Chris Cotillo of MLB Daily Dish has reported that Cleveland Indians scouts have been told to focus on the Tampa Bay Rays’ prospects. The assumption, according to Cotillo, is that Cleveland scouts are trying to evaluate players to be joined to a David Price trade. Let’s outline who the Rays can expect to get in return from the Indians.
In spite of the lack of a clear ace, the Indians were the first staff to reach 500 strikeouts this season, and are currently an even 47-47 on the season. The Tribe are 7.5 games behind the division-leading Tigers and are a game behind the Royals. The only good pitching component for a trade with the Rays, is 23 year-old Trevor Bauer (3-4, 3.84 ERA), but he’s been pitching too well recently to be dealt in the midst of a playoff push. Danny Salazar has been the more popular candidate in previous rumors, but Danny Salazar fell-off of a cliff at the beginning of the season. Rays fans will remember Salazar from a certain wild-card playoff game last year, and he’s on the same free-agent clock as Bauer: first eligible to be a free agent in 2020. Before the season started, the Tribe were pretty high on Salazar, but he’s back at Triple-A and he is not even doing well.
As for offensive prospects, the hands-down best the Indians can offer is shortstop Francisco Lindor. He’s a top-5 prospect in baseball according to Baseball America, and just earned great marks for his heads-up play in the field at the Futures Game. Despite being just 20 years old, Lindor is already an intelligent and elite defender plus is hitting well at Double-A Akron (.284/.361/.400). If he stays this good, there would be a logjam at shortstop in Tampa Bay, and you might see Yunel Escobar’s name (he of the two-year $13 million contract extension) floated in further trade rumors. Lindor is said to be “untouchable” by other clubs, but the Cubs recently acquired Addison Russell from Oakland, and Russell was equally said to be untouchable. No other prospect makes sense in a deal that would net David Price. Without Lindor, I see no reason for the Rays to listen at all to the Indians.
Other than Lindor, Indians’ top 50 prospect Clint Frazier makes some sense as part of a trade. Frazier is 19 years-old, the 5th overall pick from the 2013 draft, and is having something of a down year (.779 OPS at Low-A). While Frazier has recently been legitimating his prospect-ranking (.455 BA in his past 10 games), he would not be enough on his own (even with Salazar or even Bauer) to exchange for Price. Acquiring Frazier could mean shoring up the Rays’ outfield for a long time (imagine an outfield in a few years of Wil Myers, Kevin Kiermaier, and Frazier!), but he is far from the big leagues and carries plenty of risk.
Before the 2014 season, the Indians went courting Price, and apparently the Rays countered by asking about a package that included Lindor, Salazar, and displaced catcher (and recent victim of concussion by foul-ball) Carlos Santana. The Indians apparently walked away from this offer. And I think with Salazar losing his ability to miss bats this year, this would have been a disappointing deal for the Rays to make. Santana was bombing offensively at the beginning of the season, he caught fire for a bit, but he cooled down heading into the All-Star break. Before his concussion at the end of May Santana was slashing .159/.327/.301. After recuperating he hit .308/.426/.590 with 4 doubles and 6 HRs in 78 ABs in June, although he has cooled off in July. The slow start is disconcerting, but Santana remains a talented hitter.
Defensively, however, it’s hard to see where Santana would play. So far this year he’s been a poor defender at both third base and first base and has not spent much time behind the plate. Catcher is the only position (except perhaps DH) where he could have a regular spot in the Rays lineup, but then you would have to worry about another concussion. Finally, it has to be mentioned that Santana certainly is not the type of controllable young player the Rays are looking for. Santana isn’t exactly cheap for the next three years, making $6 million in 2015, $8.25 million in 2016, $12 million team-option in 2017 with a $1.2 million buyout. In addition,$15.45 million is a bit much for two years of a DH, especially if the Rays are going to try to add competitive pieces for next season. His willingness to play different positions is a plus, but questions remain about his defensive ability wherever you put him. He does have an outstanding bat, but that isn’t enough.
With the season reaching its midpoint Justin Masterson is out until at least the end of the month, the Indians may be pressured into making a more Rays-friendly deal now than before the season started. You have to wonder whether the Indians are also motivated to keep pace with other Northeast Ohio teams who have acquired some marquis and popular players recently. Both shall remain nameless in this article, but, nevertheless, the Indians are on the precipice of being the least popular team in Cleveland if they don’t make a move. At this point, I expect the Rays to be asking for both Lindor and Frazier at a minimum return for trading David Price (and possibly a minor leaguer). Price makes a lot of sense for this team that is without a legitimate number one starter, and they might (just barely) have the requisite prospects for this projected trade to make long-term sense from the Rays’ perspective. If the Indians would not be willing to give up Lindor and Frazier, though, Salazar’s struggles plus Santana’s defensive and financial issues are not something that would interested the Rays, and a deal will not take place.