By: Sam Gagliardi
Is the window opening or is it closing? When taken out of context, this terminology may sound a bit out of place, but every baseball fan knows exactly what this question is referring to, especially around the MLB trade deadline. Teams must decide to either sell off players for the future, or acquire for the here and now. No team seemed to be stuck in a quasi open-and-close scenario quite like the Cleveland Indians.
Before the season, the Indians were a sexy pick to make it back to the Series after a disappointing ending to last season. However, as the their inconsistent season has played out, and other super-teams in the AL have exceeded even their already-lofty expectations, the Tribe has been forced to re-calibrate on the fly at the trade deadline. You can certainly never count any team out of October baseball. It is a crap-shoot by nature, and when you possess, possibilities the games best starting rotation and 2 of the game's top-5 best position players — Lindor and Ramirez — like the Indians do, they'll have their shot to win it all. But should the Tribe consider mortgaging their farm — pun intended — to try and win it all this year? Yes, Andrew Miller, Cody Allen, and Michael Brantley are all impending free agents, but their starting rotation and Lindor/Ramirez combo are mostly all under contract through 2021. Somehow the Indians made the best of both worlds, and have reemerged on the other side, as a even scarier October out.
Through it feels like forever ago, the Indians made the best pitching-move of the deadline. First, Brad Hand is this years Andrew Miller. Statistically, his ERA may have increased from last year but Hand is throwing his slider with greater tilt and, for lack of a better term, nastiness. With Miller — who could be considered, in a way, a new deadline acquisition after he returns from a 2-month abscess any day now — and Allen, Manager Terry Francona has 3 bonafide ace-closers to manipulate and close games out every opportunity in October. Adam Cimber is a nightmare for right-handed hitters — with batters barely hitting above .200 against. And in a series against Judge and Stanton or Correa, Altuve, or Bregman, he can be a huge match-up weapon. The Indians had to sacrifice their no.1 prospect Francisco Mejia, but with Yan Gomes making the All-star game this year and signed through 2021, it helped lessen the blow.
Finally, after strengthening the bullpen, the Indians made a logical move to shore up the last remaining weakness: the outfield. They acquired Leonys Martin from the Tigers today for thier no.9 rated prospect Willi Castro. Martin is batting .251 with 9 home runs. He also is tied for the AL lead with 9 outfield assist in just 94 games played. While the current black hole that has been the Indians center field position this year has statistically cost them wins, Martin has contributed to over 2 wins with a 2.1 fWAR. He is not the flashy trade that a Bryce Harper would have been, but Martin is not free-agent eligible until 2020 and plays a much better defensive center field than Harper. Platooning him with Rajai Davis, can make this acquisition a stellar, savvy under-the-radar acquisition if Martin can stay healthy.
Both these moves help the Tribe now and later on. They had to repair the bullpen and outfield for this coming October, which they did. They had to find viable future-bullpen arms for when Miller and Allen enter free agency, which they did. And they had to keep most of their remaining top-tier prospects for future trades or a future era after 2021, which they did. The Indians will not catch Houston, New York or Boston for the best AL record, but best believe it, come October, no team will look forward to facing them.
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