ABOUT THE TRADES
1. The Edwin Encarnacion/Carlos Santana deal with Seattle was driven a lot by money. The Indians don’t believe Santana will deliver the same power numbers as Encarnacion, who has hit at least 32 HR in each of the last seven years. His lowest RBI total in that span was 98.
2. Encarnacion will be 36 next season. His bat is slowing down a bit. He used to be an OK first baseman, but at this stage of his career his best position by far is DH. The Indians whacked $11 million from their payroll in 2019. They’ll pay Santana about $14 million while Encarnacion will make $20 million in 2019 – plus he has a $5 million buyout for 2020. That meant the Tribe owed him $25 million.
3. Tribe President Chris Antonetti said the move gives the Indians more “payroll flexibility.” Exactly what that means for 2019 is unclear. They also traded Yan Gomes for prospects, and that cut another $7 million in the process. But it doesn’t mean the Indians will suddenly be in the free agent market.
4. I don’t know how much the Indians plan to cut from their $134 million payroll in 2018, but cost-saving is happening. Fans can debate the economics and return to the “Tribe is cheap” mantra. But regardless of what Major League Baseball says, not having a salary cap leads to teams such as Cleveland, Cincinnati, Kansas City and Pittsburgh going through payroll slashes at various times.
5. The Indians continued the payroll cutting by sending Yonder Alonso and the $9 million he’s owed in 2019 to the White Sox for Alex Call, a 24-year-old outfield. Call split the season between Class A and Class AA, batting .248 (.760 OPS) with 12 HR and 58 RBI. He’s just a so-so prospect, a former third-round pick in 2016.
6. The trades of Encarnacion Alonso and Gomes could mean the the Indians will keep their starting rotation together, despite all the serious trade talks centering on Corey Kluber and Trevor Bauer. Or maybe that means if they do trade a starter, they are in a better position to bring back a player with a higher salary than they would have done a week ago.
7. The Indians still could trade a starter. My sense is they wanted to move Encarnacion before making a final decision on any trade dealing with Bauer or Kluber. The Indians now have a clearer payroll picture than they did when the winter meetings opened last week.
8. I had forgotten the Phillies traded Santana to Seattle only 12 days ago. They signed him to a 3-year, $60 million deal before the 2018 season. But when all the money moves around, the Indians will only owe Santana $29 million over the next two seasons.
9. Meanwhile, Seattle supposedly wants to trade Encarnacion. The Mariners are in a youth movement. When the Indians signed Encarnacion before the 2017 season, it was with the hope of returning to the World Series in the next year or two. He was paid $35 million over the first two seasons. In the third season, it rises to $25 million for 2019.
10. The Indians like Santana: “We have a long history with him and we know what makes him tick,” said team president Antonetti. Manager Terry Francona has long appreciated Santana because the first baseman is durable, draws a lot of walks, has some power and is a switch-hitter. The Indians deemed the lefty-hitting Alonso very expendable, preferring Santana at first along with sometimes being the DH.
11. The 32-year-old Santana missed only one game in 2018 for Philadelphia. His .229 batting average was the lowest of his 9-year career. His .766 OPS was second-lowest. His 24 HR and 86 RBI were about normal for him. Santana had his usual dismal early-season problems at the plate. He was hitting only .209 at the All-Star break, then batted .256 after. I’m not going to dwell on those stats. Tribe fans watched Santana for eight years and know he doesn’t heat up until the weather does. That also seemed to be the pattern for Encarnacion.
12. The Indians spent the off-season trying to find a trading partner for Encarnacion. Because he’s mostly a DH, that eliminated the National League teams. Because of his hefty contract, the natural trading partners were big market teams such as New York, Boston and the Angels. All have DHs making big money.
13. I thought the Indians were going to give Yandy Diaz a chance to establish himself as the team’s third baseman in 2019. I thought wrong. He was traded to Tampa Bay for 22-year-old Jake Bauers.
14. Diaz is 27. The knock against Diaz is his lack of power – one HR in 265 big league at-bats over two seasons. In that span, he batted .283 (.727 OPS). Maybe he won’t hit for power. But a guy who makes contact, draws walks and hits for average (with a decent OPS) has value in the strikeout-crazed game played today.
15. Last season, Diaz didn’t receive much playing time, yet he hit .312 (.797 OPS) in 109 at-bats. The Cuban import played 282 games over four seasons at Class AAA Columbus, batting .319 (.848 OPS).
16. Tampa Bay VP Chaim Bloom told The Athletic’s Juan Torbio: “The key in this deal is how we feel about Yandy Diaz. We really like his bat. He hasn’t gotten an opportunity to play with regularity at the major league level, just being blocked by some of the players the Indians have had. … He hits the ball to all fields, hits the ball really, really hard and has a chance to drive the ball more as he continues to develop as a hitter.”
17. The Diaz/Bauers deal came down to two front offices with different opinions about two players who have yet to establish themselves in the majors. The Indians obviously like Bauers more than Diaz. Antonetti called him “an above-average first baseman” who also can play left field.
18. Bauers was fast-tracked to the majors at the age of 22. According to the Tampa Bay Times, he batted .244 (.852 OPS) in his first 48 big league games, .150 (.520 OPS) in his last 48. That added up to .201 (.700 OPS) with 11 HR and 48 RBI. He struck out 104 times compared to 54 walks.
19. A few days before the trade was made, Tampa Bay Manager Kevin Cash said this about Bauers during his winter meetings press conference: “He’s been about the youngest player at every level he’s played. He tends to struggle and then figure it out … this year, he just didn’t have time to figure it out (before the season ended).”
20. More Cash on Bauers: “He’s hit at every level where he’s been. He has helped our infielders because he gives them confidence when they throw to first base.”
21. Bauers batted .268 (.781 OPS) with 18 HR in 184 Class AAA games in 2017-18. In Class AA (2016-17), he was .275 (.771 OPS) with 19 HR in 204 games. In his 6-year minor-league career, Bauers played 414 games at first, 145 in the outfield.
22. Depending upon how Bauers plays in spring training, he could open with the Tribe or at Class AAA. He is best at first base, but supposedly can play a decent left field – a wide-open position at the moment.
23. The trade of Diaz means Jose Ramirez probably will start at third base, where he made the All-Star team. Jason Kipnis will move back from the outfield (where he ended the season) to second base.
24. I keep hearing that the Indians remain aggressive on the trade front. They know the roster has flaws in the outfield and bullpen. They also want to add prospects because they traded several in the last few years in an attempt to win now – Justus Sheffield, Clint Frazier, Will Castro and Francisco Mejia.
25. Also in the Bauers deal was Tribe minor-league pitcher Cole Sulser. He’s 28, and the right-handed reliever had an 8-4 record and 3.86 ERA between Class AA and AAA for the Indians last season. He joins Tampa Bay having never pitched in a regular-season MLB game.