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Possible trade options that can help the Indians bullpen

Possible trade options that can help the Indians bullpen
November 10, 2013
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In part one, I discussed possible free agent targets the Indians may look to add in order to help their bullpen.  The Indians have already released former closer Chris Perez and may lose set up man Joe Smith in free agency.  With Vinnie Pestano struggling in 2013, the bullpen has rather suddenly become a question mark in Cleveland.

Today, in part two, I divulge into potential trade targets for the bullpen.  This is always a tricky undertaking, as it's hard to know which players will be made available by their teams.

Also, in case you missed them, here are the pieces I did looking at potential trade and free agent solutions for the lineup and starting rotation:

Lineup - Free agents
Lineup - Trades
Starting rotation - Free agents
Starting rotation - Trades

Big Names

Steve Cishek – Miami Marlins
2013: 4-6, 2.33 ERA, 69.2 IP, 22 BB, 74 SO, 34 SV

Cishek may be the most ideal candidate in the eyes of the Indians and their fans.  He has proven very capable of handling the closer's role, even if there wasn't much pressure being the closer for the Marlins.  He owns a career 2.48 ERA in 192.1 innings and has registered 49 saves in the last two years.  What most likely makes him so ideal is his contract status.  This winter will be his first offseason of arbitration eligibility and he is under team control through the 2017 season.  With his success in the early stages of his career and his role as a closer, he will certainly see significant raises through arbitration year after year.  Several teams may check in on Cishek as a controllable closer for the present and future.  However, as Tony eluded to in his most recent Tribe Happenings, he will most likely cost quite a bit to acquire.

Drew Storen –  Washington Nationals
2013: 4-2, 4.52 ERA, 61.2 IP, 19 BB, 58 SO, 24 HLD

Storen is coming off of a down year in 2013 that saw him post the first plus-4.00 ERA of his four-year career.  In 2011, as the Nationals closer, Storen pitched to a 2.75 ERA and 43 saves, and looked to be the closer of the future for Washington.  However, an injury in 2012 put Tyler Clippard in the closer role, and Storen was unable to take the job back upon returning.  Prior to last season, the Nationals signed closer Rafael Soriano, moving Clippard back to the setup role and Storen down another notch.  His forgetful 2013 along with Washington's depth in the backend of their pen could make Storen available this winter.  This offseason will be his first trip through arbitration and he is under control through the 2016 season.

Huston Street –  San Diego Padres
2013: 2-5, 2.70 ERA, 56.2 IP, 14 BB, 46 SO, 33 SV

Street has been a closer since his rookie year in 2005 with Oakland.  During that time, he has racked up 234 saves with a 2.98 ERA in 532 innings pitched.  He has had some injury issues throughout those nine years, and there are times where he leaves fans holding their breath, but he keeps hitters off balance and gets the job done.  It seems like every year Street's name is mentioned in trade rumors, so maybe this year he actually gets dealt.  He's on the hook for $7 million in 2014 and has a $7 million team option for 2015.  That seems like more than the Indians want to spend on a closer, but if they shave some dollars off of their own payroll through trades, perhaps they are a little more open to it.

Luke Gregerson – San Diego Padres
2013: 6-8, 2.71 ERA, 66.1 IP, 18 BB, 64 SO, 25 HLD

Another Padre arm here, and this one intrigues me even more.  Gregerson has been remarkably consistent in his five-year career working out of the back of the San Diego bullpen.  He's amassed 132 holds in that time with a 2.88 ERA.  He is not a power arm, but has a great put away pitch in his slider.  In terms of the chances of the Indians being able to acquire his services this winter, the good news is the Padres have a capable arm ready to assume the set up role in Dale Thayer, if Gregerson were to be dealt.  Plus, San Diego has a lot of young arms coming through the system.  The bad news, for the Indians at least:  He is scheduled to hit free agency after next season.

Jonathan Papelbon – Philadelphia Phillies
2013: 5-1, 2.92 ERA, 61.2 IP, 11 BB, 57 SO, 29 SV

Papelbon is on this list for three reasons:  He is a proven closer (286 career saves), his name popped up in trade rumors this past summer, and his obvious connection to Indians skipper Terry Francona (with Boston from 2005-2011).  There is one glaring reason why a trade of Papelbon to any team, especially the Indians, seems unlikely.  He is scheduled to make $13 million in each of the next two seasons, and has a $13 million vesting option for 2016 if he finishes 55 games in 2015 or 100 games in 2014 and 2015 combined.  If Papelbon was a free agent in this deep closer class, maybe then he would make sense for the Indians (still unlikely even in that scenario with the money he would command). The Phillies would have to eat at least half of his remaining salary for the Indians to be interested, and that won't happen.  So this one's in here as a conversation piece, and it's not likely a realistic option.

Middle Tier

Ernesto Frieri –  Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
2013: 2-4, 3.80 ERA, 68.2 IP, 30 BB, 98 SO, 37 SV

Frieri has a special, powerful arm, as evidenced by his 315 career strikeouts in 231.1 innings.  Although he didn't become a household name until his trade from the Padres to the Angels in 2012, Frieri has actually been very effective throughout his entire five-year career, posting a 2.76 ERA.  With how badly the Angels pitching struggled last year, it seems more likely that they would hold on to anyone that had even the slightest success for them in 2013.  However, Los Angeles did bring in Ryan Madson last winter to take over the closers role from Frieri, but Madson never saw the field due to injury.  Even then, the Angels didn't always seem too enamored with the thought of Frieri closing games for them.  Maybe they just want to move him to a set up role, or maybe they field offers for him this winter.

Casey Janssen –  Toronto Blue Jays
2013: 4-1, 2.56 ERA, 52.2 IP, 13 BB, 50 SO, 34 SV

Janssen took over as the Blue Jays closer during the 2012 season, and since then he has converted 56 of his 61 save opportunities.  He won't overpower anyone, but he has great control and isn't afraid to let hitters put the ball in play.  If Toronto were to trade Janssen, they have another closer option in All-Star set up man Steve Delabar.  Janssen is owed just $4 million in 2014, which is pretty cheap if you consider how well he has performed in the closers role.  However, he is a free agent after next season, so his acquisition would likely be just a one year fix.

Jim Henderson – Milwaukee Brewers
2013: 5-5, 2.70 ERA, 60.0 IP, 24 BB, 75 SO, 28 SV

Henderson got his first taste of the big leagues in 2012 at the age of 29.  A year later he was the Milwaukee closer and performed very well in that role, converting 28 of his 32 save opportunities.  His age (just turned 31 in October) makes it seem like he's been around for a while, but his late introduction to the big league stage means that he won't even be arbitration eligible until 2016 and won't be a free agent until 2019.  The Brewers may decide to rebuild or they may try to simply retool.  Due to his extremely low cost and controllability, Milwaukee may look to hold on to Henderson no matter which direction they go.  Or they could look to cash in on his value while it's at its highest point.

John Axford –  St. Louis Cardinals
2013: 7-7, 4.02 ERA, 65.0 IP, 26 BB, 65 SO, 19 HLD

Back in 2011, while with the Brewers, Axford was one of the top closers in the game, after posting a 1.95 ERA and 46 saves.  Even though he recorded 35 saves in 2012, he struggled mightily and registered a 4.67 ERA and eventually lost his job to the previously mentioned Henderson.  In 2013, he struggled again in 62 games with Milwaukee, pitching to a 4.45 ERA.  He was then sent to St. Louis, where in 10.1 innings he fared much better, with a 1.74 ERA.  Axford made $5 million last season and he is eligible for arbitration this offseason, so his cost will likely be too much for Cleveland.  However, he is a non-tender candidate, and if St. Louis elects to part ways with him, I could see Cleveland being interested in him in free agency.

Tom Wilhelmsen –  Seattle Mariners
2013: 0-3, 4.12 ERA, 59.0 IP, 33 BB, 45 SO, 24 SV

In 2012, Wilhelmsen took over the closers job in Seattle and finished the year with a 2.50 ERA and 29 saves.  He started off as the closer in 2013, but his general ineffectiveness lead to him losing his job to Danny Farquhar.  Wilhelmsen is a hard thrower, but really struggled to miss bats in 2013, and it may have lead to some of his troubles.  He will be arbitration eligible after next season and won't be a free agent until after 2017.  He may not be the ideal candidate to help out the backend of Cleveland's bullpen in 2014 and beyond, but he does have experience in that role and has had some past success.

Lottery Tickets

When it comes to trade options for bullpen arms, finding lottery ticket type players is a difficult task.  Teams would much rather just offer minor league deals to free agent bullpen arms and see if they can find lightning in a bottle, rather than having to give up any prospects at all for an unknown pen arm.  So the chances of the Indians trading for a lottery ticket type arm and expecting him to have any significant impact on the 2014 bullpen is slim.  However, I did manage to find a couple pitchers who have had some previous success that may be worth a look.

Sergio Santos –  Toronto Blue Jays
2013: 1-1, 1.75 ERA, 25.2 IP, 4 BB, 28 SO

Back in 2011, Santos worked as the closer for the White Sox and saved 30 games with a 3.55 ERA.  That offseason, he was traded to Toronto to become their closer, but battled injuries all season and appeared in only six games and had a 9.00 ERA.  He came back in April of last season, then got hurt again and didn't return until August.  In his 29 appearances in 2013, Santos was able to show the promise that prompted Toronto to trade for him prior to the 2012 season.  After his encouraging showing last season, the Blue Jays could elect to hang on to Santos and let him pitch in the middle innings.  They could also make him available, since many teams will be looking for closers, while Toronto has their eighth and ninth inning roles already locked up.  Santos is owed $3.75 million in 2014 and has club options of $6 million for 2015, $8 million for 2016, and $8.75 million for 2017.

Javy Guerra –  Los Angeles Dodgers
2013: 0-0, 6.75 ERA, 10.2 IP, 6 BB, 12 SO

In 2011, Guerra saved 21 games for the Dodgers and registered a 2.31 ERA.  In 2012, he began the year as the closer and saved 8 games but eventually lost his job to Kenley Jansen after blowing three saves.  He also dealt with injury in 2012, requiring knee surgery.  He was still effective when healthy, pitching to a 2.60 ERA for the year.  He struggled badly in 2013 and was sent to the minors.  There he battled injury issues with his throwing arm and remained in the minors from May on.  Guerra may be a cheap option for the Indians as he has shown an ability to pitch at the back end of a bullpen, but also has lost his role with the Dodgers.  He is not arbitration eligible until after next season and would not be a free agent until 2018.

Again, please feel free to comment on the aforementioned options, or state pitchers you think the Indians could pursue in the trade market.

User Comments

MT88 in WI
November 11, 2013 - 9:26 PM EST
The idea of Drew Storen pitching in the Tribe bullpen really interests me......
November 11, 2013 - 2:15 PM EST
I saw that MCann, Nelson Cruz, and Ervin Santana declined, that's what had me thinking......
November 11, 2013 - 1:44 PM EST
I don't think any player has yet to officially turn down the qualifying offer. Just like clubs waited until the deadline to extend them to players, the players look like they will wait until today's 5pm ET deadline to accept/decline them. Why not hold out until the end so you have more time to survey the league and determine your market?
November 11, 2013 - 1:42 PM EST
5 million is not that far from what he made this past season of 3.185 million. Maybe years for that amount scares them, I just don't want to see him leave.

and this is off subject, but if what is being reported that Ubaldo should be able to get a contract of 4 years in range of 60-68 million, why the delay on turning down the qualifying offer?
November 11, 2013 - 1:11 PM EST

I think they'd love to resign Smith but it really comes down to cash. If they can move ACab and get a solid return it changes the equation a bit to add a few necessary pieces. But Smith could command about $5 M per yr, who is not an option for a non-CL bullpen arm.

Completely agree on retaining Kazmir, Masterson is still a big unknown, Kazmir finished strong and would help fortify the rotation for a few yrs at a reasonable cost. I'd rather have Kazmir at 2 yrs than Hudson for 2 yrs, just saying...
November 11, 2013 - 12:18 PM EST
I have a hard time believing that Antonetti does not resign Kazmir. It just doesn't make any sense. He got better as the season wore on and he is the right fit financially for our team. They should include a club option for a third year or guarantee a third year with incentives like innings pitched. My worry is how they seem content on allowing Joe Smith to leave. This front office seems to place very little importance on the role of a pitcher who shortens the game from the7th inning to closer. There must be some metric I am unaware about that backs up this front office thinking.
November 11, 2013 - 11:57 AM EST
Not to get off subject, but Kazmir should be a main priority. The Indians want to give him one year, he wants two years. I think that is reasonable, especially when agents/GMs/national writers are predicting he gets a 2 year deal for between $15-18M. That's a very reasonable deal with little risk, and a gamble the organization needs to take. That's the kind of contract they always dream of giving mid-rotation guys with frontline they should be all over it. Hell, I'd even throw in a vesting option for a third year for sizable money based on performance/health in 2014 and 2015. Would control him through his age 32 season. With Masterson an unknown and starting pitching being the biggest question mark in the organization, they need someone they can pencil in for a few years and just pray for health.
November 11, 2013 - 11:48 AM EST

Agreed, I think Smith and Kazmir should both be priorities. I understand reluctance to sign 3 yrs on a RP, but Smith has had no arm issues that should raise concerns and he has been a model of consistency. Kazmir, doesn't seem to be too big of a risk and he's certainly as good or better than some of the arms that have 2/3 yr deals in the past from other teams.
November 11, 2013 - 11:37 AM EST
I hope some of that creativity is used to resign Joe Smith and Kazmir. I may be in the minority here, but I sm in the belief that we made a huge mistake in 06 by not resigning Howry. When you have a pitcher who shortens the game and takes you from the 7th inning to your closer, you sign him. Plus he is an Ohio boy with ties to Cleveland, not only is he engaged to one of our own, Allie LaForce, but his father roomed with an NE Ohio student while attending Miami of Ohio.
November 11, 2013 - 11:26 AM EST
It remains to be seen what they truly have to spend, but the belief is that payroll will be close to what it was last year ($80M). Even with the new TV money and the sale of SportsTime Ohio, the lack of attendance and a deep run in the playoffs hurt revenues big time. They were already pretty stretched out with the budget. I could see them MAYBE going to $90M, but even that only gives them $20 million to spend on a starting pitcher, a reliever or two, and a bat or two. That's not a lot to work with, so expect a lot of creative deals both in FA and trade. And potentially the clearing of the decks of some salary. And yes, lots of minor league deals so they potentially hit on another Kazmir and Raburn.
November 11, 2013 - 11:19 AM EST

Would it be a fair assumption to make that the Indians will be active on the trade market as well as the free agent market as well because the payroll will be a huge handicap as far as making free agent signings. The only way to work around that is to try and free up some cap space via trade.
November 11, 2013 - 11:16 AM EST
Daniel, from the sounds of it, yes, that creativity will carry over to the lineup and defense. The Stubbs, Raburn, and Chisenhall situation is one that needs to be worked out and figuring out how they platoon or partner up at those two positions (3B and RF) and are as efficient as possible with the money there so they can use most of their money to retain/acquire pitching.
November 11, 2013 - 11:00 AM EST

I know you can't go into what you know privately but will the Indians also be as creative in improving the lineup from both an offensive and defensive stand as they would be with regards to the bullpen?

November 11, 2013 - 9:34 AM EST
It really sounds like from listening to Antonetti talk publicly and also from some of the things I have learned privately, that the Indians are going to be very creative with filling some bullpen needs. And the key word there is plural. They have some nice internal options, but I believe that is the right approach to add more to the mix, particularly some proven arms. The more the merrier, so long as the acquisitions don't cost a lot in terms of money or prospects.
November 11, 2013 - 9:30 AM EST
I'd add Ryan Webb RHRP from the Marlins to this list. He had a sub 3 era in 80IP, 54K, and 27BB. Webb owns a career 3.29 era. He is up for a 2nd yr arb raise from (about) $1 M. I won't speculate what he might cost in terms of cash or prospects but there was speculation (mlbtraderumors) he might be available this past July. He would be a nice add...

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