The Cleveland Indians continue to struggle with inconsistency in basically all phases of the game. Lucky for them, the rest of their division is playing just as bad if not worse in most cases. The Twins are the only team that is really giving them a real run for the division and who knows how long they will last, as they have a lot of youth on that team. The Kansas City Royals have recently played better baseball, now only sitting 2.5 games out of first place. The Chicago White Sox and Detroit Tigers are a distant 4th and 5th and will most likely be competing for last place in the division as they both are just not very good.
The Indians, as Manager Terry Francona put it, are consistent at being inconsistent, and that has been the story of the season so far. They will play a stretch of great baseball, and looks as if they are snapping out of their slump, but will then go lose 2-3 games. Hitting with runners in scoring position has been a huge problem for them as they cannot get a hit when they need it. The Pitching staff has been consistently inconsistent, up and down all season. They have 2 guys in Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco, who will both more than likely make the all-star game, and have both been really good this season, but it takes more than 2 consistent pitchers to get to where they want to be.
Indians 5th starter Josh Tomlin has struggled for a majority of the season as has Trevor Bauer. Francona loves to keep confidence in his guys, but it may be time to look elsewhere for a pitcher to upgrade their rotation. So, what are some options for them?
If they want to go the call-up route, last years playoff surprise, Ryan Merritt would be an option. Merritt over his last 10 games in AAA Columbus, has a 5-4 record, with a 3.26 ERA. Merritt has gone 6 innings in every game over that span and struck out 54 batters, while walking only 14 over the 10-game span. He pitched in the ALCS last year, went 4-1/3 shutout innings for a team that desperately needed it from him. They have another option in Shawn Morimando, who has been pitching pretty well as of late for AAA Columbus, but he may be a little unready for their liking.
If they do not feel comfortable with bringing up one of those guys just yet, they could go the trade route, as they are going to most likely be buyers if they can improve the team, without selling the farm in the process. I will give you 5 trade targets (in no order of likelihood) that the Indians may look at based on performance and contract situation.
- Gerrit Cole- Pittsburgh Pirates
Cole has not gotten off to the start that he or the Pirates had hoped for. Early in the year he was pitching pretty well, but was not getting the run support to give him a chance to pick up wins. Cole is 6-6, with a 4.11 ERA, which would not be bad for a 3rd/4th starter. Early on in the season he only had 1 bad game, and that was the first game he pitched where he gave up 5 earned runs. The rest of April, he gave up 3 runs or fewer in each game, only picking up 1 win in 4 starts. The two games he lost, he lost with scores of 2-1 and 1-0, giving up 2 runs in 2 games, and did not pick up a win in either game. In May, he only had 2 bad games, where he gave up 4 or more runs, picking up a no-decision in one of the games. In May, he went 1-2, with a 3.68 ERA, which was close to what he did in April. In June, he got off to a rough start, giving up 7 runs in 2 straight starts to begin the month. He has been a much different pitcher the last 4 games, giving up 1 run in each of his last 3 starts, while picking up wins in each start. When it comes to his contract, Cole is only on the books for 3.75 million this year and is arbitration eligible the next 2 seasons after that. His salary is very reasonable for the quality pitcher he can be. A change of scenery may be good for him and I think the Indians as well as several other teams will look to acquire him closer to the trade deadline, especially if the Pirates look to sell before the deadline.
- Ivan Nova- Pittsburgh Pirates
Nova has been a little bit like Cole this season, has not gotten much run support. Nova had a great April, going 3-2 with a 1.50 era, but regresses closer to his mean in May. In May, Nova went 2-2, with a 4.17 era, with 2 no decisions in 6 starts. June has been pretty close to the same. He is 2-1, with a 3.46 era, and 1 no decision in 4 starts. June is closer to what he is as a pitcher. He is going to give up a couple runs every game, but is going to give you at least 6 innings of work, as he has gone at least 6 innings in every outing this season. Nova makes around double of what Cole makes this season, but has 2 more contract seasons before he becomes a free agent on 2019. Contract wise, it would fit what the Indians are wanting to do, but he may make too much for what the Indians are looking for. He makes just over 9 million his last 2 contract years. If his contract is not too large for the Indians liking he may be obtainable at a decent price, considering his age.
- Sonny Gray- Oakland Athletics
Gray got off to a slow start as he did not start his first game until the beginning of May. He had a 2-2 record in May, with a 4.72 era. His high era had a lot to do with his worst start of the season. He went 4-2/3 innings, while giving up 7 earned runs. June has been pretty similar, but he has been a little bit better overall. He has a 1-1 record, with a 4.15 era and 3 no-decisions in 5 starts. He is averaging almost 6 innings per game in his 11 starts, which is something the Indians are looking for. They need someone who can give them at least 6 innings every time they start, to give their bullpen a rest. When you look his contract situation, it is very appealing to a team like the Indians. Gray makes 3.5 million this season, and has 2 arbitration years after that. Gray would not be a free agent until 2020. His contract is very obtainable and he may not cost a ton as he has had a couple rough years the last 2 years, although he is only 27 and would still cost the Indians a couple prospects. Gray could be a very reasonable addition, who may benefit from a change of scenery.
- Alex Cobb- Tampa Bay Rays
This name is pretty familiar to Indians fans as he was the pitcher the Indians faced in the Wild Card game in 2013. He shut them down all night that game, sending a full house of Indians fans home upset. Cobb started the year kind of rough, going 1-2 with a 4.66 era in April. He bounced back in May, going 3-2, with a 2.95 era. For the majority of June, besides one game, he has been pretty good, going 2-1, with a 3.86 era. Cobb has a very reasonable contract and if the Indians are looking for a pitcher for just the rest of this year, Cobb would be perfect. He only is on the hook for 4.2 million and is a free agent after this season. So, if they have a couple pitchers they feel are getting close, but do not want to bring them up until next season, they may look at Cobb as essentially a half a year player to bridge them to next season, where they could call someone else up.
- Johnny Cueto- San Francisco Giants
This one is a bit of a longshot candidate, as his contract is rather large, but he has said that he is going to opt-out after this year, so the Indians would only be on the hook for some of his contract. Cueto started the year off pretty slow, with a high era of 5.10, but ended up going 3-1, thanks to his offense scoring some runs for him. In May, he had a better month, era wise, but results did not come, as his run support dropped off in May. In his 6 starts in May, he only got about 2.5 runs per game, which just is not going to cut it. In June, it has been much of the same. He has a 3.82 era, with a record of 0-3. He only had 1 bad outing this month, giving up more than 3 runs only once. Of the 5 options mentioned, Cueto has the biggest pop of the candidates, but that also comes with the largest contract, by a very large margin. The Indians may be able to get the Giants to pick up some of his salary, but it may cost them a larger return to the Giants if they were to have the Giants do that.
I want you to be aware that this list is based off of who I think may be obtainable and also fit into the Indians future plans. I do not have any inside source on this, but these names make sense to both fit into the team as a whole and also what the team is looking to do financially as well. Each of these deals would cost the Indians different packages, which would surely include a mix of prospects and possibly players on their major league team. The Indians will more than likely look for low cost additions, which may mean something less splashy in the eyes of fans, but sometimes that is what you need. The Indians got Brandon Guyer last season for a low cost and he was very productive for a team that went to the World Series and was one game away from winning it all. They will most likely make some sort of move, but it will have to be beneficial to the team and financially as well. Understand, the team as it sits is very good, they have not played to the level that they would like, but they will get it together eventually, there is just too much talent there not to.