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Digesting a Deal: What the deal means for the Indians

Digesting a Deal: What the deal means for the Indians
December 12, 2012
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The Indians completed a big three-team nine player deal last night with the Reds and Diamondbacks. Here are some thoughts on the deal and what it means going forward:

- The headliner of this deal, at least for the Indians, is right-handed starting pitcher Trevor Bauer. The Indians were after him for weeks, and had really targeted him and other young top of the rotation types after their organizational meetings in Arizona the second week of October. In this deal the Indians were able to acquire a legitimate young front of the rotation kind of arm, something they were in desperate need of to anchor their rotation for the next several years. He may not be an ace right away due to his youth and inexperience and there will likely be some growing pains, but the thought is he could quickly turn into one of the best young starters in the league and he might already be the best starter on the Indians’ staff. Yes, there is a chance that Bauer could be a bust or get hurt – that’s the risk you take with any pitching acquisition be it in a trade or free agency – but he was an arm they had to get to have a chance to compete now and in the future. He has a chance to be special along the lines of Tim Lincecum and other recent young big time hurlers now established in the game.

- After this trade, the Indians starting rotation got a sizable boost not only in the present but the future as Bauer is under team control at least another six seasons and through the 2018 season. If they start him in the minors for about a month – which is a small possibility – they could even push that control out to seven more years. In any case, the Indians now have him and right-hander Zach McAllister to build upon (another starter they control for at least six more years), and they have right-hander Carlos Carrasco returning from Tommy John surgery who is expected to be a big piece in the rotation for years and is under club control for at least four more seasons. The Indians are aggressively pursuing a veteran starting pitcher to add to the mix – their number one target is said to be right-hander Edwin Jackson – so if you add someone like him to the mix for the next three to four years, you have an interesting rotation to build upon with Bauer, McAllister, Carrasco, and whatever free agent they may give that multi-year deal to. This doesn’t even include right-hander Justin Masterson who is under club control for two more years, and of course right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez who had a bad year last season but could be primed for a rebound in his free agent year. Bottom line, the addition of Bauer and possibly a veteran starter really re-shapes the starting rotation now and in the future and could give them a good foundation with which to build upon.

- The opening day rotation setup probably looks something like this right now: Masterson, veteran free agent, Bauer, McAllister, and Jimenez. Carrasco will be in the mix, but one thing a lot of people need to remember is he did not pitch last season since he was recovering from surgery and will have his innings monitored next season. He probably will not be able to throw more than 150 innings – give or take ten innings – and the Indians have a history of monitoring such workload on the front end of the season, so there is a good chance he opens the season in extended spring training and then is an option to join the team in May or June. Right-hander Corey Kluber is also now a solid depth option as a seventh or eighth starter, and the Indians also still have right-hander Jeanmar Gomez and left-hander David Huff, though both are out of options and the Indians will need to get creative to keep both in the fold. They could use Gomez in long relief and Huff as a lefty in the pen, or simply trade one or both. It appears unlikely that either would get through waivers unclaimed, though a poor spring could enhance the chances.

- The loss of outfielder Shin-Soo Choo obviously hurts as he was probably the Indians best and most consistent performer in the lineup. That said, he was gone after next season, so the Indians were very proactive and were able to get back more than they could have ever hoped for him now. He turned down several extensions that the club offered him and as a Boras client was going to test the market, and there is talk that with a good year in 2013 he could command a five or six year deal for close to $80-90 million, maybe even $100 million. That is obviously out of the Indians’ price range, and they did not want his looming free agency status to be a distraction, so they made the right move in trading him. As for the Reds, they get a very good tablesetter at the top of the lineup, but I have to ask, what are they thinking inserting him into center field?  That is going to be a disaster. I don’t care how small Great American Ballpark is, they still play 81 games a year at other places, and if they make the playoffs half the games are at other parks too. He was an adventure in right field for the Indians and often took poor angles and routes to balls. The arm is special, but the Reds are going to quickly find out how much of a drop off in defense they are getting going from Stubbs to Choo.

- Outfielder Drew Stubbs is a solid return in the trade and helps them fill one of the two outfield voids they have. He is a plus defender that has speed, steals bases, and has some good pop from the right side of the plate, though he hits for a low average and is prone to strikeouts. In a lot of ways he is a Grady Sizemore-lite kind of player with the defense, speed, pop and excessive strikeouts, though obviously Sizemore was a more impactful hitter and got on-base at a better clip. It is important to note that Stubbs is not viewed as the replacement for Choo, but the replacement for the mess that was in left field last season.  Yes, he will probably play center field and Michael Brantley will probably shift to left field, but Stubbs is replacing the likes of Johnny Damon and Shelley Duncan in the lineup. He is an upgrade over both of them and everything else that the Indians threw in the outfield last year alongside Brantley and Choo. Sure, Stubbs’ offensive numbers may not be that much better, but he has a history of solid performance and still has upside as a hitter, but more importantly he adds plus defense and much needed speed, something those other players simply did not have. Also, the Indians could have him in a mini-platoon with left-handed hitting outfielders Ezequiel Carrera or Tim Fedroff to limit his exposure some against right-handed pitching. He is a very good hitter in his career against lefties (.276 AVG, .821 OPS), but has struggled against righties (.228 AVG, .655 OPS).

- The loss of Choo leaves a big gaping hole in right field, but that hole may not last long. The Indians may go the trade route to fill it, but the more likely course is with a free agent as they are aggressively pursuing a veteran outfielder in free agency to come in and play a corner outfield spot. The guy they are really after is outfielder Nick Swisher, though he still appears to be holding out for other teams to enter into the mix to either help boost his chances of meeting his contract demands (reportedly four years $60 million) or give him a landing spot he prefers since he apparently prefers the bright lights of the big city or the West Coast. If the Indians sign Swisher, or even their Plan B who may be outfielder Cody Ross, an outfield of Brantley-Stubbs-Swisher/Ross would be as good and maybe even better than the Damon/Duncan-Brantley-Choo outfield that dominated the lineup last season. They may not end up with Swisher or even Ross, so it will be interesting to see how they fill their corner outfield need if that happens, but in any case, they are going to try and fill the loss of Choo as best as they can.

- The Indians also parted ways with infielder Jason Donald and first baseman Lars Anderson. The loss of Donald is not much as they recently acquired infielder Mike Aviles who right now would be the utility infielder and is a much better option in that role than Donald, plus Donald is out of options and has been a disappointment the past few seasons, so he was more of a throw in anyway. Anderson is a once highly through of first base prospect whose value has plummeted in recent years, and with the Indians picking up first basemen Mike McDade and Chris McGuiness this offseason he became expendable.

- The Indians also received two good Major League right-handed relievers in the deal acquiring Matt Albers and Bryan Shaw. Albers is older and only under control for one more season, but is a solid addition to an already deep bullpen. He has seen a velocity increase in recent years and now sits at 91-93 MPH and touches 96 MPH. Shaw is more interesting because he is under control for at least five more seasons and has a good low-to-mid-90s fastball that touches 97 MPH and has a very good cutter. He could become a staple along with right-handers Vinnie Pestano and Cody Allen in the Indians bullpen for several more years.

- With the addition of Albers and Shaw, the Indians suddenly have a deep mix of right-handed relievers in the bullpen with Chris Perez, Joe Smith, Pestano, Allen, Albers and Shaw. Considering the Indians will probably fill the seventh spot with a long man and they need at least one lefty in the pen, so something has to give as they have too many right-handed arms at the moment. This would seem to imply they will use some of the depth they have in the bullpen to acquire a need, possibly a bat or a left-hander for the bullpen. The obvious name that could be on the block is Perez, but his market is still very cool at the moment. The Indians are targeting Major League players or Major League ready prospects in any deals for Perez, and at the moment they are not getting that in any offers. They will continue to entertain offers for him, but they do not need to trade him. If they do not get an offer they like, they would be perfectly fine with him as the closer and having one of the best bullpens in baseball in 2013. But if Perez is not traded, then someone else is probably dealt, and my guess is one of Smith or Albers could be the one sent away. The Indians just have so much right-handed relief depth as they also have Frank Herrmann and rehabbing pitchers Blake Wood and Chen-Chang Lee that could factor into things later in the year.

- One small problem with the deal is the trade of lefty Tony Sipp leave the Indians with no established lefty in the pen. Sipp was a replaceable lefty arm and not a primary backed lefty, but he was serviceable as a second lefty in the pen. The Indians actually have some solid internal candidates to fill that second lefty void as they have Nick Hagadone, Scott Barnes and maybe even David Huff. I think they are satisfied with all of those options to fill that secondary lefty need, but they probably want to add a primary lefty, and that was probably the case even before trading Sipp. As to how they fill that need, well, they can do what I mentioned above and flip some of their right-handed relief depth for a lefty, or they can go on the free agent market and sign someone – though the options in free agency are not very appealing. I’d look for the Indians to make another trade this offseason or in the spring to fill their primary left-handed setup need.

- So what does all of this mean for shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera? I’m still stunned the Indians were able to acquire a young, upside frontline pitcher like Bauer without trading Cabrera. The Indians could still look to deal Cabrera for even more young pitching help as there are a lot of teams still interested in him, but now they don’t have to deal him.  They can go forward with the idea that he is their starting shortstop next season and they are a better team with him and sit back and act upon the desperation of other general managers. That is a great position to be in and it puts the Indians in the driver’s seat on any Cabrera deal.

- Back to the trade, I’m still shocked at the return the Indians received. For one year of Choo and a couple years of Sipp, the Indians got back a top shelf starter in Bauer with six years of control, an outfielder in Stubbs with three years of control, and a good bullpen arm in Shaw with five years of control. Albers is only under control for one year and is probably just a short term fill in the pen or will be flipped for another need.  Bottom line, this trade sets the team up well in the present and in the future, something that is rare in any deal.

- As far as payroll goes, the deal did not affect much for the Indians. Four of the players in the deal - Bauer, Donald, Shaw and Anderson - will get Major League minimum deals, and the other four players Choo, Sipp, Stubbs and Albers are up for arbitration. The projected arbitration numbers for the four players are $7.9 million for Choo, $2.9 million for Stubbs, $1.7 million for Albers, and $1.0 million for Sipp. It is important to note that while Bauer signed a four year $4.45 million Major League deal out of the draft that $3.4 million of that was a signing bonus that the Diamondbacks paid up front and the Indians are not responsible for. Bauer will earn $1.325 million if he is in the big leagues, and the Indians also sent $3.5 million to the Reds to offset the salaries for Choo and Stubbs. So in the end, the Indians saved a total of $8.9M (Choo and Sipp), but are spending $9.4 million ($3.5M cash, $2.9M Stubbs, $1.7M Albers, $1.325M Bauer), netting them about a $500K in spending.

- I’ll leave with this final thought: new manager Terry Francona is making his presence felt. He has already been a big influence on the organization and been heavily involved in the decision-making process. He has brought a breath of fresh air to the organization with some new ways of thinking and I really believe he has helped alter the thinking process the organization has had over the past half-decade. He is coming from a very successful organization in Boston, a model franchise in the game because they have a big market mentality with their spending in free agency but also have a small market mentality with the very good way they draft and develop players and often make good trades.

First Francona, now Bauer. So what do the Indians have for an encore? We will probably find out very soon and it looks like the Indians will be busy these next few days leading up to Christmas. Stay tuned.

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

Tony
December 13, 2012 - 4:36 PM EST
Joe, the problem is there are only so many spots. There are a total of 10 starting rotation spots at Triple-A and Double-A, so by the time a guy gets to Double-A the org has to make a move in a lot of cases. I don't see any problems with any guys they have converted to a reliever, all good choices. Barnes is still viewed as a starter, but he helps fill an immediate need at the ML level in the pen. Haley has had injury and command issues so he was moved to the pen to control that.....and now that things seem to be coming together, they are considering moving him back to the rotation. When you have an overflow of starters from the bigs in AAA (likely Kluber, one of Huff/Gomes, House, etc) it leaves very little room to keep others in the rotation.
Joe Chengery
December 13, 2012 - 4:15 PM EST
Hello Tony,

If I have one concern with the Indians' organization when it comes to drafting and development, it seems that they jump the gun a bit on turning starting pitching prospects into relievers. I'm sure they have their reasons for doing so, but it seems that's partly why we have an overflow of solid to good relievers, which isn't a bad problem per se, except for the fact that we don't seem to have many impact starting pitching prospects in the system, except A ball (mostly low-A) and lower.

While many organizations struggle to develop FOR starters, we're having trouble developing even a #3 starter. All it seems of late over the last several years have been 4-5 guys, guys like Laffey, McFarland (before he was taken in Rule 5), Packer (hopefully, he's a #3, but probably more 4-5 guy).

That's why I'd like to see the Indians see if guys like Adams, Soto, Barnes, possibly Haley, etc. can remain starters long-term. They seem to have the velocity (Soto bit above-average with the potential for more) and solid-enough command (Haley's the exception, but has turned around enough in the bullpen to perhaps one more look as a starter) to potentially be #3 starters or perhaps evern FOR starters, something this organization could use more of.

After all, we know pretty much that FOR starters are the key for a ballclub to really win consistently, and especially in the postseason, since it's hard to rely on consistent offense against top-flight FOR starters. If you don't have a few to several of your own, your chances of reaching the postseason are low and doing something in the postseason (i.e. winning the World Series) are slim to none without a lot of luck.
Bric
December 13, 2012 - 1:29 AM EST
1st half of season:
5th starter = Carrasco + Bauer
Each goes 3-4 innings
Neither pitches until 5th starter is needed
60 innings = ceiling
2nd half of season:
Both move into rotation
Both are limited to 6-7 innings
160 innings = ceiling for entire year
Both pitch approximately
Tony
December 12, 2012 - 11:22 PM EST
Albers throws right-handed. He does bat left-handed though.
Joe
December 12, 2012 - 10:56 PM EST
Albers is a lefty i thought,
Tony
December 12, 2012 - 10:33 PM EST
Packer no, Soto maybe. Indians still like Soto as a starter, but I still believe his future as as a late inning lefty. Pretty close to a Rafael Perez clone. Sneaky velocity with his fastball and a dynamite cutter. I think he could be an option for the Indians later in the year if they are ready to use him in such a role. As for Packer, I think he is still better served as a starter. Has the pitches to start, though just as a backend guy.
MT88 in WI
December 12, 2012 - 10:22 PM EST
Tony,
Do you think it's likely that pitchers like Matt Packer and Giovanni Soto get moved to the bullpen "now" so they enter spring training prepped and ready to go for spot in big league pen and if unsuccessful head to CBus knowing they a call and short drive up I-71 away??
James
December 12, 2012 - 9:32 PM EST
If the Indians could trade Cabrera, Perez and some sort of poopoo platter to a team for two more FOR starters, I would be genuinely excited about the future of this team. Punt on free agents this year, develop the young starters, build another draft class and fill holes next year.

I think Barnes as a lefty reliever is a waste. The Tribe should stretch him out at Columbus as a starter, use Hagadone as the lefty.
Tony
December 12, 2012 - 4:55 PM EST
FYI, my numbers were off and I caught then when updating the site payroll chart. I had listed bauer's salary originally for 2013 at $600K....but that was actually his 2012 salary in bigs. His 2013 salary is $1.325M, and I edited the piece accordingly.
Carl
December 12, 2012 - 3:47 PM EST
Great Article Tony. Nice to have some good news for us Tribe fans. My dream is we get Swisher and Ed Jackson. I actually feel we might be able to do that. I agree that 4/60 for Swisher would be worth it . We probably have to pay a little more to get Swisher to Cleveland. Jackson at least 3 years. I think we need to strike quickly before other teams panic and go crazy. If we can get Jackson before Sanchez, Dempster and Lohse sign I think we have a better chance. Texas if they do not get Hamilton, I have to believe would then focus on Swisher and it would be hard to get him. I love our new aggressive approach. Francona influence as you stated seems to be making a huge difference.
Joe Chengery
December 12, 2012 - 3:21 PM EST
Hello Tony,

Thanks for the clarification on Barnes- wasn't aware that was the reason (sorry- must have missed you mentioning it before- my bad! :-)

Nice to know he might start again, though I can understand why he would be needed in the bullpen right now. Hopefully, they can get a long-term 2nd lefty (or primary lefty, though Hagadone would hopefully begin filling that role in 2013, as he should be able to with his stuff) so that could free up Barnes and give the Indians the chance of moving him back into the rotation long-term sooner rather than later.

Thanks again- keep up the great work!
Seth
December 12, 2012 - 3:11 PM EST
hard to say on the financials when that stuff is kept private. I have a hard time believing they lost money with a $65 million payroll though. Most independent analysis I see think they were at least a profitable at those levels. They were already getting around $55 million from TV revenue, and then there's revenue sharing and money from attendance. Revenue had to be around $100 million already. I would think they made $5-10 million profit minimum last year, and that likely the only year they actually lost money recently was 2009. They probably didn't make money in 2010, but, I would think that was about the break even level. It's conjecture of course, but I believe the MLBPA also believes this and the argument against revenue sharing, that teams like Florida, and to a lesser extent, the Indians, are taking revenue sharing money that's just going to line the owner's pockets. And from what's publically available about their revenue and expenses, for them to say they lost money last year does not make sense.
Tony
December 12, 2012 - 2:56 PM EST
Joe, thanks for the kind comments. As for Barnes, I think I have mentioned it a few times before, but he was simply put into a bullpen role out of need. Perez was hurt and they were thin with pen options, plus he was coming back from surgery and had a hiccup with health in early April, so they left him in the pen all year. They are very open to him starting again and probably prefer it, but in the short term he helps and impacts this team better in a pen role which is why he will probably pitch in that role again in 2013. But they by no means have closed the book on him as a starter. Just like I said, it is a need based move.

Also, a $100 million payroll is completely unrealistic. They are not profitable right now. I've heard they have lost anywhere from $10-15M last year. They should have a $50-55M payroll with the attenance and revenues they get. So, with the new deal, I think they could be profitable at around a $75-85M payroll. That would be acceptable to me and realistic.
Seth
December 12, 2012 - 2:39 PM EST
They are supposed to get about an extra $10 million/year for their local TV, right? The numbers I've seen are they were getting around $30 million/year, and that will increase to $40/year after the sale. Every team is supposed to get around $25 million more/year from the new national TV contract. The Indians are likely profitable right now on a $65 million payroll. That should mean a $35 million revenue increase from TV revenue alone. There are other expenses than payroll they could direct that revenue to, but payroll is the big one, so they should actually have the revenue to be profitable with a $100 million payroll. They should also see additional revenue sharing money, due to the Dodgers and luxury tax. Unless I'm missing something here, if the Indians have a $75 million payroll next year, ownership is likely pulling in a good $30 million/year profit, and Indians fans, and the players association, would have good reason to be upset with Cleveland.
Joe Chengery
December 12, 2012 - 2:38 PM EST
Hey Tony,

Keep up the excellent work- love reading your site and your tweets.

One question: Why did the Indians move Barnes to the bullpen? He seemed promising as a starter, and all indications when he was acquired for Garko in 2009 was that Barnes would remain a starter.

He seemed to be thriving in that role up until he was injured coming off the mound at the end of the 2011 season, likely just before he would have been called up by the Indians in September after Columbus' run ended in the playoffs (which turned out to be the first of 2 AAA Championships). When he was shifted to the bullpen to begin 2012, I thought they were doing it initially to ease him back into starting, but somewhere along the way, the Indians had decided to convert him into a reliever full-time.

Why the change? He seems like he would be big enough, strong enough to handle a starting role, listed at 6'4", 200 lbs. according to Baseball-Reference.com. Barnes would be more valuable as a starter, especially a lefty starter, and looked like he could be a 2-3 guy, or at least a 3-4 guy.

I was a bit disappointed by the change and just wondered what caused the Indians to make that change. I take it that there's no plans or possibility that the Indians would entertain Barnes as a starter again? I could understand Hagadone, and think it did wonders with his command and stuff, but to my untrained eye, Barnes didn't have the same problems Hagadone did and looked to be on his way to becoming a promising starter.

I'd appreciate your thoughts- thanks! Keep up the great work!
Joey
December 12, 2012 - 2:19 PM EST
I like the deal, excited to see how it shapes out, and almost more excited for the line-up i feel like what we have now plus a good FA Santana will have good protection and could have an explosive year offensively.

Also, I read that a couple scouts think Baker will put Choo in right ultimately and they will likely put Bruce in center.
Tony
December 12, 2012 - 1:52 PM EST
I wouldn't expect the $230M they get from Fox to go into the club, but some probably will. I think in the end the additional TV revenues and such will help them boost payroll up to $75-85M in the future. I think that is fair.
fall classic
December 12, 2012 - 1:43 PM EST
Question is besides the expected increase in TV revenue coupled with luxury tax revenue, will the Dolan's actually spend some of the $200-250 million they stand to profit from off the sale of STO? Seems to me the only way to draw fans back to ballpark is to spend some $$$. Like the old adage says, you have to spend money to make money. My point is offer Swisher 4/60 and call it a day!
Tony
December 12, 2012 - 1:43 PM EST
I agree Shy. Like I said, this may be the tip of the iceberg as more moves are expected.....and expected soon. Sure makes things more fun and more tolerable around here lol!
Shy
December 12, 2012 - 1:27 PM EST
Well Tony the impact of this trade is most visible right here on IPI. I'm not a counter, but I would have to say the number of posted comments in the last 18 or so hours would be a Prospect Insider Record. People are "coming out of the woodwork" and the feedback is informed and unanimously positive- indicating a level of animation in the fan base that I haven't felt in a long, long time. Now whether Bauer turns out to be a Tim Lincecum or a Jimmy Piersall I can't say, but for now but at least the Indians are moving and we all have something to look forward to.
Seth
December 12, 2012 - 1:15 PM EST
If I were the Indians, I'd have no problem offering Swisher 4/60. They were prepared to give Victorino 4/44, so no reason 4/60 for Swisher would be unacceptable. They guy's been a solid 3-4 WAR player and had shown no indication of decline (unlike Victorino), and has skills that usually age well (unlike Victorino). He will get 4/60 from another team, if the Indians are not prepared to even go that high. I would actually think the Indians would need a larger offer than that to get him to take the bait. Either a 5th year, or at least 4/65. Again, being that they are set to have a revenue increase of $35 million next year from local and national TV, they should have no problem with that size contract to fill such an important need.

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