While we were all caught up in historic winning streaks and championships in other sports, the baseball calendar flipped over to July. Next week, we’ll hit the unofficial midway point of the season at the All-Star Break and just a couple weeks after that the non-waiver trade deadline will be upon us. The Cleveland Indians find themselves in a somewhat different position than years past, as instead of being a team sitting at the fringe of the playoff picture they are sitting with a comfortable lead in the AL Central and are undoubtedly going to be buyers at the deadline.
Now, how much ‘buying’ the Indians will end up doing is up for debate. What seems most likely, however, is a relatively minor trade to shore up the bullpen. The Indians put a lot of mileage on their bullpen in Toronto over the past weekend and designated both Joba Chamberlain and Tom Gorzelanny for assignment to make room for fresh arms in Mike Clevinger and T.J. House from Columbus.
Clevinger has been used for three spot starts at the major league level this year, and he has a putrid 8.79 ERA and T.J. House hasn’t been seen in Cleveland yet this year after posting a 13.15 ERA in four starts last year. His 4.45 ERA at Columbus this season isn’t exactly exceptional, either, so that should speak to how desperate the Indians are for some arms in the bullpen.
Clearly, Clevinger and House are not the bullpen answers that a first-place team needs or wants. Right now, the Indians have five guys who would be considered the “core” of the bullpen:
Cody Allen (Closer): 35 Games, 3.03 ERA, 18 SV
Bryan Shaw (Set-up): 38 Games, 4.41 ERA
Dan Otero (Set-up/Non-Save Finisher): 28 Games, 1.41 ERA, 17 Games Finished
Zach McAllister (Middle Relief): 29 Games, 4.10 ERA
Jeff Manship (Middle Relief): 27 Games, 2.22 ERA
Much has been said about Bryan Shaw‘s role on the team, but the fact is he has been Terry Francona‘s workhorse and he has mostly rebounded from a horrific start. Zach McAllister‘s ERA is a little inflated from his spot “start” in Toronto where he got shelled – but it’s awfully hard to hold that situation against him. By and large, this group has been solid for the Indians, and I wouldn’t expect to see any of these guys’ roles change over the rest of the season.
But five arms does not a bullpen make. The Indians desperately need a reliable southpaw to match up with the likes of David Ortiz, Chris Davis, and others. I took a quick look at the non-contenders across baseball and came up with the following names who the Indians could target for a low-cost, high-impact move later this month:
Hunter Cervenka, Atlanta Braves
LHP – 37 Games, 2.45 ERA
Cervenka is just 26 years old, and under team control for the next half-decade or more, so it would probably take a decent prospect to pry him away from the Braves. The upside here is clear: he could be a difference maker in 2016 and, optimistically, a big piece of the bullpen for years to come. Bullpen arms, however, are notoriously unpredictable from year to year, and the Indians would probably rightfully balk if the Braves wanted to play hard ball with their young lefty.
Xavier Cedeño, Tampa Bay Rays
LHP – 34 Games, 3.86 ERA
With the Rays out of the playoff picture and probably looking to rebuild or retool over the next few seasons, a veteran like Cedeño could probably be had for a bag of peanuts and a low-A lottery ticket-type prospect. Unlike Cervenka above, Cedeño has 6 years of experience under his belt. We know that Francona loves his veterans, and Cedeño certainly fits that mold. If the Indians are in the market for a lefty reliever, I expect them to certainly be placing a call to kick the tires on the 29-year old Puerto Rican lefty.
Ryan Buchter, San Diego Padres
LHP – 39 Games, 2.75 ERA
Pretty much the same story with Cervenka, Buchter is essentially a rookie (though he’s 29, not 26), and he’s having a great season for a team far out of the playoff picture. His age means that he might come a good deal cheaper than Cervenka, however, and that might make all the difference. The concern, obviously, is his lack of experience at the major league level, and the fact that unproven players tend to get buried on Tito’s depth chart.
This all brings me to the most obvious target for the Indians:
Fernando Abad, Minnesota Twins
LHP – 33 Games, 2.57 ERA
Abad is over 30, has 7 years of experience in the majors, is having a good season, and will come cheap because he’s never been a consistently great reliever (and the Twins are nowhere near contention, not this year or any year that Abad would still be around). I said above that relievers are notoriously unreliable from year to year, and that’s definitely true, but Abad is having a great season for an awful Twins team and could be the consistent, veteran arm the Tribe needs to round out the bullpen for the stretch run in 2016.
Scouting the reliever market isn’t exactly the sexiest thing when we’re sitting in first place and looking at big names to make a big impact, but bullpen arms can (and often do) mean the difference between postseason glory and an offseason of ‘what ifs.’ I don’t know if it will be one of these names, but I fully expect the Indians to be busy looking for a lefty to join the relief corps at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario.