CLEVELAND -- The Indians have spent this Hot Stove season looking for ways to pare down the payroll without sacrificing the overall quality of the Major League club. Only time will tell if their trade on Friday night, in which they sent catcher Yan Gomes to the Nationals, achieves that feat, but what can be said for now is that the Tribe dealt from an area of perceived depth, saved money and received a couple of controllable pieces in outfield prospect Daniel Johnson (No. 7 on the Nationals' Top 30 list, per MLB Pipeline) and right-hander Jefry Rodriguez.
The Tribe will receive a third player to be named by April 15.
Gomes is the second high-profile catcher dealt from the 40-man in the last four-plus months, joining former top prospect Francisco Mejia, the sole piece surrendered in a July swap for closer Brad Hand and reliever Adam Cimber. The Indians have two more years of control of Roberto Perez, who is coming off the worst offensive season of his career (.519 OPS), and, barring any offseason additions, Gomes' departure would elevate 25-year-old Eric Haase, who had a solid 2018 season at Triple-A Columbus, to a Major League role.
"We did trade from an area of depth here," Indians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti said. "For a while, you've heard us say we feel we have two regular catchers within the organization at the Major League level, and now Roberto will have an opportunity to step in and be that regular guy. He's done that for us over the course of the past few seasons when Yan's been injured. He's demonstrated that ability to lead our pitching staff. He's caught some of the most meaningful games that we've played over the last five to six years, including that run in the 2016 postseason."
But in 2018, Gomes was the guy. And if the Indians do as well in this Gomes trade as they did in the last Gomes trade, it will be a heck of a deal. From the time he arrived with Mike Aviles in a low-profile deal that sent reliever Esmil Rogers to the Blue Jays in November 2012, Gomes provided great value to the Indians.
"In that time since we acquired Yan, we've had the opportunity to watch him grow and develop from an unheralded Triple-A corner utility player to an All-Star-caliber Major League catcher," Antonetti said. "He's been an instrumental part of our team and our success and helped lead us to the best record in the American League over the past six years. Not only has he been a great performer on the field, he's been a leader in the clubhouse and a great ambassador for the organization within the community."
Coming off his first All-Star season, Gomes was due to see a modest bump in his salary, from $6.03 million in 2018 to $7.08 million in '19. The Indians also held club options on Gomes for '20 ($9 million) and '21 ($11 million).
That was valuable cost control in a Major League market in which productive catchers are scarce. The Dodgers and Mets were among the teams that showed interest in Gomes in recent weeks, but the Nats came through with the offer that most appealed to the Indians, who needed breathing room in their offseason budget because of in-house raises and arbitration cases. The Indians tendered contracts to all of their arbitration-eligible players on Friday, including a one-year contract worth a reported $4.5 million for oft-injured but talented right-hander Danny Salazar.
"The catching position was an interesting one," Antonetti said. "There were a number of teams that were seeking to upgrade their alternatives at catcher, and there were also a number of alternatives on the market in both free agency and trades. That was the dynamic we were navigating at the start of the offseason. It got to a point on a deal that we thought made sense for us."
Rather than directly filling a Major League need, the Gomes swap gives the Indians depth in different areas.
Johnson, 23, was a fifth-round selection in the 2016 Draft out of New Mexico State. The left-handed hitter has a combination of speed and raw power and can play all three outfield spots. He spent the majority of 2018 at Double-A Harrisburg, where he had a .267/.321/.410 slash line with six homers, 19 doubles, seven triples and 21 steals in 89 games, but he battled a hamate fracture during the season.
In the Arizona Fall League this year, Johnson had the highest exit velocity (116.4 mph) tracked by Statcast™, albeit on a groundout. He had four of the six highest-tracked outfield throws, topping out at 100.9 mph. He was one of very few players to go home to first in north of 30 feet per second.
Rodriguez, 25, spent time at Double-A, Triple-A and the big leagues in 2018, going a combined 7-5 with a 3.40 ERA in 19 Minor League starts. He made six stints with the Nats, with a 5.71 ERA in 14 games, including eight starts. He had a 2.70 ERA in relief. He will compete for a spot in the big leauge bullpen in Spring Training.
"With this trade, we feel we've acquired two upper-level prospects to add to our system," Antonetti said. "I can't get into specifics about the player to be named later. It'll be another player of some value that we do like."