The Winter Meetings ended this week without any major transactions being completed, however you’ll hear time and again this doesn’t mean “nothing happened.” The Indians have been linked to free agent outfielders Shane Victoroino (signed with Boston), Jason Bay (signed with Seattle) and Nick Swisher (unsigned as of writing) and infielder Kevin Youkilis (unsigned as of writing), as well as connected to trading incumbent shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera to Arizona. Then, after the Nashville conference was over, the team signed Mark Reynolds to a one-year deal Sunday night.
As MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian, the Indians have offered Youkilis a two-year deal in the range of $18 million Youkilis and also have an offer out to Swisher. After the Reynolds signing, it’s uncertain if the Indians are still interested in Youkilis, although theoretically Reynolds and Youkilis could form a first base/designated hitter platoon situation.
And so, for the first time in what seems like an eternity, the Indians appear to be holding the cards in this offseason.
Think about it: If even one of Swisher or Youkilis signs with the Indians, the team is able to fill up a glaring hole in the lineup (first base or corner outfield). Reynolds strikes out a ton, but he does take a walk (14% walk rate in 2012) and gets on base (.335 OBP), and strikeouts aren’t the end of the world. Oh, yeah, and he’s a right-handed power hitter under 30 who could easily mash 25 home runs in 2013, all for under $8 million dollars. Swisher is a capable bat, and while he will be 32 next year his skills are mostly tied in to his ability to get on base, so he will likely age better than, say, a speedy slap hitter. Youkilis is probably the more risky of the two remaining targets, but he can play third base as well, and although I’ve made it clear that Lonnie Chisenhall should be the everyday third baseman, Youkilis can give Chiz a breather or fill in if Lonnie is banged up.
Those are the obvious pickups this offseason. But if I’m running the Tribe, I think the team needs to go further.
First, reopen the Asdrubal Cabrera trade talks. The Indians should be targeting the Diamondbacks’ young starting pitching. I admit to being bullish on Trevor Bauer, although many pundits regard Tyler Skaggs as the better long-term target. Either would be a great addition, and both probably should start the season in Cleveland’s rotation. I know the Indians have been trying to hold out for both Bauer and Skaggs, but they shouldn’t feel like losers if they end up with one of them and a guy like Patrick Corbin. The key here is to at least get Bauer or Skaggs.
I’ve seen many Indians fans wonder why the team would consider trading their “All-Star shortstop” for some pitcher they’ve never heard of, and the answer is multi-faceted. The organization has a wealth of up-the-middle prospects, including 2011 first-round pick Fransisco Lindor, the just-turned-18 Dorssys Paulino, Ronny Rodriguez, and Jose Ramirez, just to name the top guys. While none of those names will be ready Opening Day in 2013, at the major league level the Indians have both Mike Aviles and Jason Donald, and while neither is ideal as an everyday player, they can probably make something work on a platoon basis.
In addition to the Tribe’s surplus, the shortstop market around baseball is pretty pathetic right now; there simply aren’t a lot of guys available, and Cabrera is easily the best of those considered available (unless you believe Texas would trade Elvis Andrus or Jurickson Profar, and I don’t). The Indians don’t have a lot of potential impact pitchers in their system, and pretty much none of the guys they have would be able to make an impact in 2013. Bauer and Skaggs are both potential impact pitchers with less than a half-year of MLB service time who would be ready to jump into the Indians rotation in 2013 and have higher upsides than any of the starters the Indians currently employ.
In short, the Indians can use the poor shortstop market to acquire young starting pitching, something the team desperately needs. These guys aren’t rentals, either, and they will be affordable for years. If the Indians are uncomfortable paying market price for starting pitchers (and when Jeremy Gutherie is making $25 million in three years, well, there’s reason to be uncomfortable), then this is the type of move the team needs to make.
Chris Perez needs to be traded. I know he has value but at this point I’m not really concerned with the Indians getting “maximum value” for Perez. He’s a good closer, yeah, but he could make between $7-8 million next year, and honestly the Indians paying that much money for any kind of reliever is insane. When you consider Perez’s volatile nature, it becomes painfully clear that the Indians just need to get whatever they can for him. Vinnie Pestano can easily take over the closer’s duties, and sophomore Cody Allen is probably ready to take over the eighth inning. San Francisco and Detroit both seem to need closers and don’t apparently care about paying for relief pitching, so they may be good teams to look at for a deal.
The wild card here is what the team decides to do with outfielder Shin-Soo Choo. I almost assumed he’d be traded this offseason as well, but if the Indians had followed my suggestions so far (including signing Swisher and potentially Youkilis), they’d have a far more interesting team holding on to Choo, at least until midseason, with only a glaring weak spot at shortstop (and it would be temporary, at least until Lindor arrvied). Perhaps I’m wearing rose-colored glasses here, as they’d still need probably one more solid starting pitcher (assuming the team only acquired one of Bauer or Skaggs) and Chisenhall isn’t yet a sure thing, but this could be the framework of an intriguing Indians team in 2013, one opposing teams wouldn’t want to look past.
Of course, none of this may happen. The Indians may bumble through the offseason, doing nothing more of importance, and have the same broken team they started with this offseason. But it’s too early to give up on this offseason, and far too early for the Indians to give up on 2013.