With the Indians having already addressed their fifth starter spot in a quick, smart trade for veteran Derek Lowe, the focus will now shift to the badly needed right-handed bat. Letting CF Grady Sizemore walk into free agency frees up a $9 million hole in the payroll if you believe the Indians will indeed spend that. I do.
GM Chris Antonetti has already added $5 million extra that wasn’t expected with the acquisition of Lowe. He also knows that this division is still very winnable. All he has to do is look at how his completely banged up Indians team lead the Central into August, despite the fact that they spent huge chunks of time without three of their best players, then watched as one of their key kids missed most of the stretch run.
Antonetti showed last year that he knows he is in the middle of a window with his core players where he can compete for a playoff spot and go deeper. Therefore, he has been aggressive in taking steps to improve his team for the now, and not just for the future.
Yes, he caught a ton of flack for the Ubaldo Jimenez trade, but it was mostly classic Cleveland complaining. For years, we have wanted the team to go out and get a big name to improve the club instead of trading the likes of CC Sabathia, Cliff Lee, and Victor Martinez for prospects. Antonetti actually did that last year, and people were outraged that we would deal our top two pitching prospects.
You can’t have it both ways. You have to strike while the iron is hot sometimes, and Antonetti took that chance when he snagged Ubaldo. The jury will be out on that deal as we see how Jimenez responds this season with the Tribe as well as the maturation of Alex White and Drew Pomeranz in Colorado.
In the meantime, the Indians still have a gigantic need for a right-handed, middle of the order, bat in the Nelson Cruz/Adrian Beltre mold. With their financial constraints, signing a free agent is probably not in the cards, unless its of the one year variety on a guy they’d have to take a chance on. Kind of like someone they just let walk in those same circumstances; Sizemore. The reality is that for Antonetti to acquire that impact bat, its going to have to come through a trade.
Which brings us to what the Indians would have to give up to get such a legitimate stick.
With White and Pomeranz now gone, and top position prospects such as Jason Kipnis and Lonnie Chisenhall now at the major league level, the Indians AA and AAA top tier depth is not very sought after. Of Baseball America’s top 100 prospects of 2011, only Chisenhall (#25) and Kipnis (#54) were ranked in terms of position players. Next on the Tribe’s list are the likes of Class A’s LeVon Washington, Tony Wolters, and the chronically injured and under-achieving Nick Weglarz.
Weglarz is actually a guy who should be that power outfielder that the team could be bringing up to play everyday. His failings, coupled with the lackluster play of 1B Matt LaPorta, have put the Indians in this predicament.
I believe Antonetti is going to be faced with the prospect of needing to trade one of his key future pieces, either Kipnis or Chisenhall, to get that middle of the order right-handed run producer. I don’t want to trade either, but you have to give something to get something.
To me, if you must deal one, Chisenhall would be the guy.
While The Chiz showed some some promise at last year at the plate, he also struggled mightily at times. He was kind of “just there” when the Indians were driving towards a division title. Defensively, he is still a work in progress. While the Indians made a second surge in late July, it was when Jack Hannahan regained the third base job from Chiz.
On the other hand, Kipnis’s call-up was greeted with huge fanfare and he disappoint. From his first hit – a walk-off single against the Angels – on, Kipnis became a key cog in the Indians offense. He was quickly moved into the two-hole and fit in perfectly. He hit five homers in seven games in his just his second and third weeks in the majors and was only derailed by an oblique injury which robbed him (and the Indians) of three key weeks where the team floundered.
Kipnis has that Dustin Pedroia thing going on. He is fiery and plays extremely hard. Maybe Chisenhall will show more of that, but as of right now, if you told me I could keep just one of these two, I’m sticking with Kipnis, hitting him second and playing second every day.
Don’t be stunned if one of these two kids is the centerpiece of a deal that would bring a right-handed bat that could play first, corner OF, or even third (if Chisenhall is indeed the guy). I’d add Lonnie to a deal if it could net the Indians what they need. You can roll with another year of a Hannahan/Jason Donald type platoon (although Jackie raked against lefties last year).