Scouting the Trade Market: Cleveland Indians

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Even after losing three of four to the Yankees before the All-Star break, the Indians own the best record in the AL (55-38) and have a comfortable 6.5-game lead in the AL Central. That’s not insurmountable by any means, but it is a nice lead at this point of the season. Cleveland has been to the postseason just once since beating the Yankees in the 2007 ALDS, and that was a wildcard game loss to the Rays in 2013. You know they want to do better this year.

It’s no surprise then Jerry Crasnick reported yesterday that folks within the game believe the Indians are more willing to make a blockbuster trade at the deadline this year than they have been in quite some time. Their rotation is still young and cheap, their core veterans (Michael Brantley, Jason Kipnis, Carlos Santana, etc.) are still in their prime, and they’re in position to make the postseason. They have a great chance to win this year and they want to capitalize.

The Indians could really use another late-game reliever to lighten the load on setup man Bryan Shaw and closer Cody Allen, and preferably that reliever would be a lefty. Somehow the Tribe has gotten only 22.1 innings from lefty relievers this season. Crazy, right? Chasen Shreve alone has thrown 22 innings for the Yankees. Anyway, Cleveland is said to have interest in Andrew Miller, who’s pretty much the best possible solution for that late-inning lefty role. Someone like Carlos Beltran could be of interest too since Brantley’s shoulder keeps barking.

The Yankees reportedly had two scouts watching the Indians’ High Class-A affiliate yesterday, which happens to house many of their top prospects. Cleveland has a loaded farm system — they landed seven players on Baseball America’s midseason top 100 list — so they have the motivation and wherewithal to make a big trade. Which prospects should the Yankees target in a potential Miller (or Beltran) trade? That’s what we’re here to discuss. Here are a handful of candidates. The players are listed alphabetically and the scouting report blurbs are from MLB.com.

LHP Brady Aiken

Background: Aiken, 19, was the first overall pick in the 2014 draft, but he didn’t sign with the Astros after they found something in his physical. He blew out his elbow the following spring and the Indians picked him 17th overall in the 2015 draft anyway. Aiken has completed his Tommy John surgery rehab and is currently pitching in rookie ball, where he’s allowed 15 runs on 18 hits and nine walks in 14.2 innings. He’s struck out 22. Baseball America ranked him 59th on their midseason top 100.

Scouting Report: “The left-hander spots his fastball to both sides of the plate, working at 92-94 mph and touching 97 with late life, and he can throw his curveball for a strike or take it out of the zone to induce whiffs. Aiken’s changeup gives him a third weapon, thrown with good deception and tumble, and his athleticism and smooth, repeatable delivery bode well for his command profile … If Aiken can regain and then build on his pre-surgery form, he could develop into a front-of-the-rotation starter.”

Why Should The Yankees Want Him? When right, Aiken has true top of the rotation upside and that is very hard to find. The term “future ace” gets thrown around way too often these days but Aiken absolutely fits the bill. He had command of three above-average pitches before getting hurt and his competitiveness and makeup are considered pluses. That’s an ace starter kit all the way.

Why Should The Yankees Stay Away? Aiken did not have a routine Tommy John surgery. There was apparently some other stuff going on in his elbow as well, though no one seems to know what, exactly. His performance hasn’t been good since finishing his rehab, and while you can attribute that to rust, it’s a reminder of just how far Aiken has to go to reach that ace ceiling. He’s very far away from MLB and very high risk.

OF Greg Allen

Background: The Indians selected the 23-year-old Allen in the sixth round of the 2014 draft and he’s been a hitting machine as a pro. So far this season he’s authored a .298/.425/.398 (140 wRC+) line with three homers, 37 steals in 40 attempts, a 13.8% walk rate, and a 12.3% strikeout rate in 85 High-A games. Allen is a bit old for his level, so just keep that in mind.

Scouting Report: “Allen knows how to use his above-average speed, as he’s a disciplined hitter with advanced on-base skills who consistently puts the ball in play from both sides of the plate … He has below-average power overall … Allen’s wheels also serve him well in center field, where he gets good jumps consistently and covers a lot of ground … Allen shows the makings of becoming a top-of-the-order hitter who also offers value with his baserunning and defense.”

Why Should The Yankees Want Him? Allen is not a top prospect — MLB.com ranks him 22nd in Cleveland’s system — but he’s a high-contact hitter from both sides of the plate with plate discipline and speed and center field defensive chops. That profile is a pretty good bet to amount to something in the big leagues, even if it’s only a fourth outfielder. Allen shouldn’t be the center piece of any trade, but he would be a fine third or fourth piece.

Why Should The Yankees Stay Away? Guys with minimal power like Allen are always at risk of getting beat with fastballs in the zone at the upper levels. Pitchers don’t worry about being taken deep, so they challenge these guys. Low minors walk rates are not very predictive and Allen’s ability to get on base via the free pass may evaporate as he climbs the ladder.

1B Bobby Bradley

Background: Since being a third round pick two years ago, Bradley has punished minor league pitching, and he currently owns a .257/.377/.484 (137 wRC+) batting line with 16 homers and a 14.8% walk rate in 83 High-A games as a 20-year-old. He’s nearly three years younger than the average Carolina League player. Baseball America ranked Bradley as the 64th best prospect in baseball in their midseason update.

Scouting Report: “Bradley has all the ingredients needed to be an impact hitter, with plus bat speed, huge power and feel for using the entire field at a young age … (He has a) raw approach, and there are some scouts who worry about his capacity to make consistent contact at higher levels … Bradley faces an uphill battle due to his profile as first-base-only prospect, but his combination of power and hitting ability is plenty good enough to overcome those odds.”

Why Should The Yankees Want Him? Despite his defensive and positional limitations, Bradley projects to be an impact player thanks to his offensive profile from the left side of the plate. He has the potential to hit for average and power down the line, and that’s someone who can hit in the middle of a lineup. Bradley’s more than holding his own despite being young for his level this year.

Why Should The Yankees Stay Away? Those defensive and positional limitations do exist. Bradley is a first baseman only and not a particularly good one either. He also offers nothing on the bases. Bradley has to hit and hit big to have value, and it should be noted he’s struck out 31.4% of the time this year and 29.6% of the time in over 1,000 minor league plate appearances. There are real contact concerns here.

RHP Mike Clevinger

Background: The Indians straight up stole Clevinger two years ago, when they got him from the Angels for Vinnie Pestano. The 25-year-old righty has since blossomed into a very good pitching prospect, one with a 2.82 ERA (3.23 FIP) in 83 Triple-A innings this year. He has a 26.5% strikeout rate and a 9.0% walk rate as well. Clevinger made his MLB debut earlier this season and it didn’t go to well (14 runs in 16.1 innings), but that’s okay. Lots of guys struggle in their first taste of the show. Clevinger was 71st on Baseball America’s midseason top 100, and it’s worth noting the Yankees had at least three scouts on hand to see his most recent Triple-A start, according to Mark Feinsand.

Scouting Report: “Clevinger usually operates at 92-95 mph with his fastball but has touched 97. His slider is his best secondary offering and projects to be above average, thrown with power and depth, and he knows how to keep hitters off balance using his curveball and changeup, though neither pitch is better than fringe average at the moment … There’s still room for improvement, but Clevinger isn’t far away from making an impact in the Major Leagues.”

Why Should The Yankees Want Him? Clevinger is basically big league ready right now. He misses bats with two pitches and has the makings of two others, so he has no doubt starter stuff and control. Is the upside sky high? No, but Clevinger has the tools to hold down a spot in the middle of the rotation for the next several years. The Yankees have been looking for pitching controllable behind 2017 and Clevinger definitely fits the bill.

Why Should The Yankees Stay Away? There aren’t many reasons to stay away, really. Clevinger had Tommy John surgery in 2012, so his medical history isn’t clean, and he struggled with his mechanics big time in 2014. He had a 4.41 ERA (4.56 FIP) in Single-A that year, which is why the Tribe was able to get him for Pestano. He’s been healthy and his mechanics have been fine since then though, so yeah. Clevinger is a quality MLB ready starting pitching prospect.

UTIL Yandy Diaz

Background: Diaz, 24, was a lower profile Cuban signing a few years back ($300,000 bonus) and he’s been very productive in the minors. This season he’s hitting .311/.413/.438 (148 wRC+) with six homers, ten steals, a 14.8% walk rate, and a 15.6% strikeout rate in 83 games split between Double-A and Triple-A. That’s split into a 145 wRC+ in 26 Double-A games and a 148 wRC+ in 56 Triple-A games. Diaz is primarily a third baseman, though he played second in Cuba and has seen time in the outfield corners this year.

Scouting Report: “Diaz is a truly disciplined hitter who never tries to do too much and rarely expands his zone. He makes a lot of contact with his compact right-handed swing, while his flat path through the zone produces line drives across the whole field … (Some) scouts question whether he has the necessary bat speed to generate usable pop in games … Diaz has quickly developed into an above-average defender at third base, where his range, soft hands and strong arm are all clean fits.”

Why Should The Yankees Want Him? Even without much power, Yandy makes enough contact and draws enough walks to be an asset at the plate. The Yankees could also use a long-term third base solution — Miguel Andujar is awesome, but you shouldn’t bank on any one guy to be the answer — and Diaz can not only play the position, but play it well. And he can even fill in at second and in the corner outfield spots. That’s a nice little player for the bottom of the lineup.

Why Should The Yankees Stay Away? I like Yandy but I feel like his upside is the current version of Chase Headley. Good defense and a bunch of walks, but not much power or speed. Diaz is a bit of a ‘tweener because he doesn’t have the kind of pop expected from a corner spot. Playing some second and outfield will help because at least then you can put him on the bench. As a regular though, Diaz seems like someone who won’t kill you while you look for someone better, and that’s not very exciting.

LHP Rob Kaminsky

Background: The Yankees were connected to the 21-year-old Kaminsky, a New Jersey native, prior to the 2013 draft, but he was off the board before their extra picks came around. The Cardinals traded him to the Indians for Brandon Moss last summer, and so far this year Kaminsky has a 3.86 ERA (4.10 FIP) with a 15.0% strikeout rate and an 8.7% walk rate in 81.2 Double-A innings.

Scouting Report: “His fastball sat 86-92 mph with decent arm-side run and sink, and he showed feel for adding and subtracting with the pitch. His plus curveball is a true bat-misser, thrown with outstanding 12-to-6 shape and downer action, and it’s been his greatest weapon since high school … (he has a) changeup and below-average slider … Kaminsky’s advanced command allows him to throw strikes with his entire repertoire … the Indians love his competitiveness and high baseball IQ on the mound.”

Why Should The Yankees Want Him? The Yankees have a lot of big stuff/poor command guys in the organization and Kaminsky is pretty much the opposite. To use an old cliche, he’s a pitcher, not a thrower. Kaminsky is not a future ace like Aiken, but he projects to be a solid mid-to-back-end starter who gets by on smarts more than blow-you-away stuff. Cheap rotation help is always a plus, especially lefties in Yankee Stadium.

Why Should The Yankees Stay Away? Kaminsky’s stuff has taken a pretty big step back since the 2013 draft. His fastball no longer consistently sits in the low-90s and both his changeup and slider have taken a step back because he falls in love with his curveball too easily and doesn’t throw his other pitches enough. (To be fair, it’s a great curveball.) The Cardinals know pitching as well as anyone. When they deal a former first rounder two years later for a guy like Brandon Moss, that’s a red flag to me. They must think the current version of Kaminsky is here to stay. The old version ain’t coming back.

LHP Justus Sheffield

Background: Sheffield, 20, was the 31st overall pick in 2014, and so far this year he has a 3.53 ERA (3.77 FIP) with a 22.9% strikeout rate and a 9.7% walk rate in 89.1 innings at High-A. Baseball America ranked him No. 69 in their midseason top 100 list. It’s worth noting Keith Law said the Yankees had two scouts at Sheffield’s start yesterday, when he struck out eight in 6.2 scoreless innings.

Scouting Report: “He’s hit 96 mph with his fastball but usually sits in the 92-93 mph range with late, arm-side life and some sink. His curveball flashes plus and projects as a swing-and-miss offering at the highest level, and he made strides developing his changeup in 2015 … Both his secondary pitches and his command require further refinement, but the southpaw has all the tools necessary to develop into a quality mid-rotation starting pitcher.”

Why Should The Yankees Want Him? Sheffield has premium stuff and I think he is Cleveland’s best perfectly healthy pitching prospect (Aiken’s coming back from elbow reconstruction), so he’s pretty much the best they have to offer on the mound. Lefties who can miss bats are always in demand, especially in Yankee Stadium given the short porch. The history of the Yankees is loaded with quality southpaws, after all.

Why Should The Yankees Stay Away? Sheffield is listed at 5-foot-10 and there’s always a question about whether a short pitcher can get enough downhill plane on his fastball to avoid being fly ball and home run prone. Also, his location has not been as good this year as last year, when he had a 6.9% walk rate. Sheffield is also a 20-year-old in High-A too. He’s not exactly big league ready. There’s a long way to go to get from where he is now to that mid-rotation ceiling.

* * *

I’m assuming the Indians will make their top two prospects, outfielders Bradley Zimmer and Clint Frazier, completely off limits in a Miller (or Beltran) trade. I know I would. Miller’s awesome but those guys are potential difference-makers who are knocking on the door. Depending on how you feel about Aiken after Tommy John surgery, he’s the best the Indians have to offer after Zimmer and Frazier. Clevinger, Sheffield, and Bradley are the next tier.

The Indians are loaded with prospects, so these guys listed above are hardly all they have to offer. I could definitely see the Yankees pushing for both Clevinger (the MLB ready guy) and Sheffield (the higher upside guy) in a Miller trade, if not more. Remember, they’re going to have to be blown away to trade Miller. Clevinger and Sheffield is a real nice start, though I’m not sure those two alone will be enough to get the Yankees to budge. The Indians definitely have the pieces to get a deal done though.

Trade Deadline Notes: Marlins, Indians, Nationals, Cubs

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

We are now 13 days away from the trade deadline, and while the Yankees have won two straight, their odds of playing in October are long. Buster Olney says they are going “full bore” in shaping possible trades, though ownership still needs to give the thumbs up. I wish they’d go ahead and sell now before someone gets hurt or other teams decide to drop out of the race and sell. There’s a lot of demand and not much supply right now. That works in New York’s favor. Alas. They’re still not ready to move players. Anyway, here’s the latest from the rumor mill.

Pineda among Marlins’ targets

The Marlins are working to add a starter before the trade deadline and Michael Pineda is on their list of targets, reports Jon Morosi. Miami and the Yankees discussed Aroldis Chapman a few weeks back, so the two teams have been in contact. It’s unclear if the Yankees and Marlins have actually talked about a Pineda deal, or if the Marlins simply admire him from afar.

Morosi says the Marlins are interested in Jeremy Hellickson and Andrew Cashner in addition to Pineda. All three of those guys kinda suck, but Hellickson and Cashner are rentals while Pineda has an extra year of control. That figures to play a role in Miami’s decision making. As I’ve said though, the Marlins don’t have many prospects to offer. Their system isn’t very good. That’s why the Yankees wanted big league players for Chapman.

Indians prefer Miller to Chapman

The Indians are in the hunt for a shutdown left-handed reliever, and Ken Rosenthal says Andrew Miller is “probably” their top target. Rosenthal says they prefer Miller to Chapman, presumably because he’s willing to be a setup man and has two extra years of team control. Jerry Crasnick says the feeling within the game is the Indians are more inclined to make a blockbuster trade than they normally would because they’re in first place and the club is already so well-rounded.

Not coincidentally, Keith Law says the Yankees had two scouts on hand to see left-hander and top Indians pitching prospect Justus Sheffield this afternoon. Other top prospects on the loaded High-A Lynchburg roster include first baseman Bobby Bradley, catcher Francisco Mejia, and shortstop Yu-Cheng Chang. Those guys are all far away from MLB and I imagine the Yankees want talent closer to the show for Miller, so perhaps these guys are being looked at as second and third pieces in a deal. Cleveland had seven (!) players on Baseball America’s midseason top 100 prospects list. Here is MLB.com’s top 30 Indians prospects list with free scouting reports and all that.

(Hannah Foslien/Getty)
(Hannah Foslien/Getty)

Chapman is Nats’ most likely target

According to Rosenthal, Chapman is the Nationals’ most likely target at the deadline. That makes sense. Dusty Baker had Chapman in Cincinnati and the Nats tried to get him from the Reds over the winter — even after the domestic violence incident — but the Yankees beat them to it. How would Chapman and Jonathan Papelbon co-exist? That ain’t my problem. That’s up to Washington to figure out.

Interestingly, Rosenthal says top pitching prospect Lucas Giolito is not as untouchable as he once was. I still highly doubt the Nationals would give him up for a reliever, even one as good as Chapman or Miller. Any trade sending Giolito to the Yankees — and let’s be clear, that is an extreme long shot — would have to be a blockbuster with high-end talent going to Washington. Maybe something like Chapman, Masahiro Tanaka, and Brett Gardner for Giolito and stuff. I dunno, I’m just spitballing here. My trade proposal sucks.

Cubs haven’t made best offer for Miller or Chapman

To date, the Cubs have not made the best trade offer for Miller or Chapman, reports Jon Heyman. To be perfectly honest, I read this report and assumed it was a leak from the Yankees intended to get Chicago to up their offer. The Cubbies have been scouting Miller and Chapman for weeks — they’re said to prefer Miller to Chapman like pretty much everyone else (except the Nats, I guess) — and there’s a definite need for a shutout lefty reliever in their bullpen.

Jeff Passan says the Yankees covet the injured Kyle Schwarber — “Cash thinks he can hit 50 home runs there,” said one of Passan’s sources — but the Cubs are not budging. They won’t deal him for a reliever, not even Miller. The Cubs have lots of prospects to offer though, so being unable to get Schwarber shouldn’t end trade talks. Assuming Heyman’s report is a leak from the Yankees, I see nothing wrong with trying to squeeze a little more out of Chicago. The Yankees control the bullpen market right now.

Yankeemetrics: Escape from The Jake [July 7-10]

(USA Today Sports)
(USA Today Sports)

Derek and Didi
Thursday’s game in Cleveland not only marked the Yankees’ final series before the All-Star break, but was also the start of a crucial, season-defining 14-game gauntlet against the AL’s cream of the crop: three first-place squads (Indians, Orioles, Rangers) and a wild-card team (Red Sox).

If their performance over the next few weeks is going to dictate whether they declare themselves as contenders or pretenders in this year’s playoff race, then at least the Yankees began this critical stretch with a bang.

Despite this matchup looking like a complete mismatch on paper — the AL’s best pitching staff (3.61 ERA entering Thursday) versus the AL’s second-least productive offense (.707 OPS entering Thursday) — the Yankees somehow rallied from an early deficit and held off a late comeback bid by the Indians to escape with a 5-4 win.

Didi Gregorius sparked the rally in the fifth inning with his 10th homer of the season, setting a new career-high and further cementing himself potentially as the team’s next superstar infielder. The list of Yankee shortstops (guys who played at least 75 percent of games at the position) to hit double-digit homers before the All-Star break is a short one: Derek Jeter (six times), Roy Smalley (1983), Frankie Crosetti (1936) … and now Sir Didi.

Hanging Chad
In a season filled with inconsistency, it was only fitting that the Yankees failed to build any momentum following their exciting win on Thursday and were clobbered by the Indians the next night, 10-2.

The game was essentially over after the first inning as Cleveland battered Chad Green for three homers and four runs before he could even get three outs. Carlos Santana led off the game with a homer to right field, and then three pitches later Jason Kipnis took Green deep to put the Yankees in an early 2-0 hole.

(AP)
(AP)

Green became just the fourth Yankee pitcher in the last 75 years to give up back-to-back homers to start a game. The last guy to do it was Hiroki Kuroda on Sept. 25, 2014 vs. the Orioles, and the others were Ted Lilly (June 6, 2001 vs. Orioles) and Catfish Hunter (June 17, 1977 vs. Red Sox).

The Indians weren’t done crushing Green’s batting practice fastballs, though. Lonnie Chisenhall went yard later in the first inning, giving Green the honor of being the sixth Yankee since 1930 to allow three homers in the first inning of a game. The rest of this illustrious list: A.J. Burnett (2010), Ron Guidry (1987), Catfish Hunter (same as above), Wade Blasingame (1972) and Hank Johnson (1932).

And Mike Napoli put an exclamation point on Green’s miserable night when he smoked a 3-2 pitch to deep left center field that nearly hit the scoreboard. It traveled 459.6 feet per Statcast, the second-longest home run allowed by a Yankee pitcher since 2008 (when Statcast began measuring batted ball distance).

Green’s final line was seven runs, five hits and four homers allowed in 4 1/3 innings. The last Yankee to surrender at least four homers against the Indians was Scott Sanderson on April 17, 1992, and the last guy to do that in Cleveland was Dennis Rasmussen in 1987.

(AP)
(AP)

Extra, extra
For the second time in three games the Yankees rallied to beat the Indians, 7-6 in 11 innings, stealing another thrilling victory on Saturday afternoon against the AL’s second-best team.

It was the Yankees’ first extra-inning win of the season, making this the latest into the season by date that the Yankees recorded their first win in extras since 1940, when they didn’t get one until July 17 … also against the Indians.

Brian McCann ripped the game-winning hit in the decisive frame with a booming RBI double off the wall in right field to break a 6-6 tie. He earned our ridiculous #Funfact Yankeemetric of the series: The last Yankee catcher with a extra-inning, go-ahead hit in Cleveland was Elston Howard, who belted a tie-breaking solo homer in the 11th inning off Luis Tiant on Sept. 23, 1964 in a 4-3 Yankees win.

Brett Gardner capped off the Yankees second rally of the game with a go-ahead, bases-clearing triple in the sixth inning to stake the Yankees to a brief 6-5 lead. Gardner entered the game with just 10 RBI in 60 at-bats with runners in scoring position this season; his rate of one RBI every six at-bats with RISP was the worst among the 199 players that had at least 50 at-bats with a man on second and/or third heading into the weekend.

Hey there, .500
The Yankees will head into the All-Star break on a winning note, riding the momentum of an impressive — and improbable — series win over the AL Central-leading Indians. By taking of three of four against one of the best teams in the league, the Yankees improved to 44-44, a fitting mark at the mid-point given that they’ve danced around the .500 mark for much of the season.

(AP)
(AP)

This is the 24th straight year the Yankees will enter the second half of the season with a .500 or better record, dating back to 1993. In that span no other team has even posted 20 non-losing first-half seasons, with the Cardinals, Braves and Red Sox each at 19.

Carlos Beltran was undoubtedly the Yankees’ first-half MVP, thanks to his tremendous power and consistency at the plate, leading the team in homers, doubles, RBI, batting average, slugging percentage and OPS. He is just the second Yankee in his age-39 season or older to finish the first half with a slugging percentage of .550 or better. The other was Babe Ruth, who slugged .562 before the break in 1934.

Andrew Miller has been arguably the most valuable pitcher on the Yankees staff thus far, featuring video game-like stats that haven’t been duplicated by anybody before this year. He is the only player in major-league history to pitch at least 35 innings in the first half and post an ERA below 1.50, a strikeout rate of at least 15.0 per nine innings and a WHIP below 1.00.

7/7 to 7/10 Series Preview: Cleveland Indians

Official photo of Yankees-Indians series previews. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
Official photo of Yankees-Indians series previews. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

It’s hard to believe, but this is the final series of the first half. The season seems to go by a little quicker each year, doesn’t it? The Yankees wrap up the first half and this ten-game road trip with four games in Cleveland against the first place Indians. The Indians are the only AL team the Yankees have yet to play this season.

What Have They Done Lately?

The Indians did something yesterday they had not done all season: lose to the Tigers. They were a perfect 11-0 (!) against Detroit prior to yesterday’s 12-2 loss. The Tribe have gone 2-3 since their franchise record 14-game winning streak ended Sunday. Yes, franchise record. The Indians have been around for 115 years and that was their longest winning streak ever. Crazy, right? Anyway, Cleveland is 51-33 with a +79 run differential overall. They have a big lead in the AL Central and the second best record in the AL behind the Rangers.

Offense & Defense

The Indians are the most balanced team in the AL. They don’t have a glaring weakness like, say, the Rangers’ bullpen or the Orioles’ rotation. Manager Terry Francona oversees a very good offense, one that is scoring 4.87 runs per game with a team 101 wRC+. They’re doing that even though OF Michael Brantley, their best hitter, has been limited to eleven games by offseason shoulder surgery. He had surgery, hurried back, played eleven games, then felt renewed soreness. Brantley is on the DL working his way back now. He won’t return this series.

Lindor. (Mike Zarrilli/Getty)
Lindor. (Jason Miller/Getty)

Manager Terry Francona uses platoon leadoff hitters; OF Rajai Davis (109 wRC+) bats first against lefties while DH Carlos Santana (124 wRC+) does it against righties. Yes, the slow-footed Santana bats leadoff. It’s all about that OBP (.352), baby. 2B Jason Kipnis (103 wRC+) bats second, SS Francisco Lindor (114 wRC+) bats third, and 1B Mike Napoli (105 wRC+) bats fourth. Lindor is already a megastar. The only position players I would take over him right now are Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, and Kris Bryant. He’s that good.

RF Lonnie Chisenhall (121 wRC+) plays everyday and so does UTIL Jose Ramirez (113 wRC+), who moves all around and seems to play a different position each day. CF Tyler Naquin (155 wRC+) and OF Abe Almonte (8 PA) join Davis and Ramirez as part of a big outfield platoon in left and center. C Yan Gomes (37 wRC+) and C Chris Gimenez (35 wRC+) handle catching duties. 3B Juan Uribe (67 wRC+) has been better of late, mostly because the Indians stopped playing him every single day. He’s a part-timer at this point of his career.

The Indians have improved their defense tremendously over the last year by calling up Lindor and Naquin, and adding Davis, Napoli, and Uribe. Kipnis is okay at second and Chisenhall will have his “third baseman playing right field” moments, but otherwise this team can catch the ball. Gomes and Gimenez are opposites behind the plate. Gomes is a great thrower and a poor pitch-framer while Gimenez is a poor thrower and a great framer.

Pitching Matchups

Thursday (7:10pm ET): RHP Ivan Nova (vs. CLE) vs. RHP Trevor Bauer (vs. NYY)
It seems Bauer, the third overall pick in the 2011 draft, is starting to figure things out at the big league level. The 25-year-old has a 3.02 ERA (3.46 FIP) in 95.1 innings spread across 12 starts and seven relief appearances. He’s getting way more grounders (50.6%) than ever before, leading to a career low home run rate (0.66 HR/9). His strikeout (22.3%) and walk (8.4%) rates are in line with his career norms, and his platoon split is tiny. Bauer is getting all those ground balls by throwing his mid-90s sinker more than ever before. It’s his main fastball now with his-90s four-seamer being a secondary offering. It used to be the other way around, four-seamer before sinker. Bauer’s wide array of offspeed pitches includes an upper-80s cutter, a mid-80s changeup, and an upper-70s curveball. For a while the knock on Bauer was that he had too many pitches — he used to throw a slider, a splitter, and even a screwball — and would get burned on his sixth or seventh or eighth best pitch. He’s cut down on his arsenal and is sticking to his five best pitches now.

Friday (7:10pm ET): RHP Chad Green (No vs. CLE) vs. RHP Corey Kluber (vs. NYY)
Two years ago Kluber, who earlier today was named to the All-Star team as an injury replacement for Marco Estrada, deservingly won the AL Cy Young award. He had a 2.44 ERA (2.65 FIP) in 235.2 innings that year. Last year those numbers jumped to 3.49 ERA (2.97 FIP) in 222 innings, and this year he owns a 3.79 ERA (2.96 FIP) in 114 innings. The ERA keeps going up even though his peripherals are off the charts good. Weird. Kluber, 30, has excellent underlying stats across the board — 24.9% strikeouts, 5.9% walks, 48.9% grounders, and 0.71 HR/9 — and lefties have had slightly more success against him than righties. In the past his platoon split was much bigger. The Klubot is a low-to-mid-90s sinker pitcher who uses a four-seam fastball at similar velocity in get-me-over situations. His low-80s slider is not of this Earth …

Corey Kluber slider

… and he also throws upper-80s cutters and low-80 changeups. Kluber has filthy, filthy stuff. His combination of raw stuff and command is in the top 1% of all pitchers.

Saturday (4:10pm ET): LHP CC Sabathia (vs. CLE) vs. RHP Danny Salazar (vs. NYY)
Salazar had a strong first full season as a big leaguer last year, and he’s taken his game to another level this year. The 26-year-old has thrown 99 innings of 2.36 ERA (3.30 FIP) ball, though his walk rate (11.0%) is way high. It was much better last season (7.0%). Not sure what’s going on there. Salazar’s strikeout (28.3%), grounder (47.5%), and homer (0.73 HR/9) numbers are all very good though, plus he has a big reverse split. That’s thanks to his nasty upper-80s changeup, which falls right off the table. Salazar sits in the mid-90s with his fastball — he’s hit 99.4 mph this season, per PitchFX — and also has a mid-80s slider and upper-70s curveball. Believe it or not, he only throws the two breaking balls roughly 10% of the time combined. He’s a fastball/changeup pitcher. Salazar made the All-Star team this year and is a candidate to start for the AL. He’s been that good.

Sunday (1:10pm ET): RHP Masahiro Tanaka (vs. CLE) vs. RHP Carlos Carrasco (vs. NYY)
A hamstring injury shelved Carrasco for about six weeks earlier this season, but, when healthy, he’s had a 2.47 ERA (3.90 FIP) in eleven starts and 69.1 innings. He’s been weirdly homer prone (1.30 HR/9), which is unlike the rest of his career. Carrasco’s strikeout (25.1%), walk (6.6%), and grounder (53.3%) rates are all marvelous. This is some rotation the Indians have. The 29-year-old Carrasco has no platoon split because he used five pitches regularly, led by his mid-90s four-seamer and sinker. Both his upper-80s slider and low-90s changeup are legitimate put-away pitches, and he’ll also throw a bunch of mid-80s curveballs per start too. Nasty, nasty stuff.

Allen. (Mike Zarrilli/Getty)
Allen. (Mike Zarrilli/Getty)

Bullpen Status

The Indians played a 19-inning game against the Blue Jays last Friday and they’re still trying to get their bullpen in order. They’ve been shuttling guys in and out on almost a daily basis since to make sure they have fresh arms. Bauer, who was scheduled to start the day after the 19-inning game, came out of the bullpen and threw five innings that game, then Cleveland went with a bullpen game the next day. These guys are definitely looking forward to the All-Star break. Here is Francona’s relief crew:

Closer: RHP Cody Allen (3.03 ERA/3.73 FIP)
Setup: RHP Bryan Shaw (4.41/5.01)
Middle: RHP Tommy Hunter (3.48/3.22), RHP Jeff Manship (2.13/4.67), RHP Zach McAllister (5.40/4.93), RHP Dan Otero (1.36/2.32)
Long: RHP Mike Clevinger (7.71/5.50), LHP T.J. House (1.2 IP)

The Yankees agreed to sign Hunter over the winter, you may remember. Then he failed his physical and the team walked away from the two-year agreement. Hunter instead had to settle for a cheap one-year deal with the Tribe. McAllister and Otero are former Yankees who never actually played for the Yankees. New York drafted McAllister in 2006 and traded him as a prospect for Austin Kearns in 2010. Otero spent a few weeks in the organization between offseason waiver claims in 2013.

The Tigers did the Yankees a favor and worked Cleveland’s bullpen yesterday. Hunter (17 pitches), McAllister (24), House (23), and Manship (18) all pitched. No one in their bullpen comes into today having worked back-to-back games though. Our Bullpen Workload page tells you everything you need to know about the availability of Joe Girardi‘s relievers.

The Rest of MLB [2016 Season Preview]

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The new season is upon us. Opening Day is Monday, which means it’s time to wrap up our annual Season Preview series. As always, we’ll end the series with a quick look around the league. Some of this is serious, most of it isn’t. Enjoy.

Arizona Diamondbacks
Why They’ll Suck: The middle infield is a mess and their corner outfield defense is going to be pretty bad if Yasmany Tomas plays left everyday. Also, they’ll probably trade some good players to unload a bad contract again.
Bold Prediction: Shelby Miller actually pitches well. I have no idea why so many analysts think he’s bad.

Atlanta Braves
Why They’ll Suck: Because they are trying to suck. Rebuilding is just a nice way of saying tanking.
Bold Prediction: Nick Markakis beats his ZiPS projection and slugs .370.

Chicago Cubs
Why They’ll Suck: They’re going to strike out way too much. It’s also only a matter of time until someone gets bit by some wild animal Joe Maddon brings into the clubhouse.
Bold Prediction: Adam Warren is their best starter. Boom!

Chicago White Sox
Why They’ll Suck: They lost their leader, Drake LaRoche.
Bold Prediction: We find out Adam LaRoche was the one who complained about Drake LaRoche being in the clubhouse all the time.

Cincinnati Reds
Why They’ll Suck: Their rotation is Homer Bailey, Anthony DeSclafani, Michael Lorenzen, Jon Moscot, and John Lamb. No, wait, that’s the list of their injured starters. Now they have to turn to the B-team.
Bold Prediction: Joey Votto finally loses his mind, but in a polite, Canadian way. He’s already doing this between pitches:

Joey Votto

Cleveland Indians
Why They’ll Suck: In all seriousness, their entire starting outfield is either hurt (Michael Brantley, Lonnie Chisenhall) or suspended (Abe Almonte). They’re a Corey Kluber or Carlos Carrasco injury away from 85 losses. Beware.
Bold Prediction: Francisco Lindor leads all shortstops in WAR.

Colorado Rockies
Why They’ll Suck: The Rockies exist in a perpetual state of suck. Fun Fact: They have never once won a division title. They’ve finished as high as second place only three times in their 23 years of existence.
Bold Prediction: They finally trade Carlos Gonzalez. I’m thinking … Orioles.

Detroit Tigers
Why They’ll Suck: They’ve punted defense at the four corner positions and, inevitably, the relievers they acquired this winter will stink.
Bold Prediction: Justin Verlander bounces back and finished in the top five of the Cy Young voting.

Houston Astros
Why They’ll Suck: Karma for doing very little in the offseason outside of adding a new closer and fifth starter. The rebuild is supposed to be over.
Bold Prediction: Carlos Correa is more Alex Gonzalez than Alex Rodriguez.

Kansas City Royals
Why They’ll Suck: They replaced Johnny Cueto and Ben Zobrist with Ian Kennedy and Christian Colon. Like, on purpose.
Bold Prediction: Kennedy wins 18 games and Colon hits .310. Eff the Royals, man.

Los Angeles Angels
Why They’ll Suck: The Angels have surrounded Mike Trout with as little position player talent as possible in an effort to make him look even greater by comparison.
Bold Prediction: Jered Weaver’s fastball hits 84 mph once or twice.

Los Angeles Dodgers
Why They’ll Suck: The Dodgers have surrounded Clayton Kershaw with as little pitching talent as possible in an effort to make him look even greater by comparison.
Bold Prediction: It becomes clear Yasiel Puig peaked early.

Miami Marlins
Why They’ll Suck: The fans and players are doomed to pay for Jeffrey Loria’s evil villian-ness. Fun Fact: They’ve never won a division title either. They’ve also never lost a postseason series.
Bold Prediction: Christian Yelich breaks out and puts up Andrew McCutchen numbers. I’m serious about that one.

Milwaukee Brewers
Why They’ll Suck: They’re another team that is going to suck on purpose. Before long they’re going to trade Jonathan Lucroy too.
Bold Prediction: Ramon Flores hits 15 dingers with a .350 OBP.

Minnesota Twins
Why They’ll Suck: I don’t know, but I’m sure Twins fans will blame it on Joe Mauer.
Bold Prediction: Miguel Sano plays right field better than Torii Hunter did last year.

New York Mets
Why They’ll Suck: They’re still the Mets. Case in point: the recent Matt Harvey bladder story. Last year’s pennant didn’t change anything in that regard.
Bold Prediction: They have to trade for a starting pitcher at the deadline.

Oakland Athletics
Why They’ll Suck: No joke, I can name only one A’s starter (Sonny Gray) and one A’s infielder (Marcus Semien). Is Bobby Crosby still playing?
Bold Prediction: Josh Reddick gets traded for a holy crap package at the trade deadline. I’m thinking … Royals.

Philadelphia Phillies
Why They’ll Suck: Still reeling from the 2009 World Series, obviously.
Bold Prediction: Someone not named Maikel Franco or Ryan Howard hits a home run.

Pittsburgh Pirates
Why They’ll Suck: The baseball gods will not let John Jaso’s hair go unpunished.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Bold Prediction: Mark Melancon is traded at the deadline. I’m thinking … Dodgers.

St. Louis Cardinals
Why They’ll Suck: The Cardinals will never suck. The only thing they suck at is sucking. Their ace made four starts and their highest paid position player hit four home runs last season, and they still won 100 games. The Cardinals, man.
Bold Prediction: Three years after learning to play second base and one year after learning to hit for power, Matt Carpenter picks up pitching and saves 46 games.

San Diego Padres
Why They’ll Suck: I’m not entirely convinced the Padres exist at this point. Are we sure MLB still lets them into the league? What an amazingly nondescript franchise.
Bold Prediction: Someone throws the first no-hitter in franchise history. I’ll go with Colin Rea, who is a real player and definitely not someone I just made up.

San Francisco Giants
Why They’ll Suck: They buy into the “even year trend” a little too much and give Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner weeks off at a time this summer.
Bold Prediction: Bumgarner out-slugs the starting outfield.

Seattle Mariners
Why They’ll Suck: I don’t know how it will happen exactly, but they’ll suck. The Mariners are the Wile E. Coyote of MLB. Every time they looked poised for success, they crash into the mountain with a tunnel painted on the side of it.
Bold Prediction: Bob Cano mashes 30 taters and finishes in the top three of the MVP voting. I’m expecting a big year from Robbie.

Texas Rangers
Why They’ll Suck: They won’t suck. They’ll be just good enough to get thisclose to winning something meaningful before having it ripped away again. Think Game Six of the 2011 World Series, or the seventh inning of Game Five of last year’s ALDS. That’s how the Rangers roll.
Bold Prediction: Josh Hamilton leads the team in home runs.

Washington Nationals
Why They’ll Suck: They’re the NL version of the Red Sox. They have talent and everyone buys the hype. It should work! But it doesn’t.

Homer Simpson

Bold Prediction: Bryce Harper is even better this year.

Recent free agent signings clear up trade possibilities for Brett Gardner

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

Over the last week, the two best unsigned free agent outfielders came off the board when Justin Upton signed with the Tigers and Yoenis Cespedes agreed to return to the Mets. Others like Alex Gordon and Denard Span signed a few weeks back, so, with Spring Training a little less than a month away, Dexter Fowler (tied to draft pick compensation) and Austin Jackson are the top available free agent outfielders.

The Upton and Cespedes signings took away two potential trade partners for Brett Gardner, though a trade with the Mets was never all that likely. I think Brian Cashman and Sandy Alderson would do a deal if they felt it improved their teams, but a crosstown trade might make the ownership groups a little queasy. No one wants to lose a trade to their geographic rival.

Anyway, with Upton and Cespedes (and Gordon and Span) off the board, the trade market for Gardner has become a little more clear. Gardner has been on the market all winter as the Yankees look for ways to land a young pitcher, though the crowded free agent outfield class complicated things. Now the free agent market isn’t so crowded. Here are the teams that could be in play for Gardner.

Baltimore Orioles
The Orioles did bring back Chris Davis recently, yet their outfield situation remains Adam Jones and some combination of Hyun-Soo Kim, Nolan Reimold, L.J. Hoes, and Rule 5 Draft pick Joey Rickard. And I guess Mark Trumbo too. There’s a clear fit for Gardner in Baltimore — the O’s could bat him leadoff and drop Manny Machado into a run-producing lineup spot — but the chances of a major Yankees-Orioles trade are tiny.

Chicago Cubs
The Cubbies have been after Gardner for a while — they originally wanted Gardner in the Starlin Castro trade — and they could still use a true center fielder and leadoff hitter. Chicago does have a full outfield at the moment (Kyle Schwarber, Jason Heyward, Jorge Soler), though Soler’s name has popped up trade rumors, so a Gardner deal could rekindle those efforts. But, again, the problem with a Cubs trade all winter has been their lack of young pitching to offer. I’d argue the Yankees should focus on getting the best possible talent for Gardner regardless of position, but they’re focused on arms.

Chicago White Sox
Reports indicate the White Sox were in on both Upton and Cespedes in recent weeks, though they were not willing to extend their offer beyond three years. The ChiSox have added both Todd Frazier and Brett Lawrie this offseason in an effort to fix one of MLB’s least productive infields, and they shouldn’t stop there. They’re not good enough to be AL Central favorites and not bad enough to rebuild. With Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, and Jose Abreu in their primes, the White Sox should continue adding in an effort to contend, and Gardner would be a massive upgrade over Avisail Garcia. Quintana or Carlos Rodon for Gardner isn’t happening, but could Erik Johnson? That’s the extent of Chicago’s pitching depth.

Cleveland Indians
The Indians, again. They talked to the Yankees about an outfielder for pitcher trade earlier this winter, though obviously nothing came of it. Cleveland has plenty of pitching to spare and they need outfield help — Michael Brantley will be out until at least May following shoulder surgery, so their outfield mix right now is Rajai Davis, Abe Almonte, Lonnie Chisenhall, and Collin Cowgill — so it seems like there should be a match. The problem? The Indians operate with a very strict budget and don’t have room for a $13M a year outfielder. The Yankees would have to pay down some of Gardner’s salary, which of course means they should expect more in return. The Tribe likely have their eyes on cheaper outfield options.

Los Angeles Angels
It never seemed like the Angels were going to make a serious run at Cespedes or Upton. They have a clear need for a left fielder — the currently have a Daniel Nava/Craig Gentry platoon planned, and yikes — and some pitching depth to spare, namely Nick Tropeano, Tyler Skaggs, Andrew Heaney, and Matt Shoemaker. Some are more available than others, obviously. (Heaney’s close to untouchable, I think.)

Calhoun. (Stephen Dunn/Getty)
Calhoun. (Stephen Dunn/Getty)

I think there’s a real possibility for an Angels trade right now. Angels GM Billy Eppler is said to be a big Gardner fan and the Halos really need both a leadoff hitter and another lefty bat. Gardner would push Kole Calhoun into a middle of the lineup spot. He’s a great fit for them, assuming it works financially. (The Angels want to stay under the luxury tax threshold and have about $12M in wiggle room.) I don’t think I would call a trade likely, but I do think if Gardner is dealt, the Angels are the favorite to land him.

St. Louis Cardinals
The Cardinals have a lot of outfielders (Matt Holliday, Tommy Pham, Randal Grichuk, Stephen Piscotty, Brandon Moss) but no true center fielder. Grichuk’s the most athletic of the group so he has the center field job by default. St. Louis doesn’t strike me as the kind of organization to make a knee-jerk reactionary move, but it’s tough to ignore all the improvements the Cubs made this winter, so the Cardinals could feel some pressure to keep pace. Gardner would solve a clear roster problem and the Cards have some young pitching to offer (Marco Gonzales, Tim Cooney). Money is no issue either — St. Louis bid big for Heyward and David Price, and were in the market for Chris Davis, yet they’ve only walked away with Mike Leake this offseason.

Washington Nationals
I’m not sure the Nationals are a possibility for Gardner following the Ben Revere trade. Yes, they made a run at Cespedes, so they’re still willing to add an outfielder, but Gardner and Cespedes are very different types of players. Washington might not want another left-handed hitting leadoff type with Revere on board. Never say never, but it appears the Nationals are no longer a match for Gardner following the Revere trade.

* * *

Keep in mind the Yankees are not the only team with a spare outfielder at the moment. The Dodgers would probably love to move Andre Ethier before he gains ten-and-five rights in April, plus the Rockies have four outfielders for three spots (Carlos Gonzalez, Charlie Blackmon, Corey Dickerson, Gerardo Parra). The outfield trade market is not limited solely to Gardner. Outfield needy teams have options.

Realistically, the Angels and Cardinals appear to be the best possible fits for Gardner. The White Sox, Cubs, and Indians are also potential suitors to a lesser extent. I still don’t expect the Yankees to trade Gardner before Spring Training, but at least now the trade market is a bit more clear with the big name free agents off the board. That also means there are fewer suitors, though there are still several clubs out there in need of outfield help.

Update: Yankees acquire Kirby Yates from Indians in cash deal

(Alex Goodlett/Getty)
(Alex Goodlett/Getty)

Sunday: The Yankees sent $78,000 to the Indians for Yates, according to the Associated Press. It’s not often we hear how much money exchanges hands in these cash deals. Neat.

Friday: The Yankees have acquired right-hander Kirby Yates from the Indians in a cash trade, the team has announced.

Yates, 28, was designated for assignment earlier this week when the Indians signed Mike Napoli. Cleveland picked him up in a cash trade with the Rays back in November. Yates has a 5.27 ERA (5.51 FIP) in 56.1 big league innings, all with Tampa Bay. Here’s some video:

Yates had a 5.33 ERA (4.70 FIP) in 25.1 Triple-A innings this past season. He’s got a low-90s fastball and throws a mid-80s slider, a low-80s changeup, and an upper-70s curveball, so he’s one of those rare four-pitch relievers.

As best I can tell, Yates has a minor league option remaining, so he’s another candidate to ride the bullpen shuttle next season. This is basically Chris Martin 2.0. The Yankees picked up Yates for practically nothing and will see if they can get some decent innings out of him.

The club still has two open spots on the 40-man roster.