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Building a team through trades

Building a team through trades
March 8, 2012
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When you look at the Indians current 40-man roster an astounding 25 players were acquired in trades over the past few seasons. Of the remaining 15 players, 12 of them were signed and developed out of the draft or from the international market, and three players were signed as free agents.

The lack of free agent signings is not surprising at all as the construction of the Indians’ roster will always primarily be built from within and through trades, but having 25 out of 40 players (63%) coming via trade is concerning.

It might just be a sign of some good scouting of talent from other teams, but of course, a lot of the players came via some high profile trades involving the likes of C.C. Sabathia, Cliff Lee, Victor Martinez, and so on.

It could also be a sign of poor draft results prior to the 2008 Draft where the Indians have virtually nothing to show on their Major League roster from any draft from 2007 and prior. Their draft success has been tons better of late as several players from the 2008-2010 drafts are either on the Major League roster or on a Major League roster for another organization.

It may not be the most effective way to build a team, and it may not have been pretty when they were doing it, but the end result is the Indians have a competitive team again with some promise. Hopefully the blueprint in recent years of trading fan favorites and veterans for prospects is over, and the team can follow a much better blueprint of mostly building their team from within through the draft and international market.

If you look at the success they have had the past three years on the draft (Baseball America graded their drafts from 2008-2011 no worse than a B+) and international front, you can see that this is their focus going forward and they are having success.  They have lots of talent from those drafts that have already reached the big leagues, and several players still on the come, which is why their recent ranking as a bottom third farm system is not much of a concern right now. Most of the talent is all still tucked in the lower levels.

The roster is what it is and with 25 players on the roster coming from other organizations, the Indians certainly were very active on the trade front. Let’s take a quick stroll down memory lane at the trades that brought in all 25 players on the 40-man roster (bolded player is on current 40-man roster):

June 27, 2002: Bartolo Colon and Tim Drew traded to the Montreal Expos for Cliff Lee, Brandon Phillips, Grady Sizemore, and Lee Stevens. This is easily former GM Mark Shapiro’s biggest moment as general manager of the Cleveland Indians. At the time of the trade he was absolutely crushed by the fans and media, but after a few years this trade proved to be one that now all Major League star for prospect trades are compared. Wow, what a haul, and if the game were still managed off the field like it was about 20-30 years ago, all three of Phillips, Lee and Sizemore would still be with the team.

December 6, 2002: Einar Diaz and Ryan Drese traded to the Texas Rangers for Travis Hafner and Aaron Myette. Another shining moment for Shapiro as he turned a fringe Major League catcher and fringe Major League starting pitcher into a big time run producer that from 2004-2007 was one of the most feared power hitters in the American League.

July 30, 2006: Eduardo Perez traded to the Seattle Mariners for Asdrubal Cabrera. This was the year of the Benuardo, or otherwise known as the Ben Broussard and Eduardo Perez platoon at first base. That platoon worked perfectly for the Indians as at the time of the trade Perez was hitting .303 with 8 HR, 22 RBI and .979 OPS in 37 games where he played almost exclusively against left-handed pitching. After being dealt to the Mariners he hit .195 with 1 HR, 11 RBI and .545 OPS in 43 games for them and then retired at the end of the season. Easily one of the most lopsided traded in Indians’ history, and in their favor.

July 26, 2006: Ben Broussard traded to the Seattle Mariners for Shin-Soo Choo and Shawn Nottingham. The Mariners must have felt if they got the other half of the Benuardo platoon that Perez’s bat would wake up, so they picked up Broussard in a trade. Again, at the time of the trade Broussard was having a career year hitting .321 with 13 HR, 46 RBI and .880 OPS in 88 games, but after being dealt he hit .238 with 8 HR, 17 RBI and .709 OPS in 56 games with the Mariners. The year the Benuardo platoon had with the Indians in the first half of that 2006 season not only helped the team on the field, but in seasons to come with the pickups of two of the organizations most important players on the roster today in Asdrubal Cabrera and Shin-Soo Choo. The Mariners probably had the Indians’ phone number blocked for a few years after these two heists.

July 7, 2008: C.C. Sabathia traded to the Milwaukee Brewers for Matt LaPorta, Michael Brantley, Zach Jackson and Rob Bryson. This is a trade that has not worked out well for the Indians, especially considering they traded their ace and Cy Young award winner Sabathia. Michael Brantley has become a key cog for the foreseeable future, but is more just a solid everyday player and not a star.  What hurts the most in this trade is that Matt LaPorta simply has not lived up to what he was supposed to be, which is a middle of the lineup right-handed power threat.  Right now he should be anchoring the lineup and hitting 30-35 homers a year and driving in 90-100 runs.  Jackson was just filler, but Bryson has a chance to be a quality reliever at the big league level in the near future. The jury is still kind of out on this one, but unless LaPorta has a sudden reversal in his big league fortune, this is simply going to end up a trade the Indians “lost”.

July 26, 2008: Casey Blake traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Carlos Santana. This one goes down as one of Shapiro’s best moves. It was not a high profile trade in that they were trading a star in Blake, but with this trade Shapiro essentially made up for what he did not get in the Sabathia trade. By nabbing Santana he found a linchpin in the middle of the lineup for a long time that has only scratched the surface at the big league level as far as what he can do offensively and defensively.

December 11, 2008: Franklin Gutierrez traded to the Seattle Mariners and as part of a three team deal the Indians received Joe Smith from the New York Mets and Luis Valbuena from the Mariners. There were lots of moving parts in this trade, and although the main player the Indians acquired in Luis Valbuena did not pan out, the real gem turned out to be Joe Smith. Out of all the players traded in that deal, Smith has arguably had the most big league success as he has evolved into one of the best setup men in baseball.

June 27, 2009: Mark DeRosa traded to the St. Louis Cardinals for Chris Perez and Jess Todd. The Indians flipped three minor league pitchers for DeRosa just six months earlier, but by flipping DeRosa to the Cardinals for Perez they ended up solidifying the backend of their bullpen for the next several years   Perez has been very good since coming to the Indians and has settled in nicely into the closer’s role. Todd was a disappointment and proved to be nothing more than a fringe Major League reliever and is no longer in the organization.

July 27, 2009: Ryan Garko traded to the San Francisco Giants for Scott Barnes.  This one is tough to grade as it has not really played out yet, but Garko is out of the league and overseas playing baseball while Barnes was just added to the 40-man roster this offseason, is a Top 10 prospect in the organization, and is a legitimate big league starting pitching option for the team this year and beyond.  No matter what happens with Barnes going forward, I think the Indians have already received more value in return than could have been expected at the time of the trade.

July 29, 2009: Cliff Lee and Ben Francisco traded to the Philadelphia Phillies for Carlos Carrasco, Jason Donald, Lou Marson, and Jason Knapp. Carrasco, Donald, and Knapp have all struggled with injuries since being acquired, but even if Knapp does not pan out the Indians already ended up with three Major League players in this deal. You talk to any club and they will all say the same thing: if you can land three solid Major League players in any trade then you did well no matter how impactful the players may end up being.  Marson has proven to be a frontline defensive catcher in the bigs, Donald a valuable utility option that could be a starter on a second level club, and when Carrasco returns from his elbow injury he has the potential to be an anchor in the middle of the starting rotation for the next several years. This is a trade I think worked out well for both teams.

July 31, 2009: Victor Martinez traded to the Boston Red Sox for Justin Masterson, Nick Hagadone, and Bryan Price. This may have been one of Shapiro’s best high profile trades since the Bartolo Colon trade. As a fan favorite, it was damn hard to see Martinez go, but in the end the Indians got back a frontline starting pitcher in Masterson.  On top of that Hagadone is ready to pitch in the big leagues and has loads of potential as a dominating lefty reliever pitching in the 8th or 9th inning.  Price is just inventory at the moment, though still has a chance to be a Major League reliever.

June 26, 2010: Russell Branyan traded to the Seattle Mariners for Ezequiel Carrera and Juan Diaz. The Mariners need to put a sign outside of the door that says “Do not trade with the Indians”. After fleecing the Mariners for Asdrubal Cabrera and Shin-Soo Choo in 2006 for the Benuardo platoon, the Indians continue to go back to the well with the Mariners and get quality players in return for nothing. Carrera and Diaz may only be inventory and fringe Major League players, but Carrera has proven to be a solid depth option and fourth outfielder who plays defense and can run, and Diaz also has a shot to make it to the big leagues down the road as a utility player.

July 30, 2010: Austin Kearns traded to the New York Yankees for Zach McAllister. This was another solid move by the Indians as they picked up a good quality pitcher in return for a player at the end of his career. McAllister is not a sexy starting pitcher by any means, but he is good, quality depth and will be a 4th or 5th starter option for the next few years.

July 31, 2010: Jake Westbrook traded to the St. Louis Cardinals and as part of a three team trade the Indians acquired Corey Kluber from the San Diego Padres. This trade along with the Sabathia and Betancourt trade (for Connor Graham in July of 2009) appears to be the only ones where the Indians did not get enough value in return for the player they gave up. Kluber is on the 40-man roster and is talented, but he will need to have a big bounce back season this year to remain a Major League option.

July 30, 2011: Alex White, Drew Pomeranz, Joe Gardner and Matt McBride traded to the Colorado Rockies for Ubaldo Jimenez. For the first time in a long time the Indians were on the other end of a prospect for All Star trade. At the time the opinions on this trade were all over the board, and they still are today. No one knows what to expect of Jimenez going forward and what kind of pitcher he will be with the Indians, and the prospects the Indians gave up have not yet established themselves in the big leagues. This is a deal to look back on in three to four years as only then will we have a better understanding of how this trade worked out for both teams.

July 30, 2011: Orlando Cabrera traded to the San Francisco Giants for Thomas Neal. Another small deal, but one that can help the big league team down the road. The Indians lack Major League quality outfielders in the upper levels of their system, particularly right-handed hitters at any position. If Neal can stay healthy, he has a shot of becoming a Ben Francisco kind of player that is a solid third outfielder.

October 31, 2011: Chris Jones traded to the Atlanta Braves for Derek Lowe. The Indians gave up very little in return for a proven Major League starter in Lowe, and on top of that received $10 million in cash from the Braves to pay for two-thirds of his 2012 salary. This is a trade that really helps this team for this season only and really comes with little risk. If Lowe racks up another 180 innings and pitches well, then great. If he struggles the first two months and they have to release him or he goes on the disabled list, so be it.

December 16th, 2011: Cory Burns traded to the San Diego Padres for Aaron Cunningham. In their search for a right-handed hitting outfielder to help balance out their left-handed heavy outfield situation not only at the big league level but the minors as well, the Indians parted with a second level reliever. Cunningham has a chance to make the roster, and ultimately is probably a 24th or 25th guy on a 25-man roster and a fringe 40-man guy, so he will have to impress this early on this season to remain on the roster.

January 20, 2012: Zach Putnam traded to the Colorado Rockies for Kevin Slowey. This is another solid trade made by the Indians to acquire a proven back of the rotation starter with Major League success in exchange for a relief pitching prospect. Any time you can pawn off a minor league reliever for a proven Major League starting pitcher, you do it in a heartbeat unless that minor league reliever has legit closer potential. The bonus is the Indians control Slowey the next two seasons, and he will be good depth for the rotation and give them another option to help stabilize the backend of the rotation.

January 31, 2012: Cash sent to the Tampa Rays for Russ Canzler. This was an interesting trade as Canzler has a good minor league track record as an offensive performer and even won the MVP in the Triple-A International League last year. Yet the Rays designated him for assignment and ended up trading him to the Indians for cash. For a player to be let go for so little it makes you wonder, but sometimes teams undervalue guys and other teams capitalize on that. Hopefully with Canzler the Indians found themselves a diamond in the rough and get lucky for a change.

In total that is 25 players acquired in 20 different trades over the past nine-plus years that make up the Indians' 40-man roster.

The Indians have certainly been busy with the trades, but hopefully with a stronger foundation in place with their farm system and a good core of young players just coming together in the big leagues they do not have to be as active on the trade front.  Instead they can continue to find their talent from within like they have of late with Jason Kipnis, Vinnie Pestano, Josh Tomlin, and Lonnie Chisenhall.

Follow Tony and the Indians Prospect Insider on Twitter @TonyIPI. Also, his new book the 2012 Cleveland Indians Prospect Insider which profiles the Indians' Top 100 Prospects and more is available for sale.

Follow Tony and the Indians Baseball Insider on Twitter @TonyIBI. Also, his new book the 2014 Cleveland Indians Baseball Insider which profiles the Indians' Top 100 Prospects and more is available for sale.

User Comments

Jeremy Rochford
March 9, 2012 - 2:17 PM EST
I still think that Michael Brantley has all-star potential.
Tony Lastoria
March 8, 2012 - 4:53 PM EST
Phoenix, thanks....and excellent post. You sound like you know some things that happened behind the scenes, and I concur!
March 8, 2012 - 3:34 PM EST
I think the Front Office and Ownership have already answered part of the question posed. The fact Shaprio survived such a fallow period of no devolpment is a testiment to how superior his (and his teams) trading abilities were during this period.

From '02 - until they cleaned house at the minor league levels -including upgrading scouting - it was scary how bad the results were. Epic fail. Even during the horror story years when the O'neill's owned the team they at least developed talent that other teams would steal away.

To the Dolans credit - they didn't just fire everyone - allowing Shapiro to make changes - and they made signifigant adjustments themselves.

The public pain Shapiro showed when having to blow it all up after 2007 was real - and the burden began with having to fire so many people down on the farm. For good reason.

The biggest adjustment the Dolans made was understanding that they had to committ to large bonus signings - something they refused to do during the 'Jeremy Sowers' era.

And the Dolans decisions have been, in my humble opinion, vidicated.

Other than Craig Breslow (part of the Crisp/Marte deal) I can't think of many 'got away' parts of deals done that stink up the evaluation sheet - as well as the La Porta Tony mentioned - who by the way still has the longest of long shots to yet pan out.

Besides having such lopsided upside when deals get done - with so few clunkers over all - the Shapiro/Antonetti era has lead the way with the Branyan/Kearns type of mid-year flip - dangling role players to the Have's (Sox/Yankees ect) - they perfected it and now everyone is doing it.

Yet another excellent IP post Tony. Thanks again.
March 8, 2012 - 2:47 PM EST
2008, 2009, 2010...brought everything forward a year for some reason.
March 8, 2012 - 1:42 PM EST
I agree with Tony that the number of players acquired via trade is concerning due to the fact that in order for small market teams to win they have to be able to trade away the unusable assets for usable ones (like they have been doing), but also must draft well enough to continue stocking the pond.

Chisenhall (2009), White, Kipnis (2010), Pomeranz (2011) are a welcome string of high-profile, draftees that now compose a #2 starter and half of a hit-first infield for the next 4-5 years.

Put it this way, the last couple of big trades (Sabathia and Lee) did not pan out quite as expected: no stud hitter or pitcher has surfaced from either trade. But, imagine if LaPorta was the 30/100 guy we envisioned, or Carrasco was up there with Masterson/Ubaldo? That type of convergence of successful player acquisitions (trade and draft) is what is required to win a championship as a small market team unable to hang on to home-grown stars or lure free-agents into Cleveland.
March 8, 2012 - 10:38 AM EST
It's scary to think where the Tribe would be today without the Benuardo and Bake trades. Those deals produced Choo, Asdrubal, and Santana in exchange for almost nothing.

The Lee and Sabathia deals have to be classified as "wins" because there's no way Cliff and CC would be in Cleveland today even if the Indians did not trade them, so getting Brantley, Masterson, Donald, and Marson was vital. And we still have Hagadone and Carrasco who may emerge as key contributors.

Likewise the Garko, Gutierrez, Kearns, and DeRosa trades look like they will work out in the Tribe's favor. I don't see one bad deal in the bunch.
Tony Lastoria
March 8, 2012 - 8:27 AM EST
Dennis, I agree with what you wrote. However, what is concerning is the general principle with the number of players on the roster (25) that were acquired via trade. That is an indictment on a poor farm system, either because of injuries or poor drafting, both of which are true. Obviously, they have been much more aggressive and better in the draft the next 3 years, and three players from the 2008-2011 Drafts are already on the roster and they recently traded five others from those drafts. The large influx of players via trade was also the result of their recent veteran for prospect trades during the 2008-2009 seasons.....but all that said, it is still concerning that a team's roster is made of og over 60% of players they did not draft and really did not develop. That is what teams like the Yankees, Red Sox, etc can do as they can sign and trade for big league talent. Teams like the Indians have to draft and develop hopefully in 2-3 years they are winning and that number is more balanced with players from within.
March 8, 2012 - 7:52 AM EST
It's unclear what is meant by the term "concerning" as used at the end of the second paragraph...

When you look closely or break down at the 25 "acquired via trade" players on the 40 man roster, the Indians have:

-acquired 6 players that were never drafted & signed as international free agents (Carrasco, Ubaldo, Santana, Asdrubal,Carrera & Choo)

-acquired 14 players who were drafted by other organizations in the first four rounds of their respective drafts including four first rounders.

-acquired 5 players who were drafted by other organizations in the seventh round or later.

The disadvantage to acquiring a player via trade is the Indians don't get the proverbial first bite of the apple. That is, the Indians do not have a chance to break young draftees into professional baseball in the manner and style they choose. Because the Indians were "unable" or "unwilling" (financial considerations may have influence) to acquire these players via IFA signing or draft, they risk the chance of never getting a chance to exploit their talents while wearing Chief Wahoo on their sleeve.

The Indians appear to trade for players that were, at the very least, highly thought of at the time they were drafted and paid (in the form of signing bonuses) handsomely. The talent that was considered at the time of their drafting and the relative "youth" when the Indians acquired that talent speaks well of the front offices use of scarce resources. Now if they can continue to acquire the same level of talent that they've shown in recent drafts along with the acquisition of youthful talent from other organizations post signing bonus making the club as competitive as they've ever been, then the Indians FO and specifically, Chris Antonetti will earn him executive of the year!

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