Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Looking Over the Cliff

As the smoke clears and the emotions tone down from the maelstrom of vitriol that accompanied the news that CP Lee was now a Phillie, let’s try to take a step back and look at this deal from a rational viewpoint, if only to see if the deal looks any better with emotion removed and to see if it tells us anything about the future of this team, in terms of 2010 and 2011.

Starting out, the gnawing sense of frustration that colors much of the feelings on the Lee deal is that the Indians were not necessarily compelled to trade Lee this week as his contract ran through next season at an affordable number and could wait for the perfect deal to come around. If that perfect deal didn’t materialize, the thought that the Tribe could simply hold onto Lee to take their chances with him in the rotation in 2010 always remained an option, even if the return this time next year would be expectedly lower. The idea being that contention in 2010 was easier to envision with Lee in the fold than without him, unless that deal came around that replaced him ostensibly in the rotation immediately and effectively…if that deal didn’t come around, you wait it out.

That “perfect deal” however, did not materialize nor did the Indians find themselves content to “wait it out” with Shapiro pulling the trigger on what he deemed to be the best offer on the table at this time. As Anthony Castrovince writes, the move was an admission that “the Indians decided that even with Lee on board, they had little chance of contending next season…because ownership told the front office that it will not commit any significant dollars to club construction in the offseason.” and went the route of rebuild now with the idea that Lee’s value (1 ½ affordable seasons of club control) would never been higher and with the idea that freeing up Lee’s dollars would allow them the flexibility to improve the team in other ways for years past 2010.

Is that a salary dump, to clear payroll while maximizing return whether the return is satisfactory or not?

It sure comes off that way and in return, they received three players who likely factor into 2010 at the very latest (assuming no other deal is coming involving one of them) in Carlos Carrasco, Jason Donald, and Lou Marson with the high-upside player coming in the form of Jason Knapp. With that haul, the blue-chip prospect seems to be lacking for the Indians to hang their hat on in the deal, opting instead to go for a number of players that can contribute, to varying degrees, relatively soon and a youngster with a high risk/reward factor.

In a piece detailing the players on their way into the Cleveland organization by Jayson Stark, it sounds as if that philosophy comes by design:

The Indians have done extensive studies of deals like this and found that teams which concentrate on "big league-ready" prospects as the centerpieces of these trades often make out the worst. Cleveland aims for upside -- and it ranked 18-year-old smokeballer Jason Knapp as having the highest ceiling of any arm in the Phillies' system, including Drabek's.

One scout we surveyed Wednesday compared Knapp to a young Jonathan Papelbon. Another said: "If his medicals check out, they may have gotten a young Roy Halladay."

Meanwhile, Baseball America ranked the other three players in the deal -- right-hander Carlos Carrasco, catcher Lou Marson and shortstop Jason Donald -- as the Nos. 2, 3 and 4 best prospects in the Phillies' system entering the season.

"Carrasco is a power arm with three plus pitches, and he's 22 years old," said one scout who covers the Phillies system. "I think Donald will be a very good player. I know some people think he'll have to change positions. But I still wouldn't rule out shortstop. My comparison for him has always been Rich Aurilia, a guy you look at from afar and say, 'He's not a shortstop.' Then you watch him play and say, 'Yeah, he is.' I see him as a guy who can hit 20 homers, hit .275 or .280, and play real good shortstop.

"And I really like Marson. I think he'll be a good player and a regular catcher in the big leagues. And what is he -- 23 years old? So I think both sides did well. Just because the Phillies have a good big league club and didn't fast-track these guys to the big leagues doesn't mean they're not good players. I think they are."
The return, on the surface, starts to make some sense if that’s the best offer on the table and the Indians were going to make a move on the “best offer”, if you buy into the idea that Carrasco is on par with the top pitching prospects in the game at the age of 22 in AAA with good peripherals. Certainly Knapp sounds like a prospect and an arm to dream upon, but the inclusion of what look to be a middle infielder and a catcher on a team with young players who already play those positions in Cleveland (Cabrera and Valbuena) or represent the best of their farm system (Santana) is where the package gets puzzling.

If we’re looking for MLB-ready arms by 2010 and high-upside power arms for Lee, Carrasco (who Rob Neyer thinks could be the Indians’ best starter as soon as next summer) and Knapp make a lot of sense, but Donald and Marson make less sense, purely from the sense that the Indians had their pick of any of these ancillary players and specifically chose these two, even having to throw in Ben Francisco to “sweeten the pot” for the Phillies on the deal to net the foursome. Donald and Marson both look to be about MLB-ready and, while neither profiles to be an instant (or even eventual) star, they do have some value, but Donald and Marson simply play positions that are not positions of need at the MLB level for the Indians…and both are reported to be close to that point in their development.

That being said, if you assume that Donald is a 2B/SS close to being ready for MLB and Marson is a close to being C ready for MLB, wouldn’t it stand to reason that more trades are coming, either involving those specific players in a package or the players that would be ahead of them in the organizational pecking order to clear a path for them?

Is Donald simply a replacement for Carroll or is he a player that can be flipped as part of a larger package? I know, Winston Abreu was supposed to serve the same purpose, right?

Well, when you’re talking about a young player with some defensive versatility like Donald has and is young, affordable, and purported to be MLB-ready, his value may be greater to a team looking for a young 2B/SS or one that doesn’t have a Cabrera/Valbuena (both younger than Donald) combination starting to gel. I suppose he could be insurance against a sever Valbuena regression, but his presence in the trade portends that more may be afoot.

If Donald’s inclusion in the deal looks to be the precursor to another deal, what can be gathered from the Indians picking a 23-year-old AAA catcher from the Phillies when the organization is already brimming with upper level talent at C in Martinez, Shoppach, Gimenez, and Torregas with the idea that the position will belong to Carlos Santana by 2011 (or maybe even at some point in 2010) – wouldn’t this serve notice that someone else is moving?

The obvious answer is that Victor is next in line as the Lee trade decreased his likelihood of remaining an Indian into August as the Indians simply look to be re-shaping their roster with players that will factor in when 2011 starts, and Victor is not on that list. Marson could be paired with Shoppach next year behind the dish, or Shoppach could be moved in a deal, or Marson could also be moved in a deal…all before the 2010 season, depending upon the return that might be available for each.

Suddenly, nothing looks off-limits and the idea that the Indians would only move if they were “blown away” seems to be off the table as (regardless of what Shapiro’s track record has been on veterans-for-prospect moves has been…and it’s been good to great) the return for Lee doesn’t look to have that “overwhelming” feel to it and feels more like the first domino of many as the Indians are likely to look quite a bit different on Friday evening than they did even a week ago.

For today, we’re left asking whether Clifton Phifer was worth more or if we had been deluded by grand packages being mentioned for Roy Hallday and wondering what it all means in the grand scheme of things.

In terms of whether the Indians could have netted more for Lee - we’ll never know, just as we’ll never know if contention in 2010 was possible with Lee fronting the rotation (at least to start the season) – but the overhaul seems to be on in full force and while the blue-chipper doesn’t seem to have emerged yet, the Indians certainly look to be just starting the Extreme Makeover of their roster with an eye towards sustained contention…starting in 2011.


Spills said...

The only reason I might agree that this trade portend to something else down the road, is the fact that it was completed on Wednesday.

Can't remember ever having to do this much extrapolating to make sense of multiple moves in a season.

And I stumbled upon Sheffield's this past weekend, have been back 3 times since this past Friday. Good call. Wish I would have made it for the cubs series, but felt the need to make it into the nearest drinking establishment after each of those losses.

Rockdawg said...

I am so sick of hearing about some teenager's unreal k per 9 ratio...our rotation for next year could be downright comical.

rodells said...

Rock, don't jump off a cliff now buddy, but the goal is not to win next year.

I told my son yesterday that I'd pay for one game next year only. Or, we could go to Pittsburgh and see the Cards, since some a-holes changed the Tribe/Cards Kids Funday to the late ESPN game last month. Now I get to see Seattle twice this year. Hurray!

Rockdawg said...

The scary part is....the "goal" was to win this year, and look at us. So if the goal is to try again in '11-'12, next year could be frightening....or perhaps, it will turn into an '07 remix of sorts...

Go Browns

Cy Slapnicka said...

um, i hate to break it to you, but the "go browns" cheer doesn't do anything to cheer anyone up. what, more misery, mismanagement, and frustration?

i feel like i'm starting to realize why some people drift from pro sports after being lifelong avid fans. the ROI just isn't there. there are so many other ways you can spend your time in an enjoyable manner that have much greater returns.

and with that, i think i will set my indians flag on fire.

Cy Slapnicka said...

btw, did anyone else get the Indians email for the one day sale for Friday, Jluy 31st from 6AM-Midnight?

Amazingly it was on tickets and merchandise, not our good players.

KonstrucktaTribe said...

Does anyone get ESPN INsider? if so i was wondering if you could post it here i really wanna read the article by gammons linked below

Spills said...

The Indians' window began closing the night of the fifth game of the 2007 American League Championship Series. They were up 3-1 on the Red Sox, coming off a pounding of the Yankees and 97 regular-season wins. But on that one night all the innings and the wear on CC Sabathia came crashing down around his shoulders.

Josh Beckett beat Sabathia 7-1 that night and when the teams returned to Boston, the Red Sox outscored Cleveland 23-4 to move on to the World Series. Now, Sabathia is in New York, Cliff Lee is in Philadelphia and when the Cubs moved into a first-place tie Wednesday afternoon, it meant that every one of the teams with the highest payroll in its division was in first place.

To read about why Cleveland made the deal and what that means for Victor Martinez -- you must be an ESPN Insider. Insider

Lee was traded because the Indians pretty much knew that without a spike in performance and fortune next season that their window would next be reopened in 2011, after Lee and Victor Martinez would likely have left for free agency. The Phillies accomplished what they wanted -- to get a top starter without trading Kyle Drabek or Dominic Brown. We don't know that what the Indians will end up getting for Lee and Martinez is actually better than what the Red Sox offered for the two. We don't know what Jason Knapp will be or whether Jason Donald's disappointing season is because of something physical. And, right now, we don't know what the package will be in exchange for Martinez.

Sing me no Dylan "Can You Please Crawl Out of Your Window," because while Cleveland's front office insists it was not mandated to dump payroll, the financial realities struck the Indians. They could have brought back this team for 2010, but with no guarantee of competing and with no hope of supplementing.

The reality is that the Indians are down more than 6,000 fans per game in attendance from 2007, the economy in Ohio has been a disaster this entire decade and revenues are declining. Grady Sizemore will be there in 2011, and likely so too will Matt LaPorta and Nick Weglarz and Asdrubal Cabrera and Hector Rondon and Alex White.

Talk-show callers like to complain about owners' commitments, but where are the fans? The Rays have been run brilliantly, but the heart of the matter is that their attendance is up only 1,000 a game after going to the World Series and by April they may have to move Carl Crawford and Scott Kazmir to avoid all their arbitration cases.

Right now, 22 of the 30 teams are down from their 2008 attendance despite the work MLB did with its corporate sponsors. "Next year," says one club financial officer, "will be tougher."

This next Indians generation will be built around Sizemore, Cabrera, Weglarz, LaPorta, Carlos Santana, Shin-Soo Choo et al. When you are the Phillies, Yankees or Red Sox, you think about next year. When you're Cleveland or Tampa, you think "next window."

KonstrucktaTribe said...

Thanks Spills!

jamalicious said...

Great piece, Paul. One thing I'd like to add to that last paragraph...who's to say Cliff Lee would make enough of a difference either way?

We had Lee this year and are 18 games under .500. The main things that held us back this year are Carmona, Westbrook, Lewis, Perez, and Wood, in various fashions, not helping our team. If, next year, we get Carmona and Westbrook as solid starters, a reliable bullpen, and a mix of our young guys....I don't know, maybe we won't miss Cliff as much as you'd think.

Definitely tough to stomach, but not even near enough to turn in my fan card.

Hyde said...

If, next year, we get Carmona and Westbrook as solid starters, a reliable bullpen, and a mix of our young guys....I don't know, maybe we won't miss Cliff as much as you'd think: Yeah, but if all that happens and we get to .500, and end up missing the playoffs by, say, 5 games (certainly a possibility in our division), are people still going to be as happy about Lee getting dealt for "the future"? That was what contradictory about Shapiro's presser yesterday: he said that keeping Lee wasn't worth the risk, which appears to imply that he didn't think we could contend next season even if he stayed and continued to pitch well; but in the next breath he said he wasn't giving up on next season. Even making allowances for public relations, this doesn't make any sense.

I see where Gammons thinks Alex White will be in the majors in 2011? Not impossible (Sowers moved that fast), but not something you can really count on. I also saw where Rob Neyer said that Carrasco might be our best starter as early as next season. That could be the case, but I'm not so sure that's a positive. Think of the worst teams of recent years--the '03 Tigers, the '91 Tribe, any number of Royals teams--all of them had someone who was their best starter.

Which leads into my big problem with what Shapiro said yesterday. He, and those in the media who can be relied upon to parrot what he says, are now throwing around 2011 as the beginning of the next great era. But 2011 isn't all that far away, and I suspect that by the time it rolls around, he is going to be doing some serious goalpost-moving. Because I fail to see how the Tribe can possibly have the rotation of a contender within 2 seasons, unless they do something un-Shapiro-like such as sign a #1 or #2 starter as a free agent, or trade prospects for one.

As the Indians faced the start of the last rebuild in the 2002-03 offseason, they had C.C. Sabathia as a young future ace, already with playoff experience; Jake Westbrook in the bullpen; and Cliff Lee in the high minors--a decent foundation. But if you assume that anyone who is a major contributor to the 2011 Tribe is at least in Columbus by now, the 2011 rotation looks like it is going to be cobbled together from among Carmona, Laffey, Huff, Sowers, Carrasco, Rondon, and Lofgren--none of whom is so much as an average major league performer at the present time (apologies to Laffey's fans, but I've never been one). As jury-rigged as some of our late '90s rotations seemed to be, it's hard to see this group approaching even those levels barring unusual amounts of good luck.

I'm just not seeing the outlines of a 2011 contender here.

Learning to Swim said...

If you haven't yet check out the wikipedia on Larry Dolan. While the market around Cleveland isn't great and I can understand monitoring payroll and the article completely vilifies Dolan I as a beleaguered fan love it.

Here's an excerpt from it dealing with his ownership.

"Cleveland Indians Owner

In 2000, Larry Dolan bought the Cleveland Indians of the MLB for $323 million from Richard Jacobs, who, along with his late brother David Jacobs, had paid $35 million for the club in 1986. Jacobs had taken the Indians public in 1997. As part of the deal, Dolan bought all of the stock at just over twelve dollars a share, making the franchise privately held once again. He has quickly become one of the most hated owners in Cleveland history, Art Moddell and former Cavs owner Ted Stepian only being more hated.

Dolan initially came under fire for ordering general manager Mark Shapiro to cut the team's payroll, resulting in the team falling from a division title in 2001 to three straight losing seasons. The team has since appeared in the post-season only once, in 2007, and most likely won't be going back anytime soon with the current braintrust.

In 2006 he started SportsTime Ohio to air Indians games. While this increased the team's television revenue, Dolan has continued to cut team payroll.

Larry Dolan has 6 children, among them Matthew and Paul who work for his law firm, Thrasher, Dinsmore & Dolan. Dolan has said his children will eventually assume ownership of the Cleveland Indians in his place. The thought of the Dolan family retaining ownership in the ball club for an extended period of time fills the average fan with a combination of trepidation, anger or outright apathy. In June, 2009, Dolan suffered a mild heart-attack after picking up a roll of quarters that he intended to offer Cliff Lee as part of a new contract proposal.

His nephew James Dolan owns the deplorable New York Knicks of the NBA and the New York Rangers of the NHL.

Larry Dolan has made the Cleveland Indians the first MLB franchise to trade the reigning Cy Young Award winner in back-to-back seasons, causing the once proud "Jacobs Field" to resemble its' empty, echoing predecessor, Municipal Stadium. Cleveland Indians fans have changed alliances to numerous National League teams as of July 30th 2009.

Larry Dolan is now offering his counsel to the owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers, Dan Gilbert, as 2010 is fast approaching.

Fuck you Dolan"

Harsh...but funny.

Trebek said...

At least I'll have some time to get back to my trivia for a while.

A.G.B said...

I think this is actually one of the better analyses of the trade out there. Good job, Paul.

It comes down to perspective and whose perspective you believe. If you believed that 2009 is merely a blip in the radar and that 2010 is the real year that the Indians go back to their 05/07 best, then this trade must look horrendous for you.

But Mark Shapiro believed (and I I do as well) that this team is severly broken. The 2009 Indians are the real Indians, instead of this flip-flopping in the standings we are so used to seeing since 04. It is almost like the Tribe couldn't figure out whether it was a good team or a bad team for 5 years and they finally settled on "bad" permanently in 2009.

If you buy into the perspective that this is the real Tribe (as you should) and that 2010 won't look any better (especially since the Dolans won't dish out any additional $$$) then really the only logical move is to start moving our tradeable assets while teams still want them and receive some potential 2011ers as well as some payroll flexibility for 2011.

I am not blaming anyone for where the Indians are right now (Lord knows you can make a convincing arguement for many people to take the blame though) but the fact is that we are one of the worst teams in baseball. And I think we all know that we are legitimately one of the worst teams, this is no fluke. And in our current position, what else could we do?

You can argue about the return for Cliff Lee, but I don't think it is wise to argue against the necessity for some type of deal like this.
P.S I really think we should call the Tribe the 2011ers for awhile.

rodells said...

So Stark is basically claiming VMart for Buchholz is being held up because they are looking for a 3rd team to take LaRoche. Why in the hell would we not just suck up the remaining $2M on LaRoche's contract just to get Buchholz? I mean, we're saving how many millions by trading Lee and El Capitan? Now we have a chance to get a young frontline starter and LaRoche is going to hold it up? Probably could even move LaRoche for some peanuts in August to a team that wants a bench hitter for $1M. It might take me a long time to get over this if this is why it doesn't happen.

rodells said...

Also Kazmir for Victor heating up. Mets also rumored to be in that deal as a 3rd team.

Rockdawg said...

"Cleveland 2011's"? I say we go with "Cleveland Expos"

Rockdawg said...

Oh, and by the way...Cy, you better bite your tongue and bite it hard.

"i feel like i'm starting to realize why some people drift from pro sports after being lifelong avid fans. the ROI just isn't there. there are so many other ways you can spend your time in an enjoyable manner that have much greater returns."

I don't know what type of crap you are learning up there in Chi-town, but you know as well as I, that if the Tribe/Browns/Cavs can scrape up a championship in the next, say, 10-15 years, it will be one of the highlights of all our lives...what on Earth is better than being a die hard fan? and if you reply "spending time with family" or some crap like that, I will punch you in the face the next time I see you...even if you are much bigger than I am.

Cy Slapnicka said...

Rock, I'm just being honest. I've found that there are many things better than being a die hard fan of poorly run organizations. And spending time with family wasn't going to be my answer. Since I've given up on them, stopped checking box scores, and stopped watching, I've not really missed much, as it stopped being fun following them. How many times can you cuss a RP, a Wedge lineup, or Peralta not caring?

Its kinda like what the Browns have done to me, except in a much more compressed time frame. This was the last Cleveland organization that I was passionate about following.

So go ahead, punch me in the face. It'll likely be more enjoyable than any Cleveland Indians baseball experience I've had since October of 2007.

Hyde said...

So Stark is basically claiming VMart for Buchholz is being held up... I'm not really seeing Buchholz as part of a Martinez trade, unless we agree to pick up the rest of Victor's 2009 salary or something. Buchholz would be able to slide right into our current rotation, and it appears that we've been going after higher-ceiling prospects further down the food chain during this fire sale cycle (in part because everyone else can smell our desperation to trade these guys).

If I had to pick the package we get for Martinez, I would say it's going to include a Zach Jackson AAA type, with the "real" prospect in AA or A. Not Buchholz, in other words, at least not in a straight-up deal.

Besides, I have some of the same reservations about Buchholz that were outlined in here a few days ago. The Bosox have been springing rotation leaks of late--if Buchholz is all that, why hasn't he gotten his shot yet?

Cy Slapnicka said...

does anyone else feel like we pushed our broken down, rusting, smoking car into an auto dealership and are trying to negotiate a good deal on a new one?

the good news is, i just received an offer for the package for the rest of the year for $35!

Joshua Whitman said...

I hear Dolan is NOT in favor of trading Martinez...

Joshua Whitman said...

...doesn't want to eat the cost of all those Victor Martinez Catcher Bobbleheads they are supposed to give away tomorrow night.

rodells said...

It's been nice, Vic. Go get your ring now.

rodells said...

Nick Hagadone and Justin Masterson? For reals?

rodells said...

Sure seems like I missed an awesome Cy meltdown over the past half year or whatever. I remember the first half of 2008 like it was yesterday.

Hyde said...

Hagadone sounds like a sedative. So he's going to the right organization.

rodells said...

Hagadone = Tommy John surgery already at his young age.

Hyde said...

Tommy John isn't a career ender for a young pitcher (e.g. Tony Sipp); it just costs you development time. Sounds like the young man can still throw hard.

Word verification word: "dismst," as in, what the Indians just did to Victor Martinez.

Les Savy Ferd said...

*Salutes el capitan as he departs for beantown*