View From Pluto: Indians Balance Trades vs. Prospects and Land on the Side of Long-Term Investment

Aug 2, 2017

Is Danny Salazar's return the equivalent of a trade for a potential All-Star pitcher?
Credit WIKIMEDIA

Major League Baseball passed its first big trading deadline this week, and the Indians took a pass on headline-grabbing deals. Our sports commentator, Terry Pluto, notes that last year the Indians traded top prospects for relief pitcher Andrew Miller.  Terry, what did the Indians do this week to pull away from the pack of teams with good -- but not great -- records.

'I was glad they didn't make a foolish trade. And there's a bunch of people out there who say make a foolish trade because I want to win now. I want my World Series.'

“Not a lot. They added another pitcher for their bull pen, but a big thing for them was Danny Salazar, who made the All-Star team in 2016. In July of 2016 he was 10-3 but he wins one game the rest of that year.

“And that continued into this year. But finally they think they changed his motion around. Got his arm calmed down. And as Chris Antonetti, the Indians president, told me, ‘This is just like we traded for the starting pitcher who’s capable of making an All-Star team.”

Salazar's recovery is 'just like we traded for the starting pitcher who's capable of making an All-Star team.';

So that meant the Indians only real trade this year was for Joe Smith from Toronto, who was with the Indians from 2009-2013 and is a durable reliever.

“Remember, the Indians one of their mottos is, ‘You can never have enough relief pitchers for Terry Francona.’ One year in September, they had so many pitchers they had to actually put chairs on the roof of the bullpen, these folding chairs because they didn’t have room for everyone.

The whole world is based upon 'having-it-my-way-right-now-takes-too-long.'

But Pluto says the real balance for the Indians this year was instant gratification vs. near- and longer-term success. That equation is perhaps personified best by Francisco Mejia, the switch-hitting catcher playing in Akron, leading the Eastern League in batting at .317, the overall no. 3 prospect in baseball, and a top prize for other teams considering a trade with the Indians.

But “the Indians are thinking next year, this guy could be the Indians starting catcher. He could conceivably come up maybe even in September and help a little bit.”

Is there more pressure, though, built on the expectations of the fans that – having performed so well in the World Series against the Cubs – the Indians have to win it all this year?

“The whole world is based upon 'having it my way right now takes too long.' It really is a different mindset.”

But Pluto says the Indians have built for more than 2017.

“When the Indians traded for Andrew Miller, they looked at this as a 2 ½ year deal. They viewed their window of opportunity being open at least through 2018. That’s why they went out and signed Edwin Encarnacion.”

Pluto says the long-view is justified by the fact that the only key Indians player up for free agency after this season is Carlos Santana.

So “I was glad they didn’t make a foolish trade. And there’s a bunch of people out there who say make a foolish trade because I want to win now. I want my World Series.”

Pluto says that’s tempered a bit in Northeast Ohio by the wealth of farm teams that helps fans understand the nuance of the organization’s decisions.

“I wish the Indians had more hard core fans, but the ones they have are really astute. … The Indians have about 150 players the minors. Everywhere from the Dominican summer league to Mahoning Valley to Lake County to Akron.”

So fans can see those top picks develop – or falter. Players like Brady Aiken, Will Benson, Mejia and Bobby Bradley, the power-hitting first baseman at Akron.

“Who’s the one player I said the Indians could lose to free agency? (First baseman) Carlos Santana. So they ain’t trading Bobby Bradley.

“That’s why when it comes trading time, it’s like this big puzzle. I’m not trying to turn this into this mind-boggling calculus problem, but there is some real thought given to it and it’s different from the other sports because of the minor leagues and prospects.”