Five years ago, at this very time—in mid-July 2011—I told a good friend that the Cleveland Indians should go out and trade for Ubaldo Jimenez. The friend looked at me, befuddled, and asked where I heard that rumor. “Nowhere, I said…it just makes perfect sense and it is the kind of aggressive move that the Indians can pull off in order to make their team considerably better.” There were zero rumors about Cleveland pursuing Jimenez at that time. Evaluate that trade for Cleveland as you will, but in 2011, it was a significant move for a big-name player. At that time, the Tribe stood 47-42 at the All-Star Break, gaining momentum, and trailing the first-place Detroit Tigers by half a game in the AL Central Standings.
Fast forward to the 2016 All-Star Break and the Cleveland Indians find themselves perched proudly atop the AL Central Division, 6.5 games ahead of the Detroit Tigers—against whom Cleveland boasts an extraordinary 11-1 record—seven games ahead of the reigning World Series Champion Kansas City Royals, and seven games ahead of the Chicago White Sox, whose off season spending spree has yet to bring victories. Trade rumors are swirling that Cleveland is looking to acquire a power hitting outfielder or impact reliever to solidify their bullpen.
The Table is Set
The Tribe flaunted the best starting rotation in Major League Baseball during the first half of the season. Starters pitched deep into games and were the bedrock of the Indians success. Their lineup showed balance, speed, aggressive base running, timely hitting, and the ability to win by both small ball and by the home run. Cleveland’s team chemistry seems as strong as ever, showcasing an impressive mix of youth combined with solid veteran leadership. The team gets contributions from many different players on a nightly basis, never relying on one or two stars to do it all.
Yet, despite their unquestionable success this season, Cleveland knows that they can be better. They know that they can get better too. With a gritty team poised for a prospective playoff run, now is the time for Indians Management to make the bold move that can propel their team into even more notable contention, while simultaneously sending a message to the Tribe roster, its fan base, and the rest of MLB, that Cleveland is indeed…“All in”.
The best, most feasible, attainable, and logical fit for the Cleveland Indians is Evan Longoria.
Cleveland trades Clint Frazier, Mike Clevenger, Giovanny Urshela, and Cody Anderson to Tampa Bay for Evan Longoria. We’ll analyze the lengthy list of promising assets being traded away later on, but for now, let’s look at the player being obtained and why Tribe management would uncharacteristically take on this large financial investment.
Longoria is Cleveland’s Best Attainable Fit
Because Cleveland is a small to mid-market team and ownership has limited money that they are willing to spend, a high-salary player has to fit a specific mold in order to be considered by the Indians. Here is a checklist of sorts for Cleveland’s mindset in pursuing high-salaried players:
- Player must show consistent excellence over an extended period of time. The organization cannot take on a large financial risk with a high-upside player with a limited track record or brief stretch of MLB success, even if said player is young and talented.
- The Indians must be able to have “control” of that player for at least two future seasons and the player must still have strong performance potential in their remaining contract years.
- The trading partner must be willing to trade the given player, even if the asking price is high.
- Player preferably plays a position that will not be as highly demanded as other positions at the trade deadline, as the Indians will often lose to big-market teams in a bidding war.
- Player must be a substantial upgrade over the current position he’ll be taking over on the Indians roster.
- Player must be good clubhouse guy to come to a team with strong chemistry and to an organization where “high-character guys” are truly valued.
In looking at players who fit the above checklist…Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Mr. Evan Longoria:
- Longoria displays an impressive .290, 19 HR, 47 RBI in 2016, amidst a weak-hitting Tampa Bay lineup. His career 162-game averages of .272, 30 HR, 102 RBI is elite. He is a 3-time All-Star and 2-time Gold Glove winner at a position where consistent stardom is difficult to find.
- His contract offers “team control” of Longoria through 2023, with a team option for a buyout in the final year. Though costly, Longoria is only 30 years old and is locked into a long-term contract looking increasingly valuable as MLB salaries continue to skyrocket annually:
- 2017: $13 Million
- 2018: $13.5 Million
- 2019: $14.5 Million
- 2020: $15 Million
- 2021: $18.5 Million
- 2022: $19.5 Million
- 2023: $13 Million (Option for Team to do a $5 Million buyout)
- Tampa Bay has a record of 34-53, last in the competitive AL East and also placing them distant from Wild Card contention. They have shown a willingness to trade big stars previously (David Price, James Shields) and the Rays’ front office has failed in developing a contender recently, relying heavily on analytics. Tampa management needs to bring in young talent and rebuild by obtaining high-upside young players in any trade they make. In a division with Boston, Baltimore, Toronto, and New York, trading one star player–now in his 30’s–to obtain 4-5 future contributors would seem wise.
- League wide, the consensus is that elite relievers and starting pitchers will be the most highly pursued targets of playoff contenders, therefore driving up the steep asking price of those positions. Third base is not a priority position being discussed in national trade circles in comparison to the aforementioned pitching needs of many contenders.
- Evan Longoria is as big of an upgrade over Juan Uribe as _________ (insert most sarcastic analogy possible). Uribe is a likable, respected, high-character veteran…Longoria represents those same personality traits along with the resume of an elite third baseman. Though Jose Ramirez has—and can continue to play—a solid third base, his power numbers flail in comparison to Longoria. Also, Ramirez brings more value to the Indians in his ability to play anywhere in the infield, play the outfield, and always find his way into the lineup 4-5 days per week. Additionally, Ramirez can immediately step in and backup Jason Kipnis, Francisco Lindor or multiple outfield spots in case of injury; if asked to be the fulltime third basement, the Indians lose Ramirez’s flex appeal as an invaluable jack of all trades on a contending team.
- Longoria is a fan favorite in Tampa Bay for a reason. He is a proven competitor with a tremendous track record as both a teammate and star player.
Why the Longoria Third Base Upgrade is the Ultimate Difference Maker for Cleveland:
The Indians have been tied to trade rumors with Jay Bruce for weeks. While Bruce brings tremendous power and veteran leadership, his traditionally high strikeout rate, low walk rate, and below average defense make him a poor fit amidst an outfield mix of Rajai Davis, Tyler Naquin, Lonnie Chisenhall, and Ramirez. That quartet has displayed impressive play—both offensively and defensively—having combined to be key elements in Cleveland’s success. Other than the home run power, is Bruce really a massive upgrade over the Indians efficient platoon of outfielders? Plus, when Michael Brantley returns from injury—and hopefully to All-Star form come playoff time—would Tito Francona really want to take Naquin, Davis or Chisenhall out of the lineup, to make room for the defensive-wary, strikeout heavy Jay Bruce? Better to add Longoria and remove Uribe from the lineup.
While stud Yankees relievers Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman would be incredible additions to the Tribe bullpen, the asking price for these players is already skyrocketing, with nearly every elite playoff contender looking to bolster their bullpen. Why bet the farm (system) and overbid for one of these two players to pitch an inning in certain moments of playoff games, when you can pursue a star-caliber player (Longoria) who will be on the field contributing offensively and defensively in every game you play? Plus, even if Cleveland doesn’t add Miller or Chapman doesn’t mean that they won’t make a move to grab a quality reliever for a lower price tag.
Longoria is a far more massive upgrade at third base than just about any player Cleveland could realistically obtain to upgrade another position player on their current roster.
Longoria vs. Uribe Offensively & Defensively in 2016
*Longoria: 85 Games, .338 OBP, .290 Avg, 19 HR, 47 RBI, 23 Dbls, 47 Runs, .527 Slug %, 2.4 WAR
*Uribe: 65 Games, .273 OBP, .218 Avg, 7 HR, 22 RBI, 9 Dbls, 18 Runs, .360 Slug %, 0.0 WAR
*Longoria: 82 games, 5 errors (148 games, 9 errors in 2015)
*Uribe: 61 games, 7 errors (92 games, 9 errors in 2015
You Can’t See Cleveland Management Paying that Kind of Money?: Think Again!
Longoria’s contract is not the typical high-dollar contract the Indians are willing to invest in. However, Cleveland would be obtaining a star player who has epitomized consistency at a position on the field—third base—where the Tribe has been utterly inconsistent since the days of Matt Williams and Travis Fryman. Sorry folks, one good season from Casey Blake doesn’t count. There is a reason why there are less third basemen in the Baseball Hall of Fame than any other position on the field.
Longoria—at age 30—has the potential to be a Hall of Famer if he can continue his stellar numbers as he works through his prime. Plus, in the minds of the Cleveland brass, the Indians are in superb shape with their second baseman, shortstop, multiple outfield spots, and starting pitching for many years to come, given the many longterm deals the club has created to lock up key players. (See: Kipnis, Lindor, Brantley, Naquin, Kluber, Salazar, and Carrasco).
Also—the elephant in the middle of the room: Did Indians management really forecast multiple sellouts and massive crowds swarming Progressive Field in late June and early July? The safe answer is: “No way, but we’re loving it”. Their first place status, likable team, and “We’re on top of the world” mentality in the city of Cleveland right now will only help to continue to foster large crowds at Progressive Field throughout the summer, making the investment of a player like Longoria that much more feasible.
The Dolans have taken harsh criticism from fans in Cleveland—and oftentimes unjustly—because they have refused to spend big dollars since the Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn
gigantic debacles contracts, which didn’t work out well for the Tribe. However, turn the page to 2016 and Chris Antonetti, Mike Chernoff, and the Indians management have done a stellar job of pushing the right buttons since they took over after Mark Shapiro fled for Toronto. The signings of Mike Napoli and Rajai Davis have not only been immensely valuable, but proven to be incredible financial bargains, given their production on the field and clubhouse impact. Don’t stop there though. The Dan Otero signing and his 1.27 ERA has been invaluable to a strong bullpen. The same can be said for Jeff Manship and his 2.05 ERA and key innings in relief.
Are they Giving up Too Much and is Tampa Bay getting Enough?
To Recap the Trade: Evan Longoria for Clint Frazier, Giovanny Urshela, Mike Clevenger, Cody Anderson.
Star Prospects are called prospects for a reason…their potential stardom is indeed prospective. For every Francisco Lindor and Tyler Naquin, there are five Mark Lewis’ and Trevor Crowes. Though Clint Frazier appears to be a potential star, the Indians should not hesitate to deal him for the right piece, given the years of control the Tribe has with Brantley and Naquin. Furthermore, while some organizations would cringe at the thought of giving up two potential starting rotation pieces—in Clevenger and Anderson—starting pitching is indeed an area of uber strength for Cleveland, and one where they can actually sacrifice some depth in their minor league system, given the longterm contracts signed by Salazar, Kluber, and Carrasco.
On the Tampa Bay side, they would let go of a fan favorite and star player in Longoria, while acquiring quite a haul of talent in return. In Urshela, the Rays acquire a young, slick-fielding third baseman who already has at bats and flashed some success at the major league level. In Clevenger, they add a young, high-upside starting pitcher with a md-90s fastball, plus curveball, and impressive repertoire. In Anderson, Tampa obtains another young arm with a 4-pitch arsenal, who already experienced success in the majors in 2015. Both players are young and need to work on command, but have live, valuable arms. The cream of the crop in the trade is Frazier. The #5 overall pick in the 2013 draft, the hard-hitting outfielder has risen quickly through the Tribe farm system to the point where some feel he could get a big-league look as soon as September of 2016. If playing in Tampa, Frazier would have a feasible chance to open the 2017 season in the Rays’ outfield and anchor a spot near the top of the order for years to come. Frazier is consistently ranked as a Top 25-50 prospect in all of MLB and is a 5-tool player.
Cleveland can afford to give up areas of strength (starting pitching, outfielders) to acquire a player of Longoria’s pedigree, at a position in third base where stardom is so difficult to find.
The Longoria Impact
Trading for a player like Longoria would further ignite the Cleveland fan base, who is already onboard the fun train ride to the playoffs, as nightly attendance figures continue to rise at Progressive Field. Furthermore, the “big spend” acquisition of a player of this caliber would foster further momentum to the resurgent reputation of Tribe ownership in the eyes of the Cleveland fan base, as the Dolans would be praised for showing a willingness to spend money when the team is on the cusp of serious contention.
Notice how those first two significant impacts don’t even have anything to do with Longoria’s play on the field? There is a dynamic impact that signing an expensive star player has on the Cleveland franchise that goes beyond the player’s on-field performance. This trend extends to the Cleveland Cavaliers and Cleveland Browns as well. With the latter team, it’s been dormant for years.
Until Mike Napoli’s huge year in 2016, Longoria is the right-handed power bat the Indians have been seemingly coveting for nearly a decade. His consistent strong play is matched by few players, despite batting in the heart of a traditionally weak lineup in Tampa Bay. Insert Longoria in the middle of the Tribe lineup and it instantly gets better. Defensively, the 2-time Gold Glove Winner is also an instant upgrade over 37-year old Juan Uribe and even the solid defense of Jose Ramirez at third base as well.
The Verdict and Bold Predictions
In a year where they appear to have the best rotation in MLB, an upper-tier offense (even without Michael Brantley returning from injury yet), the best base-running team in the American League, and a solid bullpen:
- The Tribe would regret making a move for Jay Bruce, Danny Valencia or Steven Vogt, as those players could realistically serve as only marginal upgrades—if they even are upgrades—in comparison to the current Tribe outfield. I would rather see them make zero trades, than to acquire one of those players.
- Even if Cleveland splurges for a Carlos Beltran—or better yet—Carlos Gonzalez, getting a healthy Michael Brantley back would stabilize an already productive outfield. whereas an upgrade at third base would have a far greater impact both offensively and defensively.
- A left-handed reliever—or shutdown righty reliever—would be my second most-preferred addition after Longoria. The ability to build a more quality bullpen would be an impressive complement to an already intimidating starting rotation, come playoff time.
- Regardless of who it is, the Indians will make a very bold, impactful trade before August 1st.
I think the Cleveland Indians will ultimately obtain Evan Longoria, giving up even more prospects and talent than those listed in my proposed trade above. I also believe they will indeed acquire a formidable reliever as well, but without relinquishing major pieces in their minor league system as would be obligatory by trading for Chapman or Miller.
One thing is certain…2016 is not a good year to doubt Cleveland sports teams. So, in this city on the rise where the time is now, look for ownership to shock the world and to capitalize on a key opportunity while the window for contention for this small-market team is wide open. Ownership will act now, before the window shuts.