Cody Allen, Carlos Carrasco, & Where to Subtract in Cleveland

The Cleveland Indians finished in third place in the AL Central last season, but just 4.5 games out of the Wild Card, and 13.5 behind the eventual World Series champion Royals. With a pitching staff fronted by Corey Kluber and a young talented infield headed by superprospect Francisco Lindor, the Indians are looking at 2016 as a chance to take the next step and make the playoffs for the first time since 2013. But, being the Indians, they have a problem.

Taking that next step towards the playoffs means adding to the team’s offense. Last season Cleveland scored 669 runs. Only Seattle, the Angels, the White Sox, and Tampa scored fewer, and nobody scored much fewer. The Indians were 47 runs ahead of the last place White Sox, but 222 runs behind first place Toronto. The team wasn’t wholly without merit, though, as they also allowed just 640 runs, the second fewest in the AL and one fewer than those darn Royals. So, if we can speak in broad generalizations for the moment, we can say that the Indians have pitching and fielding, but to become a championship-caliber team, they need to score some runs. They need offense. So get some offense. That’s it. The end! Thanks for reading!

But, wait! This is the Indians we’re talking about. They can’t just go out and get offense. They can’t sign Jason Heyward or Chris Davis. Like your roommate, they’re perennially short on funds, dude (but if you front them for some pizza they’ll totally get you back next Thursday). So the problem is twofold: the Indians don’t have the ability to simply sign someone at market rates because to do so would blow up their salary structure. This means a trade. And, as shell-shocked Red Sox fans trying to talk themselves into the Craig Kimbrel trade will tell you, you have to give up something to get something.

Further, if Cleveland is going to acquire a major league player who can hit and play the outfield passably well, the likelihood is they’ll have to give up major league players to do it. Sure, the Brewers might be inclined to deal Ryan Braun and the Padres will gladly give you a steaming helping of Matt Kemp, but that will detonate the ol’ salary structure as well, and then there’s that whole “we’re trying to win” thing. So that’s a polite no thanks. This is all by way of explaining why the Indians, a team that is trying to win now, have been mentioned so prominently in trade rumors recently and even going back to the end of last season.

And, in fact, even while I’ve been writing this, here it comes again. Via MLB Trade Rumors:

The Blue Jays, Dodgers and Yankees are among the teams that have reached out to the Indians and had “preliminary” trade talks about Cleveland’s starting pitching, reports Jon Morosi of FOX Sports (links to Twitter). The still-very-early frameworks being discussed would each send a controllable starter away from Cleveland in exchange for an everyday outfielder, he continues.

The problem with this is obvious. It robs Peter to pay Paul, as they old saying goes, and I’m not sure it doesn’t rob Peter’s wife, and their neighbor Frank as well. The cost of giving up a Carlos Carrasco or Kluber is significant. Sure, you’re saying, the Indians would get something significant back, and I’m certain you’re right. They would. But this is simply a reallocation of resources. This is taking four WAR and moving it from your rotation to your outfield, and that’s if you do it right. If you don’t, like the beaming ray in Spaceballs: The Movie, you lose something in the translation.

So the answer is to make a deal for a part of your team that you can more easily replace, a part of your team that isn’t as valuable as a starting outfielder, but maybe is perceived to be. The answer is for the Indians to trade Cody Allen. Allen, in case you’re not familiar, is a reliever and a super good one at that. Go to our pitcher leaderboards here at FanGraphs and sort relief pitchers by WAR and golly gee wiz, guess who you’ll find is on the very top. It’s Cody Allen. I acknowledge WAR isn’t the best tool to evaluate relievers, but it says something that Allen is at the top. Last season he struck out 34.6% of the hitters he faced, sixth in all of baseball for qualified relievers behind Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller, Kenley Jansen, Dellin Betances, and Craig Kimbrel. What’s more, his FIP was lower than all of the above. He’s been a force out of Cleveland’s bullpen for three seasons now and, for those who care about such things, he’s been snatching up the saves for the last two of those.

Of course the Indians don’t want to trade him. But would they be better off with Carrasco, Kluber, and Danny Salazar in their rotation, taking up 550 innings (or hopefully more) next season, or would they be better off if they lopped 180 off that number, but kept the 65 thrown by Allen? I think they would. Jeff Sullivan wrote an interesting piece here looking at whether or not elite relievers are undervalued by WAR. He seemed to think it’s a distinct possibility, so it’s not with the certainty of the early aughts that I propose to keep the starter and dump the reliever. Still, even with Jeff’s bump for relievers, it’s hard to envision a scenario where Allen is as valuable next season as Kluber, Carrasco, or Salazar. While it’s not easy to find elite relievers, it’s much easier to make due at the back of the bullpen than it is to go without a quality third starter.

Given the way teams are valuing elite relief pitchers now, it makes sense that smart teams should start to see what their guys will fetch in what looks to be an inflated trade market. This goes doubly for Cleveland because their choice isn’t “where to add” so much as “where to subtract.” It’s possible the reliever market isn’t inflated and Allen won’t get them what they need. I fully acknowledge that as a possibility. But given what Boston paid for Kimbrel, what’s been reported for Chapman, and what Darren O’Day has been asking for on the free agent market, the Indians owe it to themselves to see if Allen gets them what they need. Because if they’re going to compete in the division with the reigning World Series winners they’re going to have to strengthen their roster this off-season, not move value around from one roster spot to the next, and if they’re trading off Carlos Carrasco or one of their other strong starters that is going to be much more difficult than if they’re getting an everyday player for a relief pitcher.

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8 years ago

“The Cleveland Indians finished in third place in the AL Central last season, but just 4.5 games behind the eventual World Series champion Royals”

They finished 14.5 games behind

8 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy