As part of our league-wide exploration of the trade market for the Cleveland Indians, today we discuss the American League East.
Welcome to Part 2 of our six-edition series discussing every MLB team’s potential to make a trade with the Cleveland Indians this offseason. We’re going division by division, and today’s examination will involve the five teams in the American League East.
For a detailed breakdown of how we’re going about categorizing the other 29 teams, I invite you to check out Part 1, which focused on the Indians’ adversaries in the AL Central. If you’re pressed for time, here is a quick summary of the criteria I’m using to evaluate this winter’s trade market as it pertains to the Tribe:
Cleveland’s strength is its starting pitching depth, so teams in need of a reliable arm could reasonably be expected to line up well with the Indians in trade negotiations. The Indians also have a solid farm system to pull from if a prospect haul is needed to land a top player from another team.
Should any contender be ready to go into overkill mode this offseason, the Indians are also likely to have at least a handful of opposing teams kicking the tires on Francisco Lindor’s availability.
The holes the Indians need to fill are in the corner outfield positions, and they likely need an infielder to replace Jason Kipnis if they don’t bring him back on a low-level deal after declining his option. Cleveland could also use a solid left-handed bat.
The other 29 teams in the league have been broken down into six tiers based on their likelihood of working out a trade with the Indians, as well as what types of trades could potentially come to fruition: The No Chance Tier, the Long Shot Tier, the “We Don’t Have to Worry About it Until the World Series” Tier, the Horseshoes and Hand Grenades Tier, the Low-Profile Tier, and the Blockbuster Tier.
Again, for a more detailed explanation of why I chose these tiers, feel free to consult Part 1. Also mentioned in Part 1 is this: any trade scenario must include at least one established MLB player changing hands. Without further delay, let’s dive into the AL East and see how each team might match up with the Tribe in trade talks this winter.
Baltimore Orioles: Long Shot Tier
The Orioles are notoriously difficult to deal with in trade negotiations, as was evidenced by the way they blundered the Manny Machado sweepstakes leading up to the 2018 deal that finally sent him to the Dodgers about six months too late. This alone could prevent genuine trade talks from materializing with Cleveland.
Could guys like Anthony Santander or Hanser Alberto be available for the right price? Maybe. Santander, as a switch-hitting outfielder who flashed some power in 2019 (who was coincidentally once a part of the Indians’ farm system), could feasibly fill a need for Cleveland.
Alberto can play second or third base, and almost never strikes out. He’d make for a worthy leadoff experiment as a base-hit machine if the Indians finally decide to move Lindor down in the order to give their star shortstop more opportunities to drive in runs.
Both are relatively young with multiple years of team control left on their contracts. Baltimore gets to name its price even if Santander and Alberto won’t be highly sought-after trade targets this offseason. If that price includes any well-regarded prospects, the Indians are most likely out.
Tampa Bay Rays: Low-Profile Tier
The Indians and Rays operate under similar financial conditions, both always on the hunt to improve their respective rosters via cost-effective moves. They’ve completed a couple of trades in the recent past, most notably last year’s three-team deal that sent Yandy Diaz to Tampa and brought Carlos Santana and Jake Bauers to Cleveland.
As far as another deal being ironed out this winter, it must be taken into account that the Rays were the team to edge out the Tribe for the AL’s second Wild Card spot, and will likely be even better in 2020 with a full year of Tyler Glasnow and Blake Snell in their rotation.
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With both teams setting their sights on division titles and pennant races next season and thus preparing for the possibility of competing against each other in the playoffs, it’s improbable that Cleveland and Tampa Bay execute any trade involving highly-regarded MLB talent.
I will allow, however, for the possibility of another creative deal that allows both teams to maximize salary constraints; or perhaps a mid-level prospect heading to the Rays in return for one of their wealth of bullpen arms. On the surface, I’m just not seeing anything bigger than that.
Toronto Blue Jays: Low-Profile Tier
Toronto is ready to start building around its promising young core of position players that includes Bo Bichette, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Cavan Biggio, and Lourdes Gurriel. That said, the Blue Jays’ gathering of complementary pieces to surround these future stars will be of the slow-and-steady variety.
Canada’s lone remaining MLB franchise needs to build an entire starting rotation that is no longer the home of Marcus Stroman or Aaron Sanchez, and that is not going to happen overnight. As such, an acquisition of one of Cleveland’s starters doesn’t do much to help the Blue Jays in the short term or the long term.
Even if they were in the market for a proven starter, the Blue Jays aren’t giving up any of the above-mentioned position players to acquire one. Their most desirable trade chips outside of those four are reliever Ken Giles and outfielder Randal Grichuk, neither of whom could be viewed as the centerpiece in a trade for the likes of, say, Corey Kluber.
New York Yankees: Blockbuster Tier
Joel Sherman may believe the Yankees can acquire Francisco Lindor without giving up Gleyber Torres, but he’s in the vast minority. That said, a poorly-constructed hypothetical trade by a baseball writer doesn’t rule out the possibility that the Yankees and Indians could work out a blockbuster under different circumstances.
The Yankees clearly lacked confidence in their starting rotation once the playoffs rolled around, and that absence of depth behind Masahiro Tanaka spelled doom for their World Series hopes against the Astros. Luis Severino is an obvious bounce-back candidate for 2020 after missing most of 2019 due to injury, but the Bombers are in obvious need of another starting pitcher any way you cut it.
After picking up Corey Kluber’s $17.5-million team option for 2020, it stands to reason that the Indians are content to head into next season with the veteran righty as part of their staff. But if the Yankees dangle anything worthwhile in the form of MLB-ready talent, Cleveland would be wise to listen.
As for Lindor, the Yankees are decidedly not getting him in any deal that doesn’t include Torres. With Cleveland set to face an endless string of questions regarding their shortstop’s future with the franchise, however, you can bet his arbitration salary that he’ll be frequently talked about in trade speculation.
The Indians don’t need to “make him available” per se, but they do unfortunately need to listen when other teams come around asking about the face of their franchise. The Yankees are an obvious candidate to do just that, and one way or the other, we could be looking at a big-time trade between these two teams before Spring Training.
Boston Red Sox: Blockbuster Tier
The Red Sox figure to be one of this winter’s more fascinating teams. The situation they find themselves in with Mookie Betts runs parallel to that of the Indians and Lindor, though Betts is set to enter the final year of his guaranteed tenure in Boston while Lindor has two more in Cleveland.
Should the Red Sox make Betts available on the trade market in an attempt to “rebuild on the fly” after pouring an inordinate amount of money into oft-injured and otherwise ineffective starting pitching, it will be tempting for just about any team in the league to empty the prospect well even for just one year of the MVP-caliber right fielder’s services.
The Indians are unlikely to take this bait, though it’s hard not to get excited about the potential of a lineup that includes both Lindor and Betts for one season, along with Jose Ramirez, Carlos Santana, and an upper-echelon starting rotation. A trade for Betts would almost certainly cost the Indians Nolan Jones and a proven starting pitcher, along with at least one more highly-regarded prospect.
At the end of the day, that’s probably too steep of a long-term price–even if it would potentially make the Indians favorites to win the American League pennant in 2020.
But what about Andrew Benintendi? Cleveland needs a corner outfielder and a left-handed bat; Benintendi checks off both those boxes. He’s an exceptional defender and would instantly slot in as an everyday player and potential top-third-of-the-order hitter for the Indians.
Benintendi is also under team control through the 2022 season, so he would command a respectable haul in return. That haul would likely include one of the Tribe’s starting pitchers, but the Indians might be able to keep Jones (their top prospect) off the table for an outfielder who is not of superstar caliber.
Thus concludes our examination of the AL East. Stay tuned for our discussion on the AL West before we dive into the National League in a few days.