Mailbag: Asdrubal Cabrera, Shortstops and Offseason Trades Top the List of Questions
By Mike Brandyberry
In August I admitted I was struggling for something to write and offered to answer mailbag questions from Twitter. Who knew that readers actually valued or listened to my opinion? Well, since then I’ve received tweets and emails asking when I will do another mailbag, so I figured what is a better way to spend about 10 hours in the car this week than answering Tribe questions while we wait for the front office to continue making offseason moves. Without further ado, your questions…
The always optimistic @ColeLopez77 on Twitter asks, “Do you expect the Indians to rebuild or retool for next season?”
I think this is as much a matter of semantics as anything. The Indians have lost 90+ games in three of the last four seasons and have not had a winning record since 2007. Fans seem to be very apprehensive about making major changes to the Tribe’s roster, but why? What is the point of retooling a roster that has not been successful? A very, high ranking Indians executive told a DTTWLN writer last week they expect the roster to have a whole new look by Opening Day and that seems accurate to me. Personally, I don’t expect the Indians to tell anyone, but I don’t think they have realistic expectations to compete in 2013.
The Indians fell apart in 2012 because their starting pitching fell apart. When an organization is retooling or rebuilding, fixing a rotation is probably the most difficult and expensive measure. Free agency is a route that results in signing players like Jeremy Guthrie for three years and $25 million like the Kansas City Royals did on Tuesday. That’s an expensive route to mediocrity, in my opinion. Because it is so tough to fix a rotation, I think the Indians are seriously trying to use Asdrubal Cabrera, Shin-Soo Choo and Chris Perez as assets to trade to bring young, starting pitching back.
Never has a 28-year old knuckleballer trying to survive in professional baseball received so much fanfare. The 29-year old rookie Brandon Weeden is probably jealous of the love the minor league Wright receives.
Wright was a second round draft pick in 2006 by the Tribe—an example of the prior scouting regime’s poor drafting—and struggled mightily at Double-A and Triple-A in 2010. On the verge of being released, he developed a knuckleball and begged the Indians for another chance. He had success in 2011, quickly re-working his way through the minor league system and had a very strong 2012 before being traded at the July trade deadline to Boston for Lars Anderson.
But to answer your question, there are probably two reasons. To paraphrase what an Indians’ minor league pitching coach told me this summer, a knuckleball is a pitcher’s last chance in baseball or a gimmick. While it works for some, it doesn’t for most and evaluating the quality of a knuckleball is even tougher. Scouts and coaches can evaluate the quality of a fastball or offspeed pitches, but how does a scout look at a knuckleball and know it can get Major League hitters out, or just Double-A hitters? It is hard to evaluate, so even harder to progress.
Secondly, and probably more importantly, Wright was eligible for the Rule 5 Draft and would have had to be added to the Indians 40-man roster by Tuesday to be protected. Considering the Indians struggles and how far they are from winning, they probably decided it was not worth it to give a spot on the 40-man to a one-pitch pitcher, who will be 29 next summer and has never thrown a pitch in the big leagues. Instead, they dealt him while his value was high for a player at a position to which they have no depth.
A not so optimistic @cv_monk tweets, “Why do some Indians fans want to trade Choo and Cabrera? Do they actually expect our management to improve the team? #notme #salarydump.”
I have to give Billy credit, because if nothing else he got several emotions and thoughts out of me in just 140 characters.
To answer the insinuation that trading Choo and Cabrera as a salary dump seems to be an off-base comment. As has been outlined on our site and several others, the Indians have made several attempts to sign Choo to a long-term contract over the last two seasons, yet he and his agent Scott Boras have had no interest in an extension. Paul Hoynes reported just a couple weeks ago the negative comments Boras made specifically about the Tribe organization. If Choo is leaving Cleveland after the 2013 season, and the Tribe is not a contender, why not get what you can for the player and move on? You can’t make him stay if he and his agent doesn’t want to be here.
In terms of Cabrera, the reasons to trade him have been outlined before, but he has a very team friendly contract for the next two seasons and the Indians minor league system is rich with shortstop replacements in a year or two. If the Indians are not contenders this season and thirsty to acquire young, starting pitching, Cabrera is their best and most valuable trade piece.
While I don’t know any specifics, I know the asking price for Cabrera is very high. According to Danny Knobler of CBSSports.com, the Arizona Diamondbacks have interest in Jhonny Peralta. Arizona has been a team interested in Cabrera since the July trade deadline. If they’ve turned their efforts to the lesser Peralta, it’s because the asking price on Cabrera is currently too rich for their blood.
And finally, I understand the recent lack of trust in President Mark Shapiro and General Manager Chris Antonetti. I think they personally have owned mistakes in the CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee trades and I’m sure they know the Ubaldo Jimenez trade is officially a disaster, but because they’ve made mistakes is no excuse to not make any trades. Cleveland has never been major players in free agency—even in the 1990s—and their draft struggles from 2001-2007 have been well chronicled. If the organization wants to make changes that quickly help the 25-man roster, trades are the best route.
I suspect you want the team to improve. If not by making trades, how do you expect the Indians to field a better team in 2013?
Of the four, I would put good money on Masterson. I think the Indians are listening to offers on all four, but as I already stated, the price is quite high. In Masterson’s case, I think he is the least likely of the four for someone to blink and pay a steep price since he had a disappointing season. The Indians are looking for value for the guy who was 12-10, with a 3.21 ERA in 2011, while other teams are going to be hesitant to part with their best young talent after a 11-15, with a 4.93 ERA year in 2012.
The second player I think has the best chance to be in the Opening Day lineup is still Cabrera. While the Indians are listening to offers and probably hoping to trade him, I also think Antonetti and Shapiro know that whatever trades they make this winter, they have to hit. Of the four, Cabrera commands the most in return value, and because of that, probably the toughest to deal. I think Cabrera is currently eyed as this regime’s Bartolo Colon—a player that can bring several potential Major Leaguers in return. If they trade him, he has to bring great value in return and considering his contract is still economical, they could hold on to him if they don’t find the right deal and try trading him again in July or next winter.
Our self-proclaimed, “first fan ever,” @Princesswikki asks, “honestly when do you think the Tribe can legitimately contend?”
This is either a 2,000 word response, or a 200 word response. I’ll try to give our first fan a good, short response. Considering the Indians are willing to part ways with Cabrera, Perez, Choo and Masterson for young players to put with Jason Kipnis, Michael Brantley, Carlos Santana and Lonnie Chisenhall, the most realistic answer is probably 2014 if all goes well and realistically, 2015.
The Tribe’s willingness to part ways with players under team control for the next two years is a subtle indication that they don’t think they can compete in the next two seasons. That, coupled with where the Tribe’s best minor league prospects are in the organization, points to this organization being a couple years away. I think everyone agrees the roster and window of contention created by Antonetti is not a winning formula. He has even admitted this. Thus, they are back to the drawing board.
Question from @RHercik and he wants to know if I think the Indians are jealous of the Cleveland Browns white flag giveaway tomorrow at Browns Stadium.
Of course I know some of this question is a little tongue in cheek, but the Indians are probably jealous of the Browns for several things (ie, how they lose every season and still have a season ticket fan base of 55,000 fans), but I don’t think their marketing and promotions department is one of them. The Indians sincerely work to provide all fans a great experience at the ballpark, including great giveaways and events at the ballpark. The Tribe gives away bobbleheads, fireworks and jerseys and for the first time in as long as I can remember the Browns give away something and it is an inflatable flag? Regardless of color, I think it is a bit embarrassing.
I think I’ve extensively answered all the reasons I’m open to trading Cabrera, and linked to even more reasons, so I’ll tackle the second half of your tweet about Lindor. I was able to see Lindor play about 10 times at Low-A Lake County this summer and was highly impressed with him in all aspects of the game. The Captains, as a whole were the youngest team in the Midwest League, and grew throughout the season, eventually losing in the league’s semifinals. Lindor was the youngest player on the Captains, and definitely the best. I think often when you go to a lower level minor league game you can give players the, “eye test.” The eye test to me is if you watch the game, you can pick the best player on the field by just watching them and the way they play the game, regardless of their performance that evening. Lindor was often the best player on the field. At the lower minor league levels plate awareness is something that is very difficult for hitters to develop and Lindor already has that.
Lindor will definitely begin 2013 at High-A Carolina, but the real question will be if the Indians have a new approach with the 19-year old. I think it is unfair to believe he could make a big league appearance this season, but the Indians front office has previously indicated they were in no rush to promote Lindor since Cabrera was under contract through 2014. If Cabrera is traded, and Lindor continues to shine, I wonder if they may try to speed up the process to possibly have Lindor in Cleveland by 2014. With that said, I don’t think the Indians will jeopardize Lindor’s best interest to progress him quickly.
And finally, @shlawallace wants to know, “When will the Tribe’s Spring Training schedule be announced?”
I put a call in to some people at the Indians but received no response in regards to your question. To be fair, it is a holiday weekend so I’m not surprised to not receive a response and wouldn’t read anything more into that. I did notice that the Cincinnati Reds also have not released their spring training schedule. Since the Indians and Reds share the stadium, I would guess some logistics are still being finalized in releasing their schedule.
If you are super anxious to plan your trip to Goodyear, check out Spring Training Online. It’s a great site and very accurate. Most teams have released their spring schedules and you can see some of the games Cleveland has already committed to play.
Thanks for all the questions, I’ve had several readers ask me to do this more often. I’ll try to aim to do a mailbag about once a month.
Photo: Getty Images