The Cleveland Indians are, without a doubt, the biggest surprise of the season so far. Currently, they hold a strong lead in the AL Central division and have the best record in the American League. They have been able to achieve this without their best player Michael Brantley who has only played in 11 games this season with a nagging shoulder injury. He went on a rehab assignment right before the All-Star break and recently was shut down again after experiencing discomfort again. With lingering right biceps tendonitis, he was transferred to the 60-Day disabled list to free up a slot on the 40 man roster. Considering his importance to the future of this organization, I would not be opposed to the Indians putting him on the back burner. Shutting him down for the majority of the regular season games remaining would be the best option. Get him focused on getting healthy for the postseason or the start of 2017. Once he is 100% healthy, there is no doubt in my mind that he could roll out of bed and hit .300 in October.
The biggest question mark surrounding the Feisty Featherheads is the bullpen. This unit is far from the famed “bullpen mafia” from 2013 that led Cleveland to their last playoff appearance in a Wild Card berth. They desperately need a lefty in the back end of the bullpen. Whether it be a guy who can get anyone out or strictly a lefty specialist, they need someone to aid them down the stretch. The best options in my opinion are……
Marc Rzepczynski – Oakland Athletics
A return to the Erie shore for “scrabble” would be a pleasant one for tribe fans. He was very good for the Indians giving up just 24 runs over 66.1 innings over two years as a lefty specialist. His numbers are slightly down in Oakland this year but I give him a slight break given he is playing for the third worst team in the AL. His hits and home runs per 9 innings are down from previous years but his walk rate is higher. Pitching in high leverage situations for a contender will give him his edge back. I trust Scrabble in late innings against lefties more than anyone on the Indians. The best part about bringing Rzepczynski back? He is a cheap option compared to others. These two teams have a good relationship. Oakland acquired their second baseman of the future (Joe Wendle) from the Indians in the 2014 offseason and recently made a deal for Ross Detwiler.
Ian Krol – Atlanta Braves
The Atlanta Braves are a mess, and once again they find themselves in the cellar. They need all the help they can get and the Indians have a plethora of guys that can make an impact for them down the road. Lindor and Kipnis are locked into the middle infield for years to come. A guy like Erik Gonzales could make an immediate impact in Atlanta. Clint Frazier and Brad Zimmer are two top 25 prospects in all of baseball and will be the face of the Indians in about two years so a guy like Mike Papi who is quickly ascending in the minors could be a good fit for the Braves in the future. Atlanta essentially has nothing to lose and everything to gain by parting ways with Krol.
Will Smith – Milwaukee Brewers
Here we have another cheap, dominant lefty who could solve all the bullpen issues the Indians are facing. He’s toiling away on a cellar dweller and deserves to be on a better team. The Brewers need all the help they can get. Smith has been great in 2016, giving up just four earned runs and holding opposing hitters to a .175 batting average. He has also shown great consistency in his short time in the league.
Andrew Miller – New York Yankees
Andrew Miller seems to be the hottest attraction for the deadline this year. Rumors are swirling around his name. The hottest rumors surround the Yankees and Cubs. Reportedly, the Yankees want young phenom, Kyle Schwarber, in return for Miller. I imagine the evil empire would want a guy like Zimmer or Frazier in return for the dominant southpaw. That asking price is far too high for a guy that only throws 60 innings a year. For me, Andrew Miller should be off the table for the Indians.
Yan Gomes injured himself over the weekend. He will miss 4-8 weeks with a separated shoulder. In the meantime, Roberto Perez will fill his shoes. However, I am not sold on Perez being able to lead this team to the postseason. I have gone on record multiple times in favor of Perez saying he would start on 75% of teams in the league. He is great defensively but his offensive input is minimal. Granted, Gomes was not exactly hitting the cover off the ball (.165/.198/.313 AVG/OBP/SLUG). It is simply not feasible for the Indians to expect to continue their success only getting production from 8 members of their lineup. Perez has yet to earn his first base knock of the year. He missed nearly all of the season after thumb surgery. I am a little worried about his health. Gomes’ injury seemed to expedite his rehab assignment. Hopefully he is perfectly healthy and the lack of rehab playing time will only affect his adjustment at the plate.
Considering both the injuries to Gomes and Brantley, the Tribe may need to go out and add a big bat to their lineup. Rumors are linking the Brewers and Indians in a deal around Jonathon Lucroy.
Sources: CLE in talks for MIL's Jonathan Lucroy. Perhaps Brantley's situation has pushed them to add a hitter & consider upgrade at catcher.
— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) July 20, 2016
Lucroy is a versatile hitter that can add something special to this team. In addition to duties behind the plate, he can spell Napoli and Santana at first and even slide in at designated hitter if need be. Lucroy presumably has been on Cleveland’s radar all season.
Rumors from not so trusty sources have somehow added Ryan Braun to the Lucroy deal. A famed baseball insider has yet to acknowledge any type of truth to this trade so take this as you want. But I know you trusty SportsTalkFeed readers remember I was the first to put Braun on the table as an option for the Indians. A massive deal with Braun, Lucroy and Smith will set the Indians over the edge and instantly make them the favorites to win the American League and maybe even the World Series. In one swoop they fill all the holes they have. Braun fills Brantley’s shoes, Lucroy replaces Gomes’ lack of production and Smith gives the Indians the strong lefty they so desperately need. For a deal like this, I would totally okay parting ways with Bradley Zimmer or Clint Frazier, Mike Clevinger, Francisco Mejia and one more prospect.
But like I said, this is just an underground twitter rumor. The kneejerk reaction is very positive but the more I look at it, the more I dislike it. Braun is an aging ex-alleged PED user who makes a boatload of money ($96 million thru 2021) over the rest of his contract. Trading a number one prospect for that is sketchy. The most beneficial deal for the Indians should be centered around Lucroy and Smith for Clevinger and two other non-top 5 prospects. I would totally be okay with that deal. Clevinger has tons of upside but does not really have a spot in Cleveland. Scouts question Fransisco Mejia’s size and durability. If a deal along the lines of this can be made, the Indians will make out like gangbusters.
Writer’s note: Who do you think the Indians should go after before the deadline? Let me know @OmSzabo