Should the Indians Consider Trading Asdrubal Cabrera?
Mike Brandyberry | On 06, Nov 2012
When you lose 94 games in a Major League Baseball season, you aren’t a contender and you probably aren’t very close. In the Indians’ case, maybe they know they are farther away than they’ve previously alluded.
“Our current mix of guys and how things came together didn’t work,” Indians General Manager Chris Antonetti said at his end of the year press conference. “We need to reexamine ways to be better moving forward, but I still continue to feel strongly about the nucleus of players we have. We need to do a better job of finding the right mix around them. Where that takes us, we’ll have to see, but that’s a process we’ll go through this winter.”
The building of that new mix of players might have begun quietly on Saturday afternoon, when the Indians traded right-handed reliever Esmil Rogers to the Toronto Blue Jays for infielder Mike Aviles and catcher Yan Gomes. Rogers was 3-1, with a 3.06 ERA in 53 innings with the Indians in 2012. He seemed to stabilize himself as a big league reliever after three bumpy seasons as a starter with the Colorado Rockies. Rogers credited his turnaround to a better ability to throw strikes and get ahead of hitters with his high-octane fastball.
If nothing else, the Indians should be applauded for trading a strength in their bullpen and a player at the height of his value. Cleveland claimed Rogers on June 12, when the Rockies designated him for assignment, only to resurrect his career and trade him just months later for Aviles, who was a starting shortstop a year ago, and Gomes, who has the versatility to play catcher and corner infield positions. On Saturday, Paul Hoynes Tweeted that new bullpen coach Kevin Cash (a Blue Jays special assistant in 2012) likes Gomes as a quality, defensive catcher.
Antonetti was clear Saturday to stress that Aviles brings strength to the Tribe’s bench as a player who can step in and play for Asdrubal Cabrera, Jason Kipnis or Lonnie Chisenhall, and who can provide quality as a right-handed hitter with past success against left-handed pitching. Aviles hit .286 in 158 plate appearances in 2012.
But what if Aviles isn’t just a utility player, and what if Rogers isn’t the only player Antonetti is considering trading while his value is at its height?
“We have to open-minded and listen to how teams value our guys,” Antonetti said in the end of the season press conference. “We’re not necessarily looking to move anyone, but we have to be open-minded, not just with our Major League roster, but our entire organization. If there is a deal that makes sense for us, we’ll move.”
Aviles might have been acquired to be a utility player, who along with a now open designated hitter position, still could log 400 plate appearances without taking a full-time starting position on the field. But it certainly opens the door to the possibility of trading Cabrera while he is at the height of his value.
Cabrera was an All-Star selection the last two seasons for the Tribe and had a breakout season in 2011, hitting .273, with 25 home runs and 92 RBI. His 25 bombs eclipsed the 18 he had in his career during his first four seasons. In 2012, Cabrera proved the season was no fluke, posting a .270 batting average while hitting 16 home runs and driving in 68. This past season was not quite the caliber of 2011, but certainly closer than any season before his breakout year.
While his power numbers have increased, so have a couple of other numbers: his errors and his salary. Cabrera made 19 errors this season, his career high, and at times it appeared he was complacent and sloppy, despite still making several spectacular plays. But more importantly may be the remaining length on his contract. Cabrera signed an extension last spring to keep him a Cleveland Indian through the 2014 season. He’ll make $6.5 million in 2013 and $10 million in 2014, a fair contract for a power-hitting, middle of the order shortstop.
However, can the 94-loss Indians compete by the 2014 season? If the organization feels it can’t quickly resurrect its starting rotation and offensive struggles against left-handed pitching, could Cabrera better help the Indians through a trade to bring young, major league ready talent to the Indians to join Kipnis, Chisenhall, Carlos Santana and Michael Brantley in a new core? This winter, the Arizona Diamondbacks, Pittsburgh Pirates, New York Mets, Boston Red Sox and San Francisco Giants all could be looking for a shortstop in a very bleak free agent market. Each organization has young players to deal, and could be willing with their eyes on a playoff run in 2013.
Of any player on the Indians roster, Cabrera most likely would bring the most in a trade because of his team-friendly contract and heavy-hitting bat at a position that doesn’t necessarily have an abundance of heavy hitters. A Cabrera trade could quickly help stabilize a starting rotation that appears to currently be in disarray.
Whether the Indians decide to trade Cabrera remains to be seen, but the acquisition of Aviles opens the door to the possibility. You can believe Antonetti will field calls over the next month before the Winter Meetings in Nashville on Dec. 3 through 6.
“We’ve looked at a lot of things, we’ve spent a lot of time looking at our current mix and how we do things,” Antonetti said at the end of the season. “I feel like there have been a lot of good things under the surface. I feel like we’ve made a lot of strides in how we improve in scouting and player development and how we do Major League acquisitions, both free agents and trades.”
Aviles also could prove to be a quality stopgap at shortstop if Cabrera was traded while the Indians wait for any of their several shortstop prospects to be Major League ready. Francisco Lindor is widely regarded as the Indians’ top prospect and shortstop of the future, hitting .257, with six home runs, 42 runs batted in, while stealing 27 bases at Low-A Lake County. He demonstrated excellent plate awareness, walking 61 times, something that is tough for an 18-year old to establish so quickly at the professional level.
And while Lindor most likely is two seasons away from his big league debut, the Indians have several other shortstop prospect options if Aviles struggles or Lindor slows in his development.
Juan Diaz played sparingly for the Indians this season and spent most of his season at Double-A. He’ll most likely be at Triple-A Columbus next season. Meanwhile Ronny Rodriguez and Tony Wolters shared time at shortstop and second base 2012 at High-A Carolina. Rodriguez is raw defensively, but has quality power for a middle infielder—hitting 19 home runs in the pitcher friendly Carolina League. Rodriguez is playing in the Arizona Fall League this month and thriving. Wolters hit only .260 in Carolina this season, but skipped Lake County in his first full minor league season and only hit .130 in April before rebounding nicely. Both Rodriguez and Wolters will only be 20 years old on Opening Day.
Lindor might be the shortstop of the future, but the prospect with the most offensive upside could be 17-year-old Dorsyss Paulino. Paulino was signed from the Dominican Republic as a 16-year old and played in the Arizona League this season before finishing the season at Mahoning Valley. He has a chance to replace Lindor at Lake County next season as only an 18-year-old and has a middle of the order, power bat.
The Indians have several shortstop prospects, none of which are ready for Opening Day in 2013, but considering the Tribe isn’t ready to compete in 2013 either, maybe it is time to start using some of their shortstops to get better, including Cabrera.
The Aviles acquisition at least opens the door to shopping Cabrera and using Aviles as a bridge to any number of the Tribe’s future shortstop possibilities.
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