This week it seems like a new trade rumor has popped up every ten minutes, most of them involving Asdrubal Cabrera. If the Indians play their cards right this could be a major part of a quick resurgence. Aside from catcher, shortstop is probably the most difficult position to fill on a major league roster, particularly with someone who can provide significant offense. By trading for Mike Aviles and developing several young prospects the Indians have created a surplus at shortstop which puts them in position to create a seller’s market. The Cardinals, A’s, and Diamondbacks all see themselves as needing a shortstop, and the Yankees may see Cabrera as a solution to their third base hole.
This is an opportunity to examine how Chris Antonetti plays a good hand, something he has not had frequent opportunity to do during his tenure. To a large extent, this is a poker game, knowing how far to play your hand, and we will see if Antonetti has the nerve to hold his cards until just the right moment to get the best possible return. Cabrera is the best shortstop available on the trade market, but there are others available. If Antonetti holds out for too high an offer, these teams will move on and he will end up stuck with an inferior return. If he jumps too early, the same will happen.
My feeling is that the Diamondbacks are somewhat desperate. Kevin Towers likes to make blockbuster deals, which means a deal with him could involve multiple teams and players. Arizona has several good pitching prospects, notably Tyler Skaggs and Trevor Bauer. I would expand the deal to get both of these pitchers if I could. These two, along with Carlos Carrasco, Zach McAllister, and Justin Masterson, and the handful that has been riding the Columbus shuffle the past couple of years, would give the Indians enough options for their rotation that they could focus their free agency dollars on bats. More importantly, we would control all of those guys for several years.
My feeling is that such a trade would include Chris Perez. He and Cabrera would a high price to pay for two pitching prospects, but it is not difficult to see both Skaggs and Bauer in the rotation next year, and we have too many relievers for paying Perez $7 or $8 million through arbitration doesn’t make sense.
I was excited by the fact that the Indians were talking to Nick Swisher. I may be old-fashioned, but if I guy is going to make more than $10 million a year he should hit third or fourth. That kind of turned me off the Shane Victorino rumors, but Swisher consistently posts an OPS over .800, which would make him the defacto cleanup hitter. If Victorino is worth $13 million, it is scary to think what Swisher might get, but he’s an Ohio boy and his stock seems to be down because of his postseason flameout. I would offer him the $14 million a year that we were giving Hafner, for three years.
That should leave us $6 to $8 million to sign someone else, assuming we end up moving more salary than we take on in a Cabrera trade. We have two holes to fill (three actually, but I am assuming Russ Canzler will get an opportunity to play first base or DH) and if we pay Swisher too much to fill one of them we will end up doing a Casey Kotchmann-type deal to fill the other. I think I am okay with that—there are not a lot of legitimate middle-of-the-order hitters left on the free agent market, and the market is crazy, as the Victorino deal demonstrates. If the Indians miss on Swisher they will either end up overpaying for someone like Youkilis, who is no longer a legit cleanup hitter, or they will need to use their trade assets to get a hitter, which means the rotation will suffer.
Given the way the market looks, I think I would hang on to Shin-Soo Choo for now. Keeping him in 2013 makes Cleveland a better team than any of the trades that have been rumored. If the Indians start out the season hot, let him play out the year and use his money on someone else in 2014. If we stumble out of the gate, someone will be more desperate than they are now at the Trade Deadline.