We know the Red Sox are bad. We know that they are essentially out of the playoff hunt, even if FanGraphs still gives them a 7.7 percent chance and Baseball Prospectus gives them a 5.7 percent chance. That might as well be zero, because this team has (hopefully) hit rock bottom. The only minor silver lining is that it happened before the trade deadline, so they can try and make some moves to help the future. Of course, we have no idea what this deadline is going to be like given, well, *gestures at the world* but for the sake of argument let’s assume it will be something close to a normal deadline. I want to spend the next week or so looking at some potential trade partners for the Red Sox, starting today with the Cleveland Indians.
Cleveland has been in the news of late for very bad reasons. In case you somehow missed it, breakout pitcher Zach Plesac was caught breaking his curfew on the road a couple of weeks ago in Chicago, and was sent home. Mike Clevinger was with him, but didn’t fess up to that until being caught a few days later after flying home with the team. Both pitchers were suspended, and recently were optioned down to the Alternate Site after a heated team meeting that included veterans threatening to opt out if they were reinstated. Keep in mind the Indians have pitcher Carlos Carrasco, who fought leukemia last year, as well as manager Terry Francona, who has had his own recent health issues. The team is rightfully pissed off.
Amid all of that, though, they are still performing quite well. As we talk today on Tuesday morning, Cleveland sits in second place in the AL Central with a 13-9 record, a game and a half behind the first place Twins. They’ve been carried by their starting pitching, which is partially due to contributions from Clevinger and Plesac but not solely. The Indians have a wild ability to find number two starters in every crevice of their organization. They’ve currently allowed the fewest runs in baseball besides the Cardinals, who have played ten games this year.
The issue for Cleveland has been their offense, which has scored the third fewest runs in the American League. They have star level talent in Francisco Lindor and José Ramírez, but they haven’t been able to surround them with enough talent to build a playoff-caliber offense. So, one would imagine they will be on the lookout for offensive help at this deadline. This is where the Red Sox come in.
There are a few possibilities I could see between these two teams. The first thought was J.D. Martinez, who could potentially be the best bat available in the entire league this winter. The slugger is clearly having a rough year, currently sitting with a 95 wRC+. Still, he has enough of a track record that a team in need of big offense could be interested, and based on some comments from Martinez of late it’s not crazy to think he could go on a big run if traded to a contender. All of that being said, there is a bit of an issue with fit here as this kind of trade would mean either Martinez or Franmil Reyes would have to play in the outfield every day, and that may not be ideal for Cleveland.
So, if that is indeed an issue, the Red Sox may need to aim lower and dangle Jackie Bradley Jr. or Kevin Pillar. Obviously the return for either of these guys would be lower than Martinez since A) they are worse than Martinez and B) they are certain free agents after the season. (Martinez has an opt out, but given the uncertainty of what the financial situation for teams will be this winter it’s hard to see him utilizing it.)
Cleveland needs all the help they can get in the outfield, though. Right now, they have Tyler Naquin, Delino DeShields Jr. and Domingo Santana manning the three outfield spots most nights. All told, the Indians have gotten a 32 wRC+ from their outfield this season — that is patently absurd and means their entire outfield has been 68 percent worse than the league-average hitter — and by FanGraphs WAR their entire outfield has been one win below replacement value. That is untenable, and while the bats of Pillar and Bradley are far from sure things even their defensive prowess would provide a little stability to an outfield in desperate need of that. This is probably the most likely kind of deal that would come together.
Amid all of the recent controversy, there has been some speculation Cleveland could look to move one of Clevinger and Plesac, too. I don’t know that I would even want the Red Sox to go after that kind of deal given what they just did to their teammates, and even if I did I certainly don’t think the previous two scenarios get them there. The one way they could potentially get there is if they talked about something centering around Andrew Benintendi. Now, given Benintendi’s struggles this year, not to mention his injury, this could also not get them close. But it’s not crazy to think some teams still see him as an All-Star caliber player who needs a change of scenery. It would need to be more than Benintendi, but it could be a conversation starter for a team that doesn’t really have long-term outfield help coming up any time soon, either. Again, I don’t think this is likely, but it’s a longshot possibility to keep in mind.
As far as what the Red Sox could be looking for if we focus strictly on prospects, I don’t see them getting anything at the top of the system for Cleveland, which would mean top-50 prospect Nolan Jones. Maybe they could shoot for a guy like Tyler Freeman — who is a borderline top 100 prospect — in a Martinez deal, but that’s probably the ceiling. More likely is that they will be searching the depths of the system, but for a team in need of pitching you could do worse than looking at Cleveland. Think about names like Triston McKenzie, a former top prospect who has fallen off in recent years, or Sam Henteges, a low-ceiling starter who is relatively close.
Ultimately, there’s probably not a blockbuster to be had with the Indians unless they are bigger believers in Franmil Reyes’s defense than one would think. Martinez is the most likely player to be traded by the Red Sox who would bring back something close to a big piece, but I don’t know that the fit is there with Cleveland. That said, their outfield is a mess and the Red Sox have two low-cost players that could be sent out to fit that need and one post-hype, low-stock outfielder that could be the start of a very interesting trade between these two sides.