The deadline for teams to extend or not extend qualifying offers to impending free agents is Friday at 5 p.m. ET, so rumor season will be starting in earnest rather quickly. One could argue it has already started.
Here's a possible bombshell:
Faced with market constraints, the Indians will listen to trade offers for some of their veteran players this winter, according to sources. Kluber, Carrasco, Encarnacion, Gomes, etc. Lindor, Ramirez will definitely be held.— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) November 2, 2018
Note the wording there. The Indians will "listen" to offers on the likes of Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Edwin Encarnacion and Yan Gomes. That doesn't mean the team is actively shopping them. Still, looking at the wording with "market constraints" makes it seem like the front office has been told by ownership to either trim or watch the payroll. Let's dive in on this one.
The Tribe has made the playoffs three years in a row, and that includes one AL pennant. The ran a payroll of just over $165 million in 2018, according to Baseball-Reference. Baseball-Reference further estimates that the payroll for 2019 is set for $130.2 million without adding or subtracting from those currently under contract.
Kluber is set to make $17 million in 2019 before a club option worth $17.5 million in 2020 and another club option in 2021 worth $18 million. He's still one of the best pitchers in baseball, and a three-year, $52.5 million deal is probably far less than he'd get in free agency right now. Surely, Kluber would have a ton of value in a trade and could get Cleveland a nice prospect return, even if it's a salary dump.
Carrasco, 31, is a very nice No. 2 type starter. He's got a $9.75 million club option for 2019 and a $9.5 million club option for 2020. Given the market price for starting pitching in free agency, he's an utter bargain. The Indians, again, could get a pretty big return here, I believe.
Encarnacion is entering his age-36 season. He's still a useful slugger (32 homers, 115 OPS+), but he needs to be a DH and is due $21.667 million before a $20 million club option in 2020 that is unlikely to be picked up but also has a $5 million buyout attached to it. This is the one that is tantamount to a salary dump, if a move happens. It would be hard to see the Indians getting a prospect haul in return.
Gomes would be a sell-high guy. He had his best offensive season since 2014 this past season. He's due $7.08 million next season before a $9 million club option in 2020 and $11 million club option in 2021. It's hard to envision the Indians getting a huge haul in return, but salary relief is possible.
I'm selling the market constraints for the following reasons: Every team got a $50 million lump sum payment last January from MLB's BAMTech sale; the Indians already show nearly $35 million in savings from last season's payroll without adding anyone; the All-Star Game revenue is coming in 2019; they are a local ratings boon; and Forbes had the club at $284 million in revenue in 2017. This isn't the first time a billionaire ownership group cried poor through reporters in order to help justify a sell-off to fans, and it won't be the last.
As for trades, I'm selling Kluber and/or Carrasco going anywhere. The rotation is one of the pillars of the team heading to next year, along with the left side of the infield duo of Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez. The AL Central is still overall in pretty bad shape, so I can't see punting the window of contention by dealing Kluber and Carrasco unless the return helps the ballclub in the present. I'm not seeing how this would be possible, either.
I'll buy the Indians shopping Encarnacion and Gomes, though.