For several years now, the MLB trade season has been met with something between apathy and dread in Cleveland —both springing from the resignation that the Indians would again be “sellers,” trading any assets they had to reload the farm system for a new cycle of contention.
This season is shaping up a bit differently. As the team continues to hang around in the weak AL Central, there is a growing sentiment that not only should the Indians not be sellers, but they should be actively looking to acquire short-term assets that can help the team win now, even at the expense of some of the young players and prospects currently moving through the system.
Today let’s examine some of the approaches to this year’s upcoming trading melee, as well as the consequences of each.
The first option I’ve heard goes something like this:
First place is rare. When you have a chance to win the division, you go for it. Damn the torpedoes. Don’t worry about the farm system or the pipeline. Acquire the best bat you can on the trade market with the talent we have in the minors. Go all in on 2011.
If you need an example, think something like acquiring Carlos Beltran from the Mets for Kipnis and Pomeranz.
Let me say that just because I disagree with this sort of thinking, it does not mean that it’s completely without merit. It’s a terribly frustrating thing to watch a season turn sour in July while your minor league teams continue to win Championships. And while it’s fun to dream on Drew Pomeranz and Jason Kipnis and Nick Hagadone and Alex White, none of them is likely to help us make the playoffs this season.
On the other hand, it doesn’t seem wise, especially for a team like the Indians, to trade cheap assets for expensive ones, which is basically what a trade like this would do. Any big name that we acquire in a trade—if he’s any good—will cost us at least one, and maybe two, of our big name prospects.
The second line of thinking is more modest:
Our Major League team currently has both strengths and weaknesses. Trade from our positions of strength to bolster our weaknesses. Don’t touch the big prospects, but try to sell high on a Josh Tomlin or Raffy Perez to pry a bat from a contender in need of pitching help. Then promote from within to take the spot (Hagadone or McCallister).
This makes some sense to me because I believe that we’ve seen some successes this year that aren’t likely to continue, especially from the two players I mentioned. But again, would you give up Josh Tomlin, who’s making the league minimum, for a corner OF bat with no defensive value on the wrong side of 30 who makes $5 to $10 million a year? Because I think that’s what he’d get us right now. Raffy Perez would get us less than that.
While this scenario strikes me as attractive, it also seems fairly unlikely to land us the impact bat we seem to need. Sure, it might appease the screamers who demand that something be done NOW (or else???), but in the long run, you’re still likely going to lose an affordable asset for a more expensive one. And if you don’t win this year? You’re likely weaker down the road.
Long-story short? There just aren’t a whole lot of teams out there that want to trade young, cheap talented players. So why should we?
Third, of course, is to do basically nothing. The front office would never admit to this sort of strategy, but if the deadline comes and goes, we’ll pretty much know that this is what they settled on. And it’s actually defensible, in my opinion. The Indians are making progress. They are getting better. The cycle looks to be starting. Why should we do something that might hurt our chances to contend for the next several years just to try to win the division now? Aren’t we still a pretty flawed team in 2011, even if we add an All-Star bat to the middle of the lineup?
It seems clear, to me at least, that the problems we have right now aren’t going to be fully solved by acquiring one player. What will solve the problem is letting Michael Brantley and Asdrubal Cabrera and Carlos Santana and Carlos Carrasco and Justin Masterson and Lonnie Chisenhall and Alex White and Drew Pomeranz and Jason Kipnis continue to develop as cheap, viable Major League players who can help this team contend for the next six to ten years. Not only do I not want to lose any of them, but I don’t want to deviate from the plan that we’ve been following for the last two years. After all, it’s finally starting to work.
But as always, I know I’ll probably be a minority. Let’s find out to what degree: