There are plenty of examples out there of fans lashing out in anger of the trades of Justin Masterson and Asdrubal Cabrera the last couple of days. If you are one of those people, it’s ok. There are reasons to believe that Cabrera could have helped the Indians, while there are plenty of reasons that, if healthy, Masterson was the reliable pitcher that the Indians needed down the stretch to get back into this thing. Unfortunately, those reasons don’t matter anymore, and the Indians have a pair of young prospects to build around.
However, Cabrera’s trade may have been a bit tougher to swallow, considering that he hadn’t been nearly as awful as Masterson was in the rotation, still providing some offensive punch, posting 16 extra-base hits and 24 RBI over the club’s last 44 games (26-18). It’s just that the overall line (.246/.305/.386) doesn’t cut it when the defense is brought into an argument.
Cabrera has had negative value defensively for the last three years in Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) and the last seven years in Ultimate Zone Rating/150 (UZR/150). Though his fielding percentage over the last eight seasons is just above league average (.974 v. .973), he hasn’t been able to get to as many balls to help his pitchers, and that is why the cry for Francisco Lindor has been so loud. Lindor’s defensive upgrade is equal to the Tigers adding Jose Iglesias last season, or the Braves having Andrelton Simmons picking nearly everything up the middle with ease.
With that being said, the deal works. Not only does the deal work, the deal brought a very interesting player in Zach Walters.
Walters, 24, has appeared in 40 games at the major league level, having played third, short, second, and left. In the minors, he has played the same positions, while adding right field. His versatility is one positive attribute, but it’s his bat that is the focal point:
The power that Walters has developed during his time in the minors is impressive, and pairing that with his ability to play five positions on the diamond creates a lot of value. The Indians have several players with the ability to play a couple of positions right now (Mike Aviles, Jose Ramirez, Carlos Santana, Michael Brantley, Nick Swisher), and that flexibility has allowed Terry Francona and Chris Antonetti to carry additional bullpen arms.
There is certainly some swing and miss in Walters game, but his strikeout rate has improved from 25.7 percent in 2013 to 23.8 percent in 2014, while his walk rate has improved from 3.8 percent in 2013 to 7.7 percent in 2014.
Walters is a switch-hitter, another plus and example of his versatility, who may not run much, but packs a tremendous punch. Though there are holes in his swing, he seems to have made some adjustments in his approach this season, which have allowed him to post more impressive numbers than he did in 2013.
With his versatility defensively, switch-hitting skills, and ability to drive the ball, it’s very easy to say that Walters could become a player similar to the Tampa Bay Rays’ Ben Zobrist, who, despite not having a single, set-in-stone position the last seven seasons, has the 5th highest WAR in baseball over that time (34.9). Zobrist, also a switch-hitter, is a two-time All-Star, and has long been one of the best players in baseball who is overlooked due to not posting the Miguel Cabrera or Mike Trout-like outbursts. Still, being versatile and consistent has made him one of the most valuable in baseball, which is why he was coveted by so many prior to the trade deadline.
The Indians and their fans would be giddy to have Walters end up as half the player that Zobrist is, which would be roughly Asdrubal Cabrera, who has a 13.2 WAR over the last seven seasons. Actually, with at-bats, Walters could easily surpass the value that Cabrera provided.
Walters may just be a prospect, but he has 782 Triple-A plate appearances under his belt, and he could make an impact over the next 54 games, as the Indians attempt to get back into the Wild Card race.