LAS VEGAS – Owner Paul Dolan will make the final decision, but Chris Antonetti and GM Mike Chernoff are the guys preparing the recommendations that will guide that decision. It’s something they approach with great diligence.
If they don’t, just about anyone they encounter reminds them what’s at stake.
Yes, few in Greater Cleveland have missed the fact that the Indians are contemplating trading starting pitchers Corey Kluber or Trevor Bauer. If Antonetti didn’t know that before he left for the winter meetings, he does now.
When he arrived at Hopkins International Airport for Sunday’s flight to Las Vegas, he was grilled at the ticket counter and the TSA screening station.
“I got it from the security guard when I was getting screened on my way out here,” said Antonetti, president of baseball operations. “(And) at the check-in (counter) at the airport. It’s great. It’s one of the things that are great about sports. People are passionate about it. They have opinions and are often happy to share those opinions.”
Chernoff’s grilling usually takes place in the morning when he drops his kids off at school.
Twenty years with the Indians has given Antonetti a thick skin. If he hasn’t heard it all by now, well, he’s heard close to it all.
“I’m thankful that people are engaged and care about the Indians,” said Antonetti. “And care enough to ask or offer their opinions. As long as they’re not throwing sharp objects when they’re doing it.”
If the trade happens, it’s going to be a tough one to sell no matter who goes and who stays. It is something that Antonetti and Chernoff are thinking about constantly because the goal never changes.
“We feel a great responsibility and understand the impact of the decisions and recommendations that we make,” said Antonetti. “We wake up every day thinking about how we’re going to win a World Series and go to bed at night thinking about that. And we recognize that there are a lot of people that cheer for the Cleveland Indians who are thinking the same thing and there’s a responsibility that goes a long with it.”
Before the Indians’ traveling party left for Vegas, Chernoff and Antonetti established some safeguards for themselves. With 30 teams in close confines at the winter meetings, the urge to make a trade can sometimes take over. They said they’d remind each other to use those safeguards.
“We try to use the meetings to help increase the frequency of interaction with teams,” said Chernoff. “But not change your decision-making dynamics. That can be hard when you’re outside your element. We’re usually in our office doing this.”
It can cause a laugh or two as well.
Monday afternoon Antonetti, Chernoff and manager Terry Franco were eating lunch in their hotel suite. They were watching MLB Network and a Tweet was shown saying that talks were intensifying between the Indians and Dodgers in a trade involving Kluber. They were in the room together and not a Dodger representative was in sight, so they laughed and continued eating lunch.
The Indians have been talking about trading a starting pitcher for at least seven weeks. They know what the other teams are offering. The fact that they’re meeting face to face this week at the Mandalay Bay Resort with the same teams only re-affirms what they already know.
Maybe nothing gets done this week, but sometime in the near future the Indians are going to have to make a decision – make the trade or walk away.
The hard part is deciding which team has made the best offer in terms of what the Indians are trying to do – win a fourth straight AL Central championship and make a strong October run, but also positioning themselves for the coming years with a younger roster and a more flexible payroll.
“Trying to place values on individual players, let alone sets of players, is a really hard thing to do,” said Antonetti. “But we spent a lot of time thinking about that; what are the right combinations of players that will help our team the most?”
Money is the motivating factor behind this potential trade. Asked if the goal is for the Indians to have a smaller payroll than last season’s franchise record $135 million, Antonetti said, “I’m not sure. Finances are an element of any decision that we make. As we’ve shared, ownership has invested incredible resources into our team over the course of the past few seasons to help push us to a World Series championship. At some point, you have to make sure you have sustainable finances that will work for the long term. We’re in the process of working through exactly what that will be.”
As for now the Indians continue to work both sides of the aisle. They just traded catcher Yan Gomes to Washington for three young players. It was a deal to shed Gomes’ upcoming salary of $7 million. Right after that they extended Carlos Carrasco’s contract through 2022 with a vesting option for 2023. The guaranteed portion of the deal was worth $37.25 million.
They saved some money for today, while adding stability for the future. But can they maintain that kind of balance in a trade for Kluber or Bauer?