Now that the Cleveland Indians have hired Terry Francona to manage their team it’s time for the new direction of the franchise to take shape. Certainly they will listen to offers on players like Shin-Soo Choo, Chris Perez, and Justin Masterson as they begin on their likely rebuilding project, but nobody on the current roster would be more valuable in a trade than shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera.
Cabrera, who will turn 27 next month, finished 2012 hitting .270/.338/.423 with 16 home runs 70 RBI, and a wRC+ of 112. Despite Cabrera’s poor UZR/150 of -10.7, he is widely regarded as a capable shortstop, albeit one who may struggle to maintain his focus at the position. He’s got two years left on a three-year contract extension he signed last winter, which will pay him $6.5 million in 2013 and $10 million in 2014.
Teams shopping for a shortstop this winter will be hard pressed to find help on the free agent market. The Oakland Athletics may decline the $11 million option on Stephen Drew, making him a free agent, but after Drew the talent drops off to the likes of Ronnie Cedeno, Alex Gonzalez, Jason Bartlett, and Cesar Izturis. The most attractive trade candidate at the position will be Elvis Andrus, prying him away from the Rangers will come at a tremendous cost.
This brings us back to Asdrubal Cabrera, who has a favorable contract, is a switch-hitter, and can be obtained for less than what a team would have to give up for Andrus. The Indians may be inclined to hold onto him and put their best team forward for new manager Terry Francona in 2013; certainly the organization would be hard pressed to replace his production as Juan Diaz, Jason Donald, and Brent Lillibridge are the only options from the 25-man roster and the upper levels of the minors.
If the Indians were to trade Cabrera there are five organizations that could be possible trade partners: the Boston Red Sox, the New York Mets, the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Arizona Diamondbacks, and the San Francisco Giants. Two other teams that may need a shortstop (pending organizational decisions) are the Oakland A’s (Drew) and the Tampa Bay Rays (Ben Zobrist). Neither organization is included in the list of trade partners because their organizational models do not fit giving up young prospects for a player with only two years of team control left.
The Red Sox have internal options at shortstop including Jose Iglesias, Pedro Ciriaco, and Mike Aviles, but each player is limited. Iglesias has a major-league ready glove but lacks adding any punch with the bat, Pedro Ciriaco had spurts where he proved he could hit major league pitching but is not considered as an everyday option at the position, and Avila may be better suited to be a role player. They have the necessary prospects who could be packaged in a return to the Tribe, including pitchers Allen Webster, Rubby De La Rosa, and Matt Barnes, infielder Xander Bogaerts (most likely a third baseman or a left fielder as he fills out)and outfielder Jackie Bradley.
The Mets’ offense struggled mightily in 2012, finishing 12th in the National League in runs scored (650) and ending up below league average in nearly every offensive category. Cabrera would certainly be an upgrade over Ruben Tejada, who lacks any punch as (he hit only one home run and had a slugged .351). The Mets have the type of prospects that would intrigue the Indians, including pitchers Zach Wheeler and Matt Harvey, infielder Wilmer Flores, and outfielder Brandon Nimmo.
The Pittsburgh Pirates collapsed for the second year in a row and GM Neil Huntington will be under the gun this offseason to add punch to a lineup that finished 10th in the NL in runs scored (651), 14th in batting average (.243) and on-base percentage (.304), and were below-average in slugging percentage (.395). Clint Barmes was the Pirates everyday shortstop in 2012 and put up a dismal slash line of .229/.272/.321. The Pirates will be hesitant to trade their top prospects, but at some point the building of the farm has to equate to wins on the field and adding Cabrera to the mix for the next two years could go a long way to saving Neil Huntington’s job in Pittsburgh. The Pirates have six of MLB.com’s updated top 100 prospects which includes pitchers Garret Cole, Jameson Taillon, and Luis Heredia, outfielder Starling Marte, shortstop Alex Hanson, and outfielder Gregory Polanco. The Pirates also may be willing to risk a lower level prospect or two since they have two first-round picks in the 2013 draft.
Like the Mets and Pirates, the Diamondbacks will be looking for more offense in the offseason. When Drew was dealt to the Oakland A’s in late August, Willie Bloomquist and John McDonald were left as the primary options at the position for 2013. In his comments to the media following the season GM Kevin Towers said that the left side of the infield is the organization’s top priority and that improvement would likely come via a trade. The Diamondbacks have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to top pitching prospects, including Trevor Bauer, Tyler Skaggs, Andrew Chafin, Archie Bradley, and Patrick Corbin. Also, the Indians’ answer to a right-handed bat at first base could be corner infielder Matt Davidson, who hit .267/.367/.469 with 23 homers at Double-A Mobile.
The Giants will have to replace the production provided by Melky Cabrera and one area that they could upgrade is Brandon Crawford at shortstop. Crawford is known for his glove but hit just .248/.304/.349 with a 76 wRC+ in 2012. San Francisco’s minor league system has a blend of pitching and hitting including outfielder Gary Brown, and Francisco Peguero, catcher Tommy Joseph, shortstop Joe Panik, and pitchers Kyle Crick and Clayton Blackburn.
The Indians would hold the upper hand in any trade dialogues with any of these teams but each organization has the type of players in the farm system that may appeal to the Tribe. Francisco Lindor may be a few years away from the majors and the Indians will have to be creative in finding a shortstop until he is ready. By trading Cabrera the Indians may obtain several high ceiling prospects and have an additional $16.5 million to spread around the roster over the next couple years.
I’d like to see the Indians trade Cabrera for a package of promising prospects: a future top-of-the-rotation arm, a promising middle-of-the order bat, and an additional low level minor leaguer with a high ceiling. It’s a lot to ask for, but the Indians are offering a premium player with two years of control at a reasonable cost. It’s time to get some other team to mortgage the future.