August 26, 2014

A Hypothetical Off-Season: Getting Specific with the Indians Roster

I’m sometimes accused of throwing out a generic statement or course of action without getting into the specifics that would allow someone to disagree with me.  The Indians should trade for young starting pitching.  Well, yeah.  They need to move Chris Perez. A little warmer, but that’s still pretty non-specific, no? The seventh inning Hot Dog race is a gambling shammockery organized and operated by a Youngstown crime ring. Ok, that last one was pretty specific and I don’t really see how anyone could take issue with it.

Anyway, I wrote last week that it made quite a bit of sense for the Indians to trade Asdrubal Cabrera this offseason without specifying exactly what they should get in return.  I hope the reason for this is obvious: we just don’t know, dude, the player(s) we might receive in any given trade.  It’s a fool’s errand to try to name the specifics.

But I run errands all the time.  And for the sake of webloggery, I thought I might show you what a good off-season might look like for the Indians, at least from my very specific point of view.

Keep in mind that all of this exists only in my foolish head.

Trade Asdrubal Cabrera to the St. Louis Cardinals for Lance Lynn (RHP) and Carlos Martinez (RHP). It looks like St. Louis is ready to deal for Cabrera to fill their impending hole at short stop*, and they know that two years of cost-controlled, All-Star short stop doesn’t come free.  Lynn has Big League experience, and would slot directly into the rotation for 2013. He has a career K/BB ratio as a starter of 2.80 and has struck out more than a batter per inning, both of which would put him at the top of the Tribe rotation.

*Of course, the Cardinals have Rafael Furcal under contract for 2013, but he’s dealing with multiple injuries that may still require surgery.  According to Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post Dispatch, the Cardinals are looking for a permanent solution at short stop, and their interest in Cabrera is real.

Martinez is currently the Cardinals’ #2 or #3 pitching prospect (behind Shelby Miller, who I’ll assume is untouchable, and maybe Trevor Rosenthal).  Martinez has real upside, but is only 21 years old, hasn’t pitched above Double A, and could end up a reliever if he his body can’t handle the rigors of starting.  Here’s a brief scouting report from Baseball Prospect Nation:

Martinez’s fastball draws rave reviews from scouts, parking in the 94-97 mph range and touching 100 mph with some regularity. He generates his elite velocity with a lot of effort in his delivery, and that effort combined with his small stature concerns some scouts. He could end up in the bullpen long term where airing out his fastball and potential plus breaking ball could allow him to dominate the eighth or ninth inning.

I think this is a realistic, if impressive, haul for a top-ten short stop and $16 million of financial liability (remember trades are of contracts, not just players).  The Indians would immediately upgrade their rotation and minor league depth, while clearing some salary off the books for free agent signings (see more on that below).  Mike Aviles would take over at short—an obvious downgrade offensively, but either a wash or an upgrade with the leather.  We’d also have a cost-controlled bridge to Fransisco Lindor, who just might arrive in the Big Leagues the same year as Carlos Martinez throwing triple digit heat.  Lynn, it should be noted, barely has a year of ML service, meaning that he’d be under club control until at least 2018.

The Cardinals, meanwhile, would likely offer to extend Cabrera’s contract after the acquisition, who is only 27 years old himself and potentially approaching his offensive peak.  Cabrera could prove the Cardinals’ first long-term successful short stop since Edgar Renteria in the early 2000’s.  All this while holding on to their two blue-chip pitching prospects for years to come.

Trade Chris Perez to the Miami Marlins for Logan Morrison. Is there a team in baseball that seems a better fit for Perez than Miami?  He played his college ball up the street at the University of Miami.  The Marlins just traded away the steaming pile of failure named Heath Bell who used to “close” games for them, and they therefore sit right in the middle of the closer market.  They no longer employ Ozzie Guillen, so there wouldn’t be any impending personality confrontation—at least no more than Perez would normally bring with him.  Furthermore, I hear there’s a basketball team down there that doesn’t always sell out their home games.  I mean, the guy’d be a hit publicly dissecting the city’s attendance issues!

Look, I’ve wanted to trade Chris Perez for a while now.  I used to ask my mom to tell me bedtime stories about selling high on bullpen arms, so this is nothing new.  But let me say this as clearly as I can: if the Indians open the 2013 season with Perez on their roster they will have failed before even playing a game.  The fact that we can even have a conversation about moving a player who will pitch roughly 60 innings and make $8 million for a player who can play every day in a corner spot that we desperately need filled while making less than $500,000 IS INSANE.  You make this deal. You make it every day of the week and twice on Sundays.  You make this deal and then think dirty thoughts about how good it was.

Morrison’s stock seemed to take a hit with the Marlins’ front office over the past two years, which is why he could be available to begin with. The club demoted him to Triple A in 2011 after he openly criticized the team on his Twitter account (see, he’s a perfect doppelgänger for Perez!).  In 2012, they moved him to first base after demoting Gaby Sanchez, only to lose him to a knee injury that required surgery on July 28.  From everything I’ve read there is no reason to believe that Morrison won’t be fully healthy by Spring Training and ready to contribute to the Indians either in a corner outfield position or at first base.

This is another move that would solve multiple problems.  First, the salary impact is significant.  I’ve argued before that the Indians cannot afford to pay a player who plays so seldomly so much.  If he stays an Indian, Perez could likely be the highest paid player on the team next season.  That’s silly.  Second, we might finally be able to fill the hole in left field that has been caving in on itself since before David Dellucci and Jason Michaels and Ryan Garko and Trot Nixon and Shelley Duncan and Johnny Damon and OHMYGODJUSTSHOOTMEINTHEFACEALREADY.  Also, Morrison’s defensive flexibility would allow the team to use him at first base, either corner outfield spot, or DH—that’s the kind of flexibility we lacked last season, and it’s why we had to give Casey Kotchman 500 plate appearances despite his below-replacement-level performance.  Last but not least, we’d be getting four years of control over Morrison in exchange for just two years of “control” over Chris Perez (can pure rage really be controlled?).  That’s the sort of move that needs to be made—over and over again, to be honest—if a team with a low-budget hopes to continually infuse cheap talent.

So, why would the Marlins make this deal?  For one, they need a closer.  They spent a bajillion dollars putting that 2012 team together, only to watch Heath Bell blow it all to smithereens night in and night out.  Perez would (they hope) provide a consistent and dominant force out the ‘pen to help them compete with the Nationals for the division for the next several years.  Nothing is more frustrating, I would imagine, than watching an otherwise good team flail around with a lead each night.  This team is built to win right now—to capitalize on the new stadium—and if they think that Perez is the last piece to their puzzle, they just might jump.  In the same vein, the Marlins are all about marketing these days, and what’s more marketable than a hometown hero with attitude and quotable-quotables and long hair and let’s face it he’s EXTREME!!11one11!!

Radical.  Gnarly.  Get it done, please.

Sign Kevin Youkilis to a two-year $22.5 million deal with a vesting option (based on plate appearances) for the third year at $12 million.  By moving Asdrubal and Perez (not to mention Hafner), we would have cleared up more than enough money to make this addition.  Youkilis could move between first base and DH, as well as filling in at 3B in a pinch.  He’d hit from the right side, which would give us three right handed capable bats in our everyday lineup with Aviles and Santana.  It’s not an ideally balanced lineup, but it’s not terrible either, especially when you realize that no division in baseball has a larger proportion of right handed starters than the AL Central does. Youkilis could slot into the middle of the lineup, providing protection and leadership to an otherwise young and inexperienced core of players.  We know he’d work well with Terry Francona, and that might even factor in to his decision to take a deal in an otherwise unattractive situation.

Is this way too much money to spend on a 34 year old with diminishing defensive skills who has already shown some signs of significant decline (not to mention a pot belly)?  Yeah, it totally is.  But this is what playing in the free agent market looks like for most teams.  If you need a significant addition, you have to put your money on a guy with some upside and hope for the best.  To be honest, it’s what we did with Grady last year right before he crapped the bed.  But the idea is the same: sign a guy with some warts for as little as you can and hope the warts come off and the true talent rises to the surface more often than not.  This is obviously a bigger gamble than Grady because of the money and years, but it’s also less likely to bust, especially after watching what Youkilis did down the stretch for the White Sox last season.

As I’ve written before, I’d probably keep Choo.  I don’t think teams will give us enough to make it worth our while, and I think his value is likely to increase as we get closer to the deadline, by which time we’ll know better what to make of our own roster.  I also see no reason to move Masterson at the nadir of his value—we know he can be better than he was last year.  Shouldn’t we be the team to see if we can make that happen?  Even if we end up trading him in another year, I’d rather wait to see if we can inflate his value first.  Same would go for Santana, but I’ve admitted to being irrationally in love with Carlos, so I could be wrong there.

Anyway, from what I can tell, these moves would be neutral in total cost to the club, so I’d be all for doing more than this, but that seems a bit greedy.  Here’s how I’d envision our lineup in 2013, for basically no extra money.  Note that I’m moving Tomlin to the pen as the long-man and dropping Raffy Perez altogether (I hope we move him in a minor deal–he’s not worth what he’ll likely make in arbitration).

LINEUP:

PLAYER POS
Brantley CF
Kipnis 2B
Youkilis 1B
Choo RF
Santana C
Morrison LF
Chisenhall 3B
Canzler DH
Aviles SS

 

ROTATION:

PLAYER POS
Lynn SP1
Masterson SP2
Jimenez SP3
Carrasco SP4
McAllister SP5

 

BULLPEN:

PLAYER POS
Tomlin RHP
Allen RHP
Smith RHP
Herrmann RHP
Hagadone LHP
Sipp LHP
Pestano RHP

 

This was fun to think about and write, but I should be clear: it was a total waste of everyone’s time—definitely yours and most certainly mine.  Which is why I don’t often write with such specificity about the moves a team might make.  After all, not only am I not privy to the inner workings of the many front offices I discuss above, I simply can’t predict the future.  Even more than that, there are literally dozens of other players who might make just as much sense in the exact same spots I’ve outlined above.  The permutations are, if not endless, than at the very least mind-numbing to think about, and certainly beyond my ability to fully account.  In other words, these things are hard, yo.

But the point is made, I hope, that the front office has some flexibility this off-season—flexibility that must be employed if they hope to turn this team around without a full, soul-crushing rebuild.  To hope that the team we had last season miraculously performs 20 games better without some major changes seems foolishly naïve to me.  By the same token, remaking the team doesn’t mean that the Dolans have to mortgage their paddle boats to clear up some extra payroll cash or give away the entire roster and start over from scratch. It just means that we’re going to have to say goodbye to some familiar faces.

We should, at the very least, be used to it.

  • Dee P

    If this is what the Indians do, then I am fine with it. Living in St. Louis I know Cardinal fans do not like/trust Lance Lynn at all which scares me a bit….but I also feel like they don’t fully understand that Cabrera is overrated as well. So to me that would be a wash…..and then adding Martinez in the deal makes it a win for us. I’m not too high on Morrison though – I’d rather we trade Perez for more arms (I know I am not being specific) and try to address LF through free agency…..but if Morrison does happen, I’d be fine.

  • Kildawg

    Don’t forget that Tomlin had Tommy John, which makes him unavailable until All-Star break at the earliest. Unsure about Morrison mainly because he’s another LH bat, and bigger returns could be had for both Cabrera and Perez. Think Melky Cabrera would be worthwhile if we could sign him to a performance-laden deal like we did with Sizemore last year. Agree with the Youkilis signing, but we may be able to get him for a little less.

  • mgbode

    “Of course, the Cardinals have Rafael Furcal under contract for 2013, but he’s Rafael Furcal, so he is destined for the DL”

    Fixed it for you.

  • mgbode

    ok, my evaluation of your dart-throwing :)

    Asdrubal trade – fair compensation. I like Lynn though understand that he is likely not a top of the rotation SP (SP2 is his ceiling IMO).

    Perez trade* – ?? we are trading our loud-mouthed but allstar closer for a loud-mouthed LH hitting defensive liability in the OF who is coming off knee surgery and is still getting by on his reputation from a small-sample-sized-induced 2010? Either your Pestano love is showing or your Perez hatred. Pick one :)

    *I agree we should look to move Perez. But, not if Logan Morrison is the best we can do.

    Signing Youk to a 3yr/$34mil deal (3rd yr vesting option) – ummm, no. In 2009, a 30yo Youk coming off an allstar appearance and finishing 3rd in the AL MVP voting signed a 4yr/$40mil deal. A 34yo Youk coming off of 2 injury filled seasons who barely hit above average when he was healthy for Chicago last year does not deserve more money per year than that deal.

    “especially after watching what Youkilis did down the stretch for the White Sox last season”

    Youk in ’12 for White Sox (80 games):
    .236/.346/.425 for an OPS+=106

    2011 Matt Laporta (106 games):
    .247/.299/.412 for an OPS+=98

    Yes, Youk’s numbers are an improvement (until you add in his Boston time), but a $12mil/year improvement? No, no, no, no. Oh, and no. And, if you are not getting a signficant improvement from Matt LaPorta for $12mil, then you are doing something wrong.

  • Vindictive_Pat

    You have foolishly opened yourself up to criticism! Now’s my chance! First, your idea that we can get anything for Cabrera is foolish because he’s obviously gotten fatter over the past few years. Second, Chris Perez will never be traded because then his fake twitter account would have to start rooting for Miami. Third, Kevin Youkilis doesn’t have the type of name you would expect from a good player… if his name was Chase Steel, maybe I would agree with you. Phew, TAKE THAT JON!

  • mgbode

    “performance-laden”

    that phrase made me laugh when used in reference to Melky. he has had many performance laden things lately, but they come from a needle instead of a contract :)

  • mgbode

    Chase Steel might be worth $12mil/season

  • Vindictive_Pat

    I wish he had ran for president. Would have voted for him twice.

  • Vindictive_Pat

    I wish he had ran for president. Would have voted for him twice.

  • ChadF

    Drubes – I like it, and I think his contract may be attractive enough for us to get Lynn and Martinez. I really think Martinez has passed Miller on their prospect list. Miller had some issues in AAA last year and I think the St Louis FO isn’t as high on them as they were at the beginning of 2012. Either way I would be happy with any two of the three starters mentioned above.

    Perez – I’m sure we can get more for Perez than Logan Morrison, but I do like him manning a corner OF spot given a chance to play everyday and not put him out of position at 1B. Either way we’re going to get something of value for Perez and frankly I don’t care where we ship him. He’s a punk and he wore out his welcome back in May.

    Youk – I don’t think we’ll have to go that high for Youk. I’m fine with locking in two years with a team option for a third, but it will depend on who else is in the bidding for him. I think his future is at DH and if we can rotate him between the two it should help his offensive numbers. Plus what he can bring to that clubhouse and his familiarity with the way Tito runs things excite me.

    Why stop there…

    I dream of a Choo for Ellsbury scenario. Unless we can get a minor league pull from PIT or NYY/BOS for Choo why not roll the dice on competing now and take a chance on Ellsbury. Theoretically if they deem the first half of next year to be a complete failure after the all-star break we could trade Ellsbury mid year like we could have traded Choo and get a bundle of prospects regardless. Win/Win or Lose/Lose, depending on how you look at things.

  • mgbode

    you didn’t write him in?

  • BisonDeleSightings

    I’d take those first two deals any day (especially getting quality pitching for an infielder who I see entering the “Carlos Baerga on the Mets” phase of his career).

    But Youkilis…ugh. No thanks.

  • Return of the (Alex) Mack

    I am on board. Mostly because I really enjoyed the episode of the Franchise that focused on Logan Morrison.

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

    I know we hate to discuss “intangibles” because that’s usually reserved for Yankees fans talking about Paul O’Neill as if he could walk on water, but it is worth discussing on occasoin. The “intangibles” factors between Kevin Youkilis are off the charts different than LaPorta. You might be right that it isn’t $12 million different, but let’s not pretend like this is fantasy and the only way to measure the differences between Youk and LaPorta are with box score stats. It’s just not the case. Again, you might be right that it’s not worth it, but Kevin Youkilis would presumably bring some leadership to this team that it’s been missing ever since Victor Martinez was traded to Boston.

  • Steve

    LaPorta has a career 92 OPS+, Youkilis 124, and still 111 if we include 2011 (I’m not sure how you can cherry pick one’s best year against the other’s worst). Also, Youkilis can fill in at 3B, and is a great glove at 1B, unlike LaPorta.

    Also, that first Youkilis deal included 3 arbitration years. Not a valid comparison to FA years at all.

    If he’s healthy (which is a huge if) then ~$10 million/year seems fine. Averaged 2.5 WAR the last two years, and with 1.1 in 80 games in Chicago, seems like he’s that slightly above average player again. It’s no bargain, but its a fair deal.

  • Vindictive_Pat

    Oh man… regrets abound

  • mgbode

    cherry pick? i simply used the latest data (if we’re throwing out Youk’s Red Sox time as a small sample size error, then i’m throwing out LaPortas 22 games in 2012). overall though, it was to make a point that Youk’s touted “spark” he gave the White Sox wasn’t much better than what LaPorta gave us his last full year.

    what Youk did with the White Sox is what we can hope he does for us. what he did for the Red Sox is what eh could do for us.

  • mgbode

    I understand the intangible portion and support signing Youk. I also understand the added benefit of a RHB w/ some power. I just don’t think those assets are worth $12mil/year.

    and the deep-pocketed Red Sox did not either when he was 4yrs younger, had a better bat and better health. that was my point.

  • dwhit110

    Also Youk brings more clutchiness than LaPorta… /sarcasm

    Sorry, but per usual, I’m with mgbode. Can’t pay like that for intangibles. Baseball is the most measurable of the major sports, you must, must, must maximize your investments in a small market.

    Also count me as underwhelmed with Canzler at DH.

  • Steve

    Youkilis was on the White Sox roster for 90 games. He put up a 1.1 WAR. LaPorta was on the big league roster for 135 games in 2011, he put up a negative 0.9 WAR. Over 162 games, we’re looking at just over a 3 WAR difference between the two. There’s a difference.

    Also, like I said, if healthy. That was the difference between Youkilis this year (especially his time in Boston) and before that. If he’s still hurt enough that the early 2011 version is likely to return, then stay away.

  • WFNYJon

    And to be clear, I’m not suggesting we should pay all that money for intangibles. I think we take the risk that he’s healthy enough to be a 2-3 win player. As is always the case with free agents, you have to gamble quite a bit, but what I’m gambling on is his actual production, not his intangibles.

    Those, I suppose, come free.

  • http://twitter.com/aerochick121 Alexandria Yokiel

    Tomlin is out the whole year with Tommy John

  • http://twitter.com/MarkMazz Mark Mazz

    If we can get that much for ACab, I think it would be great… if unlikely. Not sure Acab’s value is that high.

    I feel like we HAVE to be able to get more for Perez than Morrison. It’s not worth trading him for nothing.
    As for the Youk contract, I love the idea of signing him, but he had a pretty bad year. I can’t see him making more than 5-7 million a year over 2 years. And we shouldn’t pay more than that either.

    Like the thought processes on all 3 moves though.

  • MLBoffSEASON

    Lynn and Martinez for a fat shortstop who can’t play defense or hit in the second half…fucking hilarious. At least Cabrera’s age is (kind of) on his side. Lynn is no ace, but he won 18 games. Martinez will fit nicely in the bullpen next year with all the other Cardinals fireballers. Try Joe Kelly plus one pitching prospect, probably Lance.

    Gotta love Youk, but any GM that gives him the money mentioned above is absolutely crazy.

  • Steve

    The Red Sox didn’t because those were arb-years, not FA years.

  • mgbode

    yes, 2 of them were. Cot’s wasn’t showing that for some reason. My apologies and thanks for clarifying.

    (still think $12mil/year is way too much for the Youk)