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When Will Indians Trade Asdrubal Cabrera?

The Indians’ roster has been retooled and rebuilt, the platoons are taking shape and guys are finding their roles in the ‘pen. The rotation is still a land of mystery and possibly terror, but that’s better than the pit of misery it looked like last season. The 2013 season should be a good one, right?

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But as always, we must look to the future, because small market teams like the Tribe must keep moving to stay ahead of the big boys and not get too tied down on payroll. My co-conspirator Steve Kinsella likes to say that “rebuilding” is an antiquated term used by teams that aren’t willing to try, and this past offseason is a great example of that. Sure, they had to wait to shake off a couple albatross contracts, but those are the kind of deals they shouldn’t be making. Really, over $50 million for a guy who can’t play a position? Five million dollars to let a guy rehab? Hopefully we don’t have to experience that much anymore.

So at the risk of not appreciating the opportunity the Indians have this year, it’s worth asking: When are we unloading Asdrubal Cabrera?

The thought of trading Cabrera was mentioned several times in the offseason, especially after the Indians signed Mike Aviles. His name came up in talks with the Cardinals and the Phillies and Chris Antonetti no doubt fielded calls from a couple other teams, most likely the Red Sox because they’ve had a black hole at short since Nomar Garciaparra was traded.

The front office has to stay on the move, maximizing potential and selling high. And in keeping Cabrera this long they might have already missed that chance on a guy who wasn’t even all that heralded out of the minors for much besides his glove. The best time to trade him would have been after the 2011 season: His stock was through the roof after he’d hit 25 homers with a .792 OPS. His on-base numbers have been fading a bit, from a .361 peak in 2009 down to .338 last season, but that’s more than average and he’s had an OPS+ over 110 every year save 2010 when he broke his arm.

The real problem is his defense. Though Baseball America ranked his glove as the best in the system in 2007, Cabrera has never been a brilliant defender even if he’s made a career of making web gems at least once a game—snags in the hole and throwing guys out from his butt, leaping grabs, unassisted triple plays, he runs the gamut of dazzlement. Unfortunately, he doesn’t make the routine plays like you’d think a guy that athletic should. FanGraphs has him at a -10.4 UZR/150 for his career, and for you curmudgeons out there, the guy had 19 errors last season. That’s tied for first (or third, if you want to be nice in the spin machine) in the American League. Maybe the errors are a function of his ability to get to a lot of balls but not be able to make a play on them.

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My personal wonderings were only fired after all the 2013 Top Prospect lists were released. FanGraphs does a top 15 list for each organization as well as top 100 in the game, and the Indians had three shortstops on their list. We all know (or at least know of) top-ranked prospect Francisco Lindor, who if all breaks right is going to be a star in this game. He’s likely to reach Double-A this season, depending on how well he handles High-A. He’s got a glove for the ages, a quick bat and surprising power, and he can take a walk (.352 OBP in 127 professional games, at age 19), which all reads out to “much better than Cabrera.” Or so we hope.

Behind Lindy (who, by the way, needs to incorporate a little shimmy in his fielding we can call the “Lindy Hop”) is 17-year old Dorssys Paulino at No. 3, and 20-year old Ronny Rodriguez ranked down at No. 8. Rodriguez doesn’t look like a Cabrera replacement and is likely to be moved to third simply because Lindor is so good, and while Paulino was gangbusters at the plate in the Arizona Fall League with a .938 OPS, he’s still not even old enough to vote yet; Lindor is likely to be settled in by the time he gets to The Show. Rodriguez also loves to swing the bat, at a Drew Stubbs level of 105 strikeouts to 21 walks in 553 plate appearances. But even if Rodriguez is a wash, that’s a lot of talent up the middle.

The future replacements are far enough away that Cabrera could play out his contract and we could move right on to Lindor, but other things—say, a bad season—could preclude that. The team needs to maximize on what it has in Cabrera, whether with his on-field contributions or with a young talent infusion. He’s signed through 2014, so the haul could be pretty brilliant for him if he could be moved with a year or more on his contract. Think what the Cliff Lee deal should have been.

If Cleveland is in contention this year come the trade deadline it would be pretty much impossible to move the guy simply because he features so heavily in the lineup and he and Jason Kipnis have developed a pretty good rapport around second base. But if the braintrust can hoodwink a team out of a high-level pitching prospect—perhaps St. Louis for one of their fine arms if Pete Kozma proves incapable at shortstop—it’s a trade that has to be made.

The Orioles have a potential beast in Dylan Bundy, and if J.J. Hardy continues to struggle at the plate last year (88 OPS+, though Baseball-Reference had him at almost three wins above replacement nonetheless) and they’re still even in pseudo-contention without him, he could be a possibility. If the Indians could get Trevor Bauer for Shin-Soo Choo (essentially), why not aim high in our aspirations for a return for Cabrera?

The Red Sox could flip their top prospect, Xander Bogaerts, for impact pitching this season because they want to contend—meaning they could be willing to trade the young Matt Barnes for a shortstop. The Boston fanbase and media are ravenous and savage, so an aggressive overpay is more than possible. They do have Stephen Drew at short, but he’s decidedly worse than Cabrera these days (.657 OPS last season).

This world of shipping off my favorite players is a tough one, but luckily for me, I’m growing up and am slowly learning to move on. We have to realize that Cabrera’s days with the team are numbered, and that means getting the most from him that we can—whether that’s in our lineup or in the trade package we’d get back for him.

When should the Indians trade Asdrubal Cabrera?

  • After this season (46%, 58 Votes)
  • This summer (35%, 44 Votes)
  • Never (19%, 24 Votes)

Total Voters: 126

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Tags: Asdrubal Cabrera Cleveland Indians

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