Indians Buy Low on Brandon Moss, Move One Step Closer to Contention

With the Winter Meetings officially underway, the Cleveland Indians wasted no time making a splash, acquiring first baseman/outfielder Brandon Moss from the Athletics in exchange for second base prospect Joey Wendle, the team announced Monday afternoon.

We’ve already got a couple Moss pieces up on the site, which I suggest you read. Dave Cameron compared Moss’ offensive production over the last three years favorably to Matt Kemp, and Eno Sarris speculated what kind of fantasy production Moss could bring with his move to Cleveland.

As for the logistics of the trade itself, it’s interesting. The deal was first rumored as early as last Wednesday, but took nearly a week to complete, despite it being a one-for-one trade. This makes some sense, given the recent history of the players involved. Let’s analyze this move from the Indians perspective by breaking it down into five pieces.

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The Players

There’s only one logical place to start, and that’s with the players themselves.

Although he doesn’t seem like it, Moss is 31 years old. He didn’t enjoy his breakout season until 2012, his age-28 season. Since then, he has been one of the better hitters in baseball. His 135 wRC+ ranks 20th among players with more than 1,000 plate appearances since the start of the 2012 season, and leaves him sandwiched between the likes of Freddie Freeman and Hanley Ramirez. That’s partially inflated by his ridiculous half-year in 2012, when he posted a 160 wRC+, but even this most recent season’s 121 wRC+ would have been tied with third on the Indians team with Yan Gomes and Lonnie Chisenhall. Moss offers little value on the basepaths or in the field — an area where the Indians drastically need to improve after their dreadful 2014 season — and those areas should only be expected to decline as Moss ages.

Moss is under team control through the 2016 season as an arbitration-eligible player. He is projected to earn somewhere in the vicinity of $7 million for the 2015 season, according to MLBTradeRumors’ arbitration projection model. Moss has averaged about +2 WAR for the last three seasons, so his price tag makes him an almost guaranteed short-term bargain.

There’s also the perception that Moss is a platoon player because of the way Oakland used him, but that’s not entirely true. In 400 career plate appearances, Moss has a 101 wRC+, meaning he’s average against lefties and absolutely crushes righties. Barring his health, Moss can be a useful every day player.

Wendle is a 24-year-old second base prospect who does a little bit of everything, but doesn’t have any elite tools. As someone who watched him play on a daily basis while covering the Akron RubberDucks last season, I was always surprised by how little love he received from scouts. He has decent pop for a middle infielder and seemed, to me, to be a plus on the bases and in the field. Here’s what FanGraphs lead prospect analyst Kiley McDaniel has to say about him:

Wendle isn’t a big tools guy, as all five are fringy to average; he’s a second base fit that could play third and be a utility guy that doesn’t play shortstop. His raw power is fringy, but his line drive approach means his game power plays down a notch, in the 10-15 homers annually area. His bat is his best tool and it drew 55 grades entering the 2014 season, but he performed below league average as a 24-year-old in his first exposure to Double-A pitching.

The Injuries

This is perhaps the most intriguing part of the deal, and could be the reason why a seemingly simple one-for-one trade took nearly a week to complete. Both Moss and Wendle are coming off late-season injuries in 2014, and both injuries negatively impacted each player’s production.

Moss is the bigger name in the deal, and his injury is the bigger concern, so let’s start there. Moss got off to a blazing start to the 2014 season, batting .268/.349/.530 with 21 home runs in 364 first-half plate appearances. After the All-Star Break, Moss batted .173/.310/.274 and had just four homers in 216 plate appearances. On October 21, Moss underwent surgery on his right hip to repair a torn labrum, which could help explain his second-half struggles. What remains to be seen is how Moss might bounce back from this surgery.

I don’t know much about hip injuries, so I deferred to those who do. I spoke with injury expert Will Carroll, who assured me that most players who had Moss’ surgery come back well and relatively quickly. According to Carroll, injuries of this nature don’t tend to linger unless they’re genetic, in which case they commonly occur on both sides. This is not the case for Moss.

I did a little digging to find other players who had the same surgery and how they recovered. Chase Utley had the surgery in the 2008 offseason and had a typical Utley season the following year, showing no ill effects. Alex Gordon had the surgery in 2009 while he was still a third baseman, and we know how he turned out. Carlos Delgado, on the other hand, had the surgery in 2009 and never played again, but he was also 37 years old at the time, making him an unfair comparison.

Wendle’s 2014 followed a similar arc as Moss’, as he hit .259/.316/.431 in 297 plate appearances before breaking a hamate bone in his right hand after being hit by a pitch. Upon returning, Wendle got on base at a better clip, but showed no signs of his previous power, batting .245/.367/.306 in 60 plate appearances to end the season. Wendle’s injury is of far less concern than Moss’, given his age and the nature of the injury, but it’s not nothing.

The Parks

For years, Indians fans have clamored for right-handed power — despite the 19-foot high wall in left field — and for years their requests have gone unmet. Moss brings the power, but from the opposite side of the plate. Moss has hit 76 home runs over the last three years, more than any Indians player, and he played his home games in Oakland, where left-handed power is suppressed as much as any park in the American League. Progressive Field, meanwhile, is one of the most friendly parks for left-handed power, increasing left-handed home run production by 9%, while O.Co suppresses it by 12%.

It’s easy to see why, when you look at an overlay of the parks down the right field line:


And it’s easy to see how that might impact Moss, when you look at his batted ball charts:

Screen Shot 2014-12-08 at 3.16.14 PM

It’s never as easy as simply saying Progressive Field increases left-handed homers 20% more than O.Co, so Moss will hit 20% more homers, but the difference between the two parks is about as extreme as it gets. Perhaps the 25-homer Moss who played half his games in Oakland last year hits 30 if half of those games are in Progressive Field instead. The change in scenery is something that certainly helps offset the injury risk.

The Win Curve

Because the Indians gave up a minor league player for proven major league talent, they got immediately better for 2015. Moss isn’t a huge upgrade for the Indians — he’s projected for about +2 WAR by Steamer — but he’s an upgrade. And given the Indians position on the win curve, every upgrade is big. Marginal upgrades mean so much more for teams close to contention than those far away from it, and the Indians are close to contention. Mike Petriello already called the Indians his sleeper team for 2015. I already wrote about the Indians productive, cost-efficient starting rotation. After a 92-win 2013 that sent them to the playoffs, they won 85 games in 2014 and narrowly missed out on the postseason.

If you head over to our depth charts, you’ll see something interesting with regards to the Indians and their projected place in the American League Central Division. After the Moss trade, they’ve jumped the Kansas City Royals in projected WAR, and the Royals were just one game away from winning the World Series. As we’ve seen time and time again in recent postseasons, and as Dave noted back in October, you don’t have to have a team laden with superstars to win a World Series. You just need to get into the playoffs. And this is a move that immediately makes the Indians a more likely playoff contender in 2015.

The Implication

The last piece of the puzzle is still an unknown, as it appears the Indians are not done dealing. With Moss, Carlos Santana, Nick Swisher, David Murphy and Ryan Raburn, the Indians have five major league players to play three positions, between first base, designated hitter and right field. Swisher has been mentioned as a potential trade possibility, but the $30M he’s owed over the next two seasons, coupled with his below-replacement level production and double knee surgery in 2014 will make him difficult to move. But the Moss deal can’t be fully evaluated until we know more about what the Indians opening day roster construction might look like, and the current construction is likely to change.

* * * * *

Given the Indians current position on the win curve and what they gave up, this deal seems like a no-brainer for Cleveland.

Wendle could turn into a useful major league player, but the Indians are set up the middle for the foreseeable future, and Wendle is far from an elite talent. Moss’ second-half production and ensuing hip surgery could be worrisome, but the extreme change in parks could help offset any potential loss in production due to his Moss’ injury and age, and the history of players with similar hip procedures isn’t particularly concerning. And given what the Indians traded away, this is almost a no-risk deal. If Moss, for whatever reason, doesn’t hit, he’ll make just $7 million in 2015 and has the option to be non-tendered before the 2016 season. If he hits like Brandon Moss, a team that was already close to contending just added perhaps the best hitter on the team for two seasons in exchange for a fringe-level prospect.

August used to cover the Indians for MLB and, but now he's here and thinks writing these in the third person is weird. So you can reach me on Twitter @AugustFG_ or e-mail at

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9 years ago

That ballpark wall overlay .gif is mesmerizing! Thanks for the rapid work, August.

Nathaniel Dawson
9 years ago
Reply to  Ben

Rather meaningless, though. In Oakland, the plate is closer to straightaway right field, but farther in the power alley to right-center. The difference in home run park is probably only slightly (or even not at all) attributable to fence distances.

Nathaniel Dawson
9 years ago

Wow, I totally stated that backwards. “Oakland” should be replaced with “Cleveland” in the above comment.