Teams can make trades before the season ends by sneaking candidates through the waiver system, but players must be added to the 40-man roster before Aug. 31 in order to be eligible for the postseason.
Cleveland acquired Coco Crisp in a 2016 August trade on the way to a World Series appearance. And Jay Bruce's August acquisition in 2017 propelled the Tribe to a record 22-game win streak and the best record in the American League.
This season, the need to add an extra outfield bat has never been more urgent. The team recently announced that Leonys Martin, acquired at the July 31 trade deadline, is battling a serious bacterial infection, and there is no telling when or if he will return. Designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion went on the disabled list last weekend with an arm injury.
Indians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti said the team is continuing to look for ways to improve the roster as a third consecutive trip to the playoffs draws near. But Antonetti is determined to make moves that benefit the franchise in the long run — acquiring players with controllable years and manageable contracts that will not hamper Cleveland's efforts to remain competitive beyond just 2018.
With that said, the prospects for a deal on the August trade market this year look pretty grim. Here are some of the options the Indians are faced with. Only a handful seem worthwhile to pursue.
This year's 'Jay Bruce trade' candidate could be ... Bruce?
The Mets need to create playing opportunities for outfielders Michael Conforto and Brandon Nimmo, meaning Bruce, who signed a three-year deal to return to New York in the offseason, could be dealt in August for the second straight year.
The 31 year old is hitting just .212 with three home runs and 17 RBI in 62 games this season and has $28 million remaining on his contract for the next two years. Add that he's been sidelined since June 17 with a hip injury (though he's reportedly close to a return), and it's not all that likely he'd be a great fit in a return to Cleveland.
Hometown kid could be a nice fit
Miami's Derek Dietrich drew interest from the Indians before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, and could still be a possibility now that the severity of Martin's condition has become more clear.
Dietrich is versatile, with the ability to play anywhere on the infield and either of the corner outfield positions. That makes him an attractive target to chip in defensively at first base while Encarnacion recovers from a strained left arm.
The 29-year-old Parma native graduated from St. Ignatius High School in 2007 and is under team control through 2020. He has a career OPS+ of 116 and is hitting a respectable .276 in 114 games for the Marlins.
More relief is on the way”
One can't help but feel like the Tribe's bullpen could use one more power arm to push the unit over the top in the postseason. Pretty much every other contending team added multiple pieces to its bullpen at the trade deadline, including Houston, which acquired Roberto Osuna in a controversial move after he returned from a suspension based on his domestic violence charge.
Sergio Romo of Tampa Bay, Tyler Clippard of Toronto and Jim Johnson of the Los Angeles Angels are all possibilities. While none of them jump off the page statistically, there are spots at the front end of Cleveland's pen that might not yet be locked down for October.
Is Donaldson an option?
Blue Jays third baseman Josh Donaldson is nearing a return from the disabled list after missing all of June and July with a calf strain.
He's been limited to 36 games, and is hitting just .234 with five home runs, but the 2015 American League MVP could solve two problems for the Tribe: adding punch to the bottom of a top-heavy lineup and moving Jose Ramirez to second base, thus bumping Jason Kipnis back to the outfield, where he played in September and October last year.
But that move only works if Donaldson hits, and there's no guarantee that he will have enough time to get up to speed before the playoffs. Oh, and he's making a $23 million salary this year, which the Indians would have to assume before he becomes a free agent in the offseason.
Not a lot of great options
Here's a quick list of outfielders who might be available via August trade. Keep in mind that most would have to clear waivers before Cleveland could work out a deal:
Andrew McCutcheon, San Francisco
The 31 year old is hitting .255 with 13 home runs, but he's already struck out 109 times in 115 games.
Jose Bautista, New York Mets
Hitting .195 with eight home runs and 30 RBI in 79 games. He's struck out 82 times. On the plus side, he's making the league minimum, so there's not a lot of risk involved.
Curtis Granderson, Toronto
A veteran presence in the clubhouse is always welcome, but Grandson has been reduced to pretty much a pinch hitter and bench player this season. He's hitting .243 against righties and is making just $5 million, which is less than what the Tribe paid for Bruce last year.
Shin-Soo Choo, Texas
The 36 year old comes with a hefty price tag for the next two seasons ($42 million), but he had a streak of more than 50 games reaching base earlier this year and can still get the job done at the plate.
The problem is that he's doing it mostly as a designated hitter for the Rangers, and would likely have to play right field if acquired by the Tribe. The nice thing about that is he's familiar with the grass at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario, having played half of his 14-year career with the Indians from 2006-13.
Carlos Gomez, Tampa Bay
The 32 year old plays center field and bats right-handed. But Gomez is hitting just .218 with eight homers and 26 RBI. He's struck out 87 times and comes with a $4 million price tag. Gomez is a free agent at the end of the year.
Mark Trumbo, Baltimore
Hitting .226 with 17 home runs and 42 RBI, Trumbo is one of the few bright spots offensively for the Orioles this season. Trumbo battled back from a quadriceps injury early in the year and has been fighting soreness in his right knee lately.
He's making $12.7 million and is owed $13.5 million in 2019. He bats right-handed and can play the outfield as well as first base.
Billy Hamilton, Cincinnati
Indians executives could solve their center field issues for next season by acquiring Hamilton, who has one year of team control left before becoming a free agent in 2020. He's affordable ($4.6 million) and offers elite speed and defense in center.
On the downside, his batting average and slugging percentage have dipped this season, and he's scoring fewer runs (58) than any time in his career.