The Derek Lowe deal showed that the Cleveland Indians are not planning to be passive this offseason. As the team eyes a serious run at the playoffs in 2012, the Tribe will likely make more deals before the start of spring training.
We can only speculate about who the Indians will target, but we have a good idea of who they’ll be willing to offer in a deal. Here are a few players who will likely come up in trade talks this winter.
Despite a pitiful showing in his 35 games in Cleveland—he hit .155/.241/.255—Phelps, 24, still has plenty of value; at worst, he’s an above-average utility man. The Indians can point to Phelps’ .189 BABIP to explain his poor showing in the majors, and his quality minor league track record suggests he’ll rebound given the chance.
That tiny 35-game sample shouldn’t scare teams away, and there are a fair amount of contenders in need of middle infield help (the San Francisco Giants, for example) where the versatile Phelps would be a perfect fit.
Jason Donald: If teams aren’t interested in Phelps, Donald’s name could pop up as an alternative. Currently slated to be the utility man in Cleveland, Donald could interest some teams with a thin bench at some point this offseason.
Donald doesn’t have as much offensive upside as Phelps, but already has major league experience and could thus be considered a safer player to acquire. Last year he slashed .318/.364/.402 in 39 games after coming back from a broken hand. Unfortunately, just as Phelps’ 35-game sample was ruined by BABIP, Donald’s was inflated by an unsustainable .423 hit rate.
Cleveland has strong depth in the middle infield—Kipnis and Asdrubal Cabrera are pencilled in as starters for the next few years (assuming Cabrera doesn’t move to the outfield), and the Indians have quite a few respectable backups—so they could afford to deal Donald.
Luis Valbuena: Valbuena seems to be lost and forgotten in Cleveland after the rise of Kipnis (as well as his own struggles). Despite tearing it up at Triple-A to the tune of a .302/.372/.476 triple-slash, Valbuena once again failed to produce at the major league level, hitting just .209/.227/.279. This was only a 17-game sample, but he didn’t seem to have made any improvement after his horrid 2010 performance (.193/.273/.258 in 91 games).
Still, Valbuena’s ability to mash Triple-A pitching might be enough to entice some team to take a shot at him, though at this point he seems like the quintessential Quad-A player.
Trevor Crowe: A former first-round pick, Crowe is defensively versatile enough to be a quality fourth outfielder, which will give him some value in a trade. In 2010, his only real taste of MLB action to date, he showed good speed with 20 steals, but didn’t get on base enough to fully use it (.303 OBP).
Since Crowe is likely destined to be a fourth outfielder, his defensive prowess is important. Crowe mostly played 68 games in center field in 2010 and 48 games in left. The sample was way too small to draw any meaningful conclusions, but for what it’s worth he had a 23.9 UZR/150 in left. However, UZR hated his defense in center: he had a -35.9 UZR/150 there, though again that should be taken with a pretty big grain of salt. Crowe also has some experience in right.
Jeanmar Gomez: Used primarily as the Tribe’s spot starter, Gomez has shown the potential to be a solid rotation filler, but in 22 career starts thus far he hasn’t been completely effective as evidenced by his 87 ERA+. Given the stability of a full-time starting job, though, Gomez might be able to be pitch well more consistently.
David Huff: Another former first-round pick who couldn’t live up to the billing, Huff finally looked like he knew what he was doing on the mound in 2011. After abysmal showings in 2009 and 2010, Huff spent over half the season at Triple-A before being called up again for another shot. Right away he looked like a different pitcher, thanks in large part to a cutter he added to his arsenal. Huff ended the season as a league-average starter with a 4.09 ERA and a 98 ERA+.
As a southpaw, Huff has added value if he can stay in the rotation full time. If Huff continues to pitch the way he does, he could be tantalizing trade bait to a team hoping to add a left-handed starter.
Bryce Stowell/Chen Lee/Zach Putnam: If the Indians make a trade at some point this offseason, expect them to include one of their bullpen arms in the deal. The most likely suspects are the crown jewels of Columbus’ bullpen—Stowell, Lee, or Putnam. All three relievers have back-end bullpen potential. If the Indians want to upgrade their roster, they’ll likely use their bullpen depth and trade one of these arms to fix a hole in the depth chart.