Earlier this week, Chris Antonetti said that he hadn’t fully figured out what his plans for the Cleveland Indians are this offseason. Here at Wahoo’s on First, we’ve spilled a lot of digital ink over the question—we’ve looked at the arguments for and the possible unfeasibility of making a real run at the playoffs in 2013, we’ve questioned whether “rebuilding” should even be an option, and we’ve emphasized the need for some kind of decision. So clearly what Antonetti needs is to hear our suggestions.
In this edition of the Weekly Wroundtable, we asked our panelists: Should the Indians build up for 2013 or start rebuilding? Joining our panel this week as a guest contributor is Did The Tribe Win Last Night?‘s Mike Brandyberry.
Mike Brandyberry (Did The Tribe Win Last Night?): Considering the Indians haven’t won the lottery, and still have to live within the means of their $65 million payroll, I think they have no choice but to rebuild. The Indians’ downfall in 2012 was due to the collapse of their starting pitching, and unfortunately, that is the most expensive position in baseball to acquire through free agency or even trades. Since the Indians’ best players are arbitration eligible and headed toward free agency in the next two seasons, I’m not sure they have any choice but to try and rebuild.
Unless you believe Justin Masterson will find his 2011 form, Ubaldo Jimenez will turn in to the pitcher he was in 2010, Zach McAllister continues to improve and Carlos Carrasco returns better than ever from Tommy John surgery, the Tribe has a lot of work to rebuild their rotation. It’s going to take more than two seasons. While I hate losing, I also hate spinning my wheels. I’d rather see the Indians acquire some young pitching and couple it with a nucleus of Michael Brantley, Jason Kipnis, Carlos Santana and Lonnie Chisenhall and try to win in 2014 and 2015.
Mitchell Below: There comes a time in every man’s life when he has to admit defeat. For Chris Antonetti, that time is now. The man who mortgaged the future in return for troubled asset Ubaldo Jimenez must realize that the Tribe’s “window of contention” has closed. If he mishandles the remaining portfolio, he will be shown the door.
The bad investments of the past, distressed properties like Grady Sizemore, Travis Hafner, Derek Lowe, Johnny Damon, or Casey Kotchman, can no longer be papered over. The losses are too numerous to hide: four straight seasons with a losing record, 10 of 11 seasons missing the playoffs, and per-game home attendance falling by half. An infusion of controllable young talent is needed, players that the farm system has largely failed to produce. The best way to acquire that talent is to convert short-term assets (Shin-Soo Choo), overpriced assets (Chris Perez), and overvalued assets (Asdrubal Cabrera) into buy-and-hold players who will pay long-term dividends.
For this troubled asset relief plan to work, the scouting and player development departments must show that they have learned from their mistakes in the Sabathia and Lee trades. The costs of not doing so are too big to fail.
Jeff Mount: Say we build for 2015. Then we’ll be talking about Kipnis and Santana making too much, so they’ll have to go. There will never be a point where we have enough talent and can afford all of it, but this year is as close as we may get for a while. Thirty million in payroll from 2012 has already been cut. Take half of that and sign a pitcher and a left fielder, trade Cabrera for another pitcher, and see what happens. Worst case is you can blow it up in June if it doesn’t work.
Evan Vogel: They have to do something and commit to it, last week. The Indians need to decide one way and just go crazy for it. Personally, I feel that they aren’t close, especially with the regressions of Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez in 2012. Start over and blow it up for a total rebuild. Trade Shin-Soo Choo and Asdrubal Cabrera for top returns. Deal Chris Perez and his arbitration-inflating contract to a contender. Commit to using young players that are currently a part of the organization, like Thomas Neal, Juan Diaz, and T.J. McFarland. The time to see who you can count on in the future is now.
If they bomb, sell off more parts and draft aggressively for top talent, while signing pieces internationally. The only way to improve this team is by committing nearly $35 million in new payroll. That isn’t going to happen. Light a fuse and run like hell. Blow it up and move on. The window to compete has bars over it and won’t open anyway.
Brian Heise: As much as it pains me to say it, I’m in favor of rebuilding at this point. With the way this team is built I don’t see them being able to compete for a championship right now no matter what moves they try to make. There are too many holes to fill and the talent just isn’t what it needs to be. There’s a fairly decent chance I’m way off base here, but I just feel as if the Indians have worked themselves into a corner and the only way to get out is by trading away what assets they do have for multiple pieces and try again.
We saw firsthand this past season what a handful of mediocre acquisitions will do and I don’t want to watch it again. If the Indians are going to end up in fourth or fifth place I’d rather it be because they traded away players like Cabrera, Perez, and Choo for an influx of young promising talent. It may be a harsh reality and fans of this team might not want to hear it, but rebuilding looks like the way to go.
Ed Carroll: Why should the Tribe lock themselves in to an either/or situation? It’s almost impossible to “contend and rebuild at the same time,” (to borrow a phrase from 2002), but really, I don’t think the Indians need to have a fire sale or mortgage the farm for another shot. Honestly, I’d like to see three major players moved this offseason: Chris Perez, Shin-Soo Choo and Asdrubal Cabrera. Of these three, Perez and Choo should be traded regardless of the direction the team takes, for various reasons discussed on this site and others, but mostly because Choo is almost assuredly gone after the year, and Perez will probably make $7 million plus in arbitration, and paying a reliever that much is crazypants.
However with Cabrera, the Indians don’t really have to trade him, but have found themselves in a seller’s market for shortstops at a time when Asdrubal is at peak value. And they conveniently have an uber-prospect almost ready in Fransisco Lindor. Why not push the timetable back a couple years for Lindor, fire off Choo and Perez for the best returns to stock the system a bit, and deal Cabrera for some true impact talent? Core guys like Jason Kipnis, Michael Brantley, Justin Masterson and Carlos Santana will still be controllable, and in their primes. And if it doesn’t work? You have some talent in the system so a full rebuild won’t suck as bad.
Lewie Pollis: I really could be convinced either way here, just as long as the team makes a decision and sticks to it. That being said, I think rebuilding makes a lot more sense than building up for 2013. As I’ve explained in far greater detail, the problem with the idea of going all in is that the Indians are too good to improve very much. With the possible exceptions of first base and designated hitter there’s at least a respectable in-house option the team can use for every spot on the roster.
It’s hip to say that there’s a black hole in left field, for example, but there really isn’t—between Thomas Neal, Ezequiel Carrera, Tim Fedroff, and Russ Canzler there has to be at least one decent option already present. The fact that Cleveland has achieved a basic level of adequacy across the board means it’s much harder to improve. Would signing someone like Ryan Ludwick be nice? Sure. But he wouldn’t give us much more than we already have.
If the Indians can bulk up their payroll and bring in some serious impact talent, I’m all for going for it this year. But if that plan would just be to sign a couple third-tier free agents as complementary pieces it’s not even worth trying.
Katrina Putnam: The Indians aren’t exactly without talent, but they don’t currently have what it takes to win a championship. Although some might think the trading of Choo or Cabrera signals a rebuild, it’s possible to get a good return for them while still competing next season. There’s no reason for the front office to panic and completely alter the team. If they are able to sign a powerful first baseman, like Kevin Youkilis, and acquire an outfielder and another starting pitcher through trades, the Tribe is back in competition.
The Indians also have very little that could help them successfully restock the farm system this year. Once Choo, Cabrera and Perez are gone, the rest of the team consists of players with little to no trade value and players who are still young and controllable, with plenty of potential. While Kipnis, Brantley or Chisenhall might fetch a couple of decent prospects, why would the Indians give them up before they’re even in their prime? It doesn’t make sense to rebuild when the team is full of the exact same type of players that would be targeted in trades. There’s a good core already in place for them to build on. Also long as they move Choo and Cabrera wisely this offseason, there’s no need to shake up the entire roster.
Merritt Rohlfing: I don’t think it’s any question—the Cleveland Indians need to knock it down and rebuild. Right now, and I’ve written about it several times, they are in a state of almost-contending, and right now it seems like they’re at their peak. The most impactful bats in the lineup would be high end role players on most championship squads, and outside of Justin Masterson and perhaps Zach McAllister or Carlos Carrasco, there’s no real pitching talent near the majors either. Since there isn’t any reason to hope there’s a big signing in the offing, what more is there? The draft, and that’s about it.
When Anthony Castrovince wrote that most depressing article about what could have been, all the additions that would have happened came via the draft and trading established players for prospects.When it comes to building a team this way, there’s no sure thing, but it’s a better path than the muddling about we’re seeing right now. Of course, it’s not like the draft has been that good to them anyway, but hey, something has to work.
Steve Kinsella: I don’t believe in rebuilding. The Indians should constantly be building, collecting talent, regardless of the teams previous seasons win loss record or projected coming seasons record.