The Cleveland Indians must feel confident about their ability to contend in the American League Central in the near future. Despite winning 91 games last season, Cleveland will reportedly make its veteran players available for trade during the winter, according to ESPN’s Buster Olney.
The news comes as a massive surprise considering Cleveland made the postseason in 2018. With a few additions on the free-agent market, the team had a chance to head into the 2019 season as one of the top World Series contenders.
The decision to make veterans available is due to “market constraints,” according to Olney, which is another way of saying the team would like to cut payroll.
Faced with market constraints, the Indians will listen to trade offers for some of their veteran players this winter, according to sources. Kluber, Carrasco, Encarnacion, Gomes, etc. Lindor, Ramirez will definitely be held.
— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) November 2, 2018
It’s important to note that Olney’s report doesn’t say the team will definitely sell off parts, but that it will listen on deals. It’s possible Cleveland won’t go through with any of this, though the “market constraints” line indicates the organization wants to field a cheaper roster.
If Cleveland follows through, Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Yan Gomes and Edwin Encarnacion could be shipped out. Should Kluber and Carrasco become available, they would draw significant interest. Both players are extremely undervalued compared to their production. Carrasco will make $9.7 million and Kluber will make $13.2 million in 2019. Both players have team options for 2020.
It may not be hard to move Gomes, either. He will make just $7 million in 2019, making him a cheap buy for a team looking for a short-term catching option. Encarnacion might prove tougher as his $21.6 million salary and declining performance is an issue, but he’s only under contract for one year. He can be bought out after 2019, and still has enough pop to provide value for one season.
Most of those contracts could help Cleveland get more favorable deals for those players, but that also makes the decision to sell off veterans even more depressing for fans. Three of those four contracts are cheap by baseball standards. Cleveland is acting as if those deals are unwieldy while other teams will view them as bargains.
For a team in Cleveland’s position, it can be argued that selling now is the worst possible decision. With a few more investments in the club, Cleveland would have a shot at taking down the other American League juggernauts in the postseason. If the team sells veterans, it will go into the year a huge step below the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox and Houston Astros in the AL.
Selling off parts now says a lot about Cleveland’s confidence it can still make the postseason with a weaker club. That might be a good bet in the AL Central, but it’s far from a certainty. The Chicago White Sox could see their rebuild finally click and become sudden contenders. The Minnesota Twins could bounce back in a big way. Those situations may not be likely, there are few guarantees in baseball. No one expected the Atlanta Braves’ youngsters to emerge early and make them playoff contenders in 2018 and the Twins went from worst-to-first as recently as 2017.
The biggest question of all might revolve around the organization’s motivation. If the team isn’t going to spend around a core that includes Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez, Trevor Bauer, Kluber, Carrasco and Encarnacion, why even try in the first place?
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