Cleveland Indians: The case for buying low on Travis Shaw

MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN - APRIL 17: Travis Shaw #21 of the Milwaukee Brewers hits a double in the second inning against the St. Louis Cardinals at Miller Park on April 17, 2019 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN - APRIL 17: Travis Shaw #21 of the Milwaukee Brewers hits a double in the second inning against the St. Louis Cardinals at Miller Park on April 17, 2019 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images) /

If the Indians decide to keep Francisco Lindor, they must quickly pivot to a more win-now approach. Adding Travis Shaw would be a fine first step.

With reports surfacing that the Cleveland Indians have asked teams to submit their “final offers” for Francisco Lindor by this weekend, it may be at least a couple more days before the team actually moves on from this project one way or the other.

Whether the Indians trade Lindor or keep him, they’ll know exactly how they want to shape their roster after they finally make their decision. For this reason, it’s unlikely they make any other additions until then.

If they do send the face of the franchise elsewhere, it will become clear that winning in 2020 is not a priority, and it won’t be especially important what short-term acquisitions they make in the aftermath. Should all of Tribe Town get its collective Christmas wish in the form of a public declaration that Lindor will be Cleveland’s Opening Day shortstop in 2020, however, it will then be time to stomp on the gas pedal and begin building around him for next season.

Imagining for a moment that this is the road the Indians take, Travis Shaw shouldn’t be very far from their radar. Shaw is coming off a disastrous 2019 campaign with the Brewers in which he slashed .157/.281/.270 with seven home runs and a 33% strikeout rate in 270 plate appearances. His market is appropriately not booming as a result.

But Shaw’s 2019 struggles make him an exciting buy-low candidate as opposed to a free agent that should be overlooked. In 2017-18, Shaw posted back-to-back seasons of 30-plus home runs and a wRC+ well above 100. He accumulated 7.1 fWAR in this span as well.

What’s more, Shaw is likely one of the few hitters who would tell you 2019’s “juiced ball” theory didn’t exactly pan out for him. Shaw put up the highest fly ball rate of his four-plus year career at 49.3%, yet wound up with a career-low 10.1% HR/FB rate. For what it’s worth, he also posted a career-high 22.1% line drive rate, and rolled over grounders at a career-low 28.6%.

His hard-hit rate dipped slightly from what he’d put up in his impressive 2017-18 seasons, but not by enough to account for how far all the rest of his numbers plummeted. By and large, the quality of contact was there, but he could never quite get his .216 BABIP to bail him out, a stroke of bad luck compounded by the above-mentioned tendency to strike out at such a high clip.

It’s not just Shaw’s longer track record of success than struggle that makes him an interesting name for the Indians; he also fits well in their defensive alignment. Shaw has logged at least 270 innings at every infield position except shortstop, though third base became his primary home in 2016, his final year with the Red Sox, and he largely remained there during his tenure in Milwaukee.

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Should the Indians add him this winter, his six-foot-four frame is probably best suited for third base when the rest of Cleveland’s infield is taken into account. Jose Ramirez could presumably make the full-time transition to second, and Carlos Santana is firmly entrenched at first. Shaw could occupy the hot corner on an everyday basis while occasionally spelling Ramirez and Santana. Should injuries arise, his positional versatility would naturally become even more valuable.

The final feather in Shaw’s cap in terms of his potential value to the Indians is that he’s a left-handed hitter. The Indians are lacking in reliable players in that department, regardless of position. If Shaw’s struggles last season were indeed a flash in the pan, he and Franmil Reyes would make a lethal lefty-righty tandem in the fifth and sixth spots of Cleveland’s batting order.

Because of how 2019 unfolded for Shaw, odds are he’s looking for something like a one-year deal–perhaps with a player or mutual option for 2021 built in–to reestablish himself as a valuable contributor. His price will be very much in Cleveland’s comfort zone, and the Indians should absolutely be in on him whenever it is they decide which direction they’re trying to go.

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It sounds as though that decision will be made sooner than later, which is a good thing for the Indians if they are interested in Shaw–because they aren’t the only ones looking to add a 30-homer bat off the bargain shelf.