The Indians have had a relatively quiet offseason so far, but as the Winter Meetings officially begin this morning in Orlando, Fla., things could change. Certainly over the next four days, every team will be linked to rumors and possible upgrades to their roster.
The Indians will be no different. With Cleveland already committing about $77 million to the 2014 payroll, the Indians can take on some payroll, but might not have the space to make a big signing and still find the smaller, necessary parts to fill out the roster. Cleveland currently needs help in the starting rotation and bullpen. It’s possible a trade from the big league roster could bring back talent and clear some salary space for additional free agent signings to round out the 2014 roster.
Drew Stubbs is the most obvious player the Indians have that could be dealt. Stubbs was offered arbitration by the Indians on Dec. 2, but appears to not have a clear role with the signing of David Murphy. It’s believed Murphy and Raburn are currently slated to platoon in right field. It seems unlikely the Indians will carry five outfielders, plus Nick Swisher on their Opening Day roster. Someone will have to be dealt and Stubbs is the most likely option.
While Stubbs is the most likely player to be traded on the big league roster, he also is one of the players who would bring the least in return. He only sheds $3.8 million (estimated to make in arbitration) from the payroll. Cleveland could use Stubbs as insurance to listen to offers on either Michael Bourn or Michael Brantley.
Bourn is under contract for the next three seasons, but could be a player a team who lost out on Jacoby Ellsbury or Curtis Granderson could consider obtaining. Bourn would be an acquisition at less years and less salary commitment than either player. Brantley is an intriguing trade possibility because he is still under team control for three seasons. With salary arbitration guaranteeing a steep pay increase each year, the Tribe could consider dealing Brantley for a nice return of players. Murphy is naturally a left fielder by trade, and one who has had better seasons than Brantley.
Dealing either outfielder would open the door for a promotion of Tyler Naquin as early as some point in 2014. The 2012 first round draft pick is quickly climbing the Indians minor league system after a successful fall in the Arizona Fall League.
In addition to the Indians outfield surplus, they’ll likely receive phone calls about the possibility of Carlos Santana’s availability. With Swisher a better defensive option at first base and the decision to make Yan Gomes the starting catcher for 2014, Santana could bring back the biggest return of any player on the Indians roster. Santana is also signed to a very team-friendly contract through 2017. It makes him a very valuable piece if the Indians wanted to try and make a big splash.
Cleveland could also look to trade Asdrubal Cabrera. After a disappointing 2013, Cleveland could try to trade Cabrera to shed his $10 million payroll. Cabrera is a free agent after 2014 and probably won’t resign in Cleveland. The trade return may not be as high as it once was, but the loss in payroll to do other things to the roster may have an added value to a trade. The Indians are lucky to have a good short-term replacement in Mike Aviles if they dealt Cabrera for help. Aviles would hold down the shortstop spot until the Tribe’s top prospect, Francisco Lindor, was ready for the big leagues.
And finally, it might be a very difficult pill to swallow, but if the Indians don’t think they can extend Justin Masterson past 2014, they could consider trading him to another team for a load of talent to help now and in the future. That trade would be pretty disheartening as it would admit that Cleveland could again not extend their own talent and subsequently give up on the 2014 season before it even started.
Hopefully, if and when the Indians make a trade this winter, it’s to improve the team for 2014 or from surplus, not a trade out of necessity.
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