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Expect trade talk to heat up at Winter Meetings

@MandyBell02
December 5, 2019

CLEVELAND -- The Indians were involved in plenty of the whispers that occurred at last year’s Winter Meetings, dangling Corey Kluber and Trevor Bauer on the trade market. Time will quickly tell whether they become the headliner once again, listening to offers on an even bigger name. On Monday, the

CLEVELAND -- The Indians were involved in plenty of the whispers that occurred at last year’s Winter Meetings, dangling Corey Kluber and Trevor Bauer on the trade market. Time will quickly tell whether they become the headliner once again, listening to offers on an even bigger name.

On Monday, the team added catcher Sandy León in a trade with the Red Sox and decided to non-tender backstop Kevin Plawecki, keeping the 40-man roster at capacity. The Indians now have two months until Spring Training to figure out who else they’d want to add to the lineup. Will the trade rumors pick up steam next week in San Diego?

Here’s everything you need to know heading into the Winter Meetings, which begin Monday.

Club needs

These have been clear since the regular season came to an end. The Indians need a second or third baseman to replace Jason Kipnis, preferably one with a decent bat. The Tribe could certainly use a little more help in its corner-outfield spots, and it wouldn’t hurt to add another affordable reliever (like bringing back Tyler Clippard), but the top priority remains in the infield.

Whom might they trade?

This is the time for Indians’ fans to cover their ears. Yes, Francisco Lindor is going to be prominent in trade rumors for the remainder of the offseason, but that doesn’t mean he’ll actually be moved. However, if Cleveland doesn’t have the financial wiggle room to bring in a bat or infielder, it will need to fill some holes in other ways. A Lindor trade would demand an enormous haul that could help improve the club overall. If the Indians choose to deal from an area of strength like starting pitching, then Zach Plesac, Aaron Civale or another young arm could be the alternate route to bolster the roster for 2020 and beyond.

Prospects to know

The reason the Tribe can listen to offers on its starting pitchers is because of the depth the organization has built. Guys like Plesac and Civale demonstrated their maturity when the Indians’ rotation broke down last year, and prospects like Scott Moss and Logan Allen give the club some breathing room to deal one of its more prominent names. Other prospects to keep an eye on are outfielder Daniel Johnson, who appears to be Major League-ready, and Nolan Jones, ranked by MLB Pipeline as the Indians' No. 1 prospect. Jones will likely need some time in Triple-A Columbus before making the transition to the hot corner at the big league level, but the hope would be for the infielder to take over at third base in 2021.

Rule 5 Draft
Cleveland’s 14th-ranked prospect, Luis Oviedo, is exposed in this year’s Rule 5 Draft. He’s a right-handed starter who spent the 2019 season with Class A Lake County. He made a career-high 19 starts, posting a 5.38 ERA with a 1.38 WHIP and 72 strikeouts in 87 innings. In 2018, the native of Venezuela pitched to a combined 2.05 ERA and 0.98 WHIP in nine starts with Class A Short Season Mahoning Valley and two starts with Lake County. Two other notable names outside the Indians' Top 30 Prospects who will be available to draft are outfielders Ka'ai Tom and Oscar Gonzalez.

Payroll summary
The Indians have committed about $70 million to guaranteed contracts for 2020. When factoring in the arbitration projections for Lindor, Nick Wittgren, Mike Clevinger and Tyler Naquin from MLB Trade Rumors, the club would sit just under $100 million. At the end of the 2019 season, the Tribe’s front office said it had not received any instruction to cut their budget from the $119.6 million Opening Day payroll, so it seemingly should have money to spend. But if there is anything the Indians have shown in the last year, it is that they will save every dollar they can when the opportunity presents itself.

One question
Will Lindor get traded this offseason? That is the only question that seems to be asked on a daily basis. The Indians have proven that they will not make any deal unless they believe it’s perfect. They’ve also noted that they believe Lindor will be starting for the Tribe on Opening Day. But this doesn’t mean a potential trade is off the table. Right now, the best partner to get Cleveland to part ways with its shortstop is the Dodgers. Now, Los Angeles would likely have to include its top prospect, middle infielder Gavin Lux. If the Indians can get a package wrapped around Lux, it may be enough to cause Lindor to leave Cleveland with two years remaining before he hits free agency. Right now, it seems like that will be less than a 50 percent chance of occurring, but maybe the Winter Meetings will reveal more.

Mandy Bell covers the Indians for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter at @MandyBell02.