one of the biggest rumors hovering over the Indians this winter – a potential trade of a starting pitcher.
Whispers of Cleveland dealing either Corey Kluber or Trevor Bauer have yet to disappear, as many see this route as the team’s best opportunity to fill glaring roster holes with upper-tier talent. As of last week, though, word was the Tribe might be trying to include an unfavorable contract in any potential deal to clear up salary. With this rumor came the fear of Cleveland hurting its chances of getting the best deal possible.
With today’s trade, does the team now feel as though it no longer has to follow this route? Does getting Encarnacion off the books ensure Cleveland can now get aggressive with its demands for a starter?
If not, what’s the next move?
Smart money says Yonder Alonso is on borrowed time, especially since the Indians acquired two more first basemen today. Would moving the $8 million he’s owed next year be considered enough cost cutting?
On the flip side, what’s the plan if Cleveland doesn’t move Alonso?
The team would have three first basemen on the roster, though Bauers has logged some time in the outfield. Knowing this, would the team just plan to pencil him in at right or left field to start the season?
One could argue outfield is the Tribe’s biggest weakness right now, but is the team willing to bet on Bauers as a viable solution for this?
Finally, one of the biggest questions I have in the aftermath of this trade – why were the Indians so quick to give up on Diaz?
Not only was he proving capable of hitting at a big-league level, he was also extremely affordable. Though he left a little to be desired when it comes to hitting for power, he still finished 2018 with a .312 batting average, and is under team control until 2023. Cleveland putting so little effort into trying to find a place for Diaz on the roster is nothing short of a mystery.
As is the case for where the Indians go from here. For all intents and purposes, this move could be the first of many in the coming days.
Is a starting pitcher next to go? Does more money need to come off the books first? Or, are they comfortable with how everything looks now, content with keeping their top-tier rotation intact?
It’s safe to assume the answers to these questions are on the way, and today’s move seems to indicate they’ll be coming faster than we thought.