Over the past few seasons, the Indians have been notorious for trading away bit players for young long term core players.
They did it in 2006 when they traded Eduardo Perez and Ben Broussard in two separate deals to the Seattle Mariners that netted them Asdrubal Cabrera and Shin-Soo Choo.
They did it in 2008 when they dealt Casey Blake to the Dodgers for Carlos Santana.
They appear to have done it again with the pickup of catcher Yan Gomes in a deal consummated last November, when they also received Mike Aviles for Esmil Rodgers.
At the time of the trade, Aviles carried most of the attention because of his major league experience and potential to take over at shortstop for Asdrubal Cabrera. As this season has worn on, Gomes has proven to be a big acquisition and looks to be a core player for the Indians for the foreseeable future.
Gomes, 26, is enjoying his first extended experience in the big leagues. In 78 games, he is hitting .290 with 10 homers, 34 RBI and .835 OPS. In addition to the productive showing with the bat, he has also shown off his defensive skills as he has just three errors and three passed balls all season. He has also shut down the running games of opposing teams as he has thrown out 18 of 43 runners (41.9 percent).
The Indians initially picked up Gomes in the deal with the Blue Jays because they were attracted to the production and versatility he could provide from the right side of the plate. In his four-year minor league career he was a .287 hitter with a healthy .828 OPS and was considered very athletic with soft hands and a good arm behind the plate. They felt he was undervalued by the Blue Jays and that he had not yet reached his full potential as a catcher, and at the time he provided the Indians with a third catching option for 2013 and possibly a long term backup catching option that they did not have in the system at the time.
Gomes came right in and impressed in spring training. He even skipped the World Baseball Classic and chose not to play for his home country Brazil – the team he had just helped earn a berth a few months earlier – so that he could concentrate on making the opening day roster or at least make a sizable impression on the front office and coaching staff in the spring.
Gomes did that as he showcased his lightning quick catch and throw skills throughout spring training. When he got a chance to play he flat out hit. In 15 games he raked to the tune of a .407 batting average with a homer, 7 RBI and 1.170 OPS in 27 at bats.
Gomes lost out on an opening day roster spot because Lou Marson was the incumbent backup catcher and set to make $1 million this season, but he didn’t last in the minors long as he was called up a week into the season when Marson came down with a concussion and shoulder injury. Known as the first Brazilian player to make it to the major leagues, Gomes has since answered the call and remained with the team ever since.
What Gomes has done since then is stabilize himself as a core member of the roster for the next several years. Assuming he is done with the minors, the Indians control him for five more seasons beyond this season and he is likely to get a more prominent role with the team next year.
Anyone paying attention can see how his playing time has increased significantly in the second half of this season because of how much manager Terry Francona not only trusts his defense and the way he handles a pitching staff but how potent his bat can be.
It is important to note that Carlos Santana is still viewed as the everyday catcher, but it is obvious to see that the torch is starting to be passed to Gomes, and it is possible that at some point next season he will take over the position and be considered the Indians’ regular at the position.
The Indians have no plans to move Santana out from behind the plate, but Gomes’ breakout as a more reliable defensive catcher and his steady offense should at least allow the Indians to explore playing Santana a lot more next season at designated hitter and first base and have close to a 50-50 split in playing time at catcher between Santana and Gomes.
One caveat in all of this is no one should go completely all-in on Gomes as the catcher just yet. It is just his first full season, and Francona has done a nice job of putting him in a position to have success by picking his spots when he plays him. No one knows how he will respond to the pressure of handing the everyday catching duties five to six games a week. Especially when so many players have struggled in their sophomore season.
With that in mind, there is no reason at the moment for the Indians to make a permanent position change for Santana or even consider trading him. Santana’s bat is too valuable and for a team starving for offense it would make little sense to trade away one of the club’s best bats – if not their best offensive contributor.
Considering the rigors of catching and how Gomes is still somewhat of an unknown going into next year, it would be to the Indians benefit to carry two starting quality catchers on the same roster. With Santana still at catcher, the Indians can ease Gomes into everyday duties. If he proves to be the real deal over the course of next season, then the Indians can hand the keys to the position to him as the team’s number one backstop.
Right now, the Indians need bats and to have one emerge at the catching position and be a potential Gold Glove caliber defender to boot helps limit their needs going forward. If Gomes maintains his production and performance both offensively and defensively he could even be a guy who gets All Star someday.
The emergence of Gomes has had one of the biggest impacts on the team this season. The Indians have had several players have big breakout or comeback seasons, which is why they have had so much more success this season in the win-loss column.
But Gomes is the one that is the most important because he not only has had such a big effect on this season, but he has a big impact on the Indians long term outlook going forward.