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Indians trade focus should be on present and future

July 28, 2011
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Ubaldo Jimenez (Photo: AP)
The July 31st deadline is three days away.

The Indians are rumored to be in on several mid-level outfield bats such as Ryan Ludwick of the Padres, Coco Crisp of the Athletics, and even Jeff Francoeur of the Royals.

In an interesting scheduling quirk, the Indians and Royals square off all weekend which means Indians GM Chris Antonetti and Royals GM Dayton Moore – should he make the trip – would have several opportunities to talk face to face over the weekend about a Francoeur swap.

At this point a bat like Ludwick or Francoeur will not do much to change the fortunes of an Indians lineup that is struggling and has so many holes. They will help plug a hole or two, but until the Indians get healthy with the return of Shin-Soo Choo and Grady Sizemore and also start getting some more consistent contributions from others who are struggling, it doesn’t matter who they pick up at this point. It won’t make much of a difference.

The warts with the offense have shown themselves over the past two months. After a strong 30-15 start where the pitching, defense, and offense were all playing at a very good level, since then the pitching has continued to be strong while the defense and offense have nosedived. That is why the Indians are 22-35 since that hot start.

The sad part about it is the Indians right now are much closer to that 22-35 team than the 30-15 team earlier in the season when they played out of their minds in April and got off to a 20-8 start. It is not an indictment of a talentless team; it is more that this team is just very young and inexperienced.

In a lot of ways the struggles with the offense this year mirror those with the pitching last year.

Last year the starters were still growing and finding themselves as Justin Masterson struggled with inconsistency all season before getting on a roll the final month of the season. Carlos Carrasco and Josh Tomlin were in the minors for most of the year and got their feet wet later in the year. Fausto Carmona was in the midst of a rebound season.

In the bullpen Tony Sipp and Joe Smith were inconsistent but effective and Chris Perez was still coming into his own as a closer. Frank Herrmann was a mid-season addition, Rafael Perez was reestablishing himself after a brutal 2008 and 2009 campaign, and Vinnie Pestano was in the minors all season save for a late season cup of coffee to the big leagues.

In a lot of ways the lineup is going through this year much what the pitching did last year.

Asdrubal Cabrera is establishing himself as a dynamic All Star caliber shortstop. Travis Hafner has come back mostly to his old self. Michael Brantley is proving to be a solid every day outfielder who is unfazed by any situation. Carlos Santana is working his way back from injury, and young rookies like Jason Kipnis and Lonnie Chisenhall are getting their first taste of the big leagues.

The pitching has established itself as a strength of the team this season, and there is tons more of it waiting to be used in the minors. By this time next year the offense could also make that leap like the pitching has, though the Indians do not have anywhere near the position player depth in the minors like they do with the pitching.

The Indians may still be in the thick of the AL Central race, but this is not a team built to win this year. Before the 2011 season started it was supposed to be more of a feeling out year to sort out the rotation and bullpen, and also to start getting things lined up with the position players. Contention was expected to begin in 2012. The hot start sort of pushed that timeline up a little, but with the struggles of late the focus on building this team going forward should not just be for this season but for 2012 and beyond.

Knowing that, the Indians should only be exploring trades for players who are under control beyond this season. If they are going to mortgage their future by dealing off some of their coveted prospects, they need to be sure they get players in return that can help not only this year but next season and beyond.

This is why the Indians have been heavy suitors for some of the pitching on the market like Ubaldo Jimenez of the Rockies and Wandy Rodriguez of the Astros. They have also shown strong interest in pitchers signed only through this year like Hiroki Kuroda of the Dodgers and Aaron Harang of the Padres.

For a team starving for hitting – particularly a right-handed bat in the outfield – it may seem puzzling why they would be targeting any pitching at all. But the Indians also have a need for starting rotation help as there are question marks after Masterson, Carrasco and Tomlin. Carmona has been better of late, but he has struggled for most of the year. David Huff has been great in his first two appearances and Jeanmar Gomez and Zach McAllister have been solid, but they are unknowns going forward.

Jimenez, 27, is in the midst of a four-year deal that is paying him $2.8 million this season and $4.2 million next season. He also has a 2013 club option for $5.75 million, so he would be under team control through the 2013 season (he has a 2014 club option but is voidable if traded).

Rodriguez, 32, is in the first year of a three year deal that is paying him $7 million this season, $10 million in 2012, and $13 million in 2013. He has a club option for $13 million in 2014 that becomes a player option, so he would be under control through the 2013 season and maybe even in 2014 as well.

Jimenez or Rodriguez would be solid additions to an already strong rotation and solidify it for this year and beyond. Considering Jimenez’s age, good contract, and performance history he would be the most costly to acquire as far as prospects are concerned, so the Indians would likely have to part with a high level prospect or two plus more to obtain him. Rodriguez may not cost as much because he is older and has a heftier contract, but he will still cost a pretty penny.

Going out and getting a Rodriguez or Jimenez in a trade would make sense. They would both help stabilize the rotation not only this year but in future years. It would also allow the Indians to trade some their pitching depth for a bat such as outfielder B.J. Upton of the Rays or catcher Chris Iannetta of the Rockies. Upton is under control through next season, and Iannetta through the 2013 season.

That should be the focus right now as we near the trade deadline. To acquire talent not just for help this year, but future years as well.

Follow Tony and the Indians Prospect Insider on Twitter @TonyIPI. Also, his latest book the 2011 Cleveland Indians Top 100 Prospects & More is available for purchase for $20.95 to customers in the US (shipping and handling extra).

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