The Indians have found themselves in unusual territory, boasting the best starting rotation in the Majors, while simultaneously sporting one of the worst offenses. Despite the lack of run support they’ve received, they remain in the thick of the American League Central race and because of that, they may look to make some additions to their roster by Monday’s Trade Deadline.
The Tribe had high expectations for Shane Bieber and the kind of pitcher he would eventually become, but it was nearly impossible for anyone to predict just how rapidly he’d develop. And with a promising showcase from another young arm in Triston McKenzie, the Indians may feel they have enough starting pitching depth.
Though the White Sox and Twins will continue to be tough competitors in the AL Central, Cleveland is very much in the expanded postseason picture. However, if the club wants to better its odds, it could use an impact bat to help bring a much-needed pulse to an otherwise lifeless offense. Though the 60-game season presents obstacles that teams aren’t used to facing, the Indians still have a chance of making a splash by Monday’s Deadline.
“I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect with the unique circumstances that the Deadline presents this year,” Indians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti said, “but what we found is that there’s a lot of activity among teams, and a lot of dialogue. Where that will lead is difficult to predict, just like it is in any year. There is dialogue among teams. It would be impossible, though, for me to handicap the likelihood of something getting done or not.”
An important wrinkle to this year’s Trade Deadline is that teams can only trade players who are part of their 60-man player pool (assigned either to the big league team or the alternate training site). Clubs are permitted to include players to be named later in trades, however. Additionally, scouts have not been allowed to attend games in person, so all assessments of prospects have been done based on provided video and data and past knowledge.
So what’s the state of the Tribe with less than a week to make a move? Let’s take a look:
Buy/sell/hold: The Indians will look to be buyers, but to what degree? They could look to make some smaller moves to try to find an offensive answer without shaking up their regular roster too much. However, the club proved last year that it’s possible to buy by selling when it shipped its No. 2 starter in Trevor Bauer in a three-team deal to Cincinnati in exchange for Franmil Reyes, Yasiel Puig and a few Minor League pitchers. The Indians could look to do something similar this year by moving their No. 2 starter once again -- this time, Mike Clevinger -- to get some top-notch talent in return.
What they want: An outfield bat. The Indians will take any back they can come by, however the team really needs to find an outfielder who can provide some offensive support. Through the Tribe’s first 29 games, their outfielders hit a combined .181 with a .286 slugging percentage -- both of which clocked in as the worst in the Majors at that time. An outfielder like Clint Frazier, who doesn’t hit free agency until 2025 and has gotten off to a hot start with the bat in 2020, may fit perfectly into Cleveland’s lineup now and over the next few seasons.
What they have to offer: The Indians have a long list of starting pitching depth that they could consider moving, including Adam Plutko, Logan Allen, Scott Moss or other arms at their alternate training site. However, the team could also try to bring in a huge return by shopping one of their best starters in Clevinger. The 29-year-old spent 11 days in Lake County after violating team protocols before he came back to make his first start in three weeks on Wednesday. While the team certainly needs to lean on its rotation as the offense tries to find its footing, the Tribe may have enough starters to patch the hole that Clevinger would leave in order to get at least one impact bat.
Chance of a deal: Of any smaller deals? Probably 50-55 percent. Moving Clevinger? That’s probably closer to 15-20 percent. The Indians may find a way to get crafty by making smaller moves to help bolster their lineup without having to get rid of one of their best starters. The team knows it needs help offensively and it’s more likely than not that it attempts to find some sort of answer. But trading Clevinger, even after his recent decisions and actions, still seems unlikely by Monday. If he’s still a member of the Tribe on Tuesday, the right-hander may be in store for an offseason full of trade rumors.