Cleveland Indians send: C Yan Gomes
Washington Nationals send: RHP Jefry Rodriguez, OF Daniel Johnson and a PTBNL.
About Gomes: The 31-year-old catcher burst onto the scene in 2013, producing 3.3 FG WAR in only 88 games. Over the past four seasons his results have moderated, and he has averaged roughly one WAR/season over that span. In scouting terms a one WAR player is a role 40, which would be a platoon player or backup catcher. Both FG and BP defensive metrics like Gomes. He produces good power for a catcher with a .424 career slug, but his strikeout rate has increased in a near-linear fashion over the course of his career. Gomes’ hard hit rate apexed last year at 43.2 percent according to FG, a full 11 points higher than his career average. Perhaps the Indians viewed this as a sell-high window, but one would assume all teams look at this sort of information nowadays. More likely this move is a cost-cutting measure. There are several free agent catchers available who produced similar WAR last season and project to sign for less money than the $7MM Gomes is owed in 2019. Here’s to looking at you Robinson Chrinos, Martin Maldonado, Nick Hundley, and Matt Wieters. In essence, Cleveland traded Gomes for three cheaper, cost-controlled players and can also replace him with a comparable lower-cost catcher.
About Jefry Rodriguez: J-Rod is a 25-year-old right-hander who got his first exposure to the majors in 2018. He made eight starts and six relief appearances for Washington, accruing 52 innings and -.5 FG WAR. Rodriguez has a low-effort delivery and workhorse frame, listed at 6’6” 232 lbs. I like the balance in his delivery; his head remains pretty stable. These attributes all suggest he could remain a starting pitcher, but his pitch mix may preclude him from doing that. His fastball averaged 95.3 mph and allowed a .211 BA against but was slugged at .456 clip, generating a 17.5% whiff rate according to Baseball Savant. I believe a move to the pen could result in an above-average velo spike considering the present ease of his delivery. Additionally, it would allow Rodriguez to scrap his sinker and use his curve more often. The former was a pitch that hitters teed off on last year to the tune of a .340 BA and .556 SLG, and it was used 21 percent of the time. The latter produced a whiff rate of over 38 percent but was only used 22 percent of the time. For perspective, Roriguez’s CB ranked 29th in whiff rate among 109 pitchers who threw at least 203 curveballs (amount thrown by Rodriguez). Expect him to throw the curve more often going forward. The FB/CB combo could be a nasty 1,2 punch out of the pen.
About Daniel Johnson: D.J. is a very athletic outfielder with three plus or better tools in his speed, arm and raw power. Sounds like an every day player, right? Well, maybe not. The problem with the profile is his hit tool. While Johnson has plus bat speed, a late raise of his elbow adds unnecessary length to his swing and the result is a late start that puts him behind the eight ball. His swing plane is also very linear, and it mitigates his plus raw power. I really love the tools here. If he can adjust his swing to tap into the power more consistently, he will play every day. At worst I see a 4th outfielder because his speed plays in center, and his arm plays in right field. Seeing him in the AFL, I thought the arm was plus, but I have seen it graded as high as 80 so I am possibly too light on it. Regardless, I think Johnson’s compilation of tools are too good to not carve out some sort of niche in the majors.
Aggregate View: The Indians acquire three young, cost-controlled players for a player they will likely be able to replace at lower cost on the free agent market. The Nationals bolster their catcher position at the expense of two young players who are unproven at the major league level.