It’s hard not to write an entire post gushing over the fact that one of the most prized starting-pitching prospects in baseball is now officially a member of the Indians. On Tuesday night, the Tribe lost Shin-Soo Choo, Jason Donald, Tony Sipp and Lars Anderson as part of a three-team deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks and Cincinnati Reds—a trade that brought outfielder Drew Stubbs and relief pitchers Matt Albers and Bryan Shaw to Cleveland, in addition to the eagerly-anticipated Trevor Bauer.
For those familiar with Bauer, it’s easy to see that the front office made the right decision. Baseball America ranked the right-hander as the ninth-best overall prospect in the game last year, and even as he struggled in his major league debut with the Diamondbacks last season he posted a 22 percent strikeout rate. And that doesn’t even take into account his minor league numbers, including a 2.42 ERA through 130 innings in Double-A and Triple-A last season. He’s no ordinary prospect, and the Indians couldn’t have done much better—especially for Choo, a 30-year-old outfielder with only one year left on his contract and no intention of re-signing with the Tribe.
So now that the Indians have made the biggest trade in recent memory, where should they go from here?
To start with, they should continue to pursue free agent outfielder Nick Swisher. They have already made him an offer, but he appears to be waiting to see what other opportunities present themselves. Most likely, things with Swisher will move quickly after Josh Hamilton decides which team to sign with. With so many other teams interested in the former Yankee, the Indians may need to adjust their offer if they hope to land him.
Swisher posted an OPS above .800 in each of the past four years and has hit .256/.361/.467 throughout his career, averaging 28 home runs per season. In addition, fans adore him. While the front office should never make roster decisions based on what they believe will sell tickets (signing Johnny Damon, for example), Nick Swisher will draw interest from fans that have checked out during the team’s recent struggles, and he would add a lot of energy to the games. Although his performance on the field is convincing enough, those traits make him an even more desirable free agent for the Tribe. They need to make every reasonable attempt to sign him before another team can make a better offer, because there is a very good possibility that Cleveland will be outbid.
The Indians should also consider keeping Asdrubal Cabrera and Chris Perez, at least until the 2013 trade deadline. The main reason to deal Cabrera with two years left on his contract was to acquire good young arms, and they were able to do that without him. There will almost certainly be a team searching for a player with his offensive skills at the deadline, and if he’s traded in July Cleveland would be rid of him before he has a chance to fade in the second half again. While the Tribe would be taking a risk on his value decreasing as he gets closer to free agency, there is also upside to keeping him. A lineup with Cabrera, Jason Kipnis, Carlos Santana, Mark Reynolds and (hopefully) Swisher would be very dangerous for opposing pitchers.
With the revamped Tribe roster, Perez will have a greater opportunity to put his talents to good use next season. While his salary is exorbitant for a relief pitcher, even a closer, Perez is good at what he does, and the bullpen has been picked apart this winter. Without Esmil Rogers or Tony Sipp to provide depth, they lose a lot of the stability they had in previous seasons. Although Cody Allen and Joe Smith are capable of eighth-inning work, the more trustworthy arms they have available, the better. The lineup has improved enough to increase the team’s chance of winning, and that should provide Perez with more opportunities for work. He had a 3.59 ERA last season, and struck out nearly a quarter of the batters he faced, ending the year with 39 saves out of 43 opportunities.
In October, Perez spoke to Cleveland media members and told them that he didn’t believe he would be traded. He added, “I think whatever they decide to do is definitely going to tell you which way the team is going one way or the other.”
With the Shin-Soo Choo trade, the Indians made their stance fairly clear: they intend to contend next season, not in two or three years. In that vein, it seems as though their best option is to keep the All-Star closer. He might be outspoken and volatile in public, but on the field, he does his job well. If Perez returns next season while earning as much as he does, it would show a new willingness to spend in order to build a championship team. The front office has not been as conservative as usual in their free agent offers, so it seems less likely that they plan to trade him for low return value just to shed a big contract.
Of course, if a team were to offer the Indians highly-rated young starting pitchers in exchange for either Perez or Cabrera tomorrow, they should absolutely jump at that opportunity. It’s impossible to have too many rotation options, especially when the team is relying on Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez to have bounceback seasons. They could still use an additional arm or two, just in case. However, the front office should continue to place a high asking price on both players, since neither of them must be dealt this winter.
So far, the Indians have made excellent moves towards fielding a winning team next season. Adding Bauer to the fold is one of the best decisions they’ve made in a long time, even if he begins the year in Columbus. While Drew Stubbs and Mark Reynolds might set record-breaking amounts of strikeouts, they do have upside—Stubbs in his speed and Reynolds in his power. Even in the less-flashy moves, the team has acquired additional bullpen arms and increased their infield depth.
This has been an impressive off-season for the Tribe, and if they keep it up they may be stronger contenders than anyone expected.
Will the Indians sign Nick Swisher?
- Yes (50%, 101 Votes)
- No (50%, 100 Votes)
Total Voters: 201