Boston Red Sox Potential Trade Partner: Cleveland Indians


Finding a pitcher good enough to stand out in the Boston Red Sox rotation and lead the staff is likely one of the easier jobs Red Sox President of Baseball Operations Dave Dombrowski has faced in his long career. Can he throw? Yes. Can he throw strikes? Yes. We’ll take him. When you have a starting rotation so bad they couldn’t hold a dog’s lead, pitching to a painful 3rd worst in the American League with a collective ERA of 4.36, basically the only way is up. 

Fortunately for Dombrowski, the offseason is rich with pitching talent available and Boston is rich with ways to acquire them. Big free agents available and endlessly speculated on are headlined by David Price, Zack Greinke and Johnny Cueto, and the Red Sox will undoubtedly pursue them. Success however isn’t guaranteed, and what other options are available if, through one reason or another, Boston has to look elsewhere to fill the gaping hole at the top of its rotation?

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Before falling to the bottom of the free agent order and signing Bartolo Colon or you and me, Dombrowski has another option that, perhaps, may even be preferable in the first instance – trading for an ace. While certainly the most desired candidates, Sonny Gray and Chris Sale, would be Dombrowski’s first calls, the possibility of acquiring them is made increasingly slim by the exorbitant cost that would be demanded in any potential trade with the Oakland A’s and Chicago White Sox respectfully. More likely trade candidates, perhaps, could be found within the Cleveland Indians.

The Indians, as noted by Rob Brandford on WEEI, are hurting for bats that can support their excellent starting pitchers. More crucially though, Cleveland is a small market club and, with either the smallest or second smallest attendances in baseball, are unlikely, if not unable, to splash the cash on free agent sluggers. This what Bradford reported from an interview with Indians GM Mike Chernoff at the Winter GM Meetings:

"The Indians need bats. They also are looking for young, controllable talent. And the three aforementioned names would fit the bill for what the Red Sox are looking for (albeit not at the Price and Greinke level).“We’re a small market club so we have to be creative and opportunistic,” Chernoff said. “I don’t think we’re looking to move guys off the major league teams. But we realize we can’t always play with the top guys so we have to be creative how to address our needs, so we have a need offensively and we have to figure out a way to address that. But I don’t think by any means we’re looking to subtract from the major league team. So we just have to see how it works out and balance the two out."

This is where Boston comes in. The Red Sox are basically the anti-Tribe. They have dumpster trucks of money, a plethora of prospects in a farm system ranked second to none, an over-abundance of hitters and a pitching staff the equivalent of an ejector seat in a helicopter. The two match up well to make a deal and help paper over the other’s holes. Where then does a trade like that begin?

Well the most obvious target for Boston in the Cleveland lineup is their ace and 2014 AL Cy Young winner Corey Kluber. Kluber’s 2015 didn’t quite hit the dizzying heights of his 2.44 ERA and 7.3 WAR 2014 campaign, but it was more than dominant enough. He finished the year with a stunning FIP of 2.97, top notch WAR of 5.5 and a mouth-watering K/9 of 9.93, astonishing from the bullpen, even more amazing over 222 innings pitched. What’s really weird about Kluber’s 2015 was that, despite his solid pitching, he won only 9 games and would take the loss in 16. That should be evidence enough of the Tribe’s complete dearth of hitting and how desperate they will be to add them.

When all is said and done though, it’s perhaps unrealistic to imagine that the Indians will want to part with their ace, when, after all, they have pitchers behind him that they can dangle instead. The perfect example is one Carlos Carrasco. I’ve read many comments on Carrasco lately, that he’s not an ace or that he’s not yet an ace, let me put those arguments to bed right now. Carrasco’s 2015 featured an FIP of 2.84, good enough to be the 9th best in all of baseball. His amazing K/9 rate of 10.58, translating into a strikeout rate of 29.6%, is the 5th best in all of baseball, behind only Sale, Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer and Chris Archer. And lest you think that puts him behind the above, he boasts a superior ground ball rate (when he’s not striking batters out) of 51.2%. All this left Carrasco with a shiny +4.8 WAR for the season and if that’s not ace-like, then I’m not quite sure what is.

Carrasco’s only potential downfall is that he managed only 183.2 innings on the year, not quite up to the snuff of the work-horse that Dombrowski seeks. Even so, he’s relatively young at 28, comes team controlled until 2018 and has two option years thereafter. At around $40 million for six years, this would make Carrasco a steal if he could be prized away from Cleveland. That of course is the hard part, and, there yet exists another option that Chernoff would perhaps prefer to part ways with – Danny Salazar.

Salazar has his advantages, he’s the youngest of the lot at 25, is unlikely to have hit his ceiling and yet still pumps out respectable numbers. His 3.45 ERA and 3.62 FIP on the year are certainly more than serviceable. His K/9 of 9.49 is even better and he achieved it with a four pitch mix headlined by a 95-96 MPH fastball. The problem with Salazar is that he’s not really what Boston are looking for.

With a pressing need to return to contention and the postseason, a pitcher with a WAR of 3 isn’t what is most needed at the top of the rotation. For a start, half a season of Clay Buchholz in 2015 was worth more at 3.2 WAR. Beyond that though, the Red Sox need that work-horse, a leader, someone with the prowess, the know-how and the stuff to shape help youngsters like Eduardo Rodriguez and Joe Kelly and be a dominating factor at Fenway for years to come.

In my estimation, the Red Sox stand to be able to go beyond Salazar and possibly Carrasco if they so choose. They have many trade chips in the farm and, just as many players that are ready for the show that can be moved. Some big hitting prospects like Manual Margot, Javier Guerra or Rafael Devers can come with top flight positional pieces like Jackie Bradley Jr, Rusney Castillo or Deven Marerro. And there’s much more where that came from.

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Either which way, as the hot stove starts to get toasty, Dombrowski will be out testing the waters on every big name you can imagine. A deal with the Indians is as beneficial to them as it is to us and you can be sure this fact hasn’t escaped Dombrowski. Expect there to be many names dropped this offseason as potential trade targets for the Red Sox, just don’t be surprised if they come from Cleveland.