The week of the trade deadline – always full of rumors and “mystery teams.” It’s changed a bit over the past couple of years with the introduction of the second wild card spot. Since more teams are theoretically still in contention (even if the playoffs may be a long shot for them) there is a greater degree of competition between buying teams. Others may hold off for now, waiting until the waiver trade deadline at the end of August. While their odds may be a bit foggy now, they can hope for a bit more clarity a month from now.
I’m a bit torn right now as to what the Indians should do. They’ve looked very bad at times this season (like last weekend), and certainly do not scream “playoff contender” when you watch their games. Despite that, they’re still only 6.5 games out in the AL Central, and just 3.5 back in the wild card. That’s not a deficit that automatically makes me want to throw in the towel. At the same time, I don’t feel comfortable with them pulling out all of the stops and overpaying for a number of rentals. It’s a tricky spot right now; they may fall into the “wait until August” category for me.
The Indians may not want to sit around idle until that time though, so lets look at some of the moves they could/should consider if they are buyers, or if they’re sellers.
To be honest, there are only a few pieces that I think they Indians could hope to successfully sell to a contender – Justin Masterson, Asdrubal Cabrera, David Murphy, John Axford, and Scott Atchison. With the rest of the roster, I think it’s either a case of “no, you should hang onto those guys,” or “nobody would even want them, so why pretend?” Because I keep seeing people say things like “we should package up Nick Swisher and Ryan Raburn for someone!” Guess what? The other teams have also watched these guys play this season, and are not going to get fooled into a trade that you wouldn’t even make on your fantasy baseball team. I honestly didn’t think anyone would still want Masterson and Cabrera, but supposedly they’re drawing a bit of interest. Murphy is inked to a relatively team-friendly deal, that may make him appealing to a few teams. With teams desperate for bullpen help, you could see someone having a slight bit of interest in Atchison and Axford (although, more so Atchison). I would almost be tempted to put Axford in the Swisher-Raburn reject bin, but it sounds like he may have some appeal to certain teams.
The only bad thing with the above names – nobody is likely to offer that much in return for any of these guys. However with Masterson and Cabrera, if they’re offering *anything* they might as well take it. At the beginning of the season, I figured the team would hold onto these two through the end of the season. Then they’d make a qualifying offer to one or both of them (at least Masterson) and would then receive the compensatory draft pick. Cabrera and Masterson have been so bad this year though, I don’t think you can even safely make them a qualifying offer at this point. I mean, unless you truly don’t mind them saying yes and accepting it. Because I could see either of these guys thinking that a one-year deal may give them a chance to rebuild their value. A qualifying offer was worth around $14 million last offseason, and the price is likely to rise this offseason. So I don’t think $14 million+ is worth it for either of these players, even on a one-year deal. So it may be the safest bet to just take whatever is offered and run for it. Otherwise, you may end up with nothing.
This category is a bit more tricky for the Indians, I think. They’ve said that if they trade for someone, they’d like it to be someone that is signed beyond this season…so anyone but a half-season rental. If you look at the elite pitchers that have been discussed on the trade market, like David Price and John Lester, you may need to offer the farm to get them (even though you’re only talking a two-month rental with Lester). A team like the Cardinals could easily put together a large prospect package and it still not put that big of a dent in their system. It could really cripple the Indians in the very near future if they have to give up several top prospects…they’re still working to rebuild and improve their farm system. One of the rumors I saw, involved David Price going to the Indians, with the Rays getting at least two of (if not all three) Francisco Lindor, Danny Salazar, and Carlos Santana. Price is a phenomenal talent, and I’d love to see him pitching in an Indians uniform. However, unless you can convince him to sign an extension as part of the trade, that is way too much to give up for a season and two extra months. Plus I don’t think the Indians are a team that is missing just one piece…they could use several pieces. Because you spent so much on Price, there may not be much else you could do. Ultimately though, I think Price stays in Tampa for now (at least through the end of the 2014 season).
A few of the other names that have been mentioned as possibilities for the Indians are John Danks, Matt Kemp, Bartolo Colon, Marlon Byrd, and Cliff Lee. With some of these guys, there have been rumors that the Indians are interested. In some cases, I think they were just mentioned as “hey, these guys might work with the Indians.” Each of these names comes with problems and questions though – Kemp has a huge salary and has had trouble with injuries. The Dodgers would have to eat a large percentage of his contract, and they may not be willing to do so. A DH spot may help Kemp from a physical standpoint though. Byrd has put together a decent year in Philly (and was pivotal to the Pirates’ stretch run last season) but he’s signed through 2015 at $8 million, plus he has a vesting $8 million option for 2016 that is based on plate appearances. I just don’t think at 36-years-old (he’ll turn 37 next month) he’s worth that kind of money. Lee has had problems with injuries this year, and is also drawing a huge salary that may make him too costly to be picked up by a small-market team like the Indians. Colon is 41, and is not putting together a season that is quite as good as 2012 or 2013 with Oakland. Danks is a decent enough option, but first you’d have to hope that the White Sox are willing to trade within the division. If you get past that hurdle, he’s had his share of problems on the mound this year, and is set to make $14,250,000 per year in both 2015 and 2016. Is he worth the price tag?
As you can gather from what I wrote above, there are no fantastic slam-dunk options for the Indians, whether or not they’re buyers or sellers. Last week, I saw a fan seriously propose sending Asdrubal Cabrera to the Giants (this proposal is okay so far, the Giants supposedly have interest). Then the Giants send a random player to the Rockies, then the Rockies send Troy Tulowitzki to Cleveland. They were basically trying to rationalize two months of Asdrubal Cabrera = Troy Tulowitzki, and they didn’t seem to realize that this is absurd for almost all involved parties (except for the Indians). The Indians could always hope to fleece someone, along the lines of the Eduardo Perez and Ben Broussard trades bringing Cabrera and Shin Soo Choo to Cleveland, but they’re not going to be able to fleece someone of a current superstar. You’d be selling low on any of these guys, and at this point would have to settle for whatever you could get.