Why Machado Didn’t Fit and What’s Next

The All-Star break is over, baseball is back in full swing and the trade deadline still looms. As we learned two trades have already been made: The Dodgers’ trade for Manny Machado and the Indians trading their top prospect, Francisco Mejia, for bullpen help in the form of Brad Hand and Adam Cimber. You can expect more moves to happen between now and the non-waiver deadline particularly from the Indians, as I believe they are not done quite yet. Before we address that I’d like to take a minute and discuss Manny Machado. Many sports writers and broadcasters alike had the Indians as a potential landing spot for Machado, but obviously, that did not happen. Though I would have enjoyed having him in the line-up with Edwin, Frankie and Josey, he simply did not fit on this team as currently constructed. On top of that, he did not fall in line with the moves we’ve typically seen from this front office. Let me first address the first statement and why he did not fit this team.

Machado was playing SS for the Orioles, which is currently occupied by two-time Indians All-Star Francisco Lindor and that was a position he very much wanted to still play. Machado was a SS when drafted but mostly played third base up until this year as that is where he was needed. A case could be made that he could have done the same thing for the Tribe if in fact he was acquired by the front office. This would in turn move Jose Ramirez- who is an elite defender at the hot corner- to second base, where still an elite defender and relegating Kipnis to the bench or another position. It would have solidified the infield as easily the most elite defending infield in the majors at every position and provided the Indians with another bat to go up against the big boys of the AL. What it would not have done was cover up any of the other glaring holes in the Indians roster overall and would have been only a two-month rental. I am not against renting guys if it means a world championship, but Machado would have cost the Indians a lot of their high-end prospects, while also limiting the moves the front office could make to improve other areas of the roster all for two months of one player. Machado is having a career year and a move like that could have a springboard effect for a team like the Indians, but not enough to justify mortgaging the future and a roster with bigger holes to fill.

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That being said because the Indians did not give up everything for Machado it enabled the front office to flip our number one overall prospect for two guys that could solidify a bullpen which has struggled at great lengths this year. Also gained in the Hand trade was control of two pitchers over the next 3-5 years that could slot into Cody Allen and Andrew Miller’s roles if we were to lose them via free-agency in the offseason-which many pundits expect. The Indians’ brass has always seemed to place a premium on acquiring talent who would not only help win now, but could continue to do so a few years after a deal was consummated.  Basically, they like guys who have years of control creating additional value for the club and perhaps extending the window for a world championship. That is why they pulled the trigger on the Hand/Cimber/Mejia deal as it only cost us one prospect- who was blocked in the majors- for two guys that will be major contributors down the stretch and extend our window to win a title by a few more years. Hand, having just signed a three-year contract extension this past offseason, gives us a veteran lefty with closing experience and a wipeout slider (reminiscent of Andrew Miller). Also, Hand has closing experience and could potentially slot into that role next season should the Indians- as expected- lose Cody Allen to free agency. Cimber is rookie side-armer with a funky but effective position on the mound (as he pigeons toes his lead foot) giving him better action on his pitches and making it harder for hitters to elevate or pick up the pitch. Cimber cannot even taste free-agency until at least 2023 and provides Francona with another weapon in the back end.

Because of this trade, the Indians are now six deep in the pen- once Andrew Miller returns from injury- and Francona can deploy them in any way he needs them from now until the postseason. If you are curious who those other pitchers are I’m talking about Neil Ramirez and Oliver Perez to go along with the other guys mentioned here. Francona has a knack for deploying relievers in unconventional ways that lead to victories (a’la Andrew Miller in the 2016 World Series run where he was the ALCS MVP) and will not have to push his starters any more than needed.

For context, Tribe starting pitching leads the majors with an average of 98.8 pitches thrown per start and many guys being pushed well past the 100 mark because of a lack of effective arms behind them in the pen. Now they can possibly go only six innings if needed while also providing their arms with some rest as not wear them down before the postseason even begins.  Frankly, I feel that was the case with Corey Kluber last postseason as he was relied on so much that by the time we got to the Yankees he was gassed.

Now, what do the Indians do next?

There is still a couple glaring holes in centerfield and right field-with the underperformance of Bradley Zimmer and Lonnie Chisenhall’s inability to stay healthy. Some may also point to second base as hole as Kipnis has still not quite been the same this year, but if you look at his recent play particularly in July you would see steady improvement in his bat. His veteran leadership also cannot be replicated when it comes to postseason experience and on the field camaraderie as he is well liked in the club house.

Where the Indians’ front office focus should be is in the outfield where we haven’t seen a lot of production outside of Michael Brantley. Occasionally when Naquin has been on he has been a solid contributor this year but is best used as a fourth outfielder as his defense is subpar in center and he doesn’t provide enough power to warrant consistent playing time in the corner slot.  The other guy on the roster is Rajai Davis, who besides elite speed and good defense, provides little else in other stat categories for this team other than stolen bases. While those stolen bases are valuable when needing to manufacture runs in the late innings, it does not provide enough consistent offense overall. Look for the front office to pinpoint on a guy who can either play center or the other corner outfield slot. I can see a guy like Whit Merrifield being a potential target- though in division trading is typically frowned upon by ballclubs. The Royals are a rebuilding club to which Merrifield is almost 30. He was a late bloomer but an excellent player the Royals should look to get as much for now as they can to expedite their rebuild.  He does not fit the direction they are currently headed with young assets ready to win later and not now. Where it makes sense for the Indians is you a get a high character guy with some control, a consistent bat, steals bases, plays solid defense and is versatile (he can play second and outfield). He could usurp Kipnis at second if he proves to be unproductive in the postseason, or immediately slot in the outfield where he his production would be a welcome addition.

By no means am I stating a trade is imminent between these two teams nor have I heard anything to liken mutual interest where a trade may be consummated. If the Indians really are all in on winning a championship this year and/or the next couple years this is the exact move they should be making. As for other guys they could potentially target I think Billy Hamilton and Adam Duvall could potentially be in that conversation. Maybe even a guy like Yoenis Cespedes if the Mets are still not competing like they had initially hoped, well that and if they eat some of his contract to boot and he proves healthy. I am open to suggestions on other players EXCEPT for Adam Jones please do not suggest him as he is past his prime. Everything to his defense (which is terrible in center now) to his bat (which has underperformed even with Manny in the line-up through most of the year) shows me he is not a risk worth taking. I would liken him to someone like Andrew McCutchen whom the Pirates were able to swindle the Giants into taking as a last-ditch effort to compete this year. That is not the type of player that neither the club needs or I want on this team.

As always, stay with us as we cover the Indians and monitor subsequent moves from here until the postseason.

Images: ESPN

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