Things haven’t gone as planned in Cleveland this season. Will the Indians use the next six weeks to tweak their roster for a postseason run, or look to retool for a return to the top in future years?
The Indians are lingering above .500, keeping them firmly in the American League Wild Card race, but they face a sizable deficit to the Twins in the AL Central, the biggest spread of any first- and second-place clubs in the AL.
Should Cleveland opt to become a seller this summer -- and we’re not talking about a massive fire sale here -- Trevor Bauer figures to be one of the most popular trade targets on their roster. Bauer went through a slight stumble in May, but he's rebounded during the past month, posting a 2.39 ERA in his past five starts. He’s just 1-3 in those outings, however, as the Tribe’s offense continues to lack consistency.
The Indians are unlikely to sign Bauer to a long-term deal, as he’s been quite candid about his plans to sign one-year contracts once he becomes a free agent. He wouldn’t be a rental; he’s under team control through 2020, so any team looking to add pitching would have him in their rotation for the rest of 2019 and all of next season.
If the Indians opt to dangle Bauer on the trade market, here’s a look at some clubs that might make a run at the right-hander -- and what it might take to make a trade happen.
This is the obvious fit on both sides. The Yankees want to add an impact starter to their rotation and put their eyes squarely on a World Series title. Any deal would probably be centered around Clint Frazier, the talented 24-year-old outfielder the Indians traded to the Yankees nearly three years ago in the Andrew Miller deal. Cleveland would likely be seeking young players who are either Major League ready, or within a year of being so. Frazier’s defense has come into question this season, but he’s shown that his bat is ready for the Majors, posting an .843 OPS with 11 home runs in 209 plate appearances with New York. The Tribe might also look for some young pitching, and with four right-handers ranking among the Yankees’ top 5 MLB Pipeline prospects (Jonathan Loaisiga, Albert Abreu, Deivi Garcia and Clarke Schmidt), there’s no shortage of options.
Philadelphia remains in the heat of the National League East race despite a rotation that entered play Wednesday ranked 11th in the NL in ERA. Center field remains a need for the Phillies, as does bolstering the bullpen, but adding a quality starter to the top of the rotation would go a long way as they try to outlast the Braves for the division title. The club’s No. 1 prospect, 3B Alec Bohm, is likely off-limits in any trade, but right-hander Adonis Medina would probably be on the table. Then again, anybody could be on the table given that they dealt top prospect Sixto Sanchez in the J.T. Realmuto trade during the offseason. Adam Haseley (the team’s No. 3 prospect per MLB Pipeline) or former No. 1 overall Draft pick Mickey Moniak (No. 9) could be a good gamble for the Indians, who are also seeking future outfield help.
The other half of the NL East equation, the Braves have already added to their rotation with the signing of Dallas Keuchel, but inserting Bauer would not only strengthen their pitching staff, but also keep him away from the Phillies. Atlanta ranks 10th in the NL in rotation ERA and 11th in strikeouts by their starters, making Bauer an ideal fit. The Braves have plenty of high-end pitching in the Minors that they could part with, including RHP Ian Anderson (No. 4 in the club’s Top 30), RHP Bryse Wilson (No. 6), or perhaps LHP Luiz Gohara, who is dealing with a shoulder issue and hasn’t pitched this season. Atlanta also has two Double-A outfielders who could be of interest to Cleveland: Cristian Pache (No. 1) and Drew Waters (No. 5), though it remains to be seen how willing general manager Alex Anthopoulos would be in moving either one.
One should never count out the Dodgers when it comes to a talent like Bauer, though the bullpen is a more pressing need for Los Angeles than the rotation. (Unless, of course, Rich Hill’s early exit from Wednesday night’s game turns out to be something significant.) President of baseball operations Andrew Friedman typically prefers to deal away prospects than players from his 25-man roster (see last summer’s Manny Machado deal), so it feels like a stretch that the Dodgers would part with Alex Verdugo for Bauer. Los Angeles’ farm system has three of MLB Pipeline’s Top 52 prospects, so there’s talent from which to trade. That said, the Dodgers would probably be more interested in dealing for Indians closer Brad Hand than Bauer.
Cleveland’s need for outfield help makes Hunter Renfroe a clear fit as the centerpiece of a potential trade package, though outfield prospects Buddy Reed (No. 13 in the club's Top 30 prospects, per MLB Pipeline) and Jeisson Rosario (No. 18) could also be considered. San Diego has a slew of young arms, with RHP Luis Patino (No. 3), LHP Adrian Morejon (No. 4) and RHP Michel Baez (No. 5) among the intriguing names. The Padres are hovering around .500 and face a double-digit deficit behind the first-place Dodgers in the NL West, but GM A.J. Preller has shown the willingness to be aggressive with an eye toward contention. San Diego remains in the Wild Card hunt, and adding a big arm such as Bauer would give them a big weapon in their pursuit of a postseason berth.
Any call to the Twins should begin with their top two prospects: SS Royce Lewis and OF Alex Kirilloff. If the Twins are unwilling to part with either first-rounder, there are plenty of other high-end prospects in Minnesota’s system from which to choose. RHP Brusdar Graterol (No. 3) and OF Trevor Larnach (No. 4) are Top 100 prospects, while No. 5 SS Wander Javier could have potential, but is a longer-term prospect. Infielder Nick Gordon (No. 10), another former first-rounder, could also be an intriguing ask by the Indians. Although dealing Bauer to Minnesota would be a rare in-division deal, it should be noted that Twins executive Derek Falvey came from the Indians, so the relationship between the two front offices is strong -- and they tend to like the same type of players.