According to ESPN’s transaction tracker, the the Cleveland Indians have made 46 trades since 2002. Give or take one or two. Of those, five have been with an AL Central team, pretty evenly spread around the division. Only the Tigers haven’t swapped for a Tribe player. Adding to that, The only player of real consequence that was moved was Carl Pavano back in 2009. Not that he was great for the Twins or anything, but he did beat the Tribe a few times and have a sub-4.00 ERA one year. Other than him, it was a bunch of nothing going to division rivals, which is par for the course across sports.
The Indians wheel and deal on the trade block less than I thought, but about as much with their divisional rivals as I expected at 10.9 percent of the time. I wish that number could go higher. There are Central players I covet for the Indians that are gettable. But trading in-division is so fraught with pitfalls. I can understand not wanting to risk actual value and have it backfire, regardless of the payoff. I don’t envy the Indians front office for that reason.
It’s something you see all over sports. Teams don’t want to deal with rivals, city-mates or regular opponents for the simple reason they don’t want it to blow up in their face. In a way it’s nice. It belies the fraternal veneer that modern sports seems to have. In reality, you want those closest to you to fail even if you say nice things about them. But good players cost assets in the form of top flight prospects. Those guys could turn into stars one day. But what do you do when a rival is having a fire sale?
More to the point, I really want the Indians to do their best to pull Adam Eaton from the Chicago White Sox. I am not shy about praising that guy. Nobody baseballs quite like he does, with his perfect equilibrium of skill, grit and zazz that turns into pleasing to watch, winning baseball. I assume the second part at least, because the White Sox have more or less stunk since he’s been on the team. He would fix several issues the Indians laid bare in the postseason, from outfield defense to more offense, along with an indefinable Ecksteininess that plays well in October. But he’d cost prospects. Good ones, and a few of them.
One has to wonder what Brewers fans would think if they were still in the same division as the Indians. This is assuming they still traded for CC Sabathia of course, and then proceeded to get their head beat in a few years later by Michael Brantley. Would Milwaukee be up in arms over handing over an MVP candidate for three months of a large lefty? Perhaps not, since there was so little overlap in their respective times being good. Perhaps if the Brewers had held on to Sabathia it would be different. It was a rental though, everyone knew the eventual outcome. That’s all too much reaching and supposition though.
A more apt trade would be the Indians sending Rocky Colavito to the Tigers, and watching him be the Midwest Mickey Mantle for a few seasons. I know that was a weird, ego-driven trade, but how do you let that happen? That’s a tough one to explain to anyone. To be a fan then must have been murder.
The Indians sort of got another dose of this in the last few years when Victor Martinez signed with the Tigers. While it wasn’t a direct trade, his getting moved to the Red Sox crushed Victor and Cleveland fans equally. It’s hard to find a more beloved player from those mid-2000’s teams. And the way he just seemed to take it out on the team for trading him, my goodness. Hitting .314/.384/.510 against the Tribe, a line that includes .215/.282/.354 this past season when the entire Tigers franchise seemed to roll over and die as soon as it saw the Indians.
You have to gauge current impact with the future optics though. That’s why breaking the bank for Eaton, or Jose Abreu for that matter (the sale is going to be huge) is almost a bad idea. It’s not to say the Indians have an amazing farm system, but there’s some potential there that could really kill them if everything breaks right and a trade goes down. Whether Brad Zimmer or Francisco Mejia or Triston McKenzie, there's a chance they could be the ones doing the head beating some years down the road. That would be no fun for Antonetti and Co., especially if whoever they snagged was a bust of a trade. But really, how seismic would it be for the Tribe to get Miguel Cabrera? Or, more usefully and probably slightly more possibly, JD Martinez? It would be nice to be on the other side of the unkindness delivered to a former team.
This is the internal argument going on regardless of what the trade is with any general manager. Except Dave Dombrowski, he hates prospects. How much do you work to protect the future? As much as we get caught up in the potential of a Greg Allan or Bobby Bradley, the old saying that prospects are suspect has to hold true.
If given the chance to get an Eaton or an Abreu, or even smushing Detroit’s face in the mud for a few years by snatching Cabrera away, how could the Indians not do it? Who knows what these kids will turn into. There should be more intra-division trading. It would make rivalries super hot. I think in the next CBA there should be a five year moratorium on non-divisional trading. Is it a bad idea? Almost certainly. But it might just cure one of the greatest mental blocks front offices have. That being, not wanting to lose too much face. I just want more villains in baseball, I suppose. Rivals dealing with each other can give us that. Or at the least, let a good player perform in meaningful games.