CLEVELAND (AP) — The Indians traded one of their extra pieces. They’re keeping their bigger ones — for now.
Cleveland began what could be a busy offseason on Wednesday by dealing versatile infielder Erik Gonzalez to the Pittsburgh Pirates as part of a five-player swap.
The AL Central champions sent the 27-year-old Gonzalez, who appeared in 81 games for the Indians last season, along with minor league right-handers Tahnaj Thomas and Dante Mendoza to the Pirates for outfielder Jordan Luplow and infielder Max Moroff.
Gonzalez batted .265 with one homer and 16 RBIs last season for Cleveland, which signed the Dominican native in 2009. And while he filled a valuable utility role, he was not going to crack the starting lineup behind All-Stars Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez.
“That was a tough thing for us,” Indians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti said. “We’ve had multiple conversations with Erik about it. He’s done so many things to impact the organization in his time with us, from the time he signed. He’s played every position on the field I think other than catcher at one point or another. But, as our roster has taken shape over the course of the past few seasons, we have not had an opportunity for him to play regularly.
“So, we feel this will give Erik an opportunity to play more with Pittsburgh and continue his career and potentially blossom into the everyday player we think he can be.”
The negligible move gives the Indians needed depth in the outfield, and it could be the first of many deals this winter.
Cleveland has not dismissed speculation it may be willing to trade prominent players, including ace Corey Kluber and right-hander Carlos Carrasco. Antonetti said it’s difficult to measure whether the team has seen an increase in teams wanting to do business with the Indians.
“I think what I would reiterate is that I think the conversations have reaffirmed for us that we have a lot of players on our roster and throughout our organization that are of interest to other teams,” he said. “And I think what that allows us to do is have a lot of dialogue with other teams about potential opportunities for us to move forward as an organization and get better.”
The 25-year-old Luplow is one of those opportunities. Cleveland’s outfield was decimated by injuries last season, and the team is not expected to re-sign Michael Brantley as a free agent.
Luplow appeared in 64 games over the past two seasons with the Pirates, who named him their top minor league player in 2017.
“He’s capable of playing all three outfield spots,” Antonetti said. “He’s spent most of the time in left and right, but we also believe he has the ability to play center field. He complements our roster really well as a right-handed-hitting outfielder that we think is capable of helping us at the major league level.”
Moroff has split the last three seasons between Triple-A Indianapolis and Pittsburgh, appearing in 26 games for the Pirates in 2018.
Antonetti dealing young players — especially pitchers — like Thomas and Mendoza is difficult, but sometimes necessary.
“Two young pitchers out in Arizona that we like, that have some upside,” he said. “Obviously, they’re a little ways away from the major Leagues, being both 19 years old. So, guys that definitely have some potential to continue to grow and develop and develop into major league pitchers. But, for us to acquire Max and Jordan, we thought it was a worthwhile deal for us to make, because they’re two guys that can help our Major League team here in the near future.”
More AP MLB: https://apnews.com/MLB and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports