CAPSULE COMMENTS-NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL

This is the next in my articles on each division in major-league baseball. I have offered my comments about the National League East in a previous piece. This edition focuses on the National League Central, a competitive and exciting division.

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS

This is a franchise one should never eliminate from contention for a Championship. Year in and year out, going back to the days of Tony La Russa, the Cardinals always seem to be in contention to win the Central Division or go even further in the postseason. They have traditionally had that certain “something” that baseball teams seek when constructing rosters.  That “something” includes credible and deep pitching depth, a solid roster of good hitters and a catcher that makes the entire system work.  Ah, that catcher. Yadier Molina is the type of leader around which solid baseball teams are constructed. Now on the disabled list after having groin surgery, Molina should return at some point in June.

While Molina is the stabilizing force of the franchise, some new names have popped up in the last two years that have altered the norm in St. Louis. Prior to last year, Tommy Pham was a casual name on the Cardinals roster, but he really hadn’t entered the conversation of viable Cardinals players that make a difference. Last year he became a game changer.  Last year Pham generated the buzz of a bundle of bumble bees. He may not have been a household name in most baseball cities, but he sure was a known commodity in St. Louis. In 530 plate appearances covering 128 games, he hit a loud .306 while hitting 23 homers and driving in 73 runs.  He stole 25 bases in 32 attempts. In his previous season, Pham played in only 78 games that earned him 183 plate appearances. He hit 9 homers and drove in 17 runs. He stole 2 bases in 4 attempts. Well, this year Pham is hitting for average and power once again. He has, however, been caught stealing more often. Pham turned 30 in March and can probably be placed neatly in the category of “late bloomers”.

How about the resurgence of Jedd Gyorko? Who saw that coming? Is this the Jedd Gyorko that hit .243 for these same Cardinals as recently as 2016? The same Jedd Gyorko that never hit higher than .249 in three seasons with the San Diego Padres before being traded to St. Louis along with cash for Jon Jay in 2015?  Yep, same guy. Now, however, Gyorko makes an impact in the Cardinals lineup. He’s a force. He doesn’t play every day, but he is raking against left-handed pitchers in particular. He’ll get his at-bats and he’ll make his presence known.

How much do we know about Paul DeJong? Again, we have a newcomer bursting on the scene in St. Louis. DeJong is only 24. He was a 4th round pick in the 2015 draft out of Illinois State in Normal, Illinois. In May 2017, DeJong played his first game for St. Louis. He finished the season hitting .285 with a whopping 25 home runs with 65 RBIs. Was that debut a glimpse of the real deal or was DeJong in over his skis and just happened to hit in some good luck?

While he may not be hitting for the same high batting average yet this year, DeJung is well on his way to having a very formidable second season as a credible shortstop and an important member of the team’s quest for the postseason. A fractured hand sent him the the disabled list, but if healthy DeJung is proving he’s for real.

The biggest move of the offseason was the acquisition of slugging center fielder Marcell Ozuna. Signed by the Miami Marlins out of the Dominican Republic, Ozuna spent five seasons in Miami and got better and better every year. He finished his 2017 season as an All-Star (his second consecutive year with that honor) with a .312 batting average, 37 home runs and 124 RBIs. It was an incredible season. It was a season worthy of accolades, not a trade from the club that signed him. He and fellow star outfielder Christian Yelich were sent to the St. Louis and the Milwaukee Brewers respectively as part of a cost-cutting measure by the new Marlins ownership. Yes, the Marlins received solid prospects in return, but Yelich and Ozuna are proven stars.

After a modest start to his season, Ozuna is heating up. Watch out. The man can play.

It really is fair to ask what has happened to once-reliable Matt Carpenter? Perhaps we saw a bit of decline last year when Carpenter lost 30 points on his batting average year over year. He did walk 109 times, which is admirable. He hit 23 homers, which is solid as well. Now, however, he is mired in a deep slump to begin this season. The production is limited.

Clearly, one of the brightest lights for the Cardinals shines from the play of first baseman Jose Martinez.  Big and strong at 6-6 and 215 pounds, Martinez made his debut with limited play in 2016 and more at-bats last season.  He hit 309/14/46 in 307 plate appearances last year.

This season Martinez is still hitting for average and power. He is a core player for the Cardinals future.

Once the ace of the staff and one of baseball’s most reliable and credible starting pitchers, Adam Wainwright battles elbow inflammation and the other signs of wear and tear on a 36-year-old right arm. Wainwright’s best days are in the rearview mirror, but when healthy, he can always surprise with a gem of a start upon occasion.

Carlos Martinez (26 and battling a lat strain injury) Mile Mikolas (29) Luke Weaver (24) and Michael Wacha (26) and recent Tommy John surgery patient Alex Reyes are the guys that are the future of the Cardinals pitching staff. Jack Flaherty, a rookie with strong pitching credentials has a clear shot to break into the rotation as well. Each has promise. Each can help the Cardinals earn their goal of a postseason appearance.  Once they get in, they have a chance to move along in the process.

For me, the greatest issue with the Cardinals is, and has been their bullpen. Inconsistency in the past couple of seasons has led to some late-game heartburn for manager Mike Matheny.

Greg Holland was signed as a free agent in March to help stabilize the end of the game. He isn’t the closer. Bud Norris was signed in February as a free agent.  It appears he is the closer. Free agent Luke Gregerson has closing experience,, but he has injury problems of his own with right should problems. Brett Cecil can probably close as well.

The arms getting to the closer have been inconsistent as well. But that isn’t only a Cardinals problem. That’s a problem in most of baseball. Bullpen consistency is not uncommon and it includes St. Louis.

The future?  Count on the Cardinals hanging around near or at the top of the Central all season. They always stay close and manage to put their collective feet on the gas late in the season. If the injuries don’t linger and they get some of their core players back, this year should be no different.

My Cardinals Farm System Rank: 8 out of 30

Top Prospects with potential major-league arrival dates (does not include players that have graduated to the big league club)

Alex Reyes, Jack Flaherty, Carson Kelly, Harrison Bader, and Tyler O’Neill  are the cream of the crop and all have had brief appearances but are still considered prospects in my view. They are the reason the organization has earned the high ranking. Other top prospects include:

Andrew Knizer-C (2019)

Adolis Garcia-OF (2018)

Dakota Hudson-RHP (2019)

Max Schrock-2B (2019)

Yairo Munoz-INF (2019)

PITTSBURGH PIRATES

My discussion of the Pittsburgh Pirates has to begin with their decision to trade starting right-handed pitcher Gerrit Cole. I think it was a huge mistake made because Cole was getting too expensive for their liking. The Pirates are a team one might characterize as “frugal” to be kind.

Cole is turning in a masterful season for the Houston Astros. He has shown the type of command, control, repertoire and attitude that Houston had hoped they had traded for.

But as I said the moment the trade was announced, this trade was a total steal for Houston.

It isn’t as if the Pirates had pitching to spare. They have had good pitching prospects over the past few years, but a couple of those arms really haven’t yet delivered quite as expected. I’m referring to Tyler Glasnow, Jamison Taillon and of course Cole.  Frankly, Gerrit Cole was mediocre with Pittsburgh. Glasnow and Taillon are still on the clock with the baseball community waiting for them to become what many thought they would be.

Chad Kuhl, Ivan Nova and Trevor Williams have had both really good and very meh starts.

Greater consistency on the good side of the ledger would be helpful.

Offensively, former team leader and All-Star Andrew McCutchen has been moved in a trade to the San Francisco Giants. The Pirates plucked former No. 1 draft pick Kyle Crick from the Giants in the deal. Crick is now coming closer to realizing his potential, but he’s working out of the bullpen.

With McCutchen now in San Francisco, the outfield includes Starling Marte (oblique issues are a concern), Gregory Polanco and newly acquired Corey Dickerson. Dickerson was traded from Tampa Bay and he is an intriguing player in the prime of his career at age 29. That solid outfield has kept the Pirates at or near the top of the division. Do they stay there? Can they beat the Cubs, Cardinals, and Brewers to win the Division? Uh…no. I frankly think they are playing over their skis.

Other than a pitching staff that I wouldn’t trust if I were the front office of the Pirates, the infield is also a bit of a concern. Josh Bell has potential to hit some big home runs as a young left-handed hitting first baseman. But in an era when infielders are putting up big power numbers offensively, I’m not sure the Pirates infielders are capable of sustaining or putting up big offensive output. Whenever Josh Harrison is injured and not in the lineup, the offense suffers.

He had a fractured left hand and is returning to form.

Some analysts feel Colin Moran, who came over from Houston in the deal for Gerrit Cole has upside remaining. I’ve watched him for years, and frankly, I’m not a believer. He was a former 1st round pick by the Marlins as the 8th player taken overall in 2013. So far he really hasn’t lived up to that high selection. But the Pirates are giving him an opportunity to prove he belongs. So far, so good for Moran this season. Maybe he has found himself and he will prove me wrong. But it’s a long season, so we’ll see about that.

I view the bullpen as average major-league quality with a good closer in Felipe Vasquez. It wouldn’t surprise if one day Crick assumed that role. Right-hander Richard Rodriguez has turned in a very solid first part of the season so far. Improvement in the bullpen will be a requirement if the team is going to stay in contention for a playoff spot.

Catching duties are handled quite well by Francisco Cervelli a veteran with solid ability on both sides of the ball. Cervelli is a huge asset for Pittsburgh.

Once again the Pirates have a pitching prospect most scouts and analysts feel will be a credible, possible top of the rotation starter.  Mitch Keller has a good future, but whenever I have watched him pitch he has had trouble pitching out of the stretch and keeping runners from stealing. That could be a real issue that must be corrected. But his stuff is very good.

My Pittsburgh Pirates Farm System Rank: 20 out of 3

Top Prospects with potential major-league arrival dates. Players that have played extensively in the major leagues are not included. Austin Meadows has been promoted, but we don’t know for how long he will be with the big club.

Mitch Keller-RHP (2019)

Austin Meadows-OF (2018)

Cole Tucker-SS (2019)

Shane Baez- RHP (2021)

Ke’Bryan Hayes-3B (2020)

MILWAUKEE BREWERS

One of my favorite teams to watch, it concerns me that the Brewers made a great effort to shore up the offense in the offseason without improving their pitching. Trading two very bright outfield prospects in Monte Harrison and Lewis Brinson for Christian Yelich and then signing Lorenzo Cain as a free agent has provided some speed and firepower to the outfield.

The result of the trade has left Ryan Braun out of position at first base or in right field as well as costing bright young hitter Domingo Santana playing time. The musical chairs always leave someone wanting for playing time.

While the outfield was getting stronger, the pitching staff was running in place. Adding right-hander Jhoulys Chacin as a free agent isn’t the answer in my opinion. Chacin had a good year in San Diego in 2017. This year he is one again and off again. I’m not a big fan. If he controls the strike zone, Chacin can be very credible. If he loses the plate, he loses the game because there is little room for error.

Instead of dipping into the free agent pool to sign a pitcher like Yu Darvish, Jake Arrieta or Lance Lynn, the Brewers elected to use the arms they had in their own organization to start the season. They did, however, sign journeyman lefty Wade Miley. A strained oblique is an issue. But of greater concern are his results. I wouldn’t want Miley in my rotation every fifth day.

Recently, they have promoted top prospect Brandon Woodward and he will join Junior Guerra, Brent Suter, rookie Freddy Peralta, along with Chase Anderson, Zach Davies and ultimately Jimmy Nelson as possible starters throughout the season. Lots of arms, but lots of injury histories are part of those arms. Peralta and Woodward have turned in excellent starts so far and they are a big part of the Brewers future.

Catcher Stephen Vogt and first baseman/outfielder Eric Thames were both important parts of the offense when plans were being made for the season. Vogt has a shoulder problem that is not improving and Thames has had thumb surgery.

The team still seeks a solid option at second base. They aren’t crazy about Jonathan Villar’s slow start, but he is heating up and the team may be content to stick with him.

I’m a fan of third baseman Travis Shaw. I think he has some more hidden power that will surface when the weather really heats up in the Midwest. He’s hitting big home runs already and more are on the way. He’s really a guy playing under the radar in my view.

I’m a fan of having several quality arms capable of closing a baseball game. The Brewers have Josh Hader, Corey Knebel and Jeremy Jeffress all waiting for their turn to finish games. Each is capable, but Hader may be a true star of the future. Will they keep him in the pen or give him a chance to start in the future? When I saw him a few years ago in the Fall League, Hader had me sitting up in my seat. At the time I told anyone who would listen or read my work that I felt Hader would be a star for the Brewers. I stand by that evaluation. An All-Star.

Having the experience of Matt Albers, Corey Knebel, and Dan Jennings gives the pen the stability it needs for a long season.

Given that lengthy list of possible starting pitcher options, it really is very important that the Brewers find a group of starters from among those names to trust with the ball every fifth day. The starting pitching will likely make or break this club this season.

While the offense is strong enough to contend, the pitching could succeed or implode. We should know by mid-season the direction this club will take. I’m betting on a very solid finish to the season and a postseason berth.

It is fair to say that with the departure of Harrison and Brinson, two major components of the farm system are gone. But prospects are to be used in several ways. One of those ways is to fetch players from another team. That’s exactly what the Brewers did with two of their top guys. They traded prospects for a veteran.  As a result, their overall farm system ranking took a bit of a decline. I still may be ranking them higher than most analysts.

My Brewers Farm System Rank: 6 out of 30

Top players in the organization and their potential major-league arrival dates. Players that have had serious time with the big league club are not included. I include Woodward and Peralta because their major-league service time is minimal.

Corbin Burnes-RHP (2018)

Brandon Woodward-RHP (2018) note: he is now in the rotation

Keston Hiura-2B (2019)

Freddy Peralta-RHP (2018) note: he has made his debut and is in the rotation

Luis Ortiz-RHP (2019)

CHICAGO CUBS

I have learned first-hand while tweeting about the passion of baseball fans regarding the Chicago Cubs. Fans either love their Cubs with all their heart and soul or hate them with a passion. Frankly, there is no in-between. On Twitter, my praise for the Cubs is greeted with praise from their fans who are my followers.  My criticism for the Cubs is greeted with criticism.  Frankly, I have offered both praise and criticism.

Any discussion of the Cubs certainly includes the name Kyle Schwarber. Yes, he has tremendous power and with his strength, he can hit the ball out of any park. Yes, he is a liability as a defensive outfielder. He is, indeed, a designated hitter. But thanks to the wisdom of those that decide such issues, the designated hitter is far from a reality in the National League.

Schwarber will have to stay where he is unless and until the Brass of the Cubs don’t feel his defense is worth the risk. I don’t see that happening anytime soon, either. Getting his at-bats against right-handed pitchers in the long side of the platoon, Schwarber is one tough guy to pitch around at the plate.

The duo of Kris Bryant at third base and Anthony Rizzo at first base is enough to give any pitcher acid reflux. Rizzo is off to a slow start, but by crunch time at the end of the year, he’ll be right there in the conversation of great hitters. Bryant remains All Worldly. Hitting back-to-back with Rizzo brings terrific firepower to the Cubs lineup. Bryant is the impact right-handed hitter most teams would love to slot in their own lineup.

I digress here, but what if free agent to be Bryce Harper of the Nationals wishes to team up with Bryant, his boyhood buddy. Yes, the Cubs will have to open their wallets big time to bring Harper on board, but I really think it could happen. I wrote about that last week.

Addison Russell hasn’t really caught fire with the Cubs. A former first-round pick with the Oakland Athletics, Russell is a steadying force in the field and has potential to hit. It hasn’t happened as many had projected, but it still may because he’s still at the young age of 24.

I’ve seen a great deal of Javier Baez. He had to revamp his swing that at one time featured a pronounced twitch. Now, however, while he’s still vulnerable to breaking balls, Baez retains his great bat speed and very solid power to all fields. Baez can get in streaks that can carry his team on his shoulders. But, really, with bats like those of Bryant, Rizzo and Schwarber, Baez doesn’t have to be a one-man band.

Ian Happ is a hidden offensive gem from both sides of the plate. I’m not crazy about his defense at either center field or second base, but the man has power in his frame. He can flat-out hit.

The Cubs entered the offseason bound and determined to improve their pitching. It was a wise decision, and something that Milwaukee should have done is well. The Cubs added a new closer by signing free agent Brandon Morrow, a pitcher that has been with several organizations and has provided performances on all levels of the spectrum. The Cubs have faith in Morrow, and so far he is delivering.

If Morrow falters or needs help, the Cubs are prepared to use Carl Edwards, Jr., Pedro Strop or even Steve Cishek to close out games. The bullpen is solid and credible, from long man Mike Montgomery through all eight pitchers.

The big free agent signing took until February, but Yu Darvish came on board with the Northside club and he can make a terrific difference. Darvish has health issues from time to time, but he lengthens the rotation and gives the team a veteran presence to help them get to the postseason and extend their postseason. Accused of tipping his pitches while being part of last season’s Dodgers postseason club, Darvish has indicated revisions to his delivery are now part of his game.

Jon Lester is now 34 years old and I have seen a bit of vulnerability in his performance. The command and control are not as pinpoint and sure as in the past. And of course, the repertoire doesn’t have quite the velocity on the fastball or the spin on the breaking balls as they had in previous seasons. Lester, however, is still tough on the opposition and really comes to life in the postseason. Getting to the postseason with Lester should happen, but he’s far from an ace any longer.

I think Jose Quintana has even more potential for solid outings then he has shown so far this season. He’s a bit uneven at times, but when he throws strikes, he wins. Not a big strikeout pitcher, Quintana is a solid fixture in their rotation.

Knowing they needed to shore up their pitching last season, the price for Quintana was expensive, to say the least. One of the four players the Cubs gave to the White Sox for lefty Quintana was Eloy Jimenez, an outfield prospect with tremendous skills that include impact power and an outstanding hitting tool. It was a trade that I’m sure the Cubs hated to make, as it seems certain Jimenez can be a game-changer on the North side of Chicago. I believe Jimenez will be a generational type hitter with amazing impact on his new Chicago

White Sox team. It’ll be a huge loss for the Cubs. Perhaps as great a loss as when they parted with Gleyber Torres to fetch Aroldis Chapman. The Cubs Brass isn’t afraid to trade great prospects to meet glaring needs.

The future is being determined now. The future should include more postseason appearances and potential World Championship opportunities. The players we see now are probably the players we will see for quite some time. The farm system is rather depleted. The former strong prospects from the recent past are now dotting the landscapes of other clubs because they have been used in trade, or like Happ Russell, Baez, Bryant and outfielder Albert Almora, Jr., they are on the parent club. Words really are insufficient to describe the quality the Cubs amassed in their farm system over the past several years.

My Cubs Farm System Rank: 24 of 30

Top Players in the Farm System and their project arrival date in major-league baseball. Players that have graduated to the big leagues are not included.

Adbert Aizolay-RHP (2018)

Aramis Adelman-RHP (2021)

Jose Albertos- RHP (2021)

Alex Lange-RHP (2019)

Oscar de La Cruz-RHP (2020)

CINCINNATI REDS

I frankly don’t think there is another team with poorer front office management than the Reds.

Having an owner unwilling to dust off the old checkbook or crack open his IRA’s to pay for players is one thing. There are numerous teams with frugal owners. But having a front office that has not fixed a pitching problem that has choked the franchise for years is quite another.

But frankly, the lack of pitching depth is not the only issue. The manner in which they deploy their prospect players is a concern as well.

I have to begin the prospect discussion with Nick Senzel. Third baseman Eugenio Suarez missed several games with an injury and could be called injury prone by some. What did the Reds do when Suarez was on the shelf? They played veteran journeyman Cliff Pennington at third base. Really? On a last place team? Pennington has recently been designated for assignment. Why didn’t they promote third baseman in waiting Nick Senzel from his minor league development program?  Well, maybe because Senzel won’t be playing third much longer. The Reds have signed Suarez to a long-term contract. So where does Senzel play? Right now he’s playing both third base and second base at Triple-A Louisville. At one point the front office even spoke of him becoming the shortstop of the future.  Senzel isn’t tearing up Triple-A, but he isn’t failing either. Maybe he’ll be promoted soon. But does he have an assigned position?

At age 34, left-handed hitting Joey Votto is still one of the best overall players in baseball. With an excellent eye at the plate and terrific eye-hand coordination, Votto has been criticized by some for being too patient, taking too many walks and not driving in enough runs. Nonsense.

What Joey Votto does almost better than anyone in the game is get on base. And, oh, by the way, he also drives in runs. Votto is such a disciplined hitter he makes the entire Reds roster better just due to his presence.

The Reds are seemingly convinced that Jose Peraza can handle shortstop. That decision having been made, or so it seems, it really is time for Peraza to feature his best tool-his speed.

He can really be a force stealing bases if he gets on base and gives himself a chance to steal.

His running partner, Billy Hamilton, has problems getting on base himself. At one point the Reds used Peraza and Hamilton back-to-back in the lineup to bring havoc to the base paths. The Reds and Peraza and Hamilton have all learned the hard way that a player can’t steal first base. And if that player isn’t on first base, he can’t steal second. It’s a problem. Especially with Hamilton who is getting on base at just about a .304 clip, a bit better than his .299 last year.

The aforementioned Suarez is really a quality hitter with some pop in his bat. There are plenty of clubs that would really like to have a 26-year-old third baseman with his hitting and power tools. I think the Reds have done the right thing in extending his contract.  But again, what happens to Senzel? Right now Scooter Gennett, picked up on waivers from the Brewers in March of 2017 is playing second base and hitting very well as a team hitting leader. Many Brewers fans wish he was still their second baseman. So Peraza is at short, Suarez is at third (when healthy) and Gennett is hitting well while playing second. Senzel? Where? When? Why?

I’m intrigued by the on-base ability of right fielder Jesse Winker. His hit tool is well refined and he has some power hiding in the barrel of his bat. Scott Schebler also offers some pop, especially against right-handed pitching.

The Reds traded oft-injured catcher Devin Mesoroco to the New York Mets for oft-injured pitcher Matt Harvey. It’s an important trade for the Reds. Harvey could be the spark their woeful pitching staff desperately needs.  Tucker Barnhart, a good hitter, is now the main man behind the plate.

Of course Harvey comes to Cincinnati with extensive baggage. Not only has he had serious shoulder surgery, his arm miseries kept him from becoming the star he was forecast to be in New York. Couple that with off-field issues and he arrived in Cincinnati as damaged goods with a reputation that has taken a beating in recent months.  When he refused assignment to the minor leagues by the Mets, they designated him for assignment. The Reds jumped and traded Mesoroco for him. He is now the Red’s mess or the Red’s pot of gold.

In spring training, lefty Amir Garett was one of the best pitchers I saw. His fastball was crisp and his command was sharp, an issue he looked to have resolved. But instead of using Garrett to bolster their less than stellar rotation, the Reds are using Garrett in the bullpen. I don’t see why they don’t give him a chance to shine in a role that I think could bring the team and Garrett success.  But that’s an example of why I don’t trust or admire the Reds front office.

I have never been a fan of Luis Castillo, an overrated pitcher in my book up to this point. Castillo has command problems himself and the combination of hits and walks he has yielded so far this year does not add up to a quality starting pitcher. I think he will get better as the year progresses. A lot better.

The remainder of the rotation should cement the Reds position as a last-place club. They use Homer Bailey, now 32, Sal Romano, Tyler Mahle and Harvey along with Castillo. I do think Romano and Mahle have upside as young pitchers finding their way.

Raisel Iglesias, himself once a starter and Garrett head their mediocre bullpen. At the trade deadline, the Reds could really benefit by moving either Iglesias and/or Garrett for a boatload of young players that might help fill the pitching void and other positions of need.

Other relievers like David Hernandez, Wandy Peralta and Jared Huges have done their time pitching for other clubs before finding their way to Cincinnati’s bullpen.

The Reds have some good players in their farm system. How they are developed and when they graduate to the major-league level are key components of the Reds future.

My Reds Farm System Rank: 19 out of 30

Top players in the farm system and their projected arrival date in the major-leagues. The list does not include players like Winker and Mahle who have graduated to the parent club but are still considered rookies.

Nick Senzel-INF (2018)

Hunter Greene -RHP (2020)

Taylor Trammel-OF (2020)

Shed Long-2B (2018)

Tony Santillan-RHP (2021)

————

BUNTS:

Much has been made of the terrible Cleveland Indians bullpen. I totally, totally agree. The team allowed both Joe Smith and Bryan Shaw to leave via free agency. There was never any word out of Cleveland that an offer was made to either. Perhaps there was. Maybe not. They also watched Jay Bruce and Carlos Santana walk out the door. For a contender with a window to the Championship of baseball still open, that’s quite a bit of talent to watch slip away.

Next fall, relievers Cody Allen and Andrew Miller are free to leave as free agents.

In late April and in May so far, the Indians bullpen has been a dumpster fire. Surrounding fire departments from the city and suburbs couldn’t stop the bullpen from burning down the team. And something must be done to save the season.

Management has stated publicly that it’s still too early to trade for bullpen help. Stating it really isn’t trade season yet, the team has tried a handful of castoffs and has-beens to try to rectify the problem. The team continues to smolder.

So as a public service, I offer these trade solutions:

Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis is um…struggling to put it gently. Kipnis has declined in both offense and defense. However, he still may have value to a club that could really use a second baseman. At the time I am writing this the following clubs might need to shore up their second base depth.

Seattle is dealing with an 80-game suspension of Robbie Cano. Enter Kipnis. How about any of Nick Vincent, James Pazos. Dan Altavilla or a return to Cleveland of Mark Rzepczynski? Too steep a price to pay for a declining second baseman? Only the Mariners and Indians know that answer. Not enough of a return for a once solid player? Only the Mariners and Indians know that answer. But the trade helps both teams fill a glaring need. Regardless, the Indians would probably have to pay a great deal of Kipnis’ remaining salary, and that’s the deal breaker right there.

Pittsburgh’s Josh Harrison fractured his hand in April and the Pirates have been using a platoon at second base. He is about to return at full throttle, but it really is quite possible Kipnis could upgrade the position for the Pirates. How about trading a reliever like Michael Feliz or Richard Rodriguez to the Indians for Kipnis? I don’t think they want to give up Kyle Crick, but it never hurts to ask. Even with Kipnis, Harrison is so valuable he could be used elsewhere on the diamond. Sure, the Indians would have to pick up plenty of Kipnis’ salary, and you know the rest.

Jason Kipnis is perfect for the San Francisco Giants. He can play some at second base to give the team an upgrade from Kelby Tomlinson while their regular second baseman, Joe Panik recovers from thumb surgery. Kipnis can also platoon at times with his former Indians teammate Austin Jackson in center field. Yes, yes. The Giants would be a fine trade partner. I could live with a return of either Tony Watson or Sam Dyson. Some may say neither is enough for Kipnis. The Giants may say Kipnis is not enough for either Watson or Dyson. But I judge the deal…fair.

OK-there you have it. Those are my three trade options. Each has its flaws. But each helps both teams, and isn’t that what a good deal does?

And by the time you read this perhaps, the Indians will have found a reliever somewhere. But I seriously doubt they’ll trade Kipnis. The Indians are very loyal to their veterans. Kipnis is a veteran. It would be very hard for the front office or the manager to say goodbye to one of their longtime building block players-Jason Kipnis. However, I don’t think they will have to worry about negative fan reaction if they trade Kipnis for…well, for a reliever or right-handed hitting outfielder that may help the team keep the window open a little longer.

Second base can be staffed quite well by Erik Gonzalez. When they finally feel he is ready, the team can promote Yandy Diaz and play him at third base while moving third baseman Jose Ramirez to the keystone. Ramirez is a great second baseman. Period. It’ll never happen. Jason Kipnis will be on the Indians roster all year and probably longer. He makes a lot of money. He’s difficult to trade. And he has earned the loyalty of the Tribe Brass due to his past success. But frankly, the past is the past. Today is a totally different story.

Follow me on Twitter @BerniePleskoff 

About The Author

Bernie Pleskoff is a former professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. Bernie's work has been featured on MLB Pipeline, MLB.com and FanRag Sports, among others. You can follow Bernie Pleskoff on Twitter @BerniePleskoff