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Cleveland Indians: Way-too-early trade deadline outlook (infielders)

MIAMI, FL - SEPTEMBER 02: Starlin Castro #13 of the Miami Marlins throws out a runner at first base in the eighth inning against the Toronto Blue Jays at Marlins Park on September 2, 2018 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
MIAMI, FL - SEPTEMBER 02: Starlin Castro #13 of the Miami Marlins throws out a runner at first base in the eighth inning against the Toronto Blue Jays at Marlins Park on September 2, 2018 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) /

Baseball season hasn’t even begun, but that doesn’t mean we can’t try to prognosticate what players the Cleveland Indians will target at the trade deadline.

With the news of Manny Machado‘s signing, we can be sure of one thing: unless the Cleveland Indians are inexplicably among the mystery teams participating in the Bryce Harper sweepstakes, the next noteworthy move the front office makes will be at the trade deadline.

Over the last few summers, we’ve seen the Indians execute a good mix of both short-term rentals and farsighted deals. The Tribe gave up big-time prospects to acquire Andrew Miller and Brad Hand for multiple seasons worth of relief outings, but they have also pulled the trigger on deals for just over a month each of Josh Donaldson and Jay Bruce.

The acquisitions of both Donaldson and Bruce were made during August’s waiver-trade period as opposed to the traditional July deadline, but the point here is that the Indians are open to both kinds of deals based on roster needs.

Based on the current construction of the roster, it’s safe to say at least one bullpen arm, an impact outfield bat, and a depth infield addition will be Cleveland’s top priorities this July. With that in mind, we’re now going to try to forecast the 2019 deadline market and outline a few players the Indians could (or should) be targeting when the dog days of summer roll around.

The first of our three-part series will discuss infielders.

The infield is the most difficult for me to gauge, based on the fact that the Indians simply don’t have any glaring needs here. The left side of the infield is historically great both offensively and defensively (assuming no nagging complications to Francisco Lindor‘s calf), and the right side is serviceable enough that a high-profile deadline addition of a first or second baseman would be somewhat surprising given the holes elsewhere on the roster.

As such, it’s not easy to predict what low-profile moves a team might make five months from now, but here are a couple of names to look out for.

Starlin Castro – 2B, Marlins

Assuming the emaciated Miami Marlins can’t contend with their exceptional NL East counterparts, Starlin Castro will be the final swing of the sledgehammer in Derek Jeter‘s systematic dismantlement of what was once a half-decent MLB roster.

Castro isn’t exactly the kind of midsummer addition that would have us cracking open bottles of champagne, but he does fall under the category of Short-Term Infield Depth Acquisitions That Won’t Cost Much.

A right-handed hitter, Castro posted a wRC+ of 115 against left-handed pitching in 2018. For his career, he has a 107 wRC+ against lefties. He’d be a fine platoon complement to Jason Kipnis, who has posted a career 85 wRC+ against southpaws, with an unsightly 73 in 2018. He could also spell Lindor occasionally, as shortstop was once his primary position.

Castro is low-risk, albeit with a pretty low ceiling. The Marlins will probably have to eat some of the second half of his $11-million salary, but they’ll be thrilled to rid themselves of his $16-million club option (with a $1-million buyout) for 2020. He’ll probably have a wide array of suitors looking for more of an everyday infielder than the Indians should need, however.

Wilmer Flores – UTIL, Diamondbacks

Count me among those who believe the Diamondbacks to be a distant third-place team in the NL West. As such, a handful of their players should be up for grabs at the trade deadline.

Wilmer Flores represents another intriguing yet unspectacular potential addition to the Indians’ infield. He’s logged at least 700 big-league innings at each of the four infield positions, so he presents the Tribe with the opportunity to spell any one of their regular starters on a given day.

He’s also a right-handed bat, a commodity of which the Indians don’t have many. His career wRC+ versus lefties is 110, again offering up platoon flexibility with Kipnis at second base. He also posted a career-low strikeout rate of 9.8 percent in 2018, and holds a mark of 13 percent for his career.

All of the projection models on FanGraphs predict that Flores will flirt with or exceed 20 home runs and strike out in less than 13 percent of his 2019 plate appearances. The Indians could do much worse than adding a fifth infielder who routinely puts the ball in play and occasionally sends one over the fence.

The Indians can take on what’s left of his $3.75-million salary in 2019, and then decide whether to pay him $6 million to bridge the gap from 2020 to the infield of the future or buy him out for half a million.

Tim Beckham – SS, Mariners

After parting with the likes of Robinson Cano and Jean Segura this winter, one would think that the Mariners will be similarly open for business during the 2019 season. While Kyle Seager and Dee Gordon will inevitably attract attention on the trade market, both have considerable time and money remaining on their current contracts, so the Indians won’t be among the teams interested.

Tim Beckham, on the other hand, won’t cost much of anything, and the Mariners don’t have much incentive to keep him around for the full life of the one-year deal he signed in January.

Beckham had a rough go at things in 2018 thanks to an injury and subsequent surgery, but he put forth an inspiring month of September with a .297/.348/.484 slash line. He’s also just one full season removed from a 2017 campaign in which he slashed .278/.328/.454.

Moreover, his career numbers indicate that while he may get off to slow starts, he performs significantly better as the year progresses. He’s posted a career 111 wRC+ in the second half of seasons, as opposed to an 80 wRC+ in the first. A deadline acquisition of a right-handed utility infielder that routinely plays his best baseball late in the season? Sure, why not?

Beckham has logged most of his innings in the Majors at shortstop, but has spent considerable time at second and third as well, so he fits just about anywhere in the Tribe’s infield alignment on any given day.

He’s only making $1.75 million in 2019 and will still be arbitration-eligible for 2020. The Mariners will inevitably want to see what they truly have in the recently acquired J.P. Crawford, so the return on their short-term investment in Beckham could come by way of a trade.

Of the players discussed so far, Beckham strikes me as the most likely to be dealt to the Indians considering the minimal prospect cost it will take to acquire him and his lack of an expensive future commitment. If the Indians do decide to make an infield splash this summer, however…

Scooter Gennett – 2B, Reds

The Cincinnati Reds look markedly more competitive on paper today than they did four months ago, there is no denying that. They’ve been admirably active during a winter in which many other teams appear outright excited at the idea of losing 90-plus games in 2019.

If things don’t go as planned, though, they’re going to have a big decision to make on impending free agent Scooter Gennett.

Over the last two seasons, Gennett has hit 50 homers and scored 166 runs. He’s posted a wRC+ of 123 and 125, respectively, in the same time frame, and is projected to put up similar numbers across the board in 2019. Second basemen who can hit home runs historically tend to do well for themselves on the open market (or sign long-term before they get there).

Moreover, the Reds figure to promote prospect Nick Senzel this season. Although Senzel is said to be gunning for the Opening Day start in center field, he’s an infielder by trade. The potential departure of Gennett after (or during) this season would allow Senzel a chance to get reps at one of his natural positions.

This all adds up to a strong likelihood that Gennett is nearing his final days in Ohio’s National League city one way or the other.

Of course, if Gennett is on the market in July, he will have the most suitors of any name discussed here, and will thus cost the Indians the most in terms of prospects. Unlike the other names, he would permanently relegate Kipnis to the outfield or bench for the third year in a row.

I would consider him an unlikely addition unless the Indians legitimately feel he is the final piece in their championship puzzle.

Trevor Bauer wins arbitration case. dark. Next

Stay tuned this week for Parts 2 and 3 of this series, focusing on relief pitchers and outfielders.