The most controversial trade buzz in Cleveland is the fate of All-Star shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera following a report from ESPN’s Buster Olney last week linking the Indians to the Cardinals in talks for him. The same talks were heavily reported during the latest winter meetings, and a deal makes a ton of sense on paper with the Cardinals need for a shortstop and their gluttony of young pitching.
But now that both teams are in contention, things change. It is not often that a contending team deals one of its most well-known veterans, but rather move minor league talent in order to improve. But this possible trade is different, the Cardinals have pitching to spare, but can the Indians spare Cabrera?
To determine this, we must first look at the Indians own personnel, more specifically Mike Aviles who would be the presumptuous choice to replace Cabrera.
Offensively, Aviles is obviously a downgrade to Cabrera, who is slightly above-average. The player’s BABIP’s each match their recent averages, so now uptick or regression in production is to be expected.
The two most interesting stats that jump out to me on this table are each player’s WAR and Cabrera’s strikeout percentage.
Cabrera’s previous career high in that category is 17.8 percent in 2011 when he was also mashing the ball. This year that has not been the case, yet he has been striking out at an incredibly higher rate. The question that won’t be answered until the end of the season is, does this signal trouble ahead or has he regressed this year?
In regards to WAR, its interesting to see Aviles so close to Cabrera while the latter seems to lead in most every category. The reason for that is defense.
As is already well-known, Cabrera is not a good defensive shortstop. Aviles isn’t a world-beater in that regard, but he represents an options closer to the mean and a vast improvement over Cabrera.
So dealing Cabrera would lead to a drop in production in most aspects, but what return would Cabrera receive in order circumvent that loss?
Sticking with the Cardinals, an obvious demand would be for a pitcher. Shelby Miller should be considered out of reach, and while many are high on Michael Wacha, his lack of a true third pitch makes me believe he’s destined for the back of a rotation. The two guys I would most want to target are Carlos Martinez and Trevor Rosenthal.
Getting both for Cabrera is a stretch, the more likely scenario is receiving one of them as the centerpiece of a possible deal.
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I would lean more towards Martinez just based on personal preference. He has a mid-90s heater that has nipped 100 as a starter to pair with a plus curveball. His repertoire is finished off with an average change-up, but at times its flashed more potential than that. The main thing working against Martinez is his height, being listed at only 6’0″ 165 pounds. Often times shorter pitchers struggle to get a downward plane on their fastball, making it more prone to fly balls and thus home runs. I am less concerned about this in regards to Martinez since his stuff is electric, though it should remain noted.
Rosenthal has been working to show he is Martinez’s equal in talent. Working only out of the bullpen for the Cardinals this year and late last year he has pulled together career numbers of a 2.39 ERA, 2.3 BB/9 and 12.4 K/9. Rosenthal spent his entire minor league career as a starter, and the sheer depth of the Cardinals’s rotation has placed Rosenthal in the ‘pen where his fastball can hit triple digits. As a starter, he still works easily in the mid-90s and has both a slider and curveball. The slider is an above-average offering, if not plus and the curveball is a solid pitch with good tilt. Rosenthal’s change-up however still requires refinement, as ESPN’s Keith Law described it as a “BP fastball” in his preseason prospect rankings.
Either guy would be a welcome addition to a struggling Indians pitching staff, as either a starter or bullpen arm. Both have the ability to lead a pitching staff or close out a bullpen.
In addition to one of Martinez or Rosenthal, I would inquire about Ryan Jackson, a minor league utility man that is a shortstop by trade. Jackson is not a world beater in any regard, but he is at least solid across the board and reminds me of Jason Donald. While no one was ever excited to acquire Donald, no one was ever particularly disappointed to have him on the team either. In this hypothetical deal, Jackson would serve as the utility man, taking over for Aviles becoming the every day shortstop.
If possible, a PTBNL or cash considerations from the Cardinals would seal the deal for the Indians, but would not be a deal breaker either. The fact that so many talks have presumably happened and no deal has been reached leads me to believe that getting this from St. Louis is a stretch.
The last question to be addressed is, will the loss in production from shortstop be circumvented by acquiring Martinez/Rosenthal and Jackson? It is hard to answer, since Martinez has not proven himself at the Major League level in a big enough sample to draw conclusions, but has a shining minor league track record as well as always being a familiar face on top prospect lists. Rosenthal is more of a late bloomer, but has been well-regarded by many in the industry over the past year. But he has not had a single start in the Major Leagues and bullpen to starter transitions are not always smooth, especially mid-season.
What this trade represents is a risk for 2013. It’s a risk assuming that Martinez and Rosenthal can be the last piece to the puzzle that is the Indians rotation. It’s also a risk however, to assume that Cabrera will find his 2011 form again and help lead the Tribe to the playoffs.
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That’s why it’s a worthwhile risk for the Indians. The decline in production from Cabrera to Aviles could be minimal, while the upside of Martinez or Rosenthal is high. Not to mention the years of control that Cleveland would have on both of those arms and Ryan Jackson for one and a half years of Cabrera.
Pitching is also a bigger need than what Cabrera offers offensively. The 2013 Indians have plenty of offensive potential without Cabrera’s help, but hold the second-lowest ERA+ from their starting pitchers (89) in the American League. Getting a high-upside starter is more likely to help the Indians now, not to mention having Aviles play every day represents a defensive upgrade helping Martinez or Rosenthal and the rest of the staff even further.
This is a classic strength for strength deal with both teams filling their biggest weakness.
Despite popular belief, trading a veteran does not signal a sale and that the season in Cleveland is lost. In 2004 the Boston Red Sox traded their star player Nomar Garciaparra who was hitting .321/.367/.500 to get Orlando Cabrera and Doug Mientkiewicz and still went on to win the World Series because of the weaknesses Cabrera and Mientkiewicz filled defensively. My dad, an avid Red Sox fan and Garciaparra devotee, still looks back on the trade fondly often telling me: “If we don’t make that deal, we don’t win the World Series.”
Trading Cabrera to the Cardinals could be a similar move for the Tribe. While Cabrera and Mintkiewicz were veterans with established Major League track records while Rosenthal and Martinez are both unproven, this is not a veteran for prospects to dream on like so many other deals. Martinez, Rosenthal and Jackson are all Major League ready today. This trade makes both teams better, and vastly improves the Tribe for the next five years on top of that.
If the pieces fit, pull the trigger.