Feb 18, 2014; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Cleveland Indians general manager Chris Antonetti speaks to the media during MLB media day at Chase Field. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Winter Meetings: Who Could Antonetti Trade Next? Who Could He Target?
With Brandon Moss in the fold, the Cleveland Indians and GM Chris Antonetti have extensive versatility moving forward. The club is saturated in several areas, particularly the outfield, as outlined in our own Kyle Downing’s assessment of the packed refrigerator effect. So the question becomes, how can the Tribe take a lopsided roster and flip some pieces to become more balanced, talented, and competitive? Since Antonetti has stated that he prefers trading this offseason rather than inking players in free agency, here are some additional ways the Indians can improve the roster through via trade.
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Trade an Outfielder
The obvious answer is to unload an outfielder. The Indians currently have Michael Bourn, Brandon Moss, and Michael Brantley as projected starters in the outfield, with David Murphy, Nick Swisher, Ryan Raburn, Tyler Holt, and Zach Walters as possible bench and DH options. Michael Brantley, 3rd in the MVP race this season, is likely untouchable. However, several reports have shared Antonetti’s willingness to move Swisher, and his restrictive salary, to a team in need of power, especially with Swisher coming off dual knee surgeries and a year of minimal production. However, it seems Swisher will be incredibly difficult to move given his salary, injury history, age, and defensive problems. Plus, if he can produce near his 20 homer 2013 season, he can be an asset for the club at DH.
Bottom Line: Look for Swisher to be the starting DH on Opening Day 2015.
The outfielders most likely to be moved are David Murphy and Ryan Raburn. Murphy is an intriguing option for teams seeking outfield help, as he offers consistency – Murphy maintained a positive WAR for eight straight seasons before posting -0.5 in 2014 – and a .273 average and .335 OBP for his career. His BABIP of .285 in 2014 remains below his career average of .299 as well, suggesting he has room to improve in 2015. Murphy could be attractive to the Seattle Mariners, Cincinnati Reds, Miami Marlins, or Texas Rangers, all of which are desperate for outfield depth. It is hard to say what kind of return Murphy could net for the Tribe, though they may try to obtain a power bullpen arm or lower-level pitching prospect with upside. The Indians could also include Murphy as a Major League ready outfielder in a larger package to try to add pitching depth or another bat.
Bottom Line: Murphy, as a fourth left-handed bat in a crowded outfield, will be in a different uniform come 2015. Meanwhile, Zach Walters will earn a chance to play part-time in the outfield, given his power potential.
Raburn meanwhile offers a solid bat off the bench, particularly if he can perform close to his monster 2013 highlighted by 16 homers and 55 RBI in only 87 games. Raburn also batted .308 against lefties in a platoon with Murphy in 2013. While he was mired with injuries and sub-par performance last season, Raburn could be attractive to any team looking for a right-handed bat to put in the outfield when the opposition has a southpaw on the mound. While Raburn will not win over any teams with his defense, his career numbers against lefties could be enough to garner interest, particularly in a larger package.
Bottom Line: The Indians retain Raburn to offset the lefty-heavy lineup.
Michael Bourn is also an intriguing trade chip, particularly if the Indians can find a trade partner in the NL. Bourn has had a rough transition to the AL, as his stolen base totals and batting averages have dipped significantly since he came over in free agency in 2013. However, with two healthy hamstrings, Bourn could be a table setter on any number of teams. The Indians may be able to move him for a decent pitching prospect while freeing up his salary to chase a mid-level starter in the Brandon McCarthy mold.
Bottom Line: Bourn garners some interest, but the Tribe sticks with him in center and hopes for a rebound to his 2012 numbers.
Move Jason Kipnis
Rumors are swirling at the Winter Meetings that the Indians are listening to offers on Jason Kipnis. After signing Kipnis to a six-year $52.5 million extension before the 2014 season, Kipnis came down with a bad oblique and never returned to form. Kipnis had just 6 homers last season, slashing .240/.310/.330 overall. However, the 2013 All-Star has shown the potential to be a cornerstone of the franchise. The Indians could garner a huge package in return given the years of control and affordability of his contract. Perhaps the Indians could even work Kipnis and an outfielder into a blockbuster deal for the likes of Cole Hamels. Though, ultimately, Kipnis is unlikely to be moved. The Indians have committed to him long term at reasonable cost, and he remains a high-ceiling option at second base. However, with Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor offering a tantalizing, young duo with defensive specialty, given the Indians’ struggles in the field in 2014, Kipnis is certainly a viable trade chip for the right price.
Bottom Line: Kipnis fails to garner a big enough package for Antonetti to pull the trigger, mainly because of his down 2014. He starts at second base on Opening Day.
Deal from Starting Pitching Depth
The Indians have been linked to Justin Upton over the past week, and it is believed John Hart covets some of the Tribe’s starting pitching depth. The Indians have seven Major League ready starters in Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Danny Salazar, Trevor Bauer, TJ House, Josh Tomlin, and Zach McAllister. McAllister and Tomlin appear to be the odd men out, as the other five rounded out an exceptional rotation down the stretch in 2014, nearly propelling the Indians to the postseason. McAllister is out of options, and the Indians use him as a potential power arm out of the bullpen, but Josh Tomlin could garner some interest as an experienced bottom-of-the-rotation arm. He showed some signs of success before tiring coming off of Tommy John surgery last season.
Meanwhile, to obtain a bat like Upton, the Indians would likely need to move either Salazar or Bauer. While doing so is not out of the question, the Indians would be inclined to find a player who is more than a one-year rental if they must sacrifice Salazar or Bauer in the deal. Perhaps one of them would meet the needs of the Phillies for a Cole Hamels deal, or the Cincinnati Reds in return for Johnny Cueto. Given the White Sox trade for Jeff Samardijia and the Detroit Tigers’ inclination to add a starter this offseason, the Indians could attain the pieces needed to battle their formidable AL Central foes by dealing for a front-end rotation arm.
Bottom Line: The Indians pull off a blockbuster trade, acquiring Cole Hamels from the Phillies, while sending Danny Salazar to Philly. It sends a message to the clubhouse that the team is committed to winning now.
Deal a Left-Handed Reliever
The Indians also have three MLB ready lefties in the pen, those being Marc Rzepczynski, Kyle Crockett, and Nick Hagadone. Manager Terry Francona has praised fireballer Hagadone’s progress since he took over as manager in 2013, while Crockett made it to the big leagues in 2014, ascending through Akron and Columbus on his way. Just 22 years old, Crockett has a bright future in the Indians’ bullpen. Meanwhile, Rzepczynski has been a staple in the pen since joining the team via trade from St. Louis in 2013.
Left-handed relievers are increasingly valued in baseball, as evidenced by Zach Duke’s three year $15 million deal with the White Sox. Accordingly, with the free agent market thin, the Indians could receive good value from teams with dire bullpen straits. Teams seem willing to overpay for bullpen lefties, and the Indians could cash in by moving Rzepczynski, the eldest of the trio, while his value remains high. Crockett and Hagadone seem ready to take the reigns in 2015.
Bottom Line: The Indians decide to keep Rzepczynski due to Francona’s preference to carry an eight-man bullpen and use multiple relievers every game.
If my predictions hold true Indians fans, you are in for a wild ride this winter.
Statistics via Fangraphs