Josh Tomlin picked up his 10th win, the first place Indians finally took a series from the lowly Minnesota Twins, and the post-game conversation was all about… trading for a starting catcher. Welcome to the second half of the 2016 Tribe season! Please make sure your tray tables are in the upright and locked position.
No time is a “good time” for an injury, particularly when it confirms that a member of your team is tragically beyond repentance in the eyes of Jobu. Still, if Yan Gomes’ waking nightmare was always headed to this inevitable point—a dislocated shoulder and a DL stint—it might as well be happening now, when the Indians have the most available options at their disposal going forward.
Over the past four months, while the Cleveland sports universe was transforming into some sort of surreal nonstop dance party, Yan Gomes has seen a disturbing, inverse effect in his own performance, as he’s slowly devolved from a Silver Slugger into the world’s first sentient shrug emoji. Some have suggested that Gomes’ logic-defying .188 BABIP and general unending shit-luck are actually signs of a higher calling for the Brazilian backstop. They say the Yanimal is, in fact, a sacrificial lamb—the new vessel for what was once known, until recently, as the Cleveland Sports Curse. That argument is, of course, unbelievably stupid. But then again, Gomes did suffer his shoulder injury on Sunday, just ONE DAY after his teammates held a widely publicized locker room ceremony in which they sacrificed a (already cooked) chicken to the baseball gods, asking them to take mercy on poor Yan. Clearly, the gods were not impressed. Either that, or Gomes truly is the living host for all that crap from the Believeland documentary that the rest of us don’t care about anymore.
Yan’s injury itself certainly played out in traditional Cleveland sports fashion. In the midst of the Indians’ 6-1 win on Sunday afternoon in Minneapolis, Gomes finally ended an 0-27 slump with a friendly-hop double in the third inning, raising hopes that the chicken sacrifice had indeed turned the tide. Then, ONE AT-BAT later, he Kelly Olynyked himself crashing into first base, likely leading to a lengthy time on hiatus. If having a batting average of .165 in July isn’t bad enough, imagine knowing you won’t be able to do anything about it for at least a couple weeks.
"Gomes has slowly devolved from a Silver Slugger into the world’s first sentient shrug emoji."
The first place Indians (54-37), meanwhile, do have some things they can do. First and foremost, that means recalling 27-year-old catcher Roberto Perez, who—rather conveniently, almost suspiciously—is finishing up his rehab assignment at the very moment that his number is now being called. Even before Yan’s injury, there was some debate as to what the Indians would do once Perez was fully set to return. Despite Gomes’ horrendous offensive numbers, there was no indication that his job was in immediate jeopardy. Chris Gimenez, meanwhile, has an even lower OPS than Yan (.502 to .511) since arriving after Roberto Perez broke his thumb in April. There’s been a lot of praise for Gimenez helping to turn Trevor Bauer’s head around, however, and there were some arguments for using a Perez and Gimenez tandem while letting Gomes figure things out in Columbus for a while. That’s all a moot point now, at least until August. The starting catcher position, regardless of what the original plans were, is changing hands.
Which brings us to the trade chatter. Where once all the focus of fan demands rested with upgrading the outfield, everyone now seems to agree that it's all about the back end of the bullpen, and—as of the past 24 hours—the catcher position. In my opinion, this is likely much ado about nothing. The Indians are likely quite pleased they have the depth at the position to not only have a veteran like Gimenez ready to go, but a very capable young player like Perez, who already knows the staff from the past two seasons. I can’t imagine any resources going in the direction of anything besides a major bullpen arm right now, but I suppose we can at least give a glance to the landscape.
Cleveland has been a bit spoiled when it comes to offensive output from the catching position. Sure, Sandy Alomar could hit a bit. But it’s been the past decade in particular—Victor Martinez, Carlos Santana, and Gomes—that have made it a middle-of-the-order position. Most teams don’t have that luxury. A lot of people calling for a deadline deal may be looking at offensive production at the expense of what Gimenez, Perez (and Gomes when he returns) offer on defense and with their established rapport with the Indians pitching staff.
It’s also worth noting: Bob Perez has looked great in his rehab outings, hitting .313 in nine games with eight walks and just two strikeouts.
Admittedly, though, if Gomes proves to be done for the year, some of the catchers potentially on the trade market do have some considerable appeal. And if Cleveland acquired a new starting catcher, they would still have Perez or Gimenez there as a transitional buffer. Some of the names floating around out there include:
Jonathan Lucroy, Brewers - .303 / .361 / .497 - Everybody’s favorite choice for obvious reasons: great numbers AND a super friendly contract with a team option for 2017. Also, by no coincidence, he’d cost an arm and a leg to get out of Milwaukee. This guy would, without question, look great in a Tribe uniform, and an already great clubhouse would welcome another character—the Ragin Cajun. Can’t deny this would be fun. Odds of it happening: 5 percent.
Derek Norris, Padres - .212 / .272 / .398 - Norris got off to a real bad start with the bat but he’s picked up the pace of late and is also highly skilled defensively. Making less than $3 mill right now, arbitration eligible next year, possibly not the kind of long term commitment Cleveland is looking for on a guy only better than Roberto Perez in theory, not necessarily fact (Norris and Perez are both 27).
Stephen Vogt, A’s - .285 / .329 / .457 - Billy Beane gave Cleveland Brandon Moss for a fairly low-end AA prospect (Joey Wendle, hitting .251 this year in AAA), but I’m not sure even Brad Pitt would part with a budget-priced All-Star three years shy of free agency. He is 31, however, and his value isn’t likely to go up. Doesn’t offer an upgrade on defense.
Nick Hundley, Rockies - .252 / .350 / .439 - Also an economically friendly option, but a free agent at season’s end. This actually might make him a more appealing fit, though, since Cleveland likes Roberto Perez and is presumably not giving up on their Gomes investment in 2017. Have to like that Hundley has walked nearly as many times as he’s struck out this year (20 vs 25).
Kurt Suzuki, Twins - .289 / .326 / .438 - Just a solid all-around veteran who would slot quite nicely into the Indians line-up with an OBP about 130 points higher than Yan’s this season. His defense, however, has faded.
A.J. Pierzynski - No.
Wellington Castillo, D-Backs - .264 / .311 / .432 - Making just $3.7 mill this year with club control for next season. Hit 19 homers last year with three different teams, has 10 this season in 250 ABs. Solid backstop.
Brian McCann, Yankees - .244 / .340 / .451 - Way too much money still owed to this guy. Not a fit for Cleveland.
Anyway, it’s always fun to assess the landscape in mid July, but sometimes the best moves involve summoning the talent you already have. Roberto Perez entered this season widely considered one of the better backup catchers in baseball. Maybe it’s time to give him the reins for a while and see what happens, as the team did with Gomes several years ago. In the short term, you know you’ll at least be getting a small offensive upgrade from both Yan and Gimenez, with no great fall-off defensively. Turn off the red alert and be glad this was already a position of strength for the Indians—despite all those statistics that would suggest otherwise.