As of Saturday at 12:01 AM, Major League Baseball teams are able to sign free agents. At 12:02 A.M. Cleveland Indians fans began to complain about the Dolans lack of activity. Despite the validity of their irritation, the fact remains that any Indians fan counting on the team signing Zach Greinke, David Wright or even Nick Swisher will more than likely come away disappointed.
So how will the Indians improve off a frustrating year? No matter what the Indians do the offseason, it will have to be successful than the big-bucks-no-whammies combo of Johnny Damon and Casey Kotchman. They will likely have to do so by making notable trades and supplementing the roster with lesser tier free agents. With the Tigers and White Sox being able to Christmas shop ever year, the Indians will need to rock the boat with quality and perhaps high risk trades to improve the club. I have compiled a list of trades that would make sense and fit that description. One thing to keep in mind, these are not rumors; they are just moves that would make sense for the Tribe in the coming offseason.
1) Trade: Asdrubal Cabrera to St. Louis for Oscar Taveras and Lance Lynn.
Cabrera is a top ten shortstop in the big leagues that has great value due to his production and being two years away from free agency. Yes, it would be hard to trade a player of this caliber but his value will only decrease from here and his ability to return potential impact players makes this deal realistic.
The Cardinals greatly need a middle infield upgrade as they have filled both positions with stopgaps all year. One plus for Cabrera is that if Raffy Furcal can come back healthy, Asdrubal can slide over to second base.
The Indians meanwhile get a premium outfield prospect in Taveras whose power potential and plate discipline give him the potential to be a great slugging right fielder. Taveras could make Shin-Soo Choo more expendable and dealt for an additional bat or pitcher. He might not be ready at the start of the year to contribute in the majors, but he could become a significant addition mid-season and lock down a middle-of-the-order spot for the next decade.
Lance Lynn is the added value in the deal. He is coming off an 18 win season and although he is not a top two starter, hr would comfortably hold down the third spot.
The added benefit of this deal is moving Cabrera for two younger, cheaper players and allowing the team more payroll flexibility. Potential free agent replacements for Cabrera are Marcos Scutaro, Stephen Drew, Jeff Keppinger or Jason Bartlett. None of these players are close to the player Cabrera is but they can hold down the fort until one of the plethora of shortstop prospects in the Cleveland farm system arrives.
2) Trade: Corey Kluber and a prospect to Minnesota for Josh Willingham.
The Indians nearly signed Willingham last winter but were reluctant to offer a three year deal. With one year on that deal gone, the Indians would be able to get Willingham at the two years they previously wanted.
This trade is a substantial risk for the Indians for multiple reasons. One, Willingham is going to be 34 before the start of the season and is coming off a career year. He has steady power output but in general is a career late-bloomer. Additionally, trading a young starting pitcher (even as inconsistent as Kluber was in Cleveland this year) for two years’ worth of an aging outfielder could backfire. Kluber has big-league stuff and was effective in short bursts at the end of the season.
The pluses for Willingham are obvious. He has hit over 20 home runs in five of his seven major league seasons. His versatility is also a plus, as he has played over 130 games in six of his seven major league seasons. Finally, his salary of 7 million dollars a year is very efficient in terms of output for his position.
Overall, to win you have to make calculated risks. This is the type of bargain meets risk deal that IF it works out can put a team in the playoffs.
3) Chris Perez to Florida for Logan Morrison and Prospects.
Indians fans immediately would chalk this up as the Indians already giving up on 2013 but the move mirrors the return that Oakland received for Andrew Bailey last offseason. Assuming that Miami has prospects that would interest the Indians, this deal would give the Tribe a young slugger who can play the outfield or first base and add depth in the farm system that could be used at the trade deadline if the team is in contention.
Perez to Miami makes a lot of sense. The Marlins bullpen last season was an atrocity against the souls of all three Miami fans. They paid Arizona to take prized offseason acquisition turned horror story Health Bell. Perez is from Florida and went to Miami. He is also under control for several more seasons and is coming off back to back 30 save seasons.
Morrison is coming off a disappointing season where he hit only .230 but he was hurt most of the season. In his second big league season, he smacked 23 home runs and has plenty of upside. His versatility is a plus since he can play left or right field and is a natural first baseman. Seeing is how first base in the current decade in Cleveland has become what second base was between the Carlos Baerga and Robby Alomar era’s.
As for the prospects, one thing the Indians have been able to do is to develop prospects from other organizations into big league talent.
This deal comes with risk as Perez is proven and Morrison is coming off an injury and has a quirky personality similar to Perez but once again, this is the type of deal that can turn a losing club into winning. Just ask the Oakland about the Reddick deal.
Now, these really represent the TYPE of deal that the Indians should make. It requires trading a proven commodity with good value and in some cases takes risks. What separates the good teams from the bad is the ability to limit risk and get the most out of the players you bring in. If the Indians finally return to glory, it won’t be from signing big name free agents or making another Jiminez –level deal. The roster overhaul needed is Cleveland is two to three trades and one or two free agent signings that can pitch in on a good club. Terry Francona is a fantastic manager, but if the Indians do not get creative this winter, it could be another long stretch disappointing baseball.