No matter what, the Cleveland Indians can’t trade Bo Naylor
If the Cleveland Indians truly want to be buyers when the trade deadline comes around, they’ll need to pony up. It’s an uncharacteristic thought for a team that has been historically timid under the Chris Antonetti-Mike Chernoff regime, but never say never I guess.
At the proverbial halfway point of the season, the Indians sit three games above .500, eight games back of the Chicago White Sox and 4.5 games out of the second wildcard spot. The holes are glaring, the team’s peaks blissfully high and valleys insurmountably deep. Joey Gallo or Trevor Story sure sound nice don’t they? Adam Frazier in a Cleveland uniform is fun to daydream about.
Clint Frazier is arguably the most coveted prospect to have been traded from the organization in recent years. So, in order to thread the needle for this think piece, let’s suppose Antonetti decides to display the same aggressiveness we saw in 2016. He’s in his office early on the morning of July 30 when he receives a call from Texas, then Colorado and finally Pittsburgh.
“Pony up,” they say. “We know how desperate the team is for a decent bat, so one of your top prospects is where we’ll start the negotiations.”
Antonetti bites, but knows he can’t give up Bo Naylor after reading this blog. (Obviously). Yes, that means I am fine with trading away both Nolan Jones and Tyler Freeman. Yes, that means Gabriel Arias, George Valera and Daniel Espino can be shown the door if it means Cleveland can make a run at the World Series over the next few seasons.
Naylor is the No. 3 prospect right now and is showing incredible potential at the plate. More importantly to the long-term wellbeing of the major league team, he’s a catcher. The last time Cleveland had a catching prospect like this was Francisco Mejía, and at almost 26-years old, he’s yet to carve out a position on the Tampa Bay Rays’ roster.
The reason I’m tentatively okay with the idea of parting ways with Jones and Freeman is purely because the positions of third and shortstop can be filled. Catcher, in the coming years for the Cleveland Indians, can’t.
It’s a decision purely based on future need. Fulfill the need to open a competitive window by plugging a hole in the outfield or up the middle while ensuring that the catching position won’t become a serious issue in 2022 and beyond.
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This season seems to be Roberto Perez’s final one in an Indians uniform. I don’t see the front office willing to pay a 33-year-old catcher with a wRC+ of 77 $7 million, even if he’s a solid presence behind the plate. So Perez plays out 2021 and finds a place elsewhere, beginning part two of his career as a journeyman catcher.
Meanwhile in Cleveland, Austin Hedges overtakes catching duties, and, well, whomever else the Indians scrape up to play behind him. That’s not a sustainable approach at one of the most pivotal positions in baseball. Cleveland has already decided they don’t need offense from their catchers, but what’s coming down the pipe — except for Naylor — isn’t close to pretty.
Gianpaul Gonzalez and Gavin Collins are hitting a combined .200 at Triple-A. Then it’s two catchers that are 33. Akron and Lake County are full of organizational fillers, with the exception of the No. 25 prospect Bryan Lavastida. Is the plan really to have Hedges become your number one backstop until Lavastida arrives?
Naylor’s ETA is next season. He’s struggling in Double-A at the plate, but was named to the MLB Futures Game. MLB.com noted that, while catching five different pitchers as a defensive replacement, he “flashed his skills behind the dish.” If you keep him around, he could be major league ready midway through 2022.
Deciding to keep Naylor won’t be because the Indians believe he’s currently the best prospect in their system. Although, he has had a fairly aggressive promotion history, which may explain his poor slash line. Antonetti and company will immediately hang up the phone when opposing general managers mention “Naylor” because trading him creates an inescapable and possibly expensive void.
His departure could force Cleveland to pick up Perez’s option. It could make life beyond 2023 incredibly difficult, especially if the fourth and fifth spots of the rotation seem to be a carousel of rotating up-and-comers hoping to flash their batch of raw talent. Naylor is the catcher of the future. He might not be down the road, but as we sit today he is. Don’t let that go.