LAS VEGAS — Seattle GM Jerry Dipoto completed the deal from his hospital bed. Indians executives Chris Antonetti and Mike Chernoff signed off while boarding an early morning flight from Las Vegas to Cleveland on Thursday. Chaim Bloom, vice president of baseball operations for the Rays, was the only deal maker still on site at the Mandalay Bay Resort as the three teams closed the books on the winter meetings with one of the biggest deals of the week.
The trade brought first baseman Carlos Santana home to Cleveland along with $6 million from the Mariners to help pay the estimated $35 million left on his two-year deal. The Indians sent Seattle DH Edwin Encarnacion and their Competitive Balance Round B draft pick in June. Then they traded Yandy Diaz and right-hander Cole Sulser to the Rays for first baseman-outfielder Jake Bauers.
While Dipoto has stripped the Mariners to the studs for a rebuild, and Tampa Bay is stockpiling talent for the season ahead after winning an impressive 90 games last season in the rugged AL East, what does this mean for the Indians?
Well, for one thing, it’s not the last trade they’re going to make.
Yonder Alonso could be next. Santana and Bauers are capable of handling the first base-DH rotation, and Alonso will make $8 million in 2019 with a vesting option for 2020.
Antonetti and Chernoff have been trying to take some of the air out of the Tribe’s $135 million payroll from last season. They traded Yan Gomes and his $7 million salary to Washington for three minor leaguers. They’ve slammed the door on their 12 free agents, including former building blocks Michael Brantley, Cody Allen, Lonnie Chisenhall and Josh Tomlin.
Meanwhile, insisting that they are not starting over, they extended Carlos Carrasco’s contract through 2022 by exercising his $10.5 million club option in 2020 followed salaries of $12 million in 2021 and 2022 with a vesting option for 2023. Yes, its a below-market contract, but it also shines light on the balancing act the Indians are trying to complete.
After Thursday’s trade, here’s how the Tribe looked at the money side of things:
They’re going to save $10 million in 2019, but take on $14 million in 2020. The Mariners will pay them $2 million in 2019 and $4 million in 2020 to help pay Santana’s contract.
Antonetti said the deal gives them room to work with the payroll in 2019. They need it.
There are still holes to fill in the bullpen and outfield. Bauers could fill one of the corner outfield spots, but he played mostly first base as a rookie last season for the Rays. Bloom said he just started playing the outfield when he reached Class AAA Durham.
Antonetti has said repeatedly this winter that he wants to field a strong team in 2019, a team capable of winning the AL Central and competing for the World Series. But he also wants a roster that has the future in mind.
So how much does the future have to be taken into account? Enough where the Indians are still considering trading two-time Cy Young winner Corey Kluber or rising right-hander Trevor Bauer?
Well, there’s still a lot of winter left. Kluber has club options for 2020 and 2021. Bauer is under control through 2020. If the Indians trade one of them, that could take a bite out of that $14 million they’re assuming next next year and bring new talent onto the roster.
On the other hand, if the Indians could move Alonso or Jason Kipnis, it may lessen the need to trade Kluber or Bauer. That way they could keep their prized rotation intact for at least one more year. As long as Kluber and Bauer can co-exist, that is.
This winter will definitely change the vibe in the locker room. Last season it was muted, almost directionless. Next season it will be brand new. Brantley, Encarnacion, Gomes, Allen, Chisenhall, Rajai Davis, Melky Cabrera, Andrew Miller, Erik Gonzalez, Oliver Perez and Diaz will all be gone. It will be Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez’s time to lead if they are so inclined.
The Indians signed Encarnacion thinking he could lead them back to the World Series after their near miss in 2016. He hit the required number of homers, but it didn’t work. Now he’s marooned in Seattle on a rebuilding team at the end of his career. Perhaps the Mariners will flip him just as they did Santana after acquiring him from Philadelphia earlier this month.
Encarnacion is too good a hitter, not to mention a respected veteran, to play out what could be his last season on a team bound for last place. Then again, $25 million can help one deal with frustration.
And what of Diaz, the man with the biceps that never stop? Will he find happiness and playing time with the Rays? It looks like he’s going to get a chance, but like the Indians, they still don’t know where to play him. Could Diaz turn out to be another Jesus Aguilar, cast aside by the Indians only to become an All-Star with another team? It’s possible with the way he swings the bat.
But here’s one thing to remember:
When a team has a talented lineup, it’s tough for younger players to make their mark. Just ask Richie Sexson and Brian Giles, who played behind the Tribe’s loaded lineups of the 1990s. They had to go elsewhere to get playing time and find success.
On Wednesday night, Antonetti and Chernoff looked tired when they met with reporters. Four days of non-stop talking and negotiating will do that. But they were awake enough Thursday morning to make another trade in an attempt to improve a team that won 91 games last season, but never really reached its potential.
It won’t be the last time that Antonetti and Chernoff look a little worse for the wear this winter. And it won’t be their last trade.