The Cleveland Indians Should be Open to Trades, but not a Fire Sale

The Cleveland Indians are coming off a disappointing American League Division Series loss to the Houston Astros. And according to ESPN‘s Buster Olney, the Indians are open for business this offseason. With that said, while they’ve continually hit a wall in the postseason, blowing up, or trading away some significant figures, would be a mistake.

The Indians dragged their way to the postseason in 2018. They began the year 17-18, but picked up steam as the season went on. Eventually finishing the year 91-71, they won the American League Central for a third consecutive season. Simultaneously, the AL Central was by far the worst division in Major League Baseball, as the Indians 13-game first-place lead was the largest disparity in the sport.

Against the Astros, the Indians were exposed. Getting outscored 21-6, the Indians were unable to come up with clutch hits and their bullpen was horrid — as it was in the regular season. Finishing with an abysmal 11.70 ERA and allowing the Astros to record a .404 bating average, the Indians pen was unable to pick up the slack for their starters in the postseason, who, outside of Kluber, showed up to play in the ALDS.

In the regular season, their pen was 25th in ERA (4.60), 29th in strikeouts (478), and 19th in opponent batting average (.253). Andrew Miller hit the disabled list multiple times and was inconsistent in the appearances he made; Cody Allen was shaky in the ninth inning and put the game in harm’s way often; Tyler Olson recorded a 4.94 ERA; Dan Otero recorded a 5.22 ERA. Despite their pen’s inability to be the potent bunch they were the two years prior, the Indians were still able to win 91 games. If they can cure that aspect of their ballclub in the offseason, it will do wonders for their team, as a whole.

The Cleveland @Indians might have suffered another ALDS letdown, but it's not quite time for a fire sale from team management. @RPStratakos touches on why the team should be kept intact.Click To Tweet

With Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez, Michael Brantley, Edwin Encarnacion, Yonder Alonso, and Yan Gomes present, the Indians have one of the most dangerous lineups in the sport. Finishing the regular season third in MLB in runs (818), third in hits (1,447), sixth in home runs (216), fifth in total bases (2,430), second in batting average (.259), sixth in on-base percentage (.332), sixth in slugging (.434), and fourth in OPS (.766), they were a force to be reckoned with at the plate. On the hill, it’s more of the same for manager Terry Francona‘s ballclub.

With Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer, and Mike Clevinger present, the Indians have a relentless starting rotation. Finishing the regular season third in MLB in ERA (3.39), fifth in walks (244), second in strikeouts (1,066), and seventh in opponent batting average (.237), their rotation continued to be a collective force.

According to Olney, the Indians will listen to trade offers on Kluber, Carrasco, Gomes, Roberto Perez, Encarnacion, and Jason Kipnis. Despite their inability to get over the postseason hump, why would the Indians be open to trading Kluber and Carrasco? Kluber is one of the most dominant pitchers in the sport and the ace of the Indians staff. Meanwhile, Carrasco is an anchor himself and has recorded 200-plus strikeouts in three of the last four seasons. Encarnacion is one of the most feared power hitters and Gomes is one of the best overall catchers the sport has to offer. Why would the Indians move those crucial bats from their order?

Now, there are some trades that would make sense for the Indians. Over the last two years, Kipnis has hit at, or below, .232 and been inconsistent at the plate, in general. At the same time, he’s a power bat who fields his position well, and that is an intriguing skill set. Meanwhile, Perez is stuck behind Gomes, and Gomes is a higher-level catcher. Perhaps Kipnis and Perez could get the Indians some much-needed bullpen help via trade.

The Red Sox are coming off an impressive 108-win season and went 11-3 in the postseason en route to their fourth World Series championship of the century. And while they do have some work to do with their bullpen this offseason, the Red Sox are an American League powerhouse. While they lost in the ALDS, the New York Yankees won 100 games last season and look poised to add a top-of-the-rotation starter to improve one of the deepest rosters in the sport. There’s the Astros who, despite their ALCS no-show, are a complete ballclub from the top of the their lineup to the backend of their pen.

The Oakland Athletics came out of nowhere to win 97 games and were 4-2 against the Indians last season. The Tampa Bay Rays and Seattle Mariners won 90 and 89 games apiece. If the Indians retain Brantley, add depth to their pen (which includes replacing Miller and Allen if they depart in free agency) and hold onto the majority of their core, getting over the playoff hump is still going to be challenging. But is it more sensible to blow it up after an early postseason exit, or trying to improve and bounce back in 2019?

If the Indians traded away two prominent players and lost Brantley to free agency, they’d still be the team to beat and likely the winner of the AL Central in 2019. The Minnesota Twins will be adjusting to Rocco Baldelli as their new manager and are coming off a discouraging 78-win season with a young roster; the Detroit Tigers are looking for a direction to head in; the Chicago White Sox youth movement hasn’t yet produced a winning product; the Kansas City Royals won 58 games in 2018. The Indians have the best lineup and starting rotation in their division even if you remove a key component from each aspect of their roster.

The Indians have been bounced out of the ALDS in back-to-back seasons; it’s disappointing from their perspective, to say the least. But chances are they’re going to be right back where they were last season at the top of the division and playing, at the very least, a best-of-five game series in the playoffs. Kluber and Gomes are potentially under contract for the next three years, Lindor and Ramirez are one of, if not the best star duo in baseball (though, it appears the Indians will not be taking offers on the star infielders), and, when healthy, their starting rotation can matchup with any team. Francona is also one of the more proven and respected managers in baseball. He was brought in to add stability, and the Indians have made the playoffs in four of the six seasons he’s been with them — including each of the last three seasons.

This is a deep team. Are there some veteran players who the Indians would be wise to shop? Yes, but it’s only a select few. If their premier players were free agents in a year, then a roster shakeup would make sense. You never hang up the phone when someone inquires about one of your star players, but the Indians aren’t in a position where a fire sale is the suitable course of action for the well-being of the near future.

Are the Indians the frontrunners to win the AL Pennant next season? No, but as long as the core they have remains present, they have a chance of redeeming themselves in the postseason. Isn’t that the point of building a foundation in the first place?

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