Cleveland Indians: Evaluating potential trade partners (NL East)

HOUSTON, TEXAS - OCTOBER 23: Adam Eaton #2 of the Washington Nationals celebrates his two-run home run against the Houston Astros during the eighth inning in Game Two of the 2019 World Series at Minute Maid Park on October 23, 2019 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TEXAS - OCTOBER 23: Adam Eaton #2 of the Washington Nationals celebrates his two-run home run against the Houston Astros during the eighth inning in Game Two of the 2019 World Series at Minute Maid Park on October 23, 2019 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images) /

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

Welcome back to our rundown of each division throughout MLB in which we discuss all teams in terms of their potential to execute a trade with the Cleveland Indians this winter.

In our fourth installment, we will cover the teams in the NL East. We have previously examined the AL East, AL Central, and AL West. If you’ve been following along with any or all of our other discussions, you know the drill.

If not, here is a quick breakdown on the criteria being used to gauge trade matches between the Indians and other clubs:

  • Indians have: starting pitching depth, an improving farm system, Francisco Lindor
  • Indians need: corner outfielder(s), a fourth infielder, left-handed bat

As we evaluate other teams, we look for rosters that need what the Indians have in surplus, as well as whether a given team can offer–and would be willing to part with–what the Indians need in return. From there, each team is grouped into one of the following trade tiers:

  • The No Chance Tier – it is incredibly unlikely, at least on paper, that these teams make a trade with the Indians
  • The Long Shot Tier – it is difficult to imagine a trade coming to fruition, but there are some pieces on both sides that could line up
  • 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 in the market for what the Indians have to offer, but probably will not be willing or able to pay the appropriate price in return
  • The Low-Profile Tier – teams that, for one reason or another, are most likely to execute a non-headline-making trade with the Indians, if any at all
  • The Blockbuster Tier – teams with the type of established MLB talent–along with the incentive to put it on the table–necessary to acquire any of Cleveland’s most valuable trade chips

One more note, and then we’ll begin: any potential trade discussed must include at least one established MLB player. Trades involving only prospects, international signing money, and so on do not count for the purposes of these discussions. And with that, let’s take a ride through the NL East.

New York Mets: Long Shot Tier

The Mets and Indians possess some similarities in terms of roster construction that make it tough to align them on any realistic trade involving a household name on either side.

Like Cleveland, the Mets enter 2020 with their formula for contention revolving largely around a deep starting rotation and a core of young, talented position players who aren’t breaking the bank.

One player who undeniably is breaking the bank is outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, who has missed at least half of the last three seasons, and didn’t play at all in 2019. His injury troubles don’t have any affect on his 2020 salary, however, and at $29.5 million, that salary puts the Mets in a bind heading into next season.

His trade value is all but non-existent given his age and inability to stay on the field, meaning that if Cespedes is able to get back into full baseball activities in advance of Spring Training, the Mets might as well roll him out there and see if they can’t get at least some return on their $110-million investment.

In such an event, left-handed outfielder Brandon Nimmo would become an interesting potential trade chip for New York’s NL franchise. The Mets could theoretically choose to go with an outfield manned predominantly by Cespedes and Michael Conforto, with J.D. Davis and Jeff McNeil rotating as necessary.

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The question is whether the Indians have anything to offer in order to make it worth the Mets’ while. They will be out from under the Cespedes millstone one way or another at the end of the 2020 season, and Nimmo represents a young, cost-controlled outfield option for years to come.

The Mets don’t need starting pitching, and they already have Amed Rosario at shortstop, eliminating the possibility of a Lindor-headlined blockbuster. I have a hard time envisioning any deal coming to fruition between the Mets and Indians.

Miami Marlins: Low-Profile Tier

The Marlins are among a handful of teams who are decidedly not in the market for established MLB talent at the moment, and they don’t have a ton of their own to tempt contending teams into dealing with them this winter.

Brian Anderson is a halfway interesting possibility as a decent hitter who can play third base and the outfield. He’s posted at least 3.1 fWAR in both of the last two seasons, and won’t even be arbitration-eligible until after the 2020 season.

Whether Miami would be willing to trade him or not depends on whether its front office believes the team will be ready to win by the time he hits free agency in the winter of 2023. Even if they don’t believe that, they can still take a hard stance on their asking price due to Anderson’s team-friendly financial situation.

Maybe the Indians acquire a lottery ticket out of Miami’s bullpen, but the Marlins have already had their most coveted trade chips pillaged in the last two offseasons. We’re probably not looking at anything big out of the Fish this winter.

Atlanta Braves: We Don’t Have to Worry About it Until the World Series Tier

Atlanta’s starting rotation is pretty set for the next half decade, and they’re a safe bet to be an active participant in the market for Madison Bumgarner this winter. The odds of the Braves kicking the tires on any of the Indians’ pitchers seem scarce as a result.

What they could do is dangle Ender Inciarte–a left-handed outfielder with two years and a reasonable $15 million remaining on his current contract (as well as a $9-million club option for 2022)–and see if they get any bites. Atlanta’s top two prospects are outfielders, and if they bring Josh Donaldson back, Austin Riley is likely destined to play left field for the foreseeable future.

An outfield comprised of Riley, Ronald Acuna, and Adam Duvall could work for the Braves in 2020 until top prospect Christian Pache is ready for the bigs.

The problem, again, is trying to figure out what the Indians could give back. If the Braves miss out on Bumgarner (or any other starting pitchers they pursue this offseason), a trade with Cleveland represents a potential fall-back plan. Then, of course, we get into a situation in which Inciarte alone is not enough to pry the likes of Corey Kluber away from the Tribe.

I’m leaving the door open for the possibility of a relatively high-profile trade here, with the caveat that some things probably have to go wrong for the Braves in order for them to be interested to begin with.

Washington Nationals: Long Shot Tier

The only way I see the Nationals getting seriously involved in trade negotiations with the Indians this winter is if they pick up Adam Eaton’s $9.5-million club option. Eaton is a left-handed outfielder with as many as two years and $20 million left on his current deal if both of his team options are exercised.

With a vacancy in right field, the Indians could do worse than acquiring the two-hitter on 2019’s NL pennant winner at an AAV of $10 million over two seasons. Even so, what are the Nationals going to ask in return that Cleveland can provide?

Maybe Brad Hand’s name comes up after the Nationals posted the second-worst bullpen ERA in baseball during the 2019 regular season, but the Indians aren’t in a position to deal their closer without an heir apparent waiting in the wings.

As such, I’m having a hard time connecting the dots on a potential trade between the Indians and Nats.

Philadelphia Phillies: Horseshoes and Hand Grenades Tier

Aaron Nola has been solid since emerging as the top dog in Philadelphia’s rotation, but there is a massive drop-off between him and their next-most reliable starter. The Phillies have a ton of money to throw around, and are among the NL’s most pitching-needy teams.

I expect them to make a push for Gerrit Cole, as well as Stephen Strasburg in the event the latter opts out of his contract with Washington after the World Series. Assuming the Phillies don’t land either one, they could reasonably be expected to turn to Plan B: a trade with the Indians.

Unfortunately for the Phillies, they’re lacking in pieces to send back to the Tribe. Youngster Scott Kingery represents an intriguing possibility based on his positional versatility, but he’s struggled mightily against MLB pitching and his trade value has consequently diminished.

Switch-hitting second baseman Cesar Hernandez would also garner some interest, but the Indians would need more for a starting pitcher. Hernandez is set to hit free agency after the 2020 season; the Indians can’t afford to part with a starter in return for one year of a 30-year old infielder with middling power.

The Phillies are likely better off engaging in trade talks with non-contenders who will not ask for players in return who can make an immediate impact at the MLB level.

Next. Francisco Lindor trade rumors beginning to swirl. dark

That does it for the NL East. Join us in the coming days as we wrap up our tour with the NL Central and NL West.