Do the Indians Have a Shot at Signing Jake Westbrook?

When the Indians traded Jake Westbrook to the Cardinals this summer, there was a near-universal suggestion that the Tribe could sign him this off-season, since 2010 was the final year of his three-year contract extension.

Now that he’s played a few months with the Cardinals, the notion that we have a shot to bring Jake back into the fold is looking to be less than a sure thing.

According to Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post Dispatch, Jake is already thinking about a potential deal with the Cardinals:

“I’m definitely going to be open-minded about pretty much everything.  If [the Cardinals] had interest, I’ve definitely enjoyed my time here. I’ve gotten to know the guys well. The organization is definitely one that everybody knows about, that I’ve certainly heard a lot about, and now, firsthand, I’ve gotten to see that everybody was right.”

There’s not a lot to that quote in my opinion: it sounds like pretty benign player-speak to me.  My suspicion is that Jake, like all baseball players, is going to want to get his first taste of free agency before signing with anyone.

But it still begs the point: was trading Jake worth the increased likelihood that we cost ourselves a chance to sign him back?  Is it even true that moving Jake makes it less likely for the Indians to sign him?

These questions come up a lot, and teams like the Indians have to weigh the benefits of trading players like Jake (cutting payroll and getting prospects) with the cost of potentially not keeping the player around for upcoming seasons.

In fact, I’m reminded of the Carl Pavano move last year.  Pavano’s underlying performance with the Tribe was actually pretty good in 2009, and anyone who was looking closely knew that he was likely to have a better 2010.  But once he got a taste of a contending club, it was unlikely that he’d sign back with a rebuilding team like the Indians.  Sure enough, he signed a deal with the Twins over the winter and will likely be their number two starter in the playoffs.

Trading Westbrook and Pavano were, in my opinion, the right moves to make.  But I have to remind myself of the possibility that moving these guys in the last months of their deals does make it more difficult to sign them.  A taste of winning and contention will do that to a player.

When Jake hits free agency, I would give the Indians nearly no chance to sign him: not only will we likely low-ball him on a contract compared to other offers, but we’re also not in a great position to make the playoffs next year—something the Cardinals (and other teams) can likely offer.  Maybe we’re better off going young next year, but I can’t help but wonder if trading Jake cost us any chance we had to have him here in 2011.

  • Lyon

    if we do sign him, we better not overpay. he’s a good middle rotation pitcher, but just don’t pay him like he’s a #1

  • DocZeus

    Personally, I’d much rather have the former CY Young winner, we traded two years for a bunch of nonsense.

  • Scott

    To Lyon’s point, he may have to be paid as if he’s *our* number one, but by no means would that be in line with most other MLB aces.

    I think Westbrook may be just what the team is looking for when it speaks of a contributing veteran. Whether or not he wants another go ’round remains to be seen.

  • 216in614

    the real question is. what do we have in Corey Kluber?

  • 5KMD

    In my opinion, Pavano and Westy are completely different situations. Pavano had no history with the Tribe and wasn’t going to resign with them. Westbrook has a long history and may want to return. If I was him and the money was equal, I’d probably want to play my twilight years on a legit contender though. And in the pitcher friendly NL to boot.

  • Lyon

    Scott… that’s what I was getting at. He can be our highest paid pitcher, but I don’t want to be paying him like a good team’s ace.

    I don’t understand why he’d want to return. Go somewhere where you can contend Jake. You don’t have many years left, try to win a ring, not get poor run production while you pitch here.

    Also, our fielding blows, which does not play to his strengths of getting groundouts.

  • Kevin

    Jon, I get that you said that trading Westbrook and Pavano was the right thing to do. But honestly, do you REALLY think the Indians had a chance to re-sign them in the first place? I would have given them next to no chance to have re-signed them BEFORE the trades. Frankly, despite the fact that Jake probably still has several good years left and is, by all accounts, a great addition to the clubhouse, I think that not re-signing him is the right thing to do.

    It’s my opinion that we need to let our young pitchers pitch and let our coaches coach. While we rebuild, let a guy like Goedert play even if we’ve targeted Chisenhall as “the future” at third base.

    If this is going to be an organization that’s run on a tight budget, let’s run it on a tight budget so that when it’s time to loosen the purse strings a bit, we have the flexibility to do so.

  • mgbode

    Shapiro is great at resigning guys he’s traded away in the past. Just look at Russell Branyan :)

    We have enough pitching coming up that getting Jake back isn’t a necessity. I’d rather us put that $$$ into a hitter. However, I would definitely not complain if we brought him back ($10mil/season or under).

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  • Matt

    Why would we re-sign him? He’s a great guy and an ok pitcher, but isn’t that just needless payroll $? This team may be around .500 next year, but why spend money on a veteran and take IP away from young guys? If we end up contending for a playoff spot before 2012 (lol) then we can make a mid-season pickup.

  • Bobby Joe

    Chances of resigning him are slim to none and slim just left town. His comments are very telling. He is in an organization that has a plan and a track record of success. At his age why would he not want to be with a team with a chance for post season play. That is not likely to happen in Cleveland before he is ready to retire.