Getting Acta His Requested Help Could Mean Making Major Trades This Winter
By Craig Gifford
On Tuesday, Cleveland Indians manager Manny Acta said the Indians were three solid hitters and a strong pitcher away from being a true contender. Yesterday, Acta talked to reporters about the second half struggles of Asdrubal Cabrera and Jason Kipnis. He said their struggles are magnified because they, along with Michael Brantley and Shin-Soo Choo, have been the only sources of consistent offense this season.
The shock is not in the revelation. The shock is in the fact Manny Acta said this at all, coming from a team that does not usually talk in detail about player personnel and making moves. There is no question to the validity of what Acta said. Cabrera, Kipnis, Brantley and Choo have been nearly all the offense this season. Carlos Santana has started to hit of late, but what was in a horrendous slump much of the year.
Those five players have the ability to be good to very good. The problem is, the Indians have gotten nearly laughable production from first base, designated hitter, third base and left field. You could deal with a glove-first guy like Casey Kotchman at first or team-first guy like Shelley Duncan in left if not for the fact that the other spots are so weak. That’s why Acta’s number of three makes sense. Shore up three of those spots and let a defensive-minded guy take up the other.
It is the same with the starting pitching. Justin Masterson and Zach McAllister have had their good moments. They could easily be number two and three starters. Ubaldo Jimenez and Roberto Hernandez would fit nicely as a four or five guy for a lot of teams. What the Indians need is an ace. They were hoping Masterson would be that after a strong showing last year. He has regressed this year, but not to the point of panicking. He can still be good, but the Tribe needs a sure thing.
The only thing that is sure at the moment is the Indians are not likely to shore up these trouble spots with major free agent signings. If Larry Dolan’s ownership regime has taught us anything, it’s that the Tribe will be looking for bargains and to the farm system to fix any player issues while under his watch. They are unlikely to make a splash with high-priced pickups.
While it is true that the contracts of Travis Hafner and Grady Sizemore will be coming off the books, that $18 million will be enough to cover players who are arbitration-eligible and perhaps one decent free agent.
Past bargain shopping has proven dry of late and most times it will. Jack Hannahan, Aaron Cunningham, Johnny Damon and Kotchman have all been recent discount buys. They each had varying degrees of success, but were never, in the case of Damon and will never, in the case of Hannahan or Kotchman, be guys to lead an offense for any stretch of time.
That leaves the farm system to provide answers. Cleveland’s minor leagues are fairly dry at the moment, at least where the major league rosters weaknesses are. Yes, recent call up Ezequiel Carrera has looked surprising good at the plate over the past two weeks. However, he is not the power bat you want in the corner outfield. He may prove over the next month to be a viable fourth outfield option, who would make Duncan expendable.
Other than Carrera, the Indians have Russ Canzler and Matt LaPorta as corner outfield options in Triple-A Columbus. Both those guys have had great success in the minors, but little in the majors. Reaching their late 20s, neither one is likely the answer.
The Indians do not have anyone worth looking at when it comes to first base or DH. The one glimmer of hope is a third, where Lonnie Chisenhall will be back from injury next year. Before going down earlier this season, the Chiz Kid was seemingly starting to hit his stride.
Cleveland needs to replenish the upper end of its farm system with guys who are major league ready. The only way to do that is to make trades. Tribe management will have to think long and hard about trading away a few key pieces to add depth to a thin core.
The team probably should start with looking at Choo. Choo, after down year last year, is back to being a 20 home run, 90 RBI, .300 batting average, 25 steal-type player. He is likely to command $12-15 million per year on the market. With Scott Boras as his agent, it is unlikely Choo will sign long-term ahead of time. He can fetch at least two high-end prospects. There are plenty of contenders who could use an outfielder with a solid bat and strong arm. With is speed, Choo likely could be moved to center if need be. Teams like the Giants, Rangers, Reds, Pirates and Braves could be looking to bolster already strong offenses.
Next, the Indians should look at the strength of the team, the bullpen. Outspoken closer Chris Perez has a lot to say and can be a headache, but he can also save games with the best of them. The two-time AL All-Star would be very hot commodity on the trade block. Teams like the Yankees and Red Sox could be on the hunt for a closer. It is highly likely the Perez could fetch two or three high-end prospects.
Right there, alone, the Indians could turn to major league stars into four-to-six top-shelf minor league prospects. That’s at least double the core players they have now.
If the Indians really wanted to take a deep gulp, Cabrera could be dangled to see what they could get for the All-Star shortstop.
These types of trade can bulk up a team or can backfire as Indians fans know all too well. One thing with trading any of these guys is that the return has to be a nearly sure thing. The trades of C.C. Sabathia and Cliff Lee have turned into a decent center fielder in Brantley and a utility infielder in Jason Donald. The trouble with those trades is Tribe GM, at the time, Mark Shapiro had to make deals. Other teams new it and Cleveland could not get the best prospects possible in either deal.
This time around, if a Choo, Perez or Cabrera is traded, the Indians have to get the best possible deal. In an offseason trade, this should be possible. When it comes to midseason deals, there are limited partners to trade with. In the offseason, every club is looking for help. Everyone is a buyer in the winter. Cleveland should strike this offseason on a trade or two to upgrade its depth and strength the core of its team. It’s the only way to go for a team that is not able or not going to improve by dishing out multi-million dollar contracts.
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