Face Transplants, Rebuilds, and the Case for Trading Asdrubal Cabrera

I realized something over the weekend that was mildly surprising.

The Indians were TERRIBLE last season.  No, that’s not the thing I realized; but let me finish. They had the worst run differential in the league, despite suffering no major injuries.  Their starting rotation was historically bad.  Their offense was mediocre at best.  Rather than taking a step forward from 2011—a season in which they were outscored by 56 runs—they took a huge step back, getting outscored by 178 runs.  All this while benefiting from the relatively easy schedule afforded them as an AL Central team.

What I realized is that there are people in Cleveland who think this team shouldn’t be trading major pieces this off-season.  Who believe that, for instance, Asdrubal Cabrera is too important to trade away—that this team’s core players should remain, perhaps in some sort of super-speed rebuild to fill a few holes on the roster.  A makeover of sorts, rather than a face transplant.

And I think that’s pretty crazy, considering how bad this team was last season.  The notion that anyone should be untouchable just doesn’t hold water with me.  “You can’t trade him!! HE WAS THE KEY TO OUR 68 WIN SEASON!!!”

And to be honest, as happy as I was when the Indians hired Terry Francona to manage the club, in the back of my mind, I was a little nervous that bringing in a big name like Francona signaled that the front office didn’t believe a full rebuild was necessary.  That with a tweak or two here and there, this team could suddenly win the division.  After all, why would someone like Terry Francona want to sit through a full-scale rebuild?  Isn’t that the sort of job you’d give to someone with a bit less experience?  Someone like, well, like Sandy Alomar?

But it’s starting to look like my reasoning might not have aligned with that of the Front Office.  I might be reading too much into this weekend’s move to acquire Mike Aviles, but I’m sure hoping that, despite Antonetti’s remarks to the contrary, the team is open to and actively exploring a move of Asdrubal Cabrera—preferably for young starting pitching to shore up what may be the worst rotation in baseball.

That’s right.  I want them to consider trading Asdrubal Cabrera.  And Chris Perez.  Our two All-Stars.  And with them, anyone else that might bring back a younger player with a higher upside.  This team, as currently constructed, stinks.  You don’t manage the periphery of disaster like this; you utterly remake it.  We now have one more starting SS than we can play, and there are at least a half a dozen teams who might like to get in a bidding war over Asdrubal.  Could we pry one of Oakland’s young and promising starters—they haven’t had a legitimate SS since Miguel Tejada, right?  Shelby Miller or Lance Lynn or Trevor Rosenthal from St. Louis?  What about Phil Hughes or Michael Pineda?  I wonder if Asdrubal—as an All-Star SS with two more cost-controlled years in a SS-weak market—wouldn’t be able to instantly remake our rotation?  If he’d net us any of those arms, we’d be a better team for it, almost instantly.

Furthermore, there is some reason to believe that we’ve already seen the best of Asdrubal.  His 2011 campaign (.273/.332/.460 25 HR; 92 RBI) is starting to look like a flukey outlier rather than a sustainable development.  His defense has consistently rated below average by the advanced metrics, despite his penchant for Web Gems.  And perhaps we should remember that he’s now come to Spring Training overweight three years in row, with a body that doesn’t look like it will age well at SS.  I’m not saying his demise is imminent, but I’m not sure I’d want to gamble on him long-term right now either.

Now, from a 10,000 foot view, does that mean we move everything that isn’t nailed down?  After all, if some new blood is good, isn’t more better?

Well, yes, but this is when we run up against reality.  For instance, I think it’s unlikely that at this point, Justin Masterson would net us a player with more upside and cost-control than he already gives us.  Same goes for Carlos Santana and Jason Kipnis and Lonnie Chisenhall and Michael Brantley, I would guess.  Are they for sale?  Sure, but we better get something at least as good and young as we’d be giving up, which would probably be hard to do considering the upside and youth of those guys.

*You’re asking, and rightly so, why I’ve not yet mentioned Shin-Soo Choo in this piece.  I tend to think (and I could be VERY wrong) that his value in a trade might be HIGHER at the deadline this year than it is right now.  After all, he wouldn’t be a piece for an acquiring team to build around for the next several years (like Asdrubal would be) as much as he’d be one last playoff push piece that a team wouldn’t necessarily want long-term (because of his age(nt)).  Furthermore, I think that we’d have a harder time immediately replacing him in the lineup than Asdrubal—we just don’t have any ML-ready corner outfielders ready to go in the farm system right now.  For these reasons, I’d prefer Choo stay until the July trade deadline.  If we’re in contention then, go ahead and make a run with him, make a one-year qualifying offer, and take the draft compensation.  If not, flip him to a contender when his services will be in highest demand.  But I’m open to rethinking this if you think I’m totally wrong.

So do I agree with Buster Olney’s argument that the Indians should sell every asset they have?  No, probably not.  But do I think it would be horribly negligent to eschew considering the possibility?  I sure do.

The team as currently constructed sits squarely in the middle of any conversation about the worst team in the league.  We can ask questions about whether or not the people who put this dumpster fire of a roster together should still be making the personnel decisions, but for better or worse, they’re being given one last shot to get it right.

That said, would it be remotely reasonable for this group to double down on a team that’s been outscored by 234 runs over the last two seasons?  If your job and reputation depended on it, would you make that bet?  There’s a quote about the definition of insanity that would seem to apply here…

For a team that’s unlikely to have the budgetary resources to initiate a talent influx by way of the free agency market, moving a player who might be in high demand is probably the best way to restock the roster with the sort of young, cost-controlled players we’ll need going forward.

Photo: Jordan Bastian/

  • thepaledragon

    I started reading this expecting to disagree, but I think you may have actually convinced me that trading Asdrubal would be a good move.

    The logic for keeping our core players is not that they were so critical to a crappy 68 win season, but rather that the struggles weren’t their fault. The issue was the non-essential members of the team. Your Dereks Lowe or Casies Kotchman, if you will. Kipnis, Chiz, Pestano, and hopefully Masterson and Santana are legitimate MLB stars that you HAVE to have to build around to hope to compete.

  • Lyon25

    I’d move Asdrubal in a heartbeat for quality starting pitching.

  • matt underwood

    The Tribe has to either sh*t or get off the pot. Sell out and trade everything in the lower levels to try and win now (bad idea in my opinion) or rebuild.

    Remember 2001 when they traded Robbie Alomar and tried to do both; it blew up in their face. Of course, why would I expect this organization to actually learn from their past mistakes – man I hate this team.

  • mgbode

    it all depends on who we can get for him. if we get enough, then we should trade him. same goes for Chris Perez and Choo. the biggest question is “what is enough?”

    SF Giants could use an OFer (Choo) and SS (Asdrubal). But, I doubt they give-up Bumgarner and Vogelsong is too old for a deal like that one. I honestly wouldn’t mind Vogelsong or Lincecum (w/ them paying a good part of his $22mil salary) if they gave us a couple of their good young arms as well.

    I am not sure the Giants Bay Area neighbors would deal from their current staff. They are young and controlled. Billy generally hangs onto those guys until they are closer to the FA market. It’d be tough to get anything decent from them (we could go after McCarthy on the FA market – though I think he’ll have limited IP in 2013).

    I wonder if the Rays might be an option. They are shopping Shields and need hitting. They could really use Asdrubal. We would need to add a sweetener and they do not value RP (Perez) or soon-to-be FAs (Choo). Not sure who we could add to make it worth their while, but it should be a conversation.

    Seattle is another potential spot as they look to do a big upgrade (for either Choo or Asdrubal or both. Even Perez if they lose League). Have to be careful though as guys like Beavan look good there but are not really that good overall (Iwakuma as well). Vargas I like though and I’d love to bring Franky-G home. It’d take both + minor leaguers just for Asdrubal though. Not sure they’d be willing.

    Of the guys Jon mentions above, there are many names I like but don’t consider Lynn or Hughes available for a guy like Asdrubal. Pineda very well could be but that is a HUGE risk considering the past year for him (and if we are going to get more because Asdrubal is a SS, then the NYY are not the team to make a deal with).

    Interesting times at the very least.

  • Tuba53

    Terry great piece…. I would love to see one of those pitchers from Oakland for Asdrubal.

  • Dee P

    A friend of mine out here in St. Louis asked me if I would deal Asdrubal for Shelby Miller. I said yes before he was even done talking and couldn’t understand why I’d give up on Cabrera. My point is, I get the sense that Cabrera is overvalued by a lot of non-Indians fans out there. Let’s hope that another GM shares this judgement of him.

  • WFNYJon

    My brother (an unabashed Cardinal fan) said no to Shelby, no to Rosenthal, but yes to Lynn, FWIW. I think they are valued in that order.

  • WFNYJon

    You’re right about the core player thing of course, and I hope I didn’t create too much of a straw man there. My point–given that we can’t buy our way out of this hole and the draft takes too long–is that we have to trade our way to contention if we want to be back any time soon. And that, of course, requires giving up some value.

  • Steve

    Lynn has a 104 ERA+ in the NL, and will turn 26 next year. Pass. I’d have to say no to Rosenthal too, until I see more starts from him. The kid finished 2011 still in the Midwest League, I’m not sure he’s a viable ML starter yet. I’m not sure either guy is more than a dependable 3 in the tougher league, useful, but leaving us hoping for more. I know Miller is an elite talent, but we should be looking for someone who projects at the front of the rotation.

  • Gbwoy

    Quite frankly, I would say Milwaukee might just be the perfect partner for Cleveland in terms of trading Cabrera. They have some very intruiging arms in the mid to low levels of the minors (Jungmann, Thornburg, Peralta, Bradley) and they need an above average SS badly. Depends on how patient the Indians intend to be, because some of them may take some time to develop. Of course, some are already throwing games in the majors too.

    Maybe more importantly: They also don’t seem to look at fielding metrics much either (traded for and played Yuni Betancourt for a full season), and if Antonetti is smart, he’ll look for a team that doesn’t. He would probably get more value that way, because the metrics don’t like Cabrera much.
    Also, they have shown a willingness to trade prospects recently.
    Just my 2 cents…

  • WFNYJon

    Agree. I wouldn’t move him for Lynn for the reasons you cite. I’d consider Rosenthal (if I evaluated him as SP) and I’d jump on Shelby (platonically).
    But I’m a Cardinals fan too, which complicates all of this.

  • Steve

    I think it was almost solely the rotation. Sure, the lineup could have been better, and the front half of the bullpen struggled for a portion of the season, but we got negative 5.5 WAR out of a rotation we we’re all expecting something like 10 out of. Now, 15-16 more wins doesn’t put us in the playoffs or anything, but with just a middling rotation performance (say Masterson looks above-average, Jimenez and Tomlin are average, and Lowe and Gomez at least eat up some innings in the back of the rotation) the overall record looks respectable.

  • mgbode

    well, the Cardinals can re-sign Asdrubal while the Indians would control Shelby for a long while. I think this is the best of both worlds for your dual-fanship.

  • mgbode

    Hmmm on Lynn. I agree with your pause for concern on him. And I would want more than Lynn. But, he is such a projectable good starter based on his peripherals.

    He gave up too many flyballs, but he wasn’t a flyball pitcher in the minors. I think that can be corrected to some degree. He had a bad BABIP which is somewhat random for a pitcher. His K:BB ratio was excellent. His FIP/xFIP were better than his ERA. I think he’s a SP3, which is why I’d want more, but I’d consider him.

  • I’d trade em, but for nothing less than a proven ace. I’m sick and tired of throwing guys away for unproven schmucks who decide to be AAAA guys or just get hurt. NO to anyone who doesn’t have a stellar MLB track record. No questions asked. Aviles has some power at SS, maybe not as much, but probably better speed and equal or better D. Losing a little pop for a right handed bat and a huge + in starting pitching, I’ll take that.

  • No. Low. Level. Prospects.

  • Steve

    I’m not seeing how the strikeouts keep up. He was under 8 in the minors despite never really being that young for his level, and he hits 93, solid, but not spectacular. And once you take out his numbers against pitchers, his FIP/xFIP are almost right on target with his ERA. The guy is a good pitcher, and would be very useful to us. I just want us to target a pitcher with more upside. I think Lynn has already hit his peak.

  • JK

    The real question is how do you convince an already exhausted fan base to hang on for however many more years while they “rebuild” again by shipping everyone with talent off the team? Sounds at least a little bit risky to me.

  • Kildawg

    Intriguing article. I can see A. Cabrera being traded (Both Bay Area teams have need at SS and have young SP depth; SF also needs OF but Oak has some OF depth). Getting more OF depth would allow Choo to be moved for depth at AA and maybe AAA. C. Perez is also trade bait due to teams needing a closer and us needing OF and SP depth.