Should the Indians Buy or Sell? Time Will Tell

The 2019 Cleveland Indians are in a precarious position. They are faced with the unenviable task of determining whether to fold or push their chips into the center of the table. As the season has progressed, an upstart Minnesota Twins ballclub, injuries to key personnel, and underachieving healthy players have thwarted their plans to coast to another American League Central division title.

So, here they sit, a full 11 games behind the division leader on June 14. They are 1.5 games out of a wildcard spot. Reports from all over the league are surfacing with references to how Brad Hand would look in Dodger blue or how Trevor Bauer would look in pinstripes. The decision point for how they would like to approach the remainder of the 2019 season is approaching rapidly… but it is not here yet.

Before we rush into making sweeping proclamations about the Indians chances over the remainder of this season, it is important to remember that baseball is inherently unpredictable. The way a team has performed prior is not always indicative of how things will unfold for the remainder of the season. Schedule variability from month to month, the player performance roller coaster, and pure luck shape long runs of success or failure.

The Indians are approaching the critical point. To make the decision to trade players who could possibly help them in future years, you must assess your position comprehensively. None of their players with any semblance of value will be free agents following this season, so there are no immediate fire sale options. Starting pitcher Trevor Bauer, who will command a hefty price tag in 2020 arbitration, is a likely candidate for discussion if things turn sour. As is relief stud Brad Hand, though he is controlled cheaply through the 2021 season. Cleveland-lover Carlos Santana has a contract out following next year’s campaign and has been pleasantly productive.

None of these decisions can be made, however, until you decide how to treat the remainder of 2019. The Indians would be best served to wait it out a little bit longer. The next 39 games leading up to the doorstep of the trade deadline are pivotal. Over that stretch, the Indians will play 30 games against the four worst teams in the American League — the Baltimore Orioles, Detroit Tigers, Kansas City Royals, and Toronto Blue Jays. Of the remaining games, a pivotal second half of the season kickoff series brings the Minnesota Twins to town. The other six contests are against the surprising Texas Rangers (4 games over .500) and the instate Cincinnati Reds (6 games below .500).

The next 39 contests will line up as follows.

OpponentHome GamesAway GamesOpp. Winning %
Kansas City Royals770.324
Detroit Tigers730.385
Texas Rangers40.529
Toronto Blue Jays30.368
Baltimore Orioles30.309
Minnesota Twins30.672
Cincinnati Reds20.455

This stretch will be a key factor in the decision to hold or sell assets like Trevor Bauer and Brad Hand. While the end of the stretch butts up against the trade deadline, the status of the club as it relates to 2019 contention should offer more clarity when this stretch matures past the halfway point.

It might make sense for the Indians to deal Hand. It might make sense for the Indians to deal Bauer. No matter how much the national media wants to push that envelope, however, it does not make sense to consider doing so until the picture settles more over the next month. The asset value lost by waiting it out in this capacity is dwarfed by the standings leverage gained. This is where small-market executives like Mike Chernoff and Chris Antonetti display their worth – critical buy or sell decisions when a team that could theoretically go in either direction is on the brink. It would behoove them to take a calculated approach and see how the club performs against cavalcade of subpar teams.

2 replies »

  1. The hot takes on Twitter seem to ignore the key point – NO ONE being mentioned is on an expiring contract. The guys the Indians do have on expiring contracts (Kipnis, Martin) are of zero value to anyone. There is absolutely no urgency to act because there is no deal where they can create even a nominal asset from a player that is leaving anyway, As much as Cleveland fans hate to hear the term, at the end of the day any trade of the other players is a “business decision.” If you view it in that context the decision is driven by the value you place on the existing player over the remaining term of control versus the assets someone is offering you in return. When you are still in the thick of the Wild Card race you have yet another reason to hold out for the highest possible price because you are not desperate to make a deal. So the key here is to play “The Price is Right” and fairly benchmark the assets you have that may be of interest to contenders (Hand, Bauer, or Santana). If someone offers you a package in return that you think is well in excess of that value, you make the move. If the offers are less than what you think the asset is worth, you stand pat. You can rarely go wrong selling assets for more than they are worth. The Yankees in 2016 are a good example: they didn’t gut the team but they sold some expiring contracts and got what they determined to be great value for Andrew Miller. The Indians were a motivated buyer and were willing to pay an extremely high price for a specific piece. It worked out well for them because they wouldn’t have made it to the World Series without Miller. The Yankees made the playoffs next year and acquired assets that will help them for years to come. Sometimes these deals pay off for both teams. To be successful you have to fairly assess your situation, place accurate values on your assets, and ensure that you are receiving an ample return on the assets you are moving.

    • This is a great comment…and when you think about the Yankees that year…they dealt away probably the two best relievers in baseball…in Miller and Aroldis Chapman…to competing World Series teams for a nice haul.

      They also had the benefit of other fantastic pen arms though, and likely an inside track on bringing back Chapman. If Hand continues down the current path, the Indians could get insane offers for him…absolutely insane…

      Just not sure where their heads are at…

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