On Monday, the Cleveland Indians finalized their Opening Day roster. There weren’t any real surprises among the final selections—an attentive fan probably could have filled in all the blanks based on spring numbers and Terry Francona‘s quotes over the last few days—but two of the players who failed to make the cut are particularly significant: Ezequiel Carrera and David Huff.
Both Huff and Carrera are out of options, so the Indians cannot simply stash them away in Columbus as with Trevor Bauer and Cord Phelps. Instead, the team is reportedly looking to trade both players before Opening Day.
Ordinarily, a team in the Tribe’s situation wouldn’t be able to extract much for either player. The Indians have zero leverage in this situation—if they don’t trade Huff and Carrera, they lose them—and we’re talking about two players who are too old to be prospects yet not good enough to crack the 25-man roster. Yet Cleveland is in a much better bargaining position than one might expect because of the caliber of the players the team is shopping.
Clevelanders are sick of hearing about Huff by now—as far as first-round draft picks go, he was a pretty clear bust—but he’s actually a far better pitcher than most fans give him credit for. After pitching to a 6.21 ERA in 2010 eroded his goodwill with the parent club, he made some adjustments in the minors and returned to the majors in 2011 looking like a completely different pitcher. There’s a small sample size caveat with these numbers, but over the last two years Huff has made significant strides in strikeouts (6.4 K/9 in 2011-12, up from 4.4 in 2009-10) and walks (2.6 BB/9, down from 3.2). As a result, his ERA since 2011 is two full runs lower than it was through 2010—not bad for a former first-round pick who’s still in his 20′s.
Meanwhile, it’s easy to imagine Ezequiel Carrera fitting in on just about any team’s 25-man roster. Speed is Carrera’s biggest asset, but he can also hold his own (if not excel) defensively at all three outfield positions and with an OPS over .700 last year he’s no slouch at the plate—and at age 25, he’s still young enough that his game could improve with time. He’d be a solid fourth outfielder or a great fifth outfielder or pinch-runner.
The Indians’ cards are on the table and they’re not in a position to walk away—from the Tribe’s perspective, getting anything of value in return for a player who’s about to leave anyway is a move worth making. But neither Huff nor Carrera is a typical pre-waiver player whom Cleveland would be lucky to give away. It would surprise me if the Indians haven’t already fielded multiple inquiries on Huff, and it would shock me if Chris Antonetti can’t build up a minor bidding war for Carrera. Just because the team brass would be willing to settle for less in a deal for an out-of-options player doesn’t mean they’ll have to.
Think of it like the Shin-Soo Choo trade. In a vacuum, if I were Antonetti I probably would have been willing to trade Choo for Drew Stubbs straight-up (I know this is an unpopular opinion, but I think Stubbs’ longer time under team control more than makes up for Choo’s being generally better at baseball). But if that trade had actually gone down it would have been madness. Why? Because Choo’s value was far higher than that, and in any economic transaction in any market a rational actor should maximize his or her return. If Choo for Stubbs were a take-it-or-leave-it offer, you’d take it. But it wasn’t. And so we got Trevor Bauer (and Matt Albers and Bryan Shaw) too.
Carrera and Huff’s tenures in Cleveland are all but over. Losing them is (to continue the economic analogy) a sunk cost, and trading either for an asset the team can keep beyond Opening Day would be a deal worth making. But both Tribe castoffs could be valuable pickups for another organization, so don’t be surprised if the Indians don’t have to sell them off at bargain basement rates.