Indians pay big price in trade, but increase World Series chances in 2016 and maybe beyond
BY JUSTIN LADA
There’s almost zero precedent for the move the Cleveland Indians made on Sunday morning. They’ve never been in the current position they’re in and made the kind of move they’ve made. Moving their top prospect, outfielder Clint Frazier, LHP Justus Sheffield, and relievers Ben Heller and J.P Feyereisen for New York Yankees relief ace, LHP Andrew Miller.
Yes, the Indians traded prospects to get a Yankee while they try to rebuild. No, that’s not a typo.
The Indians traded former first round picks Alex White and Drew Pomeranz for Ubaldo Jimenez in 2011, but at the time the Indians trailed the Tigers by 1 ½ games and wound up missing the playoffs. The Jimenez trade wound up paying off in 2013 when his great second half helped to propel the Indians to the playoffs. The Indians are 4 ½ games ahead of the Tigers in 2016, but they didn’t need starting pitching this time, already armed with the best rotation in baseball.
Even the Indians of the 90s didn’t make trades like this. Yes, they traded guys like Sean Casey, Richie Sexson and Brian Giles in trades that ranged from marginally helpful to nothing at all. The 90s Indians biggest deadline pickups weren’t guys like Andrew Miller. Even They also included players who went on to have good careers but had already had major league auditions
None of the players going to the Yankees have ever played even a ⅓ of an inning in the majors. Times have changed with trades, but the Indians have never dug so deeply into their system for a blockbuster trade while they were in a strangle-hold of first place. This represents maybe the most aggressive trade in club history and perhaps one that delivers them their first championship since 1948. They’re in a position they haven’t been and did something they haven’t done to make a run at doing just that. And for that, they should be commended for a lot of reasons.
No, not the Cavs postseason mantra. The Indians got here on their own without the help of an NBA team, as shocking as that is to hear. There are some in the Indians organization who might feel that they just traded six-plus years of a window for a three year window. When you’re in the position the Indians are in and their market size and financial parameters, you do have to seize this chance. And that’s just what they did. They gave up cheap, controllable very good talent to make a run with the team they have at the big league level right now, something they’ve always wanted to do, but never had been in the position to do.
Why are the Indians in position to make this type of trade? For a team in a market and with the financial constraints the Indians have, young, controllable talent is the best currency and one of their ways to compete with teams who have $200 million payrolls. Heck, even the big money teams want young,controllable talent. It just makes a lot of sense and it’s why the Yankees did this deal. But to the Indians, it means more.
Trading Frazier stings. Potentially five or six years of Frazier roaming right field at Progressive Field along with possibly slotting LHP Justus Sheffield in the middle of the rotation in a few years and lining up the bullpen with J.P. Feyereisen and Ben Heller would have been very nice. But the Indians were able to part with those players in an attempt to win in 2016 and 2017 in part because of Miller being under contract for 2017 but also because their system is deeper than it’s been in some time.
The Indians of the 90s were built around drafting players like Manny Ramirez, Albert Belle, Jim Thome, Charles Nagy, Jaret Wright and then using good draft picks like Sean Casey, Brian Giles and Richie Sexson in trades to supplement later on.
Derek Thompson, Corey Smith, Mike Conroy, Alan Horne, J.D. Martin, Dan Denham, Micah Schilling, Matt Whitney, Jeremy Guthrie, Adam Miller, Brad Snyder, Michael Aubrey, Jeremy Sowers, Trevor Crowe, Johnny Drennan, David Huff, Beau Mills.
Know those names?
That’s every Indians 1st round pick after they drafted C.C.Sabathia in 1998. Seven of them made of them made it to the majors. Huff or Sowers were maybe the only ones who made any impact on the Indians. Guthrie has had a decent career as a mid-rotation pitcher and constant finger injuries ruined a promising career for Miller. If you want to know why it took the Indians six years to win a division in 2007 and potentially again? Drafting first rounders like that.
Lonnie Chisenhall, White, Pomeranz, Francisco Lindor, Tyler Naquin, Frazier, Mike Papi, Sheffield, Bradley Zimmer, Triston McKenzie, Brady Aiken and Will Benson.
Those are the Indians 1st round picks since Mills. Chisenhall is having a decent career, if underwhelming for a first rounder. White and Pomeranz were used to acquire Jimenez in 2011. Lindor - well - I think what he’s doing speaks for itself. You could say the same about Naquin. Frazier and Sheffield were used in this blockbuster. Papi is struggling in Double-A but was regarded as an advanced hitter. Zimmer was the Indians top prospect before Frazier broke out this year and is again and still a very big prospect in his own right. McKenzie ha a 0.55 ERA in nine starts in his first pro season - don’t forget that name. Aiken is back pitching after Tommy John. Benson is the Indians 2016 first rounder, so the jury is out. All of them are top-20 prospects for the Indians.
They also still have (for the moment, barring another trade) SP Mike Clevinger, Bobby Bradley (19 HR in High-A as a 20 year old), C Francisco Mejia (toolsy catcher riding a current 42 game hitting streak, on-base and speed machine OF Greg Allen, switch hitting OF Anthony Santander, who is having a breakout season at High-A Lynchburg and LHP Juan Hillman who is highly regarded and having a good pro debut.
The Indians farm system has impressed other teams and helped them make this deal because their stable of prospects was attractive to teams selling. They made this trade because they feel for the first time, they can deal prospects because of how well they have drafted and stocked their system with other good prospects to be able to afford to trade from that system.
The 2007 Indians only added Kenny Lofton, which was fun for sentimental reasons, but Lofton was fairly average in his return as a 40-year old. The Indians couldn’t add more because they didn’t have the prospects. They were still drafting poorly. That era of Indians teams was built on trades.
Grady Sizemore, Cliff Lee, Jake Westbrook, Travis Hafner, Ben Broussard were key players all brought in via the trade. Ryan Garko,Victor Martinez, Jhonny Peralta, Sabathia, Fausto (Roberto Hernandez) Carmona were all drafted or developed by the team in the foreign market. But the farm didn’t have more coming behind them. They were it. Hence the 2008 fallout and beyond.
The Indians deserve just as much credit for making this aggressive and impactful trade as they do for drafting very well. Well enough to trade some of it away and have enough where the system isn’t depleted to the point where this year and next year is it. Not like 07 then 08.
The guys in the Indians clubhouse won’t spend much time worrying about Lucroy, who won’t be an Indian despite a trade being agreed to Saturday. The Indians agreed to send Mejia, SS Yu-Cheng Chang, Allen and RHP Shawn Armstrong to Milwaukee for Lucroy, who would have solved a huge hole at catcher this year left by Yan Gomes’ incredible decline and injury. The Indians at .501, have the worst OPS by catchers in baseball. The Rays are the next closest at .561. Lucroy’s .844 is second among all catchers in baseball.
The Indians were on Lucroy’s no-trade list and he exercised that right. He had a $5.25 million club option for 2017. Reports on the decline of the trade have ranged from: wanting the club option ripped up, allowing him to be a free agent after this season to wanting more money this year or next to promises of position and playing time. Lucroy perhaps felt that if he wasn’t going to play catcher everyday, that his free agent value would take a hit. Whatever happened, Lucroy had his reasons and the right to do what he did. The Indians smartly backed away from potentially only having Lucroy for three months for that package as opposed to a year and three months.
The Mike Trout comparisons need to stop with Clint Frazier. Frazier is yoked out physically and maybe that is the only way he compares to Trout. Mike Trout is an historic player already and comparing any minor leaguer without one single at bat to him is completely unfair.
That being said, Frazier has ridiculous bat speed, what scouts call 80 grade (grading scale 20-80) along with game playable power, enough of a hit tool to reach the power, above average speed, a good throwing arm and great makeup/work ethic. As the centerpiece of the deal, he could be an All-Star for years to come in New York.
Sheffield by most accounts projects as a mid-rotation starter at best. He has a solid fastball (93-95), a decent slider and a chance to have an average changeup - someone who can throw 180 innings and put up a 3.50 ERA. At worst, he could be a back-end starter or a pretty good left handed reliever.
Heller throws 100 already and has a wipeout slider. He projects as a back end type reliever with the potential to close as soon as next season. Maybe unlikely with Dellin Betances staying put in New York, but they could be paired at the back end of the bullpen.
Feyereisen started his professional career with 31 straight scoreless innings. He doesn't throw as hard as Heller nor does his breaking ball have the wipeout potential that Heller has. He does throw 93-96 with a curveball that could get big league hitters out. It’s enough to make him a key middle reliever in a good bullpen.
Those who follow me on Twitter know I have an affinity for prospects. I don’t hide that. Most of my career as a journalist has been spent in minor league press boxes and locker rooms. I thoroughly enjoy getting to know these players, watching them develop and getting to share their stories. When trades like this happen I am always a little skeptical because I know what some of these players could bring to a team like the Indians. To continually compete and not have extended rebuilding periods, the Indians need these players and need to keep drafting them. I also understand winning at the big league level is the most important and that flags do indeed fly forever. I understand this side and don’t always love it. I still despise the Steven Wright trade everytime I see him win another game for the Boston Red Sox. But deals like this sometimes have to happen in order to reach the ultimate goal. And winning at least one now is a lot better than hoping to win one in another few years, even if those years weren’t far off.
I am a fan of both Clint Frazier the baseball player and the person. He is a humble and hardworking talent. I truly believe he will make a few All-Star teams as a Yankee, which is why I think it stings to lose him. If Miller helps to deliver a title for the Indians, the trade is 100 percent worth it. Even if he doesn’t and they at least get to the postseason and get close to a title again, it’s still worth it because it gives them a legitimate chance. Watching Frazier’s talent and personality thrive in New York will still sting.
Sheffield has a chance to be a good major leaguer but is also more expendable because of the Indians current rotation and other starting pitching prospects blossoming.
Heller could have helped the Indians in the bullpen this year. Myself and others around the Indians minor league system have wondered why Heller wasn’t up weeks ago. The Indians bullpen has been shaky all year and Heller is a legitimate high leverage type reliever. He could wind up being a premier setup man to Betances in New York and eventually a closer in his own right.
Feyereisen has all the tools to be a seventh inning or maybe eighth inning type reliever. Guys who throw in the mid-90s with a good breaking ball and can locate it the way he does will always have a spot in a bullpen.
Regarding the now-defunct Lucroy deal: I’m not sure what to believe. The Indians do not, and shouldn’t, mess with the chemistry that Gomes has with this pitching staff. Despite his struggles, the staff has a lot of respect for Gomes and enjoy a level of comfort working with him. It was reported that several veterans on that staff would be very upset if Gomes was traded or demoted because of his offensive struggles. On a team built around a World Series caliber pitching staff, that’s not something worth risking. There’s also no guarantee that Lucroy, who is now a negative pitch framer, no longer a strength for him, would have meshed well catching this staff.
Maybe that’s why Lucroy vetoed the trade. He felt he wouldn’t catch everyday next year because of Gomes. That’s probably true. Lucroy could have played first base and DH some if the Indians didn’t re-sign Mike Napoli. Lucroy felt that would hurt his free agent value at the end of the 2017 season.
I don’t understand that. If the Indians used Lucroy at catcher, first base and DH, the less games he catches, the more his legs are saved and it’s not as if GMs are going to forget he catches, especially if he still catches at least half the time. The situation is strange, but again, baseball is a business and Lucroy had the right to do what he did and worry about his future.
Regarding the Indians dealing a prospect like Frazier and others, I look at it like this: When the Cubs gave up top prospect SS Gleyber Torres for Aroldis Chapman, I felt they paid a hefty price for a rental reliever (and someone accused of domestic violent, but that’s another story) but, given that the Cubs have Addison Russell, Ben Zobrist and eventually Ian Happ to play in the middle infield, Torres was expendable because of the depth at that position.
Giving up Heller and Feyereisen stings because both could have helped the bullpen soon, Heller this year even. However, the Indians got back arguably the best reliever in baseball and he turns Corey Kluber’s six or seven inning starts where he allows a run or two into six or seven inning wins. Giving a lead to Bryan Shaw (whatever you think of him, he’s been more good than bad and in a 7th inning role, he could be more dependable), Miller and Cody Allen really increases your chances of shutting the door, which the Royals showed the baseball world last year. A dominant bullpen is the new market inefficiency and when you pair that with the rotation the Indians have, it’s lethal.
Trading a player like Frazier in the way I compared to trading Torres is where it gets a bit dicey for me. Currently the Indians outfield has a 35 year old free agent, a career infielder, a rookie, a player busted for PEDs who is ineligible for the postseason, a former first round pick/converted third baseman and an injured former All-Star. Plugging in a player with Frazier’s potential for the next five years and getting potentially great production from him is huge. Behind Frazier was Allen, Santander and eventually Benson? All well regarded prospects but they aren’t either at the level or close to reaching the level Frazier is at the moment. Had Frazier been a shortstop, it would have been easier to trade him because Lindor has laid claim to that position for the foreseeable future. But Frazier is an outfielder, a potential All-Star outfielder. Something the Indians haven’t had many of since the days of Bell, Lofton, Justice, Ramirez and Sizemore. This puts more pressure on Zimmer and others to pan out for the Indians sake of sustaining this trade.
If they continue to draft and develop as well as they have in the last five years, maybe it won’t impact them as negatively in the future as it could have. All that being said, the Indians are in prime position to win the World Series for the first time since 2007, maybe more realistically since the mid-to late 90s. This aggressive trade and great drafting is the reason why.
POSTED 07/31/2016 23:39