Cleveland Indians: Catching up after one-third of the season

(Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
(Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images) /
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MINNEAPOLIS, MN – APRIL 15: Justin Smoak #14 (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN – APRIL 15: Justin Smoak #14 (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images) /

It’s Not Too Early to Trade

Are the Indians one personnel move away from completely righting the ship and steamrolling their way out of a 10-game divisional deficit? Of course not. I don’t care if Cody Bellinger joins the team at Fenway tonight; he’s not single-handedly pulling the Indians’ team OPS up to a respectable level. That doesn’t mean one good trade can’t have an overarching positive impact on the team, though.

Right now, the Cleveland Indians are a team collapsing under the weight of their own effort. What happens when a Cy Young winner and the best fourth starter in baseball go down for extended periods of time?

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The rest of the starting rotation incurs a burden, even if the irony is that they place it on themselves. What happens when an MVP-caliber third baseman suddenly and inexplicably drops off a cliff for two full months? He presses, and so do his teammates as they try to pick up the slack.

I’ve never been–nor am I likely to ever be–in the Indians clubhouse. And I’m certain that the players would never tell you this out loud. But the Indians know they are an undermanned team with a razor-thin margin for error, a realization compounded by the fact that the Twins roared to a 10-game lead in what feels like the blink of an eye.

They don’t need a savior, per se, because there are still plenty of players already on the team with the ability to put the rest of the roster on their backs for long stretches. But they do need some help.

The problem with trying to engineer trades this far in advance of the trade deadline is that nobody is willing to admit they aren’t a playoff team yet. Heck, if they were, the Indians might well be one of them. Take the Oakland A’s, for instance: The A’s were in last place in the AL West on May 14. They then won 10 games in a row before finally dropping one last night, and are now tied for the second wild card spot in the American League (which, if anything, should give the Indians some hope).

There are, however, at least a handful of teams who know full well they aren’t going anywhere in 2019, and the Indians could get a head start on the trade deadline chaos by making a move for one of these two players in the near future:

  • Trey Mancini – 1B/OF/DH, Orioles (.300/.347/.536, 10 HR, 35 R, 26 RBI, 131 wRC+)
  • Justin Smoak – 1B/DH, Blue Jays (.376 OBP, 11 HR, 17.1% walk rate, 51.5% hard-hit rate)

Unfortunately, there isn’t anyone on the Marlins, Giants or Tigers (unless you want Nicholas Castellanos) that is going to substantially help the current Indians lineup, so our options are limited for now. Trey Mancini will be one of the most highly-coveted players on the trade market this summer if he continues to launch home runs for the hapless Orioles, so he’s probably not going anywhere until zero hour unless somebody wows Baltimore’s front office.

That makes Justin Smoak the most realistic option for the Indians to pursue if they’re looking for a positive shake-up. Smoak is a switch-hitter with a .933 OPS against right-handed pitching, which would be the highest on the team if he were a member of the Indians.

The Cleveland Indians would run into some playing-time snags between Smoak and Jake Bauers, but the latter hasn’t yet put a stranglehold on any one position or lineup spot. Perhaps Bauers could fall into a corner outfield platoon split with Jordan Luplow, who has been smashing lefties, but holds a .390 OPS in 45 plate appearances versus righties.

We don’t typically see noteworthy trades this early in the season, but I ask: why wait? Smoak isn’t going to cost much on account of his age, and he’s a free agent after this season. Why not grab a decent power hitter who is routinely on base and slot him into the middle of the order?