Sunday, September 16, 2012

Let’s Make a Deal on A Lazy Sunday

Though I’m not really sure what else can be said/written about this team other than asking “they’re still playing” and “when does this end”, the attention has predictably turned to the upcoming off-season and this Fall/Winter/Spring figures to show us as much about the organization as any in recent memory as anyone associated with the team has come under heavy fire since July…and with good reason.  From ownership to the Front Office to the dugout to the clubhouse, nobody has been immune from criticism and, while that criticism is well-placed in some instances, it doesn’t remove the fact that the Indians need to move along after this disastrous second half and attempt to make the right baseball decisions for this team going forward.

Certainly, you would think that Hafner’s option will be declined/bought out and it’s hard to make ANY kind of argument that Fauxberto’s option gets picked up – regardless of the “affordability” of said option – as most of the focus now is on which of these players (if any) is a player that the Indians can rely on to make up any kind of homegrown “core” going forward.  The way that they’ve played over the last couple of months, it’s impossible to not fall into the “blow it all up” column as NOBODY has looked like a “core” player and young players have stalled and disappointed while veterans have regressed or worse.

The scout that told Hoynes that this is the “deadest team (he’s) seen in a long time” and that he thinks “they’ve quit” is on to something here and though I’m not sure “deadest” is a word, to watch this team for any stretch of time recently certainly can suck the life out of anyone.  And while that lack of a spark doesn’t bode well for Acta’s future with the team (and here is the Heyman report that he’s on the hot seat) as this team was inexplicably in first place for a couple of months, then completely fell off of the map, the rest of the Hoynes’ piece in which that scout is quoted is the direction we’re going to take today in the Lazy One.

Because while 2012 will soon become a frustrating memory, we still have to try our best to look forward and for that, we go to the Indians’ GM and how he views the upcoming off-season.  To that end
Antonetti said no player on the roster is “untouchable” as far as a trade is concerned.
“We’re not in a position to say any particular player is off limits,” he said. “Now, with that being said, all of those guys who have been rumored about at various points in time this season, they’re all still Cleveland Indians, right?  So just because teams call and ask and express interest doesn't necessarily mean we're going to trade someone.”

Obviously, this is what he has to say and this is what pretty much every GM says in terms of “hey, if the Angels offered us Mike Trout for Player X…well, we’d have to listen”.  But what Antonetti says rings particularly true in terms of going up and down the roster and failing to come up with a player that you’d say, “NO, we would not trade that guy, under any circumstances”.

Yes, Kipnis is certainly a nice player and I like what I see from Lonnie and Pestano, but is there any player on this roster that you can’t make a case for being traded, in terms of what they might bring back?

Maybe you think Santana falls into that category, but his inability to thrive defensively behind the plate and his…um, lack of leadership (compared to what Vic used to have) lead me to believe that he actually falls into the “sell high” category that is pretty rare on this roster.  But in terms of Antonetti saying that they don’t have an “untouchable” player, it isn’t all that bad of an idea because they SHOULD be saying publicly that this team has disappointed and that they’re willing to listen to any offer from any team on any player while being very aggressive in adding talent, particularly pitching, and particularly to the upper levels of the organization.

If that feels like something you’ve read here before, you have and you’re not having déjà vu…well, you’re just living in the same bad dream as me, and it’s been going on since July of 2009.  Regardless of that, this is what a not-from-Cleveland “Front Office Type” had to say to B-Pro’s John Perrotto regarding the Tribe:
Indians: “It’s going to be interesting to see what they do this offseason. Do they blow it up and start over again? They don’t have enough impact players in their farm system to build from within. They’re almost going to have to make some trades for prospects, because they’re not going to spend the money to add impact veterans.”

“Interesting” indeed, from the job security of the GM, the manager, and every coach and player donning the Chief these days…

While I think that the “they’re not going to spend the money to add impact veterans” is misplaced here (as it ignores the way that teams in markets like Cleveland are built), the line that “they don’t have enough impact players in their farm system” rings true, particularly when you consider the upper levels of that farm system and the dearth of high-end talent in Akron and Columbus this year.  If the assumption then is that “they’re going to have to make some trades for prospects” is pervasive and growing steam, what does that mean?

Certainly, the accepted line of thinking is that they’ll trade both Choo and Perez at the very least, but it’s worth asking what either of those guys brings in return.  To that end, with the Tribe facing the Rangers, Nino Colla of TCF noticed the presence of one Mike Olt (since sidelined, probably for the year with plantar fasciitis) on the Rangers’ roster and had a pretty compelling thought regarding the 23-year-old Olt, particularly because Olt is a 3B Nino notes, Texas already has a 3B in Beltre, meaning that Olt may be made available by the Rangers in the off-season.  Regardless, here are Colla’s thoughts on him being a desirable target for the Tribe this off-season:
Olt is a stud power hitter who’s blasted 28 bombs this year for Double-A Frisco. Sure he’s a third baseman, but he could play first, giving the Indians that right-handed power stick at the corner the so desperately need. I’m not sure what the Rangers plans are for Mitch Mooreland, if he’s a stopgap to Olt, or if he's someone they’d like to invest in, but if the later is the case, my first play in the offseason is trying to pry Olt away from the Rangers, and using Shin-Soo Choo to do so.

It is here that I note that LaPorta was a “stud power hitter” once upon a time, who hit 22 HR in AA as a 23-year-old, while pointing out that Olt hit those 28 HR as a RH 23-year-old in AA, but you get the direction here – Choo is not long for Cleveland and the Indians need to find a suitor that is willing to give them a young player that is near or already in MLB in exchange for Choo and take the best offer on the table.  If that’s the Rangers…great and going further, Nino goes on to say that “Choo is a much easier sign long-term than Josh Hamilton and (Texas) can hold onto a middle of the order bat” as the Rangers would have a full year to negotiate with Choo…I mean, Boras.

Maybe the Rangers make a big play for Choo for the reasons that Nino mentions, and in terms of teams that might be looking to add Choo because of a player like Hamilton potentially departing or because of their own deficiencies in RF, the Yankees may be a possible destination, depending upon what they do with soon-to-be FA Nick Swisher.  Past the Rangers and Yankees, the Giants (sans Melky) and Mariners (SECOND-HALF surprise and surge…well, until you consider their manager) would certainly be among those interested in upgrading in RF and willing to pay for 1 year of Choo with a right to negotiate with him and his agent on a long-term deal before Choo hits FA after 2013.

Allegedly the Pirates had an interest in adding Choo at the Trading Deadline and it will be interesting to see how their absolute COLLAPSE in the past few weeks (what was that about the Pirates being a small-market team showing everyone how it contention is possible) affects their off-season plans in terms of aggressiveness.  Because he would certainly be a “rental” for them and there really wouldn’t be any question that he would be a Pirate for one season…or maybe shorter.  With that in mind, they certainly wouldn’t part with top prospects Gerrit Cole (1st overall pick in the Draft in 2011, already in AAA) or Jameson Taillon (2nd overall pick the previous year, now a 20-year-old who has ascended to AA) for 1 year…and maybe ½ season…of Choo, depending upon how the first couple of months of 2013 go for the Pirates.

And that’s really the rub with projecting any kind of return for Choo, in that as much as I’d like to say that the Mariners are a great match, flush with pitching prospects that get the salivation glands going, there’s little doubt that Boras will have him ready to hit FA after 2013, with a call to Mike Ilitch probably already planned out for Choo to “solve” the Tigers’ RF issues after next season.  As much as I’d like to think that Choo would net the Indians a cadre of impact prospects, all ready to contribute in 2013 and beyond, we already looked at the returns for Hunter Pence – who has now been traded a couple of times in the last few years – which should temper expectations a little and realize that the Indians may unfortunately have to target some further-away-from-MLB prospects for what is likely one year of Choo.

Past Choo, the assumed off-season trade chip would seem to be Chris Perez (much to the delight of the aforementioned Chris Perez) and while the ideal would be to simply net a Josh Reddick (as he is known now…not as a rather-lightly-regarded Red Sox player) for Chris Perez, it’s worth looking at what kind of market would exist for Perez if (ahem…when) the Indians offered him on the open market.  That is to say, what teams would be interested in Perez’s services, with club control over him lasting through the 2013 and 2014 seasons, even if the arbitration numbers tied to those years are going to be…um, on the high side.

In terms of “Blown Saves” (and as much as I hate Save as a “stat”, the “Blown Save” doesn’t bother me nearly as much), teams that would figure to contend in 2013 that “blew” a lot of saves would be the Brewers (assuming the Grienke trade wasn’t some sort of signal of a break-up of the team), the Angels, the Red Sox (though they’re waiting for a healthy Andrew Bailey), the Cardinals, the Marlins, the…well, just look at the list here.  The Save Percentage list is pretty similar and the Angels and Red Sox are still the two teams that stand out there as I’m not sure that the Cardinals would be all that interested in re-acquiring the services of Pure Rage and the Marlins are still “committed” (at least financially)  to Heath Bell.  While I’d LOVE to see Ozzie and C. Perez in the same locker room (assuming it’s in South Beach…a LONG way away from me), the point is that it’s only going to take two teams to be interested in him to generate some interest that benefits the Tribe.

To that end, among teams whose closers are scheduled to become FA at year’s end, Valverde is scheduled to become a FA, though I can’t envision the Indians moving Perez to Detroit, where he can spout his vitriol about the Indians every time he visits the corner of Carnegie and Ontario.  Past Valverde, the Yankees have Mo Rivera still working his way back and Rafael Soriano has a player option worth $14M that he might decline to see if he could parlay his closing role in the Bronx into a longer deal.  Speaking of coming back from injury, the Giants may have an interest in him, depending upon the progress being made by Brian Wilson. 

Going further on closers that could be FA, the Rays hold an option on Fernando Rodney (for $2.5M) that they’ll surely pick up and the D-Backs hold a $6.5M option on JJ Putz that they’re likely to pick up.  So, really the FA market is pretty bare when it comes to closers, once you get past Jose Valverde, with the list full of guys coming back from injuries (Ryan Madsen, Joakim Soria) or who are largely underwhelming (Brandon League, Jon Broxton, Brett Myers, Mike Adams, JP Howell, K-Rod, etc.) looking like the FA options…so maybe an “on-the-market” Perez would generate some interest, regardless of how foolish teams are when they spend on a “closer”.

As I said, it only takes one (or two, to begin a bidding war) interested party and the invocation of the D-Backs brings me around to the third player that I think will be on the Trading Block this off-season – Asdrubal Cabrera.  Realizing that this is a topic that I’ve already broached in this space, Cabrera’s second-half slide (again) have to force the Indians into thinking that he’s their most valuable trade asset, in terms of his offensive ability and his affordability over the next two years. 

About a month ago, I alluded to the possibility that Cabrera to AZ could make sense, largely based on this report that the Diamondbacks are in the market for a SS this off-season, but the reasoning for that remains solid, particularly given the Diamondbacks’ wealth of talent with young arms.  In case you don’t remember, here’s what was written:
Now, this is brought up because if the Indians are open to trading Choo for the right package, you’d have to think that they’d at least listen to offers for Cabrera, who is only under club control for one year longer than Choo, with an extension already in his pocket meaning he’s unlikely to sign another one to remain an Indian.  Even more than that, this Diamondbacks’ report is relevant because Arizona is FLUSH with young arms like Trevor Bauer, Archie Bradley, Tyler Skaggs, and Patrick Corbin, among others, with Bauer (21 years old), Skaggs (20 years old and LH), and Corbin (22 years old and also LH) making their MLB debuts this year.  Now, it is true that Bauer was #11on B-Pro’s preseason top prospect list , “graduating” from that list by making it to MLB, and that Bradley was #18 and Skaggs was #19 on Kevin Goldstein’s mid-season top 50 list a couple of weeks ago , so wishing for any of that trio for two years of Asdrubal may represent pie-in-the-sky wishing.

But given that the Snakes have Wade Miley (their #10 prospect going into the season  and currently sitting on a 2.80 ERA in his first full year) and Trevor Cahill topping their rotation with Ian Kennedy still on board for a while, Arizona might be willing to part with some of their pitching depth to acquire an elite offensive SS  if they’re serious about making a push in the next couple of years.  If they are, the Indians might be wise to explore such a deal in an effort to add an arm/multiple arms at the upper levels that might be able to contribute/begin maturing immediately for the parent club with an eye towards some place past 2013 or maybe even 2014.
Maybe the Indians have something in Juan Diaz (he has 13 HR and 24 2B in 104 games on the year as a 23-year-old SS in the upper levels) or maybe they don’t (he is averaging a K per game in MiLB), but if 2013 doesn’t look like a year where contention is likely, much less plausible, he might be a somewhat-suitable replacement, particularly if the Indians can turn 2 years of Asdrubal into players that would be able to step in and contribute with their years of control aligning more closely with Kipnis, Santana, Brantley, and Pestano than those of Choo, Perez, and Masterson.

Perhaps you want to figure who would be interested in Masterson (and that would be most teams as SP is in such demand around MLB), but…yes, this is what we’re left to do – to wonder what other teams that figure to contend in 2013 could use a strong-armed, middle-of-the-order RF, or a lock-down closer, or a offensively elite SS under club control through the 2014 season.  Because those exact players aren’t helping this team win games in the present tense and their greatest contributions to this team winning any time in the near future has more to do with what they might bring in a trade instead of what they might contribute on the field as a member of the Indians.

Maybe that depresses you to no end (because it does for me), but what this organization needs to do is turn these most valuable assets into the best starting pitching (prospects) that they possibly can.  Though others in, mainstream media have caught on to this idea that Oakland and Tampa are winning this year because of pitching, it’s old news here and the Indians need to identify and acquire as many young arms as they can and they need to use their most desirable assets (Choo, Perez, Cabrera, maybe Santana) to acquire them.

Perhaps that sounds like a chorus you’ve heard before as once upon a time, the term “Waves of Arms” was used to describe what was going to arrive in Cleveland and when the trades from 2009 and 2010 continued in earnest, the stockpiling of pitchers led to the dubbing of the “Layers of Arms” in this space.  Now, Carrasco is still the guy I’m most excited about in terms of players added from 2008 to 2010 with McAllister climbing that list and I’m interested to see what Kluber can do with a longer leash, but to see Dave Huff (um…kind of) succeed this September serves as a reminder that those purported
“waves” were just ripples and those “layers” crumbled pretty quickly as the Indians’ current rotation and bullpen is full of players added during the 2009 to 2011 trades…and we’ve seen how that’s gone.

Moving forward (because that’s all we can try to do), the realization comes into clearer focus with each passing day that for the Indians to compete in the MLB landscape, they need pitching – young pitching – and lots of it.  Perhaps they can turn Choo, Perez, and maybe even Asdrubal…and maybe even more into some bona-fide pitching prospects because at this point, that seems to be the best course of action for an organization in need of some bold action.


MTF said...

With the exception of the few trade assets you've described the 2012 Tribe has been so undistinguished that they really don't seem like they can produce a good enough haul to justify "blowing it up and going into full rebuild". We had more to start with last time we tried that approach, and look where we are now.

The farm isn't going to give us substantial fuel either, at least in the short term.

I hate to say it but the price of extended failure is going to be cash. The Indians need four or five solid players in order to be respectable, much less competitive, and that means money needs to be invested.

Since there is no Easter Bunny or Santa that isn't going to happen. I foresee minor stuff like trading Chris Perez or Choo for a couple of AA studs that might or might not someday have a good season or two, and then nothing else. TINSTAAPP.

Adam said...

I think I find fault with the whole "windows of contention" idea. I know our front office embraces this idea at its core, but teams like the O's and the A's are proof that simply with savvy trades and free agent signings, that anything is possible. Vegas had the over/under for wins for these teams in the low 70's. I think the Indians are maybe guilty of "forcing a trade" that was not there when they acquired Ubaldo. The reality is that that trade was made with the idea that the next two years were our "window" years. Everything about it reaked of desperation. The fact that at was right at the deadline last year. Its almost like someone procastinating and then doing something sloppy and half-assed right at the last minute. Look at when Beane makes his trades--in the offseason, not right at the deadline. I beleive that trade is emblematic of the fault I have with "windows" idea. Anything is possible any year as long as you can make great trades and signings.

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