Five days out from the August 31st trade deadline and the Indians find themselves firmly entrenched in the playoff hunt. With the new sixteen team playoff format, there will be fewer teams looking to sell at the deadline. The Indians are expected to be one of those teams looking to upgrade their struggling offense (cleveland.com). Currently the Indians offense ranks 28th out of the 30 MLB teams in batting average, while the pitching staff is currently ranked second behind the Los Angeles Dodgers (baseball-reference.com). The Indians roster as currently constructed is not good enough to win the World Series, plain and simple. It is hard for any organization to pass up a playoff spot, but for the Indians it is time to sell and look towards the future.
With the trade deadline likely to be heavy on those looking to add pieces, this gives the Indians a chance to take advantage of the market. As a small market team, the Indians have to look for any advantage they can get in order to remain competitive. The Indians have many intriguing and seasoned veterans that teams looking to make a run could find too appealing to pass up. This is the time for the Indians savvy front office to read the writing on the wall, and make the tough decision to forgo a playoff appearance for the coming years.
Francisco Lindor is eligible for free agency after next season, and is the most likely player between now and next season to be traded. Caesar Hernandez is on a one year deal, and is also unlikely to be back. Carlos Santana had a career year last year but hasn’t been able to carry that momentum over to this season. The Indians have a team option next year on Santana, but based on his struggles and age, he could be headed elsewhere. From a pitching standpoint, Brad Hand is one who teams could have levels of interest in. He has had his struggles dating back to last year, but is a veteran closer and with the emergence of James Karinchack, is expendable for the Indians. Mike Clevinger and Zach Plesac are two starters that would intrigue any team looking for a starter. Clevinger would be the best option between the two to move, as Plesac has several more years of team control compared to Clevinger.
The Indians current outlook offensively for next season isn’t pretty. The Indians potentially would have holes to fill at short stop, second base, first base and all three outfield spots. Currently, according to mlb.com , the Indians farm system is ranked twelfth, but looks to be bottom heavy with many of the top prospects still several years away from the big leagues. Third baseman Nolan Jones, the Indians top ranked prospect according to mlb.com, has an outside shot of making the team next season. He is currently working out at the Indians alternative training site but has yet to play above AA. If Jones were to make the jump next year, that would allow Jose Ramirez to move to second base and would knock out one hole for the Indians.
By looking towards the future, the Indians could use the rest of this season to see what they currently have on the roster. Yu Chang is one player that could use the at bats that would be available if Lindor was dealt. He is an intriguing player that hasn’t been able to get consistent at bats to show if he can stick in the big leagues. He doesn’t have the Lindor upside, but has shown the ability to hit with some power at every level. Bradley Zimmer would have the opportunity to play every day and give the Indians a chance to see if he is still in their future plans. He missed most of the last two years with injuries, and the at bats could go a long way to resuscitate his career. Another player in the Indians future plans is Bobby Bradley, who has been blocked by Santana at first base. Bradley has the power potential but has struggled with strikeouts. He is 24 and the opportunity to play pressure free baseball for the rest of this season could be invaluable.
Is it worth a playoff appearance to put a rebuild off for another year? The Indians already have an exciting young core to build around, and starting early can put off a long drawn out rebuild. The Indians will have a great young rotation with Shane Bieber, Zach Plesac, Aaron Civale, Carlos Carrasco and Triston McKenzie. Karinchak is ready to move to the closer spot, and the suspended Emmanuel Clase is a young hard-throwing pitcher that has the potential to hold down the eighth. The lineup is light but not without talent of its own to build around. Jose Ramirez, though inconsistent, is one of the best hitters in baseball when hot. Roberto Perez has established himself as arguably the best defensive catcher in baseball and has some pop in his bat. Franmil Reyes is a young power hitter who has already shown the ability to carry the team offensively, and is entrenched as the designated hitter.
No fan wants to watch their team effectively give up on a season and look towards next year, but for the Indians the potential is too appealing to pass up. The lack of depth in the trade market for teams looking to upgrade plays into the Indians hands. They have a plethora of offensive players, starting pitchers and a reliever or two to make several trades for young big league ready talent. They could look to make a deal for a bat, and hope all things fall into place for one last ride in the postseason. Realistically, that would be an early round exit and then a partial rebuild that could take several years to pan out. There are risks with choosing to sell and the fan backlash will be fierce, but the possibilities are so tantalizing. The time is next year, and the Indians can jumpstart their next World Series window this week.