I have killed Chris Antonetti time and time again for his head scratching roster decisions, but none of those will be mentioned in this piece. I am here to stand up, clap, and give the much maligned Tribe GM his proper due.
Throughout this offseason, the Indians have been in the center of activity in baseball’s hot stove league. They have a powerful and well respected new manager in Terry Francona, and a roster with a young core group of players, four of whom were prime trading chips. There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that the Indians needed a makeover.
But would they actually have the stones to go through with it? And if so, how would they go about it?
It started with the trade for Mike Aviles. It seemed like a small move, but it was one that would start the facelift. On Sunday, the Indians decided they no longer wanted to wait on Kevin Youkilis and instead signed free agent first baseman Mark Reynolds for half of the cost (one year, $6 million) of Youk (who signed a one year, $12 million deal tonight with the Yankees). But as I said on Monday, there was no chance Antonetti was done.
It took just one more day, and almost out of nowhere, reports started to trickle in late Tuesday afternoon that the Indians and the Reds were in “deep discussions” involving OF Shin-Soo Choo. By nightfall, a third team, the Arizona Diamondbacks, entered the fray. We had been hearing about talks between the Tribe and the D’Backs all last week in Nashville, but nothing came to fruition. The Diamondbacks needed a shortstop, the Indians have wanted young arms.
Around 9:15 PM Eastern time, the deal was all but done. The three-team deal turned out to be more than we could have hoped for. The Indians parted ways with RF Shin-Soo Choo, utility man Jason Donald, left-handed reliever Tony Sipp, and AAA first baseman Lars Anderson. Choo and JD end up in Cincinnati with Sipp and Anderson heading to Arizona. The key member of this deal was a 23-year old prospect shortstop named Didi Gregorious. Apparently, Diamondbacks GM Kevin Towers was hot for the slick fielding kid and preferred him and his asking price to Tribe All-star shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera. So Gregorious, not Cabrera, was sent west from Cincinnati. For the Tribe’s trouble, they got the young starter they have been holding out for, Trevor Bauer, with relievers Bryan Shaw and Matt Albers from Arizona. They also received CF Drew Stubbs from the Reds.
All of this came to fruition without the Indians having to trade Asdrubal Cabrera. It also should be noted that to get this deal done, the Indians reportedly gave the Reds money to make up for the difference in salary between Choo and Stubbs.
For the last three weeks, all we heard was that the Tribe would have to send AC to Arizona to get Bauer. In the end, pulling in Gregorious was the thing that got the deal done.
Now to the particulars.
Choo was a fan favorite and a solid player here for parts of seven seasons, there is no doubt about it. But I have maintained for close to two years now that he is not a “winning player.” You all know by now he is a free agent after the 2012 season and had zero interest in re-signing in Cleveland. Unless the team was a contender out of nowhere, the Indians would have dealt him at some point during the season. Instead, they used him as bait to nab a future top of the rotation starter in Bauer. Choo has not fared well under pressure (see his post-DUI 2011 numbers) and is entering his contract year. Antonetti was painted into a corner by Choo and his agent Scott Boras. All it took was the right opportunity to come along. It just did. And now Choo is the new leadoff man and center fielder in Cincinnati.
Speaking of which, the Reds fanbase need to be warned – Choo in Center is going to be a disaster. We all know that he is one of the worst defensive outfielders in the game, but that is covered up by his rocket arm, which will be missed in right field. But I can’t remember another outfielder in my day who lost more balls in the lights or the sun. It should be very interesting to see how he does in Cincinnati.
As for Donald, he was a major disappointment here since coming over the horrific Cliff Lee deal. The Indians had high hopes that he could become a super utility man, but he never hit enough to do so and had major defensive issues at third. Shipping him to Cinci with Choo is not a loss in the least bit. Losing Sipp shouldn’t sting either as its time for Nick Hagadone to step to the forefront as the team’s top lefty reliever. The 29-year old Sipp was up and down for the past two seasons and just when you thought you could count on him, a bad two month stretch would follow. He had a penchant for allowing home run balls at inopportune times and wasn’t a big strikeout guy. Sipp, who is arbitration eligible in 2013, should be easily replaced by the younger and cheaper Hagadone.
The prize coming to Cleveland is clearly Bauer, who is regarded as one of the top pitching prospects in all of baseball. It is easy to ask why the Diamondbacks were so willing to give up on him. There were whispers that his velocity was down last year and that the Arizona brass wasn’t crazy about his attitude. However, this is an organization in dire need of a young shortstop and loaded with quality young arms. Its the old adage – you have to give something to get something.
Bauer spent most of last seen between AA and AAA where he went 12-2 with a 2.42 ERA/157 Ks in 130.1 inning pitched. John Sickels of Minor League Ball had this to say about Bauer in July:
Bauer is a 6-1, 185 pound right-handed hitter and thrower, born January 17, 1991. Although not physically large, he is an excellent athlete who is strongly devoted to intense physical (and mental) conditioning, including an extensive long-toss program and “pitch tunneling.” Highly intelligent, he takes his profession very seriously and isn’t afraid to try something new or unusual. Thus far, he’s held up under heavy workloads without trouble.
He gets his fastball up to 98 MPH on his best days and works at 94-95. Although occasionally straight, the fastball is rated a plus pitch and he’s not afraid to throw it high in the strike zone. The pitch is made stronger due to the contrast with his outstanding curveball. He also has a good slider, and also works in an impressive changeup and a splitter.
The kid has top of the rotation potential and slots in from day one. The Indians brass has been high on him since the 2011 draft where he was taken four spots higher than the Tribe’s pick, Francisco Lindor. A change of scenery from Arizona should serve Bauer well. He was drafted as the pet project of former Diamondbacks GM and now Angels GM (and former Indian) Jerry Dipoto. Most importantly, Bauer is under Tribe control for six more seasons.
Shaw and Albers are two guys who will immediately take spots in the all of a sudden loaded Tribe pen. The 25-year old Shaw played a key role down the stretch in the back of the Arizona bullpen. In his first full season in the majors, he made 64 appearances posting a 3.49 ERA. Right-handers hit just .211/.339/.630 against Shaw. Think of him as a long-term replacement for Joe Smith, who will be a free agent after the 2013 season. Albers, 29, was traded from Boston to Arizona in midseason, but posted solid numbers across the board in 2012. He made 63 appearances with an ERA of 2.39 and a WHIP of 1.12. He will battle with Cody Allen to take the Esmil Rogers roll this season.
Your 2013 bullpen could look something like this: Closer Chris Perez, set-up men Vinnie Pestano and Joe Smith, middle men Allen, Shaw, Albers, with the lone lefty Hagadone. I like what I am seeing there.
The final piece of the trade is Stubbs. A thought to be center fielder of the future in Cincinnati, the right-handed hitting 28-year old burst onto the scene as a regular in 2010 where he hit 25 homers and stole 30 bases. The speed stayed and the defense was solid, but the on-base and slugging percentages went down while the strikeouts went up in each of the past two seasons. Stubbs led the NL in K’s in 2011 with 205. He did steal 40 bases though. Stubbs has power and speed and could be primed for a bounce back in Cleveland. He is entering his first year of arbitration status and coming off a .213/.333/.610/14 HR/40 RBI/30 SB season.
It should be interesting to see what the Indians decide to do with Michael Brantley now that Stubbs, a natural center fielder who hasn’t played anywhere else in the majors, is on board.
So to recap – the Indians gave up the final year of Choo, a utility man in Donald who has failed to impress, a reliever (Sipp) who has struggled for the past two seasons, and a throw-in (Anderson) for a soon to be 22-year old stud starter who was the #3 pick in the 2011 MLB draft, two relievers who will immediately take spots in the pen, and a starting outfielder with speed.
For all the flack Antonetti has rightfully received, you have to love what he has done in this deal on paper. But again, I say we need to see what Kid Chris’s next move is. Does he now keep Asdrubal Cabrera now that he used Choo to get Bauer? Does he throw even more money at Nick Swisher knowing that this team still has a hole in right-field and at DH? Will he sign or trade for a free agent starting pitcher?
One thing we do know is that the Indians are definitely serious about changing the direction of this franchise for the future. We also know that the General Manager is not afraid to make the big move despite being burned by his first one on the job in 2011 (Ubaldo, anyone?)
(photo via Rick Scuteri / Associated Press)