The going price on the Indians’ two-time All-Star is three to four players, preferably four. The Indians had the framework of a deal in place in which they would have received one big-league pitcher and two high-level prospects. When the Indians asked for a third prospect, the deal dissolved.
First off, gut feeling says the almost-deal was with the Cardinals; they’d been closely linked to Cabrera earlier in the offseason, they fit the bill of having young pitching to spare and with Pete Kozma already set at shortstop they would presumably consider moving Cabrera to another position, as Hoynes says the interested team planned to do. But there’s another, bigger-picture question that this anecdote raises: Might Cleveland be asking too much for Cabrera?
On the one hand, it’s nice to see the organization holding its ground. GM Chris Antonetti has made it clear that he’s asking a lot for both Cabrera and Shin-Soo Choo. He’s not looking to make a deal just to make a deal, which means the Indians have more leverage in trade negotiations. After the disappointing returns from the CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee trades, the team seems to be cautious about making sure it gets as much as it can in exchange for its biggest names.
That being said, Cabrera really isn’t that valuable. He has two years of team control remaining, over the course of which he will earn $16.5 million. All-Star status and web gems aside, that’s not an Evan Longoria-esque bargain. Cabrera is a solid hitter who plays a tough position, but his durability is a question and most analysts seem to be coming around to the consensus that he’s significantly lacking in the field. For some perspective, his 6.7 fWAR over the last two seasons puts him virtually tied with Ian Desmond and Alexei Ramirez and behind names like Jhonny Peralta and Erick Aybar—hardly befitting of a first-rate trade chip.
We have no idea who the players involved in Hoynes’ reported near-deal were, but based on his very vague description it seems like a solid return for Cabrera. Crazy as it may sound, trading Cabrera for a single good young starting pitcher with several years of team control straight-up would probably be worth the Indians’ while. Throw in a couple high-level prospects and I’d absolutely pull the trigger. Unless I’m overestimating the quality of the players the
Cardinals mystery team would have given the Tribe in return—and again, we know very little about the situation—I’m skeptical about whether the inclusion of only two prospects instead of three should have been a dealbreaker.
The Indians have a lot of leverage here in a generally weak market for shortstops, and they should use it to their advantage. If they can get four solid young players for Cabrera, they shouldn’t settle for three. But Cleveland should be careful not to overplay its hand—sticking to a potentially unreasonable expectation for what kind of return he might bring could come back to bite the team.