While everyone is talking about one Indians player, Francisco Lindor, I have my eyes on another: José Ramírez. The 28-year old slugger has been an MVP finalist 3 of the last 4 seasons, but hasn’t been able to take home the hardware. The Indians have stated that they’re going to be cutting payroll, the question is how far do they want to go.
They’re all but resigned to the fact that they will have to trade Lindor this offseason because they can’t afford to sign him long term. The rumor is they’re seeking 3 players with at least 2 of them being major leaguers of close to their debut. If we extrapolate that return for 1 year of Lindor to 3 years of Ramírez it would likely take about 6 players that are in the majors or close to major league ready. I’ll go into my hypothetical trade a little further down, but I want to start out by detailing the Indians situation and going over who the Braves would be getting in José Ramírez.
Why would the Indians trade Ramírez?
The Indians were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs with their two superstar players intact. As an outside observer, I don’t see how they could expect different results after losing Lindor. On top of that they’ll likely also lose 1B/DH Carlos Santana who quietly had a pretty decent season with a .349 OBP. Depending on the pieces the Indians get back for Lindor, they’re going to have a very young inexperienced team and a lineup that’s held together by popsicle sticks and Elmer’s glue. Obviously with the rotation they have they certainly have a shot to compete, but if they’re in for another first round exit then why would they not at least entertain trading both of their big assets and get ready to be an American League juggernaut for 2022-2025 or even longer.
Who is Ramírez?
Ramírez was on pace for about 8 WAR this season, after a bit of a down 2019 where he only had 3 WAR. He also had 6.4 and 7.5 WAR in 2017 and 2018, respectively. He’s been an MVP finalist 3 of the last 4 seasons and it doesn’t get much better than that. He’s elite in every facet of the game; he hits for average and for power, he has a K% and whiff% among the best in the league, he’s a threat on the base paths, and he’s a stellar defender. If you can get this guy on your team, you do it.
Indians Payroll Situation
The Indians payroll currently sits around $57M with arb estimates built in. Once they remove Lindor’s $20M they’ll move to lowest payroll in the league, behind the Marlins by about $10M. But why stop there? Ramírez will make $9M in 21 and then has club options of $12M and $14M for 22 and 23, respectively. The only other high cost Indian is Carlos Carrasco, who will make $12M each in 21 and 22 and then has a vesting option for 23 at $14M. This vesting option only hits if Carrasco pitches 170+ innings in 22, making it a pretty safe bet that you’re only on the hook for that money if Carrasco is good anyways. If it does vest and you want to spend that money elsewhere, it also has a $3M buy out.
Removing Lindor, Ramírez and Carrasco from the payroll would leave them at a $16M payroll before filling out the remaining 19 spots with guys making league minimum or any free agent they decide to bring in. Nobody knows what number they’re aiming for, but if Lindor’s $20M isn’t enough they may as well just go all the way and remove the only 3 big dollar amounts they have.
Who is Carrasco?
Carlos Carrasco has been an above average starter his entire career. After beating cancer, he returned and dominated with a 2.91 ERA in his 68 IP and was on pace for roughly a 4 WAR season. In his career he strikes out almost 10 batters per 9 innings while only walking 2. He was worth over 5 WAR in both 2017 and 2018, before ending 2019 early due to the leukemia. Carrasco is an experience veteran and a clubhouse leader, both of which the Braves are looking for in their rotation. Carrasco is the kind of pitcher that will give you 6-7 strong innings every time out and hand the ball to the bullpen with a shot to win the game.
Indians Farm System Overview
The Indians have a pretty good farm system, but they do not have a lot of guys ready to join their MLB team with most of their top prospects expected to arrive around 2022-2023. Third baseman and top prospect Nolan Jones, #42 on MLB pipeline’s latest top 100, is ready to debut. He could certainly replace Ramírez if the Indians decide to move him. They also like 21 year old SS Tyler Freeman, who could replace Lindor, but he only reached A+ in 2019 so he’s likely still a year or two away. First baseman Bobby Bradley is MLB ready and should takeover for Santana in 2021. Other than those three they also have Bo Naylor, a very good catching prospect, and a bunch of middle infielders and pitchers that are all due around 2023-24.
Indians Big League Depth Chart
The Indians rotation is rock solid with Shane Bieber, Zach Plesac, Aaron Civale, Carrasco, Triston McKenzie, and Adam Plutko. They also think Logan Allen has potential as a starter. This makes Carrasco expendable. Their bullpen is strong with a breakout season from rookie James Karinchak, who likely takes the closing role now that Brad Hand is gone. Emmanuel Clase, Nick Wittgren and Adam Cimber are all solid options for them at the back end of the pen.
The position players is where the team gets a little messy. First base will likely be taken over by the aforementioned Bradley, but Jake Bauers is another option there. They don’t really have a good second base option, I could see them moving Ramírez (if he’s not traded) back to second if they call up Nolan Jones for third. Shortstop could be manned by prospect Yu Chang, otherwise they’ll likely try to get a young MLB SS in the Lindor trade. Franmil Reyes is the one sure thing, he will be their DH and he is the best hitter in this lineup without Ramírez and Lindor.
In the outfield they have a box of misfit toys. Josh Naylor showed up big in the postseason, but hasn’t done much thus far in his career. Oscar Mercado, Jordan Luplow and Tyler Naquin all had great 2019 seasons, but were helpless in 2020. Delino Deshields is decent, but he won’t be much better than league average.
Now that you’ve made it this far, let’s propose a hypothetical deal with the Braves.
This package is a King’s ransom. If the Braves want to acquire Ramírez and Carrasco, this is what it will take. Riley can immediately take over at third base, or they can move him to left field or first base if they call up Nolan Jones. Waters is as close to MLB ready as you can get and could be ready to man centerfield for the Indians by May-June. Jenista is also close to the majors and offers them a strong AAA outfielder with potential. Davidson, Weigel, Touki and Newcomb are all MLB pitchers. Jackson offers the Indians some flexibility, Austin Hedges and Roberto Perez are both free agents after the 2022 season, but Jackson could be a cheaper replacement for Hedges if he is non-tendered. Davidson could join the Indians rotation in Carrasco’s spot and the other 3 could go to the MLB bullpen. The Indians have a strong track record of developing pitching and these 4 still have a lot of potential. Ender is just there to offset some of the payroll, but the Indians can likely find something to do with him on their active roster. This move saves the Indians roughly $55M over the next 3 years which they could use to extend guys like Bieber and Reyes, while retooling the MLB roster and gaining some high potential pieces. If it would take even more than this, my guess as to some guys that could garner interest would be Bryce Ball, Riley Unroe, Mahki Backstrom or Terone Harris.
Braves Roster Breakdown
After this trade, the Braves add Carrasco’s $12M salary, but Ender and Riley balance out with Ramírez’s $9M. The Braves rotation becomes Soroka, Fried, Anderson, Carrasco, Wright. A hypothetical lineup, with years controlled, would be Acuna (8), Freeman (1, but will likely get extended), Ramírez (3), d’Arnaud (1), Albies (7), Swanson (3), Duvall (2), Camargo (3), Pache (6). I slotted Camargo in as the DH here, but I’m sure the Braves would bring somebody in to man this position. Most Braves writers estimate the Braves will spend about $40M this offseason, so they could still afford Ozuna at ~$20M per season if they wanted to and make some smaller moves like Flowers, Melancon or Pederson.
While the cost would be hefty, if you can trade for 3 years of an MVP caliber player you have to do it. If the Braves make this trade and still bring in someone of Ozuna’s caliber, that puts them ahead of the Dodgers in my eyes. This would be a complete roster from top to bottom and gives you at least 3 years with a very good shot to win it all. I’ll leave you with some nice Ramírez highlights to watch below. Go Braves!