The signing of Nick Swisher is certainly cause for celebration. Aside from filling a gaping hole in the middle of the batting order and in right field, it is a signal from the ownership that they are not willing to sit idly by while the team founders in mediocrity. Given the resources the team has been blessed with this offseason in the form of expiring contracts and money from the new MLB television contract and the anticipated sale of SportsTime Ohio, going into the 2013 season without making any significant free agent acquisitions would have been an unpardonable breach of fan trust and would have deservedly been met with scorn by an already alienated fanbase.
However, now is not the time to sit on our laurels. There have been mixed and negative reviews of this move based on the feeling that the Tribe is not close enough to contending to justify spending big dollars, especially on a player 32 years old such as Swisher. These criticisms are justified if the Indians leave things as they are. It is important to realize, however, that the acquisition of Swisher enables the Indians to use their assets to address other needs. Whereas a week ago we might have expected Chris Perez or Asdrubal Cabrera to be traded for a power-hitting outfielder, they or other players can now be used to address the other pressing needs.
In my mind these needs are as follows: backup catcher, starting pitching, and designated hitter. The Indians have decent options for each of these positions, but they need to be upgraded if they are serious about contending. At designated hitter, it is obvious that the Diamondbacks are willing to trade Jason Kubel and are not asking much in return. He is an American League player, and they have no place to play him regularly. I believe he could be acquired without surrendering a core player.
It would be ambitious to trade Chris Perez, but there’s good reason to do it. There is the bullpen surplus, but there is also the fact that Perez is likely to make over $7 million in arbitration next year. If he were traded, the Indians could absorb a salary such as Kubel’s without increasing the payroll a great deal. Perez would also bring a better return than any other pitcher on the roster.
I hate to make the Tigers better, but if they were to offer a package centered around Rick Porcello for Perez I would consider it. Porcello is only 23, and it seems like the Tigers are giving up on him too quickly. His ERA last year was 4.59, which would make him nearly an ace for the Indians. His K/BB ratio is over 2:1, and he has stayed healthy throughout his career. A durable fourth starter for a closer is not a bad trade, although I would think we could get an additional prospect thrown in as well. Porcello will fit nicely into the rotation with Ubaldo Jimenez, Justin Masterson, Zach McAllister, and Carlos Carrasco, giving Trevor Bauer time to develop in Columbus if needed.
There has been much speculation about trading Asdrubal Cabrera and Justin Masterson because of their contract status. I believe Cabrera will be traded at some point, but I would trade him now only if we can get a core player whom we can control for several years in return. If the pitching issue can be fixed by trading Perez or by signing a free agent, then I would consider using Cabrera to acquire a good young catcher. I feel that the Indians are vulnerable in this area because there are no good young catchers in their system and because it is doubtful that Carlos Santana will develop defensively. Acquiring a catcher would eventually free Santana up to spend time at first base or designated hitter, which would potentially improve the team at two positions.
I would hesitate to trade Masterson. For one thing, he is coming off a bad season would not draw the value that he could if he was pitching better. For another, trading Masterson would simply open a hole that would need to be filled. Again, nobody should be untouchable, and if there is a trade out there that adds core players it must be considered. But there is nobody on the roster right now who can fill his shoes, so it is hard to imagine that trading him would make us better in 2013.