CLEVELAND (92.3 the Fan) – The Indians’ trade deadline approach could largely surround what players they are more likely to move off of, rather than any names that are floating around the rumor mill.
The most likely upgrade for the team is still starting pitching where there are plenty of capable arms available. With White Sox lefty Jose Quintana shipped to the Cubs, the pitching market has and will continue to surround Athletics righty Sonny Gray.
The 27-year old has had ups and downs with an injury-shortened 2016, posting a 5.69 ERA with a 4.67 FIP through 22 starts.
Gray has bounced back, however, bringing those numbers back down to 3.72 and 3.46 respectively in 2017. Those numbers are much more in line with his high-2 to mid-3 numbers the first three years of his career.
What ultimately makes the right-hander so valuable is that his arbitration years run through 2019.
What may make Gray less valuable, and perhaps more obtainable for the Indians is the Quintana trade.
The lefty went from the south side to the north side in a package for Cubs top prospects Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease, along with Matt Rose and Bryant Flete.
Quintana was thought to have more trade value than Gray because he is controllable through 2020, and Fangraphs had the former rated 42nd on their top-50 value chart while Gray was an honorable mention.
Though the difference in value is not stark, the Cubs surrendered two top-100 prospects in the deal, Jimenez being the center-piece at #14 according to MLB.com and Baseball America. None of the prospects in the deal have played above High-A.
The top bargaining chip for the Tribe would be catcher prospect Francisco Mejia, who came into the season as the 33rd-ranked prospect in baseball, but has shot up to #11 according to Sporting News. Jimenez is ranked 5th by SN.
For Gray, Mejia would be the magic bullet in the Indians’ chamber, but there is legitimate reason to not make that deal.
Directly compared to Jimenez, who now defines the market as far as prospect value, Mejia is further advanced (Double-A) and has higher positional value. Compared to Quintana, Gray is not only less controllable, but has been less consistent and has had more a more recent arm injury as well. He also has a declining curveball.
As we know, the Quintana trade is not the only determining factor in the market, and with a lesser supply of quality starters, the demand has grown.
The New York Yankees are a prime landing spot for Gray due to their need for starting pitching. The Bombers have been a team eager to deal prospects for playoff-ready veterans in the past, and while their philosophy has moved a bit in 2017, their surprise contention could push them into their old ways.
The 27-time World Champions also need an upgrade at the corner infield positions, and with All-Star Yonder Alonso on a one-year deal, the A’s could jumpstart a rebuild by dealing Gray and Alonso for a larger or more prominent group of Yankee prospects.
New York has the second-ranked farm system according to MLB.com.
The Houston Astros also have a top-five farm system according to multiple outlets, and are a World Series contender in need of a healthy, third starting arm. They were in on Quintana, so they will obviously be in on Gray, though being a division rival of Oakland’s may prevent the A’s from dealing.
With the Cubs also in on Gray, even after the deal for Quintana, the Indians will be locked in a two-week battle with at least those three teams for the right-hander’s services.
Because of a shrinking market, the Jimenez high-water mark could diminish to a degree, and the Indians may be harder-pressed to bid against desperate teams with more to offer in their farm systems. That could mean dealing Mejia.
A potential deal will ultimately come down to how the Indians’ scouting staff grades Gray, and how the Athletics’ scouting department views Mejia against prospects like the Astros’ OF Derek Fisher or the Yankees’ slew of top-tier names.
Do not expect the Indians to offer much more than Mejia, if he is dangled at all. Though if he is, keep in mind that teams usually do not include players in deals unless they have doubts about them.
The team could also go the rental route, which is currently headlined by Trevor Cahill, but could get a large injection in the form of Yu Darvish should the Texas Rangers fall out of the AL Wild Card race.
Team President Chris Antonetti has said the team is ‘casting a wider net’ into the market due to the injuries to 2B Jason Kipnis and RF Lonnie Chisenhall, meaning both spots could be surveyed for an upgrade.
The right-field spot was always upgradeable due to the platoon situation, while second base only seems to be a hole due to their absent former All-Star. Outside of those two spots, the only real position of need is catcher, where not only do the Indians have a top-10 prospect about a year away, but there are no real catching upgrades on the market.
The Athletics could give the Indians an upgrade if they included 2B/3B Jed Lowrie in a deal for Mejia.
The Pirates have the assets that could improve all of those woes between SP Gerrit Cole, OF Andrew McCutcheon and IF Josh Harrison.
The caveats are that Cole and Indians righty Trevor Bauer are said to have a troubled relationship since their UCLA days, McCutcheon’s value most likely does not equal his price, and Harrison’s value may be higher than the Indians want to spend on a rental.