April 23, 2014

MLB Trade Deadline: The Cost of the “Wait and See” Approach

Late last week, while delivering his State of the Fan-Friendly Union, Cleveland Indians team president Mark Shapiro could not help but field questions about the upcoming MLB trade deadline. Sure, lowering the price of concessions and making Progressive Field more accessible are all well and good, but what about the product said (hopeful) increase in paying fans would ultimately view upon arrival? Shapiro was quick to shoot down any notion that a lack of activity in terms of consummated deals by no means signals that the team has unplugged their telephones and will head into the autumn months with their eyes closed and fingers crossed.

The desire to improve, and the knowledge that said improvement is necessary in order to achieve the ultimate goal, is there. The means to do so, however, remains the largest hurdle of them all.

Four weeks earlier, leading the AL Central at the time, the Chicago White Sox took a gamble on a much-maligned, aging veteran who was known of more recently for his role in a fried chicken and beer scandal. Since rolling the dice — paying the price of two prospects and $2 million of a $7.8 million contract — on a player who had been hampered by a plethora of injuries the past two-plus seasons, the rich have merely gotten richer as the 33-year-old Kevin Youkilis has seemingly put his back injuries behind him, turning his .233 average into one more Youk-like; the All-Star has hit .319 with an OPS of .965, adding four home runs, 18 runs batted in1, and a slew of web gems at the hot corner since swapping Red for White.

If you, as a fan, felt that Carlos Lee was the answer to the Indians’ woes, he has also increased his batting average and OPS (and still walking more often than striking out) since being moved to the Marlins of Miami since being dealt, albeit in a considerably smaller sample size. If we factor in flair points, Lee joined Youkilis in the home run parade, each helping their respective teams win a game earlier this week while the Indians fell to the Tampa Bay Rays.

This is not to play the revisionist game. While I was warmer than most on the Indians making the move to acquire Youkilis, a true professional by any sense of the word2 who happens to be everything the Indians desire — he is, after all, the Greek God of Walks — while playing a position of need, I did understand the reservations by most of the Tribe faithful. Youk’s best days are indeed behind him and the farm system is already running dry. Is he the guy that would put them over the top?

This is, however, to play the “sooner-than-later” card, showing that the time-value of making a deal, especially from the perspective of the buyer, far outweighs the benefits of an 11th-hour deal wherein both parties know exactly what they have to deal with. Certainly, things could have been different  for the Indians had Lonnie Chisenhall sustained his injury four days before the Red Sox and White Sox consummated a deal, or not at all. But waiting, in this instance, ultimately provided a higher cost. Factor in that it was a division rival, the one whom is being chased, and the sting is well beyond anything that can be subsided by some back-office Benedryl.

The Indians have since went from nipping at the White Sox’ heels to sliding into third place; the White Sox inherently transforming into a pinstriped carrot on a stick.

If the Indians feel that a right-handed corner infielder (or outfielder) is a commodity, then their incessant desire to get bargain basement pricing makes sense. Why fill up at $3.75 a gallon when you can drive a mile down the road and fill your Dodge Stratus full of $3.65-per-gallon goodness? But if their feelings on said players are indeed true, than not having one by this point is inexcusable, leading me to believe that there is more to their endeavor than merely finding an individual who can not only utilize their right hand to a level meeting or exceeding that of their left, but also will not cost them games when laying claim to certain positions on the field of play.

Then again, this same “Help Wanted” sign which has been smack in the middle of the front window on Carnegie and Ontario for the last 12 months has led to Kosuke Fukodome in 20113, and Johnny Damon and Casey Kotchman being added to the 25-man roster this past year, all of whom decidedly do not have an advantageous right hand nor hit for any modicum of additional isolated power. And while he may have thrown out Albert Pujols at second base, Damon isn’t exactly saving games with his glove work.

Each additional game where the Indians opt to trot out a lineup with Damon, Kotchman and the grab-bag of gross known as Aaron Cunningham or Shelley Duncan will ultimately cost the team come September and October. In baseball, you have the added benefit of the “its just one game” approach, but as the season wears on, each marginal game means more and more. There will be the oft chance where one of the aforementioned — whom all have their roles on an MLB roster, just none of which should be of the “everyday starting” variety — succeed at the plate and help the Indians pull out a close game, but hoping for aberration is no way to convince a fan base that this team is in fact on par with the two that are presently ahead of them in the AL Central standings.

It was just a month or so ago when the Cleveland Indians, again buyers rather than their typical role of sellers, were named as one of the teams that would be the most active come the 2012 MLB trade deadline. While the White Sox and Miami Marlins got ahead of the curve, the July 31 deadline has not passed and the Indians still could, conceivably, make some noise as the clock winds down. Josh Willingham, Alfonso Soriano, and Carlos Quentin are all names that have been bantered about. The Padres now appear to be ready to sign Quentin to an extension, Soriano would require the Chicago Cubs to essentially pay him in full to not play in Wrigley Field and the Indians didn’t want to pay Willingham this past off-season, opting to let him sign with the Minnesota Twins, another intradivision team. Adding him now would certainly help for the final two-plus months, but just think of what it would have done had the move been made, you know, this past winter. And it wouldn’t have cost an additional player.

ESPN’s Jim Bowden recently reported that Indians general manager Chris Antonetti is hot after Arizona’s Justin Upton4 and Philadelphia’s Shane Victorino, but — likely due to poor attendance — lacks the ability to take back big contracts in return and is struggling to find a partner due to an unwillingness to part with top prospects. And then there’s this gem of a quote as well.

Landing a player of Upton’s ilk, especially considering the circumstances, would certainly make headlines and instantly increase interest as well as win probability on a night-to-night basis. One can understandably make an argument for any of the other players, all of whom could help and would demand varying prices from their current employers. In this event, the wait will have indeed been worth it. But if the Indians, instead, opt for an 11th-hour deal that will only marginally improve their offense similarly to what they pulled off (or didn’t pull off) last season, the last month of action in MLB circles — with “YOUK” chants echoing from Boston to Chicago, with Cleveland smack in the middle — will only serve as constant reminder of what could have, or should have been. It will be this sort of inactivity that will render any fan-focused initiatives, both present and future, useless, driving an even larger wedge into the chasm-sized gap between the Dolans and the fans of Cleveland.

(Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)

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Footnotes:

  1. Several of the game-tying or game-winning variety []
  2. Regardless of what Bobby Valentine is chirping about these days []
  3. Don’t get me started on the Tigers, instead, landing Delmon Young… []
  4. Despite the Indians being one of four teams, the only of which is not in a major market, on his no-trade list []

  • LaundroMat

    “The desire to improve, and the knowledge that said improvement is necessary in order to achieve the penultimate goal, is there.”

    In order to achieve the second to last goal? Isn’t winning the ultimate goal?

  • matt underwood

    “we’ll spend when the time is right” – Paul Doaln

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com Craig Lyndall

    Fixed. Thanks.

  • Narm

    Funny how when payroll increased to the 15th and 16th highest in the league, attendance went down. They spent – it didn’t work. Plus – what is the incentive to spend if a 1st place team can’t draw – are fans that won’t show up when their team is winning going to suddenly show up for that same team because the guys are making more money?

  • Narm

    Also – that quote was TWELVE YEARS AGO. At what point to fans stop bringing it up and waiting for it to happen? I get the initial anger, but at this point it is kind of pathetic to still bring it up. If you don’t think they spent in ’08 and ’09 you are never going to be happy and it looks pretty pathetic to still cry over a quote from 12 years ago.

  • nj0

    Yup. Exactly. Spending != attendance. The fans taught Dolan and Co. that in the first half of 2008 so they have responded as any rational person would.

  • nj0

    The question is who should they trade. The fallout from the Ubaldo deal showed me that the fans will not accept the team trading any legit prospects. Chicago gave up two prospects for Lee, one a 22-year-old 1st rounder who is already playing in the majors. Would this fan base be willing to give up a guy like Chiz for a rental like Lee?

    Straw into gold is the only option, it seems.

  • http://twitter.com/PEngle39 Phil Smith

    They don’t have much to trade right now without impacting the future of the club. Lindor isn’t going anywhere, neither is Paulino, Howard, and hopefully Allen. Closer to the deadline, LaPorta, Canzler, Barnes, Gomez, etc. will be more attractive to teams.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    They can’t spend enough to overcome the horrible talent evaluations they make particularly in drafting. Other then that this is all much of the same I don’t even bother listening to any interviews the Indians do anymore.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Teams will be killing themselves to get in line for those greats!

  • http://www.cinpleweb.com/ stin4u

    At least Grady will be back, right? Sigh.

  • mgbode

    Justin Upton? wouldn’t we have to empty our farm system for him? and that’s only if AZ is willing to consider lower-level / high-grade prospects.

  • mgbode

    so, the Indians are not allowed to trade current legit players for prospects.
    the Indians are not allowed to trade current legit prospects for players.

    that leaves us trading the non-legit players for prospects (or the non-legit prospects for players)

    well, that is how we ended up with Hafner, Choo, Asdrubal, and Santana

  • mgbode

    you made me think an interesting thought. Chiz for rental Lee/Quentin, no.

    but, I would give thought to Chiz for Headley. 2 years of control after this one plus he is much more proven at MLB level. SD gets Chiz under control for a much longer period of time. (not sure I would do it but i’d think about it)

  • http://twitter.com/danimalCarroll Daniel Carroll

    I live out here in Phoenix and they have been talking about a Justin Upton trade for weeks. Basically the GM of the DBacks (Towers I belive) just doesn’t really care for the kid. Upton had some quote where he said he “didn’t care what the fans think” or something like that. Turns out, Phoenix fans are almost as sensitive as us Cleveland fans and that quote alone got him booed during a home game.
    I don’t think we’d have to empty the farm for him, but it might take one of our top kids and also a major league ready player. Arizona actually has some good outfield depth so it makes sense for them to move him. They also have starting rotation depth (Trevor Bower was just sent down, but still projects to be a #1 or a #2 down the road). I think they need middle infielders as I know Stephan Drew has a $10 mutual option for next year that most likely wont be exercised by either side for various reasons. (Side note; I guess there is talk of a Drew for Peralta swap…I really thought I wouldn’t have to watch old Jhonny in person again, here’s hoping that doesnt happen.)
    Really interesting to hear how Phoenix in general feels about a 24 year old outfielder. Most thoughts on the radio around here say he has reached his ceiling since he has been in the majors for 6 years. I don’t get that, Manny Ramirez broke out at age 24. Upton isn’t in his prime yet the D-Backs are fed up? Anyway, thats my 2 cents from out here in the desert.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    I heard Upton has a no trade clause and one of the teams on it was Cleveland.

  • http://twitter.com/danimalCarroll Daniel Carroll

    They were guessing the teams on the no trade clause yesterday on the radio. I guess there are 4 teams on the no trade clause. The radio guys came up with 4 teams, and they had solid reasons for 3 of the 4. The last one they settled on was Oakland and their reason was “well, no hitter wants to play in Oakland, you lose hits because of all the foul territory”
    So maybe Cleveland is on the list as that 4th team, but Burns and Gambo (AZ Sports 620) sure don’t think so.

  • TribeTimeNow

    For attendance to improve drastically the Tribe needs to make the post season and most likely two play off appearances in a row with real hope and possibility for WS contention. I’m sorry but two weeks of first place early in the season does not cut it. Think of it like basketball. People packed the Q during LBJ years because they were a true contender. This Indians team is like an Nba team floundering in the 8, 9,10 th seed land. Even if by some miracle the tribe gets into the post season do we honestly feel like they are a threat to anyone???

  • mgbode

    by 2 weeks you meant 2 and a half months, right?

    and, with Texas, Anaheim, NYY, and Boston we are not going to be the odds-on favorites to be a WS champion. the good thing is that baseball is a bit fluky once you get to October. if you get in and get hot, then anything can happen.

  • mgbode

    thanks. though it would still seem surprising if they gave up on him for just one top prospect and a decent-but MLB-ready guy.

  • nj0

    So MLBtraderumors sums up Bowden’s ESPN insider take on the Indians thusly, “The Indians are looking all over to acquire an outfield
    bat, but they are unable to take back a significant contract and are
    unwilling to move their best prospects.”

    Then how are they “looking”? Do they expect one o spring from the soil? Be born from the head of Zeus? Emerge from the Arctic ices because of a nuclear explosion?

    I’m not faulting the front office and I’m sure they’re working hard, but… sheesh…

  • nj0

    Not to jump on you TTN, but I am so sick of hearing this explanation.

    The sliding scale drives me nuts. Back in ’05, it was make the playoffs. After ’07, it became “make the playoffs multiple times and be a true contender and and and…” It’s a true scotsman argument. The requirements constantly change to explain away the simple fact that the region just doesn’t really care about the Indians.

    Weathers bad? That’s why we don’t come out. Team sucks? There you go. Team doesn’t suck? They’re not for real. Made it to the playoffs? Dolan won’t spend to make us better. Young team? We traded our vets. Acquired vets? We sold out future. Doing well? Baseball is still unfair. Doing poorly? Told you so. And so on into infinity….

    It’s okay to admit that Clevelanders just don’t really care for baseball and the Tribe. First step is admitting it.

  • nj0

    Good info. I agree with the others that it seems ridiculous cheap for Upton, but I guess the 10/14/14 contract over the next three years may have something to do with it.

    If the Tigers somehow flip Peralta into Upton, I may just call it quits and become a hermit or something.

  • stryker1121

    Problem is, contention or not, the Tribe does not pass the “eye test” w/ guys like Kotch, Cunningham, Damon getting important ABs ever night. This FO needs to be aggressive to prove to fans that they’re not satisfied w/ simple contention in a mediocre division.

  • mgbode

    we were aggressive last year acquiring Ubaldo. we might be aggressive again this year (TBD).

    we are always going to have a Kotchman-type guy in the lineup. someone there who provides defense but little offense. when the meat of our order is hitting, this is okay.

    i agree on the LF situation. it needs to be rectified. i like Headley the best of the possibilities out there.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    You think that was an aggressive move getting Ubaldo? I’ll give you it was a deal unlike the Indians have made in years but really compared to the rest of MLB was it really that aggressive? I don’t see anything that leads me to believe the Indians will be aggressive now.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    I could have sworn I heard Cleveland was on Upton’s no-trade list while watching MLB network the other day.

  • nj0

    How is that not aggressive? Ill-advised? You can call it that too, but even if you think it was beyond stupid you have to agree it was aggressive, right? Surely it wasn’t passive.

  • nj0

    Foxnews sports reported it was the Yankees, Red Sox, Cubs, and Indians. What an odd foursome.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Aggressive for the Indians not the majority of MLB is what I’m saying. If the Indians were trully aggressive they would have traded for Youkilis and still been looking for either a LF or SP or both.

    As far as the Ubaldo trade goes I was in favor of it then and I am still okay with it because I liked the fact the Indians didn’t decide to sit and wait hoping Pomeranz and White would live up to their expectations. The Indians track record with draft picks made it an even easier decision for me to like the move.

    As many of you like to say to others that we don’t know that the Indians didn’t try to make any deals I say you don’t know that they did.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    You wanna be real aggressive trade Choo before you lose him in free agency but trade him for MLB players not prospects.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Agreed especially NY because he’d fit in their OF.

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com/ Scott @ WFNY

    It also says so above.

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com/ Scott @ WFNY

    Many players leave big market teams in no-trade clauses due to their ability to pay in the open market. Why CLE is on there is beyond me.

  • nj0

    Well, if that’s the standard then I don’t think the Indians could ever be aggressive.

    As for Youk or anyone else, it’s hard to be aggressive when you don’t have any pieces to trade that won’t create holes else where and you’re unwilling to take on salary.

    re: trading Choo, I’d be for it, assuming a good return. I’ve already stated that we should be thinking about 2013 and on. This offseason, I said we should trade Acab as his trade value for us would most likely not get higher.

    I’m also of the belief that the front office needs to adopt more of a TBR philosophy: heavy on drafting, development, and trading young stars to constantly replenish the minors.

    I think we’re in agreement that the current system/philosophy just doesn’t work for the Tribe. I like Shapiro and company, but some days I think their whole concept on how to build a winner here in Cleveland needs to be torn down and rethought.

  • nj0

    That’s what scares me: three big market teams plus the least desirable he could think of.

  • mgbode

    we gave up our top pitching prospect (and another MLB-ready pitcher) for a pitcher who was a Cy Young candidate just a year before.

    that is a bold, aggressive move.

  • mgbode

    what MLB players are you going to get that are worth what Choo does and will be signed as long (or longer)? that’s why you get 3 or so good prospects for a guy like Choo (figuring 1 will pan out) and only 1 okay prospect for a middling MLB player (and when they pan out, it’s like striking gold)

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    We’ll never know on Youkilis like I said only the Indians know and they’ll never tell you anything differently. Basically all Boston got was a minor league pitcher I heard today that they cut Lillibridge to activate Crawford. If the Indians couldn’t have offered better or didn’t then shame on them.
    As far as the aggressiveness it sounds like you think like I do. I agree the way they are doing it now, I would like someone to explain to me exactly what it is they are doing, isn’t working. I guess I should be content with making the playoffs once in the past five years but I’m sorry I’m not.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    I liked your idea of Jay Bruce yesterday that would be one example but given the way the Indians traded Lee and Sabathia for “prospects” Antonetti better call me before he excepts future “prospects” because I could choose better. Well maybe.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    The key words are “our top pitching prospect” where did he fall compared to the rest of MLBs top pitching prospects. Just because he was the Indians top prospect doesn’t mean alot especially given the Indians drafting record the last 7 years.

  • mgbode

    Bud Grant took over drafting in 2008, not fair to put the past failures on him.

    and, you can only be as aggressive as the ammo you have, right? how can we be more aggressive than trading our top pitching prospect?

    Anyways, he was rated the #30 overall prospect by Baseball America at the time of the trade (via his baseball reference page). That’s pitchers and hitters included (BA only shows their top20 and 7 of them are pitchers, so he was likely a top10 overall pitching prospect in MLB).

  • mgbode

    I do like that idea too, but I’m afraid MLB GMs just refuse to think that way (even if Antonetti tried to pursue it). MLB fans are conditioned to the black/white nature of trades now. It’s either “white flag season – getting prospects” or “all-in – empty the minors”

    ——————————————————-

    prospects are hit or miss, it’s not like Dominic Brown and JA Happ (the guys everyone wanted from Philly for Lee) are tearing things up either.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    I don’t know who you blame but it’s about time someone started to take responsibility for something. Has anyone ever?

    Hmmmmm top 10 pitching prospect in all of MLB seems high but I don’t know. In any event Ubaldo’s contract was probably just as inviting as his one time Cy Young candidacy. I’ve said it numerous times before I don’t have an issue with the trade if anything I found it refreshing. It’s unfortunate Jimenez appears to have regressed again.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    I don’t know how other GMs are conditioned but maybe it’s time for less “group think” and more Billy Beane type of thinking. I know the Indians can’t win the way they are doing it.

    I was watching MS&LL and they had a caller propose something like Asdrubal Cabrera to Atlanta for Andrelton Simmons and a pitching prospect. That’s something I’d be for IF it was part of a blow-up which is the direction I think this team needs to go. Unfortunately right now with this extra wildcard I think the prospect of blowing this team up would be as detrimental as them making no trades at the deadline. Definitely between a rock and a hard place but they put themselves in that position.

  • http://twitter.com/danimalCarroll Daniel Carroll

    Hey guys, I looked into this a little more, and talked to some D-backs fans. I guess before Upton signed an extension he had basically a no trade clause with 4 bad teams (Detroit, Cleveland, Kansas City and Oakland).
    When he signed the extension he changed the teams to Boston, New York, ChiCubs, and the Indians. The reason he now has Boston, NY, and Chi is basically to drive up price. Basically “You better throw some extra $$ at me to get me to waive this no trade clause to come to you”
    I don’t know why the Indians were the leftover team that he didn’t want to be traded to under both contracts.

  • jim

    White and Pomeranz were both top 100 prospects in MLB last season.

  • Steve

    “Guys don’t want to come over here and people wonder why…Why doesn’t
    Carlos Beltran want to come over here? Well, because of that. That’s
    part of it. It doesn’t go unnoticed — trust us. That’s definitely a huge
    reason. Nobody wants to play in front of 5,000 fans. We know the
    weather (stinks), but people see that. Other players know that.”