The Indians could have done a lot of things on September 1st. They obviously wanted to return as many players from the DL now that it wouldn’t cost them sending their replacements to AAA, so Lonnie Chisenhall, Abraham Almonte and Josh Tomlin were expected moves. Shawn Morimando, Adam Plutko and Kyle Crockett were easy decisions as well. All three have already made their MLB debuts, played a full season in Columbus and are on the 40 man roster. There’s nothing ground breaking there.
Where we’ve finally seen a breaking in the Indians strategy considering top prospects is in the addition of Greg Allen and Francisco Mejia to the roster. Never since the call straight from AA for Jose Ramirez in 2013 have we seen the Indians make an aggressive move like this with such highly considered prospects. Francisco Lindor, Tyler Naquin and Bradley Zimmer all were ready well before their MLB debuts and were held back until the following summer to save service time.
When rosters expand to 40 on September 1st, the first two goals of every team should be to add a third catcher and a pinch runner, regardless of their roster make-up. If teams had a 26 man roster all season, it wouldn’t be surprising if that meant 20+ more MLB jobs for catchers just because of the strategic advantage. No one wants to pinch hit/run for a catcher because if your second catcher gets hurt you won’t have any options and generally the catcher, particularly on the Indians, is the player most worthy of being pinch hit or run for.
That being said, the Indians had four options for an catcher on August 31st. They could purchase Erik Kratz or Adam Moore from AAA, although this would take a 40 man move to make room. They could call Eric Haase from AA, which would also require a 40 man move, but would save the more valuable service time of Mejia. Finally, the decision they actually made was to call up Mejia, who had to be placed on the 40 man roster last winter and whose first minor league option has already been used. In similar moves, Kratz was sold to the Yankees (likely so they can have their emergency catcher) and Haase promoted to AAA.
For Allen, the Indians were already getting back Chisenhall and Almonte and they could have simply promoted Naquin to use as a pinch runner/part time outfielder. With Yandy Diaz on roster and Carlos Santana playing right field twice in a week, they arguably didn’t need another outfielder at all. Instead, they made the move to bring the second fastest man in the Indians farm system (the fastest still being Gabriel Mejia) to provide an advantage similar to the one that Ramirez provided in 2013.
There are a few different ramifications here, the longest term being that their clocks were started in 2017 instead of June 2018 as had been the norm. Depending on where each player ends up in 2018, this could potentially cost the Indians a full year of player control or Super 2 status which affords a player a fourth year of arbitration. The current window of opportunity has made both those issues less significant than they were when they pushed Lindor back to June of 2015.
The chart above shows a simple break down of the current Indians roster and years of control. While there are a few departing free agents this season (Bryan Shaw and Carlos Santana in addition to recent additions Austin Jackson, Joe Smith and Jay Bruce), next year’s class is much more significant with Andrew Miller, Cody Allen, Michael Brantley (if they use his 2018 option) and Lonnie Chisenhall hitting the market among others. This is not to set off a general panic, but to say that the Indians best chance to win a World Series is from 2017 through 2018.
That chance is bolstered by the fact that Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco are at their peak. While they are controlled for a few more seasons, it’s hard to see them getting better than they are right now. With all that in place, it makes little sense to save Mejia and Allen to try to win a World Series in 2023 or 2024. While they shouldn’t completely give up on the future, there is much greater value in winning today then potentially having someone around in eight years.
Mejia and Allen likely won’t play a whole lot this September, but they will be in a Major League club house for a month and will see MLB pitching the whole time. When 2018 comes around, both will be in a prime position to skip AAA entirely and start the season with the team. The Indians have been largely using Columbus as a holding facility for injury replacements anyway and rarely do actual prospects stay in AAA long. If anything, skipping that level should help the development of the young players even more as they now will be working with a Major League coaching staff.
There’s definitely a risk in bringing these players up now, but it likely won’t affect the team for many years and right now, this was the right move. Anything that helps the Indians win a World Series before the bullpen leaves and the rotation breaks down is a good thing.