Indians and Mets might make good trade partners
Now that it is July, the trade rumor mill is heating up. There are a lot of names on the block and the Indians in spite of being a sub .500 team appear to be buyers and not sellers. They are scouting pitching and there have been many reports of scouts at the Indians minor league games scouting players.
This of course has led to all kinds of speculation who the Indians might target and who is the best fit. The first thing I want to do is tackle the David Price question as that has been asked to me several times and I have seen it on multiple sites as well.
The Indians may target him, but he is an extreme long shot to acquire because of the cost in players to get him and also the cost of his contract (he could get $17-20 million in his final year of arbitration next year - which would be about a quarter of the Indians payroll). On top of this Price is not as sharp this year as he has been in previous years, leading the AL in home runs given up and near the top in hits and earned runs. He has been a good pitcher this year but not the great of years past. If he bolted after the 2015 season the Indians would likely offer him a qualifying offer and get a first round pick as compensation.
The next big name pitcher is Jeff Samardzija of the Cubs. On paper he would be a fit for the Indians. He has another season left and if he did leave the Indians would undoubtly get a first rounder back by offering him the qualifying offer. He is in the middle of his best season and has shown significant drops in his walk and home run rates, which show this year’s improvement is likely not just a career year but a likely continuing trend. The downside is he will turn 30 this offseason and after the talks he has had with the Cubs there is little chance the Indians would be able to resign him.
I would imagine the Indians will call on him, but there are some major issues between the Indians and Cubs making a deal. The first is that the Indians and Cubs positional depth matches up, so it makes it harder to make a deal as teams often look to fill positional needs in deals like this. The second is I think Samardzija will be the most sought after arm because he has the extra year, is pitching well and doesn't cost as much. The Indians just can’t afford to give up one of their top shelf talents for Samardzija and based on what the Cubs got last year for Garza I think the cost will be too high.
So after I eliminated the bigger names there was one team and two arms that came to mind as ideal fits for what the Indians are looking for along with matching up up a weakness with the Indians minors’ positional depth: The New York Mets.
The Mets are currently starting two players with a sub .650 OPS, which is horrible. I wish there was a nice way to say it, only one Indians regular is that low and its Swisher. The big holes are at shortstop and left field, but part of the problem is that the Mets are starting one of the worst defensive second baseman in baseball at second when he should be in left in Daniel Murphy. Murphy should not be at second and this just shows the Mets really don’t have any immediate or future answers up the middle for their team. I am not super high on Cecchini but he is the best prospect they have to me up the middle, and he has been okay at best in A ball at age 20.
The Indians major trade chip is Jose Ramirez. Ramirez can play shortstop or second base, but is much stronger at second. He was and I believe still is the youngest player in the International League, yet he is putting up excellent numbers and he looks like a future leadoff guy. He has an .838 OPS and is over six years younger than the average player at the level. He won’t be 22 until September which shows he still has growth in him as well.
My scouting report on Ramirez would read plus defender at second, hard to strikeout, plus speed and potential plus hit tool. He is ready for an extended look at the Major League level this year, but is blocked by the recently extended Jason Kipnis. So enter the Mets who could improve two positions at once with this trade by inserting Ramirez at second and moving Murphy to left field. I am sure many Mets fans might see some Luis Castillo in the diminutive Ramirez.
I talked about a weakness, so now I need to talk about the Mets big strength which is starting pitching depth. Matt Harvey was an event pitcher, a guy who when he was pitching baseball fans went out of their way to watch. He has missed the year with an injury but there is talk he will be back at some point this season. He is a legitimate ace at the front of almost any rotation and a top ten pitcher in all of baseball.
With Harvey out hurt the top pitcher this year for the Mets has been Zach Wheeler; he has the best xFIP on the Mets and at the young age of 24 his upside is a front of the rotation starter as well. One Mets top prospect isRafael Montero who has made four starts this year with the Mets and looks like a future starter. They have one of the top pitching prospects in AAA in Noah Syndergaard who is having a rough year but is only two months older than Jose Ramirez.
These four give the Mets four likely starters all under team control for a long time, and all 25 or younger and all have mid-to-front of the rotation upside. I didn’t even talk about Jake DeGrom who might end up in the pen, but has pitched well this year as a starter, or Dillon Gee who is 28 and has been a serviceable backend starter for the Mets for four years now. The point is the Mets have more options for starting pitching than they can use.
So what do the Mets have to offer? Well, one is an old friend and the other is a guy I have heard the Indians had inquired about in the past and is a local kid.
The first target by the Indians should be Defiance product Jon Niese. Niese is locked up through 2018 and at his max will make 11 million a year. The last two years of his deal are team options and mean worst case he is locked up for the next three years at under $10 million a year. The price is extremely right for his arm. Niese is not a dominant arm, but he would give the team the first reliable lefty that wasn’t a one year guy since Cliff Lee. His xFIP on the year is 3.79, which would be the fourth best among Indians starters. It also shows his 2.88 ERA is a bit off and might inflate his value.
Niese is a guy I would target first of any pitcher because of the long term contract and he is a pitcher from the left side who has been very reliable. This looks like a lock for his third straight year with a sub four ERA. The cost would be high, but the Mets depth with arms would allow them to move Niese for the right pieces.
Ramirez as a centerpiece would give the Mets a guy who can be promoted now and fill a void that they don’t have the internal options to fix. The Mets drafted the player who should be the first bat to the majors this year in Michael Conforto, and signs are they are going to try and contend in the next few years. Ramirez helps them on that path. I am not sure about secondary pieces. I know a few years ago they were big Vinnie Pestano fans and teams always think they can fix pitchers so he might be a candidate as well. I am sure an upside player would have to be included as well like a Luis Lugo or Francisco Meija. Again, this is all conjecture at this point.
The other arm that makes sense is Bartolo Colon. Colon at age 41 is still an effective pitcher. He is a weird pitcher to look at because once he left Cleveland he changed and was never a strikeout guy. I am sure many fans think he can’t be effective because they think of the arm he was when he struck out a lot and in turn walked a lot of guys. Now he gets by with excellent control and being smarter on the mound. He was an All Star last year, and this year has the second best xFIP of any Mets starter, and on the Indians he would be fourth.
Colon isn’t a 200 inning pitcher as he is more of a 160 inning guy who will spend time on the disabled list. Yet he fits for the Indians as another solid arm that is set to make $11 million next year and another $5 million for the rest of this year. In other words he won’t break the bank. I am not saying there isn’t risk because of course there is with any player over 40, but the last four years he has been a very productive pitcher. This season is his worst by a large degree over the last four, but that is only because how productive he had been before. Now he is more of an average arm.
The nice thing with Colon is he is averaging 6.7 innings a start; the Indians need more length from their starters and even an average pitcher who goes nearly seven a start is going to help. The other bonus will be in the bottom line for the Indians as nothing gets fans to games like nostalgia. I bet Colon’s first few starts at home would see a nice bump in attendance and if he pitches well it would continue. As for the cost, I would think Ramirez straight for Colon might be enough, maybe a lesser prospect as well, but thanks to his age the value in returns can’t be as high unless the Mets picked up salary which is conceivable.
If I were the general manager of the Indians these are the arms I would pursue as the Mets needs match the Indians strengths depth-wise. Each of these arms has ties to the area which help in terms of fan interest and they are both arms who help this year and next.
I love Jose Ramirez. I think he will be a very good player, but a trade is not just the best thing for the Indians but also for him. The reason is a trade will allow Ramirez a clear path to his long and successful future major league career, which is currently blocked by an All Star at second base signed to a long term deal and the top shortstop prospect in baseball.
Follow Jeff on Twitter @jeffmlbdraft, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Wouldn't mind seeing ACab traded and JRam playing in his place either, though I know that sacrifices some occasional HR power at the plate. And now, not 2015.
Masterson has been one of my favorites over the last few yrs, I'm middle ground on him returning. After last nights start, I think he might see some time on the DL, which would likely kill any trade value. I think it could be reasonable for the Tribe to give him the QO and expect to take it depending on how he finishes the season. If he does see DL time and comes back strong, he might reject the QO. However, if he's on the DL for and extended period or struggles the rest of the season, the Tribe might be inclined to move on without the QO. I suspect they'd make one based on his track record and probability he returns to career norms next yr.
The Indians have made out like bandits over the years trading rentals for prospects, acquiring players like Crisp, Santana, Gomes, Cabrera, Choo, McAllister, Kluber, and Chris Perez for rentals. I'd hate to see us start reversing that and trading prospects for rentals, especially with the W-L under .500.
This month will decide it. If the Tribe gets hot the next three weeks and pulls to within a couple of games by the trade deadline, that will put pressure on management to go after a Colon or Niese. A lot of it will depend on whether Masterson gets back on track and if McAllister and Salazar continue to shine in Columbus.
It will be very interesting to see if A Cab and Masty get the QO.
The Marlins and Cards are reportedly doing some shopping, they both have pitching depth and might be potential trade partners. The Marlins specifically have some intriguing young arms, after Furcal's injury they might take a look at either ACab or Aviles. If they prefer the younger player, JRam might be a choice. Personally, I'd prefer to keep him, I think he'd be great in Aviles' role.
A name to watch: Derek Holland is out w/ a knee injury but would offer a similar scenario to Jon Niese.
JRam + X for Niese? Yes
JRam for Colon? No way
I do agree that they match up for a trade, but I'd rather they trade RRod, E.Gonzalez or ACab himself than JRam. How does Gonzalez + House + Kime + one of B.Price/CCLee/Adams for Niese sound?