Taking a Look at Tribe Trade Targets

The Indians find themselves in the unusual position of a significant division lead coming out of the All-Star break. That means that the Tribe are a legitimate buyer at the upcoming August 1 non-waiver trading deadline. The last time the front office made a blockbuster buy at the deadline was when they received Ubaldo Jimenez in 2011 from the Rockies for Drew Pomeranz, Alex White, and two others. And we all know how well that worked out.

This year, however, the Tribe aren’t looking for a dominant starting pitcher (they got a few of those already), they are looking for bullpen help, especially from the left side, and possibly another hitter. The bullpen, currently the weakness of the team, needs some upgrades for the post-season. With only Cody Allen and Dan Otero pitching well and Bryan Shaw’s inconsistences, not having a reliable left-hander could very easily hurt the club in October. As for the hitter, the Tribe seems to not be looking for serious help. As Chris Antonetti, the Indians’ president of baseball operations, told mlb.com, “There is no bigger acquisition that we could make than getting a healthy Michael Brantley back.” Thus, the Tribe would only trade for a bat if he really helped the team.

As a small market team, the Indians don’t want to add too much in salary. Nor do they want to sell the farm either by giving away more than a few top prospects. So with those two restrictions in mind, let’s take a look at some of their other options, from least costly to most costly.

Tyler Thornburg, RHP Milwaukee Brewers

Though closer Jeremy Jeffress or lefty Will Smith will probably garner lots of interest from other teams, it’s Thornburg who the Tribe might acquire. The 27-year-old has a 2.45 ERA in 36 2/3 innings for the fourth place Brewers, and is primarily used in the eighth inning. He actually produces a reverse split and is better against lefties than righties. Opposite handed batters are hitting .123/.194/.193 off of him and striking out 45.3% of the time, the highest rate in the NL. Thus, he would be serve as the team’s lefty specialist with the added bonus of a good matchup against righties as well (who bat less than .200 off of him).

The only downside to acquiring Thornburg is his lack of experience. He’s only pitched in 100 innings the past three years combined, all for a non-playoff team. Terry Francona doesn’t seem to trust relievers without a lot of big game experience, so he’d just be another guy in the bullpen. The upside to lack of experience is team control. This off-season would be Thornburg’s first in arbitration, so he’s under club control for another three years.

Fernando Abad, LHP Minnesota Twins

The Twins are the second worst team in the Majors and are sure to be selling, but it might be hard to trade with them after they fired their GM. If the Tribe were to inquire about anyone playing for their division rival, it would be Abad. The lefty has a 2.73 ERA and 27 strikeouts in 29 2/3 innings. Two years ago, he had a career year, posting a 1.57 ERA in 69 appearances, but that may have been fueled largely by luck. Lefties have a .159/.196/.256 slash line against him this year, so we know he can be used as a specialist.

Without much of a proven track record, the Tribe should only acquire Abad for a minor prospect. I’m also not sure how much Francona would use the 30-year-old given his lack of big game experience. Knowing the front office’s history, this would be a move many expect them to make. However, I think they’ll go bigger.

Danny Valencia, 3B/OF Oakland A’s

The only non-reliever on this list, the 31-year-old has shown a bit of a resurgence this year on a struggling A’s team. His slash line this year is .301/.352/.490 and he’s already whacked 12 home runs in 70 games. Though Valencia is a good hitter—the last two years combined he had a .276/.324/.455 slash line—he’s stepped up his game in 2016 due in large part to a changed approach. He goes the other way more than any other time in his career, and it’s made him successful. The drawbacks of a Valencia trade are his low walk rate (6.7% this year) and high strikeout rate (21.1%), but offensively he’s still an upgrade over Juan Uribe. And the A’s are looking to get rid of him, as Mike Axisa of CBSSports.com reports. Thus the Tribe won’t have to give up much to acquire him, and he’s under club control through 2017.

Since he’s played primarily third base this year, if the Tribe acquired him Jose Ramirez would become a true utility player. The only problem would be on defense. Valencia is a poor defender at third (worst fielding percentage in the AL and advanced metrics rate him even worse) and would probably need to be replaced in the later innings. This could be a problem if Francona wants to continue to employ a three-man bench.

Tyler Clippard, RHP Arizona Diamondbacks

The Diamondbacks already traded their closer, Brad Ziegler, to the Red Sox, so they’re certainly looking to sell. And their new closer, Clippard, is on the block. The right-hander has a 3.53 ERA in 35 2/3 innings and a K/9 over ten. Frustratingly, he does walk a few batters (3.03 BB/9), but it never seemed to affect him in the past. He’s also a proven closer, having saved 32 games for the Nationals in 2012 and 19 last year for A’s and Mets. To add on to his experience, he’s pitched in the postseason, including two innings in last year’s World Series. Of course, that experience comes at a price, which, in this case, is $6.1 million in 2017. It would also mean parting with a top 100 prospect like Bobby Bradley or Brady Aiken.

The concern with Clippard is the increase in hits this year. He has a career high in WHIP (1.23) and is giving up almost a hit per inning. It’s frustrating for both the manager and the fans when a reliever is constantly putting men on base. He may have been the victim of some bad luck this year as evidenced by a .318 BABIP, a career high. His luck should start to change and those hits will stop falling. Plus, he’s got the excellent Tribe defense behind him to turn more balls into outs.

Andrew Miller, LHP New York Yankees

The prize of the reliever marker, Miller will come at a hefty price for the Tribe. The cost would definitely be either Bradley Zimmer or Clint Frazier and another top 100 prospect, but if the front office really wants to go all in on 2016 (to borrow a phrase from the Cavs) they will pull the trigger. Of course, that would make Miller the second highest paid player on the team at $9 million, but that’s a small price to pay for a bona fide shot a title.

Why is he so pricey? In addition to two more years under contract, Miller is the best reliever on the market. He’s got the second highest strikeout rate among relievers (15.62 K/9), the ninth lowest ERA (1.34), and the ninth lowest walk rate (1.56 BB/9). He’s faced 152 batters this year and 70 of them struck out. And he’s been consistently good, too. Over the past four years, he has the seventh lowest ERA among relievers at 1.98 and the second highest K/9 trailing only Aroldis Chapman. So yeah, he’s really good. And it would cost the Tribe a hefty penny to acquire him. But if they did, the reliever problem would instantly be solved. Shaw, Miller, and Allen would shut down the last three innings.

The Indians don’t have to make any moves at the trading deadline. They’ve got the best record in the AL for a reason. But when Jeff Manship is pitching in the seventh inning of a one-run game in the ALCS and gives up a costly hit, you know who blame. And it’s not the pitcher.

Photo: Brian Blanco/Getty Images

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