No, Indians Won't Trade for Carl Crawford and John Lackey

I consider myself fairly open-minded when it comes to ideas about transactions MLB teams could make. Even if I don’t think an idea is likely to happen I like to give it some thought, and I’m usually the last one to dismiss a deal as impossible. Heck, I wanted the Indians to sign Adam Dunn last winter (oops) and trade for Jose Reyes this summer.

That being said, I can’t bring myself to think that the deal the News-Herald‘s Jim Ingraham suggested the Indians make Wednesday is either possible or desirable. Citing the turmoil in the Red Sox organization after their historic September collapse—”There’s blood in the water in Boston,” he writes—Ingraham thinks the Indians should trade for Carl Crawford and John Lackey.

It’s an interesting idea, but don’t get your hopes up, Tribe fans: it would be all but impossible for Cleveland to work out such a deal with the Red Sox.

Let’s get this out of the way first: there is no way, and I mean no way Cleveland could afford to take on Crawford and Lackey’s contracts. Counting the bonus Lackey would receive if he were traded, the two have $168.25 million left on their contracts. Considering that the Indians’ combined 2010-11 Opening Day payrolls—i.e., two years’ worth of the whole roster’s salaries—totaled $110.9 million, I’d say that’s pretty much a dealbreaker right there. Even if the Red Sox were willing to eat a full half of their salaries, the Indians would still be making a financial commitment greater than that they have made for any single season’s payroll in the last 10 years.

But putting money aside, is this a deal the Indians would actually want to make? Here’s Ingraham’s argument for their acquiring Lackey:

Prior to Boston, Lackey was one of the best pitchers in the American League. In his last five years with the Angels, he was 69-38 with a 3.49 ERA. That includes 19 wins and an AL-leading 3.01 ERA in 2007. (…)

Lackey’s ERA in six career starts at Progressive Field is 2.79, which is his lowest ERA in any ballpark in which he’s had more than three starts.

Essentially, Ingraham is brushing aside Lackey’s struggles in Boston over the last two seasons, which you can’t really do. (He blames Fenway Park; given that Lackey’s strikeout and walk numbers have declined and he actually had a slightly better ERA at home in 2010 than he did on the road, I disagree.) His 2007 numbers are nice, but they’re an awfully long time ago—Fausto Carmona was a Cy Young candidate that year. As for his Progressive Field ERA, six starts is an awfully small sample size, plus he hasn’t pitched in Cleveland since 2009.

There is a more nuanced and convincing argument to be made (and this is, I think, what Ingraham is getting at) that Lackey is due for a rebound of some sort—after all, his ERA was almost two full runs higher than his SIERA this year—but expecting a return to his 2007 or even 2008-9 form seems overly optimistic.

As for Crawford, Ingraham also blames Fenway for his down year, but again that’s overly simplistic. Looking at Crawford’s peripherals, the root causes of his down year were worse strikeout and walk rates and a lower BABIP; given that his batted-ball profile this year was virtually identical to his norm, I’d say the problems were diminished plate discipline and bad luck. I’m not sure what either of those factors has to do with Fenway, especially since it’s generally considered a hitter’s park.

Both are solid buy-low candidates who will almost definitely be better next year than in 2011, but unfortunately the Indians wouldn’t be the only ones who think so. Even without Theo Epstein the Red Sox have one of the best front offices in the game, and they wouldn’t give up on Lackey and Crawford this quickly. If they were able to unload Lackey’s full contract on another team they wouldn’t be in a position to demand much in return. But to get Boston to eat the, say, $100 million it would take for Cleveland to even be capable of taking him and Crawford on, they would need an extremely compelling package in return—it would probably take something along the lines of Jason Kipnis or Lonnie Chisenhall just to get the conversation going.

It’s an intriguing idea, and if the Indians were a larger-market team it would definitely be worth Chris Antonetti’s while to at least give Ben Cherington a call. But Ingraham’s analysis is based on statistics that don’t really mean much and the assumption that the Red Sox could make an extremely reactionary move, and given the Tribe’s payroll limitations I don’t see a way for this deal to happen.

Tags: Boston Red Sox Carl Crawford Cleveland Indians John Lackey

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