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Trade Everyone! - The Infield

an epic survey in six parts
1 The Starters by Ryan
2 The Infield by Jay
3 Wait. What? by Andrew (afh4)
4 The Prospects by Adam (APV)
5 The Outfield + Pronk by Ryan
6 The End by Jay

July 18, 2006:

Most fans at this point are sick of the entire Indians roster, and who can blame us?  I don't know if everyone on the roster is "on the table" for trades, but a part of me would like to think that there is no option for improving the roster that Shapiro wouldn't consider.  That nobody is untouchable.

In theory, nobody is untouchable.  With the right offer of players and/or money, there is no player in the game who can't be had in a trade.  It's just a question of making the right offer.  So why not consider it?

Funny how we feel exactly the same way, even though the circumstance is very different.  As of that day, in some ways, the Indians had been out of the race for two months — seven games behind the division lead on May 8, 10.5 games behind on May 26, 17 games behind on June 25.  By July 18, the deficit was 21 games, and the Wild Card outlook was hardly any better.  Sabathia spent April on the DL, both Betancourt and Cabrera appeared damaged by the WBC, and if it were possible to make a train out of a sieve and then wreck it, then you'd have a really good metaphor for our infield defense.  We ditched Phllips in favor of Vazquez, but my mid-May we'd already demoted Vazquez in favor of Lou Merloni.

It got real late, real early, but at the same time, the team made the best of that moment's clarity.  Unlike the Expos in 2002 or the Mariners in 2006, we were so clearly out of it that there was no temptation to hope or pretend for another 30 days — not for the players' sake or for the fans.   So there was no reason to make any plays for the current season, and there was a great chance to improve the team's prospects for 2007 and beyond.  We had already traded Eduardo Perez and were on the verge of trading Bob Wickman — deals that eventually produced two key players for the 2007 stretch run.

This season is different.  We have a slightly worse record based on a different combination of failures, but the division and Wild Card races have not run away form the club entirely.  Seven weeks of intermittent struggles left the team improbably in first place, up by 1.5 games, only to fall into a disastrous run of 2-10.  Now 5.5 games behind — but only 5.5 games behind — the Indians are in a division that appears mediocre enough to be won by any decent team, should one emerge.  But can the Indians be that team?  Should we reconfiguring for a drive, or reconfiguring for next season?

Will we decide to be the 2006 Indians again ... or the 2006 Mariners?

$420K salary, signed through 2008, controlled through 2012

  • PRO - Could be one part of a significant trade — scouts and managers love his grinder approach and mentality, and GM's will love his contract status, which has him still making the minimum in 2009.
  • PRO - Struggling at 27, he's very unlikely to peak at a level much higher than his 2007 numbers.
  • PRO - 1B is arguably emerging as a position of depth — Aubrey and Brown may be reasonable options for first base in 2009 and 2010, and they fit better into a C/1B rotation with Martinez and Shoppach.
  • CON - Young, cheap players with reasonably good production are the lifeblood of a good roster.
  • CON - Wouldn't clear significant payroll space, now or over the next couple of years.
  • CON - Might be selling low on a player who's struggling.

$393K salary, signed through 2008, controlled through 2013

  • PRO - Should be recognized as equivalent to an elite prospect, given his track record, and so should get a significant return.  Billy Beane no doubt still very interested.
  • PRO - Would have greater value to a team without an established shortstop, or with a shortstop in his walk year.
  • CON - Probable high-quality player and potential impact player over the next six seasons — and cheap.
  • CON - Weak overall depth in the middle infield.
  • CON - Best defensive player in the entire organization, with no close second in the majors or high minors, high-leverage asset for a team that may well feature the most extreme groundball rotation of all-time over 2009-2010.
  • CON - Uncertain long-term viability of Peralta at shortstop.
  • CON - Hard to imagine a viable trade scenario where trading him wouldn't be a huge mistake.

$2.25M salary, signed through 2010, controlled through 2011

  • PRO - Presents the best out of all our struggling hitters — shortstop on pace for 33 HR, barely 26, with postseason heroics, under reasonable contract for three more seasons.
  • PRO - Would be considered a viable 3B option by many teams.
  • PRO - Would allow team to reconfigure middle infield for better defense in light of groundball-heavy rotation.
  • PRO - Likely will be seen by the Indians as merely a reasonable value towards the end of his contract.
  • PRO - Not a fan favorite, probably the most significant asset the team could trade while minimizing backlash; local shills would eagerly endorse the deal.
  • CON - Lack of overall middle-infield depth, likely would have to acquire at least one player (2B) if we traded him.
  • CON - Unclear if Asdrubal Cabrera will hit well enough to stick in the majors in 2008 or 2009, even if moved to shortstop.
  • CON - Production possibly can't be replaced at less than twice the price.
  • CON - Barely 26, likely will bounce back to higher production, and may have a significantly higher peak left in him.
  • CON - Clutch, generally has been immune from team-wide slumps or postseason pressure.
  • CON - Would be the first case of trading someone considered to be a core player, unclear how that would affect future dealings.

$6.1M salary, signed through 2008, controlled through 2008

  • PRO - Versatile player with veteran clubhouse rep, apparently considered a clutch performer in some circles, could be considered a significant trade piece in a tight market.
  • PRO - Unlike in 2006, team has viable major-league options at each of his positions.
  • PRO - Despite slump, may well be selling high.
  • PRO - It's his walk-year anyway, and his $4M in remaining salary is high enough to want it gone, and yet low enough to attract most suitors — and low enough to consider eating it to get superior talent coming back in a deal (a tactic heavily employed by Shapiro in past deals).
  • PRO - Using Marte at 3B would upgrade the infield defense.
  • PRO - Would create opportunity to play glut of rookie corner position players — not just Marte, but also Choo, Francisco and Aubrey — and may have no downside in terms of overall production.
  • CON - Uncertain whether Marte can hit well enough to stay in the majors without being a significant hole in the lineup.
  • CON - Overall depth at 3B in particular is not good.

$392K salary, signed through 2008, controlled through 2012

  • PRO - If some team actually wants him, and is willing to assign any significant value to him in a trade package, it may well be the best offer we ever get for him, as many scouts are quite down him at this point based on his 2007 performance.
  • PRO - Shapiro seems committed to Wedge, and Wedge seems incredibly un-committed to Marte — possibly facts not made public influencing the club's evaluation of the player.
  • PRO - Some injury history, and despite outstanding track record as a young minor leaguer, has never looked "above" Triple-A pitching, not clear he can hit above replacement level in the majors.
  • CON - Uncertain what his ceiling is, has never gotten significant opportunity as a major league hitter.
  • CON - Unlikely to get offered anything significant and would save almost no money.
  • CON - Would be jettisoning a player under inexpensive, low-risk, team control for the next 3-4 seasons.
  • CON - Would have to sign a free agent or trade for someone to play 3B in 2009 and possibly 2010, nobody major-league ready at that position.
  • CON - Brandon Phillips.

$416K/238K split salary, signed through 2008, controlled through 2013

  • PRO - If some team actually wants him, and is willing to assign any significant value to him in a trade package, it may well be the best offer we ever get for him, as many scouts are quite down him at this point based on his 2007 performance.
  • PRO - Value to team roster would plummet to zero if the team acquired a 2B, which is a logical target to upgrade.  Barfield's bat doesn't work at any other position, and his glove doesn't work as as utility player. 
  • PRO - Might still be seen as a viable major leaguer by some teams, particularly in the NL.
  • CON - May well be selling low, as bat/glove may well return to league-average levels given another opportunity — would be jettisoning a player under inexpensive, low-risk, team control for the next 3-4 seasons.
  • CON - Unlikely to get offered anything significant and would save almost no money.
  • CON - Weak overall depth in the middle-infield, can't expect help from the minors until 2010 at the earliest.

$380/60K split salary, signed through 2008, controlled through 2014

  • PRO - Could we convince Billy Beane that he wants Aubrey as much as he wants Cabrera?
  • PRO - Incredibly persistent injury history, scouts report significantly diminished skills from his heyday as a prospect, has never produced good numbers above Single-A.
  • CON - Already has more HR than Victor.
  • CON - Is a reasonable option if Garko is traded, fits well into platoon with Martinez and Shoppach.
  • CON - Young, cheap, under control for many years, still one option left.

$2M salary, signed through 2008, controlled through 2009

  • PRO - Useful player, high-quality defender who could be attractive to a "fat" contender looking to shore up weak depth.
  • PRO - Not a significant long-term piece.
  • PRO - Would create opportunity to work Barfield into a two-position rotation with Cabrera and Peralta, which could be somewhat optimizing.
  • CON - Weak overall middle-infield depth, would only make it harder to demote Cabrera, as probably is needed.
  • CON - Possibly undervalued in trade market, probably as valuable to the Indians as to any team.
  • CON - It's harder than it looks to find a quality bench/platoon middle infielder — see also Vazquez, Rouse — and Carroll has a perfect, club-friendly contract.
  • CON - No more sweet baboo.

IN GENERAL:  There's a lot of reason to think about reconfiguring the entire infield.  Garko has been disappointing and never had a high ceiling.  Cabrera's bat doesn't work at 2B.  Peralta has provided high-value production but seems unpredictable, he's fringy at shortstop, and his bat/glove package may not play any better at another position.  As for the others, would anybody really care if they left?

It would seem to behoove the team to make a series of moves aimed at upgrading the infield defense.  Not that it's bad, it's fine overall, but the club likely will get over 200 starts from now through 2010 out of three extreme groundball pitchers, Westbrook, Carmona and Laffey — 260 starts if they're all healthy.  Our best defensive configuration right now is Aubrey, Carroll, Cabrera and Marte — which notably looks nothing like our Opening Day infield.  It also looks notably like our best offensive configuration, but that idea of "best" seems highly questionable at this point.  If the infield's hitting isn't as good as we thought, or even is merely highly uncertain, that too is a reason to start giving defensive issues more consideration.  (Amazingly, Wedge might actually be realizing this himself.)

That provides a rationale for moving even younger players like Garko or Peralta — let alone short-timers like Blake — but the truth is, without those guys, we don't really have the horses.  Shifting guys around still leaves us with projected mediocrity, and worse hitting than before.  We could move Garko with little risk or downside, but moving Blake leaves us a little exposed — and if we move both of them, we'd have to be thinking about getting someone who can play 3B off the bench, either with more glove than Blake or more bat than Carroll, for 2008 and beyond.  As for the middle infield, we can't really trade Peralta without acquiring a substantial second baseman — and if we do that, we might as well ship Barfield out, too.

Ironically, we have a number of players worth trading in the infield, but we're also in the market for infielders who can make a difference.  Infield defense sank the team in 2006, but it could make a huge positive over the next several seasons — and in this one.  There are opportunities here to make a series of moves that improve the team in three ways:  By bringing in a quality player, by replacing a weak player in the lineup, and by shifting one or two others into roles where they can be more valuable.