Cleveland Indians: Evaluating potential trade partners (AL West)

SEATTLE, WA - SEPTEMBER 28: Mallex Smith #0 of the Seattle Mariners pound his fist afte flying out to tend seventh inning of a game against the Oakland Athletics at T-Mobile Park on September 28, 2019 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)
SEATTLE, WA - SEPTEMBER 28: Mallex Smith #0 of the Seattle Mariners pound his fist afte flying out to tend seventh inning of a game against the Oakland Athletics at T-Mobile Park on September 28, 2019 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images) /

As part of our league-wide exploration of the trade market for the Cleveland Indians, today we discuss the American League West.

Welcome back to our cruise through each of MLB’s six divisions as we try to gauge which teams line up well as potential trade matches with the Cleveland Indians.

Our first two installments focused on the AL Central and AL East; today we will round out the junior circuit with the AL West. Some quick guidelines for you in case you are just stumbling upon this six-part series right now and don’t have the time to catch up with the previous two discussions:

  • Indians need: corner outfield help, a fourth infielder, a left-handed bat
  • Indians have: starting pitching depth, highly-regarded farm system, Francisco Lindor

Naturally, the other 29 teams in the league are measured up against those two criteria regarding Cleveland’s roster: does Team A need what the Indians have, and/or do they have what the Indians need?

Then, teams were broken down further into six categories based on their likelihood of pulling off a trade with the Indians this winter:

  • The No Chance Tier – the Indians are almost certain not to execute a trade with these teams
  • The Long Shot Tier – unlikely trade partners, but pieces on one side or the other make sense for teams in question and/or the Indians
  • The “We Don’t Have to Worry About it Until the World Series” Tier – National League contenders
  • The Horseshoes and Hand Grenades Tier – teams that will be aggressive in pursuit of the Indians’ top assets, but might be unwilling to pony up a steep price
  • The Low-Profile Tier – the most self-explanatory of the six tiers; trades that won’t get anyone wound up one way or the other
  • The Blockbuster Tier – landscape-altering trades

One last thing before we begin: These discussions are based on the idea that at least one MLB player would be changing hands in a trade, which rules out trades involving only prospects, money, etc. That about does it in terms of catching you up, so let’s get started on the American League West.

Texas Rangers: Horseshoes and Hand Grenades Tier

The Rangers figure to be one of the league’s more interesting teams this winter. They’re about to christen a new park, and it stands to reason that they’ll want to improve a roster that finished six games under .500 this year to maximize excitement among fans heading into the new facility.

Texas native Anthony Rendon is set to hit free agency despite reports that the Nationals offered him an extension, and it would be shocking if the Rangers aren’t heavily involved in discussions to bring the third baseman to Arlington.

Because of the sizable contract Rendon will undoubtedly get from someone, the Rangers are also candidates to explore cost-effective ways to address their other needs. Could the Indians and Rangers match up on a salary swap with Shin-Soo Choo and Corey Kluber changing teams? Maybe, if the right complementary pieces were involved.

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Choo is about to be 38 years old and is set to make $21 million in 2020. Despite being a left-handed corner outfielder, he is hardly the ideal target for the Tribe. Kluber, for his part, missed nearly all of the 2019 season and did not look like his Cy Young-caliber self in his limited action on the mound. Add in the fact that Choo just underwent shoulder surgery, and both teams would be taking on their own fair shares of risk.

The Indians could be in the market for one of the Rangers’ cost-controlled left-handed outfielders in Nomar Mazara or Willie Calhoun. Mazara’s trade value has dipped, however, rendering him less and less of a potential centerpiece in any trade, and the Rangers could reasonably be expected to hold fast on Calhoun as part of a foundation that already includes Joey Gallo–and could potentially feature Rendon.

At the end of the day, I see a lot of potential trade scenarios between the Rangers and Indians based on the organizational needs of each. But the Rangers’ goal this winter figures to be building around a young core of position players; not subtracting from it. And even after an injury-shortened season from Kluber, the Indians cannot afford to settle for buy-low offers on their former ace.

Los Angeles Angels: Horseshoes and Hand Grenades Tier

In one of the more interesting developments of this young offseason, Angels owner Arte Moreno announced an intent to increase his team’s payroll for the 2020 season, according to MLB Trade Rumors. This qualifies as equal parts surprising and not surprising at all, as the Angels are expected to be heavily involved in the impending Gerrit Cole derby.

The fact that the announcement was made at Joe Maddon’s introductory press conference also comes in as par for the course, as the Angels should now be as motivated as any team in the league to give their future Hall-of-Fame manager the tools to compete for a World Series right away.

That said, for a team already tethered to high-priced players like Albert Pujols and Justin Upton, increasing payroll in such a way that the team is actually better for it will prove easier said than done.

What the Angels need more than just about any other team in the league is starting pitching, and Cole alone doesn’t turn their entire rotation around overnight. Could a potential Kluber deal be a part of the Angels’ plan to expand their budget? Sure, but just like the above-discussed Rangers, who is coming back to Cleveland in such a scenario?

By my calculations, the Angels have three realistic trade candidates on their roster that fit the Indians’ needs, and none of them qualify as an appropriate return for any of the Tribe’s starting pitchers: versatile infielders David Fletcher and Tommy La Stella; outfielder Brian Goodwin.

The only way I see a member of the Tribe’s current rotation heading west to the Angels is in a deal where the latter parts with significant prospect depth and the Indians use the salary relief to take a rare aggressive free agency approach.

Houston Astros: Long Shot Tier

As of this writing, the Astros are one win away from their second World Series title in three years. Even if they fail to retain Cole–a prospect that seems more likely by the day given the dollar amounts being associated with his name–they will still enter the 2020 season as the least flawed team in MLB.

What we can bank on in terms of their approach on this winter’s trade and free agency markets is aggression. Houston has demonstrated that it is not content with being the most complete team in the league; the Astros want to become a dynasty, and to do that, they have repeatedly gone into overkill mode at the appropriate times.

With that in mind, it would not be surprising to hear the Astros linked to Cleveland’s rotational depth this winter as they attempt to replace Cole. The question, of course, is whether or not the Astros would be willing to give up enough in return to offset the obvious disadvantage at which such a trade puts Cleveland. The Indians have no incentive to strengthen the team standing in the way of their own potential World Series run in 2020.

I won’t rule out the possibility that Houston is cocky and confident enough to make things interesting on this front, but there are zero players on their MLB roster I can see suiting up for the Tribe in 2020.

Seattle Mariners: Low-Profile Tier

Seattle finds itself in the beginning stages of a rebuild, though considering how long the Mariners have hovered around in purgatory, we could just as easily make the argument that they are in the advanced stages of a rebuild that never ends.

We can safely assume they will not be in the market for any of the Indians’ top-tier MLB talent, and the Mariners don’t possess a wealth of their own. I like the idea of a Mallex Smith flier on the part of Cleveland’s front office.

Smith didn’t do himself (or the Mariners) many favors in terms of 2019 production, but he’s a lefty who can play all three outfield positions and has stolen at least 40  bases in each of his last two seasons. He’s only one full year removed from a 2018 campaign in which he posted a .296/.367/.406 slash line with the Rays.

If he can get back to that production level at the plate in 2020, there are worse players to slot into the leadoff spot for the Indians. If not, he’s a low-cost depth player who won’t become a free agent until after the 2022 season.

Oakland Athletics: Low-Profile Tier

Oakland finds itself with something of a logjam in the outfield, as Stephen Piscotty, Mark Canha, Ramon Laureano, Chad Pinder, and Robbie Grossman all remain on the roster going into 2020 under varying contractual circumstances.

If the A’s should shop any combination of these five players, the Indians could do worse than kicking the tires on Grossman, a switch-hitting corner outfield candidate who has posted double-digit walk rates and strikeout clips under 18% in each of his last three seasons.

Like the above-mentioned Smith, Grossman doesn’t qualify as a game-changer for the Tribe. But he represents a low-risk, short-term option who will not command a prospect haul in return. Acquiring Grossman would naturally allow the Indians to be more aggressive in pursuit of players to fill needs elsewhere on their roster.

Next. Francisco Lindor trade rumors begin to swirl. dark

That wraps up our discussion on the AL West. In the coming days we will turn our attention to the National League, starting with the NL East.