Gomes Gone as Tribe Deals All-Star Catcher to Nationals
Bob Toth | On 30, Nov 2018
With one eye on the present and another on the future, the Cleveland Indians cut some salary off of their books on Friday, sending All-Star catcher Yan Gomes to the Washington Nationals.
Dealing from a position with a little depth to it on the 40-man roster, the Indians traded their longtime backstop to the Nationals for pitcher Jefry Rodriguez, minor league outfielder Daniel Johnson, and a player to be named later.
The purge of Gomes’ salary from the roster will save the Indians a little bit of cash this season, but will be more impactful in the years to come. Gomes had three years remaining on the contract that he signed just before the start of the 2014 season, set to pay him just over $7 million for the 2019 season. The team also held options in 2020 ($9 million) and 2021 ($11 million) with a $1 million buyout.
The team was able to move the first time All-Star while his stock was likely at its highest since his breakout and Silver Slugger campaign in 2014. Since that season, Gomes has struggled to produce consistently at the plate, drawing a limited number of walks while hitting for a low batting average with occasional displays of power. Last season, however, he figured things out and remained healthy, which had been a significant issue over the last few years. He appeared in 112 games, slashing .266/.313/.449 with a career-high 26 doubles, 16 homers, and 48 RBI.
The move comes across as questionable, especially after the Indians dealt their top organizational prospect, fellow catcher Francisco Mejia, to the San Diego Padres for relievers Brad Hand and Adam Cimber at last season’s July trade deadline. It leaves light-hitting Roberto Perez as the most experienced catcher on the roster with rookie Eric Haase primed for a bigger look than he received during his September call-up last season. The team could also try to pick up a cheap, veteran catcher on the marketplace, one flooded with available experienced catchers, and stash Haase back at Columbus for additional seasoning.
“We did trade from an area of depth here,” shared team president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti on Friday. “For a while, you’ve heard us say we feel we have two regular catchers within the organization at the Major League level, and now Roberto will have an opportunity to step in and be that regular guy. He’s done that for us over the course of the past few seasons when Yan’s been injured.”
The Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Mets were also reportedly interested in Gomes in the days leading up to his trade to the nation’s capital.
For Gomes, the Indians got the right-hander Rodriguez, who could factor into the team’s messy bullpen picture for 2019, as well as the young outfielder Johnson and a player yet to be named.
Rodriguez, 25, spent last season at three different levels of the Nationals’ organization. A 6’6” right-hander out of the Dominican Republic, he signed with Washington as a non-drafted free agent early in 2012 and made his big league debut in June of this past season.
He had been used almost exclusively as a starting pitcher during his time in the minors (105 times in 108 games total), but he appears to be more of a candidate for the Indians’ bullpen for the coming year or a depth starter at Columbus if that move fails. He gives the team plenty of roster flexibility after only being on the Nationals’ 40-man since November of 2017.
He began last season at Double-A Harrisburg, posting a 5-3 record with a 3.31 ERA and a 1.22 WHIP in 13 starts. He was 2-2 with a 3.58 ERA and a 1.44 WHIP in six starts for Triple-A Syracuse. While pitching sporadically for the Nationals around six different recalls over the course of the year, he went 3-3 in eight starts and six relief appearances with a 5.71 ERA and a 1.54 WHIP. Control was a pressing issue at the MLB level, where he struck out 39 but walked 37 in 52 innings. His fastball sits in the mid-90s and he couples it with a curveball considered to be above average.
Rodriguez was the Nationals’ number 11 prospect coming into the 2018 season. He missed 80 games during the 2017 season after testing positive for a metabolite of Clomiphene, a performance-enhancing substance in the Minor League Drug Prevention and Treatment Program.
Johnson, 23, is a left-handed hitting five-tool kind of outfielder who wrapped up his third season of professional baseball last year. He was selected in the fifth round by the Nationals in the 2016 draft out of New Mexico State. He ended the year as the Nationals’ number seven overall prospect (per MLB Pipeline) and was named the organization’s Minor League Player of the Year in 2017 (when he was also a mid-season and post-season All-Star in the South Atlantic League).
Johnson has flashed power, contact, and speed throughout his three years on the farm, although his 2017 power burst was not replicated as well last season. He was limited to 89 games at Double-A last season in his first exposure to Eastern League pitching, hitting .267/.321/.410 with 19 doubles, seven triples, six homers, and 31 RBI while stealing 21 bases in 25 attempts. He also appeared in seven games for the Nationals’ rookie league club while rehabbing after missing a month and a half of activity during the summer. The season before, split between Class-A Hagerstown and High-A Potomac, he had a healthy 20-20 season with 22 homers and 22 stolen bases overall while hitting .298.
During Arizona Fall League action for the Salt River club in October and November of this year, Johnson appeared in 18 games, putting up a .145/.260/.177 line with two doubles and three RBI. He drew more walks (10) than he had hits (9) while striking out 19 times in 73 total plate appearances.
Johnson’s addition strengthens an organizational position of weakness. He brings with him a bat that recorded the single highest exit velocity contact during his stint in the Arizona Fall League last month. He is a gap-to-gap hard contact type of hitter with an ability to nab an extra base either on a hit or after one. Defensively, he has good range and a strong throwing arm while showing an ability to play all three outfield spots.
The Indians will acquire the third player in the deal by an April 15 deadline. Antonetti noted that “it’ll be another player of some value that we do like.”
Photo: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images