Assessing the Indians Offseason Options: A Look at our Trade Chips

There arises a certain degree of skepticism among Indians fans when the subject of signing free agents is mentioned.  This feeling is not without cause, nor is it worth going into any great detail searching for an explanation.  We know that whatever free agents we add are likely to be of the complementary nature—a utility player here or a bullpen arm there.  We’ve been conditioned to believe that we play in the shallow end of the pool when it comes to free agency due to circumstances that are, by and large, beyond our control.

On the other hand, there is some reason to believe that the Indians might be willing to add some talent and (yes!) even some payroll this off-season.  For one thing, Chris Antonetti said so himself.  For another, the 2012 season looks like that “contending” year that we’ve been waiting for.  Did it make sense to sign a big name before the 2010 season?  Not really, we were at our nadir as a team.  But now?  One or two pieces could make a big difference to a club that is otherwise ready to start competing.

The problem, of course, is that the free agent pool isn’t looking all that advantageous for us.  To say nothing about the dangers of signing unathletic sluggers without a natural position who might not age well, we really can’t afford Pujols or Fielder.  So stop thinking about them.  For the first base pile beyond those two?  Yikes.  Russ Bus?  Carlos Pena?  Derrek Lee?  Anybody there you wanna throw $6 to $8 million at?  Me neither.

The same goes for free agent outfielders, at least in my opinion.  Take a look at the names on this list and tell me you see someone you’d feel comfortable paying in 2012 to put the team over the hump.

So if the free agent market isn’t going to be the place to make improvements, we’re left playing in the trade market.  And I think we might be better off here than you might at first think.  Let’s talk about some of the Indians most valuable commodities that I’d be comfortable parting with.

Tony Sipp, Raffy Perez, and/or Joe Smith: There isn’t a doubt in my mind that we could part with Raffy Perez and replace him with (a cheaper) Nick Hagadone.  Raffy is entering his second year of arbitration-eligibility, probably fetching him somewhere about $1.5 million for the 2012 season, so trading him could free up salary space and net us some additional talent.  Sipp is in his last pre-arbitration year, so could be slightly more valuable to an acquiring team since he’s still being paid close to the league minimum.  And Joe Smith is coming off a career year that might really attract some of the upper echelon teams. (Assuming  they don’t look too closely at his peripherals, which weren’t so good.  Quiet, you.)

Chris Perez: Speaking of guys who might have looked a bit better than they actually were….  Did you know that among AL closers, nobody struck out fewer batters than Perez did in 2011 AND nobody walked more batters than he did?  That’s not a good sign, kids.  When you throw in the fact that he’s arbitration eligible (and about to become expensive, it makes tons of sense to turn the closer role over to Vinnie Pestano now.  Did I mention that Vinnie was third in K-rate in the AL in 2011?  And that I heart him?

Paul Cousineau suggested that we might be able to turn Chris Perez into Gaby Sanchez.  While I don’t think he could net us nearly that much, I do recognize that teams tend to overvalue the save statistic.  And disirregardless, I’m not a huge fan of paying closers lots of money; it reminds me of this guy, and I don’t like it.  I think we should trade Perez for as much as we can get, and ride with Vinnie Boy.

Lou Marson: I know this is blasphemy.  You like Lou.  I like Lou too.  I like him so much that I think he could be a viable starting catcher.  But for reasons I’ve outlined elsewhere, I want Carlos Santana to be our starting catcher.  And more importantly, so does the front office.  So that means that the most Lou will play for the Cleveland Indians is once or twice a week.  Is that the best use of a commodity that might be valued more highly by another organization?  I’m not sure.  If there’s a team out there that would give Lou the keys to catcher job from day one, would they be willing to pay for him with some talent in return?  I’m not sure, but I think that keeping him as a backup is a waste of resources: I see a mediocre starter there, and that’s worth something on the trade market.  Which brings me to….

Jason Donald: I would argue that Jason Donald is the single most valuable trade chip on this list.  He is plenty good enough to start for a lot of teams—even playoff teams.  Let’s demonstrate briefly.  The St. Louis Cardinals could replace Ryan Theriot with Jason Donald, save $3 million, and get better production.  The Detroit Tigers have been in dire need of a second baseman all season.  The Diamondbacks were getting such putrid production from second base that they traded for Aaron Hill.  The point is, we tend to think of second base as a premiere position because of guys like Cano and Pedroia and Weeks and Utley, but beyond those top guys, Jason Donald ain’t so bad.  Throw in his versatility and his league minimum salary, and we might just have a valuable commodity on our hands.

And that’s it.  There’s not a lot more on the major league roster that I’d be ok with trading right now (unless you count Cord Phelps; if he has value, trade him).  I could be talked into Choo or Tomlin, but you’d have to be offering quite a bit, and I just don’t think that offer is out there.  I’d obviously be willing to trade Hafner or Talbot, but I don’t think anybody’d take them.  And for the record, I still want to hold on to Fausto: I just don’t see how the upside in cutting him loose would be greater than the upside of a workhorse who will throw 200 innings that might be good.  But that’s just me.

What would I do?  I’d be working the phones hard to package some of these guys for a first baseman.  With Gonzalez and Papi in Boston, Papelbon wearing out his welcome and a new GM, do the Red Sox think about parting with Youkilis for some young talent like Marson, Donald and C-Pez?  Could we pry Smoak from the Mariners for any combination of these guys?  I just don’t know.  Thankfully, that’s not my job.

But what I do know is that the trade chips we have right now are likely more valuable now than they will be this time next year.  Chris Perez’s ERA will likely catch up with his peripherals.  Jason Donald will rot on the bench behind Kipnis and Chisenhall.  Lou Marson will play sparingly.

The time to act seems to be upon us: it’s time to start filling out the team, and the trade market might be the only avenue available to us.

Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

  • Pale Dragon

    I think the group we have is good enough to compete next year as is. What could derail us is injuries like we had this year. Therefore, I worry about the depth issues we could run into if we were to trade any of the guys you suggest. For example, having traded White and Pomeranz limits the depth of our starting rotation.

  • MattC

    “Disirregardless”? Are you kidding me?

    Good article/content. You guys do great research and content here, but you guys could really use a good editor.

  • http://waitingfornextyear.com BAJ22

    Thanks Jon, always enjoy reading your stuff. “disirregardless”?? LOL! I think you invented a new word – gotta love it!!

    Detroit found gold in Doug Fister. He looks like the real deal. With their pitching staff and potent offense, Detroit will be tough to beat next year, “disirregardless” of what the Tribe does in the off season.

  • http://waitingfornextyear.com Craig Lyndall

    Disirregardless is on a t-shirt, so I’ll allow it.

  • http://twitter.com/cpmack Chris M

    I’ll see your disirregardless and raise you one undisirregardless.

  • http://waitingfornextyear.com Craig Lyndall

    My brother and I were correcting people who said “irregardless” by telling them, “No. It is irregardlessly.” Only we thought it was funny though.

  • NJ

    Sign that we may be willing to spend more: The Indians led the league in increased attendance from 2010 to 2011 at just under 450,000.

    Some quick figuring: The average ticket price for the Indians in 2011 was $18.49. So multiply…. and you get an extra $8.3M over 2010 and that’s before factoring in concessions, parking, merchandise, etc.

    I’m not sure what any of this means. Information is not knowledge.

  • NJ

    And while we’re dreaming of trading for a first basemen, how about Joey Votto?

  • http://waitingfornextyear.com Scott

    “but you guys could really use a good editor.”

    Do you honestly think Jon used that word with sincerity?

  • mgbode

    @Scott – I know I laughed when I came across it. Some people just aren’t used to Jon’s humor I suppose.

    ——

    @BAJ22 – I wish I was right with Fister (didn’t think he would be a difference maker or better than what they already had). He’s improved pretty much across the board with Detroit since his first couple starts and shutdown Texas.

    ——

    @Jon – good stuff as usual. as to that OF FA list, the one that sticks out to me is still Mag’s. Hate him and what he has done to the Tribe over the years and he’s getting to be old as dirt. But, he is the least removed from his good OPS years and can likely be had for a reasonable 1year contract (and hope for a Berkman revival style year)

    trade Lou? it makes all the practical sense in the world, but we’ll all have a sad time.

    I don’t think many value Chris Perez though. I think he’ll be with the team as a result. I do think that we could trade a couple of our other bullpen guys and possibly be overpaid for them.

    Jason Donald having decent value is interesting. AZ has some good young pitching, so I would see if we could mine a potential 3rd/4th starter from them.

  • Ghost To Most

    I for one do not like the idea of keeping Tony Sipp in favor of Rafael Perez. Sipp gives up way too many home runs for my liking.

    Sipp has given up 27 home runs in 165 innings, Perez 25 home runs in 321 innings.

    I would keep Perez and dangle Sipp in a trade if they need to clear a spot for Hagadone.

  • jobusan524

    From the OF FA list, my vote would go to Matsui. He may not be any good, but I’m fairly certain that starting an all-Asian outfield unlocks a hidden achievement with MLB.

  • Harv 21

    Nice stuff, Jon.

    Seems like just last off-season we were claiming we filched a legit closer of the future for DeRosa, and now we hope someone else thinks the same about Perez. Might be a huge tease, Paul Shuey with a worse breaking ball. Re Jason Donald, I’m sure you have a pile of stats but my eyes didn’t see someone plenty good enough to start for a playoff team. Or for any team at this point. Let’s see what he does over one full MLB season.

  • V

    undisirregardlessness

  • Mike

    If the Marlins become players for Pujols or Fielder I think C. Perez for Sanchez makes too much sense, given the Tribe’s need for a 1B and the Marlins incarcerated, fake identity closer situation.

  • John

    love it. Youk would make us a contender immediately, and im also on the Vinnie P-train. trade CPerez while you can, cuz his value will plummet this season

  • B-bo

    I would have to consider abandoning the Tribe for the season if Youk was brought in. So much hate for that guy

  • Ghost To Most

    If the average fan on the street recognizes Chris Perez’ faults, dont you think general managers around the league will as well?

    Im not opposed to dealing him if we can get something of value in return. I just dont think he has as much trade value as some people think. Why would the Marlins give up a fist baseman who is cheap and productive in exchange for an underwhelming closer? Especially with Ozzie managing that team now, he knows Perez as well as anyone being the same division for the past 3 years.

  • Karsten

    Okay, take out every appearance Pure Rage made when it was NOT a save situation. I bet his ERA is about .9 points lower, and his numbers all look much nicer. He is awful in non save situations.

    Ready? Here we go:

    1. Trade the Grady. Aim for a #3 type starter, cut a bit of his sizeable 2012 contract out.
    2. Go balls in for 2012. Dump money at a Fielder or Pujols. Seriously. We can cut Pronk’s contract after this season (I believe?) If at all plausible, give our new star 1B a short contract, perhaps with incentives. I know we’re poor.
    3. Santana does main catching duties, and DH’s to match up with lefties or when Hafner’s old bones need a rest.
    4. Dump Fausto unless he finds a really good sport psychologist, to help with the cost of said 1B. Get a new #3 in Grady deal.

    Pros:
    – No more gaping offensive hole at first, where contending teams all have monsters.
    – We keep our Lou for defensive purposes etc., while still paying Santana to do what we have him for.
    – We also remove the problem of Santana’s total defensive incompetence at first base.
    – Potential outfield of Crowe/Carrera, Brantley, and Choo. Respectable, youthful, potentially quite good.
    – Santana, Choo, Hafner, and Fielder/Pujols in the middle of the lineup.

    Cons:
    – Never gonna happen unless the Dolans want to knock us all on our asses for once and go big.
    – We lose our Grady boy, but unless the dude is 100% healthy and doesn’t strike out 40% of the time, I honestly just don’t care.

    That’s what I’m thinkin… sprinkle in a healthy, back-to-normal Ubaldo and we got a hell of a ballclub.

  • Ghost To Most

    Why would Fielder or Pujols take a short term deal, with the Indians of all teams?

    I mean…. seriously? Just for arguments sake lets say the Tribe could offer them something like 75 million over 3 years, which they cant. But for the sake of argument we’ll pretend they can.

    Why would Prince, or Pujols take 75 million when they will likely have offers ranging anywhere from 160-200 million? They are going to leave (hypothetically) 85-125 million dollars on the table to sign, with Cleveland?

    We’re more likely to see the Cavs in the finals next season, than Pujols or Fielder wearing a Tribe uniform.

    Let that one go folks, its not happening.

  • NJ

    I also don’t see teams clammering to give us a starter for one year of a $9M injury plagued Grady Sizemore.

    That’s what’s terrible about the Sizemore situation –
    1.)extend him and he sucks, he’s a waste of money
    2.)extend him and he doesn’t suck, he walks after and we get nothing for it (well, one year of good production)
    3.)extend him and try to trade him? who wants to take that risk on him? I guess you could flip him half way through the season if he’s really raking, but you’d still be on the hook for $9M if he doesn’t play well
    4.)don’t extend him, he walks because some other team will give him a better short term deal

  • NJ

    @20- I agree completely. People say, make it a big money, short term deal. But players KNOW they won’t be as valueable in two or three years when they’re 34 or whatever. Heck with the type of player Fielder is, he might have no market value by then. Look at Ryan Howard.

    Even if you made a guy the highest paid yearly player at 2yrs/$60M say, is that really better than 5/$110M? Most players know that they may not be good enough to get that extra $50M down the road. Get it while the gettin’ is good.

  • Karsten

    Alright, if those guys are unsignable for our team, which I recognized is probably the case, there’s gotta be a good 1B we can chase somewhere out there. There are lots of teams out there who would kill for a fast, powerful CF and it’s not like Grady’s 30-30 abilities were not proven time and again before his injuries. If the guy is 100%, which he should be, then a team should jump on him and work on his eye at the plate happily in exchange for a middle-of-the-rotation starter. I don’t want a stud, just a CONSISTENT starter. I’m totally done with Fausto.

  • NJ

    Believe what you want, but I don’t think there’d be many takers for Grady at $9M for one year UNTIL he proves he can play at a high level and stay healthy. And that won’t happen to July or August of 2012. Which doesn’t make deciding on his extension any more easier.

    As for 1B: there really isn’t a FA worth a darn (imo) after Fielder and Pujols. Technically, David Ortiz will be a FA, but talk is that the Sox will most likely keep him.

    Seriously, if you’re bored and want to feel depressed, go through baseball-reference.com and look at the quality of these guys. Do you really want to spend $10M/yr on Lee or Pena?

    Russell Branyan
    Jorge Cantu
    Ross Gload
    Brad Hawpe
    Eric Hinske
    Casey Kotchman
    Mark Kotsay
    Derrek Lee
    Xavier Nady
    Lyle Overbay
    Carlos Pena
    David Ortiz
    Lyle Overbay
    Carlos Pena

  • Hermie13

    Solid article. Just couple things i wanted to touch on. Slight error in your sipp/raffy writeup. Raffy Perez is actually arbitration eligible format a 3rd time this winter. He was arby eligible in 2010 as a super two guy. Shouldnt be in for much of a raise again though had a very solid year. Sipp very likely will be a super two as well and be up for arbitration. He may end up making more than raffy next year. Just something to keep in mind

  • Hermie13

    I also agree on every player you mentioned as a possible trade chip…but would add a couple more.

    First….Josh Tomlin. Yes he averaged over 6 innings a start and yes he tied for the team lead in wins and yes he had a solid overall era….he had a solid season for a near rookie.

    So why trade him?

    Everyone points to the offense falling apart in june as our downfall and i dont disagree….but what it also did was mask just how bad tomlin was from then on. His ERA was over 5 from June 1st on. He was really no better overall than carmona. Yes he could give you 5 innings and walks were down…and dont get me wrong i really like the guy, but Tomlin showed why scouts always thought he was a #5 starter at best. Tomlin is still valuable to this club but his value will probably never be higher. If you can convince a team he is a #3 i’d sell.

    The other guy is brantley. Terrible in CF and his OBP is not good enough for leadoff. Took a step backwkards from his strong 2010 second half as well. If you can get a young power hitter in a deal with him (logan morrison?) I would consider it. Not enough power for LF and if he isnt stealing bases or getting on at a .360 clip he is a boderline 4th outfielder.

  • Ghost To Most

    Derrek Lee would be a nice pickup, and he signed with Baltimore for 7.5 million last offseason. Not sure what kind of value he has at this point. I might consider taking a chance on Lee for 6-7 million on a one year deal.

    I still think our best option at 1st next season, is Carlos Santana.

  • NJ

    I don’t like Derrek Lee. Is less than one WAR worth $6-7M? Not in my opinion.

    Man, Laporta is killing us.

  • Ghost To Most

    Ok 6-7 is a bit much, maybe we could get him for 4-5? Maybe?

    I think he might be the best, or at least the most realistic option available to us at 1st base.

    I still say our best bet is to put Santana at 1st and look for a free agent catcher. A platoon of Ramon Hernandez and Lou Marson might not be the worst thing in the world.

  • NJ

    I was just reading an article about how bad the FA catcher market is too. Which, on the plus side, may mean that Marson has more value.

    But I agree. We have to do something at first and Santana splitting time there wouldn’t be the end of the world. Not the best, but not the worst. We can always deal with the position some time down the road.

    I may be one of the few people who think Laporta needs another last chance, not because he’s earned it but just because our other options seem so hoe-hum.

    I don’t have a problem with a guy like Lee or Pena, but I also accept that we’d probably be overpaying a declining guy. I worry about one-tool sluggers at that age because they seem to fall fast.

  • Ghost To Most

    LaPorta is still young and cheap, so yeah it doesnt hurt to give him one more shot.

    Those 1 tool sluggers do fall fast, youre right. Look what happened to Adam Dunn. I almost wonder how much of that contract the White Sox would be willing to eat just to unload him.

  • mgbode

    we need T-shirts. “LaPorta: because our other options suck too.”

  • Karsten

    Santana is a HORRIBLE first baseman. We need to fill the 1B hole with a better player, otherwise the offensive hole moves to Marson at catcher and we have worse defense at 1st.

  • John Eastman

    I disagree with not being able to acquire Prince Fielder. He has indicated that he wants to DH somewhere. If we trade, Carmona, Hafner and Sizemore. We will have what $25 to $35 million per year. I think we can offer him a 7 to 8 year contract so don’t say it can’t happen. Believe in the dream baby…. I would also trade for a young 1st baseman or/and a young outfielder that bats right handed. Maybe Jerry Sands from the Dodgers for the outfielder and sense the Reds can’t keep both Yonder Alfonzo and Joey Votto then trade for one of them. And if you want to add pitching – go see the Braves = they have a lot of young potential there and can’t keep all of them….. Go Tribe!!!

  • Ghost To Most

    Prince weighs 285 pounds, and hes not very good in the field.

    Cant remember who it was, forgive me, but a commenter recently suggested he could be the next Mo Vaughn. I think they might be right.

    He’s not worth 25-35 million a year even if we can afford him.

    He didnt even have the highest WAR on his own team, that would be Ryan Braun.

    Like NJ said, beware the 1 tool players.

  • NJ

    No want!

  • Doc1188

    Chris Perez might be the best option to be traded. Not sure, about Donald though. I like him, but he’s not a prospect, and not quite a proven everyday player.

  • tribefan1968

    Possible good trade target is Lee Mayberry Jr. from the Phillies. He can play 1st base and all three outfield positions. Also is young, cheap, right-handed hitter and an OPS over .800. Probably is expendable since he is not a starter with Philly. Maybe a Rafael Perez for Lee Mayberry Jr. trade might work, sort of a reversal of the Ricardo Rincon/Brian Giles deal in the mid-90’s.