Exploring the Indians Trade Deadline Offensive Upgrade Possibilities
By Bob Toth
The July 31st trade deadline is fast approaching and with each passing day, the Indians’ weaknesses are becoming more and more evident. One thing few people would argue is that the Indians need to add a piece, maybe multiple pieces, to stay relevant in the playoff picture.
What certainly makes things interesting for the Indians’ situation, as opposed to most wild card chasing teams, is that the Tribe is actually very much in the race in the AL Central as well. AL East teams, like Baltimore, Boston, and Tampa Bay, are trailing New York by nearly double-digit figures, so they would likely only be wild card contenders at this stage of the game.
Teams only hunting a wild card birth may elect to move players along, rather than to try to pursue one of the two spots available for a one-game play-in series. The concept of making a big splash at the deadline for that opportunity may not be enticing to some teams.
Few teams appear to be out of both the wild card race and their own divisional races. In the AL, only Kansas City, Seattle, and Minnesota are more than six-and-a-half games out of both their division and the wild card.
The NL has just as many teams in contention. Philadelphia, San Diego, Chicago, Colorado, and Houston all trail the wild card leaders by double digits and are considered sellers. Arizona, Miami, Milwaukee, and New York are all at or below .500 and could possibly rule out a playoff birth as well, depending on how the next week goes.
With a slumping offense in dire need of improvement, here are some names that are available and others who may become available over the next ten days, again in alphabetical order:
Jeff Baker, Chicago Cubs
The Cubs are in sell mode and have made it known for quite some time now. It is unknown how many of their pieces they would be moving, but older players and pending free agents seem to be at the top of the list. Baker has been working in a utility role for the Cubs throughout the season. After a slow start over the first two months, Baker’s numbers have been steady. Since June 1st, he has played in 24 games, 16 of which have been starts. He is batting .339 and has 15 RBI in that stretch, with ten extra-base hits (four home runs, six doubles). He has hits in five of his last seven at bats and seven of his last fourteen. He had been consistent against righties and lefties, batting .286 versus right-handers and .295 versus left-handers.
The 31-year-old Baker is a right-handed hitter who has the ability to play multiple positions. The former Colorado Rockies’ prospect was once touted as a regular third baseman. This season, he has split his time between first base and right field, with a few starts at second base and one in left field. Throughout his career, he has played both corner outfield spots in addition to first, second, and third base. He has been a reliable pinch-hitter, with four hits (two home runs) and seven runs batted in, in 12 at bats.
Baker is making $1.38 million this season and is arbitration-eligible for 2013. The asking price for the bench player might not be much, which may make him a more attractive option if the Indians believe he can improve the team at the corners.
Coco Crisp, Oakland Athletics
Crisp is a familiar name to Indians’ fans and may become available regardless of the A’s positioning in the wild card standings. He signed a two-year deal on January 5th for a guaranteed $14 million – $6 million in 2012, $7 million in 2013, and a $7.5 million team option with a $1 million buyout for 2014. If the A’s feel that they have a piece ready for promotion at the AAA level that can match some of the production they get currently from Crisp, he may be moved.
The 32-year-old outfielder has played left and center field this season and throughout his big league career, split between Cleveland, Boston, Kansas City, and now Oakland. He has made just two errors this season. His batting average is down (.243), but when he is on base, he has the ability to create runs with the stolen base (18 steals in 20 total chances). Since June 7th, his numbers are much improved, batting .322 with three of his four home runs. In the month of July, he is batting .349.
Crisp would not be the addition of the slugger most want, but he may be able to inject some life into the Indians’ lineup without costing the team substantial prospects and money.
Michael Cuddyer, Colorado Rockies
Cuddyer should be another familiar name to Indians’ fans. He signed with Colorado in December of 2011 after spending his entire professional career in the Minnesota Twins’ organization.
Cuddyer has the kind of pop that the Indians have searched for before. He is batting .258 on the season for the Rockies, down from his career average of .271. With 12 homers and 51 driven in, he would inject some offense into the lineup, but there is question as to whether or not Cuddyer and many of his teammates would be dealt by Colorado.
Like some other players on this list, the bigger question would be where to fit a player like him onto the roster. He has played 70 games in right field and 18 at first base this season. He has not played left field since he appeared there for two innings in the 2006 season and has logged just 38 total innings there in parts of three seasons over his entire career.
Jeff Francoeur, Kansas City Royals
The Royals are in position to move the veteran Francoeur due to the emergence of one of their up-and-coming prospects, Wil Myers, from their AAA affiliate.
Francoeur is a right fielder by trade and has spent nearly every inning of his big league career there. The 28-year-old is under contract with the Royals through next season. He has played just two big league games in left field (Texas, 2010) and he made an error in one of his two chances at the position. He has played four career games in center field (two in 2006 forAtlanta, two this season with Kansas City) and is errorless in those opportunities.
At the plate, Francoeur is batting .250 on the season with eight home runs and 27 RBI. He has seen his average drop steadily over the last two months while hitting .215. He is known for his strong arm in right. He has missed just three games so far this season.
The Royals may be willing to part with Francoeur for less than they might normally demand due to the desire to get Myers to the big league club, but the question for the Indians would be whether or not he fits on the team with almost an entire career spent at a right field position that is occupied by one of the hottest and most consistent hitters on the team, Shin-Soo Choo.
Chase Headley, San Diego Padres
The interest around the league in the versatile Headley has increased over the last few weeks, therefore making it not surprising that the Padres’ asking price on him is reportedly high.
The 28-year-old right-handed hitting third baseman has missed just one game this season. His .268 batting average and eleven home runs provide an upgrade for several teams at third base, but his years of experience in left field have also attracted teams looking to upgrade there. Headley played 82 games in left in 2008 and 114 games there in 2009, but has been exclusively an infielder the last several seasons. He has played all but two innings at third base this year. In 46 games since the last week of May, he is hitting .287.
He is under team control as an arbitration eligible player until 2015 and is making just $3.475 million this year. While his on-the-field performance might not necessarily net the Padres a rich haul of players, the fact that he is locked up under team control for several more years increases his worth and makes that haul much more likely.
Hunter Pence, Philadelphia Phillies
The 29-year-old Pence was dealt at the trade deadline last year by the Houston Astros for four minor league prospects. He hit .324 with the Phillies and pushed them into the playoffs.
Now, the Phillies have fallen out of the race, and despite the returns of Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, they have been unable to close ground on the Washington Nationals. The team already has the third-highest payroll in the league and the highest in the National League, with several key players priming to hit free agency after the season. In addition to their decisions on starting pitcher Cole Hamels and outfielder Shane Victorino (more below), they have Pence in position to cash in via arbitration after this season.
Pence has not done anything to hurt his cause. He has hit 17 home runs and driven in 57. His .275 season average is slightly under his career average, but he has made up for it by maintaining an on-base percentage of .343, right at his career mark. He is batting .291 since June 1st, but has slumped in July while hitting just .212. He has had several long home run droughts throughout the season, with only one blast in July and a 23-game dry spell in June that saw him homer on the first two days and the last three days of the month.
He has been exclusively a right fielder for the last five seasons and has only played center field in his rookie year. Pence would come at a price, but if the Phillies decide to become cost-conscious, they may become receptive to offers.
Carlos Quentin, San Diego Padres
Quentin has been one of the more frequently-mentioned players heading into this year’s trade deadline. The Padres’ organization is in a state of flux with an ownership change, but it is believed that the team will attempt to offer him a multi-year extension prior to the July 31st deadline. Quentin, aSan Diego native, has expressed a desire to stay, but finances have been an on-going problem for the team, and they may not be able to make him a competitive offer.
Quentin, the former Chicago White Sox outfielder, was traded to the Padres in December of last season. He missed 49 games at the beginning of the year while recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery and returned with a bang initially, but his numbers have come back down to earth slightly. Since his return, he is batting .274 with nine homers and 22 RBI, but in the month of July, he is batting just .200 with two home runs and ten strikeouts in 45 at bats. He has gotten a hit in just five of the twelve games he has appeared in during the month.
If the Padres are unable to resign the veteran outfielder before the deadline, they may be willing to move him if they feel the return is right. As always with Quentin, the concern is his health, as he has made many trips to the disabled list over the course of his career.
Cody Ross, Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox may look to move an extra outfielder for building blocks as the deadline approaches and Ross may be the easier of the players to move. Acquired for $3 million on January 26, 2012, the 31-year-old veteran is a free agent after the season. The Sox may try instead to move Carl Crawford, but his frequent injury history of late and his expensive contract may make him too difficult to unload.
Ross has been solid for the Red Sox. Batting .273 with an on-base percentage of .346, he has hit 16 long balls and 16 doubles while driving in 50. He had struggled in July, with just four hits in his first ten games of the month, but went on a tear against the White Sox during a four-game series from July 16th through the 19th, where he got seven hits in 14 at bats, hit three home runs, and drove in nine, including a walk-off three-run homer over the Green Monster on the 19th.
Ross can handle all three outfield positions, as he has split time primarily between left and right field this season, but has played in seven games in center field as well. The 2010 NLCS MVP, he comes with a bit of playoff experience under his belt as well, winning a World Series title with the Giants in that same season.
If Boston folds on this season and begins to look towards 2013, the right-handed hitting outfielder could be moved. He would be a valuable acquisition for the Tribe, if the trade price is right, but it is hard to see the Red Sox giving up on the present, even in the midst of a 7-10 July.
Alfonso Soriano, Chicago Cubs
Soriano continues to have a solid season for the Cubs. The 36-year-old left fielder has hit for power and for average throughout the season. He has ample playoff experience from his time with the New York Yankees that netted him two World Series rings. The problem with Soriano remains the money.
Soriano makes $18 million this season and in each of the following two years. The Cubs have seemed willing to move the pricey veteran to create playing time for their younger prospects, but the team would have to eat a substantial portion of his contract to deal him to most teams that would be interested and in need of his services.
Soriano has contributed on the field throughout the year for the Cubs. His 18 home runs exceeds any player on the Indians’ roster and certainly is an improvement over the production the team has gotten from the players they have run out in left this season. He went the first month-and-a-half of the season without a home run, which makes his current total that much more impressive. He hit seven homers in May, eight in June, and three so far in July. His .274 average and 54 RBI are also attractive offensive statistics.
The Indians would seem to benefit from the right-handed slugging left fielder, who would be a reasonable candidate to move into the designated hitter spot after the season to replace free agent Travis Hafner. He would be the most logical potential addition to this team, if not for his price tag.
Justin Upton, Arizona Diamondbacks
It is reported that Upton can block trades to the Yankees, Red Sox, Cubs and Indians. He has become one of the more sought-after potential pieces at the deadline. The partial no-trade clause does not eliminate him from coming toCleveland, but it certainly makes a deal much more difficult to arrange, as he would need to be willing to waive the clause, which generally means that he would request some sort of compromise and compensation to go to a team on that list.
This season, the right-handed hitting right fielder is batting .273 with eight home runs and 41 RBI. His power numbers are down – two home runs in April, three in May, two in June, and just one so far in July. The two-time NL All-Star has shown much more power throughout his career than he has shown thus far in 2012. He posted 26 home runs in 2009 and 31 last season.
Upton has never played a defensive position other than right field in his major league career. Outside of asking him to play out of his comfort zone, it is difficult to see where he and so many other players who have only played right field would fit as potential options for the Indians.
Shane Victorino, Philadelphia Phillies
Victorino is playing what very well could be his final season in the City of Brotherly Love. In his eighth big league season, the switch-hitting center fielder could be moved before the deadline by a Phillies’ team looking to get something for their long-time outfielder, especially if they do not intend on extending him an offer for 2013 and beyond.
Victorino has been durable this season, missing just one game. Every one of these starts has been in center field. He is batting .250 in July, .258 since June 1st, and .253 on the season. He is not a power hitter, but he routinely puts up a home run total in the mid-teens. Offensively, he has been more effective at collecting triples, leading the National League in two of the last three seasons. Defensively, he plays hard and led the NL in outfield assists in 2010 and currently leads it with seven. He is the active leader in fielding percentage amongst center fielders and led the NL in 2009, 2011, and so far this season in that category.
If Victorino was to go to the Indians, it would likely force Michael Brantley over to left field, as Victorino has only played left field in parts of the 2003, 2005, and 2006 seasons. He would just be a rent-a-player, best known for his defense, who would test the free agent market after the season. As the Indians seem to have center field manned by an above-average defender who has had a stellar season to boot at the plate, it would seem strange to bring in another defensive specialist when offense has been the primary problem throughout the year.
Josh Willingham, Minnesota Twins
Willingham was pursued by the Indians in the off-season, and given his on-the-field production, it is understandable why the team did so. He opted to sign a three-year deal with the Twins for $21 million on December 15th of last year.
The former catcher was converted to an outfielder by the Florida Marlins. He has primarily played left field throughout his career, with the exception of parts of the 2009 season when the Washington Nationals, then managed by current Tribe skipper Manny Acta, gave him 35 appearances in right field. Since that season, Willingham has solely been a left fielder.
His career numbers at the plate hover between a full-season career-low of .246 last year with Oakland and a career-high of .277 with Florida in his first full season in 2006. His power numbers reached new highs in 2011, slamming 29 home runs and adding 98 RBI. His strikeout total (150) seemed to account for the drop in his batting average.
Through 89 games this season, he has mashed 23 home runs and 68 RBI while currently hitting at a .278 clip. His on-base percentage is hovering around a career-high as well, as he is just six walks shy of his total for the entire 2011 campaign already.
The Twins liked what they saw in Willingham enough to offer him a three-year deal in the off-season. They would not rule out a trade of him or others on their roster, but it is presumed that the team would have to receive an offer they could not pass up. After refusing to “overpay” for the slugger just seven months ago, it is tough to see the Indians paying the price now with both cash and prospects.
Ty Wigginton, Philadelphia Phillies
The 34-year-old Wigginton is in his eleventh big league season with his seventh big league club. He is only two years off of an All-Star appearance in 2010 withBaltimore. He is the prototypical utility player; he has played every fielding position except center field in his career. He has only played first and third base so far this season in Philadelphia.
Wigginton is a right-handed bat who will be a free agent after this year. He is batting just .239, but does have nine home runs in a part-time role for the Phillies. He has played in nine games in July and has just three hits in 20 at bats (.150), which has not helped his overall numbers. His splits indicate he has had more success against left-handed pitching, with five home runs in 74 at bats, compared to four home runs in 164 at bats against right-handers.
Wigginton, like Baker, would be more of a platoon piece to strengthen the bench and provide a big league veteran for the young team. He would be a low-cost option and all the more possible if the team elects to pursue a bigger name pitcher at the deadline.
Photo: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images