Ranking the Indians Player Trade Values

The Indians are officially entering the off-season today. The World Series is over. It’s expected Ubaldo Jimenez will turn down their qualifying offer and General Manager Chris Antonetti and Manager Terry Francona will embark on trying to construct a 2014 Cleveland Indians with the expectation to win now, but opportunity to win in the future also.

It’s not real easy when you don’t have an infinite budget and your minor league system is still in the bottom third of Major League organizations.

Thus, the Indians have relied heavily on trades. It hasn’t been their only means of improving the team, but since they are never favorites on the free agent market, trades are a viable necessity for Cleveland.

Below is a listing of Indians’ players trade values as the organization enters the off-season and time of year to field all offers. As Team President Mark Shapiro has said many times, “Babe Ruth was traded once, everyone has a price that would make you part with them.”

Below is a ranking of Indians players and their place in order of what they could bring back to the organization if they were traded on their own, not in a multi-player trade. It also isn’t a ranking of how good a player is, but how much a player could bring back if they were traded. In fairness, trades aren’t usually just one player trades any more, but ranking trade groups and possibilities is so speculative and impossible, it isn’t worth the 3800 words I spent my Sunday generating.

It’s also why players like Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher aren’t on the list. They have long term contracts at large price tags. If a team were willing to trade for either of them and their huge escalating contracts, they’d likely try their damnedest to sign a free agent instead.

Consider this ranking what I perceive the Indians would want or would consider to trade any of these players. It also doesn’t mean I think they are necessarily on the trading block, but in Shapiro’s words, everyone has a price.

25. Trevor Bauer

Probably no player in the Indians’ organization had their trade value drop farther than Bauer in 2013. Bauer was acquired Dec. 11, 2012 as the centerpiece of four players in return for Shin-Soo Choo. The third overall draft pick in 2011 had already burned bridges with the Arizona Diamondbacks and was rumored to want to pitch on his own plan and routine. That didn’t set well in the desert and Bauer was traded to Cleveland.

The Indians felt Bauer had some mechanical flaws and with some work could develop into a marquee starter for their rotation. Bauer has above average pitches, but his control and walks are an issue. It was clear that 2013 was a season to get Bauer righted before Ubaldo Jimenez became a free agent and a spot in the rotation opened. Prior to 2013, Antonetti and Francona probably felt they had a chance to upgrade in letting Jimenez go and replacing him with Bauer, all while cutting salary off the payroll.

Things can certainly change in a season. Now Jimenez is one of Major League Baseball’s sought after free agent pitchers and the Indians are looking for another starter to fill the spot that was once open for Bauer.

Bauer had four starts with the Indians in 2013, going 1-2 with a 5.29 ERA with 16 walks in 17 innings. The consistency the Indians hoped to establish with Bauer never materialized. Worse yet, when Bauer could not survive the first inning of a spot start in Chicago on June 28, it appeared he disgruntled teammates and coaches when he elected to pitch from the stretch. After coughing up six hits and five runs, Bauer was removed from the game and optioned back to Triple-A. When the Indians needed a spot start two weeks later, the call instead went to Danny Salazar.

Bauer wasn’t recalled from Triple-A for the rest of the season, even when rosters expanded in September. It’s likely he’s alienated teammates and members of his second organization. If the Tribe wanted to trade him, he’d no longer be a centerpiece but a player Cleveland would be pawning off on someone.

Considering his age still, the Indians are probably stuck with him but his stock has dropped dramatically and he is now guaranteed very little.

16. Drew Stubbs

Stubbs was acquired by the Indians in the same three-team trade as Bauer, but I’ve always believed he was the player the Cincinnati Reds insisted the Indians had to take. The Reds wanted Choo to replace Stubbs in their outfield. With Billy Hamilton a year away from the big leagues, and Jay Bruce and Ryan Ludwick already on the corners, Cincinnati had no room for Stubbs in either the short term or long term. Toss in the fact that he was entering arbitration for the first time last winter and Cincinnati was not interested in paying their fourth outfielder $2.8 million.

Cleveland was happy to take Stubbs to fill their open outfield spot vacated by Choo. However, after the emergence of Ryan Raburn and a second straight season hitting under .240, Stubbs suddenly begins to look costly as he is projected to make nearly $4 million in arbitration this winter. He’s probably played his way back to being the Indians’ fourth outfielder if he’s on the roster in 2014. Paying a non-starter almost $4 million isn’t a wise decision for the Indians when every penny counts in building a winner.

If the Indians choose to not offer Stubbs arbitration by the Dec. 2 deadline, he’ll be released and become a free agent. It’s a certainty Antonetti is calling around to see if a team is interested in Stubbs as a speedy, defensive center fielder. If they can trade him by the non-tender deadline, they won’t bring back anything to help the big league roster. Their negotiating power isn’t real high when teams know he could be released in less than a month.

15. Carlos Carrasco

After another season of inconsistency, Carrasco is out of options and will have to be on the Indians 25-man roster in 2014, or clear waivers to return to Triple-A. Considering his electric arm and potential the Indians have thought so highly of since 2011, it’s unlikely he would clear waivers.

Currently, the Indians still consider Carrasco a starting pitcher but his 2013 season indicates he could be an asset in a new, rebuilt Indians’ bullpen. Carrasco was 0-4, with a 9.00 ERA in seven starts. However, when he was used in the bullpen in the second half of the season, Carrasco was 1-0, with a 1.32 ERA in eight appearances. In 13.2 relief innings, he struck out 11 hitters. Not having to use three to four pitches and set up hitters for future at bats, Carrasco could rock and fire his above average fastball.

At this point, the Indians don’t have much choice but to consider him a starting option for 2014. The current competition for the fifth starter spot would be he, Bauer and Josh Tomlin—fresh off Tommy John surgery. If the Indians acquire another starter, Carrasco could be the first player shifted to the bullpen, especially since he’s out of minor league options.

Since he’s out of options, still without a definite role and inconsistent, he might be more valuable to the Indians in the bullpen than in any trade.

14. Mike Aviles

Aviles is a player the Indians don’t want to trade. He’s under contract for 2014, with a team option for 2015, at $3.5 million per season. Considering his veteran presence, willingness to play several positions and not necessarily start every day, he is a valuable piece. Aviles could be a non-starter in 2014 or a viable option at third base or shortstop if that is a route the Indians select.

For all those reasons, it’s why other teams may be interested in Aviles. It’s unlikely that Aviles is traded with Lonnie Chisenhall still not solidified at third base and the transition from Asdrubal Cabrera to Francisco Lindor at shortstop beginning. He does have value, however, and depending on the trade he isn’t a guy that holds up a deal.

13. Lonnie Chisenhall

After three seasons of opportunity, Chisenhall still has not seized the third base job. If anything, he’s part of why Aviles has increased value to the Indians. It’s likely Aviles and Chisenhall open 2014 in some kind of third base platoon, but at age 25 the former first round draft pick is running out of opportunities and value on the trade market. It’s believed in July the Chicago Cubs wanted Chisenhall for Matt Garza. It’s tough to envision a trade of that ilk with Chisenhall at this point. If the Indians aren’t sold on him, now is the time to trade him and still receive value for him. After 2014, it’s very likely the writing will be on the wall as to what kind of player he is at the major league level.

12. Vinnie Pestano

A year ago, Pestano was mentioned in trade talks with the New York Mets to be their closer. He was perceived as the closer-in-waiting when Chris Perez was no longer in the role. After a season full injuries, loss of control and a return to the minor leagues, Pestano is no longer the heir apparent to the now open closer’s role. Instead, he’s probably fighting to re-establish a role in the new 2014 bullpen.

Pestano is arbitration eligible this winter and the Indians will definitely tender him an offer. His dismal 2013 season probably cost him a considerable amount of money. At a projected $1.3 million for 2014, he’s still an economical player with tremendous upside. It’s also the reason why the Indians could get value for him on the trade market if they were interested in trading him. Teams will still find him a potential backend bullpen arm if they can wipe away the troubles of 2013.

11. Bryan Shaw
10. Cody Allen

At this point, the two have the same value and potential roles for the future. The Indians have an open closer’s role and with Pestano’s struggles both Shaw and Allen become the in-house favorites. Both are under team control and pre-arbitration players, meaning they make near the league minimum. It’s very likely that whoever wins the closer’s role, the other will move into a right-handed, late-inning set up role vacated by Joe Smith.

Teams will ask about either because of their team control and lack of salary. The Indians made Perez their closer in 2010 and when he reached arbitration status, it made him a much pricier commodity. Cleveland could consider trading one to cash in on their value and potential, instead of paying one or both closer type money in a year or two in arbitration.

Since the bullpen is a major area of concern moving forward, it’s very unlikely either would be traded. They’ll be players to build around in the bullpen.

9. Yan Gomes

Yanny Baseball was acquired from the Toronto Blue Jays a winter ago by the Indians with Aviles for just Esmil Rogers. In what might be Antonetti’s best move of the 2012 offseason, he acquired two players that were more than just bench contributors. Gomes was the Indians starting catcher down the stretch, providing a solid bat in the lineup and much better defense behind the plate than what Carlos Santana provides.

Since the Indians have Santana under contract through 2017 at an economical rate, Gomes could be a player of value to help bring back talent to help fill roles. Gomes is still in the pre-arbitration phase and is under team control for the foreseeable future.  Teams will call looking to obtain him, but it’s most likely that Gomes is the Opening Day catcher for the Indians and Santana migrates to a first base and designated hitter role, with occasional catcher duties.

8. Asdrubal Cabrera

Cabrera is probably not as high on the list as one might guess, but after a hitting .242 in 2013 and demonstrating declining range in the field, his value is dropping. Toss in the fact that 2014 is the last year of his contract and his value falls even farther. Cabrera has been the basis of trade rumors for over a year now and the Indians have always asked for a substantial return. They’ve never found the price they were asking for, and now, they’ll never get close to that value. Considering 2013 was arguably his worst year as a big leaguer, his $10 million contract for 2014 and no guarantee he’ll be with any team past this upcoming season, it’s tough to envision Cabrera bringing back major league talent in a trade to help the Indians in 2014.

If the Indians can afford to keep his inflated contract on the books, he might be worth more to the team in hopes that he reports to spring training in shape and dedicated to a return to his All-Star prowess in hopes to land a big contract in free agency next winter. A revitalized Cabrera could be more valuable to the Indians in 2014 than anything they can get via trade for him.

7. Zach McAllister
6. Corey Kluber

McAllister and Kluber are really the starting pitcher versions of Shaw and Allen. They’ve shared similar roles to this point and if the 2014 Indians are to be successful, they’ll be counted on to shoulder more of the load than they’ve ever had to before. Both McAllister and Kluber are great values as they are not yet arbitration eligible. Each missed around a month due to a finger issue and each seem to have rebounded nicely from the injury.

Since the Indians, like every team, is looking for starting pitching to build around, it is very unlikely either will be traded. But since every team is looking for starting pitching, you can believe the Indians will receive calls from other teams asking about them.

5. Michael Brantley

Dr. Smooth has followed the natural progression of a young player, working his way to the big leagues to a part time player and now a core member of the Indians. He’s had two very consistent seasons in 2012 and 2013. He’s a quiet, respected, team leader off the field. He moved from center field in 2012 to left field in 2013 when the Indians acquired Bourn and Stubbs last off-season. He’s a guy the Indians likely hope to keep building around.

But the Indians also have several players entering the arbitration years. Brantley is projected to make $3.7 million this winter. If Cleveland can’t sign him to a long term contract and buy out some of those arbitration years, he’ll likely see incremental raises for the next three seasons. By 2016, he could make around $8 million for the season.

Brantley is a player that does nearly everything well, but doesn’t do anything outstanding. He doesn’t hit .300, or hit 20 home runs or steal 30 bases. If the Indians can’t sign Brantley to a long term extension, it’s possible that salary arbitration could push his contract higher than his value. If the Indians had to make a choice between one to offer an extension, it’s likely the Indians would give that contract to Jason Kipnis instead of Brantley.

It’s the reason why I think if the Indians make a surprising trade this winter that no one sees coming, it could have Brantley’s name in it. He’s continued to improve every year of his major league career and isn’t a free agent until 2017, so he would have excellent trade value. The Indians also have minor leaguers Tyler Naquin and Carlos Moncrief probably within a year of their major league debuts.

I wouldn’t bet on the Indians trading Brantley this winter, but I’ll bet they think about longer than the average fan ever would.

4. Jason Kipnis

If the Indians could only buy out the arbitration years, or make a long term commitment to one, it would probably be Kipnis over Brantley. Kipnis has already established him as a borderline All-Star at his position and just like Brantley has improved every year at the big league level. A middle infield spot is also a much more skilled position than an outfield position, thus increasing Kipnis’ value.

The counter argument, however, is that the Indians have a plethora of middle infielders in their minor league system on the horizon. Lindor isn’t the only infielder within a year or two of the big leagues. The Indians also have Jose Ramirez, Ronnie Rodriguez and Joey Wendle near ready for the big leagues. Any of them could transition to third base if Chisenhall does not pan out, but they could also become Lindor’s future double play combination.

Kipnis is not arbitration eligible until next season, so the likelihood of him being traded is even less. Cleveland will have a middle of the order hitter in 2014 for about the league minimum. It would take an amazing offer to trade Kipnis, but anything is possible.

3. Justin Masterson

The Indians are going to try hard to give Masterson a long term extension this winter. According to Tim Dierkes of MLBTradeRumors, it will take a five year contract between $65-85 million. That’s a pretty wide range still. Also, the Indians have been trying to extend Masterson for several years already, to no success. In fairness to both sides, Masterson’s value has fluctuated from a successful 2011, to a subpar 2012 and back up again in 2013. Negotiating a long-term deal while the player’s value rises and dips is tough for both sides.

But after 2013, Masterson is the clear-cut ace of the staff, especially with the departure of Jimenez. If the Indians want Masterson beyond 2014, they are going to have to pay a pretty penny. If Cleveland does sign him to a five year deal, they’ll buy out his age 29-34 seasons, some of the most expensive years in a player’s career.

If the Indians realize they can’t get a long term deal done with Masterson, they’ll have to consider trading him this winter. They could bring back great value to a team that feels they are near a World Series run and even more if the team felt they could extend him long term. More likely though, if the Indians can’t extend Masterson, they’ll enter 2014 with him and hope to contend themselves. If they fell out of contention early, he would be a major trading piece at the July deadline. If Masterson files for free agency at the end of 2014, he is an easy player to extend a qualifying offer to and at least receive a first round draft pick when he signs elsewhere.

If the Indians sign Masterson long term, it might result in the fact that there isn’t enough money to go around to extend a player(s) like Brantley or Kipnis.

2. Carlos Santana

I think Santana is the most underappreciated player the Indians have because he’s so close to being the super stud fans want. When he was a minor leaguer, he was a potential .300 hitter. As he developed, scouts believed he was a potential 30 home run hitter. So far, he’s been neither.

What he has been is a good, middle of the order hitter, with potential to still grow. He is a solid run producer, with a great eye at the plate. He draws walks and is a major piece of the Indians offense. As long as the Indians do not have a major 30+ home run threat in the middle of their order, Santana is the closest thing they have to a true cleanup hitter. Truth be told, with the demise of steroids in baseball and offensive numbers dropping, Santana is really the average middle of the order hitter that teams covet. His walks are an added bonus.

He’s signed through 2016, with a club option for 2017 on a very team friendly contract. He makes $3.5 million in 2014 and $6 million in 2015 and $8.25 million in 2016 before the Indians are faced with a $12 million option team option in 2017. Considering he’ll be just 28 years old in 2014 and 31 when it expires, the contract is very favorable to the Indians or any team interested in him.

Since Gomes has emerged as a very adequate catcher, and defensive upgrade, you can believe the Indians will take phone calls about Santana’s availability. With his offensive production and contract status you can believe the Indians will be looking for a king’s ransom much like they did a couple years ago with Cabrera.

Likely the Indians will still have Santana on Opening Day, but if they do have he and Gomes it is fair to believe that Santana adapts to a role where he plays catcher a day or two a week, first base a couple days a week and designated hitter a couple days a week. His value is highest as a catcher, but Gomes is clearly better defensively. If a team valued him as a catcher, the Indians could reap the best benefits of a trade while he is still a catching option.

1. Danny Salazar

He isn’t the best player the Indians have, but he’s the player with the highest potential and greatest trade value.

Salazar has less than a year of MLB service time. He’s not eligible for salary arbitration until 2017 and doesn’t face free agency until 2020. The Indians faced a one-game playoff and they elected to start him, while McAllister and Kluber were available on full rest, and not a single person in Cleveland questioned the move to start him. When he didn’t succeed, no one second-guessed the decision. It was clearly the right move and is just one example of how dominant he can be.

In the words of our writer, Steve Eby, “he has the potential to be our Justin Verlander.”

Steve’s right. Salazar is appointment television. When he’s on the mound you watch. When he faces a top-notch hitter, you especially watch. He struck out Miguel Cabrera three times in a game. He’s the only pitcher to do that this season. He has the potential to be the leader of the Indians’ rotation for many seasons to come, especially if Masterson leaves Cleveland after 2014.

And for all those reasons, he has the highest potential and value in a trade. If Cleveland wants to win now, he’s the piece every team will ask for. When Cleveland makes the courtesy phone call about the availability for David Price or Chris Sale, their response will be an immediate inquiry about Salazar’s availability.  If you want one of those stud pitchers to couple with Masterson for 2014 and make a push to pass the Detroit Tigers and contend for the World Series, you’ll have to trade Salazar.

If the Indians hang on to him, they may have a potential ace on their hands for the next four to seven seasons.

In all these trade possibilities, the Indians have to ask themselves how much they value winning now versus development. It’s a decision every organization contemplates.

Photo: Getty Images

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