Cleveland Indians: Evaluating trade partners (AL Central)

KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI - SEPTEMBER 14: Whit Merrifield #15 of the Kansas City Royals follows through on an RBI triple that scored Nicky Lopez #1 in the third inning against the Houston Astros at Kauffman Stadium on September 14, 2019 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by John Sleezer/Getty Images)
KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI - SEPTEMBER 14: Whit Merrifield #15 of the Kansas City Royals follows through on an RBI triple that scored Nicky Lopez #1 in the third inning against the Houston Astros at Kauffman Stadium on September 14, 2019 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by John Sleezer/Getty Images) /

We’re a long way out from the winter meetings, but it’s not too early to gauge which teams line up as potential trade matches for the Cleveland Indians.

It won’t be until later in the offseason that any high-profile deals start to go down, but the 28 teams who aren’t still vying for a World Series have already been mapping out their winter plans. This includes, of course, the Cleveland Indians, who had a depressingly early head start.

Preliminary trade discussions have likely already commenced in some cases, though this early in the process it is more about getting an idea how other front offices are planning to navigate “hot stove” season than anything else.

Considering Cleveland’s historical lack of aggression on the high-priced free agent market, trades are the most likely avenue the Tribe front office will take in order to improve the team. With that in mind, I invite to you to join me in a discussion on how each of the other 29 teams in MLB stack up as potential trade partners for the Indians.

My first order of business was to take stock of what the Indians have to work with, as well as what they need. The Indians have a surplus of starting pitching and a rapidly improving farm system. They’re in need of corner outfield help, an infielder, and preferably at least one left-handed bat regardless of position.

The Indians also have Francisco Lindor. The last thing anyone remotely associated with the Tribe in any capacity wants to think about is the idea that Lindor could potentially be playing elsewhere next season (or ever), but there is no way to tune out the imminent discussions on whether the Indians should trade him or not.

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As for the other 29 franchises, I’ve broken the rest of the league down based on criteria such as how motivated or passive a given team’s approach might be on the trade market, the likelihood that a realistic trade scenario could emerge with Cleveland, and what kinds of trades could potentially materialize if so.

The end result is six tiers, with each MLB team falling in under one of the following:

The No Chance Tier – It’s nearly impossible to imagine a trade taking place between these teams and the Indians.

The Long Shot Tier – It’s unlikely that a trade comes to pass, but there are potential pieces on one side or the other.

The Horseshoes and Hand Grenades Tier – The opposing teams need what the Indians have, but do they have what it takes to pry the Indians’ most valuable trade chips away? In other words, we can expect these teams to come close in trade negotiations with the Tribe.

The “We Don’t Have to Worry About it Until the World Series” Tier – The teams in this tier are all legitimate National League contenders, and any trade completed could potentially rear its head if any of them were to meet the Indians in the World Series.

The Low-Profile Tier – The teams in this group are a bit of a melting pot, but for varying reasons, the Indians are not likely to execute a trade that involves high-profile players going one way or the other. As such, it’s… the low-profile tier.

The Blockbuster Tier – The most interesting group of teams in terms of trading with the Indians. These are teams who will want the best of what the Indians have to offer, and also possess the MLB-ready talent to send back an appropriate return.

This will be the first article in a six-part discussion, as we will go division by division until we’ve talked about every team in the league. Any hypothetical trade scenario must include an exchange of least one established MLB player. Let us begin with the AL Central.

Chicago White Sox: No Chance Tier

The White Sox are ready to win, and you can bet they’ll be linked to this year’s top free agents. Whether they sign any of them or not is another question, as we’re all well aware they swung and missed last winter.

Either way, Chicago’s AL franchise has become a legitimate competitor for the Indians in their own division. These two aren’t making any trades to help one another for 2020 or beyond at the moment.

Minnesota Twins: No Chance Tier

Chicago might be dreaming about winning, but the Twins just did it in real life. Minnesota wound up running away with the Central thanks to a late-season collapse on the part of the Tribe (along with a great season of their own). Visions of World Series rings danced in their heads until they ran into a buzzsaw called the Yankees.

They’ll spend this offseason trying to figure out how to get past their pinstriped nightmare next time around, but like the White Sox, they and the Indians won’t be doing each other any favors.

Detroit Tigers: No Chance Tier

The Tigers’ long, painstaking mission to tear their operation down to the studs and start anew is almost complete. All that’s left is to jettison Matthew Boyd, which hopefully happens this winter for his sake. I don’t see the Indians as a landing spot for a left-handed starting pitcher.

Boyd would be a huge get for any contender seeking a third starter with a number-two ceiling, and with three years of arbitration looming he’ll be locked in under team-friendly financial circumstances for the next several seasons. Someone will pay the appropriate asking price, but it won’t be the Tribe.

Kansas City Royals: Long Shot Tier

The Royals have repeatedly declared Whit Merrifield off limits in trade talks, thereby crushing my own personal dream of watching him hit leadoff for the Indians. Considering the contract Kansas City has him signed to, the Royals have virtually no incentive to send the face of their franchise elsewhere–especially to a team they have to play nearly 20 times a year.

That said, I can’t help but hold out hope that this front office learned its lesson after holding onto Eric Hosmer and Lorenzo Cain in 2017 only to lose them for nothing via free agency. (They operated similarly with Mike Moustakas in the same season, but were able to re-sign him in the Great Free Agency Swamp of 2017 and ultimately traded him to the Brewers in 2018).

Kansas City might believe it can contend again before Merrifield’s highway robbery of a deal is over in 2022 (or 2023 if they exercise his club option for that year), but there’s a long way to go before that picture can even begin to take shape.

Merrifield would command a sizable haul, and the Royals would be wise to seriously entertain offers for him this winter. The Indians make a ton of sense as a landing spot for the second baseman/outfielder hybrid.

Next. Indians remain Cleveland's top title contender. dark

Stay tuned over the next couple of days as we visit the other five divisions. Up next is the AL East, a division that includes two (spoiler alert) very intriguing trade partners.