Tribe At The Winter Meetings: Will They Add, Or Blow It Up?

With Baseball’s annual Winter Meetings getting underway today in Nashville,  your Cleveland Indians find themselves in a very interesting predicament. In dire need of a revamping, Team President Mark Shapiro and GM Chris Antonetti saved their jobs by landing Terry Francona as their manager. While the hiring was a complete coup, none of it will matter unless the now three-headed braintrust monster can figure out a clear path going forward.

But which direction will they go?

As Antonetti will tell you, the core of Asdrubal Cabrera, Jason Kipnis, Carlos Santana, Michael Brantley, Shin-Soo Choo, Lonnie Chisenhall, Justin Masterson, Vinnie Pestano, and Chris Perez is a nice group of young players that they can build around and contend with. Add a big bat and a couple of starting pitchers, and the Indians could possibly make noise in the AL Central in 2013 if the cards are all played correctly.

On the other side of that school of thought is what I like to call “reality.” Choo, represented by Super Agent Scott Boras, is in the last year of his contract and has shown exactly zero interest in signing an extension with the Indians. He is also is a vastly overrated glove man and someone I feel is not a “winner.” Hanging on to him is futile, unless you have faith in the Indians ability to hit on that compensation draft pick they would get when Choo walks.

Cabrera, a two-time All-Star shortstop, has shown up to Spring Training heavy and out of shape the last two seasons and subsequently has faded down the stretch. A lot of that has to do with the fact that he has had to play every single day and carry the weight (no pun intended) of the offense on his shoulders. He will enter 2013 with two club-friendly years left on his deal at the age of 27; the prime of his career. Of the Indians trade chips, Asdrubal is clearly the hottest commodity.

The closer market has plenty of options for teams searching for an upgrade – free agent Rafael Soriano (another Boras client) is there, and the Pirates have been said to have been dangling Joel Hanrahan as well. A team could take a shot with free agent Jose Valverde if they so please. The Indians are sitting on Chris Perez for now, despite the fact that he has taken more shots at the front office and the organization than the fans have. The thing about CP is that despite his mouth, the guy was nails on the mound in 2012. He is great at his job. However, Pure Rage will be getting nice raise with his arbitration eligible status. The Indians closer could make upwards of $8 million in 2013. That is a big number for this market when you consider that Vinnie Pestano is ready to take over the spot at a moments notice.

Masterson’s name too has been floated as a guy someone who other clubs have interest in; in particular, his former team the Red Sox. Justin struggled in 2012 to find any sort of consistency and his demise, along with that of Ubaldo Jimenez, killed any chance the Indians had to hang around the top of the weak AL Central. The 28-year old has shown he can be a dominant guy if his mechanics are right, but he has a lot of moving parts. Most importantly to the teams that like him (and to the Indians of course), he is under club control for another two seasons.

So this is the choice Antonetti is faced with – hang on to the four trade chips, add to them, and attempt to win now or deal any or all of them and replenish the completely barren top levels of your farm system and build for the future. The time to make that decision is upon us. The Winter Meetings are where Antonetti can make his mark.

I think it is a complete no-brainer. You have to blow it up now and get yourself an infusion of young talent. Maybe I would feel differently if any of the Indians top tier prospects were above the A Ball level last year. But the Francisco Lindor’s, the Dorsys Paulino’s, the Tyler Naquin’s, and the Danny Salazar’s of the world are still probably two years away from Cleveland. There are so many holes in this organization – outfield, first base, and starting pitching in particular – you cannot go forward with the status quo. It doesn’t matter who the manager is.

So where will Antonetti go first?

If I were in charge of this team, Asdrubal Cabrera would be the first guy I would send packing. He is a 27-year old, two-time All-Star, who hits from both sides of the plate with decent power. He won’t hurt your defensively and has a knack for making the spectacular play. Antonetti acquired SS Mike Aviles a month ago and gave himself the flexibility he needed in case he wanted to deal Cabrera. Aviles can serve as a stopgap until Lindor is ready for the bigs.

There are several contending teams who would love an offense first shortstop and have young arms to deal. I’d be calling the Athletics, Cardinals, and Diamondbacks first to see what they would give me.

The A’s have a bevy of young arms who we saw on display in September and into October , however, do we like Antonetti’s chances in a trade against Billy Beane? The Cardinals have a young, right-handed hitting power first base prospect in Matt Adams who would look great in a Tribe uniform. With Matt Carpenter and Allen Craig (played both 1B and OF last year) in his way, Adams is a guy would could be packaged with one of their young starters, like a Lance Lynn. That’s a deal I make all day long. The Cardinals know that Pete Kozma is not the answer at short and they have no idea what  35-year old Rafael Furcal in 2013 coming off of injury.

The D’Backs are loaded with kid arms and are said to be open to trading their former first round pick, soon-to-be 22-year old Trevor Bauer. A one for one swap there for a young stud like Bauer would be a great place to start the rebuilt rotation. According to ESPN’s Buster Olney, Arizona is “said to be one of the most aggressive teams” at the Winter Meetings “by far.” Trading Justin Upton to add pieces could give them more ammo to come after Cabrera.

One thing to note about Asdrubal. Fox Sports’s Jon Paul Morosi uncovered the fact that Cabrera had a six-team no-trade clause in the extension he signed before last season. Interestingly, the list is loaded with big market franchises – both New York teams, Boston, Washington, San Francisco, as well as the rival Detroit Tigers (not a big market team, but spend like one).

Choo needs to be dealt somewhere for whatever you can get for him. You can say the market for him will be the same now as it will be at the trade deadline, but I would disagree with you. Find a team that thinks they could sign him long term after the season, like Boston for example, and send him that way. Choo is not a guy who has shown that he plays well under pressure, and he enters his contract year. If he fails to produce, what are you going to get for him at the deadline? Rather him go now to a team that would get at least a full year from him.

I think keeping Perez for now is the move. I know Pestano is the closer in waiting, but the Indians are a better team with Pestano pitching the eighth in front of CP, no doubt about that. Would I deal him for the right price? Of course, but as I said earlier, the closer market has plenty of other options that wouldn’t cost a team any sort of prospect. The Angels, a team thought to be a potential suitor, just signed Ryan Madson to a one-year deal to be their closer. If the Indians did deal Masterson for prospects, the rotation’s headliner would be Ubaldo.

Let that sink in for a second.

I think you hang on to Masterson and see if new pitching coach Mickey Calloway can make headway with him and help him find his breakout 2011 form.

Speaking of Ubaldo, it was reported over the weekend that the San Diego Padres could have some interest because of his durability.  Try to keep your laughter to a minimum.

Can Antonetti come out of these meetings with some young players to fill their many holes? Will he hang onto the core and add pieces on the cheap and try to go for it right away with Francona at the helm? It should be an interesting week. I would be very surprised if at least one of the four players I mentioned above wasn’t dealt by the end of the week.

Photo via Chuck Crowe/PD