Rob Vaughan and Stephanie Liscio decided to split the classic “buy or sell” debate with the Indians. Rob makes a case for the Indians as buyers, while Stephanie argues that they should just go ahead and sell.
Rob: The Indians Should Go For It
With the trade deadline forthcoming, my strategy is for the Indians to “go for it” and build for both this year and the future. The Indians need to make trades that make sense…and make cents.
Cleveland Indians management—in my humble opinion—has taken some very harsh criticism during the Dolan Administration. I have been a staunch advocate for Tribe President Mark Shapiro and General Manager Chris Antonetti and still stand firm that they are dealt constant challenges, given the Dolans’ restrictions on payroll, middle-market status as a MLB team, and limitations on money spent on international player development and signings.
Shapiro and Antonetti have made some strong moves, bringing in Yan Gomes, Mike Aviles, David Murphy, Ryan Raburn, and Scott Kazmir, just to name a few. Unfortunately, their two largest-dollar signings—Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn—have been very difficult for the Tribe, given poor performance, frequent injuries, and unexpected inconsistencies. Brohio and Bourn came to the Tribe with strong, consistent track records; their respective numbers during their seasons 3-4 years before signing in Cleveland were admirable and their successes truly justified large multi-year contracts…maybe not quite the dollars they got from the Indians, but still deserving of big-dollar, long-term deals. Sadly, both players have been shadows of the former strong contributors they used to be, underperforming significantly and now serving as large albatross contracts on the Wahoo depth chart.
That is not the total fault of Shapiro and Antonetti, rather it is atrocious luck and has yielded frustrating results, given poor timing for weak production from high-dollar players during an era where young talent on the club is very strong. You could argue that even if Bourn and Swisher had performed (up until now) at 80% of their expected “Value at Time of Signing”, then the Indians would be significantly greater contenders 3 years running now. Even though these signings have had negative impacts on wins and losses, it is now the job of upper level management to retool the roster and attempt to do whatever possible to unload one or both of those contracts and acquire strong talent, even if that also requires the Tribe to move additional assets that they prefer to keep!
Bottom line: With a limited mid-market budget, when the Indians DO spend big money during the game of free agent roulette, they must hit big. Recently—with Swisher and Bourn—they have not hit big, so now they are forced to rectify those mistakes and make moves. With my proposed trades, I’ve succumbed to the fact that Swisher’s contract and health issues are too large (and difficult) to move in a trade. The following are trade options that I believe are realistic “chance to help both teams” scenarios that fit within the Indians budget restrictions and line of thinking. These proposed trades help the Tribe in terms of talent acquisition and in development of payroll flexibility to make future moves. Even if these trades don’t propel the Indians into the 2015 Playoffs, then either one would set them up nicely for a more productive season in 2016:
**Trade #1: Carlos Carrasco, Michael Bourn, Jose Ramirez, and Lonnie Chisenhall for Yasiel Puig
The Analysis: The Tribe needs a bat…a power right-handed bat would be even more of a plus. Yasiel Puig has a Tribe-type contract, as he’s locked into a friendly 7 yr/$42 million deal; this is utopian for the Indians. Puig has not been as effective as last year—mainly due to injury—but he is a 5-tool player with an elite skill set. He would frustrate fans with his aloof nature from time to time, much like a guy we know named Ramirez who played RF in Cleveland, but Puig’s power numbers, excellent speed, rocket throwing arm, and confident demeanor would be an incredible boost to the Tribe lineup.
The Dodgers have so much outfield depth with rookie phenom Joc Pederson, versatile Scott Van Slyke, proven veteran Andre Ethier, and even Carl Crawford (currently on the DL). They covet starting pitching a depth, have little payroll restriction, and are in “win now” mode. Carrasco would give them great presence as their #3 or #4 starter. Ramirez gives the Dodgers versatile defense & youth with strong upside, especially with Jimmy Rollins on the decline. Bourn gives them a 4th outfielder, pinch runner off the bench, strong defense, and National League-style player…his skill set is better-suited for the National League and the aforementioned role may really suit him well on a contending NL team. Chisenhall gives them youth and upside and the ability to play multiple positions as well. The Dodgers may want a young pitcher (think Double A level) instead of Chisenhall or Ramirez, and the Indians should do that without hesitation.
This trade dumps Bourn’s albatross contract (HALLELUJAH), gives the Tribe a high-upside, superb young player and power bat they so desperately need in Puig, and also gives the front office more salary flexibility heading into the offseason. Would the Tribe be giving up a lot? Yes, but, since they have limited “star prospect” minor league assets to offer in a trade, they must be willing to deal from a position of strength (starting pitching) in order to fill improve offensively. Carrasco is one of my favorites—I would truly hate to see him go—but, due to his inconsistencies, I would rather trade Carrrasco than Bauer or Salazar.
**Trade #2: Cody Anderson, Michael Bourn, Tyler Naquin, and Roberto Perez for Carlos Gomez
Again, giving up a lot here? Yep. But let’s dissect further. Love Roberto Perez, but the Tribe is more than content with Yan Gomes at the helm and Milwaukee’s Jonathan LuCroy has been weak at catcher after his injuries. Naquin is the type of top prospect you need to give up to get a star like Carlos Gomez. Cody Anderson has been magnificent in his first few starts. Billy Traber and Jaret Wright were too and what did they become? You must give up talent to get talent.
Again, with this trade, the Tribe is forcing the opponent to take on Bourn’s salary, while acquiring significant talent as well. The Indians would control Gomez for this year and all of 2016, before he’s a free agent. He is an elite player: Large power and stolen base numbers, great glove in CF, total “energy guy”, and would plug in nicely anywhere in the top four spots of the batting order. He’s also in his prime at 29 years old.
Only Two Trades? I’m not going to write an article with 10 potential trade scenarios, because normally when I see those articles, 7 of the trades are absurd and aren’t even a fit. These two trades makes sense (and make cents) for the Indians.
Stephanie: The Indians Should Throw in the Towel and Sell
When it comes to selecting either “buy” or “sell” for the 2015 Indians, I’m really tempted to select a third option – “shoot them all out of a cannon.” Because while this Indians team hasn’t been exceptionally bad, they have been exceptionally annoying. Maybe it’s the high expectations I had coming into the season, maybe it’s the fact that I know that this team can play better than what we’ve seen so far. On one hand, there’s really no place to go but up during the second half. On the other hand, the Indians are dead last in the AL Central (tied with the White Sox), 11 games out of first place. Even though they’re just 5.5 games back from the second wild card, there are six teams ahead of them (and they’re tied with two others – the White Sox and the Rangers). The worst team in the AL, the Oakland Athletics, are just 2.5 games behind the Indians. At this point, there are just too many teams to leap frog; it’s time to sell.
There’s both good and bad news when it comes to the Indians selling assets. The good news is that the majority of their young, core players are signed to long-term reasonable contracts. While you don’t mess with any of those, there are players you could trade. Brandon Moss, David Murphy, Ryan Raburn, and Mike Aviles are all people on reasonable (and soon expiring) contracts that a contender may want to snag. The Indians managed to flip half a season of Austin Kearns for Zach McAllister, so they could still manage a decent return for any of those players.
Moss has had decent power numbers this season, but has barely been above replacement level so far. He’s being paid $6.5 million this year, a reasonable sum that even a cash strapped team could handle. Moss will be eligible for arbitration next year, and could be a free agent as soon as 2017. Since he probably won’t be staying in Cleveland long term, go ahead and flip him for something of value. Murphy, having a resurgent year, is signed to a $6 million deal this year. He could be a tempting left-handed bat for a contender, and also has a $7 million team option for 2016 (with a $500,000 buyout). Another player with a strong comeback year is Raburn, who is signed to a $2.5 million deal this year, with a $3 million team option for 2016 (with a $100,000 buyout). While I don’t think the Indians would trade Aviles with all that his family has been through this year, his contract is up at the end of 2015 and he’s making just $3.5 million this year. He could be a valuable utility piece for a team.
While it would be painful to see Murphy and Raburn go, since they’ve been two of the stronger offensive pieces this year, the team wouldn’t even see much of a hit from the loss of Moss and Aviles. After those players, you could also consider moving guys like Jose Ramirez, Lonnie Chisenhall, and Roberto Perez; Ramirez and Perez would probably draw a great deal of interest. However, I hate to part with Ramirez (who I think could find success as a utility infielder) and really hate to part with such a strong backup in Perez. With Chisenhall’s rough season and demotion, he probably wouldn’t draw much interest; the Indians would basically have to give him away.
The real elephants in the room are Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn. Even though 2016 is the last year of their contracts, they’re still making $14 million (Bourn) and $15 million (Swisher) next year. A team would maybe take a flyer on one of them if the Indians ate most of their salary, but that’s a lot of money to essentially flush down the toilet. It sounds like the Indians almost found a trade partner for Swisher in the Atlanta Braves – who was looking to offload the disappointing contract of 1B/3B Chris Johnson. Swisher will make almost four million dollars more than Johnson for the rest of 2015, and is set to earn $15 million in 2016 and has a vesting $14 million option for 2017 (vests with 550 plate appearances in 2016, plus a passed physical). Johnson is set to make $7.5 million next year, and $9 million in 2017, with a $10 million option for 2018 (with a $1 million buyout). It sounds as if the Indians and Braves were unable to come to terms on the salary differences between the two. Johnson is hitting .252/.294/.333 (below replacement level) but has a career line of .281/.318/.415. Swisher (in very limited action) is hitting .198/.261/.297.
Michael Bourn has also been below replacement level this year, and could be replaced by someone like Tyler Holt without much detriment to the team. The only chance that the Indians may have is to eat some salary, and find an NL team willing to take a chance. It’s obviously a very limited sample size, but Bourn is hitting .320/.414/.440 against NL teams this year, and .304/.360/.552 against the NL in 2014. He’s never settled into the AL, but it would be almost impossible to find someone willing to roll the dice (without taking on an equally bad contract).
The Indians could be sellers without even having a fire sale. Perhaps they even both buy and sell; they could lose a few assets and attempt to fill a few holes. The big albatrosses around their neck, the contracts of Swisher and Bourn, probably aren’t going anywhere. So the next time someone rants and raves about how the Indians are cheap, remind them of the time they weren’t cheap; we’ve been waiting for years to get out from under these contracts. I still don’t think a bad deal that’s four years or shorter is catastrophic to a team, but it can still negatively impact them. Unless you can find someone more gullible than you, you’re stuck with the player until the deal is complete.