Right on or way off: Lindor traded and Santana benched?
Less than two weeks remain until the non-waiver trade deadline, so the Indians are at a crucial decision-making point in the season. The team’s front office must decide if it is willing to pull the trigger on a piece to bolster the team’s chances of making a playoff run. It has been said many times, but the next couple weeks really will be a critical indicator regarding the direction of the season. Some tough decisions are ahead, so let’s assess three bold statements at the forefront of the discussion.
The Tribe should include Francisco Lindor in a deadline trade
Right on: With a small window of opportunity to compete before another rebuilding or retooling phase, the Indians must explore every avenue in an attempt to land an impact right-handed bat, preferably one with some power. In order to do so, there is a significant chance that coveted prospect, shortstop Francisco Lindor would have to be included to reel in the aforementioned much-needed bat. Prospects are just that, prospects. There is no guarantee, regardless of how vociferously scouts praise him that an 18 year old will blossom into a big-time player. Trading him now takes immediate advantage of his ceiling, with respect to trade value. Therefore, Cleveland shouldn’t balk at including an A level minor leaguer to add a game-changing piece.
One player that would especially be worth trading Lindor for is Arizona Diamondbacks outfielder, Justin Upton, who has been heavily rumored to be on the move. In spite of Cleveland being blocked by his limited no-trade clause, Upton’s agent stated on Wednesday that he wouldn’t rule out the possibility of accepting a trade to a team on his no-trade list. If the Indians have a chance to acquire a 24 year old, right-handed bat that is under team control through 2015, they’d be crazy not to seize the opportunity. Considering Upton had 31 home runs, 88 RBIs, 105 runs, and 21 stolen bases, while knocking down an .898 OPS in 2011, he’s exactly the type of player that could vastly improve the Tribe’s offensive punch. Now is the perfect time to pounce on a player, like Upton, whose trade value is currently low, while his team has soured on him.
Remember, Cleveland is tied for the lowest 2013 payroll commitment ($11 million), so taking on salary in the form of Upton, or other options like Carlos Quentin or Chase Headley, shouldn’t be a problem. It’s important that management does something to rally the fan base. Plus, as a shortstop, Lindor would be blocked by Cabrera, who has already shown that he’ll sign a multi-year deal with the Tribe. Lost in the Lindor hype is his pedestrian .266 batting average, as well as 11 errors, again at A ball Lake County. He’s at least two years away; there are plenty of other players with high ceilings in the lower levels of the farm system that can soften his loss.
Way off: Those clamoring for the Indians to trade Francisco Lindor must remember that he is only 18 years old and in his first season of professional baseball. And he isn’t just some prospect, he’s the top prospect in the system, which still must replace some of the higher level prospects that were dealt away in the Ubaldo Jimenez trade. He was named to the Midwest League All-Star team, as well as the Futures Game. Trading him now in the name of reaching the playoffs this season would be an irresponsible sacrifice of a key, mega-ceiling player, who could easily replace Asdrubal Cabrera, if he chooses to leave after the 2014 season. If Cabrera sticks around, then he could be bumped to third base, to give the slick-fielding Lindor a chance to hold down short.
Even though he has a few rungs to climb before reaching the big show, Lindor has the vaunted five-tools: solid power from both sides of the plate, the ability to hit for average thanks to an advanced plate approach, plus speed, and—what many say is his best tool of all—superlative defensive ability at a critical position. What really separates him from his peers is his make-up; according to Lake County Captains manager, David Wallace his maturity and leadership abilities are remarkable for an 18 year old. Also, getting bogged down in one or two statistical areas is sharply myopic. So, yes, while many prospects do not pan out, this guy is the closest thing you’ll see to a sure thing.
Plucking the best player in the Cleveland farm system is reckless and philosophically contradictory to the Indians strategy for long-term success. With the addition of the second wild card, it will be a sellers’ market; plus, there are very few corner infielders or outfielders that could make a significant difference. Trading Lindor for a rental is out of the question. Regarding Upton, he would be a huge risk when you consider he’s set to make $9.75, $14.25, and $14.5 million over the next three seasons. Plus, the scouts and management personnel who have watched him rise through their system are allegedly on record as saying they don’t know if he’s a winner, based on concerns about character and work ethic.
Verdict: Way off, Lindor is too precious of a piece to trade away, when it’s clear the Tribe is several pieces away from a deep playoff run.
Carlos Santana needs removed from starting catching duty
Right on: The most troubling thing about Santana’s struggles is his stubborn refusal to shorten his long swing. Regardless of the count in an at-bat, he always seems to be hacking for the fences every time he takes a swing. He struggles mightily in consistently hitting off-speed pitches because of his swing and poor plate approach. Like any other big league hitter, with two strikes it is imperative to shorten one’s swing to protect the plate and make contact. With a .221 batting average on the season, plus an even weaker .203 average over the last 30 days, it would be safe to argue that the thought of demoting Santana to the minors isn’t out of the question. He still has a minor league option left, so hopefully it would serve as a wake-up call to his hard-headed approach to hitting. In the minors, he could refine his swing and make the necessary adjustments to have a successful offensive career.
At 26 years old, there is still plenty of time for Santana to tweak the weak spots out of his swing and continue to develop into one of the better all-around catchers in the league. Waiting another half of a season for him to miraculously make the necessary adjustments is wishful thinking. Also, with Lou Marson riding a stout hot streak (.333 over the last 30 days), the offense could benefit from more starts for the backup catcher. Not only is Santana not matching his 2011 numbers (27 homers, 79 RBI, .808 OPS) he’s showing an alarming regression in 2012.
If you’re going to leave him on the 25 man roster, he must be benched, at least temporarily, to send a message that he cannot continue what he’s doing. Manny Acta could give him one start at first base and one-two starts at catcher a week, until he starts to string together some consistent at-bats. Whatever is done to remedy the situation must be done with the long-term future in mind, considering he’s in the first year of a five-year, $21 million contract.
Way off: Benching or demoting Santana would be a huge blow to his confidence and could potentially retard his development, as well as risking accelerated struggles, if he responds adversely. By giving him such a short leash, it shows little faith that he’ll pull out of it. Plus, it wouldn’t exactly build fan faith in those who construct the roster. Critics are much too focused on his offense, which has surely struggled, but his caught stealing rate (33.3%) is important because the Tribe’s starting staff is 3rd in the American League in stolen bases allowed (49).
Also, Marson’s hot streak is unequivocally ephemeral; remember, he is the same player who hit .111 in April and .160 in May. If Santana is sent down, how quickly is his return sped up once Marson returns to Earth? If Marson falters sooner than later it could be a debacle. Santana is the long-term answer and he needs major league at-bats and time to work through his slump. He isn’t going to improve from facing substandard pitching in triple-A or riding the pine. He still has a very solid walk to strikeout ratio (52:64), so he’s still got a sound eye at the plate.
Furthermore, it would be incredibly difficult to justify benching or demoting Santana, after watching an unwavering commitment to Damon and Kotchman, who have had more prolonged offensive issues. If management will be steadfast with two players, who clearly aren’t part of the nucleus of this team, why can’t they show some faith in their young starting catcher? Santana is simply too crucial of a piece to the success of this offense. He is one of a handful of players with 20 homer potential on a team that is starved for sluggers.
Verdict: Right on, something needs to be done to snap Santana out of his troublesome swing that doesn’t look like it’s changed a bit all season. Nip it in the bud now and give him a chance to be the best he can be over the long haul.
The Damon-Duncan platoon is this season’s answer in left field
Right on: Johnny Damon and Shelley Duncan have started to settle into a grove at the plate over the last 30 days, hitting .315 and .310, respectively. Separately, neither is the singular answer in left field, but together —Damon starting against righties and Duncan against lefties— they make up a very solid tandem. Each player has an asset that the team lacks in as a whole, speed for Damon and power for Duncan. Damon finally seems to be shaking off his lack of spring training, while finding a comfort zone at the plate, which shows that the first two months were an aberration, with respect to his numbers over recent seasons. He should settle near his numbers from last year with Tampa Bay. Plus, Damon still has 3,000 hits to fight for, so one can count on him to give a professional at-bat every trip to the plate, regardless of the Tribe’s position in division standings.
The cost of adding a player who would be noticeably better in left field will be too great. With Damon and Duncan’s solidly serviceable numbers of late, it’d make much more sense to go after a corner infielder. Also, Damon and Duncan are much more of a bargain, than a potential upgrade, which would surely entail a much steeper salary. One heavily-rumored outfielder, Carlos Quentin of the San Diego Padres, is a serious injury risk. If the Indians land him and he goes down, then Cleveland is out the prospects and back to the same scenario they’re in now.
The most logical solution is to ride out this platoon until the offseason, when Cleveland will have money to spend. Then, the Tribe will be able to pay a much more favorable price to land an upgrade in left field. Again, the Indians do not appear poised for a deep playoff run, so making a knee-jerk reaction for the sake of the last three months of this season isn’t worth putting a dent in long-term competitiveness. With Cabrera and Santana’s offense in the deep freeze, it wouldn’t make sense to yank these guys out of the lineup. Let them ride out their hot streaks and build some confidence, after taking plenty of heat this season from fans and the media.
Way off: Neither Damon, nor Duncan should be viewed as a starter for this year or the future. In spite of their recently improved offensive stats, left field is still a glaring weakness on the team. If the Tribe has an opportunity to upgrade the position, especially if the player they’re trading for is under team control beyond this year, then they should make the move. Don’t forget, both Damon and Duncan were hitting under the Mendoza line for the majority of the season, and even with their last month’s stats, they both still sit on sub-.230 batting averages. You can’t justify awarding a starting gig to players with below-average offense, as well as mediocre-at-best defense.
As far as in-house options, Aaron Cunningham should see more time in left field, since he is a superior defensive option. Also, the team should consider giving Matt LaPorta a legitimate chance to prove himself, especially if the team falls out of the division race. At that point, Cleveland truly would have nothing to lose by playing a player who could still potentially be part of the answer in left field or first base. Referencing the aforementioned Lindor section, it’d be foolish not to pursue a difference-making bat like Upton. Any number of prospects would be worth landing a player that could solidify the outfield, as well as the middle of the lineup. Plus, the case can be made that the Indians have too many players committed to patching together a legitimate left field option. With one every day starter in left, it would open a much-needed roster spot for LaPorta, who could help the infield and outfield. Sitting on these two underwhelming options sends the wrong message to a fan base that is anxiously pining for an offensive boost. It suggests that sticking with a bargain is more important than compiling a contending roster.
Verdict: Right on, Upton isn’t likely to accept a trade to Cleveland, so there are very few reasonably-priced alternative options to target, especially ones under contract beyond this season. The juice isn’t worth the squeeze, so ride out this duo; reward them for having thick-skin and getting their seasons turned around.
Trading Lindor for a guy who is owed over $38 million and has character and work ethic concerns is insane. After getting burned on big contracts for Hafner, Westbrook, and Kerry Wood, I don't see the Indians even seriously considering this deal. If they do anything in left field it will be a 3-month rental for a decent but not blue-chip prospect or two at a position of depth. Like Cord Phelps or Cody Allen for example.
Look at minor league starters and tell me who is a prospect?
Maybe Jacob Lee at A, Kluber at AAA, Jeanmar, maybe, but there is no one who looks like a solid bet to ever play in the big leagues.
No wonder they eagerly await the return of the former Fausto.
Hitters? Lindor is not hitting, Weglarz and Aguilar are being ruined by never seeing good pitches. Both should have been promoted a long time ago. Naquin is slipping.
There is not a great amount of talent on the farm teams.
Santana should be taken out of the infield, and worked in left field. Take his mind off defence, and slap him about the head. Work on his offence. He means more there. Much more.
Make a deal for left fielder. Damon/Duncan are both streaky.Not giving us a bat out there that we need.
While we are contenders, we are not going to win now. Let the young guys develop, and see what we have. Lots of upside in the low minors. Damn I am tired of re-building, but for the first time in a long time we have a foundation. Let's build on it.