There’s really only one way to describe the Indians in the post-Mark Shapiro regime: ballsy.
It literally encapsulates everything you need to know about the Tribe brass since Shapiro was promoted to team president – and later left for Canadian pastures – and Chris Antonetti took over for his former boss at both positions.
In an administration that once horded prospects like they were going out of style – even though under Shapiro’s watch the franchise had a tremendously poor draft track record – the Indians are realizing that minor leaguers are, in fact, baseball’s best currency.
Antonetti pulled the trigger on enigmatic right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez – a move, by the way, that Shaprio said he wouldn’t have made – by dealing away a couple top prospects in Alex White, who’s out of baseball, and Drew Pomeranz, who blossomed into an All-Star starter in 2016 after stops with Colorado, Oakland, and San Diego. So, yeah, even after Jimenez’s ups-and-downs with the Indians, the deal worked out well for Cleveland.
So it’s not overly shocking to see the Indians once again dip into their bountiful farm system to acquire a dominant relief arm in Andrew Miller. Hell, he’s arguably the most dominant reliever over the last three years. Since the beginning of 2014, the big lefty’s strikeout-to-walk percentage, a mindboggling 35.8%, is by far the best mark in the game; runner-up Kenley Jansen owns a 32.3% tally during the same time.
So, let’s break down the trade…
The Indians acquired Miller, the former sixth overall pick for a quartet of prospects: outfielder Clint Frazier, southpaw starter Justus Sheffield and a pair of minor league relievers in Ben Heller and J.P. Feyereisen.
Frazier, a toolsy prep player chosen with the former fifth overall pick, has rebounded after some early career strikeout issues to have his best professional season to date. In 89 games in Class AA this season, the flame-haired Frazier slugged .276/.356/.469 with 25 doubles, one triple, 13 homeruns, and 13 stolen bases. His overall production, according to Weighted Runs Created Plus, topped the league average mark by 30%. That comes at the ripe ol’ age of 21. That makes Frazier, for those counting at home, just the 11th 21-year-old to post a 130 wRC+ in Class AA since 2000. The others? Well, most of them are pretty uninspiring: Matt Davidson, Arismendy Alcantara, Kyle Blanks, Ivan De Jesus, Brandon Wood, Joc Pederson, Evan Longoria, Jordan Schafer, Logan Morrison, and Julio Morban.
He profiles as a potential middle-of-the-order bat that might be able to squeak out a few seasons as a decent defender in center field with solid OBPs. But as suggested above, he’s far from a sure thing just because he’s producing well in Class AA.
And as much as I like Justus Sheffield, I ranked him right behind Frazier as the club’s second best prospect and the 48th best in the game coming into the season, the young lefty does have to continually answer two questions: #1 as with any young arm, will he make it through the injury nexus unscathed? #2 Will his small frame limit his potential in any way?
No one knows the answer to question #1. But there’s some pretty strong evidence to point us in one direction when it comes to #2.
Between 2000 and 2014, there have just seven starting pitchers under 5-foot-11 to throw 100+ innings and 25 starts at the big league level: Chad Guadin, Jesus Sanchez, Kris Medlen, Mike Hampton, Mike Leake, Sonny Gray, and Wandy Rodriguez.
That’s it. Seven.
Needless to say, the odds are clearly stacked against the little lefty.
As for Heller and Feyereisen, the one thing the Indians do well is find solid big league relievers in the late rounds of the draft. Vinnie Pestano. Cody Allen. And the duo going to New York could be the latest.
Heller’s been his usual dominant self in 2016, though it’s very telling that his strikeout rate dipped from 12.7 K/9 in Class AA to 8.9 K/9 in Class AAA. He profiles as a solid seventh inning arm, one that potentially could be called up in the next few weeks.
And Feyereisen, well, he’s sporting a 56-to-20 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 40.1 innings with Akron. He also profiles as a solid seventh inning arm.
In the end…
Well, I like the move. I would have liked it had the Indians dealt away Bradley Zimmer instead of Frazier. But their time to win is now. As we’ve seen in plenty of other big deals, the odds of both Frazier and Sheffield panning out are slim. They’re prospects. Prospects have high attrition rates. Miller – barring some unfortunate injury – is a known and incredibly valuable commodity.
Plus, on the bright side of things, the Indians have Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer, Danny Salazar, Josh Tomlin, Carlos Carrasco, Cody Allen, and now Miller signed through at least 2018. For those counting at home, that’s one of the best rotations in baseball with two shutdown dominant relievers.
Yeah, I’ll take that any day.