For the last few weeks there have been whisperings that the Cleveland Indians might trade closer Chris Perez if they fall out of the pennant race before the deadline. Even if they end up buying (or at least not totally selling), Perez would still be an intriguing trade chip; we suggested last week that the Indians and Angels could line up in a Perez-for-Peter Bourjos deal that would make sense regardless of the Tribe’s 2012 plans.
But on Monday—just after the Indians had slipped below .500—we heard perhaps the first concrete rumor (though I suppose that’s an oxymoron) about a potential Perez deal. While there’s no evidence that talks have begun or even that Cleveland would consider trading him, the San Francisco Giants are reportedly interested in the Tribe’s closer.
Perez would seem to be a good fit for San Francisco. Popular closer
and Beach Boys frontman Brian Wilson is out for the season and Guillermo Mota‘s suspension has further weakened the Giants’ bullpen; their current closer, Santiago Casilla, has a career BB/9 rate of 4.3 and owns a 4.23 FIP on the year. Plus, San Francisco fans would feel right at home rooting for a passionate, outspoken fireman with a penchant for facial hair.
Who might the Giants give up in return? On the one hand, the Giants are in it to win it and won’t want to give up a real impact player with the Dodgers hot on their heels in the NL West. But Perez would probably be the best relief pitcher on the market, and San Francisco presumably wouldn’t be the only team interested. The Indians might not demand a star in return, they’ll need at least one MLB-ready contributor who can help the club in the years to come.
So what would it take for this deal to work? My proposal: Brandon Belt.
Belt, a 24-year-old first baseman from University of Texas, was considered one of the best prospects in the game just a year ago (Baseball America ranked him No. 23 on their 2011 preseason list). He owns a .228/.325/.392 triple-slash with 13 home runs, 49 RBI, and 1.4 fWAR in 467 plate appearances split roughly evenly between 2011 and 2012. Though his power has dipped a bit this year, he still has some oomph in his bat to go along with his Carlos Santana-esque 14.3% walk rate. According to wRC+ he’s been roughly a league-average hitter, and he’s no slouch in the field.
Why would the Giants give him up? Well, they don’t use him much anyway. Belt has started only 57 games for San Francisco this year, and the franchise has a reputation among #FreeBrandonBelt supporters around the blogosphere for underestimating him. The Giants are in it to win it this year, and based on their usage of him so far this season they clearly see Belt as replaceable. Common sense says that a position player has a greater impact than a pitcher who throws one inning every couple days, but that may not be the case for San Francisco.
Meanwhile, Belt would be a good fit for Cleveland—in fact, we speculated that he might be on the team’s radar as long ago as December. While there are some interesting candidates in the minors, the Tribe has no clear heir apparent at first base. Belt would be an immediate upgrade over Casey Kotchman, and he’s under team control through 2017 so he could hold down the fort long-term. He’s not a right-handed bat, but if the Indians really cared that much about handedness they’d call up Matt LaPorta or give Shelley Duncan a real chance. A high-ceiling player at a position where they lack star power would surely suffice.
Admittedly this trade would be unlikely. The Giants would surely be “mortgaging the future” by dealing Belt for a reliever, and it’s unclear that they’re willing to go that far. On the other hand, given the number of question marks already on their roster the Indians might prefer a safer, more proven player in return for Perez. And if the Angels are serious about shopping Peter Bourjos for a quality relief pitcher, the Giants probably wouldn’t be able to beat the Halos’ offer. Still, if the Giants really are in on Perez then I’d say this proposal is well within the realm of possibility.
A Belt-for-Perez deal would be a risky move for both sides, and the Indians and Giants probably have better ways to allocate their resources in the week before the non-waiver trade deadline. But if the Giants are desperate for relief help as they bulk up for the pennant run and the Indians are moved to move their closer, this trade might actually work.