Should the Indians Trade Asdrubal Cabrera?

It’s been suggested recently on Twitter and elsewhere that it might make some sense for the Indians to consider trading Asdrubal Cabrera.  For serious.

And after spraying my lunch all over my phone, I thought about it a bit.  Could it possibly make sense to trade one of our core pieces and arguably our best offensive player while he’s still under club control for two more years at arbitration-level money?  Are these people taking crazy pills?  Maybe.  But maybe not, too.  Let’s discuss.

In 2011, Asdrubal Cabrera had something of a breakout season.  From 2007 to 2010, he had a .284/.347/.394 line good for a .741 OPS.  This made him a slightly above average offensive shortstop.  But last year, he slugged an impressive .460, en route to a .792 OPS and a Silver Slugger award for the best offensive shortstop in the majors.  It was quite a development.

On top of all that, Cabrera’s not a terribly expensive player to keep on board.  Keep in mind that last season Cabrera and Jhonny Peralta were arguably the two best shortstops in the American League.  Asdrubal was paid $2.02 million, while Peralta made almost three times that.  For comparison’s sake, Derek Jeter made $15 million in 2011 to put up an OPS 50 points lower than Asdrubal.

Which is just another way of saying that valuable means two different things to a professional team: being good and being cheap.  And that Asdrubal is both.

So why consider trading him?

Well, there are a couple of reasons.  First, while it’s hard for us to stomach this, Asdrubal has rated pretty poorly as a defensive player.  According to most advanced metrics, his penchant for the unbelievable play has masked some pretty mediocre range and a sub-par ability to make the routine play.  In fact, Asdrubal ranked dead last in the AL among shortstops in UZR last season, and ahead of only Jeter and Scutaro according to Total Zone.  While I find these conclusions a bit hard to believe, Asdrubal has now consistently ranked in the bottom half of the league for four years, and at some point, we’ve got to at least acknowledge that these metrics might have some significance.

Combine his questionably questionable defense with a starting rotation that might be more ground-ball prone than any in Major League history, and you start to see why moving Asdrubal could make some sense.  Four of our five starters have above average groundball rates, and if the team hopes to optimize this arrangement, they might think of boosting their defense by looking for a more proficient shortstop (this argument is, indeed, predicated that the defensive metrics are—if not absolutely correct—then at least notionally correct in judging Asdrubal as a sub-par defender).

On top of the defense, there is the issue of Asdrubal’s salary.  While it’s true that he made only slight more than $2 million last season, it’s also true that he’ll make considerably more in every future season.  He’s entering his second year of arbitration eligibility, so even if he hadn’t played well last year, he likely would have netted a considerably raise this season.  But he did play well.  So he’s likely to be making something like $5 million in 2012, regardless of whether he makes it in arbitration or a new contract.  In other words, the “affordable” component of his value is likely to evaporate going forward, so there’s that caveat as well.

So yes, perhaps there is some reason to think about moving Cabrera.  As they say at presidential debates, all options must remain on the table.

The question, of course, comes down to what we might be able to trade him for, and here’s where details get murky.  There aren’t any specific deals I’ve heard mentioned, so we’re left to speculate away on what the Indians would be after.

The easy answer is a right handed, corner outfield type who could play first base.  But because of Asdrubal’s immense value to the Indians discussed above, it would have to be a player who is both cheap and good.  Someone who is young and projectable.  Someone with leadership skills and a high ceiling, who is a few years away from free agency.  Someone like, well, someone kinda like Asdrubal Cabrera actually.

Which brings me back to where we started.  Would I trade Asdrubal?  Of course I would.  I would trade every single player on the team, for the right return.

But given what I think we might get for him?  Not in a million years.  If 2012 really is going to be a year of contention as the front office seems to hope, I think we might have to dance with who brung us.  And perhaps more than any other offensive player, Dribble brung us.

  • Pale Dragon

    Trading a player like that is a long term move for a rebuilding team. The Indians are in a position to act in the short term. 2012 and 2013 are years where we can commit to competing NOW. What this requires is holding on to the good players we have, and using free agency and trading certain prospects to fill in the gaps.

  • dwhit110

    Agreed. Additionally, the problem with trading Asdrubal is we end with a hole the size of our current RH-bat, 1st baseman hole at SS… Unless we’re thinking that Jason Donald can fill that gap (count me dubious).

  • mgbode

    hmmm, what would it take for me to trade Asdurbel Cabera?

    interesting. thinking, thinking. trying to be somewhat rational here (so sign-n-trade for Albert Pujols not on the table)…

    ok, I got one:

    Asdrubel Cabrera to the Nationals
    Ian Desmond (not FA until 2016)
    Michael Morse (FA in 2014)

    Yes, Ian Desmond will be a downgrade on defense and offense. But, he is a young player with promise and a ton of speed. We’d move him down in the lineup, obviously, and he could be a weapon there.

    Michael Morse would obviously be the prize in this deal. I doubt Washington would give him up, but I could at least see it happening for Asdrubel. He is the power hitting RH 1B that we need more than anything else (yes, more than Asdrubel).

    Oh, Washington can have LaPorta if they think they can resurrect his career too 🙂


    So, I guess that means I am not willing to trade Asdrubel either

  • Lyon

    No way you trade him unless some team wows you with MLB ready players.

    I get it that UZR doesn’t like ACab’s D, but I watch the games and he makes enough plays to satisfy me. Definitely better than the Statue known as Jhon. Also, we assume if we trade him we’ll replace him with a defensively better replacement. Who would that be? I don’t consider McDonald better defensively at SS. Not to mention he is nowhere near as good at O as well

  • Harv 21

    Why, sure. Your best every day player is affordable within the small contention window you’ve tried to create. He also appears to be one of the few team leaders. Create a hole at short in the hope of restocking corner positions, and a hole in the clubhouse where the only vets are guys who, due to team economics, don’t play very well anymore and therefore can’t really lead. Slam your little window shut on your own fingers before waiting to see whether Chicago and Minnesota will have another off year.

    Makes sense to me.

  • oribiasi

    While I agree that you should buy low and sell high, I don’t want to lose Cabrera. We are, as other posters said, in a position to win NOW. If we were in full re-building mode I doubt the front office would trade their best two pitching prospects for Jiminez. They also want to win now.

  • Lyon

    could you imagine the fans’ reaction if we trade him for prospects??? I might actually stop watching this team if that happens.

  • oribiasi

    @ Lyon: Haha…I always did wonder what the Rockies’ fans thought of getting rid of Jiminez for two prospects. Anyone have a link to their version of WFNY from that date?

  • NJ

    This is something I’ve thought about long and hard the last week or so.

    Another argument for trading ACab- there is some legit concern that his power this season may not be a fair representation of his future output. In short, he had a lucky year.

    I’d trade Asdrubal in a heart beat if the return was good enough. I, for one, think his defense is subpar. When every defensive metric out there consistently rates him poorly (in many cases, dead last), you have to start questioning your eyes. Combine that with a possible drop off in offensive production? Well, I just don’t think his value will ever be higher.

    All that said, I agree with Jon’s last, larger point: The actual, real world return on the guy probably wouldn’t be enough to make me pull the trigger. It’s just so hard to find trade partners willing to trade MLB-caliber players without baggage, be it injury or salary.

    Could we get a 3-4 WAR young, affordable 1B for ACab? In what world is a team willing to give that up? And like Harv said, aren’t you then just punting your infield hole to SS? In reality, you probably could get some quality prospects for ACab, but that kills shooting for 2012-2014.

    Finally, knowing the fanbase, there’d also be RIDICULOUS backlash, even if it was a winning deal.

  • Pale Dragon

    @9: I’m sure Jon can go into more details about the numbers, but Cabrera’s power increase is not necessarily unexpected. He has always had an above-average eye for a young player, and players with that skill often develop into power hitters.

    At least, I hope I’m remembering that right. What I do recall reading is that power is a skill that develops later. Also, most players begin their statistical peak at age 27, which he hasn’t hit yet.

  • NJ

    He never showed much power in the minors and as far as I remember he was never expected to be a power hitter. That said, I’ve also read that it isn’t completely uncommon for players without power to develop it in their mid-20’s.

    So yeah, I’m not saying for sure he’ll go back to hitting 3-6 HRs a year again, but I wouldn’t assume the power numbers he put up this year are here to stay. I’m just preaching caution.

  • Ryan

    So trade an All-Star because Fausto and Derek Lowe are pitching ground balls? There is a better than average chance that neither are on the club in 2013.

  • Ghost To Most

    While we are talking about trades, 1 crazy and wild idea has entered my mind.

    The Marlins are apparently interested in Jose Reyes, where does that leave Hanley Ramirez? Now the guy has a big salary, and he’s coming off shoulder surgery. But, that surgery may force the Marlins to sell him fairly cheap, if they in fact want to move him out. 45 million over the next 3 years, is he worth? Maybe, maybe not. Could be that right handed power bat we are looking for.

    Hanley actually has higher metrics than Cabrera at short in recent seasons. OR, we could move him to first base if he is willing to do it. The question is, who would we have to deal to get him?

  • Wacman

    You guys are making it seem like if we trade Cabrera, our SS position defensively would be worse. The reason he’s being considered tradeable is because he’s DEAD LAST in defensive metrics. As in, it doesn’t matter who you put there, because any major league SS will do better defensively. There’s no way they’d trade him for prospects, as they want to win now.
    Also, Cabrera hasn’t hit more than 10 HR in any season until now. His HR/FB rate is usually around 3-7%… It was 13.3 last year. I’m OK with saying that it was a fluke.

  • Ryan

    Don’t trade him – he makes my dreams come true – ooooooo ooo ooooo oooo oooo ooo

  • NJ

    @12- The argument is more complicated than that. For the Indians as an organization to be consistently competitive, they constantly have to consider trading their assets when they acrue the most value to ensure the highest possible return. In this case, Acab can probably provide a higher return by playing out these two years and (hopefully) bringing us a playoff berth.

    All I know is this: some of the people who scoff at trading ACab now will also be the same ones complaining when we he walks for a larger contract after 2013 and we get nothing in return.

  • mgbode

    @Ghost – Hanley has said he will move to 3B for Reyes.

    Reyes has spent his entire nine-year major league career with the New York Mets. If he joined the Marlins, they would likely move 2009 NL batting champion Hanley Ramirez to third base.

    “Hanley will be a Marlin,” Samson said. “He is the most important piece of our team, no matter who we sign. He’ll be in the lineup April 4, and it’s up to Ozzie where to play him.”

    Read more:

  • Ghost To Most

    Damn, I missed that MG, thanks for the update.

  • NJ

    Just to give people an idea of ACab’s relative value…

    He posted a 3.6 WAR last year compared to Jamey Carroll’s 2.2. Carroll hit 0 HRs last year and played subpar-to-average defense. Most of his value came from his OBP.

    My point isn’t that we should go get Jamey Carroll. It’s more that ACab isn’t as irreplaceable as many like to think, especially when a career journeyman with average defense like Carroll can provide you with 66% of his WAR.

    As a sabermetric convert, the hardest lesson was buying into this stuff when it worked against players or teams I personally like. ACab is my favorite player on this team so it’s not like I enjoy demeaning his value to this team.

  • NJ

    Speaking of things it pains me to say, I think Jhonny Peralta deserved the Silver Slugger. Better average and slugging. Four less homers, but in like 100 fewer PAs.

  • 216in614

    I would trade him for a top 5 UZR starting SS plus an organizations top 2 prospects.

  • Joe

    NO TRADE. Simple answer to a simple question. We’re not at a place to accept a handful of “potentials” right now – Keep the core, add some free agents and make a run – in 2012.

  • Sloozeronymous

    If we can get equal-or-better MLB-ready value for him at SS, 1B, or outfield, I’d go for it. I think Donald filling the hole at SS is much better than the back-ups at our current holes, and would give us an overall upgrade.

    I was in love with Cabrera for his sensational web gems and sudden power surge early this season, but let’s be honest, his offense regressed significantly in the second half, which makes me question whether we can count on him for similar production next year, and after I saw him play in person in Boston, his low defensive ratings make more sense — it’s not just his range, but I actually saw him dog it on a couple of ground balls. He didn’t even try in two instances that *maybe* a full effort could have saved. That’s not great on-field leadership. Add to that the booted routine plays, and you’ve got a concerning picture.

    Despite that, I still genuinely like the guy a lot and it would take a LOT for me to be happy with moving him — he’s a big force on this team — but he’s not untouchable.

  • Matt S

    I think, for a trade like this to work, you would have to get back an above-average defensive SS AND a big bat for either LF, CF or 1B.

    If Adrubal goes, there’s nobody immediately ready in this system who would be better defensively. Jason Donald doesn’t rank very well on those metrics either in AAA or the majors. Phelps and Valbuena have range issues at 2B that would be further magnified at SS. Moving Kipnis over would likely be the same story. The closest guy in the system that gets rave reviews defensively is Juan Diaz (who had a mediocre .678 OPS last season in Akron).

    So if the goal is to improve defense while boosting offense elsewhere, then you’d need a defensively above average shortstop included in the trade. So, now you think… what team would offer both an above average defensive SS AND a big bat for Asdrubal?

    Consider me skeptical that it would happen. But if it did, then, yes… consider that deal.

  • Ryan

    By trading ACab – you instantly lose any incremental fan base that was gained last year. The fairweathers are expected the Dolan’s to trade away All-Stars. These dopes don’t understand WAR or UZR – all they see is an All-Star leaving town again. The Tribe needs fans in the seats. As much as I love Asdrubal, I would trade him in a minute for future growth – but don’t complain when the Jake is 1/4 full every night.

  • Doc1188

    The thing is, fielding stats are still a work in progress. I’m a big sabrrmetrics fan, but there’s
    no way Asdrubal is subpar defensively. He around average.

    With that being said, it’s likely Asdrubal will regress from last year. I would trade him if we could get a huge bat in return.

  • Jake Udell

    thats because he tries for every ball and never gives up on a play compared to peralta who did none of that. As consequence for a-cabs mentality he gets a few more errors

  • Jake Udell

    also i live in philly Jimmy Rollins was that way early in his career and got better with age. cabreras still young it will get better and they know that

  • Karsten Treu

    The negative factors that accompany a slightly below-average defense are COMPLETELY negligible when compared to his offensive output and his intangible clubhouse value.

    This should never have even become speculation this year.