The Winter Meetings are heating up, but the Indians have yet to pull off any trades or free agent signings. Although they have been linked to several deals, it hasn’t amounted to anything so far.
Asdrubal Cabrera is one of the hottest names in Nashville this week, with teams like the Cardinals, Tigers, A’s and Diamondbacks inquiring about the All-Star shortstop. The framework has been laid for more than one deal, only to have it fall through, but it’s become clear that the Tribe is very serious about trading Cabrera—and other teams are very interested.
According to multiple sources, the Indians would be willing to deal him for the somewhat-high cost of three to four young players, primarily pitchers, with several years of control each. Now that free agent Marco Scutaro has re-signed with the Giants, the asking price on Cabrera doesn’t seem quite as steep. There aren’t many viable shortstop options remaining.
On Tuesday, rumors about talks between Chris Antonetti and the Diamondbacks intensified. Although Arizona traded with the A’s for infielder Cliff Pennington shortly after the regular season ended, he is not a long-term solution. During his five-year career, he has hit just .249/.313/.356, and has only 24 home runs after nearly 2,000 plate appearances. He had an extremely disappointing 2012 campaign, posting a .589 OPS. Pennington is nothing special defensively either, with a career UZR of 1.6 as a shortstop.
With that in mind, the Diamondbacks reportedly have been pursing Cabrera, who has had much more success at the plate and is quite capable of being an everyday fielder. He has hit .279/.342/.416 throughout his career, and would give the team some additional power in their lineup. While he does have his faults—poor conditioning and declining defensive skill—he is still considered an above-average shortstop, primarily in terms of his bat.
In return, the Indians were reported to be asking about starting pitchers Tyler Skaggs and Trevor Bauer, while the Diamondbacks are also shopping highly-regarded outfielder Justin Upton. The 21-year-old Skaggs is a first-round draft pick and was ranked the 13th-best prospect in baseball by Baseball America at the start of last season. He has three main pitches: a fastball in the high 80′s to low 90′s, a curveball and a changeup. Although he began 2012 in Double-A, he was quickly promoted, followed by a call-up to the Diamondbacks in late August. His MLB debut was shaky, with a 5.83 ERA throughout six starts, but he is capable of much more. In Triple-A last year, he had a 1.23 WHIP with a strikeout rate over 21 percent. Plus he is under control until 2019, so he would be an ideal candidate for the Indians.
The other young pitcher the Indians are reportedly seeking out is Bauer, baseball’s ninth-best prospect, who also made his MLB debut last year. In four games, he earned a 6.06 ERA, but managed to strike out 22 percent of batters faced. Like Skaggs, he is only 21 and will not be a free agent until 2019. He throws a fastball, curveball and changeup as well, but his fastball reaches into the mid 90s, and he also uses a slider. One of the most intriguing aspects of Bauer’s pitching style is his diverse repertoire of pitches. He uses a variety of speeds and throwing styles, which helps to keep hitters off-balance but also sacrifices command; during his brief stint in the majors, that walk rate shot up to nearly 17 percent. The last thing the Indians need is an increase in walks, but he has the potential to be an impact starting pitcher, if he can make some minor adjustments.
One final thing for the Tribe to consider is Bauer’s unique warm-up routine, which includes a long-toss of up to 400 feet and has been a major concern for some teams due to the unnecessary risk of injury it creates. Unwillingness to change that routine is reportedly part of the reason the Diamondbacks are so eager to hear offers for the former-favorite prospect. Given their recent experiences (Jason Knapp, Rafael Perez and Grady Sizemore, to name a few) it would be understandable if the Indians are hesitant to trade for a player who has the distinct possibility of becoming injury-prone. However, there is so much upside to Bauer that it would absolutely be worth the risk to make a trade centered around him, especially if he’s fallen out of favor with Arizona and can be obtained without giving up too much in return.
The last major player who might be available to the Indians is Upton, the 25-year-old outfielder who hit .280/.355/.430 last season, with 17 home runs and 18 stolen bases. More than likely, the Indians would have to throw in some prospects to in order to get Upton, but it might be worthwhile. Arizona has sought offers for Upton repeatedly before this winter, most recently at the 2012 Trade Deadline, but so far has not acted on any of them. Pairing Cabrera with a prospect (or two), like Tony Wolters or Ronny Rodriguez, might net Upton for the Tribe, and it would certainly be a good deal. However, the Diamondbacks are willing to take offers for two of the best MLB-ready pitching prospects, and Cleveland desperately needs starting pitchers. If forced to choose, Upton should be the lowest priority of the three.
The Indians are still indecisive about whether they plan to rebuild or contend. Right now, it seems as if they want to find low-cost prospects with long-term control, while still competing next season. If that is truly the case, Skaggs and Bauer both fit that profile, and dealing Cabrera in a trade centered around one of them would be very beneficial to both teams.