Last week's Indians Inbox was my first in eight years. This week's is my last for the foreseeable future. After filling in for the departed (as in, new job, not dead) Jordan Bastian, I'm sliding back into a life of national baseball puns and punditry for MLB.com.
But I still love talking Tribe. I'll do it on my Twitter feed. I'll do it in my columns and features. I'll do it on the Morning Lineup Podcast I record thrice-weekly with friend and colleague Richard Justice. I'll do it on the Indians podcast I record with the team beat writer. I'll do it in my regular segments on MLB Network. I'll do it on the Cleveland radio waves as a Tribe insider for WKNR.
(As Bob Feller routinely used to tell us in the Indians' press box, "If you don't promote yourself, who will?")
The powers that be are still nailing down Bastian's permanent replacement. In the meantime, MLB.com's Mandy Bell will have your Indians coverage at next week's Winter Meetings and beyond. She's a good reporter and a good person, and I know you'll all give her a warm welcome.
For now, in the wake of the Yan Gomes trade and Danny Salazar's new contract, an Inbox is in order.
Larry, next time please provide your unorthodox rationality, patience and practicality in the form of a question.
I'm a Gomes fan. Watching his evolution from, as Indians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti put it, "an unheralded Triple-A corner-utility player to an All-Star-caliber Major League catcher" has been one of the more impressive maturations I've seen in my time around this team. And "Indians trade All-Star catcher for prospects" is not a fun look for a supposed contender.
But let's make a few salient points here:
• As I wrote in this space last week, moving Gomes was an obvious way to make a little room in a tight budget, and what the Indians do with that room will be an important factor in how we judge the trade. The return wasn't overwhelming, but it's not as if Cleveland turned down offers of All-Star outfielders from other clubs. The Tribe got what it could get in a market stocked with catchers, and Antonetti's trade record (including the trade to acquire Gomes) speaks for itself.
• In 2018, Gomes had his best offensive season since '14. Roberto Perez had the ninth-lowest OPS this century by a catcher with at least 200 plate appearances. But let's not forget that as recently as the second half of 2017, Perez had begun to take over the regular catching duties from Gomes because their offensive performances weren't much different and Perez graded out better defensively (in framing runs, blocking runs and fielding runs above average). In the three-season sample from 2015-17, Perez more than doubled Gomes' Baseball Reference-calculated Wins Above Replacement mark (2.7 to 1.3), despite playing in 70 fewer games.
• Gomes' age (31), injury history and offensive track record make him a regression candidate. As of this writing, Steamer projects him to play just 72 games for the Nationals, with a 1.2 WAR and 86 weighted runs created plus. Steamer projects Perez to be worth 1.6 WAR and a 79 wRC+ in 113 games for the Indians, who also have Eric Haase coming off a solid year at Triple-A Columbus.
• No one asked, but even after the Gomes trade, I'm more concerned about Cleveland's outfield than the catching spot. And I'm more concerned about the bullpen than the outfield.
• The bottom line is that values can fluctuate quickly in baseball, especially at a position as physically and mentally demanding as catcher. Anybody here remember Jonathan Lucroy?
On winter breaks during college, I worked in the layaway department at the Eastlake, Ohio, Walmart (a lovely place). My job was to retrieve boxes of items from the storage trailers when people paid off their bills. Occasionally (read: frequently) the boxes had been lost, and I'd have to go through the store and shop for all the missing items. This, friends, is how I gained unexpected experience buying underwear for strangers.
In our jobs, we do what must be done, is what I'm saying.
After two years of franchise-record payrolls netted the Indians nothing more than four playoff home games and a declining attendance total, Antonetti and GM Mike Chernoff have been forced to take a hard look at a maturing roster loaded with in-house raises. Given the budget constraints, it would be malpractice not to explore the trade values of the more expensive veterans. And the two areas where the Tribe had a combination of workable depth and a player (or players) with actual trade value were catching and starting pitching.
Gomes might represent the extent of the "sell-off," or the Indians could still move a starter. Rest assured that if Cleveland does actually move a starter, it's not going to be solely for salary relief and mid-grade prospects like the Gomes trade. It would be for tangible help at the Major League level right now. But that value is very hard to align in the trade market.
I, too, enjoy employing the comedic device of conveying scorn by saying the opposite of what you clearly mean. I just wish we had a word for it.
Announcing it loudly at Thanksgiving dinner would have been ideal. But because it's too late for that, I would wait until New Year's Eve and after everybody has had a few alcoholic beverages.
Both Daniel Johnson and Jefry Rodriguez are a possibility for 2019. Rodriguez is a stronger possibility, given that he's already pitched in the bigs and will be immediately vying for a bullpen role (and bullpen jobs open up all the time). But I don't have to tell you there is opportunity in the Indians' outfield. Johnson needs to tighten up his strike-zone awareness before he's a serious candidate for the call.
Salazar sometimes grabs his elbow and shoulder just from looking at a baseball. But in the vast majority of Major League markets, a $4.5 million investment on a pitcher with Salazar's raw stuff is a layup. For the Indians this winter, it was more laborious. In the end, they did the right thing. There is too strong a possibility of Salazar providing at least $4.5 million of value to them (or maybe to another team in a trade) in 2019.
Right, Cody Bellinger makes more way sense than Yasiel Puig, who will make eight figures in his final arbitration round. And MLB Pipeline's No. 32 overall prospect, Alex Verdugo, whose advanced bat is due for his shot in the bigs, makes way more sense than either of them.
Well, sure. But then you guys wouldn't have Brad Hand and would be freaking out about the possibility of Neil Ramirez being the 2019 closer.
For high-end relief help with multiple years of control in the midseason market, Francisco Mejia was the cost of doing business. (And for the record, evaluator opinions about the likelihood of him remaining behind the plate in his big league career are mixed.)
Gomes did a fantastic job reasserting the value of his contract in 2018. Kipnis did not. I think the only way you move Kipnis is by taking on a good amount of his contract (thereby defeating the purpose of moving him), trading him for a similarly bad contract or attaching him to a more valuable trade asset (i.e. Kluber or Bauer).
If the season began today, Kipnis would be in left field. And the field would be wet.
I think I missed these references to "The Room" in the Inbox.
With Carlos Carrasco indeed receiving an extension, through 2022, that leaves Kluber and Bauer as the key trade candidates. Kluber has the better resume, but he'll be 33 with a rising price tag and declining velocity, so it's not sacrilege to suggest that Bauer might provide more surplus value than Kluber in '19 (as Bauer himself can tell you). Of course, analytically minded clubs know this, and that affects offers. But at this moment in time, I think there are better arguments for moving Kluber than Bauer because of the age and surplus value equation mentioned above.
That said, the extra year of club control of Kluber is an undeniably important element in all of this.
Contrary to the assumption of this amateur psychologist, it has been a blast to briefly be back on the beat and interacting with you all these last few weeks. We made beautiful Inboxes together, and nobody can take that away from us.
Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns, listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.