A summary of the Houston Astros sign-stealing scandal

On November 12th, The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich released a bombshell piece of reporting (paywall): proof that Houston Astros, during 2017 home games, were stealing signs in real time and relaying them to the batter. Members of the team set up a monitor in the dugout tunnel that displayed a feed from center field in real time, and once they had deciphered the catcher’s signals, banged on a trash can to indicate an off-speed pitch; if a fastball was called, there was no banging. Because the banging was audible on TV broadcasts, and the article mentioned a particular incident, the allegation was easy to confirm by anyone with access to Youtube. In fact, just a couple of hours after the article appeared, Jomboy, a Internet baseball commentator, posted this fantastic breakdown on Twitter:

Before long numerous other examples were found throughout the season, and the pattern (bang for an off-speed pitch, no bang for a fastball) remained consistent throughout all the other incidents. Keep in mind also that the Astros won the 2017 World Series.

Before exploring the immediate fallout from this revelation, let’s take a step back in order to understand why these allegations are so damaging to the Astros in particular and MLB in general.

Sign Stealing: legal versus illegal

From the time signals began to be used in baseball, the other team has tried to decipher them, whether they were from the third base coach (for the batter) or the catcher (for the pitcher). The benefit of knowing for certain the type of pitch that is coming is immense for a major-league hitter. There are very few pitchers with the type of stuff that will miss bats if the batter knows the pitch ahead of time.

With that being said, it is not illegal in MLB for teams to use on-field personnel to decipher signs; for example, if a runner on second who has deciphered the pitch signs signals them to the batter and is discovered, he will not be thrown out by the umpire or even fined by the league. However, if the signals were deciphered by non-human methods or were relayed from someone who isn’t on-field personnel (a player or coach), that is illegal sign stealing. The use of a mechanical device to steal signs has been banned since 1961, and “electronic methods” were specifically banned in 2001.

The Arms Race

As video technology (particularly resolution) has gotten better, it has become much easier to see the catcher’s signs from the traditional center field feed. And so, in recent years teams have become more paranoid about having their signs being stolen, even when there’s no runners on base, or other analysis being done in real-time (such as looking at tiny differences in a pitcher’s glove between pitches to see if there’s any “tells”).

In 2014, MLB instituted the current form of instant replay, in which a manager has the ability to challenge certain calls on the field and have them reviewed by the MLB office. As part of the new process, teams now employ replay assistants whose job it is to phone the manager if he or she thinks the play is worth reviewing. The assistant is provided with real-time video feeds to make the determination to review.

“Ok,” you may be saying, “how the heck does instant replay relate to stealing signs?” The reason is that the first proven instance of electronic sign stealing came because of that replay assistant. In 2017, the New York Yankees filed a complaint against the Boston Red Sox alleging that their replay assistant was texting the pitch calls to an athletic trainer in the dugout, who would relay the calls to the batter. After reviewing the complaint, which was later publicized by the New York Times, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred issued his findings and punishment:

  September 15, 2017 (edit: remember this date!)

Baseball Commissioner Robert D. Manfred, Jr. issued the following statement today: 

"Several weeks ago, the New York Yankees filed a complaint with the Commissioner's Office alleging that the Boston Red Sox violated certain Major League Baseball Regulations by using electronic equipment to aid in the deciphering of signs being given by the Yankees' catcher. The Commissioner's Office has conducted a thorough investigation of the allegation. Today, I am prepared to disclose the results of that investigation.

"At the outset, it is important to understand that the attempt to decode signs being used by an opposing catcher is not a violation of any Major League Baseball Rule or Regulation. Major League Baseball Regulations do, however, prohibit the use of electronic equipment during games and state that no such equipment 'may be used for the purpose of stealing signs or conveying information designed to give a Club an advantage.' Despite this clear Regulation, the prevalence of technology, especially the technology used in the replay process, has made it increasingly difficult to monitor appropriate and inappropriate uses of electronic equipment. Based on the investigation by my office, I have nonetheless concluded that during the 2017 season the Boston Red Sox violated the Regulation quoted above by sending electronic communications from their video replay room to an athletic trainer in the dugout. 


"Taking all of these factors as well as past precedent into account, I have decided to fine the Red Sox an undisclosed amount which in turn will be donated by my office to hurricane relief efforts in Florida. Moreover, all 30 Clubs have been notified that future violations of this type will be subject to more serious sanctions, including the possible loss of draft picks.


The punishment meted out to the Red Sox, an undisclosed fine, was in my opinion much too lenient for the severity of the violation. Knowing what pitch is coming is a massive advantage, particularly in a close game. Manfred, did, however, issue a warning that further violations would be met with more severe penalties.

Please note that Manfred’s statement was issued on September 15, 2017. The incident covered by Jomboy above happened a week later on September 22. So the Astros were violating the rule even after Manfred issued his warning.

Fast forward to the 2018 postseason. The Cleveland Indians were swept by the Astros in the ALDS, but after the series, Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports broke this story:

 HOUSTON – The Boston Red Sox were warned that a man credentialed by the Houston Astros might try to steal signs or information from their dugout after the Cleveland Indians caught him taking pictures of their dugout with a cellphone camera during Game 3 of the American League Division Series, sources with knowledge of the situation told Yahoo Sports.

A photograph obtained by Yahoo Sports showed a man named Kyle McLaughlin aiming a cell phone into Cleveland’s dugout during the Indians’ 11-3 loss that ended their season. McLaughlin was the same man caught taking pictures near the Red Sox’s dugout during Game 1 of the AL Championship Series, which was first reported by the Metro Times. McLaughlin was removed by security in Cleveland and Boston, sources said. 

Click through to the article to view the photograph. This incident again prompted an investigation by MLB, and once again there were no real consequences:

  "Before the postseason began, a number of Clubs called the Commissioner's Office about sign stealing and the inappropriate use of video equipment. The concerns expressed related to a number of Clubs, not any one specific Club. In response to these calls, the Commissioner's Office reinforced the existing rules with all playoff Clubs and undertook proactive measures, including instituting a new prohibition on the use of certain in-stadium cameras, increasing the presence of operations and security personnel from Major League Baseball at all Postseason games and instituting a program of monitoring Club video rooms.

"With respect to both incidents regarding a Houston Astros employee, security identified an issue, addressed it and turned the matter over to the Department of Investigations. A thorough investigation concluded that an Astros employee was monitoring the field to ensure that the opposing Club was not violating any rules. All Clubs remaining in the playoffs have been notified to refrain from these types of efforts and to direct complaints about any in-stadium rules violations to MLB staff for investigation and resolution. We consider the matter closed." 

The justification of “we were just seeing of the other guy was cheating” seems laughable on its face, but the commissioner somehow bought it. At least in the immediate aftermath, while the postseason was still ongoing.

After the season, MLB instituted several new rules regarding electronic devices. They included:

  • Banning all non-broadcast cameras from foul pole to foul pole
  • The only live game feed will be provided to the team’s replay booth, and a trained MLB employee will ensure there is no illegal communication between the replay booth and the dugout or field of play. All other game feeds will occur on an eight-second delay
  • No television monitors will be allowed between the clubhouse and the dugout.

In retrospect, these rules were designed to stop exactly the type of scheme the Astros were using in 2017. Houston installed a camera in center field (bullet point one), had installed a TV monitor between the clubhouse and the field (point three) and were giving the batter the signs in real time (point two). So I think MLB had some inkling that this type of cheating was going on: they perhaps just didn’t have any evidence.

Until last week.

Crime and Punishment

That brings us up to the Athletic report. After the article dropped, the Houston Astros announced that were cooperating with MLB on an investigation into the allegations, and would make no other comment (which is an improvement on how they handled the Brandon Taubman incident):

 Regarding the story posted by The Athletic earlier today, the Houston Astros organization has begun an investigation in cooperation with Major League Baseball. It would not be appropriate to comment further on this matter at this time. 

This placed the ball back in Manfred’s court. He had let the Red Sox off with a fine in 2017, then did nothing regarding the Astros employee in the 2018 postseason. This time his rhetoric was different:

 "Any allegations that relate to a rule violation that could affect the outcome of a game or games is the most serious matter," Manfred said. "It relates to the integrity of the sport. In terms of where we are, we have a very active -- what is going to be a really, really thorough investigation ongoing. But beyond that, I can't tell you how close we are to done." 

He also said that the Astros were the only team MLB was currently looking at, but later said:

 “We are going to investigate the Astros situation as thoroughly as humanly possible,” Manfred said after the conclusion of the owners’ meetings. “That investigation is going to encompass not only what we know about ’17, but also ’18 and ’19. We are talking to people all over the industry. Former employees, competitors, whatever. To the extent that we find other leads, we’re going to follow these leads. We will get to the bottom of what we have out there in terms of what went on to the extent that it’s humanly possible. I just can’t speculate beyond that.” 

So although this investigation may start with the Astros, it may not end there, which is as it should be. Even if it turns out that the Astros had the most sophisticated method, any team that utilized electronics should be punished. It is critical that fans have faith that the game they are watching is being played within the rules, and that one team does not have an unfair advantage over the other.

That takes us to the topic of punishment. Twice now (in the 2017 Red Sox statement and the pre-season rules in 2019) teams have warned that violation of the sign stealing rules could result in the loss of draft picks or similar punishment. Craig Edwards of Fangraphs looked at Manfred’s history of punishments for organizational violations and came away with these broad criteria:

  • Is this the first time a team has been penalized for breaking the rules?
  • Was the organization cooperative with MLB’s investigation?
  • How high up the organizational chain does the knowledge and activity go?

As an example, he examines MLB’s investigations into international signing violations. In 2016, the Red Sox were punished for violating the signing rules by not being able to sign any international free agents for a year and by having those players that were signed illegally declared free agents. A year later, the Atlanta Braves broke those same rules, and not only were they punished with a greater loss of international signing caps, but Braves general manager John Coppollela was banned for life and another member of the front office was suspended for a year.

So if it is found that the Astros front office participated in, or at least knew about the illegal sign stealing, I would expect a similar type of punishment that the Braves received, with the team losing multiple draft picks, and suspensions of front office personnel, coaches, and players involved in the scheme. If there is evidence that the Astros used this scheme (or something similar to it) in the 2017/2018/2019 playoffs, the punishments would escalate even further.

One of Manfred’s roles as commissioner is to protect the institution, and that means he should come down hard on any individual or organization that places the existence of the sport in any kind of danger. This sign stealing scandal does in my opinion rise to that level.

Regular Season Journal: Looking back, looking forward

It’s been a while since I posted anything here. I’ve been content to post whatever opinions I had on the Indians at Let’s Go Tribe (what can I say? old habits die hard), but the events of the past couple of weeks have put me in a more reflective frame of mind, something that a series of comments on a LGT post can’t satisfy.

The losses both in terms of games and key players (Corey Kluber, Jose Ramirez, Tyler Naquin) have turned what was looking to be an exciting divisional race into a desperate attempt to salvage a Wild Card spot.

But this post is not going to be about pre-lamenting a September swoon that may not even happen. It’s going to reflect on this season as one of transition that has, by and large, been managed adroitly by the Tribe front office. Some of the roster issues that Chris Antonetti and Mike Chernoff faced were self-imposed because of previous moves, others were imposed by the market size and/or ownership’s decree. And if the Twins weren’t on pace to win 100 games, even with those limitations the Indians might still have muddled through to a division title, warts and all.

Last winter the Indians had a difficult path to tread. It seemed obvious from the early-offseason statements given by Chris Antonetti that the payroll was not going to go up (from $138M at the end of 2018), and likely to drop a bit, though not as much as I anticipated (as things stand today, team payroll is $122M). There were several high-salaried players leaving via free agency (Michael Brantley, Andrew Miller, Cody Allen), but large salary increases to arbitration-eligible players like Francisco Lindor and Trevor Bauer would eat up those savings. That would be fine had the roster that remained been solid enough as is, but there were many holes that needed to be filled, particularly in the outfield. In other words, the Indians could make do losing Andrew Miller and Cody Allen (the acquisition of Brad Hand was made to mitigate this loss, and in retrospect it was a more prescient trade now than even last winter), but they didn’t have a player (or even multiple players) in the organization to replace Brantley, at least in the near term.

It is difficult to stay competitive for long periods of time and maintain a payroll that maxes out in the #13-15 range. The way the CBA is structured, good players get close to market value starting with their 5th year of MLB service time, and will get their most lucrative contract in their 7th or 8th year of service time. That means a team like the Indians have a small window to compete with one particular core group of players, and to remain competitive have to be continually develop the next core, as signing core free agents is not really an option. In theory, a successful mid-market organization would have a new core player waiting in the wings to replace every core player who leaves via free agency.

But this past winter, the Indians didn’t have anyone to replace Michael Brantley or even Lonnie Chisenhall. They had spent several first-round picks on outfielders 4-6 years ago (Tyler Naquin, Clint Frazier, Bradley Zimmer), but for various reasons none of those players could be penciled in the Opening Day lineup. Recognizing this, the Indians made a series of minor trades for outfielders that would either be temporary fixes (Leonys Martin), complementary players (Jordan Luplow) or even potential long-term solutions (Oscar Mercado). These trades weren’t prohibitively expensive in terms of prospects (though Willi Castro, who the Indians traded for Martin, has already made the majors and has some promise), but they weren’t trades the Indians should have had to make if their minor-league system was churning out a core player a year. And it still didn’t fix their immediate problem, which was outfield production in 2019. (Naquin would eventually become a viable corner outfielder, but it took a while, and now he’s out with a serious knee injury.)

Given all this, one potential solution to both the payroll problem and the outfield problem was to trade one of their good but expensive starting pitchers for at least one core outfielder. That obviously was not a move a team bent on competing would want to make, but seemed the lesser of evils. Based on reports throughout the off season, the Indians were talking to teams about trading Corey Kluber or Trevor Bauer, but never seemed to get the return they were looking for. They did, however, make a series of trades to cut payroll elsewhere. They somehow got the White Sox to take on Yonder Alonso’s 2019 salary, and saved more money in the Edwin Encarancion-Yandy Diaz for Carlos Santana-Jake Bauers swap. And they dealt Yan Gomes to Washington. Those deals seemed to get them to the targeted payroll level, and so they kept both Kluber and Bauer for 2019.

Of those three cost-cutting moves, the one I was vehemently against was the trade of Yan Gomes to the Washington Nationals. I didn’t like the return, and thought it would severely weaken the major-league roster. As it turned out, Gomes would be outplayed by his understudy Roberto Perez, and the players the Indians received have not only helped this year (Jefry Rodriguez) but may also play key roles next year (Daniel Johnson). I think Perez has been wearing down at the plate of late because this is the first time he’s been a full-time catcher over an entire season, but he’s been much better than Gomes at the plate, not to mention his incalculable contributions to a young and inexperienced starting rotation that has at times carried this team.

Ultimately, though, it wasn’t necessarily the moves made during the winter that kept the Indians in contention until the end, but player development decisions made well before that. For although the Indians began the season with an established rotation that was rated as among the best in baseball, that rotation wouldn’t remain intact for long, and all those projected innings would have to be covered by untested youngsters. Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, and Mike Clevinger would miss considerable portions of the season due to injury or illness, and Trevor Bauer would have an inconsistent campaign. Of the five pitchers who started the season in the rotation, only Shane Bieber would make all his scheduled starts, and this was his first full big-league season.

Zach Plesac (12th round, 2016), Aaron Civale (3rd round, 2016), and Adam Plutko (11th round, 2013) have combined for more starts than Kluber, Carrasco, and Clevinger, and the Indians have the 3rd-best starting pitching ERA in the American League. That’s the reason why Antonetti/Chernoff felt they could trade Trevor Bauer at the deadline for offense, something they were thinking of doing way back before the season began, the only difference being that back then you would have assumed Kluber/Carrasco/Clevinger would be their normal selves.

The Bauer trade encapsulated the dual priorities that the Tribe front-office has been trying to simultaneously fulfill since the end of last season. There was a financial motivation for making the trade, as Bauer was headed towards another big salary increase via arbitration in 2020, with free agency afterwards. There was also a competitive motivation for the deal, as the Indians were (and still are) in the thick of the playoff race, and needed to improve their lineup. The two major-league players that they acquired also represented a balance between the short-term and medium-term: Yasiel Puig will be a free agent after the season and will undoubtedly sign elsewhere, while Franmil Reyes is under team control until at least 2024. Two of the three minor-league players the Indians received (pitchers Scott Moss and Logan Allen) could help the team next year.

When you manage a mid-market team, there are always going to be difficult decisions to make because the financial rules are stacked against you, but because of the moves made over the past 12 months, this winter’s dilemmas will be mild in comparison with those already dealt with. The Indians will decline Jason Kipnis’ 2020 option, making him a free agent, and he’ll be replaced by someone in the organization. They will release Danny Salazar. They will very likely pick up Corey Kluber’s 2020 option even after the injury-plagued season, given that they’ve already dealt Trevor Bauer. They may try to lock up Mike Clevinger, and will try (with no possibility of success) to lock up Francisco Lindor. Tyler Naquin’s major knee injury means that they may look at bringing in a veteran on a one-year major-league contract. They will be active in acquiring relievers, but not via free agency. In other words, expect the same modus operandi this offseason as the last one, but with a bit less drama.

If you’d like me to address anything Tribe-related in more detail, leave a comment or shoot me a message via the contact link on the sidebar.

Regular Season Journal: looking beyond the easy narrative

As we are fast approaching Memorial Day, a convenient point at which to evaluate a baseball season, I thought I would pick today to offer my off-the cuff thoughts on how the Indians and Twins have played, given that that was how I framed my outlook this past winter. No baseball team is its own island, as they are only deemed a success or failure by comparison to its competition, as such the Tribe’s 2019 season will be judged will be its record compared to that of the Twins.

Today’s standings see the Twins leading the Indians by 5.5 games, having the second-largest lead in baseball (the Astros have a 8.5-game lead over the second-place Angels in the AL West). The Indians are 24-20, while the Twins are 30-15, trailing only the Astros among all MLB teams. The Indians have a +3 win differential, which intimates that they’ve performed worse than their record would indicate. The Twins have a +77 win differential, and their record accurately reflects their performance (see the “X-W/L” column below).

How does this mesh with projections saying the Indians would waltz to another AL Central title? The Twins pitching has greatly over-performed projections (which were rather dismal) and their offense has also over-performed projections (which were already positive). The Indians are still allowing fewer R/G than the Twins (3.77 compared to 4.02), but that was supposed to be the method the Indians would use to power past the Twins this year. Instead, run-prevention is almost a push, while the Twins are blowing the Indians away in terms of run scoring (5.73 versus 3.84). Should these trends continue another six weeks, the Indians are going to need to start setting their sights on the Wild Card rather than the Division, as unless they get extremely lucky (or the Twins unlucky) they aren’t going to keep pace with that run gap.

As for causes for this turn of events, I would caution against assigning the team’s payroll reduction as the presiding one. I admit it is an easy narrative to grasp, but as with many easy narratives, it falls apart once you look more closely at it. The Indians are not one Michael Brantley (worth 2.1 bWAR so far for the Astros) from catching the Twins in the standings, and that is because several of their existing stars, whether it be Jose Ramirez or Francisco Lindor (the former due to not hitting, the latter due mostly to injury) are also under-performing. The trade of Yandy Diaz for Jake Bauers, which was more of a challenge trade than anything else, has also hurt the offense* based on how the two have played thus far. Jason Kipnis is on pace to have the worst season of his career. Tyler Naquin, who the Indians keep giving opportunities to, has not provided them with the type of production expected from a mid-first round pick. Bradley Zimmer, another past first-round selection, still hasn’t played a rehab game. All these offensive failures have little to do with spending and much more to do with either coaching or front office evaluations.**

On the other side of the ledger, the Indians have maintained their excellent run prevention despite losing both Corey Kluber and Mike Clevinger for extended periods of time. The Tribe front office’s moves look much better on this front, as surprising performances from Jefry Rodriguez (who came in the Yan Gomes trade, a deal I unequivocally panned this winter) and Nick Wittgren (who was acquired from the Marlins), not to mention addition by subtraction in the bullpen by letting both Cody Allen and Andrew Miller walk. Spending $5.5M on Danny Salazar (who has yet to appear in even a minor-league game) while cutting costs elsewhere is really the only blemish that I can see on the offseason pitching moves so far.

*I still maintain that the trade may work out for the Indians in the long term (I like Bauers’ future), but it has hurt the Indians this year.

My goal here is not to act as an apologist for Cleveland ownership, who I think misjudged by trying to save $10-15M and justifying it by thinking they would win the division anyway. Instead, by also bringing up failures not related to spending I hope to paint a picture much closer to the true causes of this team’s shortcomings than by just fixating on spending alone. At the end of a season, a fan isn’t going to (or shouldn’t) care about what the payroll was at any point of the year, but instead whether the team made the playoffs or not.

Offseason Journal: A Postcript/Preview

Up to this point, I have solely focused attention on what the Indians have been doing, but that leaves unaddressed what the other teams in the AL Central have been doing, particularly the Minnesota Twins, the one team that I think could dethrone the Indians. There’s still an obvious gap between the two teams, but there’s enough potential on the Minnesota roster that you could see the possibilities on them making large improvements if a couple major things go right for them.

With that in mind, I’ve put together projected Opening Day rosters for the Twins and Indians to compare them.

The Indians’ roster looks as it stands this morning, as well as a zoomed-in version of just the 25-man roster.

Click to embiggen/live version

There has been a lot of uncertainty with this roster. The outfield and bullpen have essentially had open tryouts, and injuries to both Francisco Lindor and Jason Kipnis means that neither of them will be in the lineup this Thursday in Minnesota. This comes after a winter that saw the Indians prioritize cutting payroll over improving the roster for reasons gone into previously. But even after all of this, the Indians still seem by a significant margin the best team in the AL Central. The projections I used (Steamer for position players, ZiPS for pitchers) are 49.5 wins above replacement, which is just one win shy of their actual totals from last year.

Here is what the Twins are projected to do using the same ZiPS/Steamer combination. Some of the minor roles have changed since I did this exercise, but not enough to change the totals significantly.

Even after all the subtracting this past offseason, and even with question marks all over the roster, the Indians still project to win 10 more games than the Twins, their closest competition. If the starting rotation stays healthy, and the Indians can cobble together a functional (as in above replacement) bullpen and corner outfield, they’re still in good shape to win the AL Central again.

Which is one reason why I think the Indians prioritized the medium-term over the short-term this offseason. The gap between themselves and the rest of the AL Central wasn’t the only factor, as I don’t see this front office ever going completely for broke (too many institutional memories of 2002-03) or thinking for a short while like a large-market organization, but it did make those difficult decisions easier.

The caveats that need to be made: projections are not foolproof, as they are forecasting human beings that can get hurt or better or worse in ways completely independent of their age or previous results. I can easily imagine situations in which the Indians and Twins win totals are reversed. Breakout seasons for Kyle Gibson and Jose Berrios could quickly halve that 10-win gap, for instance.

With that being said, it’s time to enjoy some baseball. Happy New Year!

The Three Interests

Now that Manny Machado ($300M/10) and Bryce Harper ($330M/13) have signed, it’s time to go into a bit more detail about what’s seemed to be the running theme this winter among baseball writers: the inevitable conflict between the players and owners. A lot of the rhetoric has been hyperbolic, especially given the amount of money spent on Machado and Harper (as well as Nolan Arrenado ($260M/8), who signed a contract extension recently), but there is a grain of truth buried among all of that.

First, I want to share my premises and, more importantly, where my interests lie. I do this to help you, the reader, understand where these opinions come from, although I will never disregard a truth even should it be against an interest. I am not an ideologue when it comes to baseball issues, never mind a moralist, but tend to prioritize the interests of a mid-market fan above those of anyone else, because that’s my relationship in this industry. I have always been, and always will see myself as, a fan of the Cleveland Indians. When I earned a check writing about baseball, my interests were aligned with those who visited the site, as they were invariably also fans of Indians.

I specify that I am a fan of a mid-market team because the current financial rules that MLB teams and players abide by make it easier for big-market teams to succeed. Because a larger market means a larger local TV contract, and because local TV money has become a larger percentage of total revenue, big market teams have the means to sustain a larger payroll than teams in smaller markets. (Yes, there are exceptions to the rule – with big-market owners who spend very little and small-market owners who spend like the big boys, but those are exceptions.) The Cleveland Indians’ market size is roughly in the middle of the 30 MLB teams, and as such ranks similarly when it comes to TV revenue. So as a fan of the Indians, I am concerned about competitive balance, particularly among payrolls, because it affects how competitive the Indians will be. Now a large payroll is not a guarantee of success, but it makes things easier. For instance, the 2018 World Champion Red Sox lifted the trophy despite having paid a combined $52.52M in that season to three players (Hanley Ramirez, Rusney Castillo, and Pablo Sandoval) who they had already released. A team from a smaller market would have struggled for years trying to deal with that amount of dead money on a payroll, never mind being able to sign additional free agents to similar deals.

In other aspects, though, I share the same interests with all fans. We want our teams to win, or at least be regularly competitive. We want to be entertained by the game on the field and by our experience at the ballpark, and have access to that game (whether it be in the form of tickets/concessions or TV/video) be affordable and readily available.

There are two other main interests in the sport: the owners, and the players. These three interests (owners, players, fans) will align in some areas, sometimes two will align, and sometimes all three’s interests will diverge. And even individual interests will not be aligned on a subject. For instance, the owners of the Kansas City Royals and New York Yankees are going to completely disagree on where the luxury tax threshold should be placed, and any of the other rules related to it. A journeyman player who has no hopes of ever getting a multi-year deal is going to be at odds with a superstar over what the minimum salary should be. And a fan of the Pittsburgh Pirates is going to be at odds with a Los Angeles Dodgers fan over when a player can become a free agent.

The reason I bring all this up is to counter the standard “players vs. owners” narrative that you see practically everywhere. First of all, to treat this conflict as one between two imbalanced and monolithic entities (with the owners having a power advantage) may be great for clicks or views, but it does not reflect reality. The two sides are, in my estimation, equally powerful, as MLB has one of the most player-friendly CBAs in North America professional sports thanks to well-fought gains over the last four decades. Secondly, there are factions within these broad interests that are just as conflicted with each other as they may be with the other interests. And thirdly, this narrative completely disregards the third interest, that is, of the fan, who may be aligned with one of the other interests, but in total has his or her own unique goals. The fan may not be represented at the negotiating table, but even so has a veto in the form of a closed wallet. If whatever is decided makes the sport (in the fan’s eyes) less competitive, less entertaining, or more expensive, the fan will simply spend less time or money on baseball. That is something neither of the other two interests want, and so they ignore the fan at their peril.

It is important to emphasize that I do not bear the players any ill-will, nor the owners for that matter. I am pro-fan, not anti-owner or anti-player.

The proximate cause, in my estimation, of the current trend in free agent spending, is a change in how teams value players, particularly older ones. New ways to analyze players, first proposed by writers decades ago, have been largely accepted by most teams, who now have positions or even complete departments dedicated to this type of player valuation. Sites like Baseball Prospectus and Fangraphs have long served as farm teams for positions in MLB front offices. So is there any wonder that teams are now acting on these ideas when it comes to making signing decisions? Particularly when it comes to the age of the free agent in question?

This is why I think players that are past their theoretical prime (27-29) have seen fewer lucrative free agent deals over the past several years, and the few players who can become free agents before or during their theoretical prime continue to be handsomely compensated. Manny Machado and Bryce Harper broke into the majors as teenagers, and so were able to become free agents in their mid-20s, with their best years seemingly ahead of them. Both received contracts worth at least $300M. Nolan Arenado was one year away from free agency as a 27-year-old, and received an 8-year contract (buying out 7 years of free agency) in which he will receive an average of $32.5M a year.

But these players are the lucky few who were in a position to demand this kind of compensation. The remainder, who either broke into the majors at a more advanced age or who didn’t have quite the kinds of careers those three had, are seeing their contract offers get less lucrative. Those good but older players no longer get lengthy contracts that keep them locked up into their late 30s. Instead of relying on good but declining players, teams of all payroll sizes are looking to their farm systems to supply the bulk of their talent. It used to be that teams valued known quantities over payroll cost, but now these priorities have shifted to the point where teams are more likely to go with an inexperienced player than a more experienced one.

This trend has resulted in the hollowing out of baseball’s upper middle class. The young superstars are still getting paid at the same rates in free agency, and young up-and-coming players are also getting long-term contracts, but with few exceptions the older players are not getting similar treatment. For many years players accepted that they would be drastically underpaid during their first 4 seasons of major-league play, but it would be made up for by the last few years of arbitration and once they reach free agency. Arbitration is still working as intended, but not free agency for most players. That is why something has to give, as the system is not working for more and more players.

What would addressing this imbalance mean for someone who roots for a mid-market team? Lowering the service time needed to become a free agent would probably be the worst outcome, as it would mean smaller windows of opportunity to all but the best-run of organizations. Changing the luxury tax threshold or lowering the penalties for exceeding it would also be a bad thing, as would increasing the minimum salary. Now these things could be compensated for with increased revenue sharing or other ways to increase competitive balance, so it’s important to look at an entire agreement, not just one individual clause. I think a radical shift in the baseball economic landscape could actually benefit teams from the smaller markets as well as the underpaid players, but that would involve things like centralizing all TV revenue and distributing it equally or instituting a hard salary cap/floor. But I think the other two interests (as long as they are largely controlled by the superstars/agents and large-market teams) are too much entrenched for a sea-change like that to happen absent some catastrophic work stoppage.

Offseason Journal: Out like a lamb

I was planning on waiting until either Machado or Harper signed (preferably both) to finish up this series of posts, but as Spring Training has begun and the Tribe roster is more or less set, I can’t wait any longer. So the speculation about the state of free agency in general is going to be pushed off until another time.

With the Trevor Bauer’s arbitration hearing going in his favor ($13M, the Indians offered $11M), my estimate for Opening Day payroll is about $119M if you include the equivalent of 5 minor-leaguers to cover DL* stints over the course of the season. That would fall about $20M short of their ending 2018 payroll. Spending is not a perfect predictor of how good a team will be, given how the current salary system is set up, with good younger players being less compensated than good older players. With that said, I think they go into Spring Training a less talented team than the one from Game 3 of last year’s ALDS, particularly on offense, with projections showing the team 5 wins (fWAR) short of last year’s roster.

live (and embiggened version)

Gone is Michael Brantley, who signed a 2 year, $32M deal with the team that eliminated the Indians last year, and in his spot will be either Jordan Luplow or perhaps Jake Bauers. Gone is Lonnie Chisenhall, and his spot will probably be filled by Tyler Naquin. Gone is Edwin Encarnacion, and his spot is up in the air right now; it could be filled by Bauers, Carlos Santana, or shared among many players. Teams like the Indians need to take chances on young players to remain competitive over the long haul. However, as things stand, the Indians are going to be giving everyday spots in their starting lineup to at least 3 players who have yet to have a full productive season in the majors. And that doesn’t count the catching position, which will likely be shared by Roberto Perez and newly-acquired Kevin Plawecki, replacing Yan Gomes. Francisco Lindor’s calf injury makes the early-season lineup look even more suspect.

I have less of a problem with the way the Indians addressed the bullpen. Gone are Cody Allen and Andrew Miller, and in their places are several handfuls of relievers who have some potential but also can be sent to the minors. Because the Indians kept the rotation intact, they could use Danny Salazar (if the stars align) and Cody Anderson as relievers. Bullpens are fickle beasts, and I don’t mind opting for quantity over non-guaranteed quality here. They did bring back Oliver Perez, which should help stabilize the back end of the bullpen, but they desperately need a right-handed reliever to step into a key setup role.

There are two schools of thought about how a team like the Indians should operate. One is that you must maximize a short window of time for competitiveness by spending generously in terms of money and prospects, then completely rebuild. The other is that it is possible to keep the window open for a longer period of time by being good enough to compete for the playoffs but not be guaranteed of a long run into it. The Indians are attempting the latter way, perhaps mindful of how the 2005-2007 run collapsed so quickly. The minor-league organization has gotten praise for the number of prospects in the lower minors, so there is a chance that the team can remain competitive even after the current set of stalwarts inevitable leave or get too expensive. But by playing the long game, the team risks turning off fans who want to see them push all their chips into the middle every year, or at least some of them. And they have a point as well, because if Luplow, Naquin, and Bauers don’t take that next step, the offense could drag down a great rotation.

The AL Central once again appears very weak, particularly where the Indians are strong (starting pitching), but you can’t keep assuming your competition will continue to be inept. And strengths can quickly become weaknesses; one or two key injuries could quickly push the Indians backwards into the rest of the division. I’ll take a look at that competition next time.

*Yes I know MLB has changed the term to Injured List, but habits are hard to break and I just can’t make much of an effort to do so.

Offseason Journal: The Waiting Game

I last wrote about the offseason on December 28, describing the impasse the Indians were in because they were waiting on larger events to happen first, particularly the signings of Manny Machado and Bryce Harper. Both players were (and still are) expected to get massive contracts both in terms of length and monetary value, and when those signings happened, that would induce the teams who were in contention for those two to fix their gazes on their next-best options.

As it turned out, nothing has changed since December 28. There have been some free agent signings, and the Indians have even acquired another catcher (which I will look at presently), but the logjam is still there. Although MLB does not have a hard salary cap, each team does have a internal spending budget that they’d like to stick to, so if they still want to have any chance of landing Machado or Harper, they can’t commit to anything that would push them over their limit (whether that be a signing or a trade) if they also signed one of those two. And so plenty of other free agents, who would like to sign with a team as soon as they can, are stuck in limbo.

It also should be mentioned that more is riding on what Machado and Harper eventually gets. Many baseball opinion/analysis sites are in full “players vs. owners” mode as the trend of second tier free agents getting less lucrative deals has become more obvious. For example: in 2013, free agent Nick Swisher signed a four-year, $56M at the age of 32, after a accumulating a career bWAR of 20.9. Earlier this winter, at the age of 32, Michael Brantley, who has accumulated 22.7 bWAR, signed a two-year, $32M contract. I think the current paradigm of players sacrificing salary early in their careers (and this includes minor-league salaries) for a chance of hitting it big in free agency is not sustainable, given that fewer and fewer players are actually getting that big mega-deal. So if more and more of the percentage of team free agent spending is directed towards the elite free agents, then more pressure is going to come from both interests on the parties involved, and that could be one of the reasons why the Harper/Machado signings have been delayed for so long.

This trend in recent years of big moves happening later and later into the offseason makes following the hot stove season rather annoying. Unlike other sports (like the NBA), in which the vast majority of signings are condensed into the span of a couple weeks, major free agent signings can happen well after pitchers and catchers report for Spring Training. I would not be opposed a smaller “free agent window” being agreed to in the next CBA that stipulates the latest date a free agent can sign and be eligible to play in the upcoming season. At the very least the goal should be to get the highest-price free agents signed first, and after that everything would happen in due course.

For example, if the ending of the “elite signing period” coincided with the General Manager’s Meetings, that would be a great spectacle for anyone interested in the offseason events, a winter version of the July 31 trade deadline. Then after that, teams would immediately move on to the other free agents and trade targets, leading a flurry of active at the end of the year and a couple weeks into January, so that by this time of the year, the vast majority of rosters will have been set and the season prognostications can begin.

Click to embiggenlink to live version

As for what the Indians have been doing in recent weeks involving the major-league (40-man) roster:

January 9: Traded RHP Walker Lockett and 2B Sam Haggerty (AA) to the New York Mets for C Kevin Plawecki

This move gives the Indians either a second full-time catcher or a competent backup, depending on how the position shakes out this spring. I would expect Roberto Perez to have a leg up heading into Spring Training given his advantage of knowing the pitching staff, as well as his defensive prowess. Plawecki has struggled to throw out runners throughout his major-league career, hovering between 19-26%, but has been a better hitter than Perez over the last couple of seasons. The Indians give up a player they acquired from the Padres a couple months ago (Lockett) and a marginal minor-league prospect (Haggerty), so all in all, this deal partially fills the hole left by Yan Gomes. If Terry Francona uses both players like I think he can, I could the catching position being just as good as it would have been had Gomes not been traded, for about $5.9M less (the difference between Gomes’ and Plawecki’s 2019 salaries).

January 11: Claimed RHP A.J. Cole off waivers from the New York Yankees

The most important piece of information to know about this waiver claim is that Cole is out of options, and so has to make the 25-man roster to stay in the organization. Even if the Indians end up trading Corey Kluber or Trevor Bauer, the only way Cole makes the team is via the bullpen, which has plenty of spots up for grabs at this moment.

That’s it. The catching position is taken care of, but no real upgrades for the bullpen, and nothing for the outfield. I’m still hopeful that these needs will be addressed one way or another, but I can’t tell you when that be. Until then, we wait. And wait. And wait.

Offseason Journal: The cone of uncertainty

There’s been no moves to speak of since the Indians finalized their three-way deal with the Mariners and Rays, and followed that by dealing Yonder Alonso to the White Sox. For some offseasons, a flurry of trades like that could have represented the end of major transactions, but a cursory look at the Tribe’s projected roster will tell you that this winter is not “some offseason.”

click to enlarge

Although the Indians have made several major moves, the only player they acquired that would be a good fit in a corner outfield slot is Jordan Luplow, who they received from the Pirates in the Erik Gonzalez deal. And if that happens, Luplow would be a major downgrade from Michael Brantley*, who signed last week with the Houston Astros. Jake Bauers theoretically could end up playing some outfield, but after trading both Edwin Encarnacion and Yonder Alonso, he projects to share 1B/DH with Carlos Santana. And that’s not even addressing the projection of Tyler Naquin as the team’s starting right fielder. As things stand now, the Indians would be getting a total of 1.0 win above replacement combined from their corner outfielders, which would certainly place them among the worst in baseball at those two spots. In other words, something has to happen.

Compounding the uncertainty on the current roster is all the rumors about Corey Kluber. Depending on which baseball reporter you follow on Twitter, Kluber is going to the Dodgers, the Reds, or even the Padres, and that’s not counting the teams that were reported to “have interest.” And there’s also the underlying questions about what the team’s payroll will end up being by the time the team takes the field in frigid Minneapolis in late March. My assumptions have been all along that the 2018 ending payroll would be a good approximation for the 2019 beginning payroll. For many reasons, the Indians front office isn’t going to give out specifics about what the actual budget is, foremost among them is to deny clarity to the team’s rivals. But for a casual fan’s perspective, that kind of uncertainty is going to make him hesitate before pulling the trigger on a ticket package, especially with the Kluber rumors swirling about.

In other professional sports (like the NBA), all the major moves could happen within the span of a week. But in baseball, those moves can be spaced out over three, even four months. The two biggest free agents of the winter, Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, still haven’t decided where they will sign, and because of that, many other teams and free agents are stuck in limbo. Once the two marquee free agents sign, the teams that lose out will immediately put their Plan Bs and Cs into action, which could include other free agents or trade targets.

That’s why I think the Indians haven’t made their final set of moves, as the Dodgers are one of the front runners to sign Bryce Harper. There’s probably a trade package for Kluber they’d be willing to offer if Harper signs, and a different package if Harper signs elsewhere. And until the Dodgers make their final offer, the Indians can’t finalize a deal, if there is a deal to finalize. And given that it’s extremely likely that a starting corner outfielder is going to come from any Kluber deal, they haven’t acquired in a separate deal. And you can keep the transaction dominoes falling until your head hurts.

Over the course of the summer, while following Hurricane Florence as it barreled towards the Carolinas, the phrase “cone of uncertainty” popped up multiple times. Its origin came from the National Hurricane Center’s forecast maps; they release them several times a day when there’s a chance that a tropical storm will make landfall:

The cone represented all the potential paths that the center of the storm could take over the following days, with it getting ever wider with time. The MLB offseason has its (much less serious) cone of uncertainty while its biggest signings have yet to be made, and the Indians, because of what they need to accomplish, are more subject to it this year than in the recent past.

*Given what Brantley signed for (2/$32M), I think the Indians whiffed here. Had they re-signed Brantley at that amount, they still would have had room to sign a couple relief pitchers, and probably kept Kluber as well. Of course, that assumes that both Brantley and the Indians wanted to strike a deal, but from the outside it looks like a gigantic missed opportunity.

Offseason Journal: 3 Trades

Over the past several days, the Indians have made further moves to restructure their roster. Before diving into things any deeper, the actual moves, along with the financial aspects of those deals if relevant: 

Trade 1a: Traded 1B/DH Edwin Encarnacion ($25M 2019) and 2019 #77 Draft Pick to the Seattle Mariners for 1B/DH Carlos Santana ($17.5M 2019, $18M 2020) and $6M ($2M in 2019, $4M in 2020)

Trade 1b: Traded 3B/1B Yandy Diaz and RHP Cole Sulser (AAA) to the Tampa Bay Rays for 1B/OF Jake Bauers

Trade 2: Traded 1B Yonder Alonso ($9M 2019) to the Chicago White Sox for OF Alex Call (A+)

(All salary/financial information is from Cot’s Contracts)

I’ve separated the 3-way trade between the Indians, Mariners and Rays into two separate deals because in essence that’s what they are. The only thing changing hands between the Mariners and Rays is $5M, apparently to bridge the gap between their valuations of Bauers and Diaz.

Trade 1a is a trade of large salaries, with the Mariners taking on more this year in exchange for almost nothing to pay out next year (save the $4M to Cleveland), while the Indians commit to $14M for Santana next year in order to take $9.5M off their payroll this year. In addition, Santana can play first base everyday, freeing up the DH spot for some other player or players as the offseason progresses. And of course there’s the side benefit of bringing back a player that liked being in Cleveland, and who was liked by his teammates. Steamer projects that the Indians will have the better 1B/DH next year, and moving back to the American League won’t hurt Santana’s production either.

Trade 1b has a less obvious justification. In trading Yandy Diaz, the Indians seem to be dealing a player on the cusp of breaking into a full-time role, a player that has a unique set of skills in today’s game: a ground-ball stroke combined with an incredible bat speed. Even if Yandy never hits for home run power could easily make a career for himself as a top-of-the-order hitter. His profile fits better in the 1910s than in 2010s, but even today I think he can make a career for himself. He’s going into his Age 28 season, but I think that makes him quite a bit for valuable to the Rays given that if he does break out, he’ll be under team control throughout his prime years. Bauers is 5 years younger than Diaz, but is likewise on the cusp of playing every day in the majors. Given the Indians’ desperate need in the outfield, Bauers could play in left and right field, but ultimately I think he’s the first baseman of the future. 

As for the Alonso deal, it’s almost a carbon copy of the Yan Gomes trade. The goal was to have someone take on Alonso’s 2019 salary (and perhaps even his 2020 salary if his option vests), and with the White Sox are very interested in landing Manny Machado, the opportunity to acquire his brother-in-law was apparently appealing even with the price tag. The prospect the Indians received in return will not help the team this year, or probably next year. But again, the major return in the deal is the $9M that the Indians won’t be paying Alonso.

Here’s a couple key quotes from Chris Antonetti about the trades this week. 

“First off, I think we’re acquiring two players that we feel will help us next year,” Antonetti said. “Both Carlos and Jake are productive Major League players that not only contribute but enhance the versatility of our roster. Beyond that, it adds some payroll flexibility for us in 2019.”

Chris Antonetti, on Carlos Santana and Jake Bauers (indians.com)

“So we could configure the roster in a variety of different ways. But there’s still a lot of offseason left. I’m not sure this will be the final roster that we have going into Spring Training.”

Antonetti on the makeup of the current roster (this was before the Alonso trade)

“It’s still relatively early in the offseason,” Antonetti said. “So I think what we will continue to do is be aggressive — taking opportunities to improve our position moving forward. Whether that’s a 2019 impact or it’s gonna help us sustain success beyond 2019, we’ll have to see what opportunities present themselves.”

Antonetti, after the Alonso trade (indians.com)

To summarize the financial aspects of the deals: 

Given that the market value of 1.0 WAR (wins above replacement) is between $8-9M, the Indians did well here if you look strictly at payroll and projected production. They did lose 1.4 wins as a result of the two trades, but dropped $18.5M in the process. They could easily buy those 1.4 wins back on the free agent and still have some of the savings left over.

But it isn’t just about total payroll and total production. There’s also the roster configuration to think about. By trading several starters from last year, along with a projected starter for this year (Yandy Diaz), a roster that began the offseason with glaring holes picked up another one. Here’s what the roster looks like right now:

Click to embiggenLive roster link

There’s still several major holes to fill (Luplow and Naquin as the starting outfielders should give everyone pause), but the Indians now have a decent amount of payroll room to add some significant help. If you assume that last year’s ending payroll is the limit for next year as well, the team now has about $23M to work with, and that’s without having to trade one of their top starting pitchers. I think now you’ll start to hear rumors based on free agent targets and not just trade talk.

Offseason Journal: Carlos Carrasco extended through 2022

First, the basic facts of the contract, along with the relevant quote from Chris Antonetti:

“What this does,” team president Chris Antonetti said, “is provide us additional continuity in the rotation beyond 2020. We effectively left this year [2019] alone, exercised the option for 2020 and added two new years beyond that. It’s a continued investment by ownership in our team and the desire to remain a very competitive team moving forward.”

Source: Carlos Carrasco, Indians agree to extension through ’22 (indians.com)

As noted by Chris Antonetti, this deal does not affect the 2019 or 2020 payroll, other than by making the 2020 salary guaranteed (before the extension, that year was a team option). What it does do is to make some of the trade options the team was contemplating more palatable. To be specific, if the Indians had traded Corey Kluber before the Carrasco extension, their 2021 rotation looked rather pedestrian, as both Carrasco and Trevor Bauer would have been free agents following the 2020 season. Now, with Carrasco locked up through at least 2022, that means they can keep everyone in the past year’s rotation except for Bauer through 2021. Given that the Indians boast one of the top 2-3 rotations in baseball, with starting pitching fetching such a premium on the free agent market, that’s a very big deal for a mid-market team.

And speaking of the free agent market, the AAVs (Average Annual Value) of the Carrasco extension ($11.6M if you include the option year), is less than half of what Patrick Corbin just got from the Washington Nationals(6/$140M, $23.3M AAV). And lest you think that Corbin is a better pitcher than Carrasco, a quick gander at both historical statistics as well as 2019 projections will quickly disabuse you of that notion.

The only thing Corbin has on Carrasco is age (29 vs. 32), but even that comes with a caveat, as Carrasco has only thrown 149 more innings than Corbin over the course of their careers, which is essentially three-quarters of a normal season for a starter. So if you subscribe to the notion that it’s the miles, not the years that determines the life left in an arm, Carrasco is only a year older than Corbin. 

So how were the Indians able to retain Carrasco at such below-market rates? All the years of this extension will be at post-6-years service time (a player can become a free agent after 6 years of service time assuming he’s not already under contract). One clue can be found in the indians.com article referenced above: 

Carrasco, who signed his original extension after a health scare that involved non-invasive heart surgery in 2014, is the longest-tenured member of the Indians.

The Indians extended Carrasco after his breakout 2014 season, taking a chance that he’d build on those 14 fantastic starts, but also taking a chance on him remaining healthy. Beyond the heart surgery, Carrasco was just a couple of years clear of Tommy John surgery. And all this came after several years of the team remaining patient with him while he bounced back and forth from the majors to the minors. Carrasco made his major-league debut back in 2009, and between Tommy John surgery and his struggles on the mount, he didn’t blossom into the pitcher we know him as until the second half of 2014. So I think Carrasco’s decision to take a hometown discount stems from a long and trusting relationship with the team. It’s not something you often see in the cutthroat world of professional sports, where players and teams often default to making decisions on financial impact alone, but sometimes the stars align with the result being this contract extension. Carrasco is obviously content with living in Cleveland, he’s content with trading a much-lower earning potential for stability, and the team is content with trading the risk of a long-term deal to a 32-year-old pitcher for a well-below market AAV. 

“I feel great to be part of the Cleveland Indians,” Carrasco said. “I just want to finish my career with them. This is something special for me and my family.”

Carrasco, Tribe agree to extension through ’22

This contract paves the way for the Indians to trade either Corey Kluber or Trevor Bauer this week at the Winter Meetings. Because one of the objectives of this type of trade will be to clear payroll for free agent signings, I think they’ll want to pull the trigger sooner rather than later, and with several of the top free agent starters (Corbin, Eovaldi) already signing, the clubs that lost out on those free agents may be starting to view a trade more favorably now that the free agent market isn’t as enticing any more. The Indians would use any payroll savings on presumably outfield help, and with Michael Brantley still available and willing to playing some first base, I think there’s a decent possibility that team would be able to re-sign him if the right type of trade happens.

With that in mind, ponder this bit of news from SNY  

“You can get Bauer cheap,” the exec said. “The catch is that you have to take (Jason) Kipnis’ money too. The Yankees might be the only team who would do that — if they’re not really in on (Manny) Machado or (Bryce) Harper.”

Bauer has the highest upside for 2019 of anyone in the rotation, but he’s also the only pitcher in that rotation who isn’t cost-controlled for 2019, as he and the team are in the arbitration process right now. And barring something completely unexpected, he and team will be in the same position next year, with the potential him making close to $20M in his final year of arbitration. Given that the value of starting pitchers is going up compared to many other positions, I think it’s understandable that the Indians would prefer to trade Bauer over Kluber just on that factor alone. And now that Carrasco is locked up, Bauer is the closest starter to free agency. Should the Indians include Jason Kipnis along with Bauer in a trade, that aren’t going to get nearly the type of return in terms of a talent that they’d get would they trade Bauer alone. But that would give them much more payroll flexibility to make deals for free agents or even other trades, assuming of course that the 2019 payroll will be at the same level as it was in 2018. 

This type of trade, not to mention the type of team involved, in which the team includes a valuable player in order to dump the salary of a less productive player (Kipnis is still a player you’d take in your lineup, but if he’s playing left field, is he really going to be that valuable?) carries with it the risk of alienating the fanbase, both from those who views spending and those who view accumulated talent as measures of a team’s willingness to compete. The failure to follow up a Bauer/Kipnis trade with a meaningful acquisition, be it in free agent or in a trade for an established star, would in my mind negate whatever strategic payroll gains the team makes from the original trade. But if, for example, the Indians announce the re-signing of Michael Brantley soon afterwards, then pull off a deal for 3-win RF later that week, then later on sign a couple relievers, I think most fans would appreciate the entirety of the offseason over what in isolation would seem to be another step back (in addition to the Yan Gomes trade). 

The Indians will have a very fine and crooked line to walk this week, but the Carrasco extension widens that path, perhaps even straightens it as well. Here’s hoping for big, and more importantly, good news to follow soon.