CLEVELAND -- Given the many questions hovering over the Indians' outfield, one goal this winter for the club is to introduce an assortment of potential answers. Cleveland took a step in that direction on Wednesday by making a five-player trade with the Pirates.
The Indians acquired infielder Max Moroff and outfielder Jordan Luplow from Pittsburgh in exchange for utility man Erik Gonzalez and a pair of 19-year-old pitching prospects. Right-handers Tahnaj Thomas (No. 30 on the Indians' Top 30 prospects list per MLB Pipeline) and Dante Mendoza will head to the Pirates' farm system as part of the deal.
Luplow has logged Major League time in each of the past two seasons with Pittsburgh, but he has spent most of that time at Triple-A Indianapolis. It is not hard to see how the right-handed-hitting corner outfielder -- who has one Minor League option remaining -- might fit within Cleveland's outfield puzzle.
"Jordan is a right-handed-hitting outfielder with almost a year of Major League experience," said Chris Antonetti, the Indians' president of baseball operations. "He's capable of playing all three outfield spots. He's spent most of the time in left and right, but we also believe he has the ability to play center field. He complements our roster really well."
As things currently stand, the Indians are heavy on lefty-swinging outfielders. With veteran center fielder Leonys Martin re-signed for 2019, a healthy Tyler Naquin would project to be a versus-righties option in right field. Luplow, who boasted an .891 OPS against left-handers at Triple-A in 2018, could compete for at-bats as a platoon partner with Naquin. The Tribe's new addition could also offer complementary depth in left.
In two years at Triple-A, the 25-year-old Luplow has hit .300 with 15 homers, 32 doubles, 68 RBIs and an .857 OPS in 132 games. He logged 13 outfield assists between MLB and the Minors in '18, but his offensive numbers in the big leagues have yet to match his production with Indianapolis. Last season, Luplow hit .185 (.631 OPS) in 37 games with the Pirates, and he has a .194 (.644 OPS) showing in 64 career MLB games.
The 25-year-old Moroff, who is out of Minor League options, gives the Indians a candidate for a utility role now that Gonzalez is no longer in the picture. In parts of three seasons with Pittsburgh, the switch-hitter has hit .193 with a .625 OPS in 84 games, while logging innings all around the infield. Moroff is a middle infielder by trade, but he has experience at third base, too.
"In Max, it's an infielder that's a very good defender at second base and third base. He's also played shortstop," Antonetti said. "Very good instincts and has had some success offensively. We're looking forward to both guys joining the organization, and I think both of them can help us moving forward."
Gonzalez (out of options) was a highly touted shortstop prospect while ascending Cleveland's Minor League ladder, but he was blocked by star shortstop Francisco Lindor. Gonzalez gave the Indians a plus defender for second, short and third, and got experience at first base and in the outfield. Looking ahead to 2019, Gonzalez would have fought for at-bats again given the presence of Lindor, Jose Ramirez and potentially Yandy Diaz around the Tribe's infield.
"That was a tough thing for us," Antonetti said, of the struggle to find Gonzalez at-bats in the Majors. "As our roster has taken shape over the past few seasons, we have not had an opportunity for him to play regularly. We feel this will give Erik an opportunity to play more with Pittsburgh and continue his career and potentially blossom into the everyday player we think he can be."
The 27-year-old Gonzalez is a career .263 hitter with five homers, 16 doubles, 27 RBIs and a .681 OPS in 162 games. He turned in a .273/.314/.397 slash line in 744 career Minor League games before sticking in Cleveland. Last year, Gonzalez hit .265 (.676 OPS) in 136 at-bats over 81 games.
Arguably his most memorable moment with the Indians came on Sept. 7, 2017, when Gonzalez belted two home runs against the White Sox in win No. 15 within Cleveland's historic 22-game winning streak.
The Indians' 40-man roster is now at 35 players.