When the Cleveland Indians traded Esmil Rogers to the Blue Jays for Mike Aviles and Yan Gomes last weekend, it seemed to have some clear implications for the offseason to come—specifically regarding Asdrubal Cabrera. The All-Star shortstop was already seen as a likely trading chip as the team looks towards the possible beginning of another rebuilding cycle, and for better or worse such a deal seems more likely that the Indians now have a potential replacement in Aviles.
But there’s another possible consequence of the trade that hasn’t gotten nearly as much attention. Rogers’ departure weakens the Tribe’s bullpen, which at the end of the season looked like perhaps the team’s greatest comparative strength. Now that they have less depth to fall back on, might the Indians decide not to trade Chris Perez? What had seemed like an utter certainty has now been cast into doubt.
This season, in the the increasingly unlikely event that Cleveland held a small lead after six innings, you could expect to see Joe Smith, Vinnie Pestano, and Perez out of the bullpen in the seventh, eighth, and ninth, with Rogers filling in as needed when one of the trio was overworked or struggling. Occasionally a younger pitcher would make a few cameos in the late innings (Nick Hagadone, Cody Allen), but they were the core.
Trading Perez presumably implied that everyone would move up a slot. Pestano would close (anxieties about his ability to handle the ninth inning are unfounded). Rogers and Smith would divide up the seventh and eighth, and you’d have room for some young guns to force their way into the arrangement if they proved they were up to the challenge—just as Rogers did last year.
But now Rogers is out of the question. If Perez is traded, Pestano and Smith move up, but there’s a big gaping hole behind them. Who fills it? Hagadone? Allen? Frank Herrmann? A free agent? Ubaldo Jimenez? By and large, the Tribe’s long and middle relief corps proved ineffective even in low-leverage appearance in 2012, and dealing Perez would mean having to depend on at least one or two heretofore unreliable or unproven pitchers in close and late situations—Rogers isn’t there to break the fall.
I’m not saying this should deter the Indians from trading Perez if they can make a good deal with him. With so many young arms waiting in the wings odds are that someone could raise his game enough to step into a setup role, or at least give Cleveland a few dozen flukily good innings. And even if the Tribe can’t come up with a good replacement a relief pitcher isn’t as important as, say, a left fielder, and having a dominant seventh-inning guy shouldn’t be a priority if the team is about to go into rebuilding mode. But it’s important to recognize that losing Perez now would hurt the team more than it would have two weeks ago.
I still think the Indians should try to trade Perez this winter; none of us outsiders can know what he’d fetch in return, but whatever direction this team is headed I think the gains would still outweigh the losses. But the Rogers trade has shifted that balance, and that may signal that Perez will remain in Cleveland in 2013.