I realized something over the weekend that was mildly surprising.
The Indians were TERRIBLE last season. No, that’s not the thing I realized; but let me finish. They had the worst run differential in the league, despite suffering no major injuries. Their starting rotation was historically bad. Their offense was mediocre at best. Rather than taking a step forward from 2011—a season in which they were outscored by 56 runs—they took a huge step back, getting outscored by 178 runs. All this while benefiting from the relatively easy schedule afforded them as an AL Central team.
What I realized is that there are people in Cleveland who think this team shouldn’t be trading major pieces this off-season. Who believe that, for instance, Asdrubal Cabrera is too important to trade away—that this team’s core players should remain, perhaps in some sort of super-speed rebuild to fill a few holes on the roster. A makeover of sorts, rather than a face transplant.
And I think that’s pretty crazy, considering how bad this team was last season. The notion that anyone should be untouchable just doesn’t hold water with me. “You can’t trade him!! HE WAS THE KEY TO OUR 68 WIN SEASON!!!”
And to be honest, as happy as I was when the Indians hired Terry Francona to manage the club, in the back of my mind, I was a little nervous that bringing in a big name like Francona signaled that the front office didn’t believe a full rebuild was necessary. That with a tweak or two here and there, this team could suddenly win the division. After all, why would someone like Terry Francona want to sit through a full-scale rebuild? Isn’t that the sort of job you’d give to someone with a bit less experience? Someone like, well, like Sandy Alomar?
But it’s starting to look like my reasoning might not have aligned with that of the Front Office. I might be reading too much into this weekend’s move to acquire Mike Aviles, but I’m sure hoping that, despite Antonetti’s remarks to the contrary, the team is open to and actively exploring a move of Asdrubal Cabrera—preferably for young starting pitching to shore up what may be the worst rotation in baseball.
That’s right. I want them to consider trading Asdrubal Cabrera. And Chris Perez. Our two All-Stars. And with them, anyone else that might bring back a younger player with a higher upside. This team, as currently constructed, stinks. You don’t manage the periphery of disaster like this; you utterly remake it. We now have one more starting SS than we can play, and there are at least a half a dozen teams who might like to get in a bidding war over Asdrubal. Could we pry one of Oakland’s young and promising starters—they haven’t had a legitimate SS since Miguel Tejada, right? Shelby Miller or Lance Lynn or Trevor Rosenthal from St. Louis? What about Phil Hughes or Michael Pineda? I wonder if Asdrubal—as an All-Star SS with two more cost-controlled years in a SS-weak market—wouldn’t be able to instantly remake our rotation? If he’d net us any of those arms, we’d be a better team for it, almost instantly.
Furthermore, there is some reason to believe that we’ve already seen the best of Asdrubal. His 2011 campaign (.273/.332/.460 25 HR; 92 RBI) is starting to look like a flukey outlier rather than a sustainable development. His defense has consistently rated below average by the advanced metrics, despite his penchant for Web Gems. And perhaps we should remember that he’s now come to Spring Training overweight three years in row, with a body that doesn’t look like it will age well at SS. I’m not saying his demise is imminent, but I’m not sure I’d want to gamble on him long-term right now either.
Now, from a 10,000 foot view, does that mean we move everything that isn’t nailed down? After all, if some new blood is good, isn’t more better?
Well, yes, but this is when we run up against reality. For instance, I think it’s unlikely that at this point, Justin Masterson would net us a player with more upside and cost-control than he already gives us. Same goes for Carlos Santana and Jason Kipnis and Lonnie Chisenhall and Michael Brantley, I would guess. Are they for sale? Sure, but we better get something at least as good and young as we’d be giving up, which would probably be hard to do considering the upside and youth of those guys.
*You’re asking, and rightly so, why I’ve not yet mentioned Shin-Soo Choo in this piece. I tend to think (and I could be VERY wrong) that his value in a trade might be HIGHER at the deadline this year than it is right now. After all, he wouldn’t be a piece for an acquiring team to build around for the next several years (like Asdrubal would be) as much as he’d be one last playoff push piece that a team wouldn’t necessarily want long-term (because of his age(nt)). Furthermore, I think that we’d have a harder time immediately replacing him in the lineup than Asdrubal—we just don’t have any ML-ready corner outfielders ready to go in the farm system right now. For these reasons, I’d prefer Choo stay until the July trade deadline. If we’re in contention then, go ahead and make a run with him, make a one-year qualifying offer, and take the draft compensation. If not, flip him to a contender when his services will be in highest demand. But I’m open to rethinking this if you think I’m totally wrong.
So do I agree with Buster Olney’s argument that the Indians should sell every asset they have? No, probably not. But do I think it would be horribly negligent to eschew considering the possibility? I sure do.
The team as currently constructed sits squarely in the middle of any conversation about the worst team in the league. We can ask questions about whether or not the people who put this dumpster fire of a roster together should still be making the personnel decisions, but for better or worse, they’re being given one last shot to get it right.
That said, would it be remotely reasonable for this group to double down on a team that’s been outscored by 234 runs over the last two seasons? If your job and reputation depended on it, would you make that bet? There’s a quote about the definition of insanity that would seem to apply here…
For a team that’s unlikely to have the budgetary resources to initiate a talent influx by way of the free agency market, moving a player who might be in high demand is probably the best way to restock the roster with the sort of young, cost-controlled players we’ll need going forward.
Photo: Jordan Bastian/MLB.com