Making the Right Trade a Challenge as Indians Enter Winter Meetings

This morning the Winter Meetings open in San Diego and, according to Buster Olney, the Indians are looking to make a deal.

Trades are tough to make, but may be even tougher for the Indians. Financially strapped with an approximate $85 million payroll threshold for 2015 and escalating contracts for 2016, General Manager Chris Antonetti is faced with trying to improve a roster that won 85 games and missed the playoffs by just three games. Improving the roster for the immediate, without hurting organizational depth or payroll commitments for the future, will be tough.

Last week rumors and stories leaked that Oakland and Cleveland were engrossed in trade talks involving outfielder and first baseman Brandon Moss. Moss hit .234/.334/.438 with 25 home runs and 81 runs batted in. According to reports from Susan Slusser, Oakland was looking to add Indians Double-A second baseman Joe Wendle. Wendle hit .253/.311/.414 with eight home runs and 50 runs batted in during an injury-plagued season with the Akron RubberDucks. Wendle played just 87 due to a broken hamate bone suffered in June, costing him two months of the season.

On the surface, it seems like a trade the Indians should quickly make before Oakland reconsiders. Wendle has big league potential, but entering his year 25 season, he’s likely a year away from Cleveland and in a fight with a cluster of minor league middle infielders for progression through the minor league system. If the Indians have anywhere to deal from depth, it’s at middle infielder in their minor league system.

According to, Moss is slated to make approximately $7.1 million in salary arbitration this winter. That would eat a large chunk of the $10-12 million the Indians have available to spend this winter and create a serious financial crunch to the team’s payroll in 12 months. Moss, who would be under team control for two seasons, would certainly help provide more offense and another power threat for the middle of the order but would become part of a logjam with Carlos Santana, Nick Swisher, David Murphy and Ryan Raburn in a first base/right field/designated hitter carousel. Each are on the 40-man roster and under contract for 2015, creating a tough roster situation if Moss were acquired.

Cleveland may have a deal with Oakland, or did at one time, but may have been looking to deal one of the above players elsewhere before making the Moss deal. Cleveland may have been trying to insist Oakland take one of the above players—like Murphy or Raburn—in addition to Wendle in the deal.

As Olney tweeted Sunday morning, the Indians arrive to the Winter Meetings looking to deal major league talent for major league talent. That type of trade is becoming more difficult in Major League Baseball and even more rare. Assuming the Indians regard Michael Brantley, Jason Kipnis, Yan Gomes, Corey Kluber, Danny Salazar, Cody Allen and Carlos Carrasco as core members that they intend to build around for the future, that leaves a group of players like Lonnie Chisenhall, Jose Ramirez, T.J. House, Trevor Bauer and Bryan Shaw as guys the Indians would prefer to keep but could part with, and Swisher, Murphy, Raburn and Michael Bourn as contracts the Tribe would gladly part ways with.

It’s not easy to trade players with inflated contracts for players that can become core players or at least players of value that a team doesn’t want to part with. It’s uncomfortable to trade players from the second group—players of value and under team control—for players that can make immediate impact but not consume too much salary.

Antonetti always has to walk the fine line between creating the most competitive roster for the current season and the future, but this week and this winter may be one of his most challenging tasks. He’s faced with building a competitive roster for 2015, without going over budget in the future. Winning now, at the sake of a trading a core player to make finances work in 12 months, is a large risk to take—especially with a fragile fan base.

A mismanagement of payroll this winter—combined with Swisher and Bourn’s lofty contracts—could create a situation where Cleveland doesn’t have the funds to negotiate an extension with Kluber or be forced to move a core player with an escalating contract, like Santana, next winter. Trading core players with promises of future prospects has damaged the fan base in the past. Another similar move could be catastrophic. A failure to improve the roster for 2015 will not excite fans, nor will it make them a favorite in the American League Central Division.

Good luck this week, Chris Antonetti, enjoy the San Diego sunshine.

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