Despite the fact that the Indians have acquired infielder Mike Aviles from the Toronto Blue Jays, Chris Antonetti has stated that Cleveland still views Asdrubal Cabrera as the starting shortstop for this upcoming season.
Cabrera has always been considered one of the Indians’ greatest assets. The two-time All-Star is a good infielder with a powerful bat, and he is under team control through 2014. At 26 years old, he should have many years left in his career.
Because Cabrera is such a highly regarded player, he could be a valuable trading chip in the Tribe’s quest to find starting pitchers. With such a poor free agent class this year, a good shortstop is hard to come by, and teams might be willing to offer a little more for him since there are so few options available.
One possible team that might be interested in Cabrera is the Oakland Athletics. The Athletics won their division in 2012 before losing to the Detroit Tigers in the ALDS. Following such a strong season, the A’s will try to complement the players they already have, not rebuild their entire team. After trading Cliff Pennington to Arizona and declining Stephen Drew’s option, they lack a solid shortstop and need to find one before spring. Cabrera might be the solution the A’s are looking for.
One of his biggest strengths is his ability to provide offensive power from a traditionally weak-hitting position. He has a career OPS of .757 (including .762 last year) despite playing during poorly the entire second half. Cabrera also has a considerable amount of power, hitting 16 home runs last year and 25 in 2011. And with a $6.5 million salary for 2013, he’s relatively affordable for someone of his caliber—an important factor for the small-market Oakland team.
Statistically, his fielding is not as good as most people seem to think with a UZR/150 of -10.7 and a league-leading 19 errors last year. But despite his struggles with some of the routine plays, Cabrera does make some extremely impressive outs. He has an above-average 4.64 range factor, and thanks to his showmanship on the field he is still widely viewed as a good defender. And regardless of what statistics say about his defense, Cabrera is far better than any of the free agent options that Oakland has to choose from, and the Indians might have an opportunity to make a very good trade.
The A’s have a few players that could help Cleveland, and thanks to a deep starting rotation and a deep outfield, Oakland might be willing to part with some of them to acquire much-needed infield help. Right-handers A.J. Griffin and Dan Straily made their MLB debuts during the 2012 season, turning in impressive pitching performances after being called up from the Triple-A Sacramento River Cats. Both pitchers are extremely young and should continue to improve over the next several years as they gain more experience, but the A’s have too many good arms for their rotation right now.
The 24-year-old Griffin posted a 1.13 WHIP through 15 major league games last season, with a 19.1% strikeout rate and just a 5.7% walk rate. He started the year in Double-A before being called up to Sacramento. He pitched 102 innings with the two teams, combining for a .95 WHIP and a BB/9 of only 1.7. While playing for the A’s, he had a 19.1% strikeout percentage in 82.1 innings.
Straily, who is 23, posted a slightly worse WHIP, 1.32, during his 39 ½ major league innings last season. His walk percentage was much higher, at 9.3%. He gave up 11 home runs during those games as well, but also struck out 18.6% of batters. But seven games is a very small sample size and his numbers in the minor leagues are much better: in 66 2/3 innings with Sacramento, he had a WHIP of just .885, giving up 3 home runs and striking out 82.
Two other interesting A’s options that might be worth some consideration are minor leaguers Michael Taylor and Grant Green, who both play for the River Cats and are two of the top prospects in Oakland’s organization. Green, 25, was originally an infielder before a lack of quality defense caused the team to transition him to the outfield for most of the last season. Meanwhile, the right-handed hitter had an OPS of .796, with 15 home runs and 155 hits through 125 games. Although his fielding is not great—his range factor in left field was only 1.57—he might be a good throw-in on a trade due to his offensive abilities.
The 26-year-old Taylor was most prominently featured in right field last season, but spent more time in left during his first five years in the minor leagues. In 120 games, he hit 12 home runs and had 129 hits, with an OPS of .846. Taylor, who is another right-handed hitter, could also be a nice addition to a trade for a starting pitcher.
Now that the Indians have Aviles, they have a selection of backup shortstops that could become every-day players if Cabrera were to be traded. In addition to Aviles, Jason Donald is a capable middle infielder, and Brent Lillibridge is also available as a replacement. Between three of them, it would be easy to fill in at shortstop until one of the Indians’ top prospects, like Fransico Lindor, reaches the major league level. The Indians would miss Cabrera’s bat, but it would be manageable – especially with the addition of a good starting pitcher. Cabrera is an important part of the Indians’ team, but it may be time to cash in and make a trade while his value is high.