It has been 68 years since the Cleveland Indians have won the World Series, and 19 years since they last won an American League pennant. So it’s not surprising that, with a 4 1/2 game lead over the Detroit Tigers as Monday’s trade deadline approaches, the Indians are making moves to take advantage of the opportunity to go for a championship in 2016.
The Indians reached an agreement to trade four prospects to the Milwaukee Brewers for All-Star catcher Jonathan Lucroy. However, Lucroy has a no-trade clause in his contract which allows him to veto a trade to eight clubs, including both the Indians and the Tigers. He exercised that right on Sunday, vetoing the trade to Cleveland.
Lucroy’s veto leaves the Tribe still with a hole at the catcher position, where Yan Gomes remains on the disabled list. Their catchers rank dead last in the league with a negative -1.2 fWAR and a batting line of .167/.215/.286 this season.
Cleveland moved decisively to fill another glaring need when they acquired former Tigers first round pick Andrew Miller from the New York Yankees for a package of four prospects. By all accounts, the package that the Yankees are getting is a good one, but it’s a price that the Indians are willing to pay, given the rare chance to go for a title.
Miller has two years left on his contract at $9 million per season before he can become a free agent. In 44 appearances, he holds a 1.39 ERA and 1.77 FIP while striking out 15.29 batters per nine innings. His 1.8 fWAR trails only teammate Dellin Betances among qualified relief pitchers in the American League. Miller figures to be the closer in Cleveland, while Cody Allen moves into a set up role.
Lucroy’s contract contained both a no trade clause, and a team option for the 2017 season that would pay him $5.25 million, with a $ 250,000 buyout. That is much less than what he could get as a free agent, being one of the top offensive and defensive catchers in the game. Whether he insisted on Cleveland buying out that option in exchange for waiving his no-trade clause is uncertain. If so, that would kill the deal for the Indians, as it would make him a two month rental.
Give the #Indians credit for being totally honest to Jonathan Lucroy's camp about future plans with him, making him primarily 1B/DH in 2017.— Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) July 31, 2016
If this is the case, Lucroy surely feared that his value could plummet during the 2017 season just as he’s ready to become a free agent. How the Indians could consider playing Gomes over Lucroy is a mystery.
Where does this leave the Tigers?
With just hours remaining before Monday’s 4 p.m. EDT deadline, the first place Indians have thrown down the gauntlet. Tigers’ general manager Al Avila remains adamant that he’s not going to trade the team’s top pitching prospects.
Jon Morosi of Fox Sports reported that the Tigers kicked the tires on Miller.
Morosi reported on Saturday that the Tigers were looking for starting pitching, naming Jeremy Hellickson and Hector Santiago as possible targets.
ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick tweeted that the Tigers were keeping their expectations in check.
#Tigers have discussed the usual suspects: Hellickson, Miley, Volquez, Hector Santiago, Erasmo Ramirez. It's all 4s and 5s.— Jerry Crasnick (@jcrasnick) July 31, 2016
ESPN’s Jayson Stark tweeted that the Tigers might stand pat.
Teams talking w the Tigers say they've repeatedly said no on moving Daniel Norris/Matt Boyd. So they might stand pat https://t.co/lbFEFqKc1m— Jayson Stark (@jaysonst) July 31, 2016
Between reports of limited payroll flexibility, unwillingness to deal what few major league ready players they have, and the fact that Detroit expects to get Jordan Zimmermann, Daniel Norris, and JD Martinez back from the disabled list within the next few days, it doesn’t appear that a major move is likely.
There does not appear to be a pitcher like David Price or Cole Hamels available on this year’s trade market, so even the mid-level pitchers are priced at a premium. There is no shortage of teams willing to sell, with over half of all major league clubs in “sell mode”, but the quality of those available is limited.
The Kansas City Royals, who have just lost closer Wade Davis again to the disabled list, are reported to be willing to sell, as are the Chicago White Sox. That leaves the Tigers as the main challengers to Cleveland in the AL Central.
The Tigers are in a position where they have essentially the same roster returning in 2017, with only Mike Aviles and Jarrod Saltalamacchia as pending free agents. They have Justin Verlander and Jordan Zimmermann under contract for multiple seasons, with Michael Fulmer ready to claim a third spot in the rotation for several years. Detroit is waiting on Norris, Boyd, and Shane Greene to step forward and fill out the starting rotation. The club is not about to trade them for a two month rental, an uphill climb to a division title, or a one game wild card playoff.