Sunday, November 20, 2005

Nibbles on the Hook

With most of the focus right now on the FA market, I have a feeling that there will be more action on the trade front for the Indians this offseason. With some parts that can be moved, the Indians can fill holes by trading for value. Obviously, many trades involve prospects in leagues so low that very few people know about them. But, since we had previously looked at players who may be viable options for the Tribe to acquire, it’s time to take a look at the flip side of the equation, because to get value, you have to give up value.

Players Who May be Trade Bait:
Ben Broussard –
If Bono Broussard is not brought back into the fold for next year (i.e. the Tribe signs or trades for another 1B or gives the job to Garko), Broussard will likely be non-tendered and shopped in the offseason. Broussard, whose streakiness has made Clevelanders feel that he’s the player on the outside looking in this offseason, seems unlikely to be the Indians lone starting 1B next year. He may remain as part of a lefty/righty platoon, but a lot of that would depend upon what kind of dollars he may command in an arbitration hearing.
That being said, Broussard is an attractive player to a team that does not require a lot of power from their 1B. He will likely remain a .250 hitter who will hit about 20 HR with 65-75 RBI. Not bad numbers for some team, particularly one in need of a LH bat and a decent glove at first (maybe an NL team). Broussard may be dangled for another bullpen arm, depending upon the outcome of the Wickman/Howry/Riske situations.
If Broussard were to leave, I would equate him to the Paul Sorrento of this era. A nice player, unlikely to really catch on elsewhere; but produced some nice memories while here. Plus, he can promote his album.
David Riske –
Riske (whose spell as the closer was derided by my bride as “not such a good sign…having your closer named Riske”) is another player who may be more attractive to another team, other than the Indians. He, like Broussard, could be non-tendered and traded to avoid the Indians going to arbitration with him. Riske is a nice reliever who seemed to fall out of favor with Wedge as the season wore on. His appearances grew less and less frequent as Betancourt, and then Cabrera, became more established in the bullpen.
Riske does have nice career stats, averaging 47 appearances a season in 6 seasons. His career ERA is 3.55 with a WHIP of 1.26, which could be very attractive to a team looking for a 7th inning reliever. With the Indians having Rhodes, Betancourt, and Cabrera all set to fill the 6th through 8th innings, Riske could be the casualty of numbers. If that is the case, most teams are looking for bullpen help and Riske could certainly bring something in return, as he is somewhat of a “known commodity”. He has limited closing experience (which didn’t go well), but he would be useful to most teams in the back end of the ‘pen; again, probably more so for teams other than the Tribe. This one may come down to dollars – whether the Indians think that Riske’s arm and experience is worth that much more money (he made $1.425M last year) than that of an Andrew Brown, Jason Davis, or Matt Miller.
Jason Davis -
With Fausto Carmona and Jeremy Sowers having seemingly leapfrogged Davis in the Tribe rotation’s future, Davis will probably figure into next year’s plans in the bullpen or on another roster. There is no debate over the fact that Jason Dangerously has a live arm, capable of dominating at the big league level. The internal debate for the Indians is whether his stuff translates better to starting or reliving.
Personally, I’m of the belief that his stuff would be better out of the bullpen, BUT (a big but) I’m not sure if his emotions are best suited for the bullpen. When he pitched for the Tribe, he was always victimized by that big inning or seemed to lose his cool, often with disastrous results. That is not the kind of track record or mentality you’re looking for in a reliever, where you have to almost be amnesiac. So, while his stuff may be best suited for the pen, I don’t think that he’s necessarily best suited for the pen.
With all of that being said, it takes us back to the fact that Carmona and Sowers would have to go into Spring Training as the top contenders for a spot in the rotation (if one exists). And other arms in the bullpen might be further along than Davis. So where does that leave JD? Trade bait?
Davis would be sure to bring some value back from a pitching-starved team. While trading young pitching is normally not a good idea, Davis may be the victim of the numbers game. The strength of the Indians’ farm system is pitching, and if Davis does not translate anymore into one of the top prospects (remember that the studs from Akron last year will be one step closer next year), Davis may be able to bring a young bat into the fold. Or he could be packaged to acquire a more established hitter. His potential (and his fastball) could enamor another team to overvalue Davis and give up something decent in return. Or, this could all just be conjecture and Davis could take a spot in the bullpen (or even the rotation) in 2006.
Brandon Phillips -
As has already been determined, the re-signing of Ramon Vazquez and Jelly Belliard’s option being picked up means the end of B-Phil’s time in Cleveland. Once the jewel of the Colon deal, Phillips’ head never caught up to his talent. Whether it was a maturity issue or being given too much, too early is hard to say. But with Phillips out of options and no spot available on the big-league roster, Phillips will be playing elsewhere next year. He may just need a fresh start or to go to another organization where he is not always referred to as “the main player in the Bartolo Colon” trade (particularly with the success of Lee and Sizemore staring him in the face).
The question becomes whether the Indians can get anything of value for Phillips. He is still young and nobody has ever questioned that his glove his ML caliber. He needs to shorten his swing and become the player he is, not the player he thinks he is. A couple more years in the minors would do that. Expect Phillips to be packaged up this offseason to a team in need of a utility player or an upper level 2B/SS prospect.
Jeremy Guthrie -
The Stanford grad and former 1st Round Pick’s career has stalled at the time when the Indians’ brass thought he would more than likely be in the rotation (or at least challenging for that spot). Guthrie, however, lost his confidence in his first trip to Buffalo (after cruising up to that point) and hasn’t gotten his mojo back. Maybe Dr. Evil took it. He is under contract for 2006 (the last year of a 4 year, $4.5M deal) and the Tribe would like to see some return on their investment. Whether that comes in the form of production in Cleveland or in the acquisition of some other talent is the question.
Right now, Guthrie wouldn’t bring much in return (he posted a 5.08 ERA in Buffalo in 25 starts and he’ll be 27 by Opening Day next year), so expect Guthrie to go to Spring Training “competing” for a spot in the rotation (in name only. Next year, he would fill the “6th starter” role that Jason Davis filled last year. The loser of the 5th spot (Carmona or Sowers) would probably be sent back to Buffalo and be kept on a schedule until a regular starting gig became open in Cleveland. Guthrie, meanwhile, could yo-yo back and forth, with no set day to pitch. He could just fill-in where he was needed, either helping the Tribe, showcasing himself for a midseason trade, or putting the final shovel of dirt on his Major League career.

Other players could be traded (Tallet, Stanford, Tadano, etc.), but they’d all fall under the category of a “throw-in” like Tim Drew in the Colon deal.
Remember that Shapiro talked about acquiring Barry Zito last off-season, so the trade market is always a fluid one. You never know who is “available” and what it would take to get them. Shapiro has pulled off some beauties in the past (acquiring Hafner, Sizemore, Lee, Crisp, Westbrook, and Rhodes via trade), so a trade is certainly a possibility. Maybe even moreso than a big FA signing.

With that being said, the more I read about this FA starting pitching market, the more inclined I am to believe that the Indians will sign a player like Paul Byrd to a 2 year deal. Something like that retains the financial flexibility that Shapiro preaches, while not locking down a rotation spot if (when) the young arms are ready for the corner of Carnegie and Ontario.

Incidentally, Billy Traber was signed by the Washington Nationals. Witnessing Traber's one-hit gem against the Yankees at the Jake is one of my greatest memories at the Jake. Half for Traber's performance, half for my confrontation with 4 New Yorkers in our section. After being told by the bride that she didn't "have my back" if it went down, things simmered to the point that we had beers with them at Cooperstown afterward. Seeing as how I was outweighed by them, collectively about 85o lbs. to 150 lbs. (soaking wet), and I escaped without bodily injury, it remains a feather in my cap.

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