On Friday night, the first major dominoes of this year’s trade season fell.
The Cubs traded starting pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel — two headliners of this year’s available starting pitchers — to the A’s in exchange for shortstop Addison Russell, outfielder Billy McKinney, starter Dan Straily, and a player to be named later or cash.
On the surface, this is a bold move by both teams. The A’s are now officially going all-in this season, and if they weren’t already the favorites in the American League this season, they probably are now. Their rotation has a collective 3.30 ERA (which is 5th in the majors), but there were questions about some of Oakland’s starters either being able to sustain their success, or to continue staying healthy. In terms of talent, their pitching staff should be fine now. And don’t get me started on their offense. It’s pretty good.
Meanwhile, the Cubs continue to stockpile impressive young players. I still can’t wrap my head around the potential lineup the Cubs could have in the future. The Cubs already have the talented Starlin Castro at shortstop, but they also have two of the top 4 shortstop prospects in baseball: Russell and Javier Baez. I’m not an expert on the Cubs, but Russell could potentially move to second base, while Baez could move to third. But the Cubs also have Kris Bryant — another elite prospect — at third base. Bryant also played the outfield in college, so he could move there. But the Cubs also have a few really good outfield prospects: Albert Almora, Jorge Soler, McKinney, and others. Chicago has plenty of other really nice offensive prospects as well (and Anthony Rizzo playing first base in the majors), but I won’t mention all of them because that would take a really long time.
Straily is an interesting pitcher, and reminds me a little bit of Jake Arrieta, a pitcher the Cubs acquired last year. Like Arrieta, Straily was somewhat highly-regarded and showed spurts of success in the majors with his former team. But both also struggled, and the Cubs were able to buy low on each. It’s worked so far with Arrieta, who has been dominant with Chicago this season and has posted a 1.81 ERA (1.96 FIP) in 11 starts and 64 2/3 innings for the Cubs in 2014. The Cubs hope they can pull of something similar with Straily, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they did. Pitching coach Chris Bosio is one of the better coaches in baseball that nobody is talking about.
All of this brings me back to the main question: how does all of this affect the Indians?
Well, that’s the problem. Two of the better available starters are no longer on the market.
The starters that still are available just became that much more expensive to acquire, since their current teams gained the leverage of there not being many other viable alternatives.
Teams like the Rays — who have David Price — can now shoot for the moon in trade negotiations, because they know other teams are desperate.
The Padres have a starter of their own who could get a lot of attention in the coming weeks: Ian Kennedy. Kennedy’s price tag has most likely increased as well, though he still won’t be nearly as expensive as Price. (I’m a huge fan of Kennedy, and I think he’d be a great fit on the Indians. The fact that he’ll be cheaper than Price helps too, but the Indians make the deals and I don’t.) San Diego also has Andrew Cashner, but I don’t see them trading him.
The trade market has other alternatives, but it’s debatable whether those options (the names John Danks, Kyle Kendrick, Brandon McCarthy, Jorge De La Rosa, and Bartolo Colon immediately come to mind) would be big upgrades for the Indians. Each of these pitchers have their own strengths, each belong in a major league rotation, and I’d be fine if the Indians added any of these guys — if the price was right. But would it really be worth it for the Indians to trade legitimate prospects for these guys if they don’t seem to be much better than what they already have? There isn’t much sense in adding a starter just for the sake of doing it.
The trade market could also have other starters such as Cliff Lee and Jon Lester. But I have no clue what the Phillies are ever thinking, and they’re probably too stubborn to trade him anyway. Then there’s his contract, and the fact that he’s missed time due to injuries.
Lester would be a great addition to the Indians, but the Red Sox obviously want him back long-term, and it would be weird to picture him anywhere but Boston. I would be surprised if the Red Sox dealt him, but he’d fetch a nice return if they did.
All of this leaves the Indians in somewhat of an awkward situation. The starters that would be upgrades for them now appear to be more expensive, and the cheaper starters might not be much better than what they already have. The Tribe would definitely benefit from another starting pitcher, but they can’t afford to overpay for someone they might not need.
It doesn’t seem out of the question that Justin Masterson could return to form, that Zach McAllister could pitch well when he returns to Cleveland, or that Danny Salazar could still provide an impact down the stretch like he did last season. All three are completely capable of returning to form, and they’ve each shown the ability to be really good when they’re at their best.
It would be somewhat understandable for the Indians to stand pat, because it seems reasonable that one or more of Masterson, McAllister, and Salazar could fix things and stabilize the team’s rotation. But that’s a risky strategy, and it would be difficult for fans to accept the Tribe not making a move.
However, the Indians’ front office has proven that it knows what it’s doing, and fans should go along with whatever plans GM Chris Antonetti has.
There’s no doubt that Antonetti is doing whatever he can in an effort to make the Indians better. Even if it doesn’t result in a deal, it won’t be for a lack of trying. He knows that the Indians probably need another starting pitcher, and if the price is right, he’ll pounce.
The trade deadline is still over three weeks away, and there’s plenty of time for the Indians to make a move.
It’s just become a lot more difficult to figure out what they’ll do.