Recently, ESPN’s Buster Olney wrote an Insider piece that looked at what the Indians should do moving forward. His recommendation for Chris Antonetti was to be aggressive this winter, following the model of the Oakland Athletics in recent years. He cites the fact that the Indians are weak in pitching at both the major and minor league levels and that they need to do something to fix that problem. I figured I’d look at Olney’s suggestions and whether or not I agreed with them, plus I would highlight some of the key moves the A’s made. Pretty much everyone (myself included) thought that Oakland would have a pretty dreadful season in 2012. However, they managed to overtake the Rangers to win the division and took their ALDS series against the Tigers to five games. Is there a way to dismantle and win at the same time, or was this something that can’t be replicated – either because it was a fluke, or because Oakland was just better positioned to do so (in terms of talent available and a smart front office)?
Olney’s suggestions are basically to trade a number of key players in the hopes that they can get a more useful return. Here are the players he suggests the Indians deal in the coming months:
1. Asdrubal Cabrera. His reasoning – Cabrera is only signed through 2014 and is a 27-year-old All Star caliber player. There are several teams where Cabrera could be a fit, and the return could net the Indians some young pitching. I would have to say that I see nothing wrong with this on the surface. Cabrera’s value is high right now, and a shortstop that has some power could be highly coveted on the trade market. The past two years he’s faded in the second half of the season, but he’s also been an All Star the past two years. My only concern (as it would be with any of these scenarios) is that the Indians don’t screw this up. There isn’t a lot of room for error with any trades, especially when you consider that the Indians have a relatively weak farm system.
2. Carlos Santana. His reasoning – it’s unclear where Santana belongs moving forward, either at catcher or at first base. He compares him to Jesus Montero, traded by the Yankees to the Seattle Mariners and making Montero’s positional issue their problem. However the centerpiece of that deal, Michael Pineda, was hurt and did not pitch for the Yankees all season. The Yankees can afford to make a mistake like that, but a team like the Indians cannot. Because Santana is signed through 2016, and there are a lot of teams that need catching, the Indians could probably get a great return. This is one where I disagree, and would hold onto Santana (at least for now). He’s cheap, and under team control for at least four more seasons (he has an option year at the end of his deal). This is the kind of player the Indians strive to get – a cheap player that they control for a number of years. Last year, he led the team in WAR (tied with Jason Kipnis) and those two could basically be considered the team’s most valuable players in 2012. I really think we haven’t seen the best of what Santana has to offer at this point. Plus if he’s gone, who catches for the Indians? Lou Marson? Yan Gomes? If you trade Santana, then you’re looking for a catcher, and you’re missing out on an impact bat, something the Indians farm system seems to lack. (With the possible exception of Jesus Aguilar).
3. Chris Perez. He should net a decent return and Vinnie Pestano could step into his place as closer. I have no problem with trading Chris Perez, or with keeping him; despite his somewhat controversial public comments I don’t dislike him. However, I just want to make sure the Indians look to trade him in a seller’s market. For example, there were rumors they were looking to trade Perez last offseason. It’s not as if I thought it was an overall poor idea to deal Perez, but the closers market was flooded last winter. I don’t think they could have gotten the best deal possible. I think this offseason may be more of a seller’s market, and if they get a good offer they should probably jump on it.
4. Shin-Soo Choo. His reasoning – Choo won’t be coming back after this season with Scott Boras as an agent, and the Indians may be able to get more for him during the offseason, than at the trade deadline. I would agree with this assessment – if the Indians get a good offer during the offseason, there’s no reason they should hold onto Choo. However, they would need to have some kind of plan in place if they trade him, unless there is an outfielder somehow involved in the deal. It wouldn’t be fun to watch a revolving door in both left field and right field next season.
5. Justin Masterson. There may be interest with the Red Sox and Cubs, and may net a decent return for the Indians. I don’t disagree with a Masterson trade in theory; it’s just that I wonder what return the Indians would get after he had such a bad season. While they were definitely selling high on Esmil Rogers, this would be the ultimate selling low scenario. Maybe there are teams willing to overlook last season’s performance, and view it as an anomaly, rather than the norm.
Out of those five suggested trades, there is really only one I completely disagree with, and several others I just question the timing and the potential amount of return.
If you take a look at Oakland, here are some of the notable moves they made last offseason:
December 9, 2011 – Traded RHP Trevor Cahill, LHP Craig Breslow, and cash to the Arizona Diamondbacks for RHP Jarrod Parker, RHP Ryan Cook, and outfielder Collin Cowgill. Parker went 13-8 with a 3.47 ERA and 1.263 WHIP; his WAR of 3.8 led all A’s pitchers in 2012. Ryan Cook went 6-2 with a 2.09 ERA and 0.941 WHIP; his 2.6 WAR was tied with Bartolo Colon for the second highest among pitchers on the Athletics.
December 23, 2011 – Traded LHP Gio Gonzalez and RHP Robert Gilliams to the Washington Nationals for catcher Derek Norris, RHP A.J. Cole, RHP Brad Peacock, and LHP Tommy Milone. In 2012 Milone went 13-10 with a 3.74 ERA and 1.279 WHIP; his 2.0 WAR was tied for fifth among A’s pitchers with Brandon McCarthy.
December 28, 2011 – Traded RHP Andrew Bailey and outfielder Ryan Sweeney to the Red Sox for outfielder Josh Reddick, 1B Miles Head, and RHP Raul Alcantara. Reddick had a 4.5 WAR, the highest total of any offensive player (and any player in general) on the A’s roster, all for a salary of less than $500,000. Great production at a low cost, especially considering that Bailey spent much of the season on the DL.
February 13, 2012 – Signed Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes to a four-year/$36 million contract. Even though he had a few injury issues this year, Cespedes still had almost 500 at-bats and hit .292/.356/.505 with 23 home runs. I know that he was viewed as a somewhat unknown quantity since he had yet to play in the United States, but Cespedes had a great year and helped propel the A’s to the playoffs. A lot of Indians fans have expressed frustration that the Indians wouldn’t give Josh Willingham a deal, but I wish they would’ve gone for Cespedes (it was rumored that they had interest at one point). But let’s be honest here – if the Indians were unwilling to give Willingham three years and $21 million, there was no way they were handing out this kind of money to Cespedes. He was a good move for Oakland though – his 3.4 WAR was the second highest total on the team.
Oakland was ranked 14th out of all 30 MLB teams in offense (the Indians were 22nd) and 6th out of 30 in team pitching (the Indians were 29th). Even though the A’s traded away some of their strong pitching, they were able to get more good pitching in return. As a comparison to the 2011 season, the Indians were ranked 16 out of 30 in offense, while the A’s were ranked 20th. The Indians’ pitching staff was ranked 23 out of 30, while the A’s staff was ranked 10th. For the Indians to model the success of the A’s, they would have to get a mix of players that are major league-ready (or extremely close) and promising prospects. They can’t afford to make more mistakes along the lines of Matt LaPorta or Jason Knapp. As one commenter mentioned recently, the fans could rebel if the Indians traded a significant amount of players this offseason. They need to find a way to improve though, and need to take whatever course of action is necessary.