Most of the current Indians fall neatly into one of two fairly defined camps: those who are worth keeping and those who should be traded to contenders for prospects. It’s obvious that the Indians would love to trade Peralta, Kearns, and Wood to any team that would take them. Santana, Cabrera, Choo et. al. are obvious pieces that must stay with the team into the next contending cycle.
But Jake Westbrook provides an interesting dilemma for the Indians, especially considering the recent revelation that he has a clause in his contract that will escalate his contract by $2 million (plus a pro-rated $1 million) if he is traded this year. That means that if he stays with the Indians, he’s owed less than $4 million for the rest of the season, but if he’s traded, that figure jumps to about $6 million.
That sound you just heard is the wind coming out of the sails of the “SELL NOW” campaign.
For one, teams that have significant payroll issues like the Dodgers and Mets will be less likely to want to take on the additional salary for a guy who has been, for all intents and purposes, a rather average pitcher. Second, it’s increasingly unlikely that Westbrook will qualify as a Type B free agent, meaning that any team that takes him can’t count on draft pick compensation if/when he signs elsewhere this offseason. In other words, Jake Westbrook isn’t quite the prize that he’s made out to be. A desperate contender may still want to give up a decent prospect for him, but with the escalator clause and no draft compensation, he’s less desirable than he would otherwise be.
According to John Harper of the NY Daily News, the Indians “would trade Westbrook in a minute for a mid-level prospect if the Mets would pick up most of what’s left on his contract this season.” But Terry Pluto suggested that the Indians “are sending out messages that they don’t simply intend to dump Westbrook’s salary,” and will have to be compelled to move him. Who knows which guy is right, but I tend to trust Terry on these matters.
Let’s look at this from the Indians’ perspective. If they trade Westbrook, they can offer to pay his remaining salary (more than it would cost to have him pitch for the Indians, due to the escalator clause) in an attempt to pry a decent prospect from another team like the Mets or Dodgers. While I find this fairly unlikely considering that we’re dead last in MLB attendance–and might not want to pay more than we would to keep him–it’s certainly an option. That is, after all, how we got Carlos Santana for Casey Blake.
On the other hand, they could simply dump his salary on any team willing to pay the $6 million, and get very little back in the way of prospects–ala Paul Byrd.
The third option, obviously, is to keep Westbrook for the remainder of the season. If the Indians can’t afford to pay him more to play elsewhere than he’d make here, I’d prefer they just keep him. It’s not like this club is overflowing with pitchers who are ready to step into an MLB rotation, and those who are ready might benefit from a veteran presence like Westbrook. Even though the offensive picture is starting to become clearer for next season, we’re still a long way from a contending rotation. Unless we can get a piece from Westbrook that will change that, I’d prefer to let him finish what he started. And considering that Peralta and Wood will both be off the books next season, we might even have the scratch to sign Jake again (not that we can’t trade him and re-sign him anyway). I say keep him around for this season, considering that the returns are likely to be meager.