The first trade salvo of the offseason was fired on Saturday as the Miami Marlins, Arizona Diamondbacks and Oakland A’s completed a three-team deal that sent Miami reliever Heath Bell and Oakland infielder Cliff Pennington to Arizona, Oakland minor-leaguer Yordy Cabrera to Miami, and Arizona outfielder Chris Young to Oakland. Some cash also exchanged hands, but really this was about Miami trying to get out from as much of Bell’s terrible contract as they could (Miami saved about $13 million in the deal).
However, as each team was basically trading its spare junk, this should be of mild interest to Indians fans that Oakland added Young to their already-impressive stable of pretty good outfielders. Yoenis Cespedes, Josh Reddick, Coco Crisp are all under contract for the A’s next year and Seth Smith is eligible for arbitration, plus the team has interest in retaining impending free agent Jonny Gomes. Add it all up and Oakland has at the least five competent outfielders for Oakland to choose from, possibly six if Gomes is re-signed. In other words, someone else besides Gomes will probably be traded.
Given that Athletics GM Billy Beane has never considered any player “untouchable” and is often willing to be risky and creative in his trades, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that any of the six outfielders, including the recently acquired Young, could be traded before the start of of the season. For now, it seems like Coco Crisp and his $7 million 2013 salary ($7.5 million option in 2014) are the most likely to be moved.
Why should this interest Cleveland fans? Well, even if you assume that rightfielder Shin-Soo Choo isn’t traded this offseason (and doubly so if he is), the Indians could really use another productive outfielder. Michael Brantley took a huge leap forward this year, solidifying himself as a legitimate everyday player, and considering he won’t turn 26 until next May he still might have some room to grow. But the Indians had a real hole in left field, and the current cast of characters slated to fill it in 2013 is not inspiring.
Even if you believe, as I do, that we haven’t seen the last of Grady Sizemore, if nothing else 2012 should have served as a lesson that a team shouldn’t rely on injury-prone players to help them take the next step into contention. The current list of free agent outfielders isn’t exactly thrilling when you get beyond Josh Hamilton and B.J. Upton, who will probably be out of the Indians’ price range, and Ryan Ludwick, who seems likely to negotiate an extension with the Cincinnati Reds. After that, former San Francisco Giants’ outfielder Melky Cabrera might be the most intriguing candidate, but that would likely be a one-year deal to repair Cabrera’s image after he was suspended for testing positive for PEDs and not being included on the Giants’ postseason roster. In other words, the Indians would be wise to explore the trade market.
Could the Indians and A’s line up on a deal? Nathaniel Stoltz was quick to point out that the Cleveland farm system wasn’t really a great match for Oakland, adding that the Tribe’s two best prospects (Fransisco Lindor and Dorseys Paulino) are both low-level shortstops, something that Oakland didn’t need. He also suggested that because the Indians don’t have one guy that can fill a large hole in the A’s organization that quantity was probably going to be needed, and Cleveland might have to overpay a bit to land one of the outfielders.
Though he added the qualifier that he didn’t think Crisp was the likeliest to be traded, Stoltz did offer a couple prospect packages off the top of his head that might entice Oakland to trade Crisp to the Indians. In his first scenario, Cleveland would send Akron first baseman Chun Chen and Lake County left-handed pitcher Elvis Araujo and right-hander Felix Starling as the framework of a deal in exchange for Crisp. Chen doesn’t appear to really be on the Indians’ long-term radar, while Araujo and Starling are both extremely young, high-risk, high-rewards type pitchers.
Stoltz’ other suggestion was that the Indians would package Akron right-handed pitcher Giovanni Soto and Araujo to land Crisp. Indians fans may remember Soto as the pitcher the Tribe acquired from Detroit for Jhonny Peralta, and he had a nice season for Akron before being shut down due to an inning limit. Stoltz pointed out that the Indians are dealing from a position of strength with left-handed starting pitching, and it somewhat mitigates how much the Indians are overpaying Oakland in players.
If faced with a deal like these, Indians’ GM Chris Antonetti would have to consider it if the team is serious about trying to compete in 2013. Sure, there’s always a risk when you’re trading away prospects, but as the Indians have seen with several “can’t miss” pitching prospects such as Adam Miller, Jason Knapp and David Huff, there’s really no such thing as a pitching prospect. And since the Indians would be dealing from a position of relative strength (that is, low-level left-handers), it would soften the blow a bit to the system.
In return, Tribe fans would see a familiar face in Crisp, but sentimentality needn’t factor into this idea at all. Crisp, who will be 32 next season, can help the Indians. He posted a 2.7 WAR according to baseball-reference.com, and he did hit 11 home runs and add 39 stolen bases. He’s capable of playing center field, and Brantley’s defense is better in left than center. At $7 million Crisp’s salary is reasonable—certainly moreso than it would take to land a quality free agent outfielder this offseason.
A three-way trade between teams in other divisions might not seem relevant for Cleveland fans, but it should be. If the Indians are serious about upgrading the team for 2013, Antonetti should inquire with Oakland about acquiring Coco Crisp.