The 2021 MLB Trade Deadline was an absolute whirlwind. More than 40 trades were made and an all-time record of ten All-Stars changed teams as organizations that feel primed to compete for a World Series title did everything they can to stock ammunition for the next three months of play.
While the Indians may not have made blockbuster headlines like the Dodgers or Yankees, they did make multiple moves of their own over the course of the last two days. These moves, as predicted, were not made to compete for the remainder of 2021 but do leave the window open for the team to remain competitive as soon as 2022. Rumors abound that ownership will grow the team payroll in the coming year, so it appears as though the Indians will be back to try and retake the American League Central in a mere matter of months. It is important to keep this in mind despite the moves they have made along with the unfortunate news that the second most winningest manager in team history will need to be away from the team for the remainder of the season for his own health matters.
With all of that said, here is a look at who is in and who is out of the organization and why, as we breakdown the arrivals and departures that have taken affect for the Cleveland Indians at today’s trade deadline.
Who’s Out: 2B Cesar Hernandez
Hernandez leaves the Indians after about a season and a half of service. He performed admirably as the team’s starting second baseman, particularly in the 2020 season where we won the American League Gold Glove for second base and also led the league in doubles. His hit profile has changed in 2021 with his launch angle rising (nearly doubling from 5.6 to 11.8 degrees), turning many of those doubles into home runs in 2021. He is already ending July with a career high 18 homers. Unfortunately, the rest of his offensive statistics have regressed back in line with career totals. With an OPS+ of 98, Hernandez is a league average hitter with some pop and speed. His defense also has regressed this season as he is now 41st out of 44 second basemen in Outs Above Average. Still, he will provide stability at second base for his new team. The Chicago White Sox had been shopping for infield help around the deadline after an injury to their regular second baseman Nick Madrigal and were able to land Hernandez. The Indians were clearly unafraid to trade with a division rival in the process, a clear look at how they feel about the remainder of the 2021 season. Hernandez had signed a 1-year deal with a club option for 2022. The option is worth $6 million and the White Sox will need to choose in the off-season whether to commit to the switch hitter.
Who’s In: minor league SP Konnor Pilkington
Pilkington is a left-handed starting pitcher that the White Sox had taken in the 3rd Round of the 2018 Draft. He projects as a back-end of the rotation starter, though with the Indians known ability to improve pitching prospects, perhaps his ceiling is a little higher now. Pilkington was not invited to the White Sox alternate site in 2020. That omission seemed to hurt his prospect profile. Still, it hasn’t seemed to have stunted his growth. He has pitched 62 innings as a starter in AA-ball this season, posting a solid 3.48 ERA and a strong K-rate of 30.5%. Pilkington is 23 years old and it stands to reason he could be promoted to AAA in short order. While its not certain, particularly if the Indians can find starting pitching depth elsewhere, Pilkington could be in the conversation for a Major League roster spot as soon as sometime in 2022. As a lefty, he could bring some variety to what has been a highly talented but very right-handed heavy starting rotation, if he has the chops to make it.
Who’s Out: LF Eddie Rosario
While Rosario stood to be a trade candidate for the Indians, other teams’ interest in the left-handed outfielder was brought into question when he suffered an intercostal stain that landed him on the Injured List on July 7th. Rosario’s return is due in a matter of weeks and at that point he will be added to an entirely revamped Atlanta Braves outfield as their organization has scrambled in the light of Ronald Acuna Jr.‘s season ending injury. Much like Hernandez, Rosario was signed to a one-year deal in the winter in an effort to provide veteran talent for the Indians to help compete in 2021. As the ship has sailed on the Tribe’s 2021 chances so has the need for Rosario to patrol left field. Rosario unfortunately may have played a part in those sunk chances as he struggled in his months with the team. His slugging percentage was more than 80 points lower than his career average in 2021 as he also put together the worst Barrel Rate of his career. The Braves will naturally hope for better production in Atlanta. Perhaps he gets paired in a platoon role with fellow newly acquired outfielder Adam Duvall.
Who’s In (kinda): 3B Pablo Sandoval
I won’t waste a lot of time here, because Sandoval, a 34-year old overweight third baseman who mostly had been pinch hitting for Atlanta, has already been released by the Indians. However, this move does lead to the question, why would the Indians even trade for a player just to immediately release him? This seems to be a move solely based on dollars and cents. The Indians are now on the hook for the remainder of Sandoval’s $1 million contract for 2021. While they have also agreed to pay half of Rosario’s remaining salary, that contract is worth 8-times as much as Sandoval’s. The Indians will save money in these moves by not being responsible for the full amount on Rosario’s deal and did the Braves the courtesy of being the team to pay out the remainder of Sandoval’s money. As an added bonus, the Indians can now commit to playing younger players in the outfield for the remainder of the season in hopes of learning more about their Major League capabilities for 2022. Rosario had not been a winning player in 2021 (worth 0.4 Wins Above Replacement) to begin with and any added production he would provide in the next 2 months would not be the difference between a playoff birth and mediocrity. Both the money and opportunity gained makes his departure worth it, even with the seemingly odd terms.
Who’s Out: OF Jordan Luplow
Luplow had made a name for himself as a platoon outfielder with the Indians over the course of the last three seasons. He hit .270 with 18 homers and a weighted Runs Created+ of 159 in 263 plate appearances vs. lefties in his time with the Tribe. Early in 2021 he was also given the opportunity to get more at bats against right-handed pitching and responded by not hitting for average (.208 AVG) but showing a surprising amount of thump with 8 extra base hits in 58 plate appearances. Like Rosario, his trading was likely made difficult by the fact he has suffered from an ankle injury that put him on the IL since late May, though he is essentially ready to return after a number of rehab games played in the minors. His trading also may come off as odd, as his contract would have been controlled by the Indians through 2025 and he had played a strong role on the team when healthy. If he does return to the Majors it will be for the Tampa Bay Rays. This feels like a depth play for the Rays, who already have a Major League roster with 5 outfielders on it.
Who’s (Also) Out: RP DJ Johnson
Johnson has pitched in 1 game this season for the Indians, totaling 1 2/3 innings pitched and allowing 1 earned run in relief. Besides this outing, the righty had spent the entire season at the AAA level. He is a 31-year old journeyman with just 33 career innings pitched. While the Indians would surely thank him for his time with the team, his inclusion feels like a minor detail in this trade with the Rays. It may also be of note though that in coming to the Rays organization, Johnson will be returning to the team that initially signed him as an amateur free agent.
Who’s In: minor league SP Peyton Battenfield
Battenfield is a 23-year old right-handed starting pitcher that the Astros had taken in the 9th Round of the 2019 Draft. He was traded to the Rays organization in January 2020. Fangraphs named him the 48th best prospect in the Rays organization before this season and they project his fastball as having above average potential. He put together a great ERA of 1.45 and very impressive strikeout to walk ratio of 9.8 at Single A this season before being promoted to AA, where he will report for the Indians.
Who’s Out: RP Phil Maton
Maton is a relief pitcher whose peripheral numbers have always told a better story than his actual statistics. The perfect example of this is that the only season that his expected ERA wasn’t at least one run better than his actual ERA was his rookie season of 2017 with San Diego. Since coming to the Indians in a trade in July 2019, his actual ERA has been 4.30 in 70 pitching appearances,. He had been a prolific strikeout pitcher for the Indians, in the top 10 percent of the league in K rate in both of the last two seasons. This ability to strike batters out is part of what intrigued the Astros to his talents. He is on a team controlled arbitration contract through 2023, making his departure from the Tribe fairly surprising in a vein similar to Luplow. If anything, the Indians felt comfortable trading from their bullpen as it is a position of strength. Maton moves to the Houston Astros, a team that like the Indians is known to reclaim and improve pitchers. He is likely to be inserted in their bullpen for the stretch run along with other bullpen additions they made at the deadline.
Who’s Also Out: minor league C Yainer Diaz
Diaz is a 22-year old minor league catcher that the Indians dealt along with Maton. He is batting a torrid .314 at A-ball this season and as such he seems to be an above average hitting backstop. However, he will be eligible for the Rule 5 Draft in the off-season and was not considered a highly touted prospect in the Indians organization. He was only an honorable mention in Fangraphs’s Top 49 Indians prospects during the past winter.
Who’s In: CF Myles Straw
Straw was tapped to fill the void in center field left in part by George Springer’s departure from the Astros this off-season. The Astros clearly now want to move in another direction for center field, but their loss could be the Indians’ gain. Straw is a speedy center-fielder with a knack for getting on base. At best, he could project as a strong version of a lead-off man that would appease both those of old and new schools of thought. Straw is also currently tied for 7th in Outs Above Average as a center fielder in 2021, though he is tied for this distinction along with new teammate Bradley Zimmer who has reached the same 5 Outs Above Average as Straw while playing significantly fewer games. These numbers speak more to Zimmer’s absolute proficiency in center rather than to any deficiency Straw may have. Straw is also only in his second season as a Major Leaguer and as such, the Indians will control his contract through 2025. This trade was a play for a Major League ready player that can help in the outfield immediately, those his incredible similarities to the aforementioned Zimmer make his acquisition a little puzzling. Zimmer has gotten on base at at least a .360 clip for the last two seasons while Straw hasn’t reached those heights yet as a Major Leaguer. The statistics suggest that Zimmer is the stronger fielder as well, meaning the things that Straw is good at are things that Zimmer is even better at. The difference may be that while injuries and lost time make Zimmer seem younger than he is, he is actually already 28 years old though he too is team controlled through 2025. Straw’s ability to show out will have to come from his ability to progress in his youth. He is young and capable of being the best outfielder the Indians have with time. Still, adding yet another fringe Major League outfielder to a roster that is already crowded with this profile of player seems admittedly questionable.
Feature Image- The Crawfish Boxes